Blakes 40 – Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch: Series One, Episodes Five to Seven

The Web

The Web has a rather creepy opening – albeit somewhat negated by the sight of Saymon. Poor Richard Beale has a pretty thankless role to play during this story – but although visually Saymon is a bit of a disaster, Beale (always a very decent voice actor) impresses whenever we don’t see too much of the silly body in the tank (as above, close-ups are quite effective though).

Odd that Michael E. Briant chose to reveal Saymon so early on. Presumably he felt that it was best to get it out of the way ….

The first half of the story is Liberator bound. There’s a healthy dose of bickering and character conflict which, as always, is rather entertaining. Gan and Avon briefly team up (Avon is very sarcastic towards Gan) whilst Jenna seems to relish bringing Cally to her senses via a good hard slap! The controlled Cally’s gleeful smile as she advances on an unsuspecting Vila is another nice touch.

It feels slightly contrived that Cally’s only been onboard the Liberator for a short time before mystical legends from her past start calling to her. But on the plus side, it does raise the possibility (quickly negated, though) that Blake’s judgement was flawed when he asked her to join the crew. Having Cally as an unpredictable character for a few episodes could have been the spur for some decent character development – but it wasn’t to be.

The Decimas may, like Saymon, look rather silly, but elsewhere Miles Fothergill and Ania Marson (as the emotionless Novara and Geela) are both rather good. Even though Fothergill was masked when he appeared in Doctor Who, it’s easy to work out the Who role he played. Did he specialise in emotionless roles?

Odd and faintly disturbing, The Web has its moments although it’s never been a top tier S1 episode for me.

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Seek-Locate-Destroy opens with our first sight of the very silly-looking security robot. Complete with a fixed grin and flappy arms, it’s fair to say it was never going to rival the Daleks ….

Blake and Vila make for an interesting combination (a shame we didn’t see them team up more regularly). The first fifteen minutes are similar to the events seen in Time Squad – Blake and the others penetrate a Federation top security establishment with embarrassing ease – but at least there’s a wrinkle here (Cally is overpowered and left behind when the others teleport back).

Minus points for the others not realising at first that Cally was missing. It’s also a pity that Cally (presented to us only two episodes ago as a fanatical freedom fighter) now seems to have regressed somewhat – she really does fight like a girl (her tussle with a Federation trooper isn’t one of B7‘s greatest ever action scenes). But she partially redeems herself with some nice taunting of Travis at the end of the episode.

One moment which has stuck in my memory since the original transmission is when the Federation trooper removes his helmet to reveal …. a very ordinary looking man. Whether this was intentional or not, I don’t know, but it’s always resonated with me. With their helmets on, the troopers are faceless goons who can be mown down with impunity by Blake and the others. But when we can see their faces, they become people.

The introduction of Servalan and Travis helps to raise the stakes as now Blake has tangible opponents to fight against. Both Jacqueline Pearce and Stephen Greif make strong first impressions and they help to turn what would otherwise be a fairly straightforward run-around into something much more satisfying. Travis is a paper-thin character but Greif – right from his wonderfully camp, hands on hips, introduction – certainly catches the eye. Pearce’s silkily smooth delivery is equally as compelling. Over time both would become overused, but we’ll leave those debates for another time. One of my favourite S1 episodes.

Mission to Destiny

Mission to Destiny boasts an impressive guest cast of familiar faces. No stars names, but a good selection of decent actors – although it’s a slight shame that their characters are all very thinly drawn. Terry Nation ladles on the murder mystery cliches (the dying man writing a clue in his own blood) but as most of the crew are pretty unlikable it’s hard to be too concerned about whodunnit.

After sharing a few knowing looks in The Web (although Cally was under the influence back then) Avon and Cally team up for the first time. Avon’s in his element playing detective (“we all know that one of you is the murderer”) and he and Cally share some lovely moments together. The look he gives her when she blithely tells the crew that they should consider them to be hostages is one …

This exchange is another:

Cally: My people have a saying. A man who trusts can never be betrayed, only mistaken.

Avon: Life expectancy must be fairly short among your people.

It’s never been a favourite (the plot is rather loose) but there are worse episodes.

