Dick Turpin – The Champion (20th January 1979)

Turpin is looking for a place to lie low for a while, and the small village of Mudbury seems ideal. After arriving, he learns that the bible bashing preacher, Nightingale (John Grillo), is using his feared enforcer – Hogg (Robert Russell) – to extract regular payments from the villagers.

But the trouble really begins when the ever impulsive Swiftnick, after learning that Hogg has his heart set on becoming a prizefighter, rashly suggests that Turpin could easily defeat Hogg in a fight. Problem is, he hasn’t mentioned this to Dick yet ….

There’s no Glutton or Spiker in this episode, which is a plus. However good their characters are, if they keep reappearing week after week then the series would quickly become monotonous (for example, see the later series of Blakes 7 which suffered from a Servalan overkill).

In Glutton’s place, we’ve got the hell and damnation figure of Nightingale. John Grillo has an extensive list of television credits, so I really feel that I should know his work better than I do. After this though, I’ll be keeping an eye out for him as he’s very watchable as Nightingale.

A much more recognisable actor for me is Don Henderson, who plays Bracewell (a noted prizefighter). By one of the those remarkable coincidences which occur in these sort of series, Turpin rescues Bracewell from a highway attack just before reaching Mudbury. So after Turpin receives an early dose of punishment from Hogg, he rushes off to get Bracewell (who’s more than happy to challenge Hogg).

Once again, it’s no surprise that Swiftnick is to blame for Dick’s travails. Even before Turpin finds himself facing down Hogg, he bitterly tells his highway partner that “you’ll fall down your own mouth one of these days”.

If Grillo receives many of the best lines. leaving Henderson with the scraps, that means there’s not much left for the villagers. Still, Gerry Cowper briefly lights up the screen as Lucy, this week’s serving wench. And the always dependable Roy Evans (Fellowes) and Nicholas McArdle (Pollard) are plusses as well.

The comedy element is ramped up in this episode, which makes it an ideal vehicle for Richard O’Sullivan. He’s really in his element throughout – especially when (after Bracewell disappears) he finds he has to fight Hogg after all.

Hogg might be on the side of the baddies, but he seems to be an honest fighter. Not so Turpin, who uses every dirty trick in the book (or at least those permissible at Saturday tea-time) to gain an advantage. As the fight continues and Turpin barely manages to stay on his feet, Switnick frantically rushes about, looking for Bracewell.

Today’s plot niggles. Given that Bracewell is such an intimidating character, how did Nightingale and Hogg manage to spirit him away? No explanation is given, so you’ll have to make your own up. Oh, and out of all the places to hide Bracewell, the one chosen (the barn where the fight is taking place) has to be the worst.

Swiftnick and Lucy find Bracwell at the eleventh hour and he rushes over to take Turpin’s place – but (hurrah!) there’s no need as somehow Dick Turpin, in true David and Goliath style, has triumphed. Given this, you might wonder why Bracewell features in the story at all ….

Niggles apart, this is a fun romp – nothing more, nothing less.

Dick Turpin – The Capture (13th January 1979)

The Capture. Hmm, I wonder what this episode’s about then?

Turpin and Swiftnick aren’t getting on terribly well as Swiftnick’s rash and impulsive actions have almost led to disaster several times. As they ride up to the White Lion inn, the long suffering Turpin gives Swiftnick one last chance.

But he proves to be a less than effective lookout, instead spending most of his time chatting up a serving wench called Kate Doyle (Lesley Dunlop). Dunlop, who’d later co-star in a similar adventure series (Smuggler, with Oliver Tobias) is good value as Kate – all wide eyes and heaving bosoms.

When she makes conversation, Swiftnick (a pushover for a pretty face) just can’t help himself and he rashly reveals the identity of his friend. When, seconds later, Spiker and his goons crash through the door it seems to Turpin that Kate must have informed on them. She didn’t of course, and it seems bizarre that he could have thought so.

Turpin and Swiftnick escape by the skin of their teeth after another highly energetic fight sequence that slips into parody (after bamboozling Spiker again, Turpin makes time to stop and kiss a pretty girl before exiting) but is still entertaining.

Turpin decides that enough is enough and dumps the unwilling Swiftnick with a gunsmith called John Tanner (Harold Goodwin). Tanner’s reluctant to take on the boy as his apprentice, but changes his mind after Turpin gives him a handsome dowry! Goodwin sketches a nice cameo with limited screentime as does Annabelle Lee (as Jane Kelsey), the episode’s other notable guest actor.

Jane is a down on her luck actress, sentenced to three years imprisonment by Glutton for stealing two apples (a good example of Glutton’s draconian application of the law). She’s promised her freedom if she agrees to ensnare Turpin by posing as a wealthy aristocrat.

This part of the story doesn’t quite hold water. How does Turpin know the precise time and road that this faux lady will be travelling down? Still ignoring that plot niggle, there’s amusement to be gained from Jane’s over-enthusiastic acting as she plays the wilting heroine (quailing against the rough, tough Turpin). Given that some performances in the series can be just as florid (and they weren’t acting, if you see what I mean) this is possibly a little in-joke from Carpenter.

Jane wasn’t riding alone, as Spiker was hiding in her carriage. Easily overpowering Turpin, it looks like curtains for the highwayman ….

In a neat reversal of the first episode, in this one Swiftnick (with a little help from Kate) rescues Turpin. As expected, that redeems the boy in Turpin’s eyes and the pair ride off together in unity as the credits roll.

A good enough episode, but fairly predictable (had Kate actually turned out to be an informer that would have been a decent twist). On the plus side, the swordplay’s once again well staged and the Glutton/Spiker double act raises several laughs (the running gag of Spiker’s failure to knock before entering Glutton’s room, for example).

Dick Turpin – Swiftnick (6th January 1979)

Richard Carpenter, co-creator and writer of the majority of Dick Turpin, made no bones about the fact that the Turpin of this series bore no resemblance to his real-life counterpart. That’s understandable of course – the genuine Dick Turpin was a squalid thief and murderer with no redeeming features (hardly the ideal person to star in a Saturday evening tea-time series).

Carpenter’s Dick Turpin drew on the already established folklore which surrounded the character in order to create an idealistic outlaw, always ready with a wry quip to dispense justice in an England where the authorities were either lax or corrupt.

Given that Richard Carpenter would later tackle the legend of Robin Hood in Robin of Sherwood, it’s easy to imagine that he was having something a dry run in this series (thankfully though, RoS was allowed time to breathe with 50 minute episodes rather than Turpin‘s 25).

