Juliet Bravo – Home-Grown or Imported?

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Peter Palin (Ivor Danvers), a newcomer to Hartley, hasn’t made himself popular with the locals. Having bought Tarn Hill House, he plans to turn it into a swanky country club, something which Greenwood (Allan Surtees), a farmer and Palin’s nearest neighbour, is less than happy about.

When Palin is later found unconscious and badly injured, Greenwood is an obvious suspect. But he’s not the only one – an escaped criminal called Martin Wright (an old business associate of Palin’s) had a score to settle with him. Plenty of possibilities then, but it could it be that there’s yet another reason for the attack which nobody has considered?

Like a few previous episodes, Home-Grown or Imported? is a slightly wrong-footing story. The opening few minutes sets up the conflict between Palin and Greenwood, but although that looks set to be the dominant theme, the story quickly veers in a different direction.

The difference between their characters is quickly delineated. We see Greenwood and his son in a Land Rover, slowly herding sheep down a narrow country lane with Palin stuck behind them. With the road blocked by sheep there’s no alternative for Palin but to sit and wait, something which obviously irritates him greatly (the number of angry toots he gives on his horn is some indication of this).

More possibly could have been made of the conflict between the pair. Greenwood’s disdain at the way his rural life is being threatened by this interloper is certainly a theme, but it isn’t central to the story.

Twelve episodes in, and this is the third to feature coppers from London. DI Winder (John Judd) and DS Fournel (Eric Richard) are easily the most objectionable seen so far though. Right from their first scene it’s clear that they regard the local force with the upmost contempt. Their baiting of Joe being a case in point.

Fournel confides to Joe that Jean’s “a bit of all right, isn’t she?”. Fournel’s unreconstructed mindset is further demonstrated when he then mentions that he couldn’t “take orders from a skirt”. This is the cue for Joe to launch a spirited defence of Jean. “The only thing that counts is how well the job gets done. Inspector Darbley’s as good as any male boss I’ve known”. High praise from Joe, especially given his attitude towards her which we witnessed in the opening episode.

Joe later gains his revenge by sending the two officers on a wild goose chase around Manchester. Interesting that when Jean learns about this she gives him her tacit approval. A sign of the growing respect between them maybe, or possibly it’s just that she’s becoming more relaxed now that she’s settled into the job.

Geoffrey Larder makes his third appearance as the constantly vague DS Melchett. We’re given a rare early glimpse into the CID room at Hartley (eerily deserted) as Melchett takes down the message that Winder and Fournel are in the area. But his inability to tell Jean about this earns him a scathing dressing down later. “Our two visitors from London … no doubt think we’re just clodhopping country cousins. You had a clear duty to give me that information at the earliest moment and not just when it suited you, sometime never”. Ouch!

Home-Grown or Local? boasts some very familiar faces. Ivor Danvers (best known for Howards’ Way) drops a few rungs down the social ladder (Palin is something of a wide-boy). Meanwhile Eric Richard warmed up for his later role as Bob Cryer in The Bill by playing another copper. Although as we’ve seen, Fournel’s character is a million miles away from that of Uncle Bob.

Martin Wright’s backstory is delivered in detail by Winder and Fournel. Remembering that a previous episode also saw two London officers on the trail of a criminal who never actually appeared, the attentive viewer might have been wondering if the same trick was going to be pulled twice. And so it was, which is slightly surprising.

With Wright a no-show, it seems obvious that Greenwood will turn out to be Palin’s attacker. This doesn’t turn out to be the case, although there’s still a connection to the farmer. The link may feel a little contrived (Roland notices a van without a windscreen and follows his nose) but since real-life policework also thrives on coincidences like this, it’s not too outrageous.

Winder and Fournel might not have got their man, but without their presence Home-Grown or Imported? would have been a rather thin story. But with them, it’s a rich and entertaining yarn (even if, not for the first time, the actual crime element isn’t dominant).

