BBC1 The Paradise – Art of Shopping & the Foundling Business

At The Paradise the art of shopping is a serious business, but what happens when it gets involved in the baby business?

In Episode 3 of BBC1’s splendid series The Paradise, about life in a department store in mid Victorian England, we find out that baby business makes good sense. The entirely intoxicating Moray, the owner of The Paradise, is achieving both material and self-fulfilling success as his client base and departments expand to suit his growing band of customers. Our British correspondent, who has been kept very busy keeping up with all the shows coming on line in the northern autumn just loved the third episode, but warns that if it is important for you to come fresh to it,  then please don’t read on or we may spoil it for you.

At the beginning of the day after arranging and delivering flowers to the other departments the day is turned upside down in ladies wear when the lovely Denise discovers a baby abandoned in one of the dressing rooms.

The little bundle of joy is a boy, who after a great deal of deliberation is called Arthur.

This is in honour of the store’s first fostered foundling, the teenage odd job boy Arthur, who is entirely indispensable, responsible beyond his years and delightfully endearing to most of the staff and viewers.

The baby attracts a great deal of attention and in the process obtains a change of gorgeous clothes, which are produced overnight by the talented Paradise dressmaking department. No one can find out the parentage of the baby or why it has been abandoned in the store. As Moray and his Manager and Store Detective Dudley confer Denise asks but please Mr Moray Sir who will look after him?

‘Why Us’, he answers, The Paradise.

Overnight the baby becomes a sensation and the subject of one of Moray’s most marvelous marketing and promotional innovative schemes. Over the course of the next few days he makes sure that the story is released to the press so The Paradise attracts much publicity, bringing hundreds of new shoppers in the door. Thinking on his feet Moray enlists the help of his philanthropic friend Peter Adler and he sets in motion a ‘foundling fund’ so that his customers, over the next few days, can contribute to the upbringing and welfare of The Paradise Baby.

Everyone in the store is completely besotted with the baby except Miss Audrey and Clara, both of whom we find out have secrets to hide.

Denise who found him becomes a bit of a celebrity overnight and sets a new sales record as everyone asks for her to serve them, which doesn’t sit well with the other girls in the department. Her constant creative ideas are still flowing and they cause continual friction between her and Miss Audrey, as well as Clara her resentful colleague in ladies wear.

The domineering Miss Audrey, who has probably never had a good idea in her life, admonishes and forbids Denise to ever have an  idea again or to voice her opinions, threatening dismissal if she does not stop thinking. Jealousy is such a powerful emotion.

Clara is very unhappy. Her continuing and constant animosity towards her competent colleague is fueled by the sinister store detective Jonas, who is always lurking somewhere in the background. He believes that ‘foundlings’ are begotten in sin and ‘remind us of everything foul in ourselves’. Harsh words for harsh times.

The papers the next day comment on the fact the baby was left in a store rather than a church because ‘today the populace puts more trust in commerce’. The Paradise has replaced the church steps. This was a point when a department store, which was a collection of stores confined within one set of walls, became a metaphor for security, safety and delight, a powerful idea one that has flowed onward and into the ‘malls of our own time*’. Ideas do shape the course of history.

[Today’s Mall houses within its walls not only department stores, but the other shops who wanted to be independent and limit the amount of commission they used to have to pay to a department store to be part of their environment. They have provided such enormous competition over the past few decades, they now threaten the idea that gave them birth. This could have a domino effect as people switch to online shopping, where the personal experience expounded so much by Moray and his staff at The Paradise is now found. Attractive online shops offer experiences that can be had in the comfort of home, far away from the maddening crowds.]

Philanthropist and founder of a home for unwanted children, Peter Adler is a charming fellow with a gentle manner, which is very endearing to Moray’s friend and supporter Katherine Glendenning. Known as ‘St Peter’ at his club he is ‘rich as creases’, involved in full time giving on a grand scale. He gently admonishes his friend Moray for being a ‘shameless opportunist’, one who will go to all lengths to achieve his goals and aims in life. Moray meanwhile is busy seizing the moment as Adler asks if he is using the foundling so that he can show off his humanity.

Moray promises Adler a donation to the hospital if he can keep the baby there for a few days before handing him over and that he will host a visit for his foundlings to his store. When they arrive Adler tells Moray and Katherine that he wants them to have a view of the future they can have in their working life ahead if they apply themselves to learning. The children’s visit to Paradise is a happy occasion, which includes a wonderful lunch that everyone enjoys. Katherine decides to provide a whole new set of clothes for the children at her own expense.

Clara’s nose is also put well out of joint when Denise usurps her, recommending wool for the children’s new outfits, rather than the velvet Clara is recommending, because it is far more expensive and will provide her with a much bigger commission on the sale. Denise is furious that Clara would put money before morality.