Like the Robin Hood of popular myth, the fictionalised Turpin (Richard O’Sullivan) returns home after fighting for king and country to discover his property has been seized. He then finds himself opposing Sir John Glutton (Christopher Benjamin) and Captain Nathan Spiker (David Daker) who are very close analogues to the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisbourne.

Turpin doesn’t assemble a band of merry men, but he does (reluctantly) recruit one helper – the boyishly ingenuous Nick Smith (Michael Deeks) who is rechristened Switnick by Turpin.

Dick Turpin was the latest in a line of ITV series which stretched right back to the founding of the network in 1955 (The Adventures of Robin Hood, with Richard Greene, debuted just a few days after ITV’s launch). It’s easy to see why these sort of shows kept coming back and indeed why they remain so watchable today.

With only 25 minutes to play with, there’s no time for intricate plots or deep characterisation – you just need a few good guest actors, a simple storyline and a bit of action. This repeating formula does mean they can feel a little insubstantial at times, but they’re also great fun to dip into every so often.

Swiftnick is intriguingly set just after Turpin’s apparent hanging in York with a dogged Spiker insistant that the man who swung wasn’t in fact Turpin ….

That might explain why the episode opens with Turpin in disguise, as a doddery clerk, although it’s harder to understand why Turpin so gratuitously splashes his cash in The Black Swan (an inn run by Mrs Smith and her young son Nick).

Possibly he’s looking to unmask pretenders to his throne as Nick, posing as Turpin, later attempts a highway robbery on the apparently harmless clerk (the real Dick Turpin seems to be somewhat peeved that so many imposters are trading on his name).

Some of the redubbing on this episode is a little clumsy but the worst bit occurs when Nick faces down the ‘clerk’. Before Turpin reveals himself, the cringing clerk begs for mercy (but O’Sullivan doesn’t voice him). By now, most viewers would have twigged that the clerk was Turpin in disguise, so why O’Sullivan couldn’t have put on an accent is beyond me.

I’m also slightly confused by this part of the story. Nick is desperate for twenty guineas – unless this sun is paid immediately, Glutton will throw him and his mother out of the inn. Turpin seems sympathetic but sends the boy away with nothing. And yet in the next scene, Mrs Smith hands over this sum to Spiker (has Turpin somehow given the money to her?)

It seems likely, as Turpin and Mrs Smith (Jo Rowbottom) do have a history. Indeed, some of the dialogue seems to hint that she and Turpin fathered Nick (which would explain why Turpin agrees to look after the now outlawed Nick).

Dick Turpin: I’m going to ruin Glutton and everyone round him. I shall wear them down like water dripping on a stone and I’ll make my own justice.

Mrs Smith: Then make some for Nick. For you, and me and what we once … you know, the past.

If this part of the plot seems somewhat opaque, then the conclusion (Turpin masquerades as a Scottish doctor to bamboozle Glutton and rescue Nick) is great fun. Under the expert eye of stunt arranger Peter Diamond, both O’Sullivan and Daker demonstrate some quality swordplay moves. Their duel includes one of my favourite exchanges in the episode –

Captain Nathan Spiker: The sword is a gentleman’s weapon, Turpin.

Dick Turpin: Then why are you using it?

An effective opener then, but even this early on it’s possible to wonder how the triangle of conflict between Turpin/Spiker/Glutton can develop. Because all three seem to be such archetypes, it’s easy to imagine they’ll simply repeat today’s form of conflict (with Glutton apoplectic, Spiker defeated and Turpin riding off into the sunset) again and again. Or will Carpenter be able to throw a few surprises into the mix? Time will tell.

Upstairs Downstairs – The Wages of Sin

Despite its bleak premise – Sarah, revealed to be pregnant again, faces the prospect of losing her job and being cast out onto the streets – The Wages of Sin is an episode that if it isn’t quite played for laughs, certainly has a streak of mocking humour running throughout it.

This tone is established from the first scene in which Mrs Bridges (suspicious about Sarah’s sudden increase in appetite) leaps to the correct conclusion and brings in Mr Hudson to hear Sarah’s unwilling admission of guilt.

All three actors are given their chances to shine. Angela Baddeley makes the most of lines such as Mrs Bridges’ caustic summation of Sarah’s character (“You know, our Sarah reminds me of the Salvation Army banner. Thousands have been this way before, there is plenty of room for thousands more”).

Hudson, although he’s stern and foreboding after learning the news, can’t help but soften when Sarah apparently breaks down in tears (knowing Sarah’s passion for theatrically though, I have my doubts about how genuine her contrition is).

Pauline Collins gets most of the best lines as Sarah (desperate not to reveal that Thomas is the baby’s father) wildly extemporises under the withering glares of her two superiors and desperately cobbles together a rather unconvincing tale about how she was plied with drink and taken advantage of by a rich gent.

Collins’ performances across the series have been something of a mixed bag and so whilst I can’t confess to being that sorry to see the last of Sarah, at least she exits on a high.

As does John Alderton as Thomas, whose capacity for scheming remains finely tuned (although I do like the end of part two moment when it appears that he’s overplayed his hand and lost everything). If there’s any oddity with the script, then it’s slightly strange to end part one with Thomas refusing to acknowledge or help Sarah and then go straight into part two where he coolly ambles along to Mr Bellamy and asks for permission to marry the girl.

From Richard’s viewpoint this seems like the perfect solution, but later on, Lady Marjorie – returning home from aboard – is appalled when she hears the news. That she immediately counteracts his instructions makes it quite plain who wears the trousers at 165 Eaton Place.

Lady Marjorie’s harsh and ruthless streak bubbles to the surface as she tells Thomas that if he still wants to marry Sarah then both will have to leave their employ and as quickly as possible. This leaves him in a desperate position, but he has one last throw of the dice – a later brief meeting with Richard and Lady Marjorie in which he subtly raises the prospect of blackmail.

It doesn’t say a great deal for Richard (an MP, remember) that Thomas’ politely menacing words appear to have sailed right over his head. Luckily Lady Marjorie understands nuance a lot better than he does and sends the long-suffering Richard off to fix the problem.

Although last week money seemed a little tight, today that doesn’t seem to be a problem – Richard buys Thomas off with a £500 cheque (allowing the Welshman to realise his dream and buy a garage).

The episode then concludes with downstairs jollity as Thomas and Sarah celebrate their engagement – the festivities only slightly pausing when Richard and Lady Marjorie pop down to wish the couple well. There’s a delightful awkwardness in the scene from some of the servants to the arrival of their employers although eventually the party gets going again with a final reprise of ‘Uncle Albert’ – a song which has a very familiar tune ….

