The Main Chance – A Little Black and White Lie (5th October 1970)

A Brazilian diplomat, Manuel Patino (Clifton Jones), and his wife, Carlo (Valerie Murray), are desperate to adopt a baby. The only problem is that they’re black and their intended adoptee is white ….

This is the second of David Weir’s three Main Chance scripts, so you should once again expect a few slightly jarring scene transitions (although this episode flows better than his previous effort).

The colour problem was a topic tackled in numerous British drama and comedy series during this period (often well-meaning, sometimes controversially). A Little Black and White Lie falls into the well-meaning category, although the first half of the story does display something of a sledgehammer subtlety.

The baby’s natural mother, Eileen Donnell (Margaret Brady), remains pretty passive until the last few minutes of the episode, which means that her mother, Mrs Donnell (Elizabeth Begley), makes all the early running. What can you say about Elizabeth Begley’s performance? Hmm. It’s certainly memorable, although maybe director John Frankau should have asked her to tone it down several notches.

Mrs Donnell is very, very Irish (swigging pints of Guinness like they’re going out of fashion). She launches a tirade of racial abuse against the Patinos which is fairly shocking, although if she’d been less of an Irish caricature this scene might have had even more of an impact.

Convinced that Margaret Castleton has become emotionally involved, Main takes over the case and proceeds in his own fashion (bad-tempered as usual). Indeed, Main’s apoplexy reaches new heights today although thankfully things quieten down for a scene which is easily the highlight of the episode.

Similar to Bernard Kay a few episodes back, it was initially a surprise to see Douglas Wilmer tackling the role of Dr. Lowton. The doctor responsible for arranging the adoption, to begin with it looked like a pretty minor role.

But when they meet, Main is able to dispassionately chip away at Lowton’s seemingly honest façade to reveal an unrepentant racist underneath. Lowton knew trouble would erupt when news filtered out that a black couple intended to take a white baby out of the country (indeed, he did all he could to stoke things up). This scene is far more chilling than Mrs Donnell’s tirade, thanks to Wilmer’s underplaying.

It’s Lowton’s calm denial that he’s done anything wrong which really has an impact (so maybe we had to suffer the rantings of Mrs Donnell first in order to appreciate this contrast).

Apart from Wilmer, there’s another familiar face guesting – Jack May. He has a fairly unexciting part though (a newspaperman called Harry Turner who doesn’t – as expected – look to dish the dirt).

Things are left open ended. Eileen visits Mr and Mrs Patino and – seeing how much they love the child – elects not to contest the adoption. But as Main says, that still only means that there’s an even chance it will be approved.

A Little Black and White Lie is rather heavy-handed in places, but it does generate some food for thought.

Special Branch – Short Change (19th November 1969)

The Troika affair rears its head again after Christine Morris (Sandra Bryant) escapes from an open prison. She’s swiftly recaptured, but it seems that she might end up in Russia anyway ….

The move to colour is initially a little jarring (mainly because it allows us to appreciate for the first time just how gaudy many of DCI Jordan’s shirt and tie combinations are). There’s also a rejigged title sequence, which is notable for the way it features the series’ two leading actors, Derren Nesbitt and Fulton Mackay (previously the images were of unknown miscreants).

We’re don’t see the initial meeting between Inman (Mackay) and Jordan (Nesbitt), but their first scene together sets the tone. Inman is clearly throwing his weight around a little by attempting to tighten certain areas of procedure that he feels have got too lax (Jordan, of course, bridles about this).  No doubt over time they’ll find an amicable way to work together, but this initial friction isn’t unpleasing.

An early hot topic of discussion concerns the hapless DC Morrisey, who stands accused of assaulting a protestor at a demonstration. Jordan (despite indulgently regarding Morrisey as a somewhat hopeless case) stands firmly behind him – he has no evidence either way, but is happy to close ranks as he instinctively knows Morrisey would never give way to violence. But since Inman doesn’t know Morrisey he requires something more than blind faith. Mind you, as Inman later establishes his innocence (by studying the film rushes of the alleged attack) he does seem to have the best interests of his officers at heart.

Sandra Bryant returns as the unsettling Christine Morris. Apparently an innocent pawn caught up in a spy web, her coolness under pressure (not even the prospect of being sent to Holloway prison fazes her) begins to set alarm bells ringing for Inman. After a little digging it’s discovered that the real Christine Morris died in infancy, so the woman masquerading as her looks to be a Russian agent.

A pity this wasn’t discovered the first time around, which is a mark against the recently department Eden ….

The irony is that Moxon had long suspected this and is more than happy for her to be sent back to Russia. Partly because she can be swopped for a British student arrested in Moscow for selling two jumpers from Marks & Spencer, but mainly because it’ll enable a British shoe factory to be built over there.  As Moxon discloses to the Deputy Commander (David Garth) not only will the factory net HMG three million pounds, it’ll also be of benefit to the Russians (who have terrible shoes, according to Moxon).

As so often with the series, justice has to take a second seat to political maneuvering (although it’s best not to assume this particular story has concluded).

At one point the Deputy Commander wonders whether Moxon’s air of infallibility is all just a mask. He, of course, demurs – but the episode leaves a few questions unanswered. For example, since it looks like the Russians went to considerable trouble to arrange the swop, why did they attempt to spirit Christine away from prison in a rather amateurish fashion?

Much more vigorous and active than Eden, Mackay makes an instant impression as Inman. Jennifer Wilson, as DS Webb, appears to have vanished without trace. She had a pretty thankless role, but it’s surprising that she didn’t carry over into the colour era of the series.

As often happened with ITV drama from this period, there’s a mix of OB VT and film used for location work. Christine’s escape from prison is shot on film whilst her departure from the UK is captured on videotape (possibly there were logistical reasons for this – maybe it was easier to move the more lightweight VT cameras around the airport).

Short Change isn’t a story with many shocks (for once we know exactly why Moxon does what he does, and it’s difficult to argue against him) but the episode sets up the new dynamic between Inman and Jordan very effectively.

Secret Army – Little Old Lady (22nd November 1978)

Wing Commander Kelso (Andrew Robertson) is required back in Britain as soon as possible. But it won’t be easy to move him – as he sustained severe facial burns when his plane crashed. There are ways though, but will Kelso agree?

The second series of Secret Army has already suffered from some melodramatic music cues, but there’s several in today’s episode which take the biscuit (especially the one during the opening few minutes). Rather than helping to create tension, their over the top nature somewhat dissipates the mood.

Although Albert briefly escapes from the Candide to meet Kelso, he otherwise remains pretty much rooted to the spot. But Hepton does have some decent scenes today, which makes a nice change (he’s been somewhat underused so far during this second series). Albert’s love for the Candide is displayed after someone drops a bomb into the middle of the dining room (luckily it doesn’t go off). More than helping the airmen to escape, more than his relationship with Monique, you do get the sense that Albert’s first love is the Candide – mainly because of the money it makes him.

Albert’s close fraternisation with the likes of Kessler hasn’t gone unnoticed, hence the bomb. We never discover if it was a dummy or whether it had a faulty fuse. But in story terms that doesn’t really matter as it serves to shake everyone up – especially Madeline, who is feeling isolated during Kessler’s absence.  She latches onto Monique and the pair strike up a hesitant friendship – encouraged by Albert (who can see the benefits) and despised by Max (who has no love for collaborators).

One running theme throughout the episode is Madeline’s fur coat, which she gives to Monique. She decides to wear it when taking Kelso down the line and gifts it to him as a parting present (he later throws it away). Amazingly it’s found by a German soldier and Brandt mentions it to Kessler. Could this be a clue that leads Kessler a step closer to discovering that the Candide is the headquarters of Lifeline? Presumably not, but you never know ….