Blakes 40 – Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch: Series One, Episodes One to Four

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Since 2018 marks the fortieth anniversary of Blakes 7, it seems like the ideal time for a complete series rewatch (and as there are 52 episodes in total, it fits nicely into a one-a-week watching pattern). I’ve been logging very brief capsule reviews elsewhere on the Internet with fellow travellers since January, but I thought it would be handy to re-publish them all here – with possibly the odd tweak or two along the way.

The Way Back

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A nicely twisted dystopian opener, even if there are a few plot points which have always niggled. Clearly the Federation’s brainwashing process isn’t terribly effective (Blake quickly regains all his forbidden memories shortly after his meeting with Foster). And since the children have had false impressions planted, why not do the same with Blake – thereby convincing him that he did assault them?

The child abuse angle is rather jarring and it’d be interesting to know whether it was originally intended to reference it in later episodes. Blake attempting to clear his name would have been a decent running theme, but the matter is quietly forgotten after this episode.

Being generous, you could take it as an early example that the Federation aren’t terribly efficient at smearing their political opponents (clearly they don’t know how to work the media). As the series progresses, Blake quickly builds a legend – but it’s for all the right reasons (striking a blow against his oppressive Federation overlords) rather than the wrong ones (nobody ever asks him if he’s Blake the convicted paedophile).

Wonky logic aside, The Way Back boasts some impressive modelwork (the Dome) which helps to balance out some of the more threadbare studio sets. Gareth Thomas is suitably impassioned whilst Michael Keating and Sally Knyvette – with their limited screentime – both catch the eye. A pity that the borderline psychotic Vila we see here didn’t last long.

Space Fall

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Leylan is an interesting character. At heart he seems like a decent man, but he allows his subordinate – the sadistic Raiker – free reign across the ship. The moment when Leylan tells Raiker to be “discreet” with their female prisoner is an oft quoted one. It’s easy to see parallels between the Federation and the Nazis (with Nation scripting, possibly not a surprise).

Leylan is positioned in the narrative as the complicit German/Federation type. Not intrinsically evil himself, but willing to turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of others. What strikes me most about this sort of character is that whilst Blake seems to believe that the Federation is a monolithic entity with a single voice or heart (“I intend to see that heart ripped out!”) people like Leylan suggest that Federation society is much more complex than the black and white picture painted by Blake. So every time he goes on a killing spree, Blake might be mowing down careerists such as Leylan and Artix.

When we first see the prisoners on the flight deck, it’s not surprising that our eyes are drawn to those we’ve met before – Blake, Jenna and Vila. Apart from these three, Gan is prominent in the frame (the camera very much favouring him) whilst we don’t see Avon at all to begin with. It can’t be a coincidence that he’s disconnected from the others, even when he’s only sitting in his flight seat …

Once Blake and Avon meet, the series begins to pick up momentum. Was it scripted or an acting choice that Avon didn’t look at Blake during their first conversation? Either way it’s a nice touch which – right from the start – tells us that their relationship is fated to be an uneasy one.

Cygnus Alpha

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Cygnus Alpha has two main plot threads – Blake, Avon and Jenna getting to grips with life aboard the newly christened Liberator and the power struggle down on Cygnus Alpha.

It’s the former which is by far the most engaging. The continuing bubbling conflict between Blake and Avon – with Jenna caught in the middle – is nicely done. It’s interesting that both Blake and Avon discover they worked on the same project (a teleport system) which implies that they’re more similar than either would like to admit.

The timescale of this episode and the previous one makes no sense. In total, it takes the London eight months to reach Cygnus Alpha, yet it seems like Blake and the others have only been onboard the Liberator for a few hours. Are we to believe that Blake waited nearly eight months before inciting the others to take over the London? That seems barely credible, but neither does the notion that Blake’s spent months kicking his heels in the Liberator whilst following the London at a snail’s pace ….

Cygnus Alpha may be a quarry, but the night filming – and the well executed glass shots – ensures that it’s a memorable location (the model shots are excellent too – plain to see that a fair chunk of the budget was spent on these early episodes). It’s notable that once the prisoners are released from the London, Gan is easily the most proactive. He’d rarely get the opportunity again to be quite so front and centre.

