Welcome to Brighton? was the first episode of Public Eye‘s fourth series, originally broadcast in 1969. It was also the first series to be made by Thames (the previous three were ABC productions). Sadly, only a handful of episodes from the ABC years exist (a mere five out of forty one). Given how good these surviving episodes are, it’s a great pity that so few escaped the archive purges – but luckily all of the Thames episodes are present and correct.
The fourth series is noteworthy for several reasons – firstly it’s the shortest series of Public Eye (seven episodes) and secondly it’s the only one where all the episodes were penned by a single writer – in this case, Roger Marshall (who co-created the series with Anthony Marriott). Having just the one writer allows for a unity of characterisation – which is particularly important, since most of this series revolves around Marker himself.
When a show has an actor as good as Alfred Burke, it’s understandable that the scripts would be tailored to his many strengths. So series four of Public Eye is concerned with Marker’s journey back into society first and foremost, and we don’t see him back in his old job as an enquiry agent until later in the run.
At the end of the final episode of series three (Cross That Palm When We’ll Come To It) Marker was convicted of handling stolen goods (although he was innocent) and sentenced to two years imprisonment. Welcome to Brighton? opens with him in his last few days at Ford Open Prison, prior to his release. There’s plenty of people ready to offer advice, such as fellow con Jakeman (George Sewell) and the Governor (Martin Dempsey). Both, in their different ways, are somewhat pessimistic about Frank’s chances.
Frank tells Jakeman that he plans to go straight, but Jakeman isn’t convinced – as he believes that the police will constantly be on his back. “Once you’re in their little black book, you’re there forever. They’ll be leaning on you, turning you over.” This is something we see borne out later in the series, though Frank’s done his time and is now a free man, he still has to face the suspicion of the police and others – once a con, always a con, it seems.
The Governor is concerned that Frank is a solitary individual, with no apparent friends or family. “Have you always been so withdrawn? Or has prison made you like that?” Frank counters that he’s still the same person he’s always been and the Governor suggests he should try changing – “bend with the wind occasionally”. In the Governor’s opinion, without people look out for him, he’s likely to re-offend again.
Frank’s release day comes and he’s driven down to the railway station in a Black Maria. This obviously marks him down as a released prisoner and he has to face the curious and accusing stares of his fellow passengers. The probation service have set him up with a job in Brighton and also accommodation – at a bed-and-breakfast run by a Mrs Mortimer (Pauline Delaney). Mrs Mortimer takes in the occassional ex-criminal (provided they’re not violent, she says she doesn’t want to wake up in heaven) as something of a civic duty and welcomes Frank into her home. Although she only has a single scene in this story, during series four Mrs Mortimer will become the closest thing to a friend that we’ve ever seen Frank have.
After checking out his room, Frank goes for a walk around Brighton. The most notable occurrence is a meeting with Grace (Heather Canning). She spies him drinking a bottle of whisky by the seafront and offers him the use of her toothmug back at her flat – he readily agrees and it’s clear that there’s more than whisky on offer. It’s uncharacteristic of Frank to pick up a total stranger, but after two years and more in prison, it’s understandable. When he goes to the toilet, she steals some money from his wallet and Frank, when he returns, knows instantly that something’s wrong. Alfred Burke here (as he is throughout) is excellent, as we see the repressed anger bubbling just beneath the surface. Marker is usually a pretty laid-back character, but circumstances change that. He nearly strikes her and has no compunction is forcibly removing the money from her clutches. He does leave the whisky with her though, as a consolation.
If Weclome to Brighton? feels like a series of vignettes, then that’s a fair assessment. The next concerns Jakeman’s wife, Freda (Anne Ridler). Jakeman asked Frank to visit her and find out why she hasn’t replied to his letters or visited him recently. This he does and he tells her that a wife who doesn’t stand by her husband in prison can’t be much good. This is the signal for Freda to tell Frank in no uncertain terms exactly what she thinks. “He’s safely banged away in his cell. Every time responsibility comes up, he’s off, never fails. Well, you’re all the same. Half of you run back inside every time some little problem comes up you don’t want to cope with. You’ll be back there, you see.” There’s plenty more where that came from and Freda’s speech highlights how a prison sentence affects the people left on the outside just as much as those inside.
So Welcome to Brighton? is not only a series of vignettes, but it’s a series of vignettes where Frank come off second best (particularly in his encounters with Grace and Freda). It’s a sign that his new life in Brighton will be far from smooth.