Andrew Robertson gives a solid performance as Kelso. Despite notching up over fifty flying missions, Kelso eschews the aura of a hero – maintaining that he’s simply been lucky. His abrasive nature means that initially he clashes with Monique, but in a not terribly surprising plot twist they part on much better terms.

Things get a little odd mid way through the episode when Kelso decides, for no good reason, to hop off the train he and Natalie are travelling on. Partly this seems to have been done so that Kelso (a locomotive expert) can pinch another train and go chugging down the track. Commandeering a steam engine is not exactly the thing do to if you’re trying to keep a low profile.

Later safely ensconced with Sophie and Madeline (two old ladies who we’ve met before), Kelso is then introduced to Louis-Victor Condé (David King). An experienced actor, he uses his knowledge to instruct Kelso how to masquerade as a woman (as a female he’ll be able to use heavy make up which will disguise his scars). The scene where Louis-Victor fashions a tablecloth into a baby and proceeds to demonstrate the art of the actor is another of those odd moments. It’s certainly an unusual scene for SA.

Francois pops up again. He continues to be Lifeline’s least interesting member as either he’s fretting that Natalie’s in danger or he’s embracing her heartily once she returns.  Max doesn’t have a great deal to do, but Stephen Yardley’s aura of simmering danger is put to good use – particularly when Albert is carted off by the Gestapo. Albert returns later – shaken, but unharmed – although Max continues to brood.

Angela Richards probably comes off best, script wise. Not only does she share a fascinating two-hander with Hazel McBride which helps to bulk up both their characters, but later there’s a handful of strong scenes between Monique and Kelso (who by now is thawing somewhat).

Little Old Lady lacks many moments of real tension, but David Crane’s script is a good character piece and, apart from a few minor plot niggles, works well.

Upstairs Downstairs – Married Love (4th November 1972)

Relations between Elizabeth and Lawrence are worsening due to his inability to consummate their marriage. Shuddering at the thought of such gross physical activity, he turns to his publisher and mentor – Sir Edwin Partridge (Charles Gray) – who may be able to assist ….

The opening of this episode feels a bit abrupt (the UpDown website confirms that the first few lines are inexplicably missing from all copies currently in circulation). Thomas’ incredulity that bootlaces and newspapers need to be ironed raises a smile (as does his suggestion that he could do the same to the bacon). The truculent cook, Mrs. Fellowes, also helps to create an air of sour comic relief – it’s all to do with her leg you know.

Laughs are thin on the ground when we move upstairs to Elizabeth and Lawrence’s bedroom. His total disinterest in that side of their relationship (as a poet he apparently finds it too ghastly to contemplate) is made plain – which launches Elizabeth into the realms of deepest despair. Matters get no better over the breakfast table and they part – he to visit Sir Edwin – on the worst of terms.

Elizabeth has very few role models to turn to. It would be impossible to speak to her mother about such a delicate subject, so instead she sounds out Rose. This is a gloriously uncomfortable scene – the pure and innocent Rose is just about the last person to advise anyone on sexual matters (all she can do is pass on second hand information about her aunt and uncle’s strained relationship and how all working men are only after one thing).

Given that the first half of the episode is claustrophobic and rather unhappy, it’s a jarring (but not unpleasant) change of pace when the action switches to Thomas and Elizabeth taking a drive. The wily Thomas has persuaded the Kirkbridges that buying a car would be a wise move – he, of course, will be more than happy to act as chauffeur.  Although the OB VT makes things look a little cheap, it still must have been quite an expensive scene to mount as there’s a fair number of extras dotted about the park.

Whilst Elizabeth is getting the colour back in her cheeks, Lawrence is unburdening his soul to Sir Edwin. Charles Gray is on typically mesmerising form throughout – purring like a particularly well-fed cat as Sir Edwin elects (with Lawrence’s blessing) to try and lift Elizabeth’s spirits by any means necessary.

By seducing her? During a party held by Lawrence to celebrate the publication of his new book, Sir Edwin and a rather tiddly Elizabeth do visit her bedroom, but it’s not specified in this episode exactly what they get up to.  Sir Edwin does look satisfied when he later bids Lawrence farewell, but then that seems to be his default setting.

Elizabeth and Sir Edwin’s conversation during the party is fascinating. Although he toys with her, Elizabeth does possess some intellectual tools of her own (even though, as events during previous episodes have proved, she still has a strong streak of naivety).

The champagne flows freely at the party, which is just as well as the sample we have of Lawrence’s poetry (all doom laden stuff) would no doubt sound a little better after a few stiff drinks.

In some ways Married Love serves as a prologue to the drama of the next episode, but John Harrison’s script (the second of his two UpDown efforts) is still a strong vehicle for Elizabeth. Since Harrison’s previous effort was The Path of Duty (Elizabeth’s debut in the series) it’s possibly not surprising he was chosen to move her character on to the next stage.

The Main Chance – First, You Eat – Later We Ruin You (28th September 1970)

Kenneth Manmer (Peter Jeffrey) enters into a lucrative property deal with David Main. Main’s 7.5% holding promises to make him a rich man – although it isn’t long before he starts to wonder exactly where the seemingly affluent Manmer’s money is coming from ….

The first of three Main Chance scripts by David Weir (and not a killer cat in sight) there’s something a little off-kilter about First, You Eat – Later We Ruin You. Partly this may be down to Weir’s unfamiliarity with the series and characters (it’s very jarring to see a happy Main singing arias at the top of his voice whilst cleaning his teeth!) but there’s also some bafflingly quick scene transitions, which are unusual to see.

Most notably this occurs at 14:10 into the episode. We go from a scene with Margaret, then to Sarah, then to Main, then to Sarah again (wearing different clothes, so obviously time has passed) and back to Margaret. It’s a bewildering series of jumps which in total lasts no more than twenty seconds.

Remaining in niggle mode, you have to say that it was very unwise for Main to so readily agree to jump into bed (business wise) with Manmer. The attentive viewer would have expected there to be a sting in the tail (after all, Peter Jeffrey’s stock in trade was playing shifty types). Any time the audience is ahead of Main, it doesn’t make him look good.

It’s a very entertaining guest turn by Jeffrey though, who plays the affluent lord of the manor (chomping cigars and shooting pheasants) very well. And everything is given a little extra spice when we meet Manmer’s rather frightening wife, Meriel (Valerie Sarruf), and begin to learn that his devoted assistant, Doran (Tom Kempinski), is possibly the one pulling the strings.

Main makes a totally pointless trip to Switzerland in order to question Manmer’s banker. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to learn that Swiss bankers don’t divulge any secrets, but it was nice to see Vladek Sheybal.

Even though Peter Jeffrey has the most screen time of any of the guest stars, my favourite performance came from Bernard Hepton as Bridges (the man from the Inland Revenue). Hepton always seemed incapable of giving a poor performance and he’s very much on song today. Bridges is a softly-spoken, seemingly innocuous sort of man, but it’s plain that he possesses considerable tenacity. This character type was very much Hepton’s stock in trade.

Oddest performance comes courtesy of David Hutchenson as the crusty old banker, Sir George More-Litton. Hutchenson struggles with his lines at times, particularly in a key scene towards the end of the episode.

Everything is wrapped up a little too neatly. Just before the second ad break a jubilant Manmer tells Main that he can’t walk away from the deal (Manmer’s been paying funds into a Swiss bank account in Main’s name just to make him look even more guilty). But over the remaining twenty minutes Main is calmly able to extract himself whilst Manmer is never seen again (the inference is that he’s been chopped up into tiny pieces by his Mafia associates).

