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

The Crunch and Other Stories – Network DVD Review

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The Crunch and Other Stories collects three short plays by Nigel Kneale, broadcast between 1964 and 1988.

Studio 64: The Crunch (1964).  Harry Andrews stars as a prime minister attempting to avert a nuclear catastrophe in London; Maxwell Shaw, Anthony Bushell and Peter Bowles are among the co-stars.

Unnatural Causes: Ladies’ Night (1986).   A chilling story of misogyny as members of a gentlemen’s club turn on a woman who ridicules them; a strong cast includes Alfred Burke, Ronald Pickup and Bryan Pringle.

The ITV Play: Gentry (1988). Roger Daltrey stars in a blackly comic suspense drama in which a couple buy a shabby house in an up-and-coming area but find themselves drawn into the aftermath of an armed robbery.

This is the third in a series of curated DVDs under the ‘Forgotten TV Drama’ banner (the first two were The Frighteners and The Nearly Man).  The following excerpt from the press release for The Frighteners provides a little detail about the aims of these releases.

Broadcast only once (or at most twice) in a time before on-demand, catch-up or the video recorder, most of the drama made for British television up until the early 1980s has lain unseen for generations. Since 2013, The ‘History of Forgotten Television Drama in the UK’ research project at Royal Holloway, University of London, has existed to investigate and celebrate the tremendous wealth of neglected dramas made for British TV, unearthing forgotten treasures and presenting them again to new audiences.

Forgotten TV Drama’ is a new range of DVDs presented by Network Distributing Ltd in association with the project. Selected and curated by TV experts Lez Cooke, John Hill and Billy Smart, the collection will make a wide selection of unseen titles from the ITV archive available once again. The range aims to encompass a broad spectrum of plays, series and serials; comic and tragic, realistic and fantastical, film and videotape, lavish and intimate.

The Forgotten TV Drama blog is worth checking out – hopefully some of the programmes discussed there might feature on future releases.

Nigel Kneale rose to prominence in the 1950’s via the Quatermass trilogy and his controversial adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984.  In the decades to come he would occasionally return to the series or serial format (BeastsKinvig, a fourth and final Quatermass story) but he tended to concentrate more on one-off plays and adaptations.

Adaptation wise, his retooling of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black is well worth tracking down (a R2 DVD release is long overdue). Sharpe wouldn’t have been the sort of series you’d have expected to have recruited Kneale as a writer, but he did contribute an episode – Sharpe’s Gold – which, unsurprisingly, jettisoned most of Bernard Cornwell’s original novel in favour of something much odder and off-kilter.

Although Kneale is fated to always be remebered primarily for Quatermass, it can often be rewarding to dig through some of the more obscure nuggets from his back catalogue – and the three plays on this release all qualify on that score.

The Crunch opens on what appears to be a normal London street.  We see a man walking his dog, a woman riding her bike and a milkman making his rounds.  But these signifiers of normality clash uneasily with the constant honking of car horns in the distance.

Within a matter of minutes it becomes clear that all three people were part of a military operation designed to penetrate the Mekagense Embassy.  Mekang, an ex-colonial state, is demanding reparation for the way its natural resources were plundered for British gain.  And if the British don’t accede to their requests then a nuclear device will destroy London ….

Although we’re not privy to the wider London scene, the continual sound of car horns in the distance (and occasional television reports) help to reinforce the general state of panic.  The power of the media is amusingly demonstrated after a reporter broadcasts that the emergency seems to be over.  A group of soldiers, watching the television from their command post just around the corner from the Embassy, are delighted – seemingly more willing to believe what they see on screen as opposed to their own military intelligence!

The Crunch centres around three characters – British prime minister Goddard (Harry Andrews) and two members of the Mekagense government – President Jimson (Wolfe Morris) and Ambassador Mr Ken (Maxwell Shaw).

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Andrews plays a pleasingly pro-active prime minster who’s right in the thick of action (he goes alone into the embassy to negotiate).  This might be a little far-fetched, but no matter.  Sadly, some of the themes of the play are just as relevant today as they were some fifty years ago. Goddard is aghast to learn that Ken is prepared to sacrifice himself and his wife and children (not to mention the rest of London) for the sake of his beliefs.  Goddard finds it hard to believe that any religion could support such a monstrous action.

Ken does have his reasons and he articulates them well.  Shaw offers a very still, nuanced performance (which is particularly apparent when he’s placed opposite Wolfe Morris’ blustering, unhinged President) and is easily able to command the screen.  Ken’s vision of Mekang – a desolate country which will turn into a utopia once they’ve received reparations from the British – sounds too good to be true, so it possibly won’t surprise you to learn that things don’t turn out quite the way he planned.

