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

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.

Minder – All About Scoring, Innit

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When Arthur crosses paths with celebrity footballer Danny Varrow (Karl Howman) he spies a nice little earner.  Danny has a story to sell and if Arthur can locate Fleet Street’s finest – Ronnie Raikes (Antony Douse) – then he hopes he’ll be quids in.

Terry’s assigned to mind Danny, but he’s a wanted man.  Not only is he being pursued by Leo Rafferty (Sean Caffrey), a bookmaker who’s rather miffed that Danny’s been sleeping with his mistress Jenny (Adrienne Posta), but the shotgun-wielding Arklow (Forbes Collins) also wants a word …..

All About Scoring, Innit opens in the countryside, where the bucolic peace and quiet is shattered by Danny’s efforts to escape Arklow and his shotgun.  Subtle is not a word you could use to describe Forbes Collins’ performance here.

If the viewers were wondering exactly who Danny was, then the next scene neatly fills in the gaps.  Arthur holds up a paper in which Danny’s latest disappearing act is featured prominently.   Danny might be a talented footballer, but he’s equally as talented at drinking, gambling and chasing birds.  George Best is an obvious real-life parallel.  Unsurprisingly, Terry respects him (“one of the chosen, he is”) whilst Arthur is much less impressed (“he’s a muddied oaf”).  But once Arthur realises just how much money Danny makes – and how he may be able to cream a little off himself – his opinion changes ….

Although the story may be a little thin, the interaction between Arthur and Terry is so good that this really isn’t a problem.  There’s plenty of wonderful little moments spread throughout the fifty minutes, such as Terry’s desire to clock off so he can head over to Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea.  Arthur is affronted by this – who will unload his sporting goods?  Terry’s answer is brief and to the point.  “Balls”.

He elaborates. “Ping pong, for the playing of”.  After leaving Arthur holding a box of ping pong balls, it’s inevitable that the box is going to break and the balls will go everywhere.  Out of nowhere Arthur finds himself besieged by a gang of kids (“go on, go and play in the river”).

Next we see Arthur – preparing to enter the Winchester – observe a gang of football fans walking down the street.  Since they’re somewhat boisterous, he pops back into his car, pulls his hat over his eyes and waits for them to walk on by.  After they’re out of earshot he feels brave enough to call after them.  “Thickheads. Louts. Come back and try that again and I’ll push you through the wall”.  After he’s made his heroic gesture he spies an old woman standing in the street.  “The highway’s quite safe now madam, I’ve seen them on their way”.

Arthur walks into the Winchester, bemoaning that you can never find a copper when you want one.  He then wonders who originally said that. “G.H. Chesterton, wasn’t it? Or was it the Bard himself, George Bernard?”  Simply glorious.

There’s a chance to see the grimy reality of early eighties football since Minder was able to shoot at Stamford Bridge during an actual match.  This gives the story a little extra reality as we spy Terry standing on the heaving terraces.  It leads into another classic comedy moment as Terry incredulously spies his name on the scoreboard, requesting him to contact the office urgently.

A police sergeant (Bill Dean) has some bad news for him – his mother’s been run down by a green-line bus.  Terry takes the news rather calmly, indeed he’s so laid-back that when he notices Chelsea have scored he bemoans the fact that they couldn’t do so when he was watching them.  But he’s not really hard-hearted, as Terry’s mum has been resident at Kilburn Cemetery since 1967.  The sergeant (a wonderfully world-weary performance by Dean) is less than impressed by this hoax call and flings Terry out of the ground, which is exactly what Arthur wanted.

With all this going on, what should be the main plot – Danny’s troubles – somewhat pales into insignificance.  But although he somewhat plays second-fiddle, it’s still a decent portrait of the footballer-as-celebrity, something which was already fairly well established then (although nothing like nowadays of course).  He and Terry enjoy themselves in a luxury penthouse whilst they debate the ethics of professional sport.

Danny has no loyalty to anybody but himself.  This irritates Terry, who believes he should show some respect to his team-mates, his manager and the fans.  Danny is unrepentant though and the message seems to be that Danny can behave like he does because he has talent – if he didn’t then it wouldn’t be acceptable.  That’s questionable logic it has to be said.  It’s also interesting that Danny mentions he owes a considerable sum – five thousand pounds – to Rafferty.  For a modern footballer, that sort of money would be little more than loose change ….

Terry’s minding skills aren’t at their sharpest in this one – he nips off to the toilet, Danny opens the hotel-room door and is snatched by Rafferty’s goons.   Terry manages to track Danny down before he’s given a beating, but the imposing figure of Clifton Fields (George Sweeney) bars his way.  But once Clifton recognises Terry (they both boxed against each other in the old days) they suddenly become less interested in fighting and take a stroll down memory lane instead.

With Rafferty nullified, everything seems settled.  But then Arklow re-appears and Terry gets in the way of his shotgun blast.  But luckily (and somewhat unbelievably) he escapes with only a scratch.  This gives us yet another glorious Arthur/Terry moment as Arthur visits him in hospital.  Firstly, Arthur has a present for Terry (a pot-plant) which he declines.  No matter, Arthur will take it back home to Er Indoors.  Even better is when Terry fishes into Arthur’s bag for a grape.  No, he’s told – they’re for Er Indoors too.  The sight of Arthur calmly removing the single grape from Terry’s hand and replacing it in the bag is yet another classic comic moment from an episode that’s overflowing with them.

Minder – The Old School Tie

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Despite only having a few months left to serve on his five-year sentence, an old schoolfriend of Terry’s, George Palmer (Paul Copley), escapes from prison in order to prove his innocence.  Naturally enough, Terry offers to help him, but this decision puts those nearest to him in danger ….

The Old School Tie opens with yet another split in the Arthur/Terry relationship.  Terry’s been out of contact for a few days, doing a friend a favour, and Arthur’s incensed at his lack of consideration.  Terry’s equally irritated at Arthur’s controlling nature and tells him from now on he’ll find this own jobs.  Arthur has the last word.   “Modern bloody generation, you’re all the same. Give ’em a leg to stand on and they use it to kick you up the arse”.

The dynamic between Arthur, Terry and Dave is at the heart of this episode.  It’s revealed that Dave was the friend Terry did the favour for and because of this Terry asks him to shelter George.  Dave is reluctant – if the police find him then there’ll be trouble all round – although eventually he agrees.

