Friday, October 09, 2009

Press PLAY On Tape

BBC4's Micro Men was an enjoyable poke-around in the Retro attic; but a few authorial decisions left the guilty aftertaste of "infotainment".

By far the most worrying was the characterization of Clive Sinclair. Alexander Armstrong seems reckless casting for such a role, as there was so much scope for his own character to swamp the part. Sinclair was duly portrayed as a joke figure; a pompous, squawking demagogue with a tenuous grasp on reality, given to bouts of sheer weirdness that terrify underlings, and alienate friends and colleagues. In contrast, Martin Freeman's Chris Curry was the quiet everyman, very much the victim of Sinclair's worst excesses.

From what is known about the real Sinclair, the character doesn't seem inaccurate so much as wildly exagerrated, and mostly for comic effect. There were some clumsy set-up gags that interrupted the story, and when Armstrong started to wind up the engine, he came across as a kind of poor man's Davros; an impression reinforced by the overused image of him maraduing about Cambridge in his C5 electric cycle. For a piece that was ostensibly in admiration of his achievements, this seemed more than a little disingenuous; Sinclair was always an easy target for ridicule, and the C5 is the most obvious, laziest possible way to do it.

There were some fine touches though, such as the lovely image of Curry's Acorn crew eating Chinese takeaways using laboratory tools as chopsticks. The use of archive news and documentary footage was creative and charming, and overall there was an upbeat reverence to the pioneering spirit that justified the exercise.

The closing metaphor, unsubtle as it was, nonetheless amused. Driving his C5 down a "road" (that was, painfully obviously, a disused runway - perhaps a deliberate riff on 80's TV?) Sinclair was suddenly passed by huge lorries, bearing the logos of Hewlett Packard and Microsoft. Once again the show had veered closer to sketch comedy than drama, but this time, it worked.