The Golden Age of Ballooning: Montgolfier Brothers

(Animation of balloons ascending.)



(Cut to a suburban bathroom. A plumber with a bag of tools open beside him is doing an elaborate repair on the toilet. He is in rather an awkward position.)

Plumber: (working away) The Golden Age of Ballooning can be said to begin in 1783 ... when the Montgolfier brothers made their first ascent in a fire balloon. On the eve of that ... (struggling with the work) come on... come on... momentous ascent, the brothers took one last look at their craft, as it stood on the field of Annencay.

(Pleasant elegant eighteenth-century music. Mix to a French small country-house interior. At the window Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier are looking out at their balloon. In the background a plumber is working away at a bit of eighteenth-century French piping.)

Jacques: This is a great moment for us, Joseph.

Joseph: It is a great moment for France.

Jacques: Ah, oui!

Joseph: First ascent in a hot-air balloon, by the Montgolfier brothers - 1783 ... I can see us now... just after Montesquieu and just before Mozart.

Jacques: I think I'll go and wash ...

Joseph: Good luck.

Jacques: Oh ... it's quite easy, really ... I just slap a little water on my face, then...

Joseph: No... good luck for tomorrow.

Jacques: Oh I see, yes. You too. Yours has been the work.

Joseph: Let us hope for a safe ascent... and don't use my flannel.

Jacques: You know, when you showed me the plans in Paris, I could not believe that we should be the first men who would fly.

Joseph: Yes ... it's wonderful.

Jacques: I am so excited I could hardly wash.

Joseph: Yes ... I too have had some difficulty washing these past few days.

Jacques: Still, what is washing when we are on the verge of a great scientific breakthrough?

Joseph: Jacques...

Jacques: Yes, Joseph...

Joseph: I have not been washing very thoroughly for many years now.

Jacques: What do you mean? You must have been washing your face?

Joseph: Oh yes, my face, I wash my face... but my legs... my stomach ... my chest, they're filthy.

Jacques: Well, I don't wash my stomach every day.

Joseph: (with increasing self-remorse) Ah, but you wash far more than me ... you are the cleaner of the Montgolfier brothers.

Jacques: This is nothing, Joseph...

(A very formal butler enters.)

Buffer: Monsieur Montgolfier.. A Mr Parfitt to see you, sir. (A head appears round the door and corrects the butler, in a very stage whisper.)

Mr Bartlett: No, no... no... Bartlett! (the head disappears again)

Buffer: A Mr Barklit, to see you, sir.

Mr Bartlett: No! Bartlett with a 't'. (the head disappears again)

Buffer: (with di'icul'y) Barr ... at ... elett ... to see you, sir.

Mr Bartlett: Bartlett (he disappears again)

Buffer: Barkit...

Mr Bartlett: Bartlett!

Buffer: Baffle... Bartlett... A Mr Bartlett to see you, sir.

Joseph: I don't want to see anyone, O'Toole... tell him to go away.

Buffer: Thank you, sir. (he exits)

Jacques: Well, it's getting late. I must go and have a wash.

Joseph: What will you be washing?

Jacques: Oh ... just my face and neck ... perhaps my feet... and possibly ... but no ... no ... lock up the plans, Joseph... tomorrow they will make us the toast of France. 'The first ascent by the Montgolfier brothers in a balloon'. Just after Ballcock and just before Bang... what a position!

(Some men have now entered the room, chosen a spot and are briskly but quietly setting up a screen and a projector, The projector is turned on and a film comes up on the screen together with triumphant music, applause and commentary. We zoom in to the screen. It shows an animation of two naked men boxing in a large tub of water.)

Voice Over: So, on June 7th, 1783, the Montgolfier brothers had a really good wash ... starting on his face and arms, Joseph Michael Montgolfier went on to scrub his torso, his legs and his naughty bits, before rinsing his whole body. That June night, he and his brother between them washed seventeen square feet of body area. They used a kilo and a half of catholic soap and nearly fourteen gallons of nice hot water. It was indeed an impressive sight.

(Music crescendo.)


(Picture of a balloon. Cut to BBC2 logo)


Voice Over: Next week on 'The Golden Age of Ballooning', we examine the work of Girlsher and Coxwell, the English balloonists who ascended to a height of seven miles in 1862 without washing. There is also a book called 'The Golden Age of Ballooning' published by the BBC to coincide with the series. It's in an attractive hand-tooled binding, is priced L5 and failure to buy it will make you liable to a £50 fine or three months' imprisonment. There's also a record of someone reading the book of 'The Golden Age of Ballooning', a crochet-work bedspread with the words 'The Golden Age of Ballooning' on it, available from the BBC, price £18 or five months' imprisonment and there are matching toilet-seat covers and courtesy mats with illustrations of many of the baboons mentioned. Also available is a life-size model frog which croaks the words 'The Golden Age of Ballooning' and an attractive bakelite case for storing motorway construction plans in, made in the shape of a balloon. And now, another chance to see a repeat of this morning's re-run of last night's second showing of episode 'two of the award-winning series 'The Golden Age of Ballooning'.

(ANIMATION: balloons ascending as before.)


(Joseph Montgolfier's workshop. We see plans and drawing boards, and at one end of the room, Joseph's fiancee, Antoinette, in a pretty dress. She is hanging suspended in a harness horizontally, attached to a gas bag. In other words she is fioating like the bottom half of an airship. Joseph is making calculations excitedly. Occasionally he goes over to her, takes a measurement and goes back to his desk to write it down.)

Antoinette: Oh Joseph, all you think about is balloons... all you talk about is balloons. Your beautiful house is fun of bits and pieces of balloons... your books are all about balloons... every time you sing a song, it is in some way obliquely connected with balloons... everything you eat has to have 'balloon' incorporated in the title... your dogs are an called 'balloonno'... you tie balloons to your ankles in the evenings.

Joseph: I don't do that!

Antoinette: Well, no, you don't do that, but you do duck down and shout 'Hey! Balloons!' when there are none about. Your whole life is becoming obsessively balloonic, you know. Why do I have to hang from this bloody gas bag all day? Don't I mean anything to you?

Joseph: (busy measuring) Oh ma cherie, you mean more to me than any heavier than air dirigible could ever...

Antoinette: Oh there you go again!

Joseph: Don't waggle!

(Jacques enters.)

Jacques: I've run your bath for you, Joseph. (he sees Antoinette) Oh... I'm so sorry, I didn't realize.

Joseph: It's all right, we've done the difficult bit.

Jacques: Well, don't forget we have our special guest coming this evening.

Joseph: Oh?

Jacques: Don't tell me you have forgotten already. The man who is giving us thousands of francs for our experiments.

Joseph: What man?

Jacques: Louis XIV!

Joseph: Isn't he dead?

Jacques: Evidently not...

Joseph: All right, I'll be round.

Jacques: Oh, and Joseph...

Joseph: Yes, Jacques?

Jacques: You will... wash... won't you?

Joseph: Yes, of course!


(Continued in Louis XIV)

Continue to the next sketch... Louis XIV