But what’s really interesting is Arthur’s reaction.  When he learns that Terry was doing a job for Dave he seems to regret his earlier harsh words.  Other writers might have had Arthur demand payment from Dave for Terry’s services (Terry declined any money) but Jeremy Burnham didn’t go down this obvious route.  Arthur may often be painted as mercenary and self-seeking, but it does seem that friendship overrides all other concerns.

Yorkshire-born Paul Copley seemed to be struggling a little to master a London accent but he’s still effective as the mild and honourable criminal.  The early scenes between George and Terry waste no time in telling us that George is a career criminal (and was actually out on another job when he was arrested in error for the diamond blagging).

Terry therefore doesn’t see what George has to complain about – he might have been innocent of the crime he was sentenced for, but since he was guilty of many others then natural justice has been served.  Ironically this was no doubt the attitude held by many bent coppers and would have served as their justification for fitting up suspects.

George has a wife, Olive (Sherrie Hewson) who’s concerned about George, although she pretends not to be.  Olive’s brother, Harry (Derek Thompson), is also concerned, although for different reasons.  From the moment we first see Harry he’s operating in a very shifty fashion, making it plain that he knows more than he’s telling.   The later revelation that he was involved in the diamond blagging is not a very surprising revelation.

This is a much grittier and harder-edged episode of Minder than usual.  The two heavies, Billy (Ziggy Byfield) and Tommy (Nick Stringer), don’t look too different from similar characters who pop up most weeks, but the difference is that Billy and Tommy actually do some damage.

First they pay a visit to Debbie (Diana Malin), a stripper who’s staying at Terry’s flat for a few days.  She’s plainly terrified of them and would have no doubt told them everything she knew with only a little persuading, which makes the fact that we later see her with a badly bruised face somewhat disturbing.  Presumably they gave her a going over off-screen just for the fun of it.  Dave is also the recipient of an off-screen beating from them, although in his case it’s easier to imagine that he would have kept quiet until they started inflicting real pain.

Prior to visiting Dave, they’d called on Arthur.  It’s Arthur who gave George’s location away and later he admits this to Terry.  They didn’t physically attack Arthur – only damaged some of his stock in the lockup.  Arthur’s cowardice initially irritates Terry,  but again the scene’s played straight as Arthur tells Terry that he couldn’t have stood up to physical violence.  Terry instantly agrees and understands.

When Terry and George are captured by the baddies they too receive some punishment, although this happens on-screen for once.  Everything’s set up for the final reel as the cavalry – in the unlikely form of Rycott and Arthur – come riding to the rescue.  This was Peter Childs’ only S2 appearance, but he’s great value in each and every scene – especially the brief fight at the end.  As Arthur cowers in the doorway, Rycott steams in and smashes one unfortunate against the wall.  Ouch!

As ever, Arthur and Terry are reconciled.  I like the tag scene in which Arthur, blind drunk, asks Terry to drive him home.  When quizzed about how long he’s been in the pub, Arthur replies half an hour!  He’s clearly a fast drinker.

A refreshingly tougher story which ranks as one of the strongest from the second series.

Minder – Diamonds Are a Girl’s Worst Enemy

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Terry rates his latest minding job (a dog with a thirst for beer) as an all-time low.  So when Arthur dangles what appears to be a cushy number – driving a chap called Mr Lily around for a few weeks – he’s interested, although he’s also waiting for the inevitable catch.

When Mr Lily turns out to be Rose Mellors (Ann Lynn) certain alarm bells should have started to ring for him.  But it’s only when Rose’s car is stolen from under Terry’s nose that things really start to go awry.  Rose explains that she uses the car to courier stolen diamonds and that a consignment (worth £100,000) was in the car at the time.  The owner of the diamonds, Mr Tajvir (Zia Mohyeddin), gives Arthur, Terry and Rose a choice – the diamonds returned or they can expect their health to start deteriorating very quickly ….

Following her S1 appearance in Bury my Half At Waltham Green, Rose Mellors makes a welcome reappearance here.  As previously seen, Rose is the wife of a major criminal (currently enjoying a long stretch inside) and has clearly picked up some tips from him over the years.  For example, when Rose becomes the object of unwelcome attention from a hairy type at the local pool club, she’s quite prepared to give him a quick slap with his own cue to quieten him down.

For once, both Arthur and Terry are innocents – neither were aware that “Mr Lily” was actually Rose.  But given that their previous encounter with her was slightly bruising, it’s possibly not too surprising that she used an alias to begin with.  Arthur remains in the dark a little longer than Terry, which allows Terry to wind him up (telling him that Mr Lily enjoys dressing up in women’s clothes and also likes to give him a peck on the cheek).

The ever dependable John Ringham plays Harrison, an exasperated police officer who has to contend with Arthur (he’s come to the station to report Rose’s car as stolen and is insistent that the police do their duty).  This was a point in the series where the comedy would have been ramped up a little had there been a regular police face for Arthur to interact with (Harrison never appears again).

George Cole still entertains in these scenes though, as Arthur’s clearly not impressed with the efficiency of the modern police force.  “You’re not like the way you’re shown on the telly, I’ll tell you that.  There it’s one phone call after another, grab your hat and off.  Diving in and out of cars, bells ringing in all directions.  Book him Dano, Murder One. Here, it’s like rest time at the old folks home”.

Ringham is equally as good.  Harrison wonders why Arthur is so keen to assist Rose.  “In all my years I’ve never known you so much as help an old lady across the street unless you were paid for it”.  Lovely stuff, as is Arthur’s affronted reaction.  And whilst Arthur’s at the police station, Terry’s in bed with Rose.  He clearly believes in fiddling (as it were) whilst Rome burns ….

Tony Selby, as Rose’s hapless gofer Jack, also reappears from Bury My Half At Waltham Green, and his presence helps to inform the audience that Rose knows much more about this business than she’s letting on.

Not the most complex story that the series ever produced, but there’s plenty of entertaining dialogue along the way.  Although not all of it is connected to the matter in hand – for example, the banter between Arthur and Dave at the start of the episode.  Arthur is attempting to tell Dave a very funny story about a chimpanzee who goes into a pub, but finds his storytelling flow constantly interrupted by pointless questions from Dave (“was the chimp over eighteen?”).  Arthur manfully presses on, but since Dave beats him to the punchline it was hardly worth the effort!