Although there’s not a lot of time for pleasure in this episode, Main does hook up with Edie Semple (Georgina Ward), a fellow divorcee who seems to have always carried a torch for him. She appears in the next episode (also written by Wier) although I found Edie to be a little distracting today, mainly due to her wig.

First, You Eat – Later We Ruin You is a decent watch, thanks to Jeffrey and Hepton. It’s just a shame that Main comes over as a little foolish.

Special Branch – Reliable Sources (12th November 1969)

The ninth episode of series one, Reliable Sources is something of a milestone episode as we bid farewell to Det. Supt. Eden. There’s been a serial element running through a number of these episodes, which continues here (and in the episode to follow). Eden – after an intense grilling from the security commission – is told that he’s been cleared of any wrongdoing in respect of his handling of the Troika debacle (as have his fellow Special Branch officers). But any jubilation proves to be short-lived ….

If Reliable Sources shows us anything, then it’s how the bluff, honest Eden is no match for the devious Moxon. Right from the start, when Moxon warns Eden not to poke around in matters which don’t concern him, it’s plain that Eden will come off second best.

A Russian spy called Alexandrov (heavily involved in the Troika affair) has defected to the West. This means little to Eden, who still has a warrant for his arrest and is keen to enforce it, but Moxon firmly warns him off. When the news of Alexandrov’s defection is leaked to the papers, Eden becomes a prime suspect – especially since he’s recently lunched with Clive Bradbury (Tony Britton), an experienced Fleet Street hack who specialises in security stories.

What’s interesting is that Moxon admits to bugging Bradbury’s phone, so the true culprit of the leak would already have been known to him (although he later shrugs this off). Why then did he make Eden feel so uncomfortable? Possibly Moxon, the arch manipulator, simply can’t help himself.

The twist in the tail – the man responsible for leaking the story meets with Moxon – shouldn’t really come as a surprise. But both Eden and Jordan jump to the wrong conclusion (Moxon is corrupt) rather than the right one (Moxon is laying a false trail to confuse the Russians).

Morris Perry is on top form today and it’s nice to see both Tony Britton and David Collings guest-starring. Collings plays Bradbury’s editor, who’s just as keen as he is for a scoop on the Alexandrov affair. Although the story that’s leaked to them via Moxon’s proxy (Alexandrov’s precise whereabouts) doesn’t sound that exciting.

The fact that Eden’s been totally outplayed from beginning to end is highlighted by the way he’s unceremoniously shunted out of Special Branch and into an important-sounding (but no doubt meaningless) job for the next twelve months until his retirement is due. It’s easy to imagine Moxon’s hand in this, although given how easy Eden has been to manipulate, maybe not – after all, the next man in the hot seat might pose more of a challenge.

There’s been whispers throughout the episode that Jordan is in line for the job. He certainly seemed to think so, as when the Deputy Commander breaks the news that Det. Supt. Inman will be taking over, Jordan’s face visibly falls.

The next episode is clearly a key one as George Markstein returns to write it. Plus there’s the fact that the series moves into colour, which – together with the arrival of Fulton Mackay as Inman – helps to give these later S1 episodes the feel of a new series launch.

Secret Army – The Big One (15th November 1978)

The RAF mount a massive raid over Berlin – the big one. But things go awry after bombs are dropped short, destroying a residential suburb on the outskirts of the city. Amongst the dead are Brandt’s wife and son ….

The Big One is an episode that could easily have centered totally around the Germans as Lifeline’s contribution is pretty negligible.  Opening with the bombing raid (stock footage mixed in with newly shot material and somewhat melodramatic music cues) we then cross to the Candide, where Brandt is dining with Oberst Neidlinger (Mark Jones).  Neidlinger is the latest oficer attempting to draw Brandt into the conspiracy to kill Hitler, but Brandt still refuses to commit himself.

The conflict between the aristocratic military (as represented by Neidlinger) and the thuggish Gestapo (as represented by Kessler) is given another airing today. Kessler, dining with Madeline, repeats his views on the subject (he’s still fuming about the way the Gestapo is treated with arrogant comtempt by the military elite). The cliché of the good German hovers in the background of this episode, but by the end the lines between Kessler and Brandt have been somewhat blurred.

Brandt travels to Berlin in order to arrange the transfer of his family to a safer location – ironically on the same day that the bombs hit. There’s some more stock footage patched in, along with a small rubble strewn set which is the only bit of desolated Berlin we see. Brandt’s collapse (after he learns of his loss) is nicely underplayed by Michael Culver.

The relationship between Kessler and Madeline inches forward (he gives her a chaste kiss).

I like the way we switch from Lifeline (listening to the BBC radio broadcast stating that 22 RAF aircraft failed to return) to Kessler and Madeline (German wireless reported 45 aircraft shot down). Both Max and Albert have a suspicion that the German figures are more likely to be correct.

Lifeline pick up one airman, Flight Sgt. Bert Lewis (Daniel Hill), but they don’t hold onto him for very long. Frankly it’s not surprising as their interrogation of him is brutal and hectoring. Plot-wise the reason for this is obvious – Lewis, believing they were German spies, later makes a run for it – but given the experience Lifeline have, it’s hard to believe that Monique and Alain would be quite so clumsy.

And this is Lifeline’s major contribution to the story. Whilst a little tension is generated (will Lewis betray any of Lifeline’s secrets?) this falls flat as Lewis doesn’t really know anything about them. So this part of the plot would have played out just the same had Lewis spent a couple of days wandering around the countryside before getting picked up by a German patrol.

Brandt returns to Brussels and is treated to a meal by Kessler. This is a fascinating scene, not least for the way that Brandt behaves (in a very jolly and hyperactive manner). Seemingly shrugging off the death of his wife and son as matters of no consequence, he then playfully begins to mock Kessler’s liaison with Madeline. The reason for doing so is obvious – it’s Brandt’s way of telling Kessler that whilst others may gossip about his totally innocent relationship, he doesn’t (and hopes in turn that Kessler doesn’t read anything into the meetings he’s had with known anti-Hitler officers).

Given that Brandt earlier confessed to being somewhat wary of Kessler, it’s strange that he decided to be quite so blunt. But maybe it’s a sign that he’s not thinking clearly.

Matters come to a head for him during his interrogation (or debriefing, as he calls it) of Lewis. It begins amicably enough, in his trademark friendly style (something which Kessler has long derided). But a still grieving Brandt eventually loses control and takes out his frustration on Lewis. The few minutes leading up to his sudden outburst of violence are mesmerising – it’s framed as a tight two-shot of Brandt and Lewis, which slowly closes in on Brandt as his anger increases.

The Big One is Michael Culver’s episode and he doesn’t disappoint.

Light Entertainment Rarities – Network DVD Review

Sammy Davis Jr Meets The British (11th June 1960)

This special, directed by Brian Tesler, neatly falls into three separate sections. In the first, a solo Sammy entertains with a selection of songs, some affable chat to the audience and an impersonation of Adam Faith thrown in for good measure. All this takes place against a fairly basic set, so it’s clear that the budget wasn’t spent on this section.

A little more spending is evident in part two which begins with an OB shoot at a deserted Battersea funfair. Sammy leads a group of cute children around the fair, all the time indulging in plenty of song and dance action. Thanks to the presence of the kids there’s a strong sense of schmaltz about this part of the show, but it’s tightly choregraphed and it’s also nice to get a look at the long vanished fair.

We then return to the studio to see Sammy – desperate to become an English gentleman – receiving some instruction from Lionel Blair. Their initial crosstalk might drag a little, but it’s worth wading through as the pay-off (the pair attempt to out tap each other) is great fun. They seem to genuinely spark off each other, with Sammy spontaneously bringing him back in part three to take another bow.

