Fliptalk

I watched The System (1964).

Two lads are dropped off at a station and rush to get on the next train to a coastal town. They put on posh voices to be sarcastic to the ticket inspector and then set about ogling all the young women on board, as the groovy pop title music kicks in.

When they arrive at Roxham they join up with their gang leader Tinker, who works as beach photographer.

Nice to see another appearance by Clive Colin Bowler, who had a good run at playing moody young tearaways in the early 60s across TV and films.

At the station Tinker and the boys spot posh girl Nicola sitting in a fancy Buick Riviera. Her dad is nearby.

Down at the beach it’s a chance to explain to new recruit David how “The System” goes and how it’s fair shares on the girls spotted and picked up by the team.

Tinker explains that they are harvesting from the “grockles” – the out of town seasonal holidaymakers, who come here from their tower blocks and council houses and are thoroughly limited by the mass culture they get in tatty gift shops and from their transistor radios. He clearly has a yearning for better things, though it is not clear from his lodging room how far he has investigated it – some of his photographs show he may have studied composition carefully in the work of the professionals, and he seems to have an interest in graphic design. He has an easy fluency at mock-refined speech and parodying the chummy hi-jinks style of gilded youth. The other lads can join in the simply hearty singalong side, but Tinker can attempt o draw a character in his words, which shows some attention to the content of the educated speakers, either from the voices on the Third Programme or TV dramas of upper class life. Lots of rough boys could mimic talking proper – the Beatles did it, but so did Alex in the original A Clockwork Orange novel, putting on his “high voice”. Like Tinker he also saw popular entertainment as rubbish and its teenage fans just prey to pick on.

When the gang gatecrash a party at Nicola’s family home out in the country, he gets to speak to his quarry directly.

NICOLA: And why “Tinker”? Is your name Tailor?

TINKER: Very good.

NICOLA: A successful hostess has to be able to make conversation on all levels. Was the photograph alright?

TINKER: Certainly. I’ll show it to you sometime.

NICOLA: I’d like to see it sometime. [Pause] Have we run out of conversation?

TINKER: Alright, I’ll take over. [Touches ear rings] What are these, the eyes of your old lovers?

NICOLA: They’re Cornelians.

TINKER: Or the eyes of Cornelian’s old lovers?

NICOLA: You talk like that too? What’s it called – “fliptalk”?

TINKER: You don’t like it because you can’t do it.

But she can adapt easily enough, and keep him at arm’s length. He can only play the word games so far before he runs out of pretence and has to resort to simple honesty. The relationship puts him in his place, as the junior partner to be dazzled with patter about love being “an electromagnetic phenomenon”. He can’t be satisfied any more with the silly home-loving girls who dream of marriage at 20. He can’t understand his old mate Nidge, who drops away from the boys and settles down with a pregnant girlfriend.

He also has trouble with other photographers trying to cut in on his territory and take work away from him. He hasn’t got a great future at this business, which is just a rut he fell into after coming to the town for seasonal work.

The camera work of this film also has some interesting effects when one scene slides sideways into another.

Tinker simply has nothing to offer to Nicola except to be an object of pity, which is an inversion of the structure he is familiar with. She has a better career and prospects ahead of her as a professional model, even though she will no doubt give it up and get married as well.

Meeting her dad Philip doesn’t make things any clearer. Being a man of quality he is not disturbed by any silly provocations the young lout could offer him, only the pretentious lower middle classes are upset by that sort of thing.

PHILIP: Why are you setting out to shock me?

TINKER: Is that what I’m doing?

PHILIP: I think so.

TINKER: What would you say if I said I want to marry your daughter?

PHILIP: I would say I think that would be extremely unlikely.

TINKER: You’d be a bit short of Buick Rivieras.

PHILIP: Oh that isn’t very important. What Nicola has been accustomed to is she can do as she likes. Most young women have that freedom these days. They don’t like to give it up too soon for something as medieval as marriage.

TINKER: But they do, don’t they.

PHILIP: Oh yes, women always want the best of both worlds, comes of having no morals. Men invent morals and they impose them on women. It’s very hard on them.

In the end the hopeless pretender can’t compete when he’s brought in to meet Nicola’s family and friends, and all the sneers and scoffs just flop dead and he’s run around and mocked himself. Nicola can leave him without any sentimentality but Tinker can’t get over being used and abused instead of being the user and abuser, when he’d finally desired some tenderness instead of sniggering at it.

Of course the title has a double meaning: the System that the boys had worked out, and the bigger System of the society around them… and so on. So obvious nobody needed to say it.

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