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Novel to Film | Meeting Bertrand and Christine

Novel | Script | Film

Meeting Bertrand and Christine
From Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
excerpted from Chapter 4
Penguin Books

... An irregular knocking on the door at the far end of the room was at once followed by the bursting-open of this door and the entry of a tall man wearing a lemon-yellow sportscoat, all three buttons of which were fastened, and displaying a large beard which came down further on one side than on the other, half-hiding a vine-patterned tie. Dixon guessed with surging exultation that this must be the pacifist painting Bertrand whose arrival with his girl had been heralded, with typical clangour, by Welch every few minutes since tea-time. It was an arrival which must surely prove an irritant sooner or later, but for the moment it served as the best possible counter-irritant to the disastrous madrigals. Even as Dixon thought this, the senior Welches left their posts and went to greet their son, followed more slowly by the others who, perhaps finding the chance of a break not completely unwelcome, broke into conversation as they moved. Dixon delightedly lit a cigarette, finding himself alone: the amateur violinist had got hold of Margaret; Goldsmith and the local composer were talking to Carol, Goldsmith's wife, who'd refused, with enviable firmness, to do more than sit and listen to the singing from an armchair near the fireplace; Johns was doing something technical at the piano. Dixon moved down the room through the company and leaned against the wall at the end by the door where the bookshelves were. Placed here, savouring his cigarette, he was in a good position to observe Bertrand's girl when she came in, slowly and hesitantly, a few seconds later, and stood unnoticed, except by him, just inside the room.

In a few more seconds Dixon had noticed all he needed to notice about this girl: the combination of fair hair, straight and cut short, with brown eyes and no lipstick, the strict set of the mouth and the square shoulders, the large breasts and the narrow waist, the premeditated simplicity of the wine-coloured corduroy skirt and the unornamented white linen blouse. The sight of her seemed an irresistible attack on his own habits, standards, and ambitions: something designed to put him in his place for good. The notion that women like this were never on view except as the property of men like Bertrand was so familiar to him that it had long since ceased to appear an injustice. The huge class that contained Margaret was destined to provide his own womenfolk: those in whom the intention of being attractive could sometimes be made to get itself confused with performance; those with whom a too-tight skirt, a wrong-coloured, or no, lipstick, even an ill-executed smile could instantly discredit that illusion beyond apparent hope of renewal. But renewal always came: a new sweater would somehow scale down the large feet, generosity revivify the brittle hair, a couple of pints site positive charm in talk of the London stage or French food.

The girl turned her head and found Dixon staring at her. His diaphragm contracted with fright; she drew herself up with a jerk like a soldier standing easy called to the stand-at-ease position. They looked at each other for a moment, until, just as Dixon's scalp was beginning to tingle, a high, baying voice called 'Ah, there you are, darling; step this way, if you please, and be introduced to the throng' and Bertrand strode up the room to meet her, throwing Dixon a brief hostile glance. Dixon didn't like him doing that; the only action he required from Bertrand was an apology, humbly offered, for his personal appearance.

Dixon had been too distressed at the sight of Bertrand's girl to want to be introduced to her, and kept out of the way for a time; then he moved down and started talking to Margaret and the amateur violinist. Bertrand dominated the central group, doing a lot of laughing as he told some lengthy story; his girl watched him intently, as if he might ask her later to summarize its drift. Coffee and cakes, intended to replace an evening meal, were brought in, and getting enough of these for himself and Margaret kept Dixon fully occupied. Then Welch came up to him and said, inexplicably enough: 'Ah, Dixon, come along now. I want you to meet my son Bertrand and his... his... Come along.'

With Margaret at his side, Dixon was soon confronted by the two people Welch wanted him to meet and by Evan Johns. 'This is Mr Dixon and Miss Peel,' Welch said, and drew the Goldsmiths away.

Before a silence could fall, Margaret said 'Are you down here for long, Mr Welch?' and Dixon felt grateful to her for being there and for always having something to say.

Bertrand's jaws snatched successfully at a piece of food which had been within an ace of eluding them. He went on chewing for a moment, pondering. 'I doubt it,' he said at last. 'Upon consideration I feel it incumbent upon me to doubt it. I have miscellaneous concerns in London that need my guiding hand.' He smiled among his beard, from which he now began brushing crumbs. 'But it's very pleasant to come down here and to know that the torch of culture is still in a state of combustion in the provinces. Profoundly reassuring, too.'