Minder – All Mod Cons

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Terry and Arthur’s relationship is put under strain after Arthur attempts to sell Terry’s flat without his knowledge.  Further complications in the property game occur after Vickery (James Ottway) and his granddaughter Kate (Toyah Wilcox) ask Terry to evict several squatters from one of their properties.  But things aren’t as straightforward as they first appear ….

It takes a little while before the plot(s) of All Mod Cons kicks into gear.  First, we have the unusual sight of Arthur playing Space Invaders.  He doesn’t appear to be very good but things change a few minutes later after a couple of passing punters challenge him and Terry to a Space Invaders contest, with a hefty side-bet to make it interesting.

Were there really Space Invaders Sharks, like Pool Sharks?  It’s hard to believe, but once there’s money on offer Arthur suddenly becomes an expert, shooting aliens left, right and centre!  This doesn’t really ring true, but it’s amusing nonetheless.

Arthur’s ruthless side is on show after he offers Terry’s flat to McQueen (Michael Robbins).   True, if Terry does clear Vickery’s property of squatters then there’s a flat in it for him, but Arthur’s still motivated by pure self interest here.  And if Arthur is thinking of himself as usual, the more gullible Terry still shows Arthur a degree of loyalty he probably doesn’t deserve.

Terry’s girlfriend Helen (Annette Lynton) works at a swanky nightclub and after Terry, popping by to see her, easily deals with a couple of intoxicated toffs, the manager, Simon (Simon Cadell), has no hesitation in offering Terry a job.  It would mean good money and decent hours, but Terry declines, feeling obligated to Arthur.

It seems that Helen’s been on the scene for a while – plainly long enough for her to have formed a low opinion of Arthur and also to have expressed a wish for Terry to better himself. When Helen asks Terry what he’s going to be doing some ten or fifteen years down the line, it’s interesting that she’s echoing an enquiry made by Penny a few stories back.  “You’ll be older, slower and some young bloke will come along and cripple you for life”.

It has to be said that the well-spoken Helen seems to be somewhat out of Terry’s league and we can assume that Terry’s reluctance to break with Arthur severed their relationship.

Terry sums himself up.  “I’m as thick as two short planks, I’m generous when it suits and as for ambition … a three figure break at snooker would make me a happy man”.  He’s obviously being hard on himself, but there’s a kernel of truth here – Terry seems to have a fear of commitment, meaning that a steady job and a settled relationship with Helen isn’t something he desires, even if many others would.

Michael Robbins (best known for On The Buses of course) is good fun as McQueen, a plumbers merchant with a thriving business.  He’s interested in Terry’s flat for his niece (hmmm) and he’s also able to do Arthur a good turn (“Kevin, can you put Mr Daley’s bidet in his car. Midnight purple”).  McQueen later turns up at the Winchester with his shirt open to the navel, displaying both a generous amount of chest hair and a gold medallion.  Glorious!

When McQueen introduces his niece Shirley (Frances Low) to Arthur and Dave, it’s obvious that Dave knows Shirley.  But the way Dave mutters that he didn’t know McQueen and Shirley were related (and McQueen’s shifty expression) shows the bond they share isn’t a familial one. Further evidence can be heard later at Terry’s flat ….

The other part of the plot – Kate turns out to be collecting rent from the people she’s tagged as squatters without her grandfather’s knowledge – doesn’t quite hold water.  Since Kate turns out not to be the innocent girl she first appears (we later see she has no trouble in recruiting heavies) why didn’t she simply organise her own muscle to evict them?  This does lead to a pulsating fight between Terry and Kate’s heavies though – one of the best from the second series.

When Terry learns that his flat has been sold under his nose it sparks what appears to be an irrevocable split between him and Arthur.  Of course, we know this isn’t going to happen (Minder is a programme that has to hit the reset button at the end of every episode).  The way that Arthur frantically attempts to buy the flat from McQueen is clear evidence of his desperation to win Terry back, but this is another part of the story which doesn’t really work.  Even if Vickery’s property had been renovated and turned into flats, it would have been some time before any were ready for use.  So what would Terry have done until then?

Although Terry accepts a job at the nightclub, Simon’s corrupt ways disgust him and so he resigns.  Therefore after finding that the grass isn’t greener elsewhere he ends up back with Arthur and life goes on just as before.

A few gaps in logic aside, All Mod Cons is entertaining, if not stellar, fare.  But the number of familiar faces present – Michael Robbins, Toyah Wilcox, Simon Cadell, Mike Savage, Tony Osoba and Harry Towb – help to make up for this.

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Minder – A Nice Little Wine

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When Clive Stannard (Peter Jeffrey), a business associate of Arthur’s, is robbed by a prostitute in his hotel room, he’s convinced that Arthur’s set him up.  So Arthur and Terry have three days to find Stannard’s stolen money, otherwise Arthur will receive a beating from Billy Gresham ….

Arthur’s social climbing is always a wonderful source of comic material.  Stannard is a wine dealer and his erudite knowledge of the trade clearly impresses Arthur.  The sight of Dave acting like a wine waiter at the Winchester is something of a treat as is the scene where Arthur and Stannard pop round to Terry’s flat to drop off Arthur’s purchase.

Arthur can’t bring himself to admit that his business associate could possibly live in such a run down part of the city, so he tells Stannard that it’s simply Terry’s London address, where he stays for the odd day (he has a much more palatial property in the country).  Of course the sight of Terry in his dressing-gown, wondering why his living room is filling up with boxes of booze, rather punctures this picture, but to be fair to Terry he plays along.

The wine part of the story doesn’t really continue after the first ten minutes or so (apart from one later section and the tag scene).  Instead, the action switches to a reasonably palatial hotel where Stannard plans to spend a relaxing evening.  But when a note pushed under his door offers a discrete massage service, his plans change.  Bettina (Rachel Davies) is an alluring young lady, but she doesn’t stay for long – once she’s drugged and robbed Stannard there’s no reason to.

After setting up the reason for the plot, Stannard then drops out of the picture until the final few minutes.  And it’s interesting that although he tells Arthur that he’s got friends in low places (Billy Gresham) who are capable of handing out considerable punishment, we never actually see Gresham or any of his associates.  This means that although there’s a sense that the clock is ticking for Arthur, it’s never reinforced by anybody popping up to ram the point home.