Although the episode opens in traditional style (an “oh Ruby” from Mrs Bridges) at the end Ruby actually gets something to do for once – revealing to Joan (Jane Carr) that she knows Thomas is the father of Sarah’s child.

Joan is another of those parlour maids who arrives from nowhere, but at least in her case there was a good reason. Christopher Beeney had been hospitalised after a motorcycle crash which occurred just before the recording of this episode, so all of Edward’s lines were given to this hastily created character.

So farewell Thomas and Sarah. They would later reappear in their own spin-off series, which didn’t last long and by all accounts was a far from happy production. Possibly when my UpDown odyssey has ended, it might be time to dig it out for a reevaluation.

Upstairs Downstairs – The Fruits of Love (5th January 1973)

At the start of this episode, Rose and Miss Elizabeth’s relationship (which was somewhat strained, for obvious reasons, at the end of the previous installment) seems to have righted itself. We can maybe credit this to Rose’s remarkable powers of recovery – although the mood becomes a little cloudier when Elizabeth mentions the name Julius Karekin again ….

Elizabeth has always tended to be in a pretty depressive state – spending a large amount of her time railing against her ordained place in society. Today, she looks longingly at Rose and wishes she – like her – had a job of work to do. Although she might think otherwise if she actually had to carry out the duties of a house parlour maid.

But now her relationship with Julius has tipped her over the edge and she’s in a giddy state of ecstasy. After the dark rigors of A Special Mischief, this comes as a dose of light relief. The morning-after bedroom romping between Elizabeth and Julius (she copies the antics from a florid romantical novel, he attempts to escape from her clutches in order to leave for the City) is rather nicely done. Throughout her time in Upstairs Downstairs, Nicola Pagett had few opportunities to indulge in comedy so possibly these scenes offered her a welcome change of pace.

The central part of the episode is also entertaining – Juluis has gifted Elizabeth a hat shop and she throws herself into running it with gusto. When Elizabeth breaks the news to her parents, they react predictably. Lady Marjorie is horrified that her daughter is going into trade whilst Richard (who earlier had bemoaned how much money Elizabeth continues to cost him) can hardly contain his delight that she’ll finally be a wage earner!

There’s also a rare moment of genuine affection between father and daughter as Richard helps her to choose a name for the shop – Madame Yvonne (named, as Lady Marjorie acidly reminds him, after one of his old girlfriends – a dreadfully common woman who dyed her hair).

Madame Yvonne caters for the well-heeled gullible by claiming to stock genuine Paris fashions (which are nothing of the sort). They are smoothly sold by Mademoiselle Jeanette (Mairhi Russell) who is as genuinely French as the hats ….

Margot Boyd essays a lovely little cameo as Lady Spennilove, a wealthy (but, as Lady Marjorie would say, frightfully common) woman who walks away with a hat that looks to my eyes positively awful. But I will confess that ladies’ hats are not my specialty.

All seems to be going swimmingly. until the vengeful Margot Descort (Wendy Gifford), still smarting that Julius has spurned her in favour of Elizabeth, breaks the news about Elizabeth’s new lover to Lady Marjorie.

Julius is wealthy but without any breeding – the most heinous crime in Lady Marjorie’s eyes. This leads into by far the best scene of the episode – a confrontation between Lady Marjorie and Elizabeth in which several home truths are aired. Elizabeth confirms that she’s Julius’ mistress and then gently taunts her mother about her own past indiscretion.

Rachel Gurney is so good here as Lady Marjorie slowly realises that her hidden secret is not as hidden as she’d hoped (even the servants know about it). It’s a pity that Gurney’s time with the series is fast running out (it won’t be long before Lady Marjorie takes a one-way trip on the Titanic) but had she had more scenes like this, possibly she would have been encouraged to stay on.

The major irony of the episode is saved for the last few minutes. Thanks to her father’s crippling death duties, Lady Marjorie has to face the prospect of selling 165 Eaton Place. But just when all seems lost, Julius buys the house and gifts it to Elizabeth, who gifts it to her parents.

Lady Marjorie is then forced to invite Julius round for tea and polite conversation while Richard – well aware by now of Julius’ substantial personal wealth – is keen to show him round the Houses of Parliament and introduce him to some of his friends.

So everybody seems to be a winner – Julius (barely tolerated up to this point by the establishment) has begun to buy his way in whilst the stability of life at 165 Eaton Place is – on the surface at least – maintained.

The Fruits of Love is very much an Upstairs story. Only Rose and Mr Hudson featured from Downstairs – Hudson gets a handful of memorable lines whilst Rose plays her usual role as Miss Elizabeth’s confidant and stern conscience. Although there’s at least one moment of pleasure for Rose, as Elizabeth tells her to choose any hat she’d like from the shop. Initially reluctant, she can’t help herself and soon is overcome as a variety of appealing headwear swims into view ….

Upstairs Downstairs – An Object of Value (15th December 1972)

An Object of Value continues a run of episodes defined by the arrival of an outsider to 165 Eaton Place who has an immediate destabilising effect on the household. Today it’s Lady Marjorie’s recently widowed mother, Lady Southwold (Cathleen Nesbitt), and her companion Miss Hodges (Nancie Jackson) who, almost as soon as they step through the door, begin to put the cat amongst the pigeons ….

Although Lady Southwold is a suitably imposing figure in public, in private she comes across as a fairly genial old soul. Mind you, it’s understandable that she’s rather short tempered once she believes her irreplicable butterfly brooch has been stolen. Miss Hodges is the one who mainly suffers at Lady Southwold’s hands, although you get the sense that her flashes of anger don’t last long (and if Miss Hodges wasn’t such a terrible snob, maybe Lady Southwold would be able to hold her tongue a little more).

If Lady Southwold kicks off proceedings by deciding that she’s been robbed, then Miss Hodges stokes the fire by confiding to Hudson that she thinks (with no real evidence) that Miss Roberts is guilty.

The simmering enmity between Hodges and Roberts is nicely teased out at the start of the episode as is Hodges’ strange limbo-like position. She considers herself to be a cut above the servants and wouldn’t think of taking her meals with them, but whilst she’s present in the drawing room with Lady Marjorie, Richard and Lady Southwold, her menial status is made clear very quickly (she remains standing whilst the others sit, and her comments tend to be politely ignored).