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Juliet Bravo – Expectations

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Hannah Maynard (Rosalind Wilson) is a green young WPC, temporarily seconded to Hartley. She’s keen, very keen, but quickly learns that there’s a wide gulf between theory and practice ….

Expectations, like a number of other episodes, juggles several plotlines. The slightly testy relationship between Tom and Jean is teased out in the opening few minutes. At present he’s got an even heavier workload than she has (Tom tells her that he’ll need to work this weekend). His desire to make a success of his new career in Social Services is clear, but so is the feeling that everything’s starting to slip away from him.

His office is a glimpse into the long vanished, pre computer age. Apart from whispered conversations and ringing phones, the only sound is the gentle click clack of manual typewriters. With no computers available to store or collate data, it means that everything has to be written down – hence why everybody is drowning in reams of paperwork.

There are several examples of this – a message from Jean on Tom’s desk (reminding him about their lunch date) becomes buried under a bunch of files whilst his fumbling with more files during a case conference draws expressions of disapproval from some of the others present.

Tom’s current case concerns Laura Cartwright (Jean Rimmer) and her husband Jack. He’s confined to a wheelchair, but this doesn’t prevent him from lashing out viciously at her. Laura later tells Tom that she allows Jack to hit her for the simple reason that if he didn’t attack her then he might do something to himself. A bleak moment with no closure, it’s another of those well-mounted kitchen sink drama scenes that the series excelled at.

It’s interesting that despite this being a major plot point, it isn’t a police matter (they aren’t involved at all) and indeed the travails of Laura and Jack are somewhat secondary to the examination of Tom’s working practices. His desire to prove himself has led him to take on more and more cases (since he believed that refusing any would be a signal that he wasn’t up to the job).

With Tom’s colleague, the ever patient Jennie Randall (Wendy Allnutt), also present, Laura directs a diatribe at poor Tom – describing how his visits are perfunctory at best and useless at worst. She may be being a little hard on him, but for a man who’s always prided himself on his ability to work with people (and joined the Social Services in order to make a difference) it’s something of a hammer blow.

Whilst this is going on, Jean welcomes WPC Maynard to the team. She clearly heroine worships Jean – confirmed by the fact that she requested a secondment to Hartley precisely because she wanted to serve under an officer whom she admired. Jean isn’t especially delighted to hear this and gently tries to explain to Hannah that the job is the important thing, not personalities. It’s left unspoken, but there’s the inference that it’s rare to ever be in a position to pick your superiors (we’ve seen how the likes of Superintendent Lake are – at best – rather condescending towards Jean). Rosalind Wilson is excellent as the keen as mustard Hannah, who manages to exasperate the phlegmatic Roland with her attention to detail.

Youth culture isn’t something that the series has tackled so far, but today we see two punky teenagers – Mo (Clare Toeman) and Laura (Sarah Sugarman) – which proves that Hartley does have its share of disaffected adolescents. They mooch around the perimeters of the plot for a while – trying the doors of locked cars on a grimy housing estate, running through a bleak concrete shopping centre – before they come face to face with Hannah.

Left to her own devices by Roland for thirty minutes, it’s plain that she’s no match for Mo and Laura. The pair, apprehended for shoplifting, are marched to the manager’s office – but when he has to leave, Hannah is left alone with them, which is where the trouble starts. The manager locks them in – a strange move since it means that once the punky pair turn on her, Hannah has nowhere to run.

The sight of a dishevelled Hannah, “pig” written across her forehead, slowly walking through the store (with an amazed Jean looking on) is a memorable one. Hannah’s reason for not cleaning herself up first – she wanted to public to see the dishevelled, other side of police work – is given short shrift by Jean. She considers this to be a highly melodramatic way of proving a point.

If the title of the episode could easily relate to Hannah’s experience, then equally it fits Tom’s nightmare of a day. The episode ends as it began, in the bedroom, although this time Tom is in a reflective mood. “I was incompetent and irresponsible” he tells Jean. His long suppressed resentment of her more successful career also bubbles to the surface but as they settle down for the night, there’s the sense that they’ve turned a corner and more positive times lie ahead.

