Crown Court – Lieberman v Savage (Part Three – 20th October 1972)

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Mrs Savage’s maid – Florence Ferguson (jean Faulds) – is next in the witness box. Giving off a very Scottish air of respectability, she initially provides strong support for Mrs Savage but is then somewhat picked apart by Helen Tate. Possibly just enough of a seed of doubt has been sown in the mind of the jury by this point – was Mark really sleeping on the sofa all night or could he have been canoodling with Mrs Savage and her radiogram?

We’ve waited long enough and now finally Mark Lieberman gets a grilling. Jonathan Fry has made it back into court and takes charge of the cross examination. I get the feeling they don’t have a great deal in common (Fry begins by pondering about “the lifestyle of the younger generation” with a faint air of distaste and things career downhill from there).

I can’t play the Doctor Who game with Trevor Adams but he racked up a fair number of interesting credits during the seventies. There’s a role in Fawlty Towers but he’ll no doubt be best known for playing Tony Webster in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

Although still very early days, the Crown Court formula is now very firmly in place. This one was a decent enough story, although even with the tinges of sex and scandal (cue reporters in the gallery frantically scribbling in their notebooks) it’s still not terribly memorable.

The Verdict

Once again I find myself disagreeing with the verdict. Maybe next time I’ll be in sync with the Fulchester jury.

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Crown Court – Lieberman v Savage (Part Two – 19th October 1972)

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Lieberman’s private detective, Sidney Abbott, is called to the witness stand. He’s played by David Webb, although with a character name like that surely Sidney James should have been given the role.

When watching Crown Court or indeed any archive series of a similar vintage, I like to play a little game of ‘Which Doctor Who story has this actor appeared in?’. Wolfe Morris and Barbara Shelley were pretty easy but David Webb (possibly because his name’s rather nondescript) gave me a little more trouble. But I got there in the end – he was Leeson in Colony in Space. Well, it’s the sort of game that keeps me out of mischief …

Mr Fry has popped out (to powder his nose maybe) so Helen Tate stepped in to ask Abbott a few questions. Although since Barry Deeley handled the cross examination maybe that’s an indication that Abbott wasn’t a prime witness.

That the case isn’t being taken totally seriously can be inferred from the fact that Abbott used to work for P.E.E. (Piccadilly Enquiry Agency).

The focus now turns to the defendant. Delia Savage catches the attention of those watching in the public gallery (especially one old dear with a pair of opera glasses!).

Another time honoured courtroom chestnut occurs when Mrs Savage mentions a popular best combo, The Kitchen Sink. Cue the Judge looking confused and a swift helpful explanation (“a rock group, M’Lord. A musical ensemble, M’Lord”).

Crown Court  rarely went in for camera tricks or flourishes, but there is a split screen used here (Mrs Savage on the left, Leiberman on the right) which works rather well.

She’s a convincing witness, cool under pressure, although whether she’s telling the truth is another matter. Jonathan Fry does his best to paint her as an unscrupulous gold digger though.

Mmm, both parties are exchanging lingering looks. I’ve a feeling that a reconciliation might be on the cards (depending on the verdict of course).

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Crown Court – Lieberman v Savage (Part One – 18th October 1972)

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Crown Court had plenty of humdrum cases (which nevertheless were often fascinating) but they also liked to chuck in a bit of spice from time to time. Lieberman v Savage certainly falls into the latter category …

Emmanuel Lieberman (Wolfe Morris) is attempting to evict his former fiance Delia Savage (Barbara Shelley) from his luxury London penthouse apartment. His ardour for Mrs Savage was somewhat dampened when he returned home to find his son, Mark (Trevor Adams), naked in the flat with her. Crumbs.

Given how good David Neal was as Jonathan Fry in the unscreened pilot, it’s very surprising that he never came back to the series. Instead, Bernard Gallagher took over the role of Fry (remaining with the series until 1984).

Charles Keating and John Alkin return as James Elliot and Barry Deeley whilst Helen Vernon debuts as Dorothy Tate. Richard Warner sits in judgement as Mr Justice Waddington.

Distant Hills is present and correct for the first time and we also see the debut of the jury – twelve bewildered souls plucked off the streets of Fulchester. Or in reality, eleven members of the public and one actor (since the foreman was a speaking part, an Equity member was required).

That each case would actually be judged helps to give the series an extra level. Although as time goes on, I’m sure I’ll be scratching my head at some of the bizarre verdicts handed out …

£200,000 for a luxury penthouse flat in London? Cheap at the price.

Jonathan Fry begins the case by waving a great many documents around. This is a little low on excitement but things soon pick up as he outlines the relationship between his client (Lieberman) and Delia Savage. Whilst Fry is opening the case, the camera lingers on Mrs Savage. She has a very nice hat.

And into the witness box goes Emmanuel Lieberman (Wolfe Morris). As he begins to give his evidence, his son saunters into the court. With his dark glasses and general slouching air, Mark is so hip and happening it hurts.

We quickly get to the nitty gritty – Lieberman returning home unexpectedly to find his son (stark naked!) emerging from his fiance’s bedroom. There’s a definite ‘oooooo’ reverberating around the courtroom at this point.

The flaw in Lieberman’s case is pretty obvious. As soon as he clapped eyes on his naked son he stormed out without demanding an explanation. If Mark had been innocently spending the night there (sleeping on the couch say) and then wanted to use the bathroom, he’d need to pass through the bedroom first to get to it. Mind you, having only one bedroom and one bathroom in a luxury penthouse seems like something of a design flaw.

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Crown Court – Doctor’s Neglect? (Part Three)

Dr Warner’s still in the witness box and still wilting under a barrage of volleys from Jonathan Fry QC. James Elliot attempts to repair the damage – Mr Simpson’s own impatience to leave the hospital (in order to keep an appointment) is something which helps to strengthen the defence’s case.

We then pop outside for a brief heart to heart with Dr Warner and Nurse Dowling in a scene which helps to humanise them both. I can see why moments like these were swiftly dropped (although they returned much later) as it’s better that the viewers at home receive no more information than those in the courtroom.

The last witness is Mr Frost (George Waring), representing the hospital’s management. An interesting subtext running throughout this story is the suggestion that Mr Simpson was failed by systematic shortcomings (both medical and financial) at the hospital.

These days it’s difficult to imagine a hospital drama not tackling the topic of funding but I’d assume it wasn’t so dominant back in the seventies (certainly not in the episodes of, say, Angels I’ve seen anyway).

