On this day (21 January)

Spyder Secures a Main Strand, the first episode of Spyder’s Web, was broadcast on ITV in 1972.

Spyder’s Web is a rum old thing. Running for just 13 episodes, it’s a spy series which owes a certain debt to the likes of The Avengers and James Bond. It possesses a tone that can vary from bizarre and light-hearted to grim.

Starring Patricia Cutts, Anthony Ainley and Veronica Carlson, there’s some familiar names on the writing front (Roy Clarke, Robert Holmes, Alfred Shaughnessy with Malcolm Hulke as script editor). Not everything works although Clarke, who wrote five scripts, tended to deliver.

A pity that most of the series now only exists as black and white telerecordings (altough of course that’s preferable to them not existing at all). Having not seen it for a while, I feel in the mood to give it another spin.

By Order of the Fuhrer, the first episode of Enemy at the Door, was broadcast on ITV in 1978.

Enemy at the Door is an interesting series. At first glance it looked like it was ITV’s attempt to copy the BBC’s Secret Army, but the differences between the two become quickly apparent.

Secret Army saw a regular stream of Allied airmen sent back home to Britain. This was the motor that drove the series – the constant underground struggle by a group of Belgian patriots against their numerically superior German overlords.

Enemy at the Door, by virtue of the fact it was set on an island (Guernsey), could never duplicate this – instead it concentrated on the uneasy alliance forged between the islanders and their new German masters. For example, as time goes on the audience is invited to ponder whether Dr. Philip Martel (Bernard Horsfall) is just doing his best for his fellow islanders or if he’s an active collaborator.

An extra layer of drama is generated by the fact that the likes of Major Richter (Alfred Burke), Major Freidel (Simon Lack) and Oberleutnant Kluge (John Malcolm) are portrayed as reasonable men rather than monsters. Of course you also need the balance of an icy and implacable German – Hauptsturmfuhrer Reinicke (Simon Cadell) is on hand to deliver this.

As a pre-watershed series, Enemy at the Door shies away from anything too graphic but the stories still manage to be nuanced and downbeat. With scripts from the likes of N.J. Crisp (no stranger to this type of drama) it’s a series that still packs a punch today. If you’ve not seen it, then it’s worth tracking down the DVDs or keeping an eye out to see if Talking Pictures TV re-run it.

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