Travelling Man – First Leg (7th November 1984)

Travelling Man was a thirteen part series/serial written by Roger Marshall, broadcast between 1984 and 1985. After scripting the Survivors episode Parasites (tx 2nd June 1976) Marshall began to mull over the possibility of a series where the central character traversed the country in a narrowboat. Given the slowness of this form of travel, it certainly offers a change of pace from most action/adventure series where high speed car chases are usually the order of the day ….

Marshall initially offered the series to the BBC, with John Thaw earmarked as the lead character Lomax. They turned it down and several ITV companies also rejected it before it finally found a home at Granada. By that point Leigh Lawson had been cast as Lomax and although only a few years separated Thaw and Lawson, it’s hard to imagine Thaw playing the character as written (or convincing in some of the stunt set pieces). But possibly Marshall tailored the scripts to suit Lawson and had Thaw taken the role, Lomax would have been subtly different.

This opening episode, First Leg, has an echo of the Public Eye episode Welcome to Brighton? (Marshall, the co-creator of Public Eye, wrote all seven episodes in the series’ fourth run which began with this episode). Both Lomax and Public Eye‘s Frank Marker open their respective episodes as inmates awaiting release after serving a prison sentence for a crime they didn’t commit.

It quickly becomes clear that Lomax is a loner like Frank Marker, although they’re very different character types. Marker has long been a loner out of preference but prior to his conviction, Lomax had a wife, a son, a house and a job. All of these have now been taken away from him, which forces him into the life of a solitary (although he still possesses an approachable charm, so it’s easy for him to make friends).

The search for his son, Steve, is one of the motors which drives the series. And it’s also a handy dramatic device, providing Lomax with a good reason to always keep moving (plus when he turns up in a new place there’s invariably some problem that needs to be sorted out). Also bubbling away close to the surface is the mystery of his conviction – Lomax used to be police officer and is rumoured to have walked away with a fortune following an aborted drugs bust. He denies this, but as we’ll see in the second episode not everyone is ready to believe him.

Lomax’s character is quickly delineated – before the opening credits have run in fact. Taking a shower after returning from a prison work party, he’s approached by a prison officer who offers to take special care of him after he’s released. It’s an offer which Lomax declines in a violent fashion, leaving the prison officer on the floor nursing a broken hand. This gives us a short, sharp insight into the man he is – clearly not someone you would wish to cross lightly. An unfortunate drug dealer (played by Peter Faulkner) discovers this later in the episode.

First Leg effectively sets up the premise of the series. Derek Newark essays a memorable cameo as DCS Sullivan, a former colleague who makes it plain that Lomax should move on with all haste. Morag Hood (as Sally Page) plays an unlikely drug addict whose plight forms a key part of the episode. And Lindsay Duncan (as Andrea) forms an instant connection with Lomax which will spill over into the second episode.

Everything’s working well then – throw in Duncan Browne’s haunting theme and incidentals and you’ve got a series which hits the ground running.

3 thoughts on “Travelling Man – First Leg (7th November 1984)

  1. Roger Marshall has always been a talented writer and contributed some of the stronger Sweeney episodes. I purchased the Network DVD release of The Travelling Man several years ago and it was a series I was gripped with straight away. I ended up watching it back to back over the course of a weekend!

    This opening episode does in fact set the scene for the rest of the series. I always enjoyed Terry Taplin’s presence as Fleet Street hack ‘Robbo’ Robinson (although he doesn’t appear in every episode). One of the weak points of the series was that Derek Newark didn’t re-appear after this opening episode to add some spark as the police boss with some history with Lomax.

    The Travelling Man was filmed closed to Granada’s base in Manchester, so coming from the North West myself it’s always a delight seeing if I recognise the locations and this helps to appreciate the series that bit more. The scenes with the GP meeting the drug pusher were filmed in Lymm, while I suspect Chrissie’s home was in nearby Altrincham.

    Interesting angle about John Thaw – in the autumn of 1984 (just ahead of the Travelling Man’s debut), ITV televised Thaw’s one off series ‘Mitch’. In her autobiography Sheila Hancock stated her husband fell out with a certain TV company as ‘Mitch’ had been filmed in 1982 and held off the air for two years. Mitch again had strong similarities to the Travelling Man (both were shot on video tape and depicted similar character based stories).

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    • Newark did briefly reappear in the final episode of the first series, although it would have been nice had he done more.

      Mitch does seem to be a series that frustrated many (Roger Marshall wasn’t pleased either that it remained on the shelf for so long). I’m not sure it had the legs to become a long running series but it might have had a bit more life in it.

      Another one to add to the rewatch pile I think ….

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      • Mitch had lots of potential but ITV commissioned another similar Fleet Street reporter serial called Lytton’s Diary with the recently departed Peter Bowles that aired over two series in 1985 & 86. This followed on from a one off Storyboard episode.

        Mitch and Lytton focused on the shady world journalism, although the latter tended to favour the sleaze and politics of the tabloids, while Mitch was made up of crime themed stories.

        John Thaw was eager to move away from the shadow of Jack Regan by playing a more rounded unflappable character in Mitch which made the series that bit more enjoyable to watch.

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