With Blake looking for his “people” down on the surface, that leaves Avon and Jenna alone on the ship. The scenes where they debate whether to cut and run are amongst the most memorable of the episode. Easy to believe that Avon would, but Jenna already seems to be hero-worshiping (at the very least) Blake so it’s just as easy to understand why she wouldn’t.

It’s a pity that – although we didn’t know it at the time – Jenna’s character had already peaked. When Vila comes aboard, the pecking order of Blake/Avon/Vila with Jenna and Cally jostling for position lower down and Gan a very distant last was pretty much established. Given this, it’s not surprising to learn that Sally Knyvette was keen to leave at the end of the first series.

Once Brian Blessed begins ranting and raving then my interest begins to dip a little, but overall this is a pretty decent episode. Especially when compared to the next two ….

Time Squad

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Time Squad has two separate plotlines, neither of which are completely successful. The first five minutes or so, which takes place on the Liberator flight deck, might be mostly info-dumping but the dialogue is nicely sparky.

The communications centre on Saurian Major is rather like a proto Star One. Destroy it, says Blake, and the Federation will be crippled. The problem is that when they do this, life in the Federation goes on as normal. This is either sloppy scripting from Nation or it’s an early example that Blake really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I prefer to think it’s the latter.

The Saurian sequences are mainly memorable for Cally’s debut and the location filming at Oldbury. A pity that Cally is fooled by Blake’s look over there trick, but the arrival of a fanatical, obsessive freedom fighter (happy to die for her cause) promises to shake things up. Sadly her character loses this early aggressive spark very quickly.

Security at the base isn’t very good is it? Blake and the others just swan in and reach their destination with embarrassing ease. This rather beggars belief and helps to blunt the effectiveness of the Saurian subplot.

But Blake’s adventures do rather play second fiddle to the saga of a space capsule which contains a number of deep-frozen homicidal warriors, who – once they’ve been thawed out – jerkily spring into life and menace Jenna and Gan. This is the first – but by no means the last – time our heroes come across a derelict object floating in space. You’d have thought that the hard lesson they learn here would make them more cautious in future – but no, every time they spot a piece of space flotsam they can’t help but poke their noses in (always with disastrous results).

Jenna, unusually, gets to drive the action. With Gan fainting all over the place she has to step up to the mark and demonstrate her unarmed combat skills. Thanks to a few decent camera moves and Dudley laying on the tense music, these scenes are, at times, quite good. No classic then, but decent enough fare.

Are You Being Served?

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Are You Being Served? is a series I’ve never added to my DVD collection – mainly because the R2 sounded a little unappealing (certain episodes used shorter edits prepared by David Croft for a nineties repeat season) and in the past I didn’t have a R1 compatible player, so the uncut American release was out of reach.

Which meant that I’ve come to the recent Gold repeats pretty fresh and – so far – AYBS? has proved to be a more than pleasant surprise. Of course, it’s early days yet (I’m currently on series three) and there will no doubt come a point – as happens with most Croft/Perry and Croft/Lloyd sitcoms – where the show starts to run out of steam.

Often it’s cast changes which seem to signal the beginning of the end. Dad’s Army was never the same after James Beck’s death, although it’s true that his absence wasn’t the only reason why the post Beck episodes lacked a little spark. On the other hand, the departure of Simon Cadell from Hi-De-Hi! was a major tipping point. When Jeffrey Fairbrother was replaced by someone more streetwise and less vulnerable it was a blow which the series never recovered from.

I’m expecting the post Trevor Bannister years to be a little tricky and I can’t say I’m looking forward to the introduction of Old Mr Grace. Young Mr Grace (Harold Blewett) was always a charming character, but Old Mr Grace (Kenneth Waller) was just a nasty type.

But one piece of replacement casting which I think did work was that of Arthur English stepping in for Larry Martyn (as the general handyman/dogsbody character). Martyn’s Mr Mash stands out during the early series, mainly because Martyn is playing much broader than the others (had he appeared during the later run this might not have been such a problem). Another issue with Mash is that Martyn’s clearly been made up to play older, which didn’t work very well. So the later hiring of a more mature actor (English) made sense.

If the Gold repeats continue, then I await with interest the numerous replacements for Mr Grainger, none of whom lasted very long.