Although The Crunch seems to be a straight, contemporary drama, during the last few minutes it lurches into telefantasy.  The final shot – held for what seems like an age – reinforces this sudden change in emphasis (as does the fact we then cut to the credits – there’s no mopping up scene to contextualise what we’ve witnessed).

The cast offers strength in depth.  Anthony Bushell, who had memorably portrayed the blinkered Colonel Breen in Quatermass and the Pit, appears as another military man here – Lt. Gen. Priest.  Priest might only have a fraction of Breen’s screentime but there’s more than a hint that he’s a character drawn from the same cloth.  A young Peter Bowles is the enthusiastic Captain Buckley (forever itching to storm the embassy single-handed) whilst the unmistakable sound of Frank Crawshaw’s whistling speech impediment makes him an actor who can be identified by sound alone.

Picture quality is pretty good (the location scenes, recorded on videotape, are a little smudgy though) and the soundtrack, whilst hissy, is pretty clear.  A nice bonus is the 35mm insert for the climatic scene – ideally it should been dropped back into the programme but having it available as an extra is the next best thing (as the sequence on the telerecording is, naturally enough, not nearly as sharp).

When considering forgotten television drama, it’s hard not to think of Alfred Burke.  There can be few actors so beloved by archive television fans yet so totally under the radar of modern television watchers.  Possibly his final role, as Professor Dibbet in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, may have brought him a smidgen of late recognition, but his lengthy career seems to be comprised of programmes which have now faded from view (even Public Eye, a major success for a decade but not a series that’s endured in the memory of the general public).

But for those who like their television programmes old, Burke continues to be cherished and he’s a major attraction in the second play in this set – Ladies’ Night.  Broadcast by Central in 1986, Burke is the crusty Colonel Waley, outraged that his beloved Hunters Club allows ladies through its hallowed portals every Monday evening.

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Burke’s in good company – Brian Pringle, Ronald Pickup, Nigel Stock and John Horsley also appear – whilst Fiona Walker, as Evelyn Tripp, plays the rather annoying wife of James (Pickup).  Evelyn’s presence proves to be crucial as she and her husband have a somewhat violent disagreement which then involves all the other members.  Directed by Herbert Wise (I Claudius), Ladies’ Night, like I Claudius, favours long takes which allow the actors to remain in control.

It’s unusual to see Burke essay such a grotesque performance, but it suits the surroundings of the Hunters Club – the Colonel, like the club, is mired in the past and totally unable to accept the realities of the present.  Women are just one of his problems – the decline in the club’s finances means that a merger or a sale of part of the building is desirable.  But Colonel Waley is not a man who can countenance any form of change.

If Burke is excellent, showing how Waley grows ever more unhinged as the evening wears on, then he’s matched by the rest of the cast (especially Ronald Pickup).  This extends down to the minor roles such as Abigail McKern’s frightened and flustered Ann Holroyd (although she’s much more relaxed when she’s drunk).  The members can’t help rolling their eyes at her choice of drink (a tequila sunrise) whilst she makes the mistake of attempting to pat the stuffed aardvark which sits forlornly in the entrance hall.  All members have to touch the aardvark on arrival and any who don’t are firmly reminded by the Colonel. But any women attempting to take such a liberty will face the full force of his fury.

A dark (and occasionally violent) comedy, Ladies’ Night isn’t subtle, but Kneale’s script, the performances and Wise’s direction all combine to produce a bracing, if uncomfortable, fifty minutes.  It’s good to finally have it available on DVD.

Following The Who’s first farewell tour in 1982 (apart from a couple of one-off performances they wouldn’t tour again until 1989) Roger Daltrey found he had plenty of time on his hands to restart his acting career.  He’d already appeared in a handful of films during the seventies and early eighties (Tommy obviously, Listzomania and most notably McVicar) but during the mid to late eighties he really began to rack up the credits.  In Gentry (1988), Daltrey plays Colin, an East End gangster who clashes with the upwardly mobile Gerald and Susannah (Duncan Preston and Phoebe Nicholls).

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The gentrification of the East End of London is one of the obvious themes of this play.  The first few minutes shows us various well-heeled types (walking dogs, stowing golf clubs into their car) who have begun to infiltrate this once run-down area.  Gerald wants to be the next – although Susannah’s far from happy that he’s already bought a house (for just under one hundred thousand) without telling her.  When they discover the seller upstairs in the bath (very, very dead) it’s the first sign that their day is not going well …

Colin and his gang (Michael Attwell as Slatter, Tim Condren as Doug) are old-school criminals (Gerald, a solicitor, is also corrupt – but his criminality doesn’t involve violence).  Gerald may initially appear to be in control, but it’s not long before his pompous, self-important persona is pricked.  This is very apparent when Colin and the others come calling – it’s Susannah who remains calm whilst he rather goes to pieces.

