Every now and again the fascinating film Victim gets an outing on TV. But there is no need to wait until then to see it because the entire thing is on YouTube.
It stars Dirk Bogarde and the beautiful Sylvia Sims, her of Ice Cold in Alex. Sylvia plays Dirk’s wife with a sadness borne of the fact that she knows the man she loves can never quite return her love in full. That’s because Bogarde’s character is ‘in the closet’. This is 1961, remember, when homosexuality was still an imprisonable offence and hundreds of gay men were in fact in prison.
Bogarde plays Melville Farr, a barrister in his pomp and about to become a QC. He has a beautiful riverside home, elegant clothes and a fine motor car. Life is good until his concealed desires lead him into an unconsummated, but romantic, friendship with a man working on a building site close to his chambers. They are surreptitiously photographed together in Farr’s car and in what follows, a shadowy world of gay blackmail is gradually revealed, as are the social attitudes of the time, ranging from those inclined to tolerance to those who prefer to cling to bigotry.
After his donkey-jacketed friend commits suicide, Farr decides to face down the blackmailers by going to the police and helping them spring a trap. Although he has committed no crime, you know his ambitions and his promise will not now be fulfilled.
Don’t expect political correctness. The film treats homosexuality as a quirk of nature to be pitied rather than hated. In 1961 that was as close as you could come to expressing sympathy for the plight of gay men and still get shown in cinemas.
Victim is an earnest issue movie that had real influence. It is also a thriller, but there is much else to interest and enjoy too. There are bowler hats, tailored suits, superb British cars and then there is London; foggy, grimy but wonderful for all that. There are shots along the Thames to Hammersmith Bridge, there is SW1 as new office blocks are going up, there is the West End, a belching Battersea power station and there are many shots of Knightsbridge, and the King’s Road. There is also a glimpse of the Michelin Building from the Brompton Road where there is a rather elegant garage with a whiff of art deco about it.
Back then, residents could easily find a local garage to fill up at, get a repair or an MOT certificate. And it’s here that I deftly switch from film critic to local politician: for years now, car workshops and other local services have been in decline, thanks largely to our stratospheric residential values which would tempt any garage owner to think about a change of use.
The Council is fighting a valiant rear-guard action with such powers as it has to preserve valued local services. We have some of London’s toughest policies to protect pubs, we have policies to protect our remaining launderettes and this month we are taking steps to protect our few remaining local garages and light industrial uses.
From October 2017, new Government regulations could mean that planning permission is no longer required to change a garage or other light industrial units to residential use. To prevent that happening we have applied for a ‘non-immediate Article 4 Direction’ which would remove this new ‘permitted development’ right. The Article 4 Direction covers those parts of Kensington and Chelsea where concentrations of light industrial manufacturing uses remain. And it also includes a number of named garages.
If Melville Farr, or an avatar thereof, was to need an MOT for his vintage Bristol, he could still just about get one here in Kensington and Chelsea and we mean to keep it that way.