The innuendo of AYBS? started fairly mildly, although you can see that series by series things are getting broader. One such barometer is Mrs Slocombe’s pussy, whose misadventures become much more suggestive over time ….

Apart from the increasing lashings of sexual innuendo, highlights so far have included Camping In (S01E04). There’s something rather charming about the way that the members of staff – forced as they are to sleep in the store overnight – reminisce about the good old days of WW2 and engage in a spot of Blitz-era spirt with a good old singalong. This one also ties the programme to another specific moment in British history – namely the early seventies when strikes and power shortages were increasingly common (other episodes also make capital out of this).

Several episodes focus on work/office politics in a way that’s still highly recognisable today. How the others react unfavourably to Captain Peacock being rewarded for twenty years loyal service (with the key to the executive washroom) will no doubt strike a chord with many. The travails of Coffee Morning (S02E02) is another one which seems just as relevant today as it did then. Stores like Grace Brothers might be long gone, but companies who react unfavourably whenever workers elect to nip off for a tea break or a visit to the toilet are still very much with us ….

The last word should be left to Mrs Slocombe.

It’s a wonder I’m here at all, you know. My pussy got soaking wet. I had to dry it out in front of the fire before I left!

My 2018 DVD wishes

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Inspired by a post over at LouReviews, I’ve been having a ponder about which unreleased television series I’d like to see pop up on shiny discs. And this is what I’ve come up with ….

Z Cars

Acorn, before they sadly stopped releasing archive titles, did issue a selection of early seventies episodes – but the original run from the sixties (Barlow, Watt, Fancy Smith, et al.) remains out of circulation. Given how ground-breaking the series was, it’s difficult to understand why Z Cars remains so under-represented on DVD. A few have been repeated over the years, a few more are available on YT, but most of the surviving episodes are simply gathering dust.

Blood Money/Skorpion/Cold Warrior

Possibly I’m the only person hoping these three series (all starring Michael Denison as SIS agent Captain Aubrey Percival) eventually resurface, but it’d be nice to think that there’s a few other people out there who’d also buy it! If you didn’t know they were produced by Gerard Glaister, then a glance at the cast lists (Juliet-Hammond Hill, Stephen Yardley, Bernard Hepton, etc, etc) might give you a clue. Simon May penned the title themes, which is another pointer ….

The Secret Servant

A three-part adaptation of Gavin Lyall’s novel, featuring Charles Dance as Harry Maxim, The Secret Servant was originally broadcast in 1984, repeated in 1987 and then vanished. Adapted by Brian Clemens, my memory of the 1987 repeat is that it was a more than decent spy thriller with a muscular turn from Dance.

Pulaski

Another of those series which has dropped off the radar somewhat (only thin pickings on YT, alas) Roy Clarke’s 1987 series starring David Andrews as Larry Summers (who plays the wisecracking PI Pulaski) should be worth a release. Co-starring Caroline Langrishe, it might not have set the schedules alight back then but I’ve a feeling that it’s probably aged quite well. Ace theme by the Shadows as well.

Blankety Blank

No really! I’ve previously praised the series here and those comments still stand. It’s just great fun, packed – especially in the early years – with some top guests and is high on rewatch value.

Spycatcher

I’m not sure how many episodes of this WW2 psychological series, starring Bernard Archard as Lt. Col. Oreste Pinto, exist but one featured in the BBC Archive Trial a few years back, so hopefully there’s enough remaining to make up a decent set. The episodes were re-recorded for radio (these versions remain easily accessible) and whilst the visuals might not add a great deal, it would be nice to see some of these stories in vision.

Moonstrike

Another Gerard Glaister series. Despite its science fiction name Moonstrike was set during WW2. Glaister, of course, would later mine this era very successfully in both Colditz and Secret Army, so it would be fascinating to see how this series (broadcast in 1963) compares.

Of course this only scratches the surface – restored versions of At Last The 1948 Show and Do Not Adjust Your Set would also be high on my wants list as would the black and white Dixon of Dock Green‘s. The BBC work of Les Dawson, Mike Yarwood and (provided the rights can be negotiated) Dave Allen would also be welcome.