With Fry having nipped out of court for twenty minutrs, Frost’s cross-examination is left in the hands of Derek Jones (David Ashford). As Charles Lotterby, Ashford would become one of Crown Court‘s most familiar barristers but poor old Derek Jones is somewhat more hapless. Frost is able to angrily rebuff Jones’ allegations, leaving Jones looking rather small and humbled.

The Verdict

I won’t reveal the verdicts on each case, instead I’ll simply comment whether I agree or disagree with the finding. Today I disagree, although there were well balanced arguments on both sides so it was a tricky one.

Crown Court – Doctor’s Neglect? (Part Two)

We saw his long face in the first episode, but now Dr Warner (Jeremy Bulloch) takes to the witness stand. He comes across as reasonably convincing but there’s also an air of unease about him. This feeling is exacerbated when Nurse Dowling (Jacqueline Stanbury) is then cross-examined.

Jacqueline Stanbury would later be a short-lived regular on Dixon of Dock Green (only one of her episodes – Sounds – now exists). Bulloch’s credits are too numerous to list but they include Doctor Who, James Bond, Star Wars and Robin of Sherwood.

Interesting that Jonathan Fry gave Dr Warner a fairly easy ride before opening both barrels on Nurse Dowling. It was the right course of action though as she quickly folds like a pack of cards and admits that Warner could be rather hot-headed and impulsive at times.

The defence is now rocking, but did Simpson overhear Warner’s angry comment that he should discharge himself and go to another hospital if he wanted better treatment? That becomes a key question.

So Warner goes back into the witness box. There’s something deeply ominous about the way Fry slowly circles around Warner before unleashing his assault. Fair to say that the defence aren’t doing very well for witnesses so far.

Crown Court – Doctor’s Neglect? (Part One)

This first Crown Court serial feels somewhat different to what would come later. For one thing, the familiar theme music (Distant Hills) is noticeably absent.

There’s also a fair amount of whispered chat in the courtroom as Mr Frost (George Waring) has a good old natter to Barry Deeley (John Atkin). He helpfully explains to Frost (and the viewers) various bits of procedure. This was dropped from the series as presumably it was felt the audience would be able to understand how the court functions without these prompts.

Mr Simpson, one of Fulchester’s leading chartered accountants, died after walking out of hospital (he had previously been involved in a car accident). His widow (played by Petra Davies) is suing the hospital for damages.

Mrs Simpson is the very model of middle class respectability and it’s easy to see that Mr Justice Waddingham (Ernest Hare) is rather taken with her. After James Elliot QC (Charles Keating) asks her a somewhat awkward question she appeals to Waddingham and the question isn’t pressed. This seems a little off.

Mrs Simpson comes across as a perfect witness. A little too perfect for me ….

The hawk-like Jonathan Fry QC (David Neal) is representing Mrs Simpson in her quest for damages and next calls an expert witness – Dr Sissons (Basil Dignam). Dignam would return to Crown Court – albeit as the top dog (he’d later play Mr Justice Poynter).

Another unusual aspect of this first serial is the way the action moves outside the courtroom every so often. This wouldn’t happen again in the early stories as they were firmly (and claustrophobically) courtroom bound.

Armchair Theatre – Office Party (17th August 1971)

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Fay Weldon’s Office Party might not be the sharpest ever AT, but it’s still of interest – partly since it’s a good example of the studio-bound ITV play (something which would gradually disappear from the schedules) but also because Weldon’s script offers up plenty of food for thought regarding gender politics (even if the problems she creates are resolved rather neatly by the end).

The setting is a bank, after hours, where the staff have convened to wish their manager (played by George A. Cooper) a fond-ish farewell.  Cooper plays to type as a plain-speaking man who is well aware that he’s not particularly loved (or even well liked) but still condones the party. Perhaps he likes receiving presents.

Also slotting into a familiar role is Peter Barkworth as his number two, Dickie. Barkworth seemed to spend most of his career playing buttoned-down types who had a distinct code of old fashioned honour.  At first, Dickie seems to regard his secretary, Julia (Angharad Rees), with nothing but contempt, but by the end of the play he’s mellowed considerably.

Rees exudes an undeniable sexiness – especially when she arrives at the party wearing a somewhat revealing dress. This inflames the passions of some of her colleagues (Giles Block and Peter Denyer both give good turns in this respect).  Roy (Block) seems somewhat put out when he tells Julia that he’s placed her top of his list of most desirable office females (she fails to respond in the manner he expects).

If Rees is vulnerable at times then Ray Brooks is rather boorish as Dave (Julia’s boyfriend). He exhibits little loyalty towards her, even after learning that she’s pregnant, and seems much more interested in squiring another young lady round the party and telling Roy all about his liaisons with Julia in the stationery cupboard. Dave is an alpha male – friendship with his male buddies comes first, a relationship with his girlfriend is a distant second.

The clash between Julia and Dave midway through is clearly one of the play’s key points. At this stage it looks as if any sort of relationship between them will be impossible (marriage is certainly out of the question). There’s a happy ending though as the pair reconcile in the last minutes which means that everything seems to be settled. Although given that both have rather volatile natures, possibly we’re invited to not expect them to live happily ever after ….

Elsewhere, I did enjoy the confrontation between Barkworth and Cooper late on. Julia is, once again, the topic of conversation, with the outgoing manager insistent that she be sacked whilst Dickie shows a more compassionate side to his nature by standing by her.

That Dickie, when learning of Julia’s pregnancy, offers her a chair feels exactly like the sort of thing you’d expect a character played by Barkworth to do. Julia remains passive as the men debate her fate (at one point turning her bare back on them) but she does eventually speak up.

Office Party has some good comic moments, along with a first rate cast to play them, and overall it still stands up well. As I’ve said, it maybe doesn’t entirely satisfy, but there are far worse ways to spend fifty minutes.

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Edward Woodward Double Whammy – Callan and The Equalizer repeats to air shortly on TPTV and Forces TV

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Fans of Edward Woodward (or indeed anybody who enjoys good archive drama) have two reasons to celebrate – as Callan is set to air on Talking Pictures TV (Sky 328, Virgin 445, Freesat 306, Freeview 81)  from early next month and The Equalizer will be coming soon to Forces TV (Sky 181, Virgin 277, Freesat 165, Freeview 96).

Both channels have stealthily been increasing their rota of archive television over the last year or two.  TPTV has given the likes of Gideon’s Way and Public Eye their first rebroadcasts for decades, whilst Armchair Theatre is another item of interest newly added to their schedule.

