Back to Christmas 1982 (5th January 1983)

Dr Who continues his exciting adventure with the Arc of Infinity on BBC1 at 6.45 pm. That’s followed by John Wayne in Brannigan, which finds the Duke transported to mid seventies London.

Curiosity value alone (where else can you see John Wayne running into the likes of Lesley-Anne Down, Del Henney, Stewart Bevan, Brian Glover and James Booth?) makes this worth a watch.

Later on BBC2 there’s a slightly better film – The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Richard Burton and Claire Bloom head an impressive cast in what’s still one of the best John Le Carre film adaptations.

I might have to put The Spy on the virtual VHS, as ITV’s evening schedule looks pretty strong. There’s some more Mike/Deirdre antics in Coronation Street, Benny Hill continues to ply his usual trade at 8.00 pm and at 9.00 pm there’s the first episode of Unknown Chaplin (narrated by James Mason).

Back to Christmas 1982 (2nd January 1983)

633 Squadron is an ideal Sunday afternoon film. Although it’s not perfect (you have to suspend your disbelief with some of the modelwork used for the climatic attack sequences) it’s still a stirring watch (Ron Goodwin’s score helps enormously). Although money (the film mirroring WW2) meant than an American – Cliff Robertson – had to take centre stage, there’s enough plucky Brits (Harry Andrews, Donald Houston, Angus Lennie, Michael Goodliffe) in supporting roles to cushion this blow.

A repeat run of The Good Life begins with the first episode, Plough Your Own Furrow (which I’ve previously written about here).

The Society Entertainer (S04E04) is today’s episode of Hi-De-Hi! Spike falls in love whilst Gladys clashes with her nemesis, Sylvia, who temporarily wrests control of Radio Maplin. Another quality episode, with all the original key cast members present and correct.

Switching over to ITV, if I’ve time for a second film I’ll go with The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Later there’s Tales of the Unexpected, a series that’s often more miss than hit (but today’s cast – John Duttine, Peter Jeffrey – makes it an appealing pick).

Back to Christmas 1982 (29th December 1982)

There’s another chance to see Arena‘s typically idiosyncratic celebration of Desert Island Discs on BBC1 this afternoon. Roy Plomley gets to dress up, whilst the likes of Frankie Howerd, Russell Harty, Trevor Brooking and Paul McCartney all make appearances. If you’re able to access it, then you can watch the programme via the iPlayer.

There’s an episode of Sink or Swim at 9:15 pm on BBC1. It’s a repeat of S01E04 (original tx ,1st January 1981) which will serve as a curtain raiser for the new series of Doctor Who, that kicks off next Monday.

ITV offers Coronation Street (where,  according to the TV Times, there’s not a lot of sweetness and light at the Rovers). In addition to the bickering at the Rovers, the relationship between Mike and Deirdre has just begun to simmer (although it won’t come to the boil until the new year).

And that’s about it for today. I’ll have to dig out a book I think ….

Back To November 1982 (26th November 1982)

We’re back in the days when Children In Need didn’t dominate the entire BBC1 evening schedule. Indeed, it’s surprising just how little coverage there is (less is more, maybe?). From the available programmes, I’ll be taking Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? 

Whenever I tweet something about the series, you can guarantee that someone will pop up to tell me that nasty old James Bolam blocked any repeats. But there’s no evidence of this (indeed, the fact that the Daily Mirror’s Stan bemoans the fact that WHTTLL? is often dug out as a schedule filler rather proves the opposite).

There’s another old sitcom repeat on BBC2 (Dad’s Army). The series wasn’t quite as obliquitous in re-runs during the early eighties, which meant that this was probably when I saw a lot of these episodes for the first time. Today’s offering is Man Hunt from 1969, not a stellar episode, but it’ll still pass thirty minutes very agreeably.

Finally there’s a new programme to enjoy. ITV at 9.00 pm is Gentle Touch time. P.J. Hammond is scripting, which is the guarantee for an odd and unsettling fifty minutes (today’s ep features a very effective guest turn from Sheila Gish as Adela Baker).

Back to November 1982 (22nd November 1982)

Up first this evening is Angels, and an episode from the series’ penultimate run. I’ve yet to find Angels‘ reformat into the ‘soap’ format (2 x 25 minute episodes each week) that engrossing, although maybe I’ve yet to give it a fair chance. It’s another of those series that I need to really find the time to watch consistently in sequence. Maybe it’ll be another one to attempt next year. I’ll add it to the list ….

