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.

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