Written by: Edmund Beloin and Henry Garson. Directed by: Charles Barton.
Well, if the title didn’t give away this episode’s theme, the opening stock footage will.
It seems that Bill is in London meeting with British and French officials about his suggested innovations for “the English Channel project.”
Bill warns that that the project may hit a few snags. (That’s a understatement, considering that the real Chunnel didn’t open until 1994.)
The leaders on the project want Bill to stay in Britain for year and act as a consultant. Bill is reluctant to leave his family for so long, but the others point out that he could fly home on weekends to visit.
He lets it slip to French that he may be making his headquarters in England temporarily, which sets French off rhapsodizing about his homeland. (French isn’t excited about the Chunnel, though–he likes old-school channel crossings.)
This is the first of many British literary, theatrical, and musical references the script manages to work in.
French isn’t thrilled with the peanuts, and the twins aren’t thrilled to hear that Bill will be staying in London.
French tells them that Bill is fortunate to be in the land that produced Chaucer, Shelley, Keats, Shakespeare…
His speech doesn’t do much for Buffy and Jody, but it enraptures Cissy, who has just returned from Sharon’s apartment.
“London has everything,” she sighs, envying Bill for having the chance to live there. (Poor Cissy, living in a theatrical backwater like New York City.)
Okay, on this show his name is Wilson, and he conveniently has to vacate his manor house for about a year. Bill expresses interest in leasing it: While it’s too big for a bachelor, it will be perfect if the kids come to live in London, too.
Pamela is an actress and apparently is Bill’s squeeze while he’s in England.
Buffy says that Mrs. Beasley wants to meet the queen, and Bill promises to try to arrange it.
Cissy tells him about her dream of attending RADA, and he offers to enlist Pamela to help make that happen.
Jody just wants to crawl through the Channel Tunnel…he likes crawling through tunnels.
When the kids hang up the phone, Buffy and Jody start marching around and singing “London Bridge.” When French comes in, he’s excited to hear the news, too, but he tells the children they should act like gentlefolk, showing dignity and restraint.
In London, though, everyone is singing a different tune.
“You’ll get the tunnel built someday, I guess,” Bill says consolingly. (Yes…but I’m not sure these guys will live to see it.)
Knowing the kids will be disappointed, too, he says he might still try to work out a stay in England for them.
At home, everyone continues to celebrate all things British.
French assures Buffy that there are no real dragons in England, but tells her there are castles they can visit.
Everyone is excited to greet Bill when he comes home.
Cissy is thrilled that Pamela has arranged for her to interview at RADA.
Buffy wants to know if the manor house where they will be staying is a spooky castle or a regular house. (Bill says it’s in between–a regular castle.)
French is looking forward to a reunion his family is planning at “the Rooster and Tankard in Sissingham.”
Jody wants to watch the workers digging the tunnel, and French agrees that witnessing history in the making will be educational.
Their trip to England is still on, however. Bill’s going to send French and the kids to England for a year, and he will visit there on the weekends.
(Sending your kids away for a year is a pretty crazy idea, Bill. Tempting, sure…but crazy.)
Bill rushes back out the door to work on”the Canadian project.” Meanwhile, everyone else tries to stay excited about moving.
French agrees, naming some of the great British actors–Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Ralph Richardson, Dame Edith Evans, and John Gielgud. (I believe, however, that the only one of that group to attend RADA was Gielgud.)
French serves Buffy and Jody trifle for dessert and tells them he’s going out for the evening to buy souvenirs of America for his seven brothers and three sisters.
“I, Buffy, am the baby,” French says, cracking me up.
When Bill returns from work that evening, French is still out shopping.
He finds Buffy awake and worried.
She is afraid he will be lonely by himself, though he says he will manage.
Next, he visits Jody’s room, which is deserted. He finds Jody in his own bed.
Bill says that’s a nice thought, but he doesn’t back off his ridiculous plan.
(Funny thing about that hamburger–Cissy serves it on bread instead of a bun, and Bill removes the top piece of bread and EATS IT WITH A FORK! Are we sure he’s really American?)
“That settles it,” Bill says, finally snapping to his senses. The England idea is dead.
French is actually relieved–he found it an “insoluble predicament” to choose between going with the kids or staying with Bill.
After all, as French says, in an inevitable final allusion, “There’ll always be an England.”
Does it not occur to Bill that the whole family could just take a vacation to England when the kids have a break from school?
This episode seems to breeze by more quickly than most. Though it’s yet another story dealing with a possible family separation, it avoids the angst that some episodes generate. As is often the case, French provides many of the best moments. Bill’s tender bedtime scenes with Buffy and Jody are another highlight.
We get several Sharon references, and French harkens back to “the playing fields of Eton” again.
Both Jody and Buffy hope to be truck drivers when they grow up, although French says Bill has other careers in mind for them.
Random Historical Note
In the opening scene, Bill talks about the experience he gained working on “the San Francisco-Oakland project.” Based on the time frame, I assume the writers were alluding to construction of the Transbay Tube.
Pamela: Barbara Babcock. Monsieur Raynaud: Emile Genest. Sir Richard: John Holland. Mr. Wilson: Alan Napier.
Barbara Babcock should be a familiar face to most classic TV fans. She appeared in several episodes of Star Trek and later had recurring roles on Dallas and Hill Street Blues. She made guest appearances on such shows as Taxi, Cheers, The Golden Girls, and Remington Steele. In the 1990s, she had a regular role on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. She had one of more memorable film roles in 1992’s Far and Away.
Alan Napier is also familiar, especially for his role as Alfred in the Batman TV series. During his long career, his path crossed several times with both of our Messrs. French. With Sebastian Cabot, he was in the vocal cast of Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, and he appeared once on Cabot’s series Checkmate. With John Williams, he appeared in a three-part Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode called “I Killed the Count.”
And, guess what? Napier studied at RADA.