BBC2 offers a Grange Hill repeat from series five, originally broadcast earlier in the year. It’s this one, which continues the harsher tone that’s quite noticeable this year. I’ve no doubt touched upon this before, but it’s interesting to wonder just how much input GH‘s producer (this year was Susi Hush’s sole year in charge) had in the direction of the series. Possibly the scripts had already been locked down before she arrived, but the emergence of Gripper as Roland’s nemesis throughout series five was something new for the series (previously, bullies had tended to restrict their reign of terror for only a few episodes).

The Further Adventures of Lucky Jim is on at 9.00 pm. Given that it was written by Clement and Le Frenais it’s a curiously forgotten sitcom, although it’s true that the pair do have a number of equally obscure entries in their back catalogue. It’s certainly worth checking out, even if it’s easy to initially miss that the series was set in the late sixties. Today’s episode can be found here.

Over on ITV, it’ll just be Coronation Street for me.


Back to November 1982 (21st November 1982)

I’ll be spending the next seven days in 1982. As before, I’ll only be highlighting programmes that I have access to and can actually watch. Let’s dive into Sunday’s schedule ….

First stop is a re-run of The Computer Programme. We’ve reached episode seven – Let’s Pretend in which Ian Macnaught-Davis and Chris Searle look at computer modelling and simulations. That’s the cue for Macnaught-Davis and Searle to spend more time huddled round a BBC B computer, although slightly more powerful systems are also available. I’ve recently rewatched the whole series but it’s never a chore to dip into it again.

There’s an episode of Maigret repeated at 4.05 pm on BBC1 – The Fontenay Murders. Having been unavailable for so many years, the series has been dragged back into the light recently – it’s now available on Blu Ray and DVD from Network and is also running on Talking Pictures TV. Truth to tell, I’ve found it to be something of a disappointment – I love 1960’s tv in general and there’s no shortage of appealing guest stars, but many of the episodes are rather dull and stodgy. Still, I’ll give this one a go and maybe it’ll appeal.

I’ll be sticking with BBC1 later for part four of Beau Geste. It’s from that endearing era of television where an English sandpit could be pressed into service as the unforgiving Algerian desert and no-one would bat an eyelid. Still, with Douglas Camfield directing a host of familiar faces (hurrah, there’s Pat Gorman!) I’m not complaining.

Today’s Hi-De-Hi! story carries on from last week. Jeff is still caught on the horns of a moral dilemma thanks to the machinations of Joe Maplin (which is the cue for more letters from the Maplins boss which have to be read out by the squirming Jeff).  This is still the imperial era of the series, with all the original cast members present and correct (as mentioned before, most Croft/Perry and Croft/Lloyd never knew when to stop and tended to carry on past their sell by dates).

Then it’ll be time to switch over to ITV for The Professionals and Tales of the Unexpected. You’ll Be All Right was the fifth and final Professionals script by Gerry O’Hara. It’s not quite the series at its peak but still passes an hour very agreeably.

Tales of the Unexpected is a series that was always incredibly uneven (one day I’ve promised myself I’ll watch all 112 episodes in order – maybe next year). Today’s offering is The Absence of Emily with Anthony Valentine and Francis Tomelty and it looks to be decent, so hopefully it’ll end the evening off with a chill or two.

Natural Causes by Eric Chappell

Broadcast in 1988, Natural Causes is a rather obscure entry from Eric Chappell’s back catalogue. That’s not terribly surprising as it was given the less than primetime slot of 11.30 pm (although it still managed to pull in an impressive 6.5 million viewers).

It began life as a play in 1985 with Ian Lavender and Michael Robbins. Chappell’s television adaptation boasts an equally impressive cast – George Cole, Benjamin Whitrow, Prunella Scales and Leslie Ash.

Walter Bryce (Whitrow) is keen to help his neurotic wife, Ceilia (Scales), depart this vale of tears, as waiting in the wings to comfort him is his young secretary Angie (Ash).

And that’s where Vincent (Cole) comes in. He works for a company called Exodus which exists to facilitate suicides. But although things initially seen straightforward, a myriad of complications soon ensue …

The theatrical origin of the story Is quite obvious, as the production remains studio-bound throughout with no attempt made to open it up. That’s not a problem for me though as it means the play has to stand or falls on the quality of its performances.