'And how's your work going?' Margaret asked.

Bertrand laughed at this, turning towards his girl, who also laughed, a clear, musical sound not unlike Margaret's tiny silver bells. 'My work?' Bertrand echoed. 'You make it sound like missionary activity. Not that some of our friends would dissent from that description of their labours. Fred, for instance,' he said to his girl.

'Yes, or Otto possibly,' she replied.

'Most assuredly Otto. He certainly looks like a missionary, even if he doesn't behave like one.' He laughed again. So did his girl.

'What work do you do?' Dixon asked flatly.

'I am a painter. Not, alas, a painter of houses, or I should have been able to make my pile and retire by now. No no; I paint pictures. Not, alas again, pictures of trade unionists or town halls or naked women, or I should now be squatting on an even larger pile. No no; just pictures, mere pictures, pictures tout court, or, as our American cousins would say, pictures period. And what work do you do? always provided, of course, that I have permission to ask.'

Dixon hesitated; Bertrand's speech, which, except for its peroration, had clearly been delivered before, had annoyed him in more ways than he'd have believed possible. Bertrand's girl was looking at him interrogatively; her eyebrows, which were darker than her hair, were raised, and she now said, in her rather deep voice: 'Do gratify our curiosity.' Bertrand's eyes, which seemed to lack the convexity of the normal eyeball, were also fixed on him.

'I'm one of your father's underlings,' Dixon said to Bertrand, deciding he mustn't be offensive; 'I cover the medieval angle for the History Department here.'

'Charming, charming,' Bertrand said, and his girl said: 'You enjoy doing that, do you?'

Welch, Dixon noticed, had rejoined the group and was looking from face to face, obviously in quest of a point of entry into the conversation. Dixon resolved to deny him this at all costs. He said, quietly but quickly: 'Well, of course, it has its own appeal. I can quite see that it hasn't the sort of glamour of', he turned to the girl, 'your line of country.' He must show Bertrand that he wasn't below including her in the conversation.

She looked perplexedly up at Bertrand. 'But I haven't noticed much glamour knocking about in...'

'But surely,' Dixon said, 'I know there must be a lot of hard work and exercise attached to it, but the ballet, well,' he disregarded a nudge from Margaret, 'there must be plenty of glamour there. So I've always understood, anyway.' As he spoke, he gave Bertrand a smile of polite, comradely envy, and stirred his coffee with civilized fingers, splaying them a good deal on the handle of the spoon.

Bertrand was going red in the face and was leaning towards him, struggling to swallow half a bridge roll and speak. The girl repeated with genuine bewilderment: 'The ballet? But I work in a bookshop. Whatever made you think I...?' Johns was grinning. Even Welch had obviously taken in what he'd said. What had he done? He was attacked simultaneously by a pang of fear and the speculation that 'ballet' might be a private Welch synonym for 'sexual intercourse'.

'Look here, Dickinson or whatever your name is,' Bertrand began, 'perhaps you think you're being funny, but I'd as soon you cut it out, if you don't mind. Don't want to make a thing of it, do we?'

The baying quality of his voice, especially in the final query, together with a blurring of certain consonants, made Dixon want to call attention to its defects, also, perhaps, to the peculiarity of his eyes. This might make Bertrand assail him physically -- splendid: he was confident of winning any such encounter with an artist -- or would Bertrand's pacifism stop him? But in the ensuing silence Dixon swiftly decided to back down. He'd made some mistake about the girl; he mustn't make things any worse. 'I'm terribly sorry if I've made a mistake, but I was under the impression that Miss Loosmore here had something to do with...'

He turned to Margaret for aid, but before she could speak Welch, of all people, had come in loudly with: 'Poor old Dixon, ma-ha-ha, must have been confusing this... this young lady with Sonia Loosmore, a friend of Bertrand's who let us all down rather badly some time ago. I think Bertrand must have thought you were... twitting him or something, Dixon; ba-ha-ha.'

'Well, if he'd taken the trouble to be introduced, this wouldn't have happened,' Bertrand said, still flushed. 'Instead of which, he...'

'Don't worry about it, Mr Dixon,' the girl cut in. 'It was only a silly little misunderstanding. I can quite see how it happened. My name's Christine Callaghan. Altogether different, you see.'