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Comics – Simply Media DVD Review

American comedian Johnny Lazar (Tim Guinee) recently arrived in the UK, observes a gangland killing on the streets of Soho. As a witness, Johnny finds he’s a person of interest from both sides of the law ….

Simply Media continues to trawl through the Channel 4 back-catalogue with this two-part serial from 1993, written by Lynda La Plante and produced by Verity Lambert.

Within the first few minutes Johnny’s character has already been deftly painted – he’s an uncontrollable loose cannon (shooting his mouth off on a top American chat show is one of the reasons why he finds himself unemployable in his own country).

Given the generous running time (two episodes each of approx. 107 minutes) it’s slightly odd that Johnny witnesses the murder so early on in the first episode. The story might have benefitted from having a little more time to set up the characters and the milieu.

But even though the first twenty minutes seems to fly by at breakneck speed, all the essentials are put in place. We meet some of Johnny’s fellow comics, such as the cynical Haggis (Alex Norton) and the firmly traditional Graham Redcar (Graham Fellows). Fellows, no stranger to comedy himself (Jilted John, John Shuttleworth) was a wonderful casting choice. Graham is a strictly old-school turn, dressed in a smart dinner jacket he seems very out of place amongst his shabbier fellow performers. His insistence that you don’t have to descend to gutter language in order to amuse (instead he puts his faith in his hand puppet) is another obvious way in which he differs from the crowd.

Whilst it’s true that Londoners are very phlegmatic, it slightly stretches credibility that somebody could be shot multiple times right in front of a crowd of people with nobody reacting. You’d have thought somebody might have screamed at least once ….

But then some of the plotting of Comics is slightly suspect. We see the murdered man, Johnny Fratelli, walking past Anthony Fratelli’s (Stephen Greif) car. Given that Johnny was shot on his cousin’s orders (and that a briefcase was the prize) why choose to murder him in such a public place? It would have been far wiser to dispose of him in secret, that way obtaining the briefcase would have been straightforward (whereas here it’s not picked up in the melee).

It’s always nice to see Stephen Greif and although he’s rather typecast as a villain, since it’s a role he always plays so well I’m not going to complain. A number of other familiar faces (some already established, others just making a start) also appear – such as Danny Webb and Lennie James.

Brian Duffield (Webb) thinks that Johnny has the potential to hit the big time. The culture clash between the two – Johnny’s never heard of the likes of Rik Mayal, Ben Elton or the BBC – is nicely done, leading us to the punchline where Brian proudly tells him that he should be able to get him a spot on the Des O’Connor show. Needless to say, Johnny’s never heard of Des either ….

One plus point of Comics is the way that it intercuts an examination of the comedy scene in the UK with a straightforward police procedural (as the hunt for Johnny Fratelli’s killer begins in earnest). There’s some spiky satire directed at the comedy world – Duffield, with his brick like mobile phone and his rampaging desire to make Johnny a star, is the archetypal manager whilst the appearance of Michael Aspel helps to anchor the serial to the real world.

Johnny’s meltdown on the Aspel show (launching into a routine about guns and sex which I assume was intended to be shocking but today seems rather tame) shows the way his mind is currently functioning, i.e. not very well. But with one of his fellow comics recently murdered (he was mistaken for Johnny) it’s possibly not surprising that he’s becoming increasingly flaky.

Tim Guinee had to tread a delicate line. Johnny is often boorish and monosyablic, but Guinee also has to make him sympathetic, otherwise Comics would be a slog with an unlikable character at its heart. Guinee succeeds in teasing out the more vulnerable side of Johnny’s nature from time to time, so overall he gives a very rounded performance.

Although a little unfocused in places, there’s still a great deal of interest to be found in Comics, especially the depiction of the seedier end of the comedy circuit featuring a disparate group of characters all dreaming of a chance to make it big. Having the likes of Graham Fellows in the cast helped to add a layer of authenticity and it’s interesting to learn that Jo Brand was also approached.

