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.

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