That’s one of the problems with wish-lists of course, once you start it’s difficult to stop …

Juliet Bravo – Family Unit

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John Murphy (Rio Fanning) is a regular at Hartley police station. A widower with a young family of four, his fondness for a drink coupled with his inability to hold it means that he’s often to be found overnight in the cells. When he attacks his teenage daughter Maeve (Rebekah Blair), social services – in the form of Tom – are brought into the picture. It quickly becomes obvious that Jean and Tom view Murphy’s case very differently ….

Family Unit opens with a tracking shot showing a sizeable chunk of Hartley. Although it’s set up to establish a specific plot point (Jean notices smoke coming from the chimney of a house that should be empty) it helps to once again remind us of the sort of environment Hartley is.

The stuttering relationship between Jean and Joe is teased out a little more during the opening few minutes. Although they’ve been on a fairly even keel since the third episode, there does seem to be slightly more bite to their conversations here. Was this script originally planned to air earlier in the run?

Jean sends Joe out to look at the house, but doesn’t tell him why. When he radios in to query, she then suggests he walks across the street – once he does so, he spies the smoke and the penny drops. During their dialogue, Joe is the model of stolid efficiency, but there’s something about the way he pauses every so often which borders on the insolent.

Hiding in the house is a bruised and battered Maeve. Whilst Joe escorts her to the hospital, the character of Murphy is developed. It’s striking that Jean and Tom see very different sides of his character. Resident in the cells, Murphy views Jean with extreme disfavour (wondering how such a terrible woman could have snared a lovely man like Tom).

But when Tom later runs him down, he’s contrite and tearful as he explains the reason for the attack (he came home to find Maeve playing records in her bedroom with a Pakistani boy and snapped). Murphy’s racial hatred is never far from the surface – later he confides to a drinking buddy that he’s going to track the boy down and “descend on him, mangle him and give him a biblical pasting”. The irony that Murphy – as an Irishman – would also be viewed as an outsider by many isn’t overtly commentated upon, but the inference seems to be there.

We do later see Maeve’s friend (he receives a few punches from an incensed Murphy before she intervenes). But since he never speaks he serves no other purpose than to illustrate Murphy’s simmering anger. Maeve herself is similarly never really developed as a character in her own right – she exists purely to bring her father to both the police and the social sevices’ attention.

If Jean’s job sees her interact with Murphy once he’s broken the law, then Tom’s working from the opposite end. This explains why they’re on very different sides – Tom doesn’t want to see the family unit broken up and the children placed into care, whilst Jean isn’t prepared to let a potentially unstable father continue to live with them. Both, of course, are right in their own way, and this conflict helps to generate the main drama of the episode.

A little extra spice is added by the fact that Jean is concerned about the possibility that her confrontation with Tom, once it becomes public knowledge during the court hearing, might have a negative impact on her career. She worries that an enterprising newspaper reporter could spin it into an embarrassing story, thereby damaging her reputation at Headquarters. This isn’t something which shows Jean in a very good light, although as the script was written by series creator Ian Kennedy-Martin it’s not possible to argue that it’s the work of a writer unfamiliar with the series or characters. Clearly this is a side of Jean’s character that Kennedy-Martin was keen to touch upon.

Just a couple of episodes after another female office was attached to Hartley, Sergeant Margaret Cullinane (Maggie Ollerenshaw) turns up for a short transfer. She’s a very different proposition from the naïve WPC Hannah Maynard though. Experienced, confident and plain speaking, she wastes no time in telling Jean that she’s keen to take her job! Jean responds with icy politeness. Unlike Hannah in Expectations, Margaret is a fairly peripheral character, although the pair do have a brief late-night conversation in Jean’s office (this is after she’s had yet another run-in with Tom and is feeling somewhat emotionally bruised).

George Parrish might continue to play second fiddle to Joe Beck, but Noel Collins is gifted a lovely scene in which he harangues the ever-hapless Roland (Mark Drewery). Roland’s complaint that he doesn’t think it’s fair he has to make the teas and coffees for everybody (it’s not what he joined the force for, he says) is viewed with a definite lack of compassion by George. The scene is capped by George sending a severely ticked Roland out to the shops to buy some biscuits!

