Public Eye – A Mug Named Frank (7th July 1971)

A Mug Named Frank, the first episode of series five, in some ways feels like an addendum to series four. There’s the Brighton setting, the black and white visuals (albeit only due to the colour strike) and the reassuring presence of Mrs Mortimer (Pauline Delaney). And yet …

Series four of Public Eye was very much an authored piece. Roger Marshall wrote all seven episodes, which helped to give them a serial-like feel, but for the remainder of PE’s run his input would be drastically reduced. Producer Michael Chapman penned this installment, which concerns itself with uprooting Frank from Brighton and settling him down in Windsor.

Marshall would later cast a slightly withering eye over the direction of the Windsor series, labelling it as rather cosy (this interview is a fascinating read). Although it’s worth noting that it was Marshall who created Mrs Mortimer and established a “will they, won’t they” vibe between her and Frank.

How Marshall would have developed their relationship is unknown but it seems unlikely he would have gone in the direction of Chapman’s story – which not only abruptly wrenches them apart, but also rather off-handedly negates most of Frank’s Brighton experience. And this is why I find this episode a rather curious watch – rather like The West Wing after Aaron Sorkin’s departure, A Mug Named Frank feels inauthentic (Chapman attempting, but not really succeeding, to mimic Marshall’s voice).

The main plot is quite simple. Frank befriends an old lady, Mrs. Stuart (Nora Nicholson), who he spots in the supermarket popping a tin into her shopping bag, presumably with the intention of stealing it. He manages to diffuse the situation, but this plot-thread isn’t really developed. Was it an absent-minded slip, a cry for help or a theft borne out of necessity? We never find out, so it appears to have been little more than a clumsy way of bringing Frank and her together.

She lives in a rather threadbare couple of rooms with only one object of value – a silver box – which was given to her by her son, Gerald (Barry Foster), shortly after the war. He’s a clearly something of a shifty type (I think it’s the moustache) and is keen to “borrow” the box in order to raise some money for his failing business.

Frank knows him of old – they were fellow jailbirds for a brief while – and their clash towards the end of the episode is a definite highlight. As is André Morell’s cameo as Gerald’s rich uncle, who mockingly declines to bail him out. The scene adds little to the story overall, but I’ll never turn down a few minutes of Morell.

Travelling to Windsor in search of the silver box, Frank meets Inspector Percy Firbank (Ray Smith) and Nell Holdsworth (Brenda Cavendish), two characters who will loom large in the episodes to come. Although I take Marshall’s “cosy” point, the series quickly establishes itself in Windsor – shaking off the last vestiges of the Brighton era with a crop of strong scripts from a pool of first-rate writers.

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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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Point of Destruction

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Scott (Duncan Lamont) has seen four pilots killed during tests for his new fuel diffuser.  Accidents or sabotage? Brady, a friend of Scott’s, steps in to find out ….

The cast of Point of Destruction oozes with class.  An early example is Alfred Burke, playing the test-pilot Bob (and he doesn’t even appear in the credits).  This is a little odd as although his role is qute short, it’s still a speaking part.  Always a pleasure to see Burke though, even in a small role like this.

The moment when the control tower loses contact with Bob is an effective one – rather than the crackle of a dead radio there’s simply silence – although the sting of the incidental music shortly afterwards does underscore this moment rather too obviously and melodramatically.

Is there a saboteur on Scott’s team?  With only twenty-five minutes to play with it’s not a mystery that can be maintained for any length of time, so the reveal that Dr James Court (John Rudling) has been accepting substantial sums of money from the hard-as-nails foreign agent Katrina (Patricia Jessell) occurs very early on.  Had the episode been longer then we could have been introduced to several different members of Scott’s team, leaving us to decide which one was guilty, something which could have worked well.

Court isn’t a terribly well-defined character.  Is he motivated purely by money or is it more a case of envy?  No matter, since he performs his place in the narrative perfectly effectively.  John Rudling’s television career stretched back to 1937 (a half-hour adaptation of the play-within-a-play Pyramus and Thisbe from A Midsummer’s Night Dream) but it was only towards the end of his life – when he played Brabinger in To The Manor Born – that he became something of a household name.

If you only know Rudling from To The Manor Born then you probably wouldn’t have connected Court to Brabinger (since he looked very different here).  Barry Letts, playing the control tower officer, is someone else who isn’t instantly recognisable (if he’d had a beard then I may have twigged a little earlier).