'Well, I'm... thanks very much for taking it like that. I'm very sorry about it, really I am.'

'No no, don't let it get you down, Dixon,' Bertrand said, with a glance at his girl. 'If you'll excuse us, I think we might circulate round the company.'

They moved off, followed at a distance by Johns, towards the Goldsmith group, and Dixon was left alone with Margaret...

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The Script

Meeting Bertrand and Christine
Adapted from the novel by Kingsley Amis by Jack Rosenthal

Jim watches Cecil, Margaret and Mrs. Welch in amazement.

Cecil: Now it's you.

He opens his mouth but nothing comes out and the whole thing grinds to a halt.

Neddy: What the jiminy cricket!

Jim is saves by the entrance of Bertrand...

Bertrand: Ah, ha!

...who is noisily welcomed by everyone while Jim lights a cigarette and stays out of the way.

Neddy: Bertrand. Dear boy!

Mrs. Welch: Bertrand!

Bertrand: Mother, you look wonderful. Margaret, how are you? Ah, Cecil Goldsmith, your lovely wife, Carol...

Music in 10:24:25 - Specially composed by Mark Russell - Duration 00:50

Jim raises his eyes to watch the gathering and is totally smitten by the girl who has come in with Bertrand. The camera moves to a close up of his eye and fades to an image of Christine on a pedestal in white robes, lit by a bright, white light.

Jim: (vo) Now this. This is how it all really began.

Reverse shot back from Jim's eye as he watches Christine from afar.

Jim: (vo, continued) Seeing her. The kind of her that people like him get and people like me don't. Which is why people like Margaret were invented. So there was something else, and someone else...

Bertrand pulls her into the circle...

Bertrand: Ah, there you are, darling child. Come and be introduced to the motley throng.

... and then notices Jim standing aloof.

Well, as much of the motley throng as can be bothered!

Mrs. Welch: Refreshments. Tout le monde. In the dining room!

Jim makes his way to the dining room without bothering to hang around as Bertrand continues with the introductions.

Bertrand: My father. Christine Callaghan. Cecil Goldsmith.

Cecil: How do you do?

Bertrand: Mother, you look wonderful!

The rest troop into the dining room where Jim is stuffing his face and pockets with cakes.

Bertrand is giving voice with peculiar syntax...

Bertrand: ...Nevertheless, not unpleasant to visit here and see the torch of culture still not uncombusting in the provinces.

Margaret brings Jim over to introduce him.

Margaret: Mr. Welch. Permit me. This is Mr. Dixon. James, this is Mr. Bertrand Welch.

Jim quickly swallows.

Jim: I hear you're a painter.

Bertrand: Indeed I am, yes. Not a painter of houses, alas, or I should be a not unwealthy one. Nor of naked ladies, also alas, or I should be not unwealthier.

Not quite understanding the turn of phrase...

Jim: What? Even not un. Sorry.

Bertrand: No. Simply a painter of art. And you are a what, Dixon?

Jim: I am a bit of a what, as it happens.

They're obviously not on the same wavelength.

Bertrand: Say again?

Jim: I'm one of your dad's labourers. Medieval History.

Bertrand: Ah. And you find that not unenjoyable, do you?

Jim speaks to Christine.

Jim: Well, it's not as glamorous as your line of country.

Christine: Mine?

Jim: Ballet dancing. All them tutus and pas de deux.

Slightly indignant.

Christine: Ballet dancing? I work in a bookshop. We don't often wear tutus in bookshops


Bertrand: Are you being humorous Dixon?

Jim: Oh, I'm sorry. I was under the impression that Miss Loosmore...

Neddy intervenes in his usual fumbling way.

Neddy: Dixon. This isn't Miss Loosmore. Miss Loosmore has faded into the sunset. This is an entirely different piece of... An altogether dissimilar bit of...

Christine introduces herself.

Christine: My name is Christine Callaghan. Hello.

They shake hands.

Jim: Thank you. Hello. Sorry about all that.

Not letting him off so lightly...

Bertrand: Well perhaps if you'd been not unopposed to being introduced with everyone else. But no, too late was the cry. So kindly excuse us, we must circulate among those who were. Come Christine!

Bertrand leads Christine away.

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The Film

Meeting Bertrand and Christine
From the film

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