Over at Forces TV, UFO, the Thames era Special Branch and Never The Twain have all caught my eye (the latter especially, as the DVDs are long OOP).  Indeed, my one wish for the future is that we see some deeper digging into the archives from all channels, so that series which are unavailable on DVD are given another airing ….

I’ve written extensively elsewhere on the blog about each surviving episode of Callan.  Short summary? It’s unmissable.  Woodward is perfect as the world-weary state-sponsored assassin with a conscience.  Friendless, apart from a social outcast called Lonely (Russell Hunter – who, like Woodward, essayed a career defining role) each week Callan has to negotiate his way through a series of moral dilemmas, which are punctuated with flashes of violence.

During the first two series (made in black and white and sadly incomplete in the archives) Callan reported to a rotating group of superiors all called Hunter (beginning with Ronald Radd). By series three, with the show now in colour, William Squire had assumed the role of Hunter (apart from a brief hiatus during the fourth and final series, when Callan found himself in the hotseat …)

There are very few disappointing stories from the four series run, although Amos Green Must Live is one which hasn’t aged well (its attempt to tackle racial politics looks rather crude today).  As for excellent episodes there’s an embarrassment of riches  – Let’s Kill Everybody, Death of a Hunter, Suddenly – At Home, Breakout, That’ll Be The Day, Call Me Enemy, etc, etc.

Although initially reported in some quarters as a remake of CallanThe Equalizer was a very different series – although it did have certain callbacks (given Woodward’s involvement, that possibly wasn’t surprising). Mind you, if David Callan found leaving the Section to be tricky, then Robert McCall strolled out of the Company in the first episode with nonchalant ease.

There’s something very appealing about watching the middle-aged Woodward (impeccably dressed and accented) walking through the mean and dirty New York streets dispensing summary justice as and when required.  Whilst a less tortured and questioning individual than David Callan, Robert McCall did have his spasms of self-doubt and it’s on those occasions that Woodward really stepped up to the mark.

It’s an obvious comment, but neither series would have had the same impact if Edward Woodward hadn’t been front and centre.  And whenever he was given a particularly meaty script, the sparks would fly.

Star-spotting is a good game to play when watching The Equalizer.  Already established names such as Jim Dale, Linda Thorson, Telly Savalas, Robert Mitchum and Adam Ant pop up (as does Meat Loaf in a brief cameo) whilst there’s early appearances from John Goodman, Christian Slater and Bradley Whitford amongst many others. There was also a strong family feel with Michele and Roy Dotrice appearing in different episodes (Roy Dotrice had a memorable turn in Trial by Ordeal – my personal favourite).

Kudos to Talking Pictures TV and Forces TV for taking the decision to air these, as they’ve been off British television screens for far too long.  It’d be lovely to think that both series could develop a new audience – this would also hopefully spark some people into investigating what other archive treats might also exist.  And there’s quite a few ….

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Crown Court – Regina v Bryant (November 1972)

I’ve recently been dipping in and out of some selected Crown Court cases. To date Network have released eight volumes on DVD, although this only scratches the surface of a series which ran for over a decade and racked up close to 900 episodes. Luckily, good quality copies of many editions not yet commercially available are on YouTube.

This one, Regina v Bryant, is available on DVD (it can be found on volume one). As with most of the cases, it’s not only of considerable interest due to the quality of the cast (most episodes contain line ups which would surely gladden the heart of any archive television fan) but the story still stands up today as a satisfying piece of drama. Crown Court may have been a low budget daytime series, but there’s evidence to suggest that it was crafted with some care.

Tony Hoare (1938 – 2008) was someone very much at home in the worlds of crime and detection (not least because he spent a lengthy spell in prison prior to becoming a writer). He penned many of Minder‘s best remembered episodes as well as contributing to series such as Villains, New Scotland Yard, The Sweeney, Target, Hazell, The Gentle Touch and Bergerac. So knowing his writing background, especially his work on Minder, it’s not unreasonable to assume that he was fully on the side of the defendant.

Harry Bryant (Mark McManus) claims to be innocent of the charges of armed robbery and assaulting a police officer. Bryant doesn’t attempt to hide his criminal past, instead he contends that this is precisely why he’s been fitted up by several corrupt officers, led by Inspector Collins (Glynn Edwards).

McManus dominates the three episodes. Even though (for some reason) he was forced to adopt a cockney accent, McManus is excellent value throughout – especially since Bryant elected to dispense with the services of his counsel, Helen Tate (Dorothy Vernon), at the outset of the trial (he decides to defend himself). Ms Tate seems to have taken exception to this, as her last action was to angrily slam the courtroom door on her way out!

The obvious plus point for the viewer is that McManus therefore takes centre stage, with Bryant’s articulate but unorthodox approach certainly differing from the rank and file barristers we normally see.

In 1972 British society was still at the point where the average man or woman in the street would tend to believe in the general honesty of the police. Had a similar Crown Court story been undertaken a decade later, the mood might have been somewhat different. But this is where the series is often so fascinating – no matter where the writer’s sympathies might lie, the question of guilt or innocence would always be decided by eleven ordinary members of the public, plus one actor playing the foreman (since they had to speak at the end, an Equity member was required).

Rewatching Crown Court I often find myself shaking my head at the decisions of the Fulchester juries. Defendants I was convinced were innocent are found guilty whilst those I’ve decided were obvious wrong ‘uns are allowed to walk free. This can sometimes be infuriating, but it’s also instructive – the 21st century viewer is gifted a brief snapshot into the attitudes and morals of a different age.

Bryant was happy, despite being a career criminal, to have his numerous previous convictions read out in court. Indeed, it was his criminal experience which formed the crux of his defence. Would he really have been so naive as to keep hold of an incriminating balaclava, which Collins alleges he found in Bryant’s house? (Bryant maintains it was planted). And although a bottle of ammonia was also discovered (a similar substance was used in the attack) there was nothing to suggest it hadn’t been bought for normal household duties, as claimed by Mrs Bryant.

The eyewitness identification was also open to comment, with Collins (either by accident or design) allowing a witness to see a photograph of Bryant before he was picked out of the identification parade.

With such thin evidence my own personal decision would have been to aquit. Bryant may very well have been guilty, but for me the evidence simply wasn’t there. However, would Bryant’s decision to attack the integrity of the police at every opportunity have gone down well with the jury? I won’t spoil the verdict ….

