Back to May 1986 (17th May 1986)

There’s not too much available that’s appealing to me on the BBC channels today (Sorry! is a possibility though, if I’m really desperate).

ITV’s a happier hunting ground – with Robin of Sherwood and C.A.T.S. Eyes. Robin of Sherwood has reached series three – which means that Jason Connery is now the hooded man (he’s not many people’s favourite RH – most seem to favour Michael Praed – but, given his inexperience, he gives the role a decent fist).

Today’s episode is Cromm Cruac (or, as the Video Gems VHS inexplicably called it, Cromwell’s Crusade). This means that Richard O’Brien returns as the cackling Gulnar, with Ian Redford, Larry Dann and Graham Weston also featuring.

C.A.T.S. Eyes is a very odd series. Taking a character (Maggie Forbes) from a straightforward police series (The Gentle Touch) and plonking her down in the middle of a glossy adventure show was such a strange move. Today’s episode, Freezeheat, was written by series creator Terence Feeley and features Daniel Peacock and Tony Doyle. I can’t confess to having a great deal of love for C.A.T.S. Eyes as it was just a little too bland for my tastes (ITV would continue for a while to churn out series with a similar formula – eventually ending up with the deeply unloved Saracen).

Undoubted highlight of the day is Mapp & Lucia on C4. The episode in question is Lady Bountiful, which sees Lucia drop a bombshell when she announces her engagement to Georgie. Au reservoir!

Back to May 1986 (16th May 1986)

The randomiser has taken me back to 1986, to sample a week’s television. What does Friday the 16th of May offer? Let’s take a look ….

BBC1 offers a repeat of Home and Dry, the final episode from Big Deal’s first series (watching this might spur me into attempting a complete rewatch). There’s more repeats on ITV – Me and My Girl and Home to Roost. Me and My Girl isn’t greeted with much enthusiasm by the Daily Mirror blurb writer, Tony Pratt (who also seems unaware that the show had already clocked up three series by this point) but you can’t argue with the combined talents of O’Sullivan, Brooke-Taylor and Sanderson.

Home to Roost isn’t a sitcom that’s ever really clicked with me (which is surprising, since I’ve always enjoyed most of Eric Chappell’s output). Maybe time to give it another go and see if it’s more engaging this time round.

The undoubted pick of the evening is Quo Vadis, Pet, the final episode of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet‘s second series. At the time this seemed to be the final end (although it’s slightly disturbing to realise that the first comeback series aired twenty years ago. Where has that time gone?)

The second series, of course, was overshadowed by the death of Gary Horton – especially towards the end of the run when his absence had to be explained away by a double passing through shot or amended dialogue. Despite this, all of the series’ remaining story threads are neatly tied up and even if the second half of series two did sag a little, I’d have to say it slightly edges the first run as my favourite.

Back to April 1983 (8th April 1983)

A repeat of Innes Book of Records on BBC2 is a must-watch (although I’m having difficulty in pinpointing which episode it is – Genome doesn’t have any records of 1983 repeats).

ITV offers a couple of possibilities – Pig in the Middle and the first part of Death of an Expert Witness. I’ve had the Roy Marsden/Adam Dalgleish boxset sitting on the shelf for a while but I haven’t made a great deal of headway with it. I’ve no problem with drama series which take their time, but these P.D. James adaptations seem too leisurely even for me (DoaEW clocks in at an overgenerous seven episodes).

Still, this debut story does feature a vey watchable guest cast (Ray Brooks, Barry Foster and Geoffrey Palmer amongst others) so they might help me to make it through to the end (and after a few episodes I might even stop staring at Marsden’s very obvious hairpiece).

I’ll round off the evening with a piece of ephemera – The Very Hot Gossip Show – which the curious can find on YouTube.

Back to April 1982 (7th April 1982)

There’s nothing sourceable for me on BBC1, whilst BBC2 offers The Ascent of Man and M*A*S*H as possibilities.

ITV’s a happier hunting ground – there’s the always reliable Coronation Street (Derek Wilton making his first appearance since April 1979) followed by a repeat of The Benny Hill Show. I’m not sure whether I’ll attempt to track down exactly which one it is, as you’d no doubt get the gist from any of his shows at this point ….

Undoubted highlight of the evening is In – the final episode of Minder‘s third series. There’s a grimmer tone to this one – Arthur’s behind bars and desperate whilst Terry, still on the outside, attempts to clear his friend’s name.

This was one of Leon Griffiths’ last scripts for the series. Several writers (Tony Hoare especially) very effectively developed and broadened Griffiths’ original concept, but there’s always something satisfying about watching something written by Minder‘s creator.

Featuring a typically strong supporting cast (Brian Cox, Frederick Jaeger, Diane Langton, Russell Hunter) it’s the sort of episode that makes me want to go back and rewatch the whole series in order.

Travelling Man – Sudden Death (12th December 1984)

Lomax’s quest for his son (not to mention finding out who framed him) is halted temporarily when he returns to London to attend his mother’s funeral. Afterwards, he resumes his targeting of Pember (Colin Jeavons) – a man who might be able to help him clear his name ….

Although the previous episode, Moving On, ended on something of a cliffhanger, the ongoing story halts temporarily as Lomax says farewell to his mother and attempts to rebuild bridges with his still somewhat bitter father (played by Patrick Godfrey).

Their scenes together help to bring the character of Lomax into sharper focus, although the picture that emerges isn’t an especially flattering one. Lomax Snr (he’s not given a Christian name, merely credited as ‘father’) remains comically disapproving about the flashy way Lomax dressed during his police days (Lomax tries to explain that he was undercover at the time, but that doesn’t seem to sink in).

Rather more telling is Loman Snr’s disapproval about his son’s philandering ways. Was this the reason why his wife left him? Lomax Snr also believes that having an ex-convict in the family is a source of great embarrassment (Lomax continues to protest his innocence, but his father – an experienced policeman of the old school – has heard it all before and doesn’t believe a word of it, even from his own flesh and blood).

Another fascinating moment occurs when Lomax wonders why his father didn’t let him see his mother during her final days. Lomax Snr’s initial response – he wanted his son to remember his mother as she was – is swiftly followed by a throwaway comment that she died of shame (because of Lomax’s conviction?) Lomax quickly picks up on this, but his father doesn’t seem to realise the import of his words (or decides he’s gone too far) and the conversation moves on.