Denise seizes the moment to suggest to Katherine Glendenning that if The Paradise had a children’s wear department, full of ready made items, it would have made her job a great deal easier. Katherine agrees that it is an idea and she passes it onto Moray when it proves useful to her purpose.

Katherine questions her father Lord Glendenning about Adler’s credibility and when it is confirmed she finds a whole new purpose in life as a supporter and sponsor of The Founding Hospital.  She invites Adler to attend a dinner party she puts on in his honour, where he tells her guests that he also wants to make the Foundling Home ‘autonomous’ free of any benefactor, by creating a great fund that will service its needs into the future.

Moray is not very happy at the dinner, as Katherine focuses on giving her full attention to Adler. He goes into defense mode, suggesting the fund he has established will provide further benefaction for Adler’s founding, the baby coming with its dowry intact. Lord Glendenning suggests that such a foundation will need proper administration and a highly profiled Patron.

Why not a Patroness suggests Katherine?

It’s clear to see by the looks on the faces of the men around the table that they firmly believe that a woman’s place is in the home, not being a useful part of society. Moray quite openly humiliates Katherine in front of the others, who are all men, by being very patronizing. He says that she’s an ‘exquisite confection of froth, frivolity and fashion’, one that can only be a decorative figurehead not a useful one, and that she’s wanting to stray into an area for which she is wholly unfitted.

His dreadful rebuff is not taken well, although she responds politely and to the point, after all this is mid Victorian England, where a display of manners and decorum are all important for those with a status in society to protect. Also there are other guests to consider so she swallows hard and conceals how much he has hurt her, at least for the moment until she remembers Denise’s suggestion.

She then icily puts him down with a thud by inferring that he’s missing an opportunity and that while her ‘frivolity and fashion’ experience does not really equip her, a department in his store providing ready made clothes for the young would provide a service for mothers and be a godsend for him. She wonders why he has never though of it?

He does not like how she manages the return rebuff and so he later takes his anger out on Denise who he believes has gone behind his back to his ‘connections’.

Adler has a rewarding encounter with Katherine after dinner in the garden and after sharing confidences asks if she would be willing to accept his suit, that is if she’s not bound to Moray. She agrees, confirming that her affections have not been engaged elsewhere.

The children come after hours to be measured up for the new clothes Katherine is providing and Clara and Denise have to stay back to help the seamstresses.

Denise catches Clara stealing funds from the foundling donation tin. After questioning she finds out just why her colleague is having such a hard time and is so focused on making money. It is a sad outcome and Denise shows her compassion for this angry young woman, offering her understanding, comfort and friendship, which will hopefully bring them closer together in the future. Being the strong and admirable woman of principle she is, Katherine visits Moray at The Paradise to tell him about accepting Adler’s suit.

His Manager and best friend Dudley worries about what the effect it will have on Moray when he tells him that Katherine is turning her affections elsewhere but he feigns disinterest.

He considers that Moray has rejected Katherine’s caring ministrations in the past, because he is clinging to the grief associated with the loss of his wife three years before, which has has caused a great gap in his life.

Moray tells him it is simply because he is not ready yet to love again. Although we all realise that it is much more complex than that.

Young Arthur is also having a hard time since the foundling has turned up, because he does not understand his own background or know who his parents were and why they abandoned him.

His questioning various members of the staff sets in motion another chain of events that in the future will reach out like ripples in a pond.

Moray apologises to Denise finally for having doubted her, when he challenges her again about why she didn’t come to him with her ideas as he had asked her to do, offering her a privilege he had not offered anyone else before. He finds out that she has been made to promise she won’t have, or express her ideas to anyone by the woman in charge of her everyday life, Mme Audrey.

He then realizes that she has used her ingenuity so that she can let him know through a conduit how to make more money. He is pleased that she has once again showed her initiative and they are reconciled.

We are left to ponder if next week we will find out it all the people attached in some way to The Paradise will all be able to face up to who they are and what they do to the people who love them in the next intriguing installment of this tale about a divine shopping heaven.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2012

*When working on Operapolitan, a community event initiative for Brisbane City Council, research revealed from answers gathered from asking questions of customers in many of Brisbane’s Malls why they shopped there, rather than in small boutique stores elsewhere. Without fail every single person surveyed said that it was all about the ‘security’ of the mall and being in a safe place.

BBC 1 The Paradise

From a Novel by Émile Zola
Adapted by Bill Gallagher

Cast of Characters

Joanne Vanderham as Denise
Emun Elliott as Moray
Elaine Cassidy as Katherine
Matthew McNulty as Dudley
Sarah Lancashire as Miss Audrey
David Hayman as Jonas
Peter Wight as Edmund Lovett
Patrick Malahide as Lord Glendenning
Stephen Wight as Sam
Sonya Cassidy as Clara
Ruby Bentall as Pauline
Finn Burridge as Arthur

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