Comics features a female performer, Rebecca (Jenny Galloway), who has more than a touch of Brand about her. It looks as if the part was originally written with Brand in mind, as touched upon during this interview.

A favourite of LaPlante’s, Comics slowly ramps up the tension before climaxing with a more than satisfying conclusion (followed by a touching coda). Propelled along by a very strong cast, Comics is an intriguing drama from the earlier days of C4 and is well worth your time.

Comics is released by Simply Media on the 21st of May 2018, RRP £19.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

Cinderella – Simply DVD Review

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Nick Dear’s reimagining of Cinderella relocates the story to mid twentieth century Britain. Young Zezolla (Marcella Plunkett) tangles with her new stepmother, Claudette (Kathleen Turner), an evil woman who has the unsuspecting Martin (David Warner) firmly in her grasp.

Zezolla, nicknamed Cinderella after she’s given the task of stoking the coal boilers of her father’s sprawling mansion, also has to contend with Claudette’s two scheming sisters – Goneril and Regan (Katrin Cartlidge and Lucy Punch) A fairy godmother would be handy, but surely that would be expecting too much …

Whilst Cinderella draws much of its inspiration from the original fairy tale, it also delights in mixing and matching elements from various other stories. King Lear is an obvious inspiration – the names of Claudette’s daughters and the way that Zezolla becomes estranged from her father (in true Lear style) are the most obvious nods.

Kathleen Turner adds a touch of Hollywood glamour to the production. Bedecked in a series of eye-catching costumes, Claudette is depicted as a top class schemer. Although briefly disappointed when she discovers that her new husband might be aristocratic but is also pretty much broke, she soon recovers. Once she’s managed to dispose of him (poison should do the trick) she’ll be free to remarry and if one of her daughters could snag a young and handsome Prince, all the better ….

Karen Cartlidge and Lucy Punch as Goneril and Regan are a hoot. Just as wicked and narcissistically self-obsessed as their mother, they delight in taunting their new, downtrodden sister-in-law. An early scene, where the pair – cavorting on their bed in stockings – ponder whether they should corrupt the innocent Zezolla is nicely done.

As for Zezolla – or Cinderella as she becomes known – she’s deftly brought to life by Marcella Plunkett. Although this was an early screen credit for Plunkett, she doesn’t seem at all fazed by sharing the screen with vastly more experienced actors.

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The casting for Cinderella was very strong. David Warner has a tricky job as Martin (it’s difficult to believe that anybody could be quite as dim and trusting as he is) but Warner’s a class actor who just about gets away with it. Leslie Phillips has a nice role as Felim, Martin’s faithful family retainer. Although it does seem a bit harsh that a man as old as he is has been given the job of stoking the boilers ….

Felim acts as Cinderella’s confidant, which is perfect casting for Phillips who twinkles away very appealingly. When advising her about the pleasures and pitfalls of love, he lets slip that he has form in this matter – most notably Mab (Jane Birkin).

Another strong addition to the cast, Mab occupies the role of Cinderella’s fairy godmother, although she – like a great deal of the story – is far removed from the traditional image. Living in an underground cave, Mab’s delightfully disconnected (telling Cinders at one point that she can’t rustle her up a pair of shoes – she never bothers with them herself since shoes are only for people who don’t like the look of their feet). Several other familiar faces pass by later on, such as Sharon Maughan, Michael Medwin, Nickolas Grace and Jenny Tomasin.

Prince Valliant (Gideon Turner) enters the picture mid-way through. Far removed from the conventional Prince Charming, he’s instead portrayed as a bored and idle lounger. I’m not sure whether Turner’s playing is supposed to be off-kilter or if it’s just a case of bad acting. I suspect the former, which is strengthened by the memorable moment when the Prince elects to serenade the alluring Cinderella with a rock song and an energetic guitar solo. He does later roam the Kingdom (albeit on a motorbike) with a slipper, looking for a foot that will fit it – so at least in that instance he does conform to the traditional story.