They part on reasonable terms, although Lomax later admits that his previously held respect for his father has all but faded away. This strained father/son relationship seems to run parallel to what may be an equally fractious relationship between Lomax and Steve. It’s later revealed that Steve attended his grandmother’s funeral incognito. This confirms that he’s fine and had he wanted to speak to his father then he could have done so at any time during the last few months.

Later Lomax looks up Maureen (Bobbie Brown) for an afternoon of champagne, sex and Earl Gray tea. Their scenes together are, like the meeting with his father, designed to shine more of a light on Lomax’s character. And again it’s not flattering, as Maureen (shortly to be married) tells Lomax that she can’t see him any more – but wanted this one last time in order to use him the way he’s frequently used her.

After this mild battering to Lomax’s psyche, he gets back on the trail of Pember. More information is now shared with the audience – there were eight officers, including Lomax and Pember, involved in the operation which led to Lomax’s conviction. He’s convinced that Pember and someone else (as Pember seems to be too weak-willed to have masterminded things on his own) were responsible for framing him.

Lomax continues his psychological reign of terror (phoning up Pember in the middle of the night) although when they actually meet the dynamic between them has subtly shifted and Pember seems more in control. By this point, Pember has also made contact with Martin (Tony Doyle). If Colin Jeavons made a good career out of playing weaselly types then Doyle’s stock in trade was that of the implacable enforcer. The relationship between the two is skewed in Martin’s favour, although Pember (as long as he stays alive) has something of a hold over him.

And this is the point of the story where you realise that Pember’s a weak link who isn’t long for this world. Alas, Lomax is a little slower on the uptake and can’t prevent his murder. Given that he suspected Pember wasn’t working alone, surely he should have realised he was vunerable?

Ah well, that sets things up nicely for the second series. Especially when Lomax leafs through a series of photos of Pember and Martin and doesn’t react at the two of them together, which tells us that Martin isn’t known to him.

So across the course of six episodes we’ve seen two recurring plotlines developed, although neither have reached their conclusion. Hopefully the second series will offer closure. Time will tell …

Travelling Man -Moving On (5th December 1984)

For once the peripatetic Lomax seems content to stay in the same place for a while (he’s taken a job at the local pub). This doesn’t please Neil Pember (Colin Jeavons) who knows Lomax of old and is keen for him to move on as soon as possible. So Pember engages the services of Kenny (Jeffrey Hardy) to sort this out – using any means necessary ….

The last two episodes of series one are the point where Lomax’s desire to find out who framed him really begins to come to the fore (although I assume that Roger Marshall already knew he’d been commissioned for a second series as everything is left dangling at the end of the next episode).

Colin Jeavons plays to type as Pember. He’s a somewhat nervous and devious person, although he does have a hard streak (challenging Kenny to an arm wrestle but placing his open lighter under Kenny’s arm).

I’m not sure if it’s a story flaw, but had Pember simply done nothing then I’m sure Lomax would have moved on when the time was right (as he’s still searching for his son). So by engaging Kenny, Pember has simply drawn attention to himself and sown the seeds of his own destruction.

Although I suppose you could argue that given it’s a fairly small place Lomax and Pember would probably have run into one another eventually, so maybe Pember decided it was worth trying get rid of Lomax by force.

Is Kenny the man for the job though? He seems something of a lightweight and given all we’ve seen of Lomax so far this series, there only seems like one winner in the battle between them. This might be another miscalculation by Pember, or possibly Lomax has grown harder following his stay in prison. Since we have no knowledge of the old Lomax it’s hard to say for sure – but today’s episode once again demonstrates that he’s happy to use violence to resolve a situation (if he was like that during his police days then it’s a wonder he didn’t get drummed out of the force earlier).

Remaining in mild niggle mode, it’s remarkable that so many people met by Lomax on his travels have seen Steve. Today it’s the turn of Susie (Kate Hardie), who appears on the surface to be a friendly teenager with no particular agenda. We’re forced to revise this opinion later on after Kenny asks her to plant some drugs on Lomax’s boat (having then tipped off the police, this is his first attempt to get rid of Lomax).

If you can swallow that Susie has met Steve, more swallowing is required when she becomes embroiled in the episode’s main plotline. This is a little hard to take (unless Kenny knew that Lomax and Susie had already met). When the police – in the form of Inspector Jakeman (Richard Ireson) – come calling, Lomax is remarkably nonchalant. He’s already disposed of the drugs so no problem there, but doesn’t seem in the least concerned about the fact he’s been entertaining an underage girl on his boat (although it’s true that they’ve done nothing more than enjoy a cup of tea).

Jakeman is one of the more comical coppers to cross Lomax’s path. He’s easily bamboozled by the ex-detective and is forced to leave empty-handed.

Kenny steps up his efforts by using his crop dusting helicopter (that’s a handy occupation) to buzz Lomax’s narrowboat as it wends its way down the canal. This is the closest that the series came to a car chase, and although it’s low in speed it’s still an impressive scene.

By this point Lomax is angry (and you don’t want to make him angry) so he plots his revenge in a typically single-minded fashion. He uses a club to knock Kenny unconscious, drags him to a shed and proceeds to almost run him over with a handy threshing machine. Hopefully Lomax was just bluffing, but looking into his eyes it’s difficult to be sure. As touched upon earlier, this outcome was always on the cards – so the question wasn’t who would win, but how Lomax would win.

Now that Lomax knows that Pember was behind Kenny, everything’s nicely set up for the series closer. And this episode ends on an ominous tone with a silent Lomax simply watching the increasingly frantic Pember. Like a cat playing with a mouse, Lomax is content to bide his time and engage in a spot of psychological warfare.

Travelling Man – The Grasser (28th November 1984)

Lomax’s latest parking place for his narrowboat seems idyllic enough – but his peace is abruptly shattered when several bullets are fired in his direction. He initially assumes he’s the target, but upon further investigation that turns out not to be the case ….

