REVIEW: On the Air by Mary Burchell
Bridget’s on camera for the first time ever … but is she heading for heartbreak?
When Bridget Monroe is offered her dream job as production secretary to TV producer Jerome “J.C.” Callender, little does she suspect that soon she’ll be on camera herself.
Tasked with booking the rising actor Norman Kleate — her old flame — for J.C.’s latest TV play, Bridget is struggling to keep her private and professional lives separate. But as she rekindles her romance with Norman, she’s taken aback by J.C.’s sudden interest in her personal life.
When J.C. suddenly decides to put Bridget on the other side of the camera as a celebrity interviewer, she’s thrilled at the opportunity to fulfil a long-buried dream — but Norman isn’t happy, and soon the couple are on rocky ground.
When Bridget is cruelly let down by Norman, J.C. is adamant a planned interview must go ahead — and suggests that he pose as Bridget’s fiancé. As the two begin to work together more closely than ever, Bridget’s shocked to realise she’s falling for her boss…
Welcome back to the original copyright date of 1956 when TV was a relatively new medium and programs – including plays – were performed live on air. Bridget Monroe is one of those Burchell heroines whose career plans were blighted by the death of her father and the necessity of financing that house in the country for her widowed mother. Luckily her brother could take a job abroad but that left Bridget forgoing her dreams of becoming an actress. Ah well, on to secretarial school.
Having done well there and gained experience, after six months Bridget applies for a job at Tele House and quickly works her way up to becoming a production secretary for a producer. Her first boss is nice and less demanding, allowing Bridget to master all the intricacies of her new position. When the chance to work with the Jerome Callender is offered to her, Bridget snaps it up. JC is demanding, exacting, and brilliant.
One of the first things he does is drop a new screenplay on Bridget’s desk with instructions to begin assembling the handpicked cast he’s written out. Noting one character is blank, she is told that JC wants Norman Kleate for the role – the same actor who has refused to do TV (he’s a theater actor, thank you very much) and whom Bridget used to date before Norman slowly shrugged his way out of her life. JC tells her that Norman absolutely has to play the part and she needs to reach out and start the ball rolling. Amazingly, Norman sounds delighted to hear from her and they arrange dinner which JC crashes to add his pitch.
Due to Mary Burchell’s standard plot twisting, Norman is allowed to believe that Bridget is involved with JC, thus sparking a bit of jealousy on his part. Finally told this by a mentally squirming Bridget, JC laughs it off and decides to let it continue. It got him the actor he wants so, okay. As rehearsing begins, Bridget has to stand in one day for an injured actress and JC discovers he’s got a woman with stage presence in his office. Things become even more complicated when JC decides to groom Bridget as an interviewer, Bridget and Norman become engaged, but many people begin to tell Bridget who they mistakenly think she’s in a relationship with.
Of course the reader knows pretty much all along that the relationship pairings are all wrong and that the happy couples who see JC and Bridget together know what they’re talking about. So many times I wanted to shake Bridget and tell her to wipe the auld lang syne from her eyes but hope springs eternal for her where Norman is concerned. There are hints about the way that JC truly feels for her even if he hasn’t been honest with himself either. What is nice is that both of them are honorable and not going to make a public fuss or scene – though honestly Bridget could have been entitled to one.
Parts of JC working with Bridget reminded me of Oscar Warrender and Anthea Benton’s training relationship in “A Song Begins.” Both men are perfectionist bastards who know their stuff and are determined that their protegees learn all they can. Their rare praise, when it’s given, means something. Reading about how much effort went into getting a production ready for the live TV of the day was fascinating. Some past Burchell characters also appear including Georges and Anthea Florian from “Under the Stars of Paris.”
I liked that Bridget stands up for herself and doesn’t allow JC to run roughshod over her. This makes the boss/secretary aspect palatable. She’s also got a charming friendship with her flatmate. It takes a long while before their feelings are out in the open but once they are, JC isn’t about to not claim his relationship with Bridget for all to see. B