Richard instructs Hudson to make discreet enquires amongst the staff. This is the cue for a ladle of humour (the unfortunate Edward compares Hudson to Sherlock Holmes, unaware that the cat-like Hudson has crept up on him and can hear every mocking word) and also drama (Roberts explodes into hysterics after she decides her position and integrity are under attack).

An Object of Value is one of those self-contained stories, never setting foot outside 165 Eaton Place. Apart from the regular cast (for once, all the servants are present and correct) there’s only four guest actors – Cathleen Nesbitt and Nancie Jackson are both quite key, even if they don’t have a great deal of screentime (Lady Southwold and Hodges exist mainly to kick the plot into action) as is Christopher Biggins as Mr. Donaldson, although his big scene comes right at the end of the episode.

Donaldson is an acquaintance of Thomas and someone who the chauffeur hopes to go into partnership with. Sarah – on Thomas’ bidding – steals a bottle of wine from the cellar, all the better for him to sweeten Donaldson. This action is a little hard to swallow – why would Sarah risk everything, especially since she didn’t seem to benefit? At first I thought that maybe it would be used later by Hudson as an example of Sarah’s untrustworthiness (if suspicion fell on her that she stole the brooch) but as that didn’t happen, we can just take as a spot of colour which enlivens the early part of the episode.

John Alderton gets plenty of good material to work with today. Thomas continues his pursuit of Sarah and eventually gets her into bed although it’s his confrontation with Rose that really stands out. First, Rose finds it impossible to articulate quite why she cares so much about Sarah’s burgeoning friendship with Thomas (although the innuendo is quite plain) and then Thomas roughly manhandles her (demonstrating that beneath his thin veneer of affability that’s won round some of the staff, such as Mrs Bridges, there’s something rather nasty lurking).

When Hudson later asks him to explain who his visitor was, Thomas stands his ground and refuses. There’s strong energy in these scenes with Gordon Jackson and John Alderton – Hudson might be able to browbeat the rest of the staff, but it’s plain that Thomas is an immovable object. Thomas even stands his ground with Richard, although eventually he does concede and explain.

Then an unspoken irony comes into play. Thomas is off the hook because Richard knows that Mr. Donaldson is a respectable man, but that’s only his public face. In private Donaldson is revealed to be somewhat degenerate – pawing Sarah and limbering up for something more, before Thomas bursts in and they slug it out.

We don’t see many fight scenes in Upstairs Downstairs, which makes the Thomas/Donaldson one quite noteworthy. Christopher Biggins isn’t the sort of actor who tends to indulge in a great deal of fisticuffs, so it’s not entirely convincing (although you have to say that recording fights in a multi-camera vt studio never offered the director or actors the same flexibility as single-camera film work did). It’s not a total disaster though, and the pair certainly threw themselves around with abandon as flimsy prop chairs and tables get demolished with alacrity.

After that’s over and Sarah finds herself bonded ever tighter to Thomas (although we still don’t know if he cares for her at all) there’s just time for the mystery of the missing brooch to be solved (no spoilers – but it’s a happy ending).

This is another good script from the always reliable Jeremy Paul. Apart from the smooth-running of the main plot, there’s plenty of incidental moments to also enjoy. Such as Sarah teaching Ruby to read with the baby’s blocks from the nursery and Mrs Bridges instructing Ruby (it’s her day to learn) about the best way to slice a cucumber. I also appreciated Rachel Gurney’s wistful underplaying during the scene where Lady Marjorie confides that she wished she’d known her father better. Gurney delivers the line in such a detached way that it almost feels like Lady Marjorie is referring to a distant acquaintance, rather than one of her closest relatives.

Upstairs Downstairs – Out of the Everywhere (8th December 1972)

The episode opens with a cross-fade from the empty hallway (albeit with a new object – a perambulator – prominent) to the kitchen and parlour, where the servants are all in silent contemplation. Given Upstairs Downstairs‘ large cast, it’s rare for an episode to feature every regular – and so it proves today as Rose and Ruby are absent.

It’s a mystery where Ruby is (not to mention who’s doing her work in her absence) but at least Rose gets a namecheck. Given that Out of the Everywhere sees the return of Miss Elizabeth (complete with her baby daughter) it’s a little surprising not to see Rose, but in her absence, Sarah steps forward to fill the void as Elizabeth’s moral conscience.

There’s a rare moment of contentment downstairs after Hudson, welcoming Richard and Lady Marjorie back home, passes on the news that Elizabeth has given birth to a baby girl. Although Mrs Bridges can’t resist a spot of gentle chiding – Hudson (as befits a man) failed to ask any further questions, such as the baby’s name or weight ….

Even the sour-faced Roberts joins in the jollification as Hudson agrees (after a moment’s pause) that they can wet the baby’s head with a tot of beer. Although it doesn’t take too long for the peace to be shattered once it’s revealed that Nanny Webster (Daphne Heard) is returning to take charge of the child.

Hudson reacts to the news with barely surpassed dismay, telling Lady Marjorie that he’d thought she might have retired (“you mean you hoped she had” mutters Richard out of the corner of his mouth). Nanny Webster appears, in episode terms, about five minutes later – which is still long enough for a sense of foreboding to begin to build.

It’s interesting that we don’t see the response of the other staff to the news of her arrival, instead there’s a sharp cut to the front door, where – a vision in black – the imposing Nanny Webster, scowling at Hudson, impatiently demands to be let in. That she comes in through the front door, rather than the servant’s entrance, and the fact she’s remarkably outspoken to Lady Marjorie (despairing that she’s not wearing her corset) marks her out as a servant with very special privileges.

This really is Heard’s episode, and she dominates it from her first to her last scene, deftly creating the complex character of Nanny Webster in around forty minutes of screentime. Although Nanny Webster is autocratic and capable of finding fault with everything that Sarah does, there’s no denying the love she has for her little charge. There’s also no suggestion that she’s deliberately cruel or careless, it’s simply that her failing energy means that a disaster seems ever more likely as time goes on.

With Richard and Lady Marjorie urgently called away to Southwold (as always, an excellent plot device whenever characters need to be moved offstage for a while) it falls to Sarah to break the news about Nanny’s incapacity to Elizabeth. This isn’t easy though, as Elizabeth initially doesn’t seem at all bothered.

Elizabeth has tended to be painted as rather selfish and self-absorbed since her debut appearance, and today’s episode carries on this trend. That she seems more concerned about going out to a party or finishing her book than learning about her child hardly paints her in the best light.  It’s quite notable that she only visits the nursery quite late on in the episode, although that might be down to her own awkward relationship with Nanny Webster rather than disinterest in her daughter.