The shooter – Thomas (Paul Chapman) – is the centre of attention during the opening part of the story. Arriving in the UK on Concorde, it’s plain that he’s a professional arriving to do a specific job. We’re misdirected into assuming that this is to kill Lomax, but it quickly becomes obvious that isn’t so (his practice shots in the woods simply went rather wide of the mark and hit Lomax’s narrowboat by mistake).

For a well paid assassin, you have to say it slightly beggars belief that he’d be quite so inaccurate in his shooting (it’s also a clumsy way to get Lomax involved in the story, but any other way would probably have seemed just as contrived, so we’ll have to let it go).

Thomas is staying in a small hotel which overlooks a palatial house where Jimmy Nolan (Bernard McNamara) is currently resident. It seems unlikely that Nolan would own the house and the slightly mocking tone of his companions provides us with another clue – they’re police officers who have the job of minding him (the episode title will tell you why).

Nolan might be a very minor villain, but he has had the knack of listening into conversations with major league offenders. So delivering him safely into the witness box wouldn’t be pleasing for many in the underworld (hence Thomas’ presence). McNamara would always do you a nice line in seedy villainy (he was a regular in Hazell as Cousin Tel, for example).

Lomax calls his regular newspaper contact – Robinson (Terry Taplin) – who intercedes with the police on his behalf. This means we’re graced with an appearance from the always dependable David Saville as Superintendent Richards who, rather surprisingly, spills the beans about this delicate operation to Robinson.

Once Lomax knows Nolan’s life is in danger you’d assume he’d warn the officers guarding him, but that doesn’t happen. It’s slightly hard to work out why, but maybe Lomax wanted the kudos of defeating Thomas personally.

If so, his plan backfires spectacularly as Thomas knocks him out and holds him hostage at gunpoint. Until this point, the episode’s two main characters – Lomax and Thomas – have been essentially solitary (interacting with others, but only on a surface level).

The point when they’re brought together is where The Grasser really begins to build momentum. Paul Chapman is given some interesting dialogue which fleshes out Thomas’ character significantly – he may in part be the dispassionate assassin of cliché but he’s also gifted some more unusual character traits. Thomas invests the money he receives fron successful hits into sheep. “Last job was an Italian vineyard owner. Good value. 150 females and five rams”.

The downbeat ending (although I suppose how downbeat you regard it depends on which side of the law you’re on) is effective. And it’s worth noting that by the end Thomas has emerged as a far more interesting and sympathetic character than Nolan (maybe partly as played, but presumably mostly as scripted). But whatever the outcome, Lomax ends up bruised, battered and inside a police cell – although the always dependable Robinson is on hand to bail him out.

Travelling Man – The Watcher (21st November 1984)

Lomax’s continuing search for his son has brought him to an isolated Welsh village. The welcome he receives in the hillside is a somewhat lukewarm one, which doesn’t improve after a young girl goes missing and suspicion inevitably falls on the stranger in their midst ….

There’s something of a telefantansy feel about the opening of The Watcher as Lomax wanders through the deserted village. The puzzle deepens after he enters the primary school which is also devoid of people (and a list of drug terms on the blackboard is a jarring thing to find in such surroundings).

The mystery is quickly dissipated though – everyone is at the chapel, listening to the fire and brimstone proclamations of Morgan Rees (Freddie Jones). As Rees employs virtually the whole community they clearly feel an obligation (however unwilling some may be) to hear him expound at length on the evils of modern society.

As the episode continues, you can’t help but wonder what the Welsh viewers watching at home made of this one. We’re told that the village is something of a throwback, a tightly knit community where strangers are far from welcome. Although Lomax does encounter the odd friendly face, a general air of hostility is the order of the day – which hardly paints a very flattering picture of the country.

Although relatively few members of the village are given speaking roles, at times they seem to operate en masse in a hostile way towards Lomax (especially at the end, which we’ll come to later). Rees’ financial hold over them helps to partly explain their actions though.

Although the cast was, as you’d expect, peppered with Welsh actors, the main guest role fell to an Englishman, Freddie Jones. He tackles a Welsh accent with aplomb and has considerable presence as the florid and autocratic Rees, whose grip on his people becomes more and more tenuous as time creeps on.

Meg Wynn Owen (possibly best known for playing Hazel in Upstairs Downstairs) has a decent part as Gwen Owen, a schoolteacher who initially befriends Lomax but – due to pressure applied – is later persuaded to lay false claims of assault against him.

Hubert Rees made a good career out of playing ineffectual authority figures, so Geoff Watkins (the village’s police representative) was a role well within his comfort zone. Watkins, a man totally under Rees’ thumb, makes a half-hearted attempt to move Lomax on. But Lomax isn’t someone to take fright easily and certainly not when pressure is applied from the likes of Watkins.

Other familiar Welsh actors – Davyd Harries and Aubrey Richards – help to fill out the cast. Alan (Harries) is one of those convinced of Lomax’s guilt (although whether this is due to a desire to please Rees, a genuine belief of wrongdoing or simply a dislike for the English is never made clear).

Richards has a memorable cameo as a draughts player who delights in beating Lomax in what appears to be a friendly pub game. Once he’s celebrated victory, the mood darkens when he refuses to take a drink with Lomax. It’s a brief but telling moment and clearly comes as a jolt to the visitor.

Norman Jones (another non-Welsh actor) is the episode’s other major guest star. He plays DCI Jenkin, brought in to coordinate investigations after the girl’s dead body is discovered.  Like Rees, Jones is playing a familiar part today (Coronation Street and Inspector Morse are just two other series where he can be found in detective mode).

Jones gives an excellent performance and the relationship between Jenkin and Lomax helps to propel the second half of the episode to its conclusion. Unlike some of the policeman we’ve met so far in the series, Jenkin (although he wearily regards Lomax’s presence as a distraction) doesn’t actively despise him and, indeed, they work together in order to uncover the truth.

The episode isn’t a whodunnit. The audience is told who fairly early on and the reason why isn’t too much of a mystery. Other writers may have attempted to put a twist into the story or placed Lomax in more active trouble with the police (although he’s accused of murder, his innocence is quickly established) but Marshall seems to content to let things play out as they are.

After the matter is finally settled, Lomax prepares to leave in his narrowboat – but is startled to see a large portion of the village assemble on the hilltop to watch him go. Apart from Gwen, friendly faces are scarce, and the effect is decidedly unsettling, although you have to wonder just how realistic it would be for so many people to act in a gestalt fashion like this.