If Bettina is a tart without a heart then Sandra (Lois Baxter) is a tart with one.  With Terry posing as a punter looking for a massage, she’s able to provide him with a link to Bettina.  Coincidentally, both Peter Jeffrey and Lois Baxter appeared in the same Doctor Who story (The Androids of Tara) although they don’t share a scene here.  Sandra is a prostitute purely out of necessity and, unlike Bettina, never robs her clients.

Terry tracks Sandra down to her house, where he meets her mother (played by Pam St. Clement) and one of her sons.  Everyone is clearly unaware of her double-life and Baxter exudes a touching vulnerability as Sandra asks Terry if he’d like to come out for a drink sometime.  He does ring her later on, but when her mother tells him that she’s out working he takes it no further.  A nice, bittersweet moment.

When Terry poses as a guest in the same hotel where Stannard was robbed, the porter George (Ron Pember) decides he must be part of the wine conference and points Terry in the direction of the tasting.  This part of the story feels a little contrived – Terry hardly looks like a wine buff, plus it’s rather a coincidence that, given the theme of the episode, a tasting is taking place right under Terry’s nose.  No matter, as it leads into another strong comedy scene where Terry holds his own amongst the erudite connoisseurs.

But possibly the funniest moment of A Nice Little Wine occurs when Terry and Arthur’s investigation leads them to a dodgy shop in Soho.  Terry goes inside to”persuade” the staff to tell him where Bettina is whilst Arthur remains in the car.  So far, so good, but he’s parked on a double-yellow line which irritates a passing policeman (played by Davyd Harries).  Arthur claims that a migraine has made him unable to move the car and every time he witnesses a spot of violence coming from the shop it gives him an authentic twinge.  George Cole is as good here as you’d expect, and whilst it seems more than a little unlikely that the copper wouldn’t twig something odd was going on, they just about manage to get away with it.

A Nice Little Wine is packed with familiar faces.  We’ve already seen the likes of Ron Pember and Pam St. Clement, whilst Burt Kwouk also pops up as another of Bettina’s victims.  Cyd Child might be less of a household name (she plays Bettina’s flatmate) but the reason for her presence – she was an experienced stuntwoman, doubling for Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson on The Avengers – becomes clear after Terry and Arthur attempt to retrieve the money from Bettina.  This they do, but only after the girls put up something of a fight.

Patrick Malahide appears for the third time (and the first during S2) as Chisholm.  At this point in the series the character clearly wasn’t viewed as a potential regular, as his part is limited to turning up and carting off the unfortunate Stannard, who therefore turns out to be just as big a crook as Arthur.

Stanley Price’s sole script for the series (during the 1970’s he was a writer in demand – penning a number of film screenplays, including Gold, Shout at the Devil and Golden Rendezvous) is a most agreeable episode.  Not the finest vintage that the series produced, but not unpalatable either.

Minder – The Beer Hunter

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Arthur’s reunion with Yorkie (Brian Glover), an old pal from his army days, doesn’t go to plan after Yorkie disappears following a night of drunken revels. This means that Arthur and Terry have a race to find him before his wife, Dora (Pat Ashton), arrives from Rotherham …

The sight of Cole and Glover, drunkenly singing off-key, is an early episode highlight. Arthur and Yorkie have clearly been having a good evening, Terry less so. He’s been dozing in Arthur’s car, waiting to pick them up and drive them home.

The sight of Terry in an expensive motor catches the eye of a passing policeman but although there’s a brief moment of tension when Terry admits he doesn’t know the registration, the officer accepts his story and walks on by.

Yorkie’s presence helps to shade in a little of Arthur’s backstory.
We learn that Arthur’s military career was far from distinguished, but possibly Yorkie was the key to his survival anyway. Arthur tells Terry that Yorkie was “my best mate in the Army. I would go to hell and back again on my hands and knees for Yorkie”.

Did he operate pretty much as Terry does now, as a minder, keeping Arthur safe from his fellow soldiers? It’s easy to imagine Arthur back then running various dodgy schemes and if Yorkie did have his back it makes sense why Arthur now feels indebted to him. It would also explain Terry’s presence today- a Yorkie substitute, if you will.

Naturally, it doesn’t take long before Willis Hall’s script undercuts Arthur’s drunken reminisces of heroic endeavour (lovely playing, as usual, by Cole). Terry reminds him that he wasn’t called up until 1949! It quickly becomes clear that Arthur spent most of his service time propping up the bar, but it’s entirely characteristic that over the decades he’s rewritten this humdrum chapter of his life into something much more impressive.

We get a close encounter with ‘Er ‘Indoors – possibly about the nearest she ever came to making an onscreen appearance. As Arthur, propped up in bed, makes an early morning phone call to Terry, we see and hear the curtains being quickly drawn back (causing Arthur a momentary spasm of pain) followed by the slam of the bedroom door. Two off-screen moments which suggest his better half is not amused.

Carlos Douglas plays the imaginatively named Carlos, one of the hotel staff at Yorkie’s seedy hotel (Janine Duvitski is another) . He’s probably best known for playing the equally imaginatively-named Carlos in Duty Free. An uncredited Phil Rose (Friar Tuck from Robin of Sherwood) makes a brief appearance whilst Harry “Aitch” Fielder pops up as one of the patrons in the Winchester – if his face is instantly recognisable then, like me, you’ve clearly watched far too much old television …

The mystery of Yorkie’s disappearance isn’t a mystery for long. He’s ended up in the bed of a prostitute called Renee (Georgina Hale). Hale had previously appeared in Budgie (scripted by Willis Hall and Keith Waterhouse) which might explain her presence here. Hale’s acting style has always been unique – thanks to her drawling delivery – and she’s typically entertaining here, as poor Yorkie wakes up to find he’s lost his trousers and Renee does her best to help him.

A later highlight has to be when Arthur interferes with a school rugby match – he picks up the ball and runs off, pursued by the pack of kids! Arthur subsequently compares himself to Gareth Edwards, although Terry thinks Jimmy Edwards is nearer the mark. And Arthur’s earlier comment, as he runs onto the rugby pitch (“don’t you speak to me like that! I used to play for the All Browns!”) is another wonderful line from an episode packed with first-class comic moments.

Yorkie’s hero-worship of Arthur is also developed as the episode progresses – he tells the disinterested Renee that Arthur’s got more cars than British Leyland. This sort of dog-like devotion might also explain why Arthur enjoyed having him around during their service days.