With a woozy, non-naturalistic feel, Cinderella doesn’t outstay its welcome at 83 minutes. It may be fairly short, but is decidedly sweet and – thanks to the first-rate cast – is something of a treat. Recommended.

Cinderella is released on the 21st of May 2018 by Simply Media, RRP £14.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

Juliet Bravo – The One Who Got Away

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It’s a busy time in Hartley. A group of international counterfeiters have moved into the area, a vicious murderer is on the run and Jean’s interest is piqued by a smooth con-man who targets rich widows ….

The One Who Got Away is content to slowly introduce and manoeuvre its guest characters, meaning that it takes a while before we understand exactly who they are and what their function in the story will be. A couple, who we later discover are Detective Inspector Harry Connor (Walter McMonagle) and Detective Sergeant Annie Aspen (Stephanie Fayeman), are shown selecting an isolated cottage (which looks perfect for a stake out) whilst a confident middle aged man, Commander Scott (Geoffrey Hutchings), checks into the Highwayman hotel.

The episode will spend a fair amount of time in the lounge of the Highwayman (which is a nicely realised studio set). For Hartley it’s clearly an upmarket sort of place – albeit with fake rustic overtones – which looks to be positioned slightly out of town. The cheesy muzak which constantly plays in the background is a nice touch, setting up the atmosphere perfectly.

Everything about Scott screams con-man, which is reinforced when his dinner guest – Colette Newby (Shirley Stelfox) – arrives. Scott spins a yarn that he served with Colette’s late husband on the Ark Royal and although there’s no obvious flaws in his story, something seems slightly off-key about him.

At this point, it might be expected that Harry and Annie have arrived in Hartley on Scott’s trail, but that’s not the case. Although when Harry later sees him (coincidentally he’s entertaining Jean at the Highwayman) he does comment that he seems familiar.

If The One Who Got Away has a theme, then it’s about subverting our expectations. Not only is Scott not Harry’s target, but Scott proves to be less in control of the situation than he thinks. Colette might be an imposing and respectable figure – chairman of the Townswomen’s Guild – but she came up the hard way and is more than capable of spotting a confidence trickster when she sees one. Bedecked in a wonderful fur coat, Shirley Stelfox is good value for money.

So although the viewer might have expected Colette to be the victim, she instead turns out to be, if not the hunter, then not exactly a passive character either. Colette (real name Mavis) offers Scott (real name Trunky Porter) a job. As a smooth salesman at her second-hand car lot, he seems set to make a go of things. It may not quite be that she’s going to make an honest man of him, more a case of thieves together ….

The way that Scott/Porter drops his cultured air when later confronted by Jean is nicely done, as is his reaction after he learns that his prey’s real name is Mavis! A con-man conned back.

The return of Superintendent Lake (John Ringham) has primed the audience to expect that the arrival of Harry and Annie from the Crime Squad is big news. Their action against the counterfeiters seems set to be the major theme of the story and yet – in another example of subverted expectations – it turns out to be almost totally a MacGuffin. We do briefly see the counterfeiters, but their presence has no impact on the plot.

Instead, the latter part of the episode focuses on Annie (maintaining the stake-out, all by herself) encountering the runaway murderer (played by Andrew De La Tour). It’s already been established that the house has no phone (which Harry seemed unconcerned about) so when the wild-eyed fugitive breaks in it appears that Annie’s going to have to face him on her own. It’s a slight shame that Annie is transformed into a victim during these scenes (she manages to beat him off before Roland arrived in the nick of time).

Odd that Annie would be left by herself with no means of communication. Whilst Harry is depicted as a secretive type – only Lake and Jean know why the Crime Squad are in the area – this is stretching credibility a little too far. Andrew De La Tour casts an imposing shadow though – and he’s all the more effective since his character never utters a single word.