Mind you, as the identity of the murderer has brought about a seismic change in the village and the outsider Lomax is probably seen by many as the man to blame, I suppose it’s not entirely impossible. And of course it’s a memorable way to conclude the episode ….

Travelling Man – The Collector (14th November 1984)

Lomax is targeted by Naylor (Michael Feast), who’s come to collect the fortune he believes Lomax has stashed away. But with Lomax absent, he stalks Andrea instead ….

No time is wasted in establishing that Naylor is somewhat on the psychotic side. He begins by purchasing a gun from a selection offered in a car boot at a multi-story car park (even this early on, it’s easy to believe that Naylor – although he didn’t – could have killed the seller after the deal was collected). He then picks up some protection money from an arcade, doing what turns out to be his signature move (rattling a box of matches).

Someone – we don’t know who – has commissioned Naylor to retrieve up the money it’s believed Lomax collected before he went inside. But although Naylor might appear as an intimidating figure to Andrea, everything we’ve seen in the series so far suggests that he’ll be no match for Lomax.

And that’s how it later turns out, which is one of the weaknesses of the episode. Had Lomax not been urgently called away then I’ve a feeling the story would have been a lot shorter ….

The reason for Lomax’s absence – his mother is ill – does feel slightly contrived, especially since we never actually see her or his father. Lomax’s father, a policeman of the old school, still intensely disapproves of his son’s fall from grace and has shut him out of their lives. Some sort of meeting would have carried a dramatic punch, so it’s slightly surprising that it didn’t happen (although since his mother’s illness features later in the series it can’t be dismissed as simply a MacGuffin).

With Lomax away, the field is clear for Naylor to creep aboard the narrowboat where Andrea is sleeping, douse her bedclothes in petrol and then wake her up – all the time rattling his box of matches in a menacing fashion. Michael Feast would always do you a nice line in unhinged types and he doesn’t disappoint today – playing off against Lindsay Duncan in this key scene very well. The moment when an apparently satisfied Naylor leaves Andrea (only to casually throw a lighted match towards her) is quite a jolting one.

A shaken Andrea, recovering in hospital with burns that thankfully aren’t too serious, is visited by a concerned Lomax but as soon as he leaves her room up pops Naylor to taunt her again. That’s a slight story contrivance but I think we can let it go.

So far the episode has kept Lomax and Naylor apart – he searches, but fails to find him, in the hospital – but eventually of course they have to meet. And then things go the way you’d expect with Naylor proving to be no match (ahem, no pun intended) for the remorseless Lomax. Which, as touched upon before, is the episode’s main flaw – had Naylor contrived a way to get Lomax out of the way so he could deliberately target Andrea then that might have just tightened things up.

That’s only a minor quibble though, as The Collector is another strong episode which doesn’t feel padded.

It’s the end of the line for Lomax and Andrea though, as she decides that his life is just too dangerous for her. So he loads up the narrowboat and sets course for a new destination ….

Travelling Man – First Leg (7th November 1984)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On this day (13th January)

Series one of A Bit of Fry and Laurie began airing on BBC2 in 1989.

Following a pilot episode in 1987, ABoFaL began in earnest today. Whilst you could argue that series four was a little below par, the rest (and this first series especially) continues to hit the mark for me.

The pair’s love of Python has always been plain (breaking the fourth wall as a matter of course) and there’s very little chaff in this opening edition. ‘Bitchmother, Come Light My Bottom’ indeed.

The White Wedding, the first episode of A Bit of a Do, was broadcast on ITV.

What are the chances that two new A Bit Of series should have both begun on the same evening?

Adapted by David Nobbs from his novels, A Bit of a Do is a series that I’ve always enjoyed coming back to, although there’s a definite iciness about it. All of the main characters are flawed and none are particularly likeable – although over time most are allowed to display their vulnerable sides.

Given the repetition inherent in the format (most episodes end with a shattering revelation and either a drunken Betty or Rodney saying something that they shouldn’t) it’s not the sort of programme that you want to binge-watch, but if you take an episode each week then it slips by very nicely.

Having concentrated on playing Del Boy for most of the 1980’s, A Bit of a Do was a reminder that Jason could do more. Although it’s true that he’s not stretched too far here as the vain Ted Simcock (a man frequently forced to endure humiliations) is the sort of role well within his comfort zone. Having said that, Jason never disappoints though and his comic timing is always spot on.

You can’t grumble about the rest of the main cast either – Gwen Taylor, Nicola Pagett, Paul Chapman, Michael Jayston, Stephanie Cole, Tim Wylton – and there are some lovely cameos and smaller roles across the series (Keith Marsh as Percy Spragg in this episode, for example).

Today’s the anniversaries of the births of Ian Hendry and Jack Watling. For Mr Watling I think another viewing of HancockThe Lift is in order, whilst Mr Hendry will be represented by Battleground, the final episode of Village Hall. If you don’t own either series of Village Hall, then this is a reminder that you really should – both are excellent.

 

On this day (11th January)

Sleeping Partners, the first episode of Robin’s Nest, was broadcast on ITV in 1977.

Having already played Robin Tripp in six series of Man About The House, Richard O’Sullivan clearly hadn’t tired of the character as he pretty swiftly moved onto this spin-off (which also ran for six series).

Joined by Tessa Wyatt, Tony Britton and David Kelly (as the unforgettable Albert Riddle – the one-armed washer-upper) this is typical Mortimer/Cooke fare – although they didn’t write all the episodes. Adele Rose, Terence Feeley and Willis Hall were some of the more unexpected names who pitched in with scripts.

Armed and Extremely Dangerous, the first episode of Dempsey and Makepeace, was broadcast on ITV in 1985.

It’s easy to imagine that D&M was an attempt to replicate the success of The Professionals (which in turn owed something of a debt to The Sweeney). The problem is that a copy of a copy might turn out to be a little faint ….

Given that The Professionals never played that well in America, maybe the casting of Michael Brandon was an attempt to crack that market, just like those old ITC shows. Will they/won’t they was part of the D&M formula (we know what happened in real life of course) although never a large part – catching villains, shooting guns and crashing cars were always the first orders of business.