There’s some other lovely performances scattered throughout – Alan David as a chef who’s obsessed with hats that don’t stand proud, for example – and although The Beer Hunter does feel at times like a series of vignettes, there’s plenty to enjoy in this densely-packed script, not least the wonderful performance by Brian Glover. The sight of Glover hiding in a Wendy House is just one treat amongst many.

Minder – Not a Bad Lad, Dad

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Terry’s latest minding job is an unusual one – a nine-year old boy called Peter (Warren O’Neill) who might possibly be his son ….

Given that Terry’s something of a bird magnet, it would be surprising if he didn’t have a few children dotted around that he knows nothing about.  Could Peter be one of them?  When his mother, Beryl (Sharon Duce), leaves him in Terry’s care, he’s certainly left with that impression.

Even this early in the story, the viewer might have a few questions – firstly why has Sharon come back into Terry’s life after so many years? It’s also very strange that she dumps her son on Terry’s doorstep and then disappears (although she does keep a watching brief, hidden around the corner).

Arthur’s not happy.  Peter’s a distraction who could blunt Terry’s effectiveness and this concerns Arthur greatly.  As the series progressed over the years, the rough edges of the characters were gradually smoothed down, but this is very much the early, selfish Arthur – a man who only thinks of himself and is quite happy to manipulate others to achieve his ends, no matter what the consequences might be.

Early on, he tells Terry that it’s unnatural for him to imagine he could be a father. “I’m referring to your erratic lifestyle, your total lack of ambition, your cavalier attitude to matters domestic. It don’t exactly make you odds on favourite for the fatherhood stakes”. Arthur’s advice about Peter is stark (“dump him”). Not in the river, he qualifies, but down at the social.

Tony Hoare’s script offers a change of pace for the series as we see Terry slowly adjusting to the possibility of being a father (although Peter’s under the impression that Terry’s his uncle).  As the episode progresses it’s plain that he’s doing all he can to entertain the boy – games of football and trips on the river – but the negative aspects of Terry’s personality surface from time to time.

Peter’s a lad with attitude, best demonstrated when he gets into a mild fracas with a couple of older youths (Terry’s been forced to take him along to his bouncer’s job at the local pub).  Terry attempts to draw a line under events with his usual diplomatic skill.  “Shut your mouth, sonny or I’ll squeeze all your pimples. Now on your bike, both of you!”  The lads don’t take the hint though and when one of them wonders if Peter will grow up to be as big a pillock as his uncle, Terry responds in the only way he knows how – violence.

We’ve seen Terry hand out similar punishments on numerous previous occasions, but due to Peter’s presence this feels somewhat different.  The way that Peter looks at him afterwards is a telling moment – suggesting that Terry’s world of violence disturbs him. It’s an interesting touch that as Terry and Peter look at each other, the ambient sound fades away. This helps to make the moment seem a little more claustrophobic (the fact that Terry is unable to hold Peter’s gaze is notable too).

Giving Terry a son (even if he didn’t appear in every episode) would certainly have changed the dynamic of the series.  If they’d been thinking ahead, making him a teenager would have meant he could eventually have taken over from Terry (as it was, the family tradition was maintained from the Daley side, with young Ray).  But since Minder was never a series with continuing threads, it’s no real surprise when Beryl’s husband, Ronnie (Dicken Ashworth), turns up, with Beryl not too far behind, both intent on reclaiming their boy.

If Ashworth’s size wasn’t enough to create a sinister impression, there’s also a sprinkling of stock music which helps to hammer this point home. Whenever Ronnie appears he’s accompanied by ominous-sounding music which tells us he’s a man who’s no stranger to violence. We’re never in any doubt that Terry will be able to deal with him (they have a cracking fight though) but Beryl and Peter’s fate is less certain.

The ending didn’t please everybody (one correspondent to the TV Times complained that it was “a poor man’s Kramer vs Kramer with slow motion and sentimental music”).  I’ve never minded it too much, although it’s easy to see why it wasn’t to everyone’s taste.

Beryl’s manipulation of Terry (raising his hopes for a while that Peter was his child) does seem somewhat cruel, although since Ronnie is a man who’s been violent to both his wife and son on numerous occassions, it’s not surprising that she’s acting a little erratically. But if Peter’s speaking the truth when he tells Terry this is the first time he’s left Warrington, how has Beryl coped on all the previous occassions when Ronnie became agressive?

Apart from a few quibbles about the script and the oversentimental ending, Not A Bad Lad, Dad engages, thanks to the partnership of Dennis Waterman and Warren O’Neill.

Minder – Don’t Tell Them Willie Boy Was Here

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Boxer Willie Reynolds (Paul Barber) has returned to the UK for a comeback fight.  Terry is assigned to be his minder and, after a few early disagreements, also agrees to coach him back to winning ways …

Paul Wheeler’s script may be rather predictable, but the journey is pleasant enough.  It’s fairly obvious that although Willie starts off as deeply antagonistic towards Terry (viewing him as little more than a hired help) they’ll form a bond over time.  No doubt Terry (who could have been a contender) sees more than a little of himself in Willie – a man at the mercy of others, especially his manager Barney Mather (Alfred Marks, on fine form as usual).

The opening – a chat show with Willie and Jackie Collins (playing herself) – is an unusual touch for Minder.  Although it doesn’t quite work, it’s a useful dramatic device as it helps to quickly show us that Willie is something of a loudmouth and braggart (dubbed “The Mersey Mouth” – no doubt a tribute to Muhammed Ali’s nickname of “The Louisville Lip”).  Jackie Collins isn’t called upon to do a great deal except gaze adoringly at Willie and ask him if he’d be interested in a part in her new film, Black Stud.  A sequel to The Stud no doubt.

Undoubtedly best known for playing the hapless Denzil in Only Fools and Horses, Paul Barber’s credits stretch back to the mid seventies.  One of his first regular television roles was as Malleson in Gangsters, in which Tania Rogers (who here plays Willie’s wife, Ruth) also appeared.  Barber’s good value as the arrogant Willie, managing to put a little meat on the bones of what is a rather two-dimensional character (an over-the-hill fighter who’s concerned he now lacks the killer instinct).

