Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Must-View of the Day: "Who pays wins"

Yesterday I came upon a documentary produced by Alan Curtis for the BBC in 1999. The Mayfair Set, "a four part series about the rise of business and the decline of political power," is centered about the denizens of an exclusive gambling club in Mayfair—the Claremont.1 Curtis narrates that "What united all these men was a belief in decisive, reckless action. It was, they believed, what had made Britain great...."

Part I—"Who Pays Wins"—follows the antics of Claremont founder member Col. David Sterling from the end of World War II through the 60s—when Britain threw in the imperial towel and announced it would become a trading nation—and on into the late 70s.

Through much of this time Britain attempted to privatize its imperial outreach through the assistance of mercenaries and businessmen of Sterling's ilk. And at least to some it occurred that they had the power and wisdom to engage in nation-building in a way that would favor Britain.

Ah, but the silly Brits installed a Labor government, and the currency crashed just when things seemed to be going so swimmingly. Suddenly it was made evident that Britain was at the mercy of foreign capitalists who had better uses for their money than to leave it to dawdle amongst a bunch of leftists. To save cash the government decided to close overseas military bases. "We can't go on being the policemen for the whole world on our own forever," declared the Minister of Defense. So what was left but to sell arms for oil?

The footage from old BBC broadcasts is delightful, with the British aristocracy portraying themselves with their usual self-parody. And the discussion of right-wing plans to take over the country in the event of disorder has a familiar ring. As the United States may come quite soon to resemble post-war Britain, we may be watching future history.

If you missed this film in '99, it's only more relevant now.

The RealOne version is complete—about 45 minutes. The streaming version is here; the file for download here. Other formats that I've been able to locate have cut the last 15 minutes, which you won't want to miss.

Here's a clip of the first 10 minutes—

Related posts
A war we can't afford to win (1/24/07)
Good news about the economy (3/31/08)



1Mayfair was historically the hub of London's poshist society. It has been overrun of late by law offices, the U.S. Embassy and Arab billionaires, who are reviving the charming custom of liveried servants. [back]

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