The excellent Ray Smith was cast as Spikings (this series’ Cowley or Haskins). It’s probably the role for which he’s best remembered today, which is a shame since his relatively short career was full of excellent character performances that stretched him much further (Callan, Colditz, How Green Was My Valley and 1990, to name just four).

With the likes of Roger Marshall and Murray Smith later contributing scripts, D&M is always going to be worth a watch but it can be rather hit or miss.

The first edition of Victoria Wood – As Seen on TV was broadcast on BBC2 in 1985.

If Dempsey and Makepeace doesn’t appeal, then maybe the first show in Victoria Wood’s new series might be more entertaining.

Many of the building blocks of As Seen On TV were already evident in Wood & Walters (C4, 1981 – 1982), although Wood was later to disown it. Mainly this seems to be because the audience were comprised of pensioners who’d never heard of her and proved to be a pretty tough crowd to crack.

But by the time of As Seen on TV, Wood had built up a head of steam through touring and the BBC2 audiences were much more appreciative right from the off. And there’s plenty to appreciate in this opening show, not least the first installment of Acorn Antiques.

On this day (8th January)

1937: The Removals Person, the first episode of Six Dates With Barker, was broadcast on ITV in 1971.

Although Six Dates With Barker doesn’t look to have been set up as a breeding ground for subsequent television series or film projects, three episodes did go on to have a life outside the series.

Spike Milligan’s The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town was revised and expanded for The Two Ronnies, The Odd Job by Bernard McKenna was developed into a film (with David Jason reprising his role and Graham Chapman replacing Ronnie Barker) and The Removals Person by Hugh Leonard was rehashed in 1988 by Ronnie Barker as Clarence.

A Land Fit for Heroes and Idiots, the first episode of When The Boat Comes In, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1976.

Created by James Mitchell (and as far removed from Callan as you could imagine) When The Boat Comes In is one of those period programmes that’s aged very well.  Possibly series four (which aired in 1981, some three years after the series had apparently come to a conclusion) doesn’t quite match the earlier runs, but overall my impression is that it was always pretty consistent. Another one that I think I’ll add to the 2022 rewatch pile.

Horse Sense, the first episode of All Creatures Great and Small, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1978.

Perfect Sunday evening viewing (even though it began on Saturdays) this first television incarnation of All Creatures was as well cast as you could have possibly hoped for. It’s been a while since I’ve seen them all, so I’m tempted to consider a rewatch – although considering it’s only the 7th of January and I’ve already got a tottering rewatch pile, maybe I’ll hold off for a while ….

Hail the Conquering Hero, the first episode of Shine On Harvey Moon, was broadcast on ITV in 1982.

Something of a neglected gem, Shine On Harvey Moon was a series which featured a fine ensemble cast headed by Kenneth Cranham as Harvey.  Nicky Henson made a decent fist of the role when he replaced Cranham in the 1990’s revival, but he never displayed the same sparkle that Cranham always had.

The immediate post WW2 setting is an interesting one – a Britain of shortages and economies provides plenty of scope for both drama and comedy. In some ways this opening episode has a feel of When The Boat Comes In‘s debut, albeit with a much lighter tone.

It’s a pity that the DVD release of the early series was very comprised – originally airing in 25 minute episodes, they were re-edited into 50 minute form for the DVD release (losing large chunks of various episodes along the way).

A decent DVD re-release or another television rescreening (it turned up on the Yesterday channel a while back) would be very welcome.

The Adventure of the Clapham Cook, the first episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, was broadcast on ITV in 1989.

It’s a funny thing, but back in 1989 I was impatient for the series to start tackling the novels and found these early adaptations of the short stories rather flimsy. Thirty years on, my opinion’s totally switched around (mainly because some of the tv versions of key novels – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd with the chase ending, say – rather tried my patience).

Many of the stories adapted for the first few series were originally published in the 1920’s in magazine form and were fairly brisk in terms of word count. That means that the adaptors have plenty of room to add incidental colour (mostly this works pretty well).

David Suchet is, of course, excellent as Poirot. In 1989 he might have been a little too young (and a little too slim, even with padding) but in all other respects he had the character of the little Belgian dandy nailed right from the start.

On this day (6th January)

The first episode of Dick Barton was broadcast on ITV in 1979.

Tony Vogel is the square-jawed Barton, doing his best to deal with some beastly villains (foreigners naturally) whilst also rescuing the odd damsel in distress. Played entertainingly straight, Dick Barton has to be an oddity – offhand I can’t think of many UK drama series made in 15 minute episodes.

Swiftnick, the first episode of Dick Turpin was broadcast on ITV in 1979.

Two Dicks making their debut on the same day …

Richard O’Sullivan is good value as the dashing highwayman in Richard Carpenter’s extremely loose retelling of Turpin’s life and crimes. It’s easy to see this as something of a training ground for Carpenter’s next outlaw based series (Robin of Sherwood) although the fact each episode only runs for 25 minutes does mean that there’s not much time to develop characters and stories.

Michael Deeks no doubt got some teenage hearts fluttering as Swiftnick whilst Christopher Benjamin (Sir John Glutton) and David Daker (Spiker) both seem to be enjoying themselves as the villains.

A pity that the film prints are so mucky, but – notwithstanding the series’ brisk running time – Dick Turpin still entertains today.

What I Don’t Understand Is This …, the first episode of The Beiderbecke Affair, was broadcast on ITV in 1985.

Alan Plater’s serial is one that I’ve rewatched a fair few times over the years and it still shows no sign of losing its sparkle. Which no doubt has something to do with the combination of that cast (James Bolam, Barbara Flynn, Terence Rigby, Dudley Sutton, etc) and that script.

The two sequels are also watchable, but never quite hit the heights of Affair.

The Dead of Jericho, the first episode of Inspector Morse, was broadcast on ITV in 1987.

I’ve always been rather fond of the opening sequence in which Morse (very briefly) seems to be channeling Jack Regan. Was this done deliberately in order to wrong foot the viewers about the type of series this was?

The format of Morse would point the way ahead for the next generation of television policeman, many of whom were also given a generous two hours to solve each crime. This wasn’t always a good move though (indeed, some of Morse’s later adventures would have been twice as good had they been half as long).