This is a Terry-centric episode, although Arthur does get a few moments to shine.  Arthur’s surprisingly hard-edged at times – tipping a pint over a young man (played by Jesse Birdsall) at the Winchester for example.  It’s also one of the rare episodes where Arthur ends up on top (having made a nice little bundle after betting on Willie to win).

I love Arthur’s monologue to Terry, where he bemoans the state of the country.  “It’s dog eat cat in this world today. I mean I often wonder to myself what has happened to all the smiling bus-conductors or the service you used to get? Whatever happened to flying boats?” Out of all the things from the past to hanker for, flying boats was a very leftfield choice.

Barney’s first meeting with Arthur is a treat.  Arthur’s offered a cigar (“made in Japan? What will they think of next?”).  The sight of him spluttering on his Japanese cigar after taking a few puffs is a lovely one (George Cole milks the scene for all its worth).

Arthur may consider himself to be a shrewd businessman, but he’s an amateur compared to Barney, whose sense of PR is firmly on show when he organises a couple of attractive girls (one played by future Allo Allo! star Vicki Michelle) to pose with Willie.  “Teeth and tits” is what Barney requires from them (their t-shirts, emblazoned with “I like Willie” is a classy touch).  Within a few minutes we’ve had plenty of evidence that Barney is a monster and Alfred Marks, a vision in his check suit, seems to be having a ball playing him.

Another familiar face can be spotted when Willie and Terry head out to the disco.  Imogen Bickford-Smith (Fawlty Towers/Doctor Who) plays the object of Willie’s unwelcome attention.  The music chosen for the disco scene is very odd – it’s supposed to be 1980, so you’d have assumed the young people would have been grooving to the latest New Wave hits.  Instead, they’re jiving to a piece of library music dating from 1971 – Atomic Butterfly by Barry Stoller – which sounds incredibly out of place ….

After Willie’s sparring partner twists his ankle, you just know that Terry’s going to volunteer to take his place.  And so he does.  It’s also less than surprising that Terry easily manages to get the best of an out-of-condition Willie.  Dennis Waterman’s in his element here, with no doubles being required.

The fact that Willie eventuality triumphs against all the odds does seem a little unrealistic, but it does ensure a suitably feel-good ending.  But before we get to that point we have the obligatory training scenes – the Rocky theme would have been the perfect accompaniment, but we have to make do with the Minder theme instead!

Barney, concerned about Terry’s influence over Willie, fires him.  Terry leaves Willie with something to think about.  “We never did sort out your punching problem, did we champ? But I’ll tell you what to do. You have a look around you. ‘cos these nice gentlemen here are using your skin to make a packet. Go on, you have a good look. And when Jack Straw starts hurting you, you remember their faces”.

Don’t Tell Them Willie Boy Was Here might be slightly corny, but the two leads (as well as the strong guest cast) aren’t pulling their punches, leaving us with a convincing win.

Minder – You Lose Some, You Win Some

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Professional gambler Maurice Michaelson (Anthony Valentine) has organised a group of ordinary punters who, under his instructions, intend to make a killing at the roulette table. Unfortunately for Maurice, casino boss Parsons (Leslie Schofield) is keeping tabs on him, which makes it essential he protects his team from Parsons’ intimidating ways.

Ever the good Samaritan, Arthur suggests that Terry’s flat would be the ideal place to keep them safe, although Terry – who had planned to spend some quality time alone with Penny (Ginnie Nevinson) – needs a little convincing ….

Following on from his S1 appearance in Aces High and Sometimes Very Low, Anthony Valentine makes a welcome return as Maurice (although sadly this would be the last we’d see of him).

Maurice has assembled together a mixed group of individuals who include the lovely Beth Morris as Jackie, the imposing Peggy Thorpe-Bates (probably best known as the long-suffering “She” – wife to Leo McKern’s Horace Rumpole) as Mrs Beecham and Ronald Leigh-Hunt (a very familiar television face) as Major Lampson.  And after appearing, uncredited, in Gunfight at the O.K. Laundrette, Lynda Baron has a more substantial role – here she plays Sadie, a friend of Maurice’s long-suffering wife Maureen (Lesley Joseph).

Penny’s disdain for Arthur, and his manipulation of Terry, is made plain.  She tells Terry that “you never make any plans, you just drift around letting that Arthur con you out of your hard-earned wages”.  And when Arthur calls round to Terry’s flat, her antipathy is even more pronounced.  After she angrily tells Arthur that he needs Terry more than Terry needs him, Arthur responds derisively (George Cole on great form here).

Terry is adamant that he’s not interested in Arthur’s latest minding job, but it would be a rather short episode if that was the case.  So when Arthur mentions that there’s six hundred pounds in it for him, Terry starts to waver.  Arthur then explains the mathematics to him.  “Look, my agreement with Maurice is 10% of his 50%.  He reckons they can clear five grand a night, work it out for yourself.  No maybe not”.  For once it appears that Arthur’s not diddling him, Arthur’s 10% would work out as £1,500.00 – 60% for him and 40% for Terry.  Although you might want to wait until the end to see if Arthur keeps his word.

Once Terry’s togged out in a nice suit provided by Arthur (at a price of course) he’s able to start protecting his charges, although the odds seem to be against him.  How can he look after six people when they all go their separate ways at the end of the night?  This leads them to bunk up at Terry’s (luckily Arthur’s got a consignment of sleeping bags from the last Everest expedition!).  Poor Terry, he’s no match for Arthur.

There’s some nice comic moments during this section – from the Major’s bitter comment that he was more comfortable out in Kenya, fighting the Mau Mau, to Penny’s forced politeness as she takes the drinks order (tea, coffee and either a cocoa or hot chocolate, if possible).  Penny’s quiet week with Terry has suddenly become very crowded ….

When Terry sets out to find Maurice’s wife, Maureen (who’s disappeared) it’s Arthur who’s left in the flat, minding the punters.  He later bitterly remarks that even ‘Er ‘Indoors would be preferable to this.  There’s another lovely scene when Arthur attempts to wake Penny, who is occupying the sleeping bag next to him.  In her sleepy state she mistakes him for Terry and prepares to give him a fond embrace.  He mutters “geroff” whilst she reacts in horror once she wakes up!