The meeting between Jean and Harry is one of the most interesting parts of the episode. It’s plain that they have a history, with the clear inference being that they were lovers at one point (Harry waxes lyrical about the time they were snowed in at Merthyr Tydfil during an operation). In his presence Jean is almost girlish whilst the later arrival of Annie casts a slight chill over proceedings. When Harry wanders off, Jean and Annie start a faltering conversation which seems to have a clear subtext (both, in own their way, are keen to prove that they know Harry best). Despite vanishing for a section of the story, Walter McMonagle is another strong addition to the guest cast.

Mixing several different storylines, The One Who Got Away, thanks to its wrong-footing ways, is a very decent story.

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Juliet Bravo – Rage

Kim Buckley (Judy Liebert) is a new mother driven to distraction by the demands of her constantly crying baby boy. With no assistance forthcoming from her husband Jeremy (Christian Rodska) she quickly becomes a danger to her son ….

Rage opens with a visit to two very different households (although both homes are fairly spacious middle-class dwellings, not typical of Hartley). In the first, Jean and Tom are having a relaxed and playful early morning bicker. Tom is mock annoyed by the fact that the newspaper boy is slow in delivering his Guardian (he likes to park up at the end of the street and read it). Clearly he must be a well-read lad if he prefers it to the charms of the Sun.

Playing in the background is Terry Wogan’s breakfast show with Marmalade’s (an appropriate group for the time of day) version of Ob-La-Di-La-Da. The same song continues when the focus switches over to Kim and Jeremy, but the mood there is completely different.

They don’t exchange a word, although their non-verbal actions speak just as clearly as any dialogue would. Jeremy’s face expresses disgust at various small things (the way the teaspoon has been left in the sugar bag, toys scattered about the room) whilst the constantly crying baby is like a knife through Kim’s heart. When he leaves for work (slamming the door) still without having spoken to her, it might have been the trigger for the first of her breakdowns – she smashes up the living room – although this violence doesn’t appear to give her any respite.

Clutching a bottle of whisky, she eventually staggers up to her son. Up to this point we haven’t actually seen him (he’s been represented purely by sound alone). This works on several levels. Not only practically (strict rules would have governed the length of time a baby could be present in the studio) but also story-wise (there’s something slightly more disturbing about a crying baby when we can only hear it).

The sheer misery and desperation of Kim’s life is contrasted by the merry atmosphere at Hartley nick. When Jean enters, Joe is doing his best Long John Silver impression – all because they’ve received a report from a Mrs Edith Bridewell, who’s told them that her son has stolen her wooden leg ….

Moving onto film, as Kim takes her baby out, we get our first sight of the child. But not for long – once Kim enters the police station (as usual, recorded in the studio) the baby has disappeared from the pram. After Kim claims to have killed her son (the empty pram suggests this might be so) she runs off, necessitating a switch back to film as the green young PC Ian Shelton (Martyn Hesford) sets off in hot pursuit.

After this filmic moment we again switch back to the station on videotape (this constant jump from videotape to film and then back to videotape isn’t ideal but it was the way drama of this era tended to be made). A strange videotape/film mix occurs later in the episode when we see Roland checking out the Buckley’s house. The living room is on videotape, but the hallway is shot on film ….

Across the course of the episode, Judy Liebert is called upon to produce several violent mood swings – it’s certainly the sort of role that you have to through yourself into. After being pulled into the station is a deeply hysterical mood, she switches back to being quiet and composed.

She doesn’t have a particularly long list of credits, which is a slight surprise as Liebert’s very compelling as the deeply disturbed Kim. The battle of wills between Jean and Kim is well-written, giving both actors a chance to shine. Kim’s comment that Hartley “sits like concrete on my neck” sums up in a few words the sort of prison she believes she’s found herself in.

Kim’s wildly fluctuating moods continues to drive the story onwards. The moment when she punches Jean in the face (Jean responds by slapping her) is one such example. Presumably Jean intended the slap to bring her to her senses (which it did) although it’s still a jarring sight.