The early episodes, based on Dexter’s books, are all pretty strong though. Mind you, a fair amount of retooling has been done – the less charming aspects of Dexter’s Morse (such as his lechery) were excised, so anyone who reads the books after watching the series tends to have something of a shock.

The Dead of Jericho is a convoluted tale, which makes it surprising that it was chosen as the lead-off story. But Anthony Minghella’s adaptation captures the essence of the original and the guest cast (including James Laurenson, Gemma Jones and Patrick Troughton) all impress.

Today’s a busy day for television debuts – as there’s also the likes of Mr Aitch (the wiped and forgotten Harry H. Corbett sitcom written by, amongst others, Galton & Simpson and Clement & La Frenais), Rentaghost, The Shadow of the Tower, Alice In Wonderland (1986, Barry Letts overdosing on CSO), The Shillingbury Tales and Hannay.

Ladykillers – The Root of All Evil (17th July 1981)

Frederick Seddon (Michael Jayston) and his wife Margaret (Carol Drinkwater) stand accused of the murder of their lodger Eliza Barrow ….

Running for fourteen episodes during 1980 and 1981, Ladykillers dramatised real life murder cases, mostly drawn from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (the trial of Ruth Ellis in 1955 was one notable exception to this rule). Series one concerned itself with female defendants whilst the second series (from which this episode is drawn) was male dominated. Although since The Root of All Evil featured Margaret Seddon as the co-defendant, it does hark back to the format of series one.

The writer was Sue Lake, who has a somewhat limited television cv. In addition to this installment of Ladykillers, she wrote an episode of Supernatural, seven episodes of Triangle and her final work was an episode of Angels in 1983. I’ve not yet been brave enough to tackle her Triangle work, but based on what we see here it’s surprising her credits were so limited as The Root of All Evil drips with menace and dark humour.

The gallows humour comes from Michael Jayston who, sporting an impressive moustache, gives a typically rich performance as the pompous and pernickety Frederick Seddon. He remains blithely convinced right to the end that the jury are bound to find him innocent.

His calmness is contrasted by Carol Drinkwater as Margaret Seddon who, away from the courtroom, seems to be on the verge of collapsing into hysterics (although she always manages to control herself when she’s back in the court).

As good as the courtroom scenes are, it’s the intercutting between the Seddons in their respective cells that’s really the heart of the story. Both are provided with prison confidants to talk to – with Trevor Cooper (as Oliver) providing the episode with another dollop of dark humour. Despite the fact that Frederick Seddon stands accused of murdering Eliza Barrow for her money, Oliver is quite happy to approach him for financial advice!

And shuttling between her mother and father is their teenage daughter Maggie (Sarah Berger). This was only Berger’s third television credit, but it’s a very compelling one – Maggie’s relationship with her mother is teased out across several well drawn scenes in which Berger drips with polite malice.

Several familiar faces (Eric Dodson, Pam St Clement) take their turns in the witness box whilst the always dependable Michael Ripper (sporting some memorable face fungus) makes an impression as Seddon Snr.

As with the rest of the series, Robert Morley is your avuncular host – introducing and summing up each case. His presence feels slightly odd (possibly a simple VO or caption would have worked better).

For those who don’t know the verdict, please look away now.

Frederck Seddon was found guilty and Margaret Seddon was acquitted.

The Root of All Evil seems less sure of her innocence though as not only does Morley raise his eyebrows after imparting the news that Margaret remarried only two months after her husband’s execution, there’s also the fact that Drinkwater allows a faint smile to play across Margaret’s lips as she exits the condemned cell. Then there’s also Maggie’s innuendo laden conversations with her mother to consider ….

Having given this one a 40th anniversary rewatch, I’m happy to report it stands up very well – not least for the performances from Jayston, Drinkwater and Berger.

The Bill – Requiem by P.J. Hammond (3rd September 1988)

Between 1988 and 2004, P.J. Hammond wrote 39 episodes of The Bill. Given that his unique style is very noticeable on series such as Z Cars and Angels, I’ve decided to review his contribution to The Bill, looking to see how he worked with this format and if he ever attempted to stretch it in unexpected directions.

Requiem was one of the early half hour episodes (number fourteen). Even with the reduced running time, some writers still juggled multiple plotlines, usually with one emerging as the dominant theme. Hammond eschews this – instead the focus stays fixed on the grisly discovery inside a nondescript house.

What’s actually been discovered is teased for a few minutes. Haynes emerges from the house slightly shaken and advises Ramsey to go and take a look. The camera stays fixed on Ramsey when he goes inside, so we only see his reaction (the same thing happens when Cryer turns up a few minutes later). Indeed, it’s not until Roach and Dashwood roll up that the reveal finally takes place. Whether this works is debatable, as the object of their interest (a skeleton hidden behind a wall) does look a little fake.

Mr and Mrs Trant and their young daughter have lived in the house for about five years. Doing some DIY (smashing through the living room wall to install a fireplace) Mr Trant came across this unexpected guest. Both Mr and Mrs Trant seem rather disconnected from events – remaining unemotional throughout, they cast a rather odd atmosphere over the episode (the moment when father, mother and daughter all sit down in unison catches the eye).

Requiem features a few familiar faces guest-starring. One of Ronald Leigh-Hunt’s final television roles saw him cast as the pathologist Passmore. Cryer and Roach, discussing Passmore’s imminent arrival, express amazement that he’s still working, which primes the audience to expect someone rather doddery and incompetent.  The reality is quite different though – Passmore is sharp and methodical, although clearly of the old school (scowling at the flippant remarks made by his photographer colleague, for example).

Russell Dixon and Deila Linsday both sketch decent cameos as Mr and Mrs Jenner. Neighbours of the Trants, they have a marriage which is best described as voluble and volatile, although there’s the odd streak of affection visible too. They add little to the plot, but help to briefly lighten and humanise the tone of the story.

Since there’s a body, it seems reasonable to suggest there must be a miscreant somewhere at hand. The Trants can be ruled out, as the events behind the wall took place long before they bought the house. Talk turns to the reclusive Goodhall (Richard Beale), a resident of one of the upper flats, who seems a likely candidate. Another veteran actor, Beale makes the most of his few minutes’ screentime.