And to give her some credit, eventually she does begin to take more of an interest and although she can make no headway with Nanny herself, she ensures that Lady Marjorie gives her her marching orders. This is an exquisitely played scene between Rachel Gurney and Daphne Heard, in which all of Nanny’s arrogance is stripped away to reveal the real woman underneath (one who accepts that she can’t carry on, but still has her pride – sticking to the fiction that she’s only leaving because the stairs are too much for her).

Also of interest is the final appearance by Ian Ogilvy as Lawrence Kirbridge. It’s very low-key (he slips away from the christening never to return) but it works – in this case, less is more.

A strong episode then, although not one with any shocks or surprises (it seemed pretty obvious from the start that Nanny Webster would turn out to be unsuitable). A pity that both Christopher Beeny and Pauline Collins separately indulge in spots of overacting, but you can’t have everything.

Upstairs Downstairs – Your Obedient Servant (1st December 1972)

If (and it’s a big if) you can accept the central conceit of Your Obedient Servant (Hudson aping his betters) then there’s a great deal to enjoy in this episode. And even if you can’t, Fay Weldon’s script still sparkles.

The opening scene intercuts between Hudson (in his parlour) and Richard Bellamy (in the morning room) both of whom are more than a little irritated by the constant loud banging and showers of dust appearing all around the house. This is due to a new electric bell system which is being installed by a group of workmen (led by Larry Martyn).

Martyn (probably best known for playing the slightly more aged Mr Mash in Are You Being Served?) is an early recipient of some of Weldon’s top notch dialogue.

That the episode begins with Hudson and Richard Bellamy seems apt, as both are required to deal with the same issue – the surprise arrival of their brother – although their storylines conclude in very different ways.

Even before we learn that Hudson has a brother, Weldon provides him with a lovely little monologue (delivered, as always, exquisitely by Gordon Jackson) in which he lectures a slightly baffled Edward. “A brother, in any walk of life, is someone to whom much is owed. The greatest consideration, the greatest formality, no matter how the exigences of fate have led each into different paths, into different fortunes”.

Hudson certainly abides by these words, although it’s more than a little surprising when he leaves 165 Eaton Place without permission and nips out to hire himself a fine suit of clothes (plus a cane and gloves). It’s all part of his plan to ensure that his brother, Donald (Andrew Downie), his sister-in-law Maudie (Marcia Ashton) and his niece Alice (Kim Hardy) believe him to be a gentleman about town rather than a common servant.

The problem is that nothing we’ve seen of Hudson to date has prepared us for this. Extreme pride in his position has always been his defining feature – possibly it would be easier to understand had Donald had been an aggressive or foreboding man, but on the contrary he’s cheerful and welcoming. True, Maudie is a bit of snob (commenting that waiters aren’t people) but it’s hard to imagine Hudson going through all this rigmarole for her benefit.

If Donald is a thoroughly nice chap, then the same really can’t really be said of Richard’s elder brother, Arthur (John Nettleton). Nettleton (in reality some years younger than David Langdon) gets most of the best lines in the episode and delivers them with relish (his description of Hudson – “a furtive looking fellow with whisky on his breath” – is just one of many).

The regulars aren’t forgotten either. Mrs Bridges has several standout moments, the first being when she recalls an early crisis after the cook fell dead over dinner and she had to step into the breach. “I was only the kitchen maid. They wasn’t grateful. They sent the hollandaise back Said it was curdled. Well the look on that poor dead woman’s face. Enough to curdle anything it was”.

Later she passes over her life savings – thirty pounds – to Hudson. That she’s content to do this (asking no questions) is remarkable. She has total faith that Hudson will be able to repay her one day and hopefully he did so. If he ended up squandering all his savings (not to mention hers) just to entertain his brother for a few days then it would leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Roberts was probably the regular who always had the least to do (although Patsy Smart could work wonders with just a look or a disapproving purse of her lips). Today she’s given a nice monologue in which Roberts recalls how an early love of hers was chased away by her disapproving parents. It’s just a short speech, but it lays bare her lonely and unfulfilled life since.

Despite Arthur’s general waspishness, there are occasional signs that a rapprochement with Richard might be on the cards. But it’s quite telling that Richard eventually spurns him after he attempts to embarrass Hudson. And although Hudson fears for his position when Richard encounters him and his brother eating in the same swanky restaurant as he is, the viewer – no doubt knowing that the series wouldn’t be foolish enough to let Gordon Jackson go – will be one step ahead of Hudson and secure in the knowledge that the master/servant balance will shortly be restored.

A slightly strange episode then, but one that zings with such excellent dialogue that I’m prepared to cut it a great deal of slack. Other things to report – Edward attempts to smoke a pipe which doesn’t go down well with Hudson (“tobacco slows the nervous reflexes and yours are quite slow enough! Put that abominable instrument away and lay out two trays”) and a new parlour maid, Violet (Angela Savy), appears out of nowhere and is never seen again after this episode.

Upstairs Downstairs – The Property of a Lady (24th November 1972)

Lady Marjorie’s past indiscretion comes back to haunt her ….

The lack of a writing credit on the episode is a sure sign that its genesis was a troubled one (and indeed, that was the case – Peter Wildeblood was incensed that his script was so heavily written and asked for his name to be removed).

There aren’t too many outward signs of any production travails though – even if the story (despite a dollop of location filming) feels quite enclosed and restricted. It’s notable that it has a very small cast with only six regulars (Thomas, Sarah, Mr Hudson, Rose, Lady Marjorie and Richard Bellamy) and a sole speaking guest actor – Desmond Perry as Michael Dooley, a fast-talking Irish ex-soldier with blackmail on his mind.

Dooley claims to have been batman to Captain Charles Hammond, an officer who fought and died on the North West frontier of India. In Dooley’s possession are a tranche of letters of an intimate nature exchanged between Hammond and Lady Marjorie (see the series one episode Magic Casements). Although why he should want to take these missives to a war zone is anyone’s guess.

Whilst Dooley isn’t exactly the most three-dimensional character, Perry gives a very effective performance, deftly altering Dooley’s tone from deferential to implacable whenever he spies that he’s gaining the upper hand. Initially turfed out of the front door of 165 Eaton Place by Hudson (who seems equally appalled that he’s a beggar and an Irishman) he finds a more ready confidant round the back, where Thomas is tending to the motor car.

Of course, the poor hapless Dooley never realises that in Thomas he’s run into someone who’s far more devious and underhand than he is ….