The first part, concentrating on Gerald and Susannah, offers some amusing comic moments but it’s the arrival of Colin (initially concealed behind a scarf – masking his recent injuries) just before the first advert break which moves the story up several gears.  Daltrey offers a magnetic performance – alternating between charm and violence – and commands the screen whenever he’s on.  Attwell is amusingly over the top as the homicidal Slatter.

The lead performances of Daltrey, Preston and Nicholls ensures that Gentry holds the attention – the brief bond formed between Colin and Susanna (he’s pining for the old East End which she gently tells him has gone forever) is just one of several interesting areas developed.

Including a booklet featuring a foreword by Gentry director Roy Battersby and concise but insightful viewing notes by Billy Smart, The Crunch and Other Stories is an attractive package which showcases some of Nigel Kneale’s lesser-known works.  Recommended.

The Crunch and Other Stories is available now from Network and all good retailers.

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Agatha Christie on TV – My Top Six

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A recent post by Simply Media has inspired me to select my favourite Agatha Christie adaptations (due to the parameters of this blog I’ll concentrate on television only).

06. Peter Ustinov in Thirteen at Dinner (1985).  I’ve a lot of time for the 1980’s American Christie television movies.  They may take liberties with the source material (this one, for example, is updated to the present day – giving us the odd sight of Poirot guesting on David Frost’s chat show) but you can’t help but love Ustinov’s idiosyncratic and entertaining Poirot.

It boasts a wonderful guest cast – David Suchet as Japp!, Faye Dunaway in a duel role with Bill Nighy, Diane Keen, John Barron and Jonathan Cecil as the ever-loyal Hastings offering solid support.  Certainly well worth a look.

05. Francesca Annis and James Warwick in Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (1980).  Prior to the 1980’s, Agatha Christie adaptations on television were a rarity.  This was due to Christie and later on her estate not wishing to see her stories distorted (although given some of the, ahem, more interesting adaptations during recent years I guess the copyright holders now hold a more relaxed view).  Therefore the early 1980’s ITV adaptations were something of a trial run – with Poirot and Miss Marple off-limits, ITV had to scrabble around amongst the more obscure corners of Christie’s catalogue in order to prove that they could do her works justice.

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Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? isn’t classic Christie, but it’s a more than decent mystery.  Annis and Warwick, as Lady Frankie Derwent and Bobby Jones, team up nicely (a few years later they’d return to the world of Christie as Tommy and Tuppence Beresford).  Evans has another cast to die for – a pre-Marple Joan Hickson, James Cossins, Madeline Smith, Eric Porter and an amusing cameo from John Gielgud.  It’s maybe slightly too long, but it’s still very agreeable.

04. And Then There Were None (2013).  I may loathe Sarah Phelps’ adaptation of The Witness for the Prosecution with a passion, but there’s no denying that And Then There Were None is a quality production.  The main problem I have with Witness is that it’s mostly Phelps with very little Christie showing.  And Then There Were None is more recognisably Christie, albeit with a few tweaks.  An all-starish cast helps to bring to life one of her darker works.

03. The Moving Finger (1985).  Whilst the debate about the best Sherlock Holmes isn’t clear cut, surely there can’t be much of a question about who was the best Miss Marple?  In every respect Joan Hickson wipes the floor with her ITV counterparts (as well as Margaret Rutherford – a fine actress, but no Miss Marple).  If Hickson is first-rate, then so too are the twelve BBC adaptations she starred in.  All-film productions, with high production values, they just ooze class and style.

With Roy Boulting on directing duties and some fine performances (always a pleasure to see John Arnatt and Richard Pearson, amongst others) The Moving Finger is one of the best of the early Hickson Marples.  It may not be the most taxing mystery Christie ever wrote, but it has more nuanced characters that we sometimes saw – for example, the relationship between Gerry and Megan is an atypical touch.

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02. David Suchet in The Third Floor Flat (1989).  The Suchet Poirots were clearly following in the footsteps of the Hickson Marples with a similar glossy all-film style.  That Suchet managed to film the entire canon is laudable, although it’s a little sad that some of the later adaptations began to veer severely away from the originals.  Possibly this is why I’m most fond of the earlier runs which began by concentrating on Christie’s short stories.  It’s true that some of them are a bit thin (Christie’s early short stories can be fairly perfunctory in some respects) but the television versions are nicely bulked out thanks to the sympathetic adaptations.