Goodhall turns out to be a red herring as the true resolution of the mystery is revealed in the final few minutes. It seems slightly hard to swallow, but I daresay even odder things have happened in real life.

Dempsey & Makepeace – Series 1 DVD Comparisons

The news that Dempsey & Makepeace will shortly be returning to ITV4 has reignited the conversation about the series and cuts. Since it’ll be running in a daytime slot there’s no doubt that the shows will be fairly heavily edited for violence.

Usually this wouldn’t be a problem as you’d be able to watch the series uncut on DVD.  But sadly the Network releases are badly flawed – they seem to comprise cut prints assembled for daytime screenings on Granada Plus.

Not every episode is edited, but around 60 – 70% of the series is affected to a greater or lesser degree.  A decade or so ago it seemed that Portugal were selling virtually uncut DVDs, but those are now long out of print.

The only foreign import I can currently see is this Season 1 release, so I thought it would be interesting to compare the running times of both to work out which offers the best value.

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The import splits the pilot into a two-parter and runs for nearly three extra minutes (some of this may be down to the additional credit sequences though). Given to Acts of Violence is the other episode which is longer on the import – over a minute, compared to the Network DVD.

The other episodes are either the same, or the Network release is slightly longer (although this may be down to Network leaving “dead air” after the episode has finished – something that happened on a fair few of their releases).

So whilst the import DVD looks to be slightly less cut, it still seems not to be quite the whole picture (I find it difficult to believe that Make Peace Not War would have clocked in at under forty five minutes. For an hour long slot in the mid eighties that seems remarkably skimpy).

What’s certain is that the series is crying out for a restored BD release. The masters exist (or at least they did a decade ago) at LWT, but as The Sweeney BDs stalled after series one, I think it’s more than likely that we’ll have to soldier on with what we’ve got …

Mr Palfrey of Westminster – The Honeypot and the Bees (25th April 1984)

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Michael Chapman’s The Honeypot and the Bees feels quite different from what’s come before – this is mainly due to the way that Mr Palfrey is sidelined until the last twenty minutes or so. Therefore whilst Blair is following this week’s person of interest, Air Vice-Marshal Conyers (Richard Johnson), Mr Palfrey is spending his time critiquing the singing talents of choirboys ….

It has to be said that part one is a bit slow.  But then it does need to set up the mechanics of the story – namely the fact that Conyers is conducting an affair with Anna Capek (Catherine Neilsen), the stepdaughter of a known foreign agent, Stefan Horvath (Denis Lill).

But there are some areas of interest – chiefly the scenes where Conyers is seen interacting with (for the time) some cutting edge computer technology.  Floppy discs are very much the order of the day here. In a pre-internet world, crucial defence information is stored on a single floppy disc and this could spell disaster for the NATO alliance if it fell into the wrong hands.

This seems a little hard to believe (network computers were around at this point and would have negated the need for Conyers to carry the disc on his person at all times) but for the sake of the story we’ll have to let it go.

The relationship between the Co-Ordinator and Mr Palfrey has undergone something of a gear change since last time. They don’t interact a great deal, but when they do they appear to be on the same side.  However it may be that Mr Palfrey is simply keeping a quiet counsel – for example, when the Co-Ordinator speaks to Admiral Frobisher (Frederick Treves) Mr Palfrey maintains a watching brief for a while. What he’s thinking about we can only guess.

Alec McCowen had an excellent gift of stillness – Mr Palfrey often appears to be immobile and slow to respond, but the fact that McCowen is so frequently dialled down only serves to heighten the focus on Palfrey’s character. Palfrey’s pleasant (on the surface anyway) interrogation of Conyers’ daughter, Melissa (Leonie Mellinger), is the point where he really starts to go to work.

It doesn’t quite hit the heights of Markstein’s efforts, but The Honeypot and the Bees, once it gets going, is very worthwhile. And whilst he may not be a household name today, Richard Johnson’s casting would have been something of a coup at the time (the fact his name comes up last on the credits seems to be acknowledging this).  At first Conyers – by falling for such an obvious trap – appears to be extremely foolish, but by now the viewer should be wary about taking everything they see at face value.

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Mr Palfrey of Westminster – Once Your Card Is Marked (18th April 1984)

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The first episode of the series proper, it’s plain within the first few minutes of Once Your Card Is Marked that some retooling has gone on since the Storyboard pilot (which I need to write a few words about sometime).

Mr Palfrey (Alec McCowen) has been stripped of his swanky high-tech office and instead is now working from a rather pokey room very close to Westminster.  The heating doesn’t work, there’s terrible modern-ish art on the wall and he’s forced to share a secretary – Caroline (Briony McRoberts) – with some of the other inhabitants. We never discover who they are – need to know, of course.

The Palfrey of the Storyboard pilot was fairly autonomous, so the fact he’s now given a new and domineering boss, known as the Co-Ordinator (Caroline Blakiston), and an assistant – the strong and taciturn Blair (Clive Wood) – are signs that his wings are being clipped.  But having said that, the move to Westminster is presented as a promotion not a demotion, although since this is a spy series it’s probably wise to parse every statement (however innocent seeming) for alternative meanings.

The Co-Ordinator comes across a fairly unsubtle Mrs Thatcher analogue. And even though the concept (and indeed the name) seems to hark back to Callan‘s Hunter, the byplay and one-upmanship between McCowen and Blakiston remains highly entertaining throughout the episode.

One of the most intriguing things about Once Your Card Is Marked is the way that on first viewing it looks to have a major flaw. Namely the fact that the Co-Ordinator appears to have shown a massive error of judgement in assigning Palfrey to investigate Springer (David Buck), a man suspected of passing secrets to the Russians during his Embassy residency in Prague.

The Co-Ordinator is convinced that Springer is guilty and makes it clear to Palfrey that his job is simply to confirm this as quickly as possible.  But the stubborn Palfrey continues to dig until the messy truth is revealed ….

One death later, the Co-Ordinator blames Palfrey for this debacle (if only he’d followed her instructions then there would have been no need for such extreme measures).  But did she genuinely believe that Palfrey would be compliant right from the start or was the whole operation designed to produce this very effect? Now that Palfrey has learnt what happens when he pursues his own agenda, possibly he’ll be easier to control.