The final third of the special has a nightclub ambiance. A dinner suited Sammy performs behind an orchestra with well-dressed ladies and gentlemen sat at tables nearby.  Had the whole show been like this then I wouldn’t have objected – as it is, these remaining fifteen minutes gives him a chance to demonstrate his versatility one final time (singing, playing the drums and attempting various impersonations – of which Louis Armstrong is the most impressive).

Steamboat Shuffle (1960)

I was expecting this to take place on a Steamboat set in the studio, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover that the twenty five minutes of trad jazz action occurs on a real boat – the Cottontail – moored on the riverside at Teddington. It was built especially for this short series (of which the edition on this disc is the sole survivor).

Introduced by the affable Peter Elliott, Steamboat Shuffle is interesting for several reasons – not least for the way director Ben Churchill managed to make the OB recording flows nicely (giving it the feel of a live production). Logistically it must have been something of a nightmare, with the cameras for certain performances placed on the dockside (meaning that the cameramen had to nip past the jiving hip young things) but there were very few muffled shot choices.

The musical turns come thick and fast, with the performances from a young Kenny Lynch especially catching the eye. It’s an enjoyable way to spend twenty five minutes, and it leaves me a little saddened that this episode is the only one still left in existence.

Big Night Out – The Peggy Lee Show (26th August 1961)

This edition of Big Night Out has a similar feel to the Sammy Davis Jr special, although Peggy Lee wasn’t quite the same all-rounder – her brief chat to the audience has a faint air of awkwardness (as does a skit she appears in, featuring David Kossoff as a taxi driver). But luckily this show plays to her strengths, so it mainly comprises of a series of excellent musical performances (Fever is an obvious highlight).

The third part of the show sees Peggy joined by three friends – Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen and Bing Crosby. This is something rather special as the affable Cahn enjoys some nice musical byplay with Peggy (Van Heusen remains silent, content just to play the piano). Bing Crosby wanders on towards the end to perform a couple of songs, although given the Cahn/Van Heusen catalogue (both together and separately) this part of the show can only scratch the surface of their musical output.

Celebration (9th April 1966)

The final programme on the disc, Celebration with Duke Ellington and his orchestra, is a little heavier than the three other other light entertainment offerings, but it’s still a fascinating watch. Recorded at Coventry Cathedral, Celebration was only rediscovered in 2018. Including the European premiere of his ‘Concert of Sacred Music’, the performance was one that was close to Ellington’s heart (he later referred to it as “one of the most satisfying things I have ever done. And the most important.”)

Light Entertainment Rarities is an excellent release, scooping up a selection of one-offs or orphaned episodes from otherwise wiped series which would be too short by themselves to merit a stand-alone release. Fingers crossed that a volume two follows in due course, but for now this DVD is well worth checking out.

Light Entertainment Rarities was released by Network on the 9th of November 2020 (1 disc, running for 177 minutes). It can be ordered directly from Network here.

The Bruce Forsyth Show – Network DVD Review

Sandwiched inbetween Bruce Forsyth’s initial breakthrough as one of the hosts of Sunday Night at the London Palladium during the late fifties and his rebirth as a fully-fledged game-show host on The Generation Game in the early seventies, The Bruce Forsyth Show is a fascinating programme (Brucie’s missing link, you might say).

Most thumbnail biographies tend to skip over this period, contending that it took The Generation Game to restore Bruce to full television glory. And yet The Bruce Forsyth Show doesn’t skimp on star names – Frankie Howerd, Cilla Black, Dudley Moore, Tommy Cooper, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Diana Dors, Kathy Kirby, Julie Rogers, Harry Secombe, Engelbert Humperdinck and Tom Jones were amongst the performers appearing.

No doubt its low profile is due to the fact that it’s been pretty much unavailable since its original broadcast, so a tip of the hat to Network for bringing it back into circulation.

The debut show was broadcast on Christmas Day 1965. There’s a distinct lack of festive trimmings though – which raises the possibility that the show may have been put out on the 25th of December as something of an afterthought. Cilia Black is the show’s big guest – sharing some slightly uncomfortable crosstalk with Bruce (although it’s still good natured) and belting out a couple of songs.

Unsurprisingly, Brucie’s skills as a song and dance man are put to good use (as they are throughout the series) and he also takes part in a number of sketches. These try the patience a little more – although the skit with Miriam Karlin (she plays a hoity toity dog breeder) does have a few bright moments. They mainly occur when Bruce wanders off script (he tended to be more comfortable when he could riff with the material).

Laughs are fairly thin on the ground later on when Bruce and Francis Matthews play a couple of drunk golfers, returning home. This was a sketch that probably would have been twice as funny if it had been half as long. The final third of the show picks up though – with an orchestra skit (featuring Bruce as the conductor) – so overall this debut show was a pretty strong effort.

After this one-off, the series proper debuted on the 14th of August 1966. Sid Green and Dick Hills returned as the writers, with Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Ronnie Corbett, Lionel Blair and Tom Jones appearing. Tom throws himself into things with gusto – appearing in a frenetic sketch where he’s pushed and pulled from pillar to post. The BBC era of The Morecambe & Wise Show has gained the reputation of being the show which allowed the stars to do things outside of their comfort zone, but it’s easy to see that Brucie was doing something similar years earlier.

Sid and Dick will always be best remembered for their 1960’s work with Morecambe & Wise (mostly also at ATV). They fashion similar material for Bruce here – even to the extent of appearing in a sketch themselves (which they regularly did with Eric & Ernie).

Like many series of this era, The Bruce Forsyth Show doesn’t exist in its entirety, but its survival rate is pretty good (especially when compared to other variety series such as Sunday Night at the London Palladium). Series one is virtually complete, only about ten minutes from the 4/9/66 edition (Frankie Howerd and Julie Rogers guest-starring) are missing.  As for series two, three of the six shows still remain – they feature the likes of Harry Secombe, Beryl Reid and Engelbert Humperdinck.

There’s also a brief clip from an otherwise wiped 1967 Christmas show with Bruce and Frankie Howerd. Recorded on one of the earliest domestic video recorders, the quality of this brief excerpt is pretty poor but nevertheless it’s nice to have it (to have it, nice).

If the sketch material across the series tends to be fairly routine, then the calibre of the guests (Dudley Moore and Tommy Cooper teamed up, for example) helps to keep the energy levels raised. Like all variety shows, The Bruce Forsyth Show is something of a mixed bag, but thanks to Bruce’s exuberance and playful interactions with the guests it’s almost always watchable and comes warmly recommended.

It’s nice to see some more 1960’s LE on DVD, hopefully Network will continue to dig through the archives as I’m sure there’s plenty more waiting to be unearthed.

The Bruce Forsyth Show (3 discs, 503 minutes) is released by Network on the 9th of November 2020. It can be ordered directly here.

Public Eye – A Mug Named Frank (7th July 1971)

A Mug Named Frank, the first episode of series five, in some ways feels like an addendum to series four. There’s the Brighton setting, the black and white visuals (albeit only due to the colour strike) and the reassuring presence of Mrs Mortimer (Pauline Delaney). And yet …

Series four of Public Eye was very much an authored piece. Roger Marshall wrote all seven episodes, which helped to give them a serial-like feel, but for the remainder of PE’s run his input would be drastically reduced. Producer Michael Chapman penned this installment, which concerns itself with uprooting Frank from Brighton and settling him down in Windsor.

Marshall would later cast a slightly withering eye over the direction of the Windsor series, labelling it as rather cosy (this interview is a fascinating read). Although it’s worth noting that it was Marshall who created Mrs Mortimer and established a “will they, won’t they” vibe between her and Frank.

