Bird of Prey (BBC 1982). Episode Two – Mode Murder

prey 02

A four-part thriller for the electronic age, featuring Richard Griffiths.
Episode 2: Mode Murder
Murder and the power to subvert officialdom: Henry Jay has good reason to believe in ‘Le Pouvoir’ and its link with the growing evidence of a financial conspiracy. A dead detective’s legacy is a file pointing to a Euro MP and a girl in Brussels – which leaves Henry no option but to pick up the trail.
(Radio Times Listing, 29th April 1982)

Henry needs answers – so he sells his stamp collection and uses the money to rent a room under an assumed name and also buy a computer.  It’s the latest model and the salesgirl informs him that it has “64K memory, disk drive main, storage for 120,000 characters”.  Which was cutting edge stuff in 1982!  Henry’s computer hacking also raises an eyebrow – since it consists of him ringing up various people and asking for their passwords.

Whilst this will either seem charmingly naive or rather clumsy (depending on how forgiving you are) it does allow Henry to track down Hannah Brent (Sally Faulkner).  Hannah was the girlfriend of Louis Vacheron (a crook murdered in episode one) and Henry hopes she’ll have a lead that will lead him closer to the heart of the conspiracy, so he flies out to visit her in Brussels.  Before DI Richardson was murdered, he left a file for Henry (inside were clippings which mentioned a European MP and businessman called Hugo Jardine).  Hannah doesn’t recognise the name but promises to try and find out what she can.

A hallmark of a good conspiracy thriller is that nobody can be trusted.  Hannah Brent would have known about a simple code that Vacheron taught her (the Owl and the Pussycat in French).  The girl with Henry doesn’t, so he knows she’s not the real Hannah Brent.

This revelation moves us to the heart of the episode as we’re introduced to Charles Bridgnorth (Nigel Davenport). Bridgnorth works for British Security and the faux Hannah Brent works for him. As for the real Hannah? Bridgnorth surmises she’s “in the foundations of a Brussels office block most likely”.

Bridgnorth tells Henry that Jardine works for them and is part of a project stretching back several years – and that both his and Richardson’s investigations may have compromised Jardine’s safety. He also explains to Henry a little more about the Power (the mysterious force alluded to by Vacheron).

The Power is more a loose federation of people than a solid structure. People who temporarily find it an advantage to work with each other to repay each other for favours past and future. There’s a grey area in this sort of business, Henry. Terrorism shades into organised crime, into police undercover operations, into how the state security apparat responds to the chaos which mobile internationally-minded crooks and politicos have been creating since the early ’60’s, especially in Europe. Even those who did the killing may be unaware of what favour they are repaying to whom.

Henry doesn’t find this particularly comforting – so Richardson and Vacheron may have been killed by criminals or possibly by members of the police and security services.  Bridgnorth is pretty non-committal, but tells Henry that his involvement is over.

Get out of here, civilian. This is where the dirty work gets done. Dirty work that means that people like you can catch the 8:15 every morning and lead your boring little lives. Be thankful for the 8:15, Henry. Be thankful for your boring little life and the fact that we allow you to go back to it in one piece … or at all.

It’s a convincing story, but as it’s only the end of episode two there must be more revelations to come.  Henry knows they’re lying to him and explains to Anne that “an exceedingly elaborate construct has been made up of all the bits and pieces and odds and ends they know I know about. It concerns one of the many branches of Intelligence claiming Jardine for their own. They lied about Richardson going to Brussels. I had a computer agency check the relevant flight listings and he never made it”.  It’s only a small point, but Henry has to go on – he has to know if that was the only lie or if the whole story was false.

The episode ends with a few more bodies – DS Eric Vine (Richard Ireson) and the Department’s security officer Trevor Chambers (Trevor Martin) have been waiting for Henry to return to his rented flat.  Chambers is killed by someone who calls him Mr Jay, which adds another layer of mystery.  Bridgnorth has been keeping close tabs on Henry, so he knows exactly what he looks like.  Therefore it appears there are new players in town.

Next Episode – Process Priority

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