This is really John Alderton’s episode. He plays the episode’s two key scenes (Thomas approaching independently both Lady Marjorie and Richard to inform them of Dooley’s blackmail) very well. When Thomas pulls over the car to have a private word with Lady Marjorie, there’s some excellent byplay between the two – Lady Marjorie’s initial disdain turning to panic which is soothed by Thomas’ level-headed support (even though the audience – by now fully primed about his character – knows that he’s on the make).

Having acquired £200 (after her Ladyship pawns her jewels) Thomas then collects the same sum from Richard. Thomas correctly assumes that neither would dream of speaking to the other about the matter, allowing him to make a tidy profit.

And given that Dooley – asking for £200 – is eventually bundled out of the mews after handing over the letters with nothing to show for it, Thomas is able to walk away with all £400. Or is he?

There’s no getting around the fact that the wheels come off towards the end of the episode. Thomas talks Sarah into impersonating Lady Marjorie and together the pair bamboozle the unfortunate Dooley. To give her credit, Pauline Collins was less mannered and arch in this scene than I was expecting, but it still feels a little off.

Possibly the script in its original form had a little more bite, but I still enjoyed the delicate hypocrisy displayed by all the characters (except Rose, who remained in total ignorance). When talking to Lady Marjorie and Richard, Thomas’ true feelings are kept discreetly veiled as befits a good servant – but there’s no doubt that all parties know exactly what the truth is (but are compelled, for forms sake, to maintain an air of decorum).

The same goes for Hudson as he discusses the matter with Thomas. When they’re together, Hudson pours scorn on Dooley’s claims but after Thomas leaves it’s plain that Hudson is perturbed.

Sarah makes Thomas give all the money back. That Thomas does so (albeit receiving £10 from Lady Marjorie and £20 from Richard) is hard to swallow. What was there to stop Thomas pocketing some or all of it and not telling Sarah? This sudden burst of conscience seems more than a little out of character (especially since she could never have spoken to Lord or Lady Marjorie to discover the truth) but his duplicitous nature is restored when out of his £30, he only gives Sarah £3!

The Property of a Lady feels a little stretched – the plot is decent enough, but it’s quite a basic one to fill a 52 minute episode. Maybe an unconnected subplot would have given it a little more impetus.

Upstairs Downstairs – Guest of Honour (17th November 1972)

Guess who’s coming to dinner? Only the King of England, Edward VII ….

There’s a neat switch around halfway into this episode. Up until that point the focus – not surprisingly – has been on the Royal visit (first the preparations and then the arrival of his august Majesty).

Hudson is the first to learn the news and he immediately makes haste for the kitchen where he (eventually) tells Mrs Hudson. To begin with he amuses himself by discounting her many suggestions as to who the honoured guest might be (Mr Asquish and Mr Balfour are just two of the names she suggests) before he finally puts her out of her misery.

Hudson then displays a slightly surprising cynical edge to his character. No doubt if the younger servants were present he would have held his tongue, but with only Mrs Bridges there he’s quite comfortable in admitting that whilst he respects the institution of monarchy he has certain reservations about the person of the sovereign.  He then comments that he’d sooner have a Stuart on throne, before shrugging and stating that “we’ll just have to make do with what we’ve got”!

The King himself (played by Lockwood West) turns out to be a rather uninteresting fellow and his fellow dinner guests aren’t a great deal better. This has to be a deliberate touch – but just as the first pangs of disappointment for the viewer might be kicking in, the unexpected arrival of Sarah gives the episode new impetus as it sharply changes direction.

Sarah, pregnant with James’ child, has run away from the bucolic seclusion of Southwold and – by a feat of remarkable timing – goes into labour just minutes after she steps through the back door of 165 Eaton Place. There then follows some strange pantomimic scenes as the staff – aided by Lady Marjorie – attempt to spirit Sarah upstairs (all the while hoping that their guests don’t spot that anything is amiss).

The obvious question to ask is why they take her up the main stairs rather than the servants’ back stairs? The obvious answers would be that had they done so the episode would have fallen a little flat not to mention running about five minutes shorter.

When it’s all over, Rose returns downstairs to tell the others that Sarah’s all right and the child was a little boy. The use of the past tense makes it plain what’s occurred and Hudson – after a beat – comments that it might have been for the best (in series terms I’d agree, as Sarah is now freed from any familial obligations).

It’s quite striking that both Hudson and Mrs Bridges (neither of whom have been that sympathetically inclined towards Sarah in the past) now seem to have rather more consideration for her. Although Hudson can’t resist opining a homily about how Sarah is a good example of the dangers which occur when you attempt to exceed your station in life.

It’s left to the ever mournful Roberts to cast a late discordant note. The other members of staff are happy for Sarah to take her meals with them, but Roberts most certainly isn’t. She begins by labelling her a “slut” before launching a fuller tirade.

She’s a stuck-up, lying minx! Huh! Thinks she’s better than all of us… puts on airs! Gets Captain James into such trouble that he has to be sent to India. Then she thinks she can walk in here as though nothing has happened!

But eventually, seeing that hers is the minority opinion, Roberts relents and a delighted Rose is able to tell Sarah that she’s been welcomed back into the “family”. It’ll be just like old times, Rose says, although this time Sarah will need to behave. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that score though ….

Guest of Honour is an interesting episode. One of the best remembered from the entire run of Upstairs Downstairs, as touched upon before it’s very much a game of two halves. The upstairs portion seems to be the bit that most people remember, which is surprising as nothing really happens. Once again downstairs is where all the action is.

Back to 1982 – 12th August 1982

Pick of the evening (especially as it’s not a repeat) is Top of the Pops. What were the top pop tunes forty years ago today? Let’s see ….

We’re into the Michael Hurll era, which means it’s almost non-stop party time in the TOTP studio. Well, there’s one little ray of gloom – John Peel, who’s on solo presenting duty today and is his usual phlegmatic self.

Toto Coelo with I Eat Cannibals kick off proceedings. Dressed in shockingly bright colours it’s certainly an energetic start. Thankfully things get a little more moody when the lights go down and the dry ice begins to seep in as Yazoo with Don’t Go take to the stage. Top tune, it has to be said.

It’s now time for a spot of footage of the Boys Town Gang taken from the Dutch TOTP imitator, Top Pop. If you like camp, you’ll love this. Then it’s back to the TOTP studio for The Associates and 18 Carat Love Affair.

A packed show today, as Sheena Easton is next up with Machinery (a song I have no memory of, but since it only peaked at no 38 that’s quite understandable). She’s looking very stylish in a 1982 way.