As touched upon, McManus is very good and he’s matched by Glynn Edwards, who enjoys (if that’s the right word) a lengthy spell in the witness box. Another familar face, Diane Keen (as Mrs Bryant), has less screentime but still makes quite a telling contribution. Richard Warner, as the Hon. Mr Justice Waddington, stumbles over his lines during the early stages of the trial but eventually settles down. Like most editions, it’s directed solidly enough (at least there were no Mandrels in court to distract Alan Bromly) although the final few minutes of the third episode does feature some very audible talkback from the studio gallery.

Many editions of Crown Court still have considerable replay value today, but the central theme of Regina v Bryant (should the police automatically be trusted?) and the way that Bryant very effectively handles his own defence easily makes this one of the standouts from the earliest crop of cases.

Hunter’s Walk – Disturbance

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Hunter’s Walk was a police drama created by Ted Willis (Dixon of Dock Green, Sergeant Cork) which aired on ITV during 1973 – 1976.  It bears some similarities to Dixon in both tone and pacing – you certainly could never mistake it for The Sweeney – and although the location was different (Dixon was set in London, Hunter’s Walk in a fictional Midlands town) the type of cases we see – from the mundane to the serious – could easily have also turned up in Dixon.

The series’ archive status is rather patchy.  Out of thirty nine episodes made, only ten exist and half of those are black and white telerecordings.  Given this, and approaching the first episode on disc one – Disturbance – with no foreknowledge, you might have been forgiven for assuming it was a mid season installment.  But no, it was the series’ debut (tx 4th June 1973) so it’s interesting to observe how Richard Harris’ script drops us into the setting pretty cold, using the trauma between Dennis Kenwright (Doug Fisher) and his estranged wife Janet (Helen Fraser) to illuminate the personalities of the regulars.

The chain of command is established fairly rapidly.  From Det. Sgt. Smith (Ewan Hooper) at the top, Sgt. Ridgeway (Davyd Harries) in the middle and PC Pooley (Duncan Preston) at the bottom.  Smith is shown to be an old hand, unflappable and methodical.  Ridgeway is not without compassion, but also has clear views about what is and isn’t police business.  Pooley is initially presented as something of an aggressive hothead, but we see another side to him later on.

All three interact individually with Kenwright and it’s worth taking a moment to consider their differing approaches.  Smith was called to a robbery at Kenwright’s place of work.  He tells Kenwright’s employer that he knows him – but this doesn’t seem to be in the police sense, simply that he’s familiar with Kenwright’s family.  Smith briefly questions him and Kenwright replies in a slightly touchy way.

Next, Kenwright ventures to the station to speak to Ridgeway.  This is an intriguing part of the episode – Kenwright wants to return home to speak to his wife and retrieve some of his possessions, but because Janet is now seeing someone else Kenwright would like a police presence.  The inference is that Kenwright is afraid of physical violence from Janet’s lover, although when we meet him that’s neatly inverted as Kenwright is the abusive one.  Was this more to do with the fact that Kenwright was aware he might lose his temper and wanted the police to protect his wife?

Whilst this part of the story could be said to lack a little logic, it’s not too much of a problem since it highlights Kenwright’s off-key and mildly disturbed nature (which increases as the episode progresses).  Ridgeway is slightly condescending, telling Kenwright that the police can’t get involved in domestic disputes, although they can have a man in the area.

Luckily they did, as Kenwright’s decision to take the record player sparks a row between him and his wife.  This scene also highlights Kenwright’s confused state of mind as he earlier told Ridgeway that he needed to pick up certain items urgently, but a record player doesn’t really seem to fall into this category.  He disturbs Janet’s new man, Ted Peters (John Ringham), who’s sitting in the living room, having his tea.

Ringham has little to do here, but he instantly catches the eye as Peters springs up out of his chair, knife and fork still in hand.  The way he holds onto the cutlery and his instinctive steps backwards are both non-verbal signifiers that Peters is not someone who will offer violence (borne out during the remainder of the episode – he’s a married man who wants the minimum of scandal).  Pooley turns up on the scene and forcibly brings peace to the house, although since he offers Ridgeway a lift home it’s plain that his bark is worse than his bite.

As Disturbance progresses, Kenwright starts to devolve.  He obtains a rifle, takes a potshot at Peters and then later holes up at a lonely spot, pinning down Smith, Ridgeway and Pooley.

This may seem to indicate that Disturbance is something of an action piece, but that’s really not the case.  Character is key here, both with the regulars and the guest cast.  We may have seen numerous Dennis Kenwrights before – men and women pushed over the edge – but Doug Fisher gives him a pleasing vulnerability.  Janet Kenwright is less sharply drawn, remaining more of a catalyst for the unfolding events rather than an active participant, although Helen Fraser is a vivid presence throughout.  It’s more than a little tragic that Janet’s affair is with a married man (and especially one as cowardly as Peters – lovely turn by Ringham).  Both husband and wife are the victims here.

The regulars might take a little more time to bed in, as none of them are particularly striking here.  Hooper is affable as Smith, although rather characterless.  Harries is an actor I’ve always found to be somewhat affected and mannered (the way he pronounces “off” as “orf” here is a slight indication of this).  But this may have something to do with the performances of his that I’ve seen, so it’ll be interesting to see if Ridgeway develops into more of a “real” character in later episodes.  It’s hard to disassociate Preston from his later comic roles, but he does nothing wrong as the young, and presumably inexperienced, constable.

Robert Tronson’s direction, especially the film sequences, are notable.  The first few minutes see Kenwright pounding the streets, past – I assume – real members of the public rather than extras.  Some unusual camerawork, low angles and partially obscured shots, help to make these moments stand out, as does the lack of music.  Silence can be powerful, especially when used to illuminate an isolated character like Kenwright.  I do wonder how moody some of these scenes would be if they weren’t in black and white though.

Disturbance is pretty slowly paced, so maybe wasn’t the most obvious series opener.  But even given the rather poor survival rate (six from series one, one from series two, three from series three) by the time I’ve reached the end of the set it may be more clear exactly how indicative it is of the series as a whole.

Sapphire & Steel. Assignment One – Episode Six

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The slightly confusing nature of Rob’s fate remains unresolved at the start of the final episode.  He can hear Sapphire calling out to him, but it appears that he still remains hidden from view.  The entity pretending to be his father lures him down to the cellar, promising that he’ll be reunited with his mother.