How Marshall would have developed their relationship is unknown but it seems unlikely he would have gone in the direction of Chapman’s story – which not only abruptly wrenches them apart, but also rather off-handedly negates most of Frank’s Brighton experience. And this is why I find this episode a rather curious watch – rather like The West Wing after Aaron Sorkin’s departure, A Mug Named Frank feels inauthentic (Chapman attempting, but not really succeeding, to mimic Marshall’s voice).

The main plot is quite simple. Frank befriends an old lady, Mrs. Stuart (Nora Nicholson), who he spots in the supermarket popping a tin into her shopping bag, presumably with the intention of stealing it. He manages to diffuse the situation, but this plot-thread isn’t really developed. Was it an absent-minded slip, a cry for help or a theft borne out of necessity? We never find out, so it appears to have been little more than a clumsy way of bringing Frank and her together.

She lives in a rather threadbare couple of rooms with only one object of value – a silver box – which was given to her by her son, Gerald (Barry Foster), shortly after the war. He’s a clearly something of a shifty type (I think it’s the moustache) and is keen to “borrow” the box in order to raise some money for his failing business.

Frank knows him of old – they were fellow jailbirds for a brief while – and their clash towards the end of the episode is a definite highlight. As is André Morell’s cameo as Gerald’s rich uncle, who mockingly declines to bail him out. The scene adds little to the story overall, but I’ll never turn down a few minutes of Morell.

Travelling to Windsor in search of the silver box, Frank meets Inspector Percy Firbank (Ray Smith) and Nell Holdsworth (Brenda Cavendish), two characters who will loom large in the episodes to come. Although I take Marshall’s “cosy” point, the series quickly establishes itself in Windsor – shaking off the last vestiges of the Brighton era with a crop of strong scripts from a pool of first-rate writers.

Upstairs Downstairs – A Pair of Exiles (28th October 1972)

UpDown was rarely the sort of series to indulge itself with showy directorial flourishes, but the opening shot of this episode – we see a worried Lady Marjorie through a rain-soaked window – is quite nice.

She’s concerned about a bill that’s been forwarded onto her from a jewellers – James has run up quite a debt with them. Lady Marjorie – always keen to think the best of her son – worries that he’s fallen into bad company, gambling with his brother officers (who can easily afford to shrug off substantial losses as matters of no consequence).

But Richard points out that these aren’t gambling debts – jewels suggest a young woman. Richard goes on to surmise that he’s fallen into the clutches of an unprincipled female who intends to take him for every penny that he’s got.

Just to hammer this point home, the action then cuts to Sarah (wearing a hat that certainly catches the eye). She fits the bill of a gold-digger, but it’s interesting how the episode is quick to turn this idea on its head. James has got large gambling debts and he obtained the jewels in order to pawn them (thereby raising a little money). Sarah is doing her best to help him, but it’s plain that he’s in a desperate situation.

James’ commanding officer, Colonel Winter (Moray Watson), pays a visit to 165 Eaton Place. Watson could play this sort of role in his sleep, but he’s still very watchable – Winter makes polite smalltalk with Lady Marjorie and Richard for a few minutes before breaking the bad news. James is drinking far too much and running up debts at a rate of knots.

That would be enough to generate a decent episode’s worth of drama by itself, but everything then moves up several notches after Sarah tells James that she’s pregnant (“there’s a little captain on the way” as she puts it). Thankfully, this bombshell means that Sarah stops acting in a manic manner (when Pauline Collins is in full flight it’s a little difficult to take).

Rose has arrived to take tea in the servants hall and has a letter waiting for her from Sarah. Mr Hudson and Mrs Bridges are incensed that she has the nerve to write (following the scene she made at Miss Elizabeth’s wedding) but the younger servants, like Edward, are much more indulgent.

Rose later visits Sarah and she shares her news. After a moment of shock, Rose decides that James has to do the right thing by her. Despite Rose’s obvious affection for Mr James, all of her sympathy lies with Sarah (who begins to wail in a rather over the top manner).

James meets with his parents and comes clean. As you might expect, Lady Marjorie doesn’t react kindly to the news that James has fathered a child with their former parlour maid. She’s too far well bred to make a scene though – instead her features simply set into immobility.

Mrs Bridges isn’t surprised to learn about James’ gambling debts. She mutters darkly about James’ Uncle Bertie, which helps to fill in another chink of the Southwold family tree (they seem to be mainly comprised of dissolute spendthrifts, at least according to her occasional reminiscences).

The arrival of Sarah sets the servants’ tongues a wagging – especially when she’s invited upstairs. If there’s a problem to be fixed, then Sir Geoffrey Dillon (Raymond Huntley) is your man. He’s got it all worked out – Sarah moves down to Southwold and eventually – after the child is born – will be found a suitable job, in the laundry maybe.  Sarah doesn’t react very well to this ….

James comes over as rather spineless in this scene. Whilst Sir Geoffrey intones, James says very little – unable to meet Sarah’s eye or respond to her pleas. Eventually he does speak a few words to her (“I’ll write to you”). This comment is greeted with a faint smile and a nod of the head. For all that Pauline Collins can go over the top at the drop of a hat, this is a subtle moment.

James is banished to India – which writes out Simon Williams until the final episode of series two.  That’s a shame, but by the time he finally returns he does become more of a central character.

The final line of the episode (Sarah’s “Rose, I’m frightened”) manages to strip away all of Sarah’s brittle bravado to reveal a more vulnerable woman underneath. Mind you, I’ve a feeling that she’ll bounce back ….

The Main Chance – It Could Happen To You (21st September 1970)

David Main continues to seethe over the fact that Patrick Bell (Bernard Kay) is now responsible for the upkeep and moral guidance of his children. He remains intensely keen to win back custody …

We’ve seen Main angry before, but at the start of this episode he reaches levels of hysteria which are quite new. The reasons why are obvious – but it takes Henry Castleton some time before he can talk Main down and remind him that emotion won’t help to win the day. But the law very well might.

What’s really interesting about this episode is what we don’t see. With Kate O’Mara no longer a member of the cast, Julia’s increasing desperation at the prospect of losing her children has to be discussed through third parties. It’s surprising that O’Mara didn’t return for these first few episodes, as the tug of war custody battle would have given her a hatful of dramatic scenes (something sorely lacking for her character during the first series).

After Main wins custody, his uneasy fumbling relationship with his children (who, due to the pressures of his work, are like strangers to him) is reported second hand rather than shown. It seems strange to skip such an obviously dramatic scene, but this plotline hasn’t been about Main and his children (who remain shadowy indistinct figures, only briefly glimpsed on film). It’s much more concerned about the clash between Main and Bell.

Bell crumbles in the witness box once some of his darker secrets (a fondness for using the cane) have been unearthed. Sidney Bulmer proved his worth by digging up the dirt, although if the positions had been reversed and Bell had been Main’s client, no doubt the tone would have been somewhat different.

Two scenes late on in the episode are both standouts. The first – Main talks to his ex-wife on the phone – required a lot from John Stride. His monologue is convincing enough to suggest he was actually speaking to someone.  The way the camera slowly closes in on his face helps to ratchet up the tension.

Main had earlier confided to Bell that Julia, deprived of the children, would be in a mental institution within six months. Given this harsh statement it’s fairly easy to guess how the story will be resolved – Main retains custody but allows the children to go back to Julia and Bell, provided they accept Main’s choice of schools and Bell moves to a slightly better neighbourhood. Once again, Stride and Kay both command the screen. Bell’s initial reluctance to betray his principles is bitterly mocked by Main (who processes to be sickened by the inflexibility of his rival).

The episode’s secondary plot – an antiques dealer called Mrs. Clifford (Diana Coupland) is seeking financial restitution from two young thugs who blinded her – ticks along nicely as well.