But Alfred Burke and Duncan Lamont are both very distinctive as is Derren Nesbitt.  There’s certainly no mistaking Nesbitt, one of the longest-serving of the ITC utility players (he appeared in pretty much every ITC adventure series, almost always as a villain).  In Point of Destruction he plays Stephan, Katrina’s henchman.  Even his first scene, in which he does nothing but lurk in the background – smoking a cigarette in a threatening manner – is a treat, but he soon ramps up the villainy.

He and Katrina set off to kill Brady and he almost manages it (via a well-aimed shot with a high-powered rifle).  This then leads into a nicely mounted action scene as a wounded Brady attempts to escape.  Yes, it’s something of a diversion from the main plot, but it’s exciting nonetheless.

With a cast like this, how can you not love Point of Destruction? Maybe developing Court’s character and motivation a little more would have been a good idea, but I’m happy just to sit back and enjoy the acting.

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Treasure Island (BBC, 1977) – Part Four

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Once again, the Squire is forced to count the human cost of his quest for gold, since all three of his servants now lie dead. “Old Redruth. Joyce. And now Hunter. Loyal souls, all of them, who served and trusted me. I have much to account for, Livesey.”

The Doctor offers a brief word of comfort, but maybe Livesey’s gesture here is just an automatic one. It’s certainly debatable that Trelawney’s escapade can be judged to be an honourable one – as his intention was to keep the plundered gold for himself (after, presumably, sharing out a small portion to the others) he can hardly claim the moral high ground over Silver and his men.

Jim decides to take Ben Gunn’s boat and return to the Hispaniola. It’s a brave, if foolhardy venture, since it brings him into contact with the murderous Israel Hands. Patrick Troughton once again is on good form as Israel, reacting calmly to Jim’s statement that he’s returned to take possession of the ship.

Exactly why Jim decided that the pirates onboard would be happy to receive him is a slight mystery. True, Israel seems harmless enough to begin with (he’s incapacitated after a fight to the death with another pirate) but Jim wasn’to know this. You’d have assumed that after the horror of the stockade battle, with death all around him, Jim would have been a little more cautious. But if Trelawney has begun to learn the true cost of adventure, maybe Jim hasn’t.

All that we’ve seen of Israel has primed the audience to expect that he’ll turn on Jim when the moment is right, and so it proves. Israel’s pursuit of Jim is a nicely shot sequence from Michael E. Briant, especially as the pair climb the rigging to face their final reckoning.

The ever resourceful Jim returns to the island, only to find that Silver and the others have taken possession of the stockade. Alfred Burke is at his most affable, as Silver appears delighted to see the boy and offers him a chance to join them. Jim refuses and furthermore tells them all that they’ll never see the Hispaniola again.

This is something of a turning point – Jim’s life should now be forfeit, but Silver won’t kill the lad, which displeases the others intensely. Silver has been tipped the black spot, but even with his back to the wall he’s still able to run rings around the rest of his crew.

Silver, with his keen sense of self preservation, is looking to change sides and Jim is an important part of this. Ashley Knight is never better than In the scene where Livesey attempts to forcibly remove Jim from the stockade. Jim refuses, biting the Doctor’s hand at one point, because he gave Silver his word he wouldn’t attempt to escape. This action bounds Silver and Jim even tighter together.

The sting in the tail – the treasure is gone from its resting place – is the prelude for the final (albiet brief) bloody battle. Ben Gunn, of course, found the treasure nine months ago and brought it back to his cave. The reveal is done in a highly theatrical manner – a seemingly never-ending stream of coins gush out onto the cave floor as the faces of Silver, Livesey, Ben, Trelawney and Jim are overlaid. It was surely intentional that Livesey’s face was impassive whilst both Trelawney and Jim showed great pleasure.

As I said earlier, it doesn’t get much better than this. It’s something of a mystery why this excellent version of Treasure Island hasn’t appeared on DVD before, but it’s something that any devotee of this era of British television should have in their collection.

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Treasure Island (BBC, 1977) – Part Three

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Most of the crew have decided to throw their hand in with Silver.  Most, but not all.  One whose loyalty remains undecided is Tom (Derrick Slater).  He knows and respects Silver of old, but will he elect to join the others in mutiny?