01. Joan Hickson in The Body in the Library (1984).  Back to Hickson for her debut as Miss Marple, broadcast on BBC1 during Christmas 1984.  Sarah Phelps has recently restarted the tradition of a “Christie for Christmas” – hopefully her next one won’t be quite so depressing though.

Allo,Allo! fans will be able to spot a pre-Crabtree Arthur Bostrom, Jess Conrad is perfect as the pearly-white Raymond Starr, Andrew Cruickshank is an intimidating Conway Jefferson whilst David Horovitch and Ian Brimble begin their careers as Slack and Lake – two police officers destined to always be at least two steps behind the elderly spinster who may look harmless but possesses a mind like a steel trap.

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Minder – A Lot of Bull and a Pat on the Back

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Arthur, shrewd businessman that he is, is always happy to turn his hand to anything.  Repossess a bull for a couple of farmers?  No problem, especially when the fee is more than generous.  But when it turns out that Terry and Arthur were duped into a spot of bull rustling, Terry insists they reunite the bull with its rightful owner ….

Leon Sinden and Derek Benfield play Smith and Brown, the two farmers who ask Arthur to arrange the bull repossession. I’ve a feeling that they’re using false names (something which also seems to strike Arthur – although it doesn’t stop him from doing the deal).

As ever, Arthur’s optimism is a wonder to behold (he tells Terry that the bull in question is a totally domesticated beast). Further amusement can be derived from the cross-cutting between Arthur ‘s visit to a gentleman’s outfitters (in which he’s obtaining the best country clothes) and Debbie’s striking performance at the striptease club.

Before Terry and Arthur’s adventures in the countryside, Terry’s called upon to help Debbie (Diana Mallin). She’s concerned about a punter who’s been threatening the girls at the strip club where she works.  With Penny (Ginnie Nevinson) also making an appearance, Terry’s cup seems to be running over – although at present it’s plain that Penny’s the girl for him.

As Terry doesn’t spot anybody hassling Debbie, this part of the story doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, although it’s not not too surprising that we’ll come back to it later.

Despite Arthur’s claims to the contrary, you just know that he’s going to be totally adrift in the country (having to help herd a bull doesn’t help of course).  Some of the comedy might not be terribly subtle – Arthur stepping into a cowpat – but it still raises a smile, thanks to George Cole’s supremely wounded dignity.

It’s interesting to learn that Arthur’s slip-up was unscripted, but George Cole’s cowpat (or possibly bullpat) encounter was deemed to be far too good not to include.  If it hadn’t, then presumably it would turned up on numerous editions of It’ll Be Alright on the Night.

The first time we see the bull, it’s shot in close-up (and a touch of ominous incidental music helps to ramp up the tension a little more). Arthur, supreme coward that he is, suggests that it would be best if he stayed in the lorry (the country air isn’t doing his chest any good) but Terry’s adamant that he’s not getting the bull by himself.

It’s therefore ironic that Terry ends up doing all the work anyway whilst Arthur simply blunders about and then falls over (getting even muddier than he was before).

If you want to pick holes in the plot, then it’s strange that the bull was simply standing unprotected in a field, waiting for Terry and Arthur. Since there was nobody about, why didn’t Smith and Brown take the bull themselves? If they had then it would have saved them having to pay Arthur four thousand pounds. And it’s very unlikely that the story of the stolen bull would have made the front page of the Daily Mirror, even if was a very, very slow news day.  Also, Terry and Arthur manage to track down Smith and Brown with embarrassing ease (the countryside’s a big place after all).  And it’s odd that we never meet the bull’s owner (although had the subplot of Debbie not been included then there might have been time to do so).

Dave can always be called upon for a dry comment. When Arthur and Terry find out the bad news about the bull, Dave tells them that he still thinks rustlers can be hung ….

When Terry gets back to town, he finds Debbie in hospital. She looks pretty bad, although luckily the damage to her face is only superficial.  Diana Mallin plays this scene well (Debbie’s more concerned that her cat gets fed than she is about her own welfare).  Terry’s distraught. He promised to mind her and he blames himself for her injuries. Justice therefore demands that he catches up with Debbie’s attacker (and justice is served).

A Lot of Bull and a Pat on the Back revels in the seedier side of life, so there’s a number of scenes at the strip club where bare breasts are on display.  Unsurprisingly this has to led to the episode being somewhat cut whenever it turns up in the daytime schedules.