It Could Happen to You might be a little predictable in places, but the drama still plays out effectively – especially in the last few minutes when Main fights a two-pronged battle. Not only seeing off Bell but also tackling the smooth defender – Mark Freedler (John Barcroft) – who dared to deprive Mrs Clifford of her money.

The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder – The Strange Case (21st May 1969)

Lord Sellington (John Robinson) is estranged from his son, Sir Harry Carlin (Edward Fox). Harry is a dissolute spendthrift, desperate for money which his father refuses to supply. So when Lord Sellington is found dead, his son is the obvious suspect. But is he too obvious?

Well, yes – otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story. To be honest, the mystery part of The Strange Case isn’t terribly taxing as the list of possible suspects is quite small. So it’s best just to sit back and enjoy the story.

Robinson (the grumpy Quatermass) plays a rather grumpy Lord. Typecasting at work I think. Although to be fair to him, there’s a brief moment later on when he starts to unbend just a little (after Lord Sellington is reunited with his grandson). Robinson certainly does what he can to give the role some light and shade.

Edward Fox’s character spends most of his time blissed out on opium down a seedy Limehouse den but in the few moments when he’s lucid, Harry displays an arrogant charm. Incidentally, still reeling from the browning up in the last episode, today there’s the unforgettable sight of Denis Shaw as Wu Tong. It’s very much a “me velly solly” sort of performance.

John Malcolm (later very solid in Enemy at the Door) and Jennifer Wilson also feature. It’s one of the odd quirks of archive television watching that you can so often stumble across the same actors again and again – having just seen Wilson in an episode of Special Branch, she now reappears in this (as Harry’s estranged wife – now working as Reeder’s temporary secretary).

Reeder is initially a little reluctant to hire a member of the aristocracy, but he succumbs. The best comic moment of the episode occurs when Sir Jason Toovey discovers her true identity – nobody could splutter quite like Willoughby Goddard.

Once again, I have to say that whilst the story is a little thin, Hugh Burden manages to come up trumps. Reeder’s tangle with the baddy is great fun – Mr J.G. pulling a sword from his umbrella in order to do battle. So whilst the mystery is a little lacking, a series of strong performances from the main cast members helps to keep the interest levels up.

 

Special Branch – The Children of Delight (5th November 1969)

A cult orgainsation called The Children of Delight pique the interest of Special Branch. Are they simply a group of people who have found a better way to live or is there something sinister lurking beneath their tranquil façade?

Adele Rose’s sole SB script, The Children of Delight declines to answer this question directly – although there’s plenty of evidence to sift through. With Jordan and Eden remaining mostly office bound, it falls to Detective Sergeant Sarah Gifford (Sheila Fearn) to infiltrate the group. It’s a very decent guest role for Fearn (a pity her character didn’t return).

Sarah is welcomed by Mrs Bishop (Georgine Anderson), who seems reassuringly normal – a middle-aged woman who doesn’t look in the least brainwashed. But it’s not long before the first discordant note is struck – poor Mr Turner (Arnold Ridley) has transgressed their rules and is required perform manual work (scrubbing floors, etc) for a week. Anyone who could do such a thing to a nice old man like that must surely be evil.

Two cult members on the lowest of the three rungs – Mr Turner and Jimmy Cole (Wilfred Downing) – are given a chance to speak. Both seem happy and content, although we’re told that Turner has left his home and family whilst Jimmy’s mother, Mrs Cole (Anna Turner), is a constant tearful presence throughout the episode. Desperate to be reunited with her son, he nevertheless rejects her when the pair finally meet again.

The fact that John Abeneri (playing a character called Comber) is one of the Children of Delight’s higher ups doesn’t inspire confidence in their benign aims – he spends most of the episode lurking in corners, acting in a sinister way.

There’s an extraordinary scene just before the second ad break – Comber and Mrs Bishop attempt to initiate Sarah via a remarkably rough series of questions (is she a lesbian, has she committed incest, etc). Under such relentless abusive questioning she can’t help but break down and admit to being a police officer. This leads Moxon to later mutter that he knew it was a mistake to ask a woman to do this job.

For a short while it appears that a subplot – a key American scientist is one of the Children of Delight – will assume prominence, but that doesn’t really go anywhere. However, his suicide does get Jordan out of the office – his impatient conversation with a distinctly unimpressed uniformed sergeant (played by Tony Caunter) is a late highlight of the episode.

As touched upon earlier, there’s no closure to the story of the Children of Delight. They may be breaking up homes but Eden is prepared to let them be. After all, he maintains, they’re entitled to their freedoms just like everyone else. But Moxon – who initiated the investigation – bypasses Eden’s recommendations and gets the result he was looking for anyway. Sometimes you wonder why Moxon bothers to involve Special Branch, since he so often ignores their advice …

Secret Army – Weekend (8th November 1978)

Kessler is taken hostage by two desperate American airmen whilst Lifeline are keen to get their hands on three priceless paintings by Rubens ….

Even those with only a rough working knowledge of ‘Allo! ‘Allo! will be able to spot that this episode was used as the inspiration for the long-running saga of the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies (by Van Klomp).  And whilst the later parody by ‘Allo! ‘Allo! means that the paintings subplot raises a titter (as it were), events later in this episode take a rather grim turn.

I’ve previously raised an eyebrow at some of the series’ plotting and I’ll do so again here. Kessler knows that three paintings by Rubens are stored in a convent somewhere in the country, but he doesn’t know their location. Then up pops Oberleutnant Horst (Christian Roberts) who helpfully tells him exactly where they are. Well, that’s lucky.

Not only that, Lifeline are preparing to take possession of the paintings with the full consent of the Mother Superior (Sylvia Barter) and plan to leave expert forgeries in their place. What were the odds that Kessler and Lifeline would suddenly both decide to take a great interest in art?

For Albert the paintings mean security – at least for a little while. With no money currently coming in from London, once the paintings are sold they will allow the escape route to carry on (although not indefinitely). The shifting objectives of the war are touched upon here, with Albert unhappy at the way London are attempting to take more control (insisting that Communist spies are weeded out from the line). Although given that Albert’s first love has always been money (others in Lifeline may be patriots, Albert is much more mercenary) I’m not quite sure why he doesn’t just go with the flow.

It’s interesting to ponder what Kessler’s motives are. He tells the Mother Superior that the paintings are being taken into protective custody, bemoaning the fact that other art treasures have been looted. Is he telling or truth or does he plan to squirrel them away for his own use?

Christian Roberts gives a nice performance as the hapless Horst. Keen to impress Kessler at every turn, he nevertheless ends up a fellow prisoner after the pair are captured by Peter Harris (Paul Wagar) and Charles McGee (Vincent Marzello). The series has presented us with unpleasant airmen before, but McGee is in a class of his own.

Whilst Harris is mild-mannered and conciliatory, McGee is arrogant and reckless. Both are lucky to stumble across a friend of Lifeline who takes them in for the night – but McGee isn’t prepared to wait around to be collected the following day. Instead he ambushes a car (containing Horst and Kessler) and puts his masterplan into operation. Actually I don’t really think he’s got a plan, so it’s rather fortunate that he happens to stumble across the barge owned by Hans Van Broecken (this seems a tad contrived).

Kessler, now a prisoner on the barge, seems to be deriving a certain pleasure from the situation, confiding to Horst that he rarely has had the chance to study evaders at such close quarters. Clifford Rose, yet again, is on top form – contrast Kessler’s early (and quite informal) conversations with Horst to his later business-like persona.

Another plot oddity concerns the three Rubens. They’re in the boot of Kessler’s abandoned car which is located quite easily by Monique and Max (they swop the originals for the forgeries). How did they know where the car was, especially since it was moved off the main road and hidden?