Anthony Valentine’s on fine form as usual (since there was clearly more mileage in Maurice, it’s odd that he never appeared again).  Stock music makes an unwelcome comeback (it’s rather strident and electronic) as Terry and Maurice attempt to find Maureen.  And when Maurice finds himself getting a beating from Parsons’ goons there’s a touch more stock music (this time it all goes a bit funky).

Although the casino stuff is entertaining (especially when Terry tangles with – and bests – Parsons) the hunt for Maureen is a little less involving.  Not quite top tier then, but with a cast of familiar faces and Terry’s relationship with Penny placed under extreme pressure, the episode zips along nicely.

Minder – Whose Wife Is It Anyway?

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When Arthur’s friend Alex Brompton (David Daker) is hospitalised after a hit-and-run accident, Arthur asks Terry to mind Alex’s antique shop.  It’s fair to say that Terry doesn’t hit it off with Jim (Alun Lewis), the shop’s co-owner and Alex’s partner ….

Tony Hoare’s script is very much of its time.  After meeting Jim, Terry’s convinced that he’s an iron (iron hoof = poof).

Terry: Listen, if you think I’m spending time in the same pad as that, you’ve got another think coming.
Arthur: What are you talking about, what’s wrong with him?
Terry: Leave it out, can’t you see?
Arthur: See? What is there to see? A perfectly charming young man. I mean he may not be one of the chaps …
Terry: Arthur, the geezer is a raving iron.
Arthur: Don’t be ridiculous, an iron?
Terry: Do I have to scream it?
Arthur: How’d you know he’s a poofter? How can you tell?
Terry: I can tell, believe me! Go on have another look. Don’t make it too obvious, eh?

Terry’s a thoughtful lad in other ways though, best demonstrated when he visits his gran (Molly Veness) to wish her a happy birthday.  Arthur pops by later with chocolates and flowers with the result that his presents end up overshadowing Terry’s own efforts!  Terry’s suitably narked although Arthur is defensive (“I didn’t know you bought her flowers as well”).  It’s a nice comic moment, even if it seems a little unlikely – after all Arthur only came by to pick up Terry, surely he’s too much of a tightwad to splash out on gifts for Terry’s gran for no good reason?

Back at the antiques shop, Terry tells Arthur that he’s “got nothing against irons, I just don’t want to live with one”.  Arthur tells him not to worry and if Jim does try any funny business “tell him you’re sorry but you’re normal.  Say it’ll upset your mum or something like that”.  Given that Jim’s somewhat effete, Terry hardly needs to worry about having to fight him off – it’s more that Terry is worried about his reputation.  What happens when it becomes known on the manor that he’s living with an iron?

Arthur finds it difficult to believe that his friend Alex (who he calls a real “man’s man”) could be involved with Jim.  But it quickly becomes plain that he is, which makes sense of his earlier comment that Jim’s his partner (not just in the business sense then) and that he’s no longer living with his wife.

Ironically, although Terry is uncomfortable around Jim whilst Arthur’s there, when Terry and Jim are by themselves (and especially after Terry’s enjoyed Jim’s cooking) he appears to be much more relaxed – although this may just be his professional instinct kicking in (possibly Alex’s injuries weren’t accidental and they may be connected to the apparent threats made against the shop).

Although the comedy and attitudes are politically incorrect (to say the least) there’s some undeniably funny moments.  When Jim and Terry visit a gay bar (although Terry seems to be totally oblivious about this) Terry runs into an acquaintance, Chas (David Auker), who congratulates him on his new choice of partner.  Terry’s not impressed ….

Even better is the moment when Jim comes into Terry’s room and wakes him up to apologises for his off-hand attitude.  He promises that things will be different from now on and lays a friendly hand on Terry’s knee.  This, of course, is the moment when Arthur chooses to walks in (George Cole’s expression is priceless!).

Tony Hoare wrote some of Minder‘s best episodes, but Whose Wife Is It Anyway? doesn’t fall into this category.  If the story been made today then probably Arthur and Terry would have been called upon to confront their prejudices.  This doesn’t happen here, meaning that their opinions (that gays are unnatural as well as predatory – always on the lookout to convert straight men) remain unchallenged.

Alun Lewis chose to play Jim in a low-key manner, rather than as a raving queen, which given some of the material was probably the right move – although this does mean that he ends up as a somewhat pallid character who never really engages.  The mystery part of the story feels rather tagged on as well.

But there’s a decent roof-top punch-up towards the end, featuring a heavy who’s concerned about the way that Terry’s grabbing his hair (“Please, I’ve only recently had a transplant. Would you mind not pulling it so hard?”).  An interesting time-capsule of the period then, but not one of the series’ best efforts.

Minder – National Pelmet

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Terry is far from impressed with his latest minding job – a racehorse called Pelmet – but the sight of its attractive jockey, Jocelyn Maxwell-Saunders (Liza Goddard), softens the blow somewhat ….

National Pelmet, scripted by Willis Hall, was the first episode of Minder‘s second season and was originally broadcast on the 11th of September 1980.  It opens at a racecourse and after a couple of minutes of horsey colour we see Arthur and Terry emerging from a marquee.  Naturally, Arthur has entered into the spirit of things – he’s an absolute vision. decked out in wellingtons, binoculars, walking stick and a bow-tie.

Early on, the Arthur/Terry dynamic seems firmly slanted in the older man’s favour.  Arthur rubbishes Terry’s choice of a horse (“Lily Law?”) and advises him to stick his money on Spring Return.  Terry does so and it’s utterly predictable that Spring Return refuses the first fence whilst Lily Law (with Jocelyn onboard) romps home to an easy victory.

Arthur being Arthur, of course, is completely unabashed after leading Terry astray.  “If you have a fancy, a feeling in your water, stick to it. You shouldn’t listen to me, you should be strong-willed in this world, Terry. Implacable, like me”.

Arthur has two gross of 100% genuine reproduction statuettes of Milton (“Paradise Lost, Paradise Got Back”) and believes that his well-healed contact Jeremy Burnham-Jones (Robert Swann) will be able to help him shift them (Jeremy has an antiques shop in Brighton).   And since Jeremy has a racehorse called Pelmet which he wants protected before the big race, Arthur sees a way to kill two birds with one stone.

En-route to Brighton on the train, there’s a telling non-verbal moment which suggests that Terry’s not always going to be a pushover.  Arthur and Terry visit the buffet car and Arthur asks for a couple of light-ales and sandwiches.  After Arthur’s been told the price, he looks encouragingly at Terry who ignores him, forcing Arthur to find the money himself.  This is very underplayed – there’s no outward change in either of their expressions – but it’s a good character moment nonetheless.