Mrs Jardine (Felicity Harrison) appears to be there, but she’s facing the wall.  Her immobility and the time it takes her to turn around are both strong signifiers that something is very wrong.  And so it turns out to be – and the sight of her face (glowing eyes and waxy teeth) probably would have been responsible for causing nightmares amongst some of the younger viewers.

Rob is now stranded in the past – back in the 1700’s when the house was first being constructed.  He’s linked to the others in the present, and Lead attempts to keep his spirits up (as well as ensuring that he doesn’t fall foul of the dangers of time) with a rousing version of What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor?  There’s a lovely juxtaposition between the full-blooded singing of Lead and the cool, calm deliberations of Sapphire and Steel as they ponder their next move.

Back in the 1700’s, Rob observes two soldiers carrying an open coffin – inside it is Helen.  Since she’s alive and well with the others in the present day this is a slightly inexplicable moment, albeit a chilling one.

Steel has come up with a solution, but they need to lure time down to the cellar.  A nursery rhyme read by a child will do the trick, and since Rob isn’t here there’s only one choice.  Sapphire puts up rather half-hearted resistance, but Steel easily gets his way.  Using Helen will clearly put her into danger, but it’s the only way – and this is a moment which serves as an early indicator that Steel will use anyone or anything in order to achieve his aims.

Helen’s mother – viewed as a shadow on the wall – attempt to call her back upstairs (another simple, but nicely produced, effect).  Helen pays no attention to it and slowly time is led into Steel’s trap.  Although it’s a pity that the final act – Lead crushing a stone which is obviously polystyrene – isn’t terribly convincing, but that’s only a minor niggle.

This first story ends in complete success as Rob and Helen’s parents are returned safe and well.  But not all of Sapphire and Steel’s adventures end so happily …..

Sapphire & Steel. Assignment One – Episode Five

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The danger is over – for now – but this news doesn’t please Steel.  He’s brusque and abrupt with everyone, especially Sapphire and Helen.  It takes a few patient words from Sapphire before he realises that he needs to unbend a little, and as he exits the kitchen he has a smile on his face.

Given how tightly wound Steel normally is, it’s very rare to see him smile.  It hints that there is a more (for want of a better word) human presence lurking underneath his cold, business-like exterior.  It would appear that he rarely feels comfortable in showing his emotions, possibly because he feels they are a weakness.  Sapphire is the complete opposite and therefore finds it easy to connect with Rob and Helen.  It’s an old storytelling cliché, but they are the two sides of the same coin.

With a six-part serial like this, there’s always the danger that the middle episodes will sag a little.  This probably would have been a particular concern here, because of the single location and limited cast.  So the introduction of Lead in episode four helped to refresh the narrative and another character appears in episode five to serve a similar function.

Rob’s father, Mr Jardine (John Golightly), suddenly appears out of nowhere.  The observant viewer will quickly deduce that this is simply time playing more tricks (like the voice that appeared to be Rob’s mother earlier in the serial, but wasn’t).  This once again poses questions – we’ve seen that time was able to manifest itself after both Helen and Rob were forced to recite nursery rhymes against their will, but what was the trigger here?  Was it simply due to Rob having a subconscious desire to see his father again, which time was somehow able to use?

The ersatz Mr Jardine is able to convince Rob that Sapphire and Steel are his enemies and that he and his mother have been hiding from them in the house all this time.  After all he’s seen, it’s a little hard to accept that Rob would so quickly change sides, but it makes for a dramatic twist.  Golightly, an experienced film and television actor, is smooth and convincing as Mr Jardine.

Once Rob agrees to go with his father, he disappears from the view of Sapphire, Steel, Lead and Helen.  But Rob and Mr Jardine are still in the house, although they’re unable to see the others.  Like many parts of the serial, this isn’t immediately explained, leaving the viewer to make up their own minds about what has and what might happen.

Sapphire & Steel. Assignment One – Episode Four

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The previous episode concluded with Sapphire returning to the house pursued by the soldiers and ended on a close-up of Helen screaming.  A more effective, although possibly disturbing, cliff-hanger could have been created by allowing the action to run on just a little longer – this would have showed us a tense shot of Sapphire about to be beheaded.

Luckily Steel’s on hand to save her – by freezing the soldiers – although having to reduce his body temperature so dramatically means that his energy is temporarily spent.  That the soldiers were now full physical manifestations, whereas previously they had been insubstantial “ghosts”, poses more questions and seems to run counter to the events seen at the start of the serial, where time was depicted a subtle, non-corporeal manipulator.

A little more background is established after Rob asks Sapphire if there are any more like her and Steel.  She replies that there are 127, although Steel counters that there are only 115 (“you must never rely on the transuranics”).  This ties into the opening credits voice-over but it’s something that’s never developed – it serves as simply another tantalising hint about the nature and origins of the mysterious Sapphire and Steel.

It’s slightly coincidental that immediately after it’s revealed that Sapphire and Steel have colleagues, one turns up.  Lead (Val Pringle) is an imposing figure (at first sight Rob calls him a giant) but he’s a lot less frightening than he first appears.  He likes a laugh, that’s for sure, and his first question on seeing Sapphire is to wonder what food is in the house.  Like Silver, Lead is a good deal more frivolous than Steel, and the clash of their personalities is entertaining.  Lead provides insulation and chides Steel that he shouldn’t have attempted to lower his body temperature without him around.

Lead also brings news from home.  Jet sends her love to Steel, which amuses Sapphire no end whilst he tells them that Copper’s having problems with Silver again.  These throwaway lines hint at possibilities for future team-ups, but ultimately Silver is the only one we meet.

The ending of this episode is rather busy – Steel, Lead and Rob are upstairs attempting to prevent time from breaking through again, whilst Sapphire and Helen are in the kitchen.  They intend to burn all the nursery rhyme books in the house, although this plan goes a little awry when pages start to fly about.  Although it’s rather obvious they’re attached to wires, this isn’t too much of a problem since so much else is going on to ensure that a suitably apocalyptic atmosphere is created.

Sapphire & Steel. Assignment One – Episode Three

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Steven O’Shea, as Rob, has a rather unenviable job.  Up until now Sapphire and Steel have been cool and unemotional, leaving Rob as the character who has to express a wide range of emotions from bewilderment to fear.  It would be a tough task for any actor, not made easier by O’Shea’s relative inexperience (he only had a handful of screen credits prior to this).  But after a rather histrionic turn during the opening few minutes of this episode he settles down nicely and interacts well with the much more experienced McCallum and Lumley.