Time to ramp up the party atmosphere once again with Haysi Fantayzee and John Wayne Is Big Leggy. The lyrics are slightly saucy, but presumably nobody cared (or realised). The Wikipedia page about the song leaves nothing to the imagination though.

Wavelength with Hurry Home. Another one of those songs I have no memory of at all but you have to admit they’re very smartly dressed.

After that slow song, Zoo and a group of Moroccan tumblers (“I never drink from anything else” says JP) are on hand to fling themselves around to Kool and the Gang. Then it’s the Fun Boy Three with their unique take on Summertime

One of the stars of Minder had already had his own taste of TOTP glory. Dennis Waterman, fronting the Dennis Waterman Band (good name), hit the heights with I Could Be So Good For You. Not content with that, in 1983 Waterman would join forces with George Cole for the unforgettable What Are We Gonna Get for ‘Er Indoors?

But 1982, in terms of Minder records, belonged to The Film with their (presumably) unofficial but nonetheless heartfelt Arthur Daley (E’s Alright). Sounding very Chas and Dave-ish, it’s one of those novelty songs I loved at the time and I still love now.

And that just leaves the No 1 – which remains Dexys Midnight Runners and Come On Eileen. A nice performance (dungarees and fiddles to the fore of course) although it’s a shame that the end titles run over it.

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Elsewhere today there’s another Laurel & Hardy (Chickens Come Home) on BBC2 and a couple of ITV repeats – Robin’s Nest and Thriller – that’ll go on the list. The Thriller episode (I’m the Girl He Wants to Kill – original tx 18th March 1974) features a menacing performance from Robert Lang as a silent killer with Julie Sommars as his potential next victim (Tony Selby, Ken Jones and Anthony Steel also feature).

(David Soul is today’s eye puzzler).

The Real Coronation Street by Ken Irwin

I’ve recently added this slim, but fascinating, volume to my collection. Published in 1970, Ken Irwin meets the cast and gently dishes the dirt – if it’s gossip you want then you’ve come to the right place.

It’s not really a salacious read though – Irwin (despite his bumpy relationship with the series) clearly had affection for the majority of the cast. Famously, as the Daily Mirror’s television critic, he predicted, after the first episode, that the series was doomed to failure. Like the Decca executive who told Brian Epstein that “guitar groups were on the way out”, Irwin’s comment was something he had to spend the rest of his life living down.

Even in 1970, he wasn’t predicting that the series would run for ever – the final chapter in this book suggests that another ten years might just be possible though ….

With 32 chapters across 173 pages, The Real Coronation Street is a very dippable tome. After briefly detailing the creation of the series, the book then tends to focus on one actor per chapter – with Irwin crafting brief but incisive portraits of his subjects (his experience as a newspaperman was clearly put to good use here).

Virtually all the cast members you would hope to have been interviewed – both past and present – make an appearance. Some familiar stories – the senior actors’ reluctance to interact with guest performers and the way they jealously guarded their rehearsal room chairs – are given an outing.

Frank Pemberton’s chapter (Tragedy on the Way to the Dole) catches the eye. Pemberton (Frank Barlow) was axed from the series in 1964 and the following year suffered a stroke which severely limited his mobility. Talking to Irwin, he still wistfully hoped for an acting job where he could sit down all the time. He did make one final Street appearance (in 1971) but sadly suffered another stroke shortly afterwards and died at the early age of 56.

Sandra Gough (Irma Ogden/Barlow) is another who had a more than interesting relationship with the series as she found herself cold-shouldered by some of her fellow cast members due to her strident Christian views. It’s notable that Irwin doesn’t name names – but, given that he didn’t want to burn his professional boats, you can’t really blame him. Gough would abruptly exit the series (she was fired in 1971).

Illustrated with a selection of photographs that were mostly new to me, if you can find a decently priced copy then I’d strongly recommend adding The Real Coronation Street to your library.

Back to May 1986 (19th May 1986)

The repeats just keep on coming, although many of them (like The Rock ‘N’ Roll Years) are very welcome. It’s difficult to articulate today quite how magical this series was back then – when history (news, music, entertainment) wasn’t available at the click of a button, these half hour digests were windows into vanished worlds.

Today’s episode, 1963, was – of course – notable for the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but for a generation of young Doctor Who fans it meant we could enjoy a clip from An Unearthly Child. With the Five Faces repeat from 1981 a distant memory and the VHS release still four years away, it was like gold dust ….

Moving over to BBC2, there’s another chance to see The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. And on ITV’s there’s a re-run of Edward and Mrs Simpson, now stripped over three evenings. As it was originally broadcast in seven parts, it looks like it’s been trimmed down to fit six one-hour slots.

Rather like, Winston Churchill – The Wilderness Years, it has a supporting cast to die for. If the likes of Nigel Hawthorne, Peggy Ashcroft, Marius Goring, Cherie Lunghi, Kika Markham, John Shrapnel, Maurice Denham, Geoffrey Lumsden, Patrick Troughton, Patricia Hodge, Wensley Pithey, Gary Waldhorn and Hugh Fraser doesn’t get the pulse racing then you’re probably reading the wrong blog …

Back to April 1977 (29th April 1977)

Drawing a blank with the BBC channels, but luckily ITV is a pretty happy hunting ground today.

First, there’s a repeat of The Ghosts of Motley Hall. You can’t fault the cast (Arthur English, Peter Sallis and Freddie Jones amongst others) plus you’ve got scripts from Richard Carpenter, so we should be set for an entertaining half hour.

At 7.30 pm on London there’s an episode of Backs to the Land (Alarms, Excursions and Day Trips). This DVD’s been sitting on the shelf for a while, so this is a good opportunity to dust it down and take a look (David and Michael Troughton featured in the first series playing – not surprisingly – brothers).

After Hawaii Five O, the main drama of the evening will be Raffles. Mr Justice Raffles is tonight’s installment – John Savident (on excellent form as an odious moneylender) and Charles Dance guest in an episode from towards of the end of the series. Like the majority of the episodes it was adapted by Philip Mackie, which is an extra incentive to watch (two of Mackie’s previous serials, The Caesars and An Englishman’s Castle, are currently sitting on my tottering pending rewatch pile).

Back to April 1977 (27th April 1977)

First stop is The Peacemaker, an episode from the third and final series of Survivors. Written by Roger Parkes it was the first of three scripts he contributed to series three (having already penned two episodes the year before). Parkes had an interestingly varied career – beginning with ITC series like The Prisoner and Man in a Suitcase before plying his trade during the seventies with the likes of Doomwatch, Crown Court, The Onedin Line, Blakes 7 and Z Cars (amongst others).