Writer John Foster had cut his teeth on Softly Softly (his first television writing credit was an episode of the series back in 1966) before moving onto a range of seventies dramas including Sutherland’s Law and Z Cars. He would contribute eight scripts in total to Juliet Bravo, including the memorable episodes Aunt Sally and Chasing The Dragon. It’s fair to say that downbeat often tended to be his JB style.

Offering little in the way of light relief, we do at least have a fairly happy ending after the baby is found safe and well. Jean tells Jeremy that he has to do his job better in the future (listen and respond to his wife) with Jean inclined to write this matter off. The right decision? Only time will tell.

The Demon Headmaster – Simply Media DVD Review

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Starting a new school is traumatic at the best of times, but Dinah Glass’ (Frances Amey) first day is worse than most. Most of her fellow pupils seem uncharacteristically docile whilst the Headmaster is a very strange man indeed ….

Created by Gillian Cross, the Demon Headmaster has featured in a series of (to date) seven novels published between 1982 and 2017. When Cross’ books were adapted for television in the mid nineties (there were three series in total) four of her novels were used. The six episodes of series one utilised the first two books – The Demon Headmaster (1982) and The Prime Minster’s Brain (1985) – each running for three instalments.

Dinah, an orphan, has arrived at her new foster home. Mrs Hunter (Tessa Peake-Jones) is warm and welcoming but her two young sons – Harvey (Thomas Szekeres) and Lloyd (Gunnar Cauthery) – are far less enthused. This isn’t because they don’t want a girl around the house, it’s more to do with the fact that they’re members of a small group (five in total) who have somehow managed to escape the Headmaster’s control and fear that Dinah will end up as a spy in their camp.

The central heroic protagonist of the series (subtly reinforced by the title sequence which depicts the other children on either side of the screen whilst Dinah – like the Headmaster – is placed in the centre of the frame) Dinah’s plight instantly captures the viewer’s attention, thanks to Frances Amey’s performance. As you might expect, the child cast are variable (some good, some not quite so) so it’s fortunate that the key role of Dinah went to a strong actor.

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There’s no doubt who commands the screen though. Terrence Hardiman looks to be having a whale of a time as the thoroughly evil Headmaster who isn’t content with just controlling one school. “The man who can keep order can rule the world”. Effortlessly menacing, it’s easy to understand how he managed to traumatise a generation of children ….

Dinah, an incredibly intelligent girl, looks to be ideal fodder for the Headmaster, but her strong will means that she manages to break free of his control after something of a struggle. Quite how Harvey, Lloyd and several of their friends (Ian, Mandy and Ingrid) have been able to resist is never made clear. Possibly the reverse is true with them – they simply weren’t intelligent enough?

There’s an interesting moment in the third episode of series one when we see the Headmaster commanding a group of brainwashed pupils to dispose of Dinah and the others. He tells them that what they can see in front of them are a number of straw dolls who are no longer needed and can be ripped apart. The overlay effect is a simple one, but it’s nevertheless a disturbing little scene.

Danny John-Jules has an entertaining guest appearance in these early episodes as Eddy Hair, an energetic performer who runs a television game show which is the first step on the Headmaster’s path to power. Although with its screaming children and oodles of gunk it seems like the last place he’d want to be ….

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After Dinah manages to scupper the Headmaster’s plans at the conclusion of the third episode, he disappears. The reason for this isn’t quite clear since Dinah and the other members of SPLAT were the only ones who knew about his plans for world domination.

The remainder of series one sees the Headmaster – shock horror – making a surprise return whilst Dinah finds herself in thrall to a highly addictive computer game, Octopus Dare. Since Dinah had already foiled one of his schemes, it seems a little odd to find her recruited for the next one – joining a group of other children with equally high computer skills in an attempt to tap into the Prime Minister’s computer (the first step in taking over the world). Although not as engaging as the first story, there are various satirical swipes – at the addictive qualities of computer games and the dangers of automation – which are nicely done.

The toy helicopter, which the Headmaster escapes in, is possibly not the most convincing effect ever though ….