The episode really springs into life towards the end.  When McGee and Harris finally end up with Lifeline, McGee’s sexist banter doesn’t go down well with either Natalie or Monique. Angela Richards has a mesmerising moment as Monique spells out the facts of life to McGee at gunpoint.

And for those thinking that everything has gone just a little too smoothly, there’s a late sting in the tail – Hans and his wife Lena are taken away by Kessler for questioning. Kessler is at his most chilling when he tells them that they have nothing to worry about – provided they have nothing to hide.

Lena – unable to face the prospect of interrogation – commits suicide by stepping out into the path of an oncoming car. The bitter irony is that Kessler’s questioning was (or so he says) purely routine. Hans tells him that he doesn’t realise the fear he instills in people. Kessler replies that he does ….

It’s a slight surprise that we don’t see Natalie’s reaction to the news that her aunt has died.

Weekend was written and directed by Paul Annett. It’s an unusual double for this era of British television (Annett was much more prolific as a director, his only other television writing credits being a couple of episodes of Agatha Christie’s Partners In Crime).  Apart from a few plot niggles, it’s a decent episode. Not the best the series has to offer, but still very watchable.

Upstairs Downstairs – The New Man (21st October 1972)

Elizabeth and Lawrence are back from their honeymoon. Already there’s a air of brittleness between them – it’s noticeable that when they pay a visit to Lady Marjorie the pair don’t sit together. Elizabeth sits closest to Lady Marjorie whilst Lawrence lurks in the background, only able to see Elizabeth’s back. Presumably this was an intentional script or directorial touch, as it suggests – despite their brave chatter – they’ve already become isolated from each other.

Ruby makes her debut (a little over five minutes in, Mrs Bridges utters her first “oh Ruby” – the first of many).  Mrs Bridges is on especially fine form at the start of the episode, uttering meaningless comments such as “handsome is as handsome does” whilst Mr Hudson continues to wonder about Lawrence’s character.

Despite the fact that Hudson always tells the others not to gossip, today he can’t help himself. He concedes that Lawrence is a very charming young man, but only Hudson could make this sound like a deadly insult. It’s plain that he’s still not taken with him – which is in sharp contrast to Rose, who’s been won over by his superficial charm and his not so superficial good looks.

Shortly after, there’s a lovely scene when Elizabeth goes downstairs to give the servants a present (a musical box). She waltzes around the kitchen, almost bumping into Hudson (both are slightly discomforted by this). As Elizabeth departs with Rose for her new home in Greenwich, Hudson explains to Ruby that Miss Elizabeth’s behaviour can be explained away by the fact that she grew up in Eaton Place. Mrs Bridges tenderly responds that in some ways Miss Elizabeth will never grow up.

John Alderton makes his debut as Thomas Watkins (boyo). I’m not sure why they couldn’t have found a Welsh actor to play a Welshman, but there you go. Thomas – interviewed by Elizabeth for the position of Lawrence’s manservant – manages to talk himself into the job. He certainly doesn’t have Hudson’s deference – Thomas favours a brooding, enigmatic style.

His initial meeting with Rose isn’t very favourable, but it’s not soon before she seems to be somewhat smitten. Hearing her singing whilst she works, Lawrence acidly wonders if “the desires of Rose, the virginal nymph, are aroused by the dark masculinity of the Welsh bull?” Thomas begins to win Rose round after he cleans her boots (she’s still wearing them at the time, which gives the scene a mild erotic charge). He then expounds his theory that life is for living and enjoying – something which I don’t think Rose has ever considered before.

Thomas is curious about 165 Eaton Place. Working there, as opposed to being out of the way in Greenwich, would be a step up the ladder. When he calls round for Elizabeth’s trunk, it’s fascinating to see the way he manipulates Mrs Bridges (lavishing praise on her cherry-cake). Mr Hudson reluctantly shakes his hand, but he’s not won over by Thomas’ easy charm.

Elizabeth and Lawrence aren’t exactly settling into domestic bliss. They have arguments over the dinner table (much to Rose’s discomfort). And then there’s the sleeping arrangements – Lawrence doesn’t seem terribly keen to share his wife’s bed.

A slight spot of hanky panky in the pantry between Thomas and Rose irritates Elizabeth no end (she gives them both a week’s notice). She doesn’t mean it of course – it’s only a spasm of annoyance at the fact others are enjoying themselves whilst she has found herself trapped in a frozen marriage. Nicola Pagett then launches into some strange paroxysms of sobbing which closes the episode.

A pity the series didn’t have a more sombre closing theme to use when the stories were sad, as the jolly music crashing in rather spoils the moment.

The Main Chance – A Time to Love, a Time to Die (14th September 1970)

It’s the first episode of the second series, which means we’ve moved into colour with a similar – but reshot – title sequence. After the scene-setting opening – Alec Grafton (Robin Hawdon) accuses his father, Dr. John Grafton (Patrick Barr), of murdering his mother – there’s a fair bit of info-dumping to be done at Main’s London office.

David Main’s wife, Julia, is now his ex-wife. Her divorce, successful custody battle and remarriage all seem to have gone through without a hitch. Main is outwardly sanguine about it, although inwardly you can tell he’s seething. A brief visit by Julia’s new husband, Patrick Bell (Bernard Kay), strikes a slightly discordant note, but their encounter seems fairly inconsequential. However, it’s reasonable to note that you don’t cast as good an actor as Kay in a nothing role, so it seems plain he’ll return later.

Dr Grafton is a respected man about town, and therefore a great deal of sympathy comes his way. Because his wife was terminally ill and in a great deal of pain, there’s an unspoken suggestion that even if he did do something, it was in her best interests. Indeed, Det. Chief Insp. Guthrie (David Lodge) is quite happy to speak it aloud – in his eyes, Dr Grafton (even if he had a hand in her death) should be held blameless.

Alec Grafton is a less respected man about town – this seems to mainly be due to his youthfully arrogant and bumptious nature. Hawdon’s performance is a little odd and overplayed, although he does calm down by the time Alec Grafton meets with Main (who eventually agrees to take on his case). Alec Grafton might be a plain-speaker but – like his father – he’s a notable local citizen (running a factory – set up by his mother – which presumably employs a fair few people).

As with the final episode of series one, there’s a suggestion of closed minds amongst the Leeds elite. Henry Castleton won’t even listen to Alec Grafton’s claims about his father – he doesn’t need to, as he’s known and respected John Grafton for many years. It takes an outsider like Main to break through this wall of polite silence.

There are a handful of stand-out scenes in this episode. Sarah’s clash with Peter Findon over the best time to tell Main that his children have been uprooted from their public school and placed into a rough comprehensive, is one. Sarah and Main are still enjoying a playful platonic relationship whilst Peter – now a full solicitor – begins to show his ruthless side. This a plot-thread that will run and run.

Patrick Bell is called back to the office, which is the sign for John Stride to hit the roof. Main is incensed that Bell has the temerity to have decided what’s best for his children. You get the sense that Main is on very shaky ground here as it’s obvious why Julia and Bell have had to move from Chelsea (as a humble schoolteacher he couldn’t afford to live there).

Bell’s argument that Main’s children should receive a decent public education like everyone else would no doubt have struck a chord with many. The arguments and counter-arguments between Main and Bell are excellently played by both Stride and Kay.

The moment when Main pauses, stricken, after Bell strikes home with the comment that all his money couldn’t buy his children “love, affection, companionship” is especially noteworthy. David Main might always have prided himself on providing his wife and children with material benefits, but it’s plain that he rarely gave them his time or attention. 