The M*A*S*H boxset has been sitting on my shelf for a number of years, so I might as well dust it down in order to enjoy a repeat of Check-Up.

Over on ITV there’s a repeat of Bless This House. The Frozen Limit is the episode in question (in which Sid and Jean buy a fridge freezer with the inevitable hilarious consequences).

For more light relief there’s Coronation Street. In today’s episode Alf, Fred, Renee and Mavis go fishing and have a day to remember. Renee ends up in the river (the stuntperson performing an athletic forward roll) and Mavis gamely jumps in to save her.

Back to April 1981 (6th April 1981)

BBC1 is my first stop for Star Trek and The Lights of Zetar. It’s a series three episode, which is the cue for disappointment for some (although I’ve never found the later episodes to be that bad). And since this is the only one co-written by Shari (Lamb Chop) Lewis, it’s worth a look for that reason alone. According to Genome, it was previously broadcast in 1971 and 1973, so Zetar fans have had quite a wait to see it again.

Today’s Coronation Street is slightly ahead of my current rewatch, but I think I’ll dip in to see what’s going on (possible romance for Fred, according to the Daily Mirror blurb).

Undoubted highlight of the day is Yes Minister on BBC2 at 9.00 pm. The final episode of series two, A Question of Loyalty is as sharp today (if not more) than it’s ever been.

If there’s time, I might catch the repeat of The Sweeney over on ITV. Ranald Graham’s Nightmare is the episode getting another airing today.

Back to April 1979 (4th April 1979)

During the next seven days I’ll be sampling April’s schedules between 1979 and 1985. As before, I’m only going to choose programmes that I can actually source from my archive, so anything which looks intriguing but I don’t have will have to be sadly passed over. Let’s dive in ….

BBC1 offers a repeat of Happy Ever After which is followed by a repeat of Accident (no doubt the high preponderance of repeats was irritating certain viewers).

Accident has reached episode two, Take Your Partners. It’s an interesting series, which focuses on the ramifications of the same event (a multi vehicle accident) from different perspectives. This gives it a similar feel to Villains (LWT, 1972). There’s no shortage of good actors across the series’ eight episodes and this was one of three directed by the always reliable Douglas Camfield.

Over on ITV, there’s chicken issues in Coronation Street (a short-lived but nevertheless amusing plotline which sees an initially reluctant Hilda transformed into a doting fowl lover). Later I’ll be crossing over to BBC2 for the start of a new series – Q8. By this point, Spike Milligan’s idiosyncratic sketch show defies any sort of description – but, if you’re in the right mood, there’s usually some nuggets of gold still to be found.

Annie Walker’s Greatest Hits

As it’s the anniversary of Doris Speed’s birth, I’ve been mulling over some of my favourite Mrs Walker moments (everyone needs a hobby). This isn’t an exhaustive countdown but hopefully it’ll be of interest. Please feel free to add any I’ve missed on the comments section.

10. 14th July 1976 – Hilda unveils her muriel.

09. 8th May 1978. Mrs Walker, returning from holiday, is appalled to learn that someone’s pinched her car. And as for Fred’s choice of alternative transport …

08. 19th October 1977. The regulars throw a party to mark Mrs Walker’s forty years at the Rovers.

07. 11th October 1978. Mr Garfield from the Weatherfield General is revealed to be a lowly hospital porter rather than a consultant. Mrs Walker, who has benefited from his healing touch on her bad back, isn’t best pleased to learn the truth …

06. 1st November 1976. Mrs Walker broaches the wages issue with Betty and Bet. It’s not good news.

05. 6th June 1977. It’s the day of the Jubilee parade and Mrs Walker assumes the role she was born to play.

04. 4th August 1976. Mrs Walker crosses polite swords with her arch enemy Nellie Harvey (Mollie Sugden) for the final time.

03. 10th January 1979. Setting Mrs Walker up for a comic fall was something that happened again and again over the years. This one – Mrs Walker discovers that the artwork hanging on her wall was painted by Hilda – is an excellent example.

02. 7th November 1977. A lovely dramatic moment for a change, in which Mrs Walker confronts her feckless brother (played by Derek Francis). Although she had been a widow since 1970, Jack’s presence – thanks to his prominent photograph in the sitting room – tended to be felt on many occasions.

01. 21st September 1977. Another classic moment where Bet takes sadistic delight in puncturing Mrs Walker’s pretensions. The slowly sinking realisation that her monogrammed carpet hails from a bingo hall clearly cuts like a knife …

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.

On this day (16th January)

Hazell plays Soloman, the first episode of Hazell, was broadcast on ITV in 1978.

Based on the novels by Gordon Williams and Terry Venables (writing under the pseudonym P B Yuill) Hazell was a series that I’m always surprised didn’t run longer (it clocked up 22 episodes between 1978 and 1979).

Although Williams and Venables thought Nicholas Ball was a little too young to play the title character, he’s always a strong presence at the centre of each episode, more than holding his own against a diverse group of decent guest actors (not to mention Roddy McMillian as Hazell’s nemesis, ‘Choc’ Minty).

Employing the sensibilities of 1940’s American private eye thrillers (such as laconic narration) transported to a late 1970’s London setting was one of those nice touches which signaled that the series was attempting to do something a little different. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t a Euston Films production – instead it uses the more traditional VT for studio, film for location mix which makes it look a little old-fashioned compared to The Sweeney, The Professionals or Minder.

Maybe it was the emergence of Minder in 1979 which curtailed Hazell‘s run. If you have one series dealing with London’s criminal lowlife, do you really need two? Also, there were some suggestions that Nicholas Ball refused to make a third series if it wasn’t shot on film.

This opening episode was based on the first novel and boasts an impressive guest cast (Jane Asher, Fiona Mollison, George Innes, Patsy Smart).

The Infinite Variety, the first episode of Life on Earth, was broadcast on BBC2 in 1979.

Although David Attenborough had been making wildlife documentaries since the 1950’s, Life on Earth was a groundbreaking production – utlising a variety of innovative filming techniques to present breathtaking images of the natural world never before seen on screen.

Having said that, possibly the series’ most enduring moment was Attenborough’s encounter with a group of mountain gorillas (which was certainly easier to film than sequences which necessitated hundreds of hours of patience to capture just a few seconds of screentime).

For those in the UK, or who are able to access it, the complete series is available on the iPlayer whilst there’s a radio documentary reuniting key members of the production team available here.