After speeding away in his helicopter at the end of series one, we pick up next time with the Headmaster coming back down to earth at the Biogenetic Research Centre. Shortly afterwards Mr Hunter takes up a new job at the Centre – as their public relations officer – which means that Dinah, Harvey and Lloyd will soon be tangling once again with their arch nemesis.

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Having skipped the third novel (The Revenge of the Demon Headmaster) the adaptations continued with the fourth, The Demon Headmaster Strikes Again. Given that Dinah had now defeated him twice, clearly the Headmaster was a glutton for punishment (he, of course, was responsible for bringing “Little Miss Dinah Hunter” back within his grasp).

The setting – a sleepy village – suits the story down to the ground (other series, such as Doctor Who and The Avengers, also made fruitful use of this type of environment). Having previously controlled (virtually) an entire school, the Headmaster’s now setting his net a little wider as he starts to bring the whole village under his spell.

Some familiar television faces, such as Annette Badland, pop up whilst Katey Crawford Kastin makes a welcome return as Rose Carter. During the early episodes of series one she was the Headmaster’s most loyal prefect – times might have changed but her loyalty remains constant (at least to begin with).

This second run, with a single story spread across seven episodes, feels more substantial than the first series. It certainly boasts the Headmaster’s strangest plan yet – with the power of evolution at his fingertips, he creates a human/lizard hybrid. The human part is a clone of Dinah, meaning that our heroine is forced to come face to face with an implacable foe – Eve – who looks identical to her (apart from possessing one lizard hand and a very long tongue). That’s not something you see every day.

Although the Demon Headmaster was killed at the end of the second series, the attentive viewer will probably have realised by now that a minor inconvenience such as death wouldn’t be enough to stop his evil plans. And so in series three (adapted from The Demon Headmaster Takes Over) we discover that a clone of the Headmaster, created at the Biogenetic Research Centre, proves to be just as troublesome as the original ….

Nina Young, as Professor Claudia Rowe, is a strong addition to the regular cast as is Tony Osoba whilst Ed Bishop is amongst those making guest appearances. With the military called in to deal with the fallout at the Research Centre, there’s something of a Doctor Who/UNIT feel about the opening episode (indeed, at times The Demon Headmaster does have a rather late eighties Whoish feel).

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One of the themes of S3 – surveillance – feels just as topical today as it did back then. After Mr Smith (Osoba) is brought under the Headmaster’s control, he explains how the British government (whom he works for in a shadowy capacity) attempts to control and manipulate the population, both through the flow of information and through surveillance. For a children’s series, this is quite an adult theme.

The nascent internet is also a running thread as Hyperbrain – an artificial intelligence programme – proves to be vital to the Headmaster’s latest plan for world domination. The computer stuff may seem a little quaint today, but at the time no doubt it would have seemed cutting edge.

The Demon Headmaster might not have had a particularly large budget, but what it lacked in money it made up for in sheer imagination. Some of the effects don’t quite convince, but that’s not a problem – indeed, I love the fact that they weren’t afraid to think big.

All three series, nineteen episodes in total, are contained within this three disc set. Sadly there’s no special features (the 1997 CBBC Christmas Pantomime The Demon Headmaster Takes Over TV would have been an obvious thing to include). An interview with Terrance Hardiman would also have been nice, luckily there are a few scattered around the internet, such as this one.

Packed with plots which get ever more bonkers as the episodes click by, The Demon Headmaster is held together by the performances of Terrance Hardiman and Frances Amey. No matter how strange things get, both continue to play it completely straight – which helps to keep the show grounded in reality.

Given the paucity of science fiction/fantasy programmes on British television during the 1990’s, The Demon Headmaster is quite a noteworthy series. It stands up well today as good, pulpy fun and whilst this DVD will be a nostalgic treat for many, there’s no reason why the Demon Headmaster shouldn’t cast his spell over a new generation of children.

The Demon Headmaster is released by Simply Media on the 14th of May 2018, RRP £29.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

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