Palestinian terrorists hatch a plan to assassinate Professor David Sokarev (Rod Steiger), an Israeli nuclear scientist, during his forthcoming visit to Britain. He has his own people protecting him – Maciewicz (Michael J. Jackson) and Elkin (Ron Berglas) – but the head of SIS, Mr Jones (Alfred Burke) plans to put his own man next to Sokarev every step of the way.
Jimmy (Antony Perkins) was the best, but in many people’s eyes he’s yesterday’s man. His skill with a gun is still razor sharp, but he’s also inclined to be reckless and insubordinate.
Three terrorists attempted to reach Britain. Two were killed in France, leaving one survivor – Famy (Gary Brown). He makes contact with McCoy (Aaron Harris) a member of the Provisional IRA and together the mismatched pair begin to hatch a plan …..
The Glory Boys was a three-part serial, based on the novel by Gerald Seymour, made by Yorkshire television and broadcast over three consecutive evenings during October 1984. That it was stripped across three nights indicates that it was seen as “event” television, and no doubt the two star names at the top of the credits helped to strengthen this feel.
Both Rod Steiger and Anthony Perkins were bona fide film stars, although it would be fair to say that their stock had fallen a little by the mid eighties, which probably explains how YTV were able to snag them. But it was still a coup to see Steiger (On The Waterfront and In The Heat of the Night) and Perkins (Psycho) in a British television drama.
Steiger plays Sokarev in a very deliberate, ponderous way. Sokarev is not a politician or a soldier, he’s a scientist and in his early scenes gives the impression that he’s somewhat unworldly. He treats the news about the threat on his life with alarm and is keen to cancel his British trip. But he’s told in no uncertain terms that this is impossible – it would send out a signal to the terrorists that they’ve won and Israel would then become a country under siege. He eventually sees the logic in this.
Perkins’ British accent has met with mixed opinions down the years. I think it’s pretty good and Perkins certainly impresses as the alcoholic, chain-smoking, cold-hearted killer. If Steiger tends to be a bit wooden, then Perkins’ easy charm (although always with the sense that there’s something nasty lurking just below the surface) provides a nice counterpoint.
It’s no surprise, especially for this era of television, that the Palestinian terrorist Famy was played by a British born actor, Gary Brown. It’s not a problem though as Brown is quickly able to sketch out Famy’s character quite effectively. He was the youngest of the three terrorists and the most inexperienced. But like them he has a fanatical desire to carry out his mission, even if it costs him his life.
This desire to die for a cause will be something that’s unfortunately all too familiar from modern acts of terrorism, but for British audiences watching thirty years ago it would have been more unusual. The point is driven home by McCoy who tells Famy that he’s not prepared to throw his life away – McCoy might be IRA, but that doesn’t mean he has any desire to die.
Famy’s political ideology remains somewhat nebulous. At one point he does attempt to explain his views to McCoy, but is cut off. As for McCoy, in this first episode we learn that he has a British girlfriend, Norah (Sallyanne Law). She seems an odd choice for an IRA terrorist, since she’s in her late teens and very innocent (with her love of cuddly toys she seems little more than a child at times).
The SIS we see is very much in the pre-computer age and for all intents and purposes it could just as easily been a snapshot of the 1950’s. The offices are large, gloomy and old fashioned, complete with furniture that’s seen better days. When Jones prepares to sleep in overnight, Helen (Joanna Lumley) makes up his camp-bed, complete with a hot water bottle. To complete this very British picture, he spoons Ovaltine into a mug.
The first time Jones mentions Jimmy he looks at a picture on his wall, showing a wartime scene. It’s a cliché moment for sure, and later the story is spelled out. Jones and Jimmy served in Malaya back in the 1950’s and Jimmy saved Jones’ life. So Jones feels he owes Jimmy a debt ever since, even up to and including today. Did Jones chose Jimmy for this job because he’s still haunted by the events of Malaya or did he really think Jimmy was the best man to carry it out?
Alfred Burke, even with a fairly small part, catches the eye – as does Joanna Lumley. Helen works for Jones and is Jimmy’s girlfriend, so her loyalties are somewhat divided. Lumley has even less to do than Burke, but like him she’s a notable presence.