The court hearing is an uncomfortable experience for both Jean and Tom. Tom especially, who finds himself as the sole Social Services representative. Jean continues to paint Murphy in the worst possible light – acidly commentating, after his appearance in the witness stand, that he’s “a better actor than Laurence Olivier”.

After making an impassioned plea that he’ll never drink again or hit Maeve, it’s easy to see her point though (especially when a jubilant Murphy invites Tom to join him for a victory drink). In addition to this, the way Murphy brusquely instructs Maeve to take the other children home suggests that his contrite statements in court will prove to be worthless. Jean and Tom both witness this scene, with the inference being that Jean was in the right all along, although a more philosophical Tom is of the opinion that there were no winners, only losers.

What might happen to Murphy’s family in the future is left dangling, but from Jean’s point of view this case has damaged her relationship with Tom. “I can’t count on you 100 percent in the future, count on your 100 percent support”. Tom considers this to be a good thing though, the fact that they both have principles and are prepared to stand by them.

Rio Fanning gives a good performance, but it’s really the Jean/Tom dynamic which is the main focus of another decent series one episode.

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Alan Bleasdale Presents: Self Catering

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A plane crash leaves five survivors stranded on a desert island. It’s a paradise – or would be if it wasn’t for the absence of food. As the deeply mismatched quintet consider their options, they decide to adopt the names of their favourite film stars ….

Another entry in the short-lived 1994 C4 anthology series Alan Bleasdale Presents, Self Catering chugs along very agreeably thanks to the number of excellent lines contained within Andrew Cullen’s script. The ninety minute screenplay is packed with quotable moments, such as this reaction from the narcissistically self-obsessed Marilyn (Jane Horrocks) to the prospect of having to become a forager. “We’re not hunter/gatherers anymore, we’re shoppers. My idea of a marathon is walking from Boots to C&A, realising I’ve forgotten the deodorant and having to walk back to Boots”.

In addition to Marilyn (who has adopted the name of Marilyn Monroe), we also have a movie buff who has decided he’d like to be Henry Fonda (John Gordon Sinclair), the womanising Clint Eastwood (Andrew Schofield), the acerbic Joan Crawford (Noreen Kershaw) and the unconscious (although she wakes up eventually) Meryl Streep (Jennifer Ehle).

If Cullen’s script is good – creating a group of hopelessly incompatible people (Marilyn detests heavy lifting or indeed any sort of work, Clint can’t keep his eyes off all the females, Joan loathes Marilyn, Henry is a film obsessed bore, etc) – then the actors take the material they’ve been given and run with it.

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Jane Horrocks is a total treat as Marilyn as is Noreen Kershaw as the foul-mouthed Joan. All three females find themselves caught up in an unlikely love-quadrangle with Clint (Joan at one point telling him that he’s “got a great body. But you’ve got a sick mind. But you’ve got a great body”).

It’s hard to imagine any better than John Gordon Sinclair in the role of the deeply pernickety Henry. “Does no-one like Henry Fonda these days? Rocky, Rambo, Robocop. They are nothing compared to Henry Fonda”.

I also love Henry’s doom-laden pronouncement from the opening few minutes. After considering the unconscious Meryl, who appears to be dead, he declares that they shouldn’t bury her too deep. With the only food available being the limited supplies on the plane, pretty soon they’re going to have to tuck into human flesh. It gives a new spin to the title Self Catering.

Robin Lefevre would later direct Alan Bleasdale’s Jake’s Progress (he had also acted in Requiem Apache) whilst Andrew Schofield had earlier prominently featured in G.B.H as well as Requiem Apache, suggesting that Bleasdale liked to work with a core group of creatives on a regular basis.

Jennifer Ehle (who would also appear in another Alan Bleasdale Presents, Pleasure) has the hardest role, since Meryl (who wasn’t even granted the ability to re-christen herself – Henry chose the name Meryl Streep since he liked the actress) is insensible for the first half of the story. After Meryl wanders off and then wanders back, it does allow John Gordon Sinclair the chance to riff in an amusing manner (wondering if the approaching figure might be an android!)

But once Meryl does regain consciousness, she makes up for lost time by indulging in flings with first Clint, then Joan (who promises to teach her about the birds and the birds) before moving on to the voluble, if deeply sexually repressed, Henry. As she slowly unzips his trousers, she asks him if he minds. He responds that he has “the gravest doubts on the subject, by I intend to crush them”. This, like many of his other utterances, derives from one of his favourite films.