George Cole leads the way as the pernickety Vincent. Sounding not unlike Arthur Daley, Cole gives a highly effective turn, doing most of the comic heavy lifting during the early part of the story.

He initially forms a strong double-act with Whitrow, who’s entertainingly twitchy as the unfaithful husband attempting to persuade himself (and Vincent) that the death of his wife will be a mercy for her. But the first problem occurs when she decides that they should die together. He’s not keen …

Prunella Scales, like Cole, seems to be operating well within her comfort zone but that’s not really a criticism as she does what she does so well. Leslie Ash has the lesser of the four roles but there’s still a faint air of Lady Macbeth about Angie which is appealingly teased out.

The ending doesn’t come as a huge surprise but overall the 78 minutes slipped by very agreeably. Well worth a look.

Back to 1982 – 13th August 1982

Another day of repeats and old movies. The Laurel and Hardy season continues with Scram (which will go on the list). I might also watch One of Our Spies is Missing (one of the Man from Uncle ‘movies’ which was cobbled together from several tv episodes). The Man from Uncle isn’t a series that I’ve ever felt the need to investigate in too much depth – I’ve always found the occasional dip to be quite sufficient.

Post 9.00 pm, female cops are on the beat both on BBC1 (Cagney & Lacey) and on ITV (The Gentle Touch). The Gentle Touch will be my choice, although these days I find it a slightly sluggish watch (although the P.J. Hammond episodes are always of interest). Hand on heart I find that Juliet Bravo has aged better for me, but maybe today’s episode will kickstart my interest into beginning a complete rewatch.

(Steve Race is today’s eye man).

Back to 1982 – 11th August 1982

When skimming through the August television schedules of the past, it quickly becomes clear that it tended to be a pretty dead month. The new season in September was still weeks away, although its myriad delights would have begun to be trailed both on television and in the newspapers.

Few new dramas or comedies tended to be launched in August (you could almost guarantee that any which did were embarrassments or failures, quietly aired in a month where fewer people than usual were watching).

All of which preamble suggests that there’s not a great deal to get the pulse racing today – but since I’m keen to continue to sample this era of British television that’s not too much of a problem. Honest ….

BBC1 devotes a large chunk of its early evening schedule to Elvis on Tour (1972). Along with Laurel and Hardy on BBC2 that’s about all for me and Auntie today.

Since HTV was my local ITV network, I’m able to watch the Stingray crew investigate the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster (the local Scottish colour is an absolute hoot). Later there’s the delights of Coronation Street and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (which isn’t perfect, but a cast list which includes Anthony Hopkins, Derek Jacobi, David Suchet, Tim Piggott-Smith, Lesley-Anne Down, Robert Powell, John Gielgud and Nigel Hawthorne can’t be all bad).

Back to 1982 – 9th August 1982

Not a lot that’s sourceable on BBC1 today. I might watch tune into Doctor Who and the Monsters for nostalgia’s sake – even though Earthshock is one of those stories that really grates on me these days (the plot, such as it is, is full of holes that I find hard to ignore).

BBC2 is a happier hunting ground. There’s tea-time Laurel and Hardy whilst later a repeat of The Paul Daniels Magic Show will definitely go on the list. Today Paul welcomes Reveen the Impossiblist with his Chess Magic, Mr Electric (the magician who beat the Energy Crisis) and Ray Dondy with his crazy diving skills. If that’s not entertainment then I don’t know what is.

Moving to ITV, an afternoon Van Der Valk repeat is a possible. VDV is a series I’m always surprised to find that I don’t enjoy more – all the building blocks are there (good central performance from Barry Foster, the usual roster of familiar faces guesting) but often the stories are just a little humdrum. Maybe today’s effort will surprise me though.

The blurb for this evening’s Coronation Street (courtesy of Stan Sayer) sounds intriguing. Alf Roberts off to watch a blue film? I’m in.

I’ll round off the evening with Arthur Lowe in A.J. Wentworth B.A. Broadcast after Arthur Lowe’s death in April 1982, the series always had a melancholy feel for that reason. It’s certainly not Lowe at his best, but I felt obligated to watch it forty years ago out of respect, so I think I’ll honour that feeling again today.

(And for those wondering, the eyes belong to John Alderton).

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.