Something has escaped from the locked room.  Its manifestation is very basic – a pool of light – but why bother to create anything more visually impressive when such a simple effect works just as well?   As the light moves secretly around the house, Sapphire and Steel ponder their next move.  Steel’s never heard of Olivier Cromwell, a fact which shocks Rob.  When the boy asks Steel if he knows his history, Steel replies that yes, he does.  It’s easy to draw the implication from this that Steel is an alien, although this isn’t explicitly stated (he could just be implying that he’s not British).

As the Cromwellian soldiers make another appearance, Rob buries his face in Sapphire’s shoulder.  It’s a non-verbal moment which shows her caring side – watch how she silently smoothes his hair afterwards – and possibly it was something worked in rehearsal.  The next line of the script has Steel asking Rob if this latest manifestation was the same as the previous one – a rather redundant question since Rob wasn’t looking that way at the time.

If Sapphire and Steel have seemed rather cocky up until now, then the plot-twist mid way through the episode wipes the smiles from both their faces.  Sapphire has been transported by the mysterious pool of light into a picture of a cottage hanging on the wall.  This poses numerous questions, most notably about how time could do such a thing.

We’re told that Sapphire is still in the house – time is simply creating the illusion that she’s somewhere else.  This illusion is a powerful one though, meaning that Steel and the others have to attempt to keep her grounded in reality – once she really believes that she’s in the cottage then she’ll be lost to them.

This is another effective part of the serial.  The camera focusing on a close-up of McCallum with Lumley heard only as a voice-over and then switching to the vaguely dream-like cottage bedroom, with an increasingly frantic Sapphire just about hanging on.

The cottage was the scene of a terrible atrocity during the English Civil War (which raises another question – how could time discern this from a painting?) and Sapphire looks set to re-enact this event.  Steel manages to bring Sapphire back, but the danger isn’t over ….

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Sapphire & Steel. Assignment One – Episode Two

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A certain nursery rhyme – ring a ring of roses – was the trigger that allowed time to break through and steal Rob and Helen’s parents.  After Steel ripped the page out of the book he seemed to have assumed the danger was over, but hadn’t reckoned on Helen reciting the rhyme from memory.

This is a good indicator that Steel lacks any understanding of basic human behaviour.  As he later says to Sapphire, that’s why she’s here – he doesn’t see himself as a diplomat or as someone who needs to have any more interaction with people than is strictly necessary, it’s Sapphire’s job to reassure people like Rob.

She’s not doing very well though, as Rob now doesn’t entirely trust either of them.  He decides to tell the whole story to the police, who in the form of the local constable (played by Charles Pemberton) is due to arrive shortly.  As Rob unlocks the door to wait for his arrival, Sapphire and Steel appear at the top of the stairs.

They cast a sinister air, immobile and silent.  They make no direct attempt to stop him, but it’s plain that they hold the upper hand.  This feeling is strengthened when Sapphire innocently asks him if he speaks for both himself and Helen.  He says he does, but Sapphire is easily able to induce the girl to join her, which fractures their unity.  And when Sapphire puts the policeman into a time loop, Rob has to admit defeat.

Sapphire asks him to “please stop fighting us, and try to believe in us for once. We’re all you’ve got on your side! First a wall, then a room. What then? The house? A road… a village… a town. What next?” This seems to do the trick and even Steel – a flicker of a smile crosses his face when he enters the room – seems to be impressed by her powers of oratory.

We’ve already learnt that time can be destructive and capricious, but now we learn that it can also be intelligent and cunning.  It speaks to Rob, using the voice of his mother, pleading with him to open the barricaded door at the top of the house.  He’s persuaded by his “mother” to recite another nursery rhyme – goosey goosey gander.  This rhyme has long been linked to the English Civil War and the sight of Cromwellian-era soldiers, who suddenly appear on the stairs from nowhere, confirms that S&S is using this familiar interpretation.

Sapphire & Steel. Assignment One – Episode One

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All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.

Sapphire & Steel was originally created as a children’s series, something which is most evident in the opening story, as two children, Rob (Steven O’Shea) and Helen (Tamasin Bridge), are the people in need of help from the mysterious “time detectives”.

Production limitations (an incredibly low budget) helped to shape the tone of all S&S‘s serials.  Small casts (with usually only a handful of main speaking roles), a handful of sets (only one of the six serials featured any location filming) and very limited special effects tended to be the order of the day.

The unsettling feel of this opening story is quickly established.  The location is a large, comfortable and old-fashioned house.  Whilst Rob is downstairs doing his homework, his mother and father are upstairs, reading nursery rhymes to their young daughter Helen.

The snatches of nursery rhymes used as incidental music is an indicator that the rhymes are designed to have a sinister, rather than comforting, air.  The feeling of unease can also be seen on Rob’s face downstairs – he doesn’t know why he feels his way, he just does.

The fact that we don’t see the faces of Rob and Helen’s parents is a deliberate move, it helps to make their brief appearance another discordant element.  When they vanish – after reading a nursery rhyme – Robert attempts to take charge (phoning for the police) although his constant reassurances to Helen that everything will be all right seems to be as much for his benefit as hers.

Shaun O’Riordan’s direction has a few notable moments, especially a long tracking shot – which moves from Helen, alone and frightened in the kitchen, down the corridor and to the front door.

The events so far have primed us for the arrival of Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) and their first appearance is a memorable one.  They adopt patterns of behaviour which will become familiar – Steel is brusque and business-like, whilst Sapphire is friendly and amusing.

The mystery of their arrival, as well as the fact that Steel knows Rob’s full name, is never answered – rightly so, since part of the tone of S&S depends on the fact that the title characters are inscrutable and unknowable.  But although Steel regards the presence of Rob and Helen as little more than an irritation, Sapphire attempts to explain what’s happened and why they’re here.

There is a corridor and the corridor is time. It surrounds all things and it passes through all things. Oh you can’t see it. Only sometimes, and it’s dangerous. You cannot enter into time, but sometimes … time can try to enter into the present. Break in. Burst through and take things. Take people. The corridor is very strong; it has to be. But sometimes, in some places, it becomes weakened. Like fabric, worn fabric. And when there is pressure put upon the fabric….