Although Self Catering is played as a comedy, it’s sometimes a rather dark one. Both Clint and Marilyn venture, at different times, into the wrecked cockpit. Moving their way through the dead bodies, Marilyn (to the strains of Elvis Costello’s I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down) amuses herself by taking a selfie, whilst Clint is more interested in the contents of a ladies blouse.

Clint’s later madness (he elects to wall himself off from the others) and Henry’s bizarre dreams are some of the later highlights. Lacking a straightforward narrative, Self Catering is more of a collection of character set-pieces with an open-ended conclusion. This isn’t really a problem though – since the cast are firing on all comic cylinders it’s another DVD from the series which is well worth your time.

Alan Bleasdale Presents: Self Catering is released by Simply Media on the 4th of June 2018, RRP £14.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

Alan Bleasdale Presents Requiem Apache

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Hamish (Alfred Molina) has left his former life as a getaway driver far behind. Now ensconced in a bucolic English village and living a contented existence with his wife and baby daughter, everything seems perfect. Which it is until his old friends come calling and ask him to join them in one final job. But with his wife away he’s been left holding the baby – so even if he wanted to, juggling the twin demands of a life of crime and baby care might turn out to be a little tricky ….

Alan Bleasdale Presents was a short series of C4 television films broadcast during 1994. With Bleasdale acting as producer and mentor, the series gave a handful of young writers valuble exposure and the opportunity to hone their talents. And there’s no doubt that his name on the project helped to attract the cream of the acting profession (Requiem Apache, for example, featured brief appearances from the likes of Julie Walters).

This appears to be Raymond Murtagh’s only script for either film or television, which is a slightly surprising since it’s a quirky and entertaining piece (Murtagth’s other credits were all on the acting front – he appeared in various series including Crown Court, Juliet Bravo and Doctor Who).

Once Hamish’s wife swiftly departs aboard for a foreign trip, he throws himself into the task of looking after his daughter Laura (Aimee and Lynsay Bullard) with gusto. There’s a definite “aww” factor to these scenes, helped no end by the baby actor. The scene where Hamish engages Laura in conversation and she turns to stare at him could clearly never be scripted, but is a lovely moment nonetheless!

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Elsewhere though, storm clouds are brewing. A mysterious individual, credited only as the Juice Man (Robin Lefevre) is putting the squeeze on Hamish’s old boss, Tony (Kenneth Cranham), who in turn decides to put the squeeze on Hamish. The Juice Man certainly makes an impact with his handful of scenes. He gets his name from the way he intimidates a hapless barman (Christopher Ryan – another well known face appearing in a fairly small role) into giving him an immaculately poured glass of orange juice. The Juice Man also has a unique way of disposing of people who displease him ….

As good as Alfred Molina is, Requiem Apache really springs to life whenever Kenneth Cranham is on the screen. Effortlessly stealing every scene he appears in, he gives a beautifully judged performance which adds an extra level of quality to the production. Andrew Schofield and Ralph Brown (as Tony’s fixers, Rocky and Mick) are also good value – they’re mainly cast as comic foils, but are also responsible for the occasional darker moment (these brief bursts of violence are especially jolting given that the majority of the story is played almost like an Ealing Comedy).

The climatic bank robbery, with Hamish as the driver and Tony, Rocky and Mick cast in the unlikely roles of three blind men (all the better for confusing the bank staff) then leads into a final payoff which I doubt many would have seen coming. But whilst it might be unexpected it’s also a satisfying conclusion which ties up all the loose ends.

As touched upon before, there’s plenty of quality in this cast. Along with Julie Walters’ cameo (which doesn’t advance the plot at all, but passes a few minutes very agreeably) it’s also nice to see Sam Kelly, Chris Ryan, Peter Benson and Jon Laurimore passing through and at just 77 minutes the story doesn’t outstay its welcome.

An amusing comedy romp which isn’t afraid to go dark at times, Requiem Apache is a brisk treat, powered along by the excellent cast. Recommended.

Requiem Apache is released by Simply Media on the 28th of May 2018, RRP £14.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).