It’s a fairly simple story, but Cole and Waterman are on fine form, especially Cole. Arthur’s misadventures in the countryside are the highlight of another entertaining script from Tony Hoare.

Minder – Caught in the Act, Fact

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It’s not Terry’s day.  First of all Des cons him into delivering a car which is later used in an armed robbery.  But that pales into insignificance thanks to Arthur’s latest minding job.  It should be straightforward – accompanying Lady Margaret Thompson (Angela Browne) on a few odd jobs, such as a shopping trip to Harrods.  But after Terry is arrested for shoplifting he faces a court appearance.  Luckily Arthur offers his services as a character witness ….

Caught in the Act, Fact is an episode which sees Terry used as a fall-guy on multiple occasions.  Firstly, it’s Des who incurs his displeasure after the trusting Terry delivers a hot motor for him.  Terry’s about to inflict some serious damage on Des when Arthur appears.  After Terry explains why he’s about to dish out his own brand of summary justice, Arthur sorrowfully tells Des that what he did wasn’t very nice.  “I don’t want to be nice Arthur, I just want to be rich” replies Des, which doesn’t improve Terry’s temper!  Des later backtracks and claims this was a joke, but although he’s always been an affable and amusing character, Des is also a crook and it’s easy to believe he knew exactly what he was doing.

Arthur’s latest scheme is a beauty – goldfish for old clothes.  Arthur subcontracts Stevie (Colin Proctor) to go round the estate, collecting clothes from children in exchange for goldfish (“Old Clothes for Fish”).  This is ridiculous, even for Arthur, although you have to love the way he proudly shows off his goldfish to Terry. Terry agrees that, yes, they’re goldfish but Arthur’s ripsote is “goldmine, Terry. Goldmine”.

Arthur’s explanation as to why a goldfish would make the perfect pet is another priceless moment. “There is nothing wrong with a goldfish. It would be a good friend. Loyal, trusting, quiet. And the nice thing about them is if they start to give you any hump you can always flush them down the toilet”.

But Terry’s not interested in being a goldfish handler. Eventually he admits to a chortling Arthur that he doesn’t like the thought of touching them. Of course, had Terry taken the fishy job then he wouldn’t have got tangled up with Des. So for once sticking with Arthur would have been the safer option.

As Terry’s prints were found on the car, Chisholm is more than interested in him. Maybe Arthur hopes that minding Lady Margaret will take his mind off his problems.  Although Arthur can’t resist instructing his associate about exactly how he should behave when attending the gentry.  Terry tells him that he’ll be sure to tug his forelock every so often.

Lady Margaret’s story has some parallels to the real-life Lady Isobel Barnett, although this must have been a coincidence (albeit an eerie one, as Lady Isobel committed suicide in October 1980, a few days after being found guilty of shoplifting goods to the value of eighty seven pence.  This episode of Minder was recorded in August 1980 and broadcast in November 1980).

Although Arthur is told, off-screen, by Lady Margaret’s husband Harry (Glyn Houston) about her little “problem”, he doesn’t let Terry know. This is rather odd – when the pair meet up with Harry he assumes that Terry’s been fully briefed. Otherwise, how would he be able to spot the warning signs when Lady Margaret decides to pick up something without paying? He can’t, of course, meaning that Terry is forced to carry the can after Harry and Lady Margaret disown him.

When Terry finds himself in court, he needs all the friends he can get – and this is where Arthur comes in.  There are few more glorious sights than Arthur Daley in full flow and the tone is set from the moment he steps into the witness box.  “I swear by almighty god the evidence I give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, stand on me”.

When Des later tells Terry that Arthur did him a right turn in the courtroom, Dave counters with “gave him a right turn you mean”.  Tony Hoare’s script is typically sharp, with exchanges like this occurring throughout.

The sight of Arthur playing golf with Harry is another scenario that’s ripe with comic potential. And Arthur doesn’t disappoint, chuckling that there’s nothing wrong with him when Harry wonders what his handicap is. These scenes don’t advance the plot at all but they’re worth it for the sight of Arthur in his tartan bobble hat alone ….

On the trivia front, this episode sees the first appearance of DC Jones, although he’s played here by Ken Sharrock rather than Michael Povey. It’s also worth listening out for the phone call that Harry receives from Chisholm some thirty five minutes in. I don’t know who was on the phone, but it certainly wasn’t Patrick Malahide ….

Juggling three plotlines – the stolen car, fish for clothes and Lady Margaret – there’s certainly plenty going on. It’s a shame that Angela Browne doesn’t have more screentime, but that’s about the only drawback I can find in another strong script.