Either of these two readings are valid, which I tend to feel was a deliberate move on George Markstein’s part.

McCowen is tremendously watchable throughout. Decades after my memories of the specifics of the episodes had faded, my recollection of Palfrey – master of the knowing stare – remained strong. David Buck is good value as the twitchy Springer whilst Valerie Holliman – later a London’s Burning regular – has a pivotal role as Susan (Springer’s devoted girlfriend). Alan McNaughtan and David Quilter bulk up the quality of the guest cast a little more – both their characters serve as decent red-herrings.

Given Markstein’s involvement with Callan, it’s not too surprising that this episode has some strong Callan echoes (most notably when Palfrey brushes up against a mysterious and ruthless ‘Section’ that doesn’t officially exist).

A shame that George Markstein only wrote one further episode as he really seemed to have nailed the world of Palfrey even this early on. The previous time I rewatched the series I had a faint air of disappointment that the remainder of the run didn’t quite match the Storyboard pilot and this opening episode. Maybe this time around I’ll have a different opinion …

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And A Nightingale Sang – Simply Media DVD Review

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The 3rd of September 1939 may be a momentous day in the history of the British nation (with Neville Chamberlain shortly due to announce that the country is now at war with Germany) but not everybody has Hitler on their minds.  For example, in a terraced house in Newcastle, young Joyce (Pippa Hinchley) is debating whether to marry Eric (Stephen Tompkinson), who is shortly due to depart with his army colleagues to France.  As for the rest of Joyce’s dysfunctional family, they all have concerns of their own ….

And A Nightingale Sang was adapted by Jack Rosenthal from C.P. Taylor’s 1978 play.  Rosenthal (1931 – 2004) was one of British television’s greatest dramatists, equally adept at adapting other people’s material as he was at crafting his own.  He also slipped easily between genres – penning over a hundred episodes of Coronation Street during the 1960’s whilst also working on sitcoms and original one-off plays.

In many respects, the 1989 production of And A Nightingale Sang was a perfect fit for him – since it deftly mixed humour with drama in a way that was highly characteristic of his own output.  It’s very much a home-front drama (we may see soldiers, but only when they return home on leave).  But despite this, the war-time feel is very strong, partly due to the soundtrack.

Many of the familiar songs are delivered by John Woodvine’s character, George, on the piano.  George and his wife, known only as Mam (Joan Plowright), head an incredibly impressive core cast.  Woodvine has long been a favourite actor of mine, and George is a plumb of a part – there’s plenty of scope for humour (when at home George spends all his time in the front room, banging out tunes on the piano whilst the rest of the household ignores him) but he’s also afforded moments of drama and pathos.  George, who works at the shipyards, later breaks down in tears after he confesses to a workmate that he’s spent hours cleaning a ship which has recently arrived back from Dunkirk.

When his friend tells him that the bowels of the ship smell like a compost heap, George replies that it’s “human bloody compost. Stuck to the bulkheads like shit to a blanket. I’ve been trying to wash them off, scrape them off. Somebody’s lads, somebody’s flesh and blood”.

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John Woodvine

For Woodvine, born in South Shields, And A Nightingale Sang provided him with an opportunity to use his natural accent.  Some of the others, such as Joan Plowright, might not have been as local, but everybody manages credible accents.  Plowright, as the religious matriarch of the family, doesn’t get quite as much to do as Woodvine, but she makes every scene count.  The moment when she reacts in horror to the foibles of her family (such as George’s decision to become a communist) is very nicely done.

This was an early screen credit for Stephen Tompkinson, who had previously made several brief sitcom appearances in series such as After Henry, The Return of Shelley and Never The Twain.  It’s a substantial role, calling on him to experience a roller-coaster of emotions, but he handles it well.  Eric’s main problem is Joyce, who initially can’t decide whether she wants to marry him or not.  The cons (“he smells of bacon”) seem somewhat trivial, but the physical side of their potential union also seems to be troubling her.

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Pippa Hinchley & Stephen Tompkinson

But eventually she puts her worries behind her and they wed.  After all, with him shortly to leave for France it’s not as if they actually have to live together.  It’s only when he returns home on leave that the cracks really begin to show.  “When are you going back?” is one of her first questions (she’s also unimpressed with the French knickers he’s bought her).  Mind you, she quickly shrugs off her sexual anxieties – the only problem is that she seems to be spreading her favours very widely, with just about every American serviceman she can get her hands on ….

Pippa Hinchley and Stephen Tompkinson share some wonderful scenes together, as do Phyllis Logan (Helen) and Tom Watt (Norman).  Helen, Joyce’s elder sister, is the sensible one of the family, seemingly destined for a life where her own wishes and desires are secondary to the demands of others.  But when she meets Norman, one of Eric’s army buddies, everything changes.  In contrast to the bickering between Eric and Joyce, Norman and Helen instantly bond.  But, as you’d expect, things don’t turn out to be straightforward.  Watt, who’d recently left his signature role (as Lofty in EastEnders) and Logan are possibly at the dramatic heart of the play.  Like the rest of the main cast, they offer first-rate performances.

Produced by Philip Hinchcliffe and directed by Robert Knights, And a Nightingale Sang is a glossy production with a filmic sweep.  The Newcastle locations (cobbled streets, shipyards) help enormously with this, plus it’s an ironic bonus that certain areas of the North West in the late 1980’s were so run-down and desolate that they could easily stand in for the parts of the city devastated by German bombs.

Also included on the disc are three wartime public information films – They Keep The Wheels Turning (8″15′), Britannia is a Woman (9″17′) and The New Britain (10″16′).  These are fascinating extras which help to place the main feature into its correct historical context.  Britannia is a Woman as you might expect, looks at the role played by women during the conflict (which is obliquely touched upon during the play – both Joyce and Helen work at a munitions factory) whilst The New Britain considers the future of the country and They Keep The Wheels Turning looks at how everybody has their part to play in ensuring that the wartime effort is maintained.

A sharply observed human drama, And a Nightingale Sang is a treat, featuring an excellent cast who never put a foot wrong.  It’s available from the 6th of November 2017, RRP £12.99, and can be ordered directly from Simply here.

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Tom Watt & Phyllis Logan