Sapphire is rather more playful and frivolous in this episode than she’d later become. She changes dresses and hairstyles in the wink of an eye several times, something which impresses Rob no end (who’s already a little in love with her).  But Steel’s on hand to bring the conversation down, telling Rob about the dangers in the house. “There are things – creatures, if you like – from the very beginnings of time, and the very end of time. And these creatures have access to the corridor. They’re forever… moving along it. Searching… looking… trying to find a way in. They’re always searching, always looking …”

Laurence Olivier Presents – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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Written by Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof premiered in 1955 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama the same year. The play is set in a sumptuous mansion owned by Big Daddy, a Mississippi plantation owner. It’s his birthday and all his family plan to make it a memorable one. But what are their motives for appeasing the tyrannical Big Daddy?

His eldest son, Gooper, and his wife Mae, clearly want to ensure they are first in line for a share of the spoils once Big Daddy dies. His other son, Brick, isn’t interested in money – he seems more concerned with drinking himself into an alcoholic stupor. But Brick’s wife, Maggie, has been poor and doesn’t want to be again. If only she could produce a child (Gooper and Mae have an ever increasing brood) then she’s sure that Big Daddy would look kindly on them. But since Brick won’t sleep with her (and indeed barely seems to tolerate her) the chances of this seem slim.

Deceit and lies are the major themes of this play. It’s at the heart of Brick and Maggie’s relationship and it’s also reflected in the way Big Daddy is handled by his family. Big Daddy has terminal cancer, but for some (fairly unfathomable reason) it’s been decided to shield the truth from him and his wife, Big Mamma, at least for this evening. So that he can enjoy one last happy birthday?

Since he’s something of a monster (witness the way he speaks to Big Mamma immediately after he believes he’s been given the all-clear by the doctors) maybe not. Possibly Gooper and Mae decided that it would give them a better chance of maneuvering events to their best advantage – it’s plain they want to control the plantation and cut Brick and Maggie out completely.

Given the lies we hear throughout the piece, it becomes increasingly difficult to parse the truth from the untruths (no doubt what Williams intended). When Maggie makes a late shock announcement that she’s pregnant, it’s something which is hard to accept (especially given what we know about the state of their marriage) although both Big Daddy and Big Mamma do – or at least say they do. Once Maggie and Brick are alone she tells him they now have to make the lie come true. She also tells him that she loves him, a statement which Brick seems to doubt.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has two stand-out characters – Maggie and Big Daddy – although the others are far from ciphers. Act one mainly features Maggie and Brick and it’s clearly been designed as a tour-de-force for the actress playing her. Brick remains a passive, inactive character for most of the act, only sparking into life when Maggie suggests that his relationship with his late best friend, Skipper, was – on Skipper’s side at least – something more than friendship.

Real-life husband and wife Robert Wagner (Brick) and Natalie Wood (Maggie) were ideal casting, even if Wagner was probably a little too old to play an ex-football star a few years after his retirement.  But Wood is more than capable of taking Maggie’s lengthy monologues and breathing life into them – revealing Maggie in all her insecure glory – whilst Wagner looks on in a suitably immobile fashion. As the play progresses, Brick begins to spark into life a little more, but Wagner rarely breaks a sweat in the scenes he shares with his wife. Not really a criticism, since that’s how the part’s written, but it’s very much the case that he finds himself totally overshadowed by Wood. Although the two-handed scenes between Wagner and Olivier do give Wagner more of a chance to indulge in some dramatic fireworks.

Big Daddy is relentless in his goading of Big Mamma, finally causing her to tearfully tell him that she’s always loved him (“even your hate”) which gives him pause for thought. “Wouldn’t it be funny if that was true?”

Olivier, complete with a white wig and moustache, seems to be enjoying himself as Big Daddy. It offers him the chance to take a character on an emotional ride from elation to despair and there’s plenty of show-boating moments which he no doubt would have relished. Maureen Stapleton (who won an Oscar in 1981 for her role in Reds) is memorable in the small, but key, part of Big Mamma.

Gooper and Mae have less to do (they mainly exist to contrast with Brick and Maggie) but Jack Hedley and Mary Peach still manage to wring what they can from the roles, especially during the climatic scenes as the truth is eventually revealed.

Running just under 100 minutes, the adaptation sticks very close to the original. Although the play is wholly set in Brick and Maggie’s bedroom, here the action is opened up a little by moving around the house. There’s a few interesting camera angles (a low shot from Brick’s POV on the floor showing the impressive ceiling, for example) but in the main it’s content to remain a studio-bound, static and faithful recording of the original theatrical production.

Callan: This Man Alone – Network DVD Review

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Callan: This Man Alone is a three disc set released in 2015 by Network.  The feature attraction, This Man Alone, is an exhaustive 130 minute documentary which covers every aspect of the character – from the Armchair Theatre pilot, the four series, the spin-off short stories and novels, the 1974 film and the not terribly well received one-off revival in 1981.

A host of key personnel who worked on the series (both in front of and behind the cameras) – Reginald Collin, Mike Vardy, James Goddard, Piers Haggard, Patrick Mower, Trevor Preston, Clifford Rose, Robert Banks Stewart, Ray Jenkins – were interviewed for the documentary, whilst Dick Fiddy is on hand to set Callan in its cultural and historical context.  Another very enlightening interviewee is Peter Mitchell, the son of Callan‘s creator, James Mitchell.  The pride he feels in his father’s legacy is palpable and, like the others, he has plenty to contribute.

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Although a number of people, including James Mitchell, Edward Woodward, William Squire and Russell Hunter, are no longer with us, they are represented via archive material.  This is mainly derived from a series of audio interviews conducted in 1987.  Presumably these were intended for transcribing purposes and not for broadcast as they’re a little indistinct in places.  Although Woodward sadly passed away before the documentary came to fruition, there’s still a family connection as This Man Alone is narrated by Peter Woodward, Edward Woodward’s son.

All of the key parts of the production – developing a series from the pilot, casting the regulars (and in the case of Hunter, numerous re-castings), moving from ABC to Thames, from black and white into colour, the public’s reception of the show and the decision to bring it to an end – are all covered.  Possibly the only aspect that I was surprised wasn’t discussed concerns the reasons for writing out Cross, Patrick Mower’s character, in series four (I’ve always assumed it was done in order to facilitate the return of Meres, played by Anthony Valentine).

Although the pair do have a brief cross-over period, it seems that once Valentine was available again (he’d declined to appear in series three) it was decided to write out Mower.  It would have been interesting to hear from Mower as to whether he thought that was the case, or if he was happy to leave on a high (his final story certainly was a dramatic one).