Still simmering nicely, Main takes this anger into court where Alec Grafton has brought a private prosecution of murder against his father. Richard Hurndall sits in judgement as the Stipendiary Magistrate – he doesn’t have a great deal to do, but Hurndall was always the sort of actor who could wring the maximum from a mere handful of lines. Main’s speech for the prosecution is a set-piece scene for John Stride. Since this was the opening episode of a new series it’s easy to understand why he was given such a showy moment.

Yet another strong MC episode from Edmund Ward.

The Strange World of Gurney Slade to be released on BD – 30th November 2020

Network have just announced a BD release of The Strange World of Gurney Slade on the 30th of November, with some mouth-watering special features. The press release is below.

On 22nd October 1960 renowned singer and actor Anthony Newley crashed through the fourth wall in his weird and wonderful ATV television series The Strange World of Gurney Slade. To celebrate its 60th birthday all six episodes have been restored in HD from the original 35mm film elements and are now, sixty years to the day since their debut, available to pre-order on a Limited Edition Blu-ray packed full of rare special features exclusively from networkonair.com – this includes streaming of all six episodes via watch.networkonair.com.

This brilliantly inventive and startlingly surreal comedy was unlike anything previously seen on television. Audiences were flabbergasted to see this star on the rise in such an experimental series that deconstructed the fledgling sitcom genre and provided a platform for Newley’s unique stream of consciousness. It was ultimately dropped from its primetime slot after two episodes but not before it managed to take hold in the minds of fans, not least a young David Bowie who’s own breaking of the fourth wall and surreal characters took notes from his fascination and imitation with Anthony Newley and the bizarre Gurney Slade.

Carrying on from where radio’s The Goon Show left off in 1960, Gurney Slade’s influence on comedy was to be felt across the decades that followed – in the late Sixties and Seventies with the surreal sketches of Monty Python ‘s Flying Circus and Marty to the present day Peep Show. The Strange World of Gurney Slade is to television comedy what The Prisoner has since become to television drama – both firmly of its time and spectacularly ahead of it.

The series saw Anthony Newley star as an actor who walks off the set of a banal sit-com and into a fantasy world of his own imagination in a dreamlike odyssey through one man’s personal alternative reality. Talking to dogs, rocks and fairies and dancing with vacuum cleaners it is an unpredictable, absurdist fantasy created by Newley and written by comedy legends Sid Green and Dick Hills (soon thereafter to become key writers for Morecambe and Wise). The series features British stalwarts including Una Stubbs, Anneke Wills, Geoffrey Palmer and Bernie Winters.

This Limited-Edition Blu-ray is brimming with special features including three rare Saturday Spectacular shows from 1960 which acted as a testing ground for Gurney Slade’s internal monologue and feature Shirley Bassey, Peter Sellers, Lionel Blair and more. Also included is a commemorative booklet with contributions from Andrew Pixley, Dick Fiddy and Andrew Roberts and Anthony Newley’s 1963 beat influenced British crime feature film The Small World of Sammy Lee from writer/director Ken Hughes. Released on 30th November it is now available to pre-order exclusively from networkonair.com and includes streaming of the series’ six episodes via watch.networkonair.com – Network’s new streaming platform launched this July.

“Well, it was a noble effort, wasn’t it? You tried. I give you that, you tried. But the public is no man’s fool, you know. The public knows what it wants, and you had no right to even try and suggest something different. Anyway, the public doesn’t like anything… suggestive.”  – Gurney Slade #GurneySlade60

Special Features:

Three Saturday Spectacular shows from 1960 featuring Anthony Newley alongside Shirley Bassey, Peter Sellers, Janette Scott, Lionel Blair and others. These variety specials feature Newley’s initial attempts at building the “internal monologue character” that would eventually become Gurney Slade.

Original Gurney Slade promotional shorts.

Extensive image galleries.

The Small World of Sammy Lee: The classic 1963 British crime film starring Anthony Newley

The Small World of Sammy Lee special features: newly discovered archive film material featuring an alternative ending, textless titles and a promotional interview with Anthony Newley

Commemorative booklet with contributions from Andrew Pixley, Dick Fiddy and Andrew Roberts

Free streaming of the series’ six episodes from today only when you buy the limited-edition Blu-ray set

The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder – Sheer Melodrama (14th May 1969)

British actors browning up is an occupational hazard you encounter when watching television from the sixties and seventies. Today’s episode of Reeder has two prime examples – Michael Bates (as Ras Lal Punjabi) and Leslie Lawton (as Ram Bannerjee).

Bates, of course, would later don the brown make-up once again when he played Rangi Ram in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Bates’ performance in IAHHM is presumably one of the reasons why the sitcom no longer receives television screenings, which is a shame as Ram (as befits a Perry/Croft character) does have certain subtleties.

However, subtle is certainly something you couldn’t accuse Ras Lal Punjabi of being. The character is grotesquely over the top, but then – as per the episode title – that’s really the point of the story. Bates’ turn has an air of mockery, but it’s still somewhat difficult to take.

Elsewhere in the episode, a fresh-faced Ken Campbell catches the eye as Tommy Fenalow, an obviously criminal type. The suit and the moustache are both dead giveaways.

The story, such as it is, is not terribly gripping. But, as always, Hugh Burden manages to make something out of it. Reeder’s love for melodramatic theatre (he’s a devotee of the Sweeney Todd type of drama) is a nice little touch. Guy Verney’s direction is also quite noteworthy – he makes good use out of some strong production design (the high angles in the warehouse set, for example).

Having quickly skimmed through the original story, it’s interesting to note that Vincent Tisley’s adaptation was pretty faithful – especially the passage where Reeder explains to Margaret Belman exactly why he enjoys a decent melodrama.

Special Branch – You Don’t Exist (29th October 1969)

You have to feel sorry for Keith Washington. He might be the lead of this episode but that’s not enough to enable him to have his name on the opening credits (even though Jennifer Wilson – who only has a handful of lines – does).

Anthony Skene’s script is an odd one. His sole contribution to the VT era of SB (he’d pen another episode when the series was rebooted by Euston Films in the mid seventies) it’s pretty much crime free. Det. Con. Morrissey (Washington), working for the week at London Airport, has to tell Barbara Cartwright (Mel Martin) that she’s unable to enter the UK. Her country of origin, Rhodesia, isn’t recognised by the British government and so she’s persona non grata.

At first the pair are snippy towards each other, but Morrissey then takes pity on her and decides to give her a whirlwind tour of London (her return flight to Rhodesia isn’t until the next day). These scenes give us an excellent tourist snapshot of late sixties London – we take in fashionable boutiques, familiar landmarks like the Post Office Tower as well as a trip to Madame Tussauds (Barbara is something of a crime expert and is fascinated by the Chamber of Horrors).

There’s also a visit to a glorious VT nightclub where the dying embers of hippydom continue to burn.

This was Mel Martin’s television debut and she’s terribly watchable as the vulnerable Barbara – shocked that the country she’s always regarded as home has now rejected her. Barbara’s something of a dreamer – most of her knowledge of London comes from books and old films, meaning that Morrisey has to tell her that there’s no trams and no pea-souper fogs any more.

An unlikely romance quickly develops between them and just as quickly has to be extinguished. This episode certainly puts a bit of meat onto the bones of Morrisey’s character, although he still remains somewhat unreadable. Quite why he reacts so violently to Barbara’s wish to visit a hip and happening nightclub isn’t clear, for example.

Oh, and there’s also the chance to see Clive Merrison pop up in an early role (nice helmet, sir).

A little drama is generated by the fact that Morrisey is required to give evidence the following day at an important trial which has been unexpectedly brought forward several days. He, of course, is out and about with Barbara and remains totally oblivious to the fact that everyone is running around like headless chickens in an attempt to find him.

You Don’t Exist is certainly a change of pace for the series, but it has a travelogue charm.