Series 3, Episode 35: Housing Project Built by Characters from 19th-Century English Literature
VOICE OVER Michael Palin
HUNTINGDON Eric Idle
(Cut to a building site. The camera pans over it.)
Voice Over: This new housing development in Bristol is one of the most interesting in the country. It’s using a variety of new techniques: shock-proof curtain-walling, a central high voltage, self-generated electricity source, and extruded acrylic fibreglass fitments. It’s also the first major housing project in Britain to be built entirely by characters from nineteenth-century English literature.
(By, this time the pan has come to rest on a section of the site where various nineteenth-century literary figures are at work round a cement mixer: two ladies in crinolines, Bob Cratchett on his father’s back, Heathcliff and Catherine throwing bricks to each other with smouldering passion. Nelson. Mr Beadle as fireman. Cut to the interior of a half-finished concrete shell. A little girl is working on top of a ladder.)
Voice Over: Here Little Nell, from Dickens’s ‘Old Curiosity Shop’ fits new nylon syphons into the asbestos-lined ceilings …
(shot of complicated electrical wiring in some impressive electrical installation) But its the electrical system which has attracted the most attention.
(cut to Arthur Huntingdon studying a plan; he has a builder’s safefy helmet on) Arthur Huntingdon, who Helen Graham married as a young girl, and whose shameless conduct eventually drove her back to her brother Lawrence, in Anne Bronte’s ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’
describes why it’s unique.
Huntingdon: Because sir, it is self-generating. Because we have harnessed here in thir box the very forces of life itself. The very forces that will send Helen running hack to beg forgiveness!
(Cut to a close up of big pre-fabricated concrete slabs being hoisted into the air by a crane and start to pull out, as the commentator speaks, to reveal a crowd of nineteenth-centuty farmhands working on them.)
Voice Over: The on-site building techniques involve the construction of twelve-foot walling blocks by a crowd of firmhands from ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ supervised by the genial landlady, Mrs Jupp, from Samuel Butler’s ‘Way of All Flesh’.
(Pan to reveal Mrs Jupp with a clipboard. Cut to voice over narrator in vision with a stick-mike, in front of an impressive piece of motorway interchange building. Behind him and working on the site are six angels, three devils, and Adam and Eve.)