Unlike some series, Callan seems to have been a very harmonious production, so there aren’t too many story of back-stage bust ups.  The second Hunter, Michael Goodliffe, found the role not to his liking and was quickly written out, whilst Woodward wasn’t entirely sure that promoting Callan to Hunter in series four was a good idea, but that’s about it.

With an additional twenty five minutes of interview footage that didn’t fit into the documentary, disc one is as comprehensive as you’d might hope.

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Disc two has new transfers of two episodes, the Armchair Theatre pilot  A Magnum for Schneider and the first story of series one, The Good Ones Are All Dead.  The previously issued version of A Magnum for Schneider came from the transmission tape, but since the story was transferred to film prior to transmission (a not uncommon practice for VT programmes at the time, as it offered more flexibility for editing) Network were able to locate the original film recording and have produced a new transfer from it.  Both episodes offer a considerable upgrade on the previous versions issued on DVD.

Also on disc two is the complete studio tape for The Worst Soldier I Ever Saw.  Running to 78 minutes, this offers the viewer a unique chance to see how an episode of Callan was recorded, as all the takes and re-takes are included.  To be honest it sounds more interesting than it actually is, but it’s obviously nice to have.

Disc three has a real curio – the only surviving episode of The Edward Woodward Hour.  It’s taken from a domestic recording, so the picture quality isn’t quite broadcast standard, but that’s no problem.  It offers us a chance to see Woodward flex his singing muscles and the unforgettable comedy sketch in which Callan and Lonely meet the cast of Father Dear Father!  This bizarre encounter is touched upon in the documentary, with both Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter (especially Hunter) remembering it with a distinct lack of fondness.  Amusing or toe-curling?  I think that’s up to personal taste.

Semi-mute rushes of James Mitchell from 1969, recorded for A World of My Own, are also featured on disc three, but the main attraction is the extensive PDF archive.  All the scripts for the series are included (many of the early ones have both rehearsal and camera versions) whilst there’s also the original series outline, publicity material, audience research, etc.  There’s certainly a wealth of reading here and most importantly it’s lovely to be able to read the scripts for those episodes which are missing from the archives.

Whilst Callan: This Man Alone might feel like a three disc set of special features, if you have all of Network’s previous Callan releases (the monochrome series, the colour series, Wet Job, Andrew Pixley’s book) then it’s the perfect companion piece.  Quite why all these individual elements haven’t been collected into a boxset is a slight mystery, but no matter – if you love the series then it’s a very worthwhile purchase.

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The Organization now available from Network

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It’s very welcome (and unexpected) news that The Organization is now available to buy direct from Network.  This seven part series, broadcast on ITV in 1971, was originally due to be released last year, but when the release date slipped several times it made me wonder if it would follow the likes of Biggles (another Network title which is missing in action).

Written by Philip Mackie, whose work I’ve previously covered in posts on An Englishman’s Castle and The Cleopatras, The Organization centres around a faceless company where backstabbing is the order of the day.

Starring Peter Egan, Anton Rodgers, Donald Sinden and Bernard Hepton, and with the likes of Gretchen Franklin, Jon Laurimore and Norman Bird in supporting roles, it has the sort of cast to die for.

Not seen in the UK since the C4 repeats back in the 1980’s, I look forward to becoming reacquainted with the series very shortly.

General Hospital – Series One

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Network’s General Hospital – Series One has all the existing episodes from the first incarnation of this early seventies soap (which in this format was transmitted twice-weekly on ITV daytime between 1972 and 1975).  The fact that it contains just thirty eight episodes (and the last existing one is no. 258) is a clear indication just how much has been lost.

Indeed, since a number of editions are black and white film prints made for overseas sales, had they not been recovered then the survival rate would have been ever more desperate.  But looking on the bright side, if hundreds of episodes did exist then the chances of them all reaching DVD would probably have been quite slim, so at least the collectors urge in all of us can be satisfied that we’ve got everything from the twice-weekly version of the series that we can possibly have.

General Hospital, like many Network titles, was a blind buy but after a few episodes I’m already enjoying it greatly.  True, episode one is a touch stodgy but after that things get much more interesting.  For example, there’s comic relief from Patsy Rowlands as hypochondriac Peggy Finch, a woman who spends her time spreading doom and gloom amongst her fellow patients (usually by telling them that they’re seriously ill!)

She makes quite an impression on Albert Unsworth (Peter Hill) who instantly leaps to her defence.  Hill will be familiar to Doctor Who fans, thanks to his appearance in Day of the Daleks (which aired earlier that same year, 1972).  And there’s something of a Day of the Daleks cast reunion as elsewhere in the hospital we find Anna Barry.  She plays Mrs Sylvia Tate, whose young son is facing a kidney transplant (the son is played with such deathly earnestness that it takes your breath away).  Mrs Tate doesn’t want her husband to donate his kidney and hers isn’t suitable, so we leave her at the end of episode three on the horns of a dilemma.

The most entertaining storyline of these early episodes concerns GP Dr Robert Thorne (Ronald Leigh-Hunt).  One of the patients is convinced that he knew Thorne in Salisbury, but back then he wasn’t called Thorne and he wasn’t a doctor.  Could the respectable Dr Thorne really be an imposter?  Dr Martin Baxter (James Kerry) and Dr Peter Ridge (Ian White) certainly think so.

Baxter and Ridge are clearly the alpha-males of the hospital and even this early on it seems plain that hearts will be broken (although hopefully only in love!)  Elsewhere in the hospital, David Garth plays consultant Dr Matthew Armstrong.  It’s always one of those strange quirks of archive television watching that you can pick two totally random series and find the same actors in both.

Garth had played Charles I in The Further Adventures of the Musketeers (which had also featured Anna Barry) and brings the same detached air to Armstrong.  He’s not exactly an actor brimming with charisma but he does have a certain solid presence.  As does Lynda Bellingham as Nurse Hilda Price, who provides a sensible, capable and seemingly unflappable presence around the ward.  Quite different is Judy Buxton as Student Nurse Katy Shaw.  Shaw is just as efficient, but Buxton has a breathless, wide-eyed and innocent persona which has already won me over.

A word about the theme music.  You couldn’t hope to have a theme less suited to a medical drama than Derek Scott’s effort.  It’s pleasant enough, but its rinky, tinkly nature doesn’t really suggest drama.  Possibly they might change it later on, so I await further developments with interest.

The pictures on the back of the DVD sleeve promise later appearances by both Tony Adams and Joanna Lumley and since I’m sure that there will be other familiar faces popping up, no doubt I’ll be posting again about this series in the future.