As they settle back into their seats, Arthur – always a nostalgic – bemoans the fact that luxury rail travel is now a thing of the past.  At one point, he tells Terry, all the famous theatrical knights would be on the London to Brighton train – but not any more.  “Can you see Johnny Gielgud, Sir Johnny Gielgud no less, with his light ale slopping around in his plastic beaker while he stuffs an individual fruit pie into his north and south?”  Simply glorious.

There’s plenty of comedy to be mined from Terry’s reluctant guarding of Pelmet – from the fact that the horse is rather flatulent, to the way that Terry accidentally eats food prepared for one of the other horses (which has a dose of laxatives included!)  It’s not subtle but it passes the time nicely enough.  Indeed, National Pelmet is a story that’s low on incident and action – we’re more than thirty minutes in before the mysterious stranger who’s been keeping tabs on the stables – Brickett (Ken Hutchinson) – makes a move and attacks Terry.

The ensuing fight is brief but thanks to the combination of straw from the stable and an overturned lamp, it creates a fire which wakes everybody up and moves the story up a gear.  But it later becomes clear that this is something of a cheat – Brickett isn’t interested in Pelmet, he’s the ex-husband of stable-girl Rita (Jane Carr) and although they’re now divorced he’s still following her around the country, attacking anybody who even speaks to her.

From the first time we meet her, Rita is clearly shown to be interested in Terry, but he’s utterly dismissive of her.  Given Terry’s insatiable interest in the opposite sex this is a little difficult to fathom – possibly Rita was written as a more dowdy character but as Jane Carr isn’t unattractive and plays Rita as a perfectly pleasant young woman it makes Terry’s indifference and cutting remarks seem rather cruel.

When Terry and Rita confront Brickett, it gives her the chance to explain exactly what the situation is – which she does most forcibly.  Carr delivers this impassioned monologue very well (Rita’s ex-husband turned overnight from a normal chap into a religious maniac) although this sudden lurch into drama seems a little out of place with the light-hearted tone of the rest of the episode.

You might have expected that Jocelyn, especially given the casting of Liza Goddard, would have played a larger role in the story but she’s somewhat of a peripheral figure.

It doesn’t take a mind-reader to guess what will happen when, towards the end of the story, Arthur confidentially predicts that Pelmet is a dead-cert.  This time Terry is wiser (especially after having witnessed Jeremy placing all his money on the second favourite) and puts his bet elsewhere.  Jocelyn falls off (a blatant dive) which means that Arthur’s lost a bundle whilst Terry’s emerged ahead for once.

When we learn that Jeremy and Jocelyn are an item, all becomes clear.  This surprises Terry who’d tagged Jeremy as gay (Terry’s hostility towards anybody he considers to be “queer” is one of his less attractive traits in these early stories).  It’s slightly unexpected that Jocelyn turned out to be a wrong ‘un, but since she wasn’t too developed a character it’s not the jolt it could have been.

Arthurs’ incurable optimism can be seen at the end, in my favourite scene from the story.  Arthur’s still lumbered with his Milton statuettes but he has a plan – paint them blue and white and they can be sold as Chelsea footballers!  When Terry points out that Milton’s a famous poet with a book in his hand, Arthur has a ready answer.  “FA handbook, innit?”

Possibly not the tightest script that Minder ever had, but Willis Hall’s first contribution managed to easily nail the Arthur/Terry relationship and if that’s right then it’s possible to forgive a slightly humdrum story.

The Bill – Bad Faith

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Bad Faith opens with Carver and Dashwood on the hunt for a suspect called Warren Michaels (Anthony Lennon).  Michaels lives on a typical inner-city estate – complete with burnt out cars, barking dogs and a general air of oppression.  Dashwood spots his prey and both he and Carver give chase down numerous flights of stairs.

Michaels trips and gashes his head, which obviously creates a bad impression once other people start to take notice of the melee.  The sight of an injured young black man being roughly handled by two white police officers generates a brief moment of tension.  This is clear when Carver tells the gathering crowd that they’re the police, only to realise a second later that this statement might not necessarily diffuse the situation.  And the onlookers aren’t troublemakers, they’re a small crowd of solid citizens (both black and white) faced with a scene which will probably reinforce their low opinions of the police force.

There’s a disorientating sense to the early part of this episode, reinforced when Michaels is brought to the station, as Frank Smith’s direction favours unusual low shots.  Dashwood tells Michaels that he’s a suspect in a murder case, although that doesn’t prove to be the case – it’s simply a ruse designed to unsettle him.

When Burnside joins the fun then the tension ramps up another few notches.  Michaels is nervous and twitchy, but Burnside ruthlessly overrides his request for a solicitor.  The interview, conducted in something of an ad hoc manner, also doesn’t seem to be recorded.  Dashwood later explains to Carver that “boys like this want us to give them a good hiding, gives them status, martyrdom.”  Cryer, overhearing the conversation, mutters that Dashwood is beginning to sound more and more like Burnside.

Dashwood and Cryer are plainly placed in opposition here.  Dashwood is keen to nail Michaels for a series of burglaries but admits that without clear evidence they’re dependent on an incriminating statement from him – so he sees nothing wrong in pushing as far as he possibly can.  And with a rising crime rate (allied to pressure for convictions) it’s a point of view that’s no doubt shared by many of his colleagues.

Cryer operates in a different field.  If the plain clothes branch deal with detection, then the uniform police are more concerned with prevention and maintaining law and order in general.   Cryer’s comment that Dashwood was a good PC indicates that he’s changed after switching “sides” although this could be taken as an inevitable consequence.

Carver, younger and more idealistic, attempts to see both sides.  Unlike Dashwood he views most of the residents on the estate as ordinary people trying to do the best they can.  If they demonize them or make the estate a no-go area then it’s only going to inflame the situation.  Will Jim manage to retain his optimism or will the system crush him?  Only time will tell.

After someone nicks the tyres from Dashwood’s car (and then drops a fridge on it for good measure!) the episode ends in confusion.  We never find out whether Michaels was guilty or innocent, although the inference seems to be that Dashwood’s been wasting his time and energy in the wrong place.  What’s certain is that police/community relations have suffered something of a knock.