The question of Tom’s allegiance brings the character of Silver into sharp focus.  Silver is fond of Tom and seeks to win him over – to this end, along with some of the others they make for the island (leaving Smollett, Livesey and the others aboard the Hispaniola, guarded by a small number of pirates).  Silver believes that away from the ship he’ll be able to talk Tom round.

Given all the quality character actors seen throughout the serial, it’s slightly surprising that the relatively undistinguished Slater was given this role.  True, Tom’s screentime is very limited, but since the confrontation between Silver and Tom allows us – and Jim – a chance to witness Silver’s ruthless side, it’s therefore a pity that Slater’s performance is on the lifeless side.

Tom tells Silver that “you’re old and honest too, or has the name for it. And you’ve money, which many a poor sailor hasn’t. Brave too, or I’m mistook. You tell me why you let yourself be led away by that kind of mess of swabs.”  During this monologue Silver has lain a friendly arm on him, but pulls away once he realises that Tom won’t be won over.  With a horrified Jim watching from his hiding place close by, Silver stabs Tom to death.  Given that the battle seen later in the episode is fairly bloody, it’s interesting that Tom’s murder occurs off camera.  We see Silver stabbing something, but we never see what it is.

Captain Smollett and the others make their way ashore.  Smollett really begins to take charge (Richard Beale is first class during these scenes) and they elect to use Flint’s old stockade as their base.  But even before they’ve secured it there’s a brief battle and Squire Trelawney’s loyal servant, Tom Redruth (Royston Tickner), lies dying.

Tom’s barely had a handful of lines, but he does get a good death scene.  Up until now it seems as if the Squire hasn’t really grasped the reality of the situation – it’s been little more than a game to him (finding a ship, employing a tailor to make him the grandest uniform, etc).  It takes the death of a loyal family retainer, someone uprooted from his settled life in Britain and fated to die a lonely death on a distant island far away from his family, to bring him back to reality.  He asks Tom to forgive him (and is insistent that he does so).  Tom, loyal to the last, insists there’s nothing to forgive and, as Trelawney recites the Lord’s Prayer, Tom gently slips away.  Beautifully played by both Tickner and Thorley Walters.

We meet Ben Gunn (Paul Copley).  He’s Irish and speaks in a remarkably high pitched voice, which is a little odd.  But then Ben Gunn’s supposed to be odd (what with his cheese fixation) and after a while his voice lowers a little, so a little bit of normality is restored.  His cave – a studio set – looks very good (another design triumph for Graham Oakley).

John Dearth was one of those utility actors who was always worth watching, even in the smallest of roles.  He was a regular during the first series of the ITC Richard Greene Robin Hood’s, playing a different role each week (and sometimes two in the same episode!)  Various personal problems meant that he later sometimes found work hard to come by, but he was lucky to have several loyal supporters – one of whom was Barry Letts.  Both Briant and Letts had directed him in Doctor Who, so like many of the cast it’s not unexpected that he turns up here.  Dearth’s character (Jeb) mainly seems to exist in order to stress how dangerous Silver is – Jeb states that the only man the vicious Captain Flint ever feared was Long John Silver.

I’ve already touched upon how good Richard Beale has been and he’s never better than in the scene where Smollett and Silver face off.  Both have their own set of demands and neither is prepared to give the other any quarter.  Alfred Burke switches from smiling affability to snarling disdain in a heartbeat.  This then leads into the sequence where the pirates attempt to storm the stockade.  It’s slightly jarring that the outside is on film whilst the stockade interior is on videotape – the rapid switching between the two is a slight problem.

But no matter, Michael E. Briant still manages to choreograph a decent action sequence with a liberal dose of blood (nothing explicit, but it still manages to create the impression that a short – and brutal – battle has taken place).  The pirates are beaten back, which infuriates Silver – so he elects to send for reinforcements from the ship ….

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Treasure Island (BBC, 1977) – Part Two

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Since Treasure Island is packed with character actors of distinction, it’s easy to overlook the young actor who played Jim Hawkins.  But Ashley Knight more than holds his own amongst such august company, possessing just the right amount of youthful spirit and innocence.

That he’s deceived by Silver shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, since Long John also managed to fool Squire Trelawney (Thorley Walters).  But, to be fair, fooling the Squire probably wasn’t too tricky for Silver, as Trelawney (as per Stevenson’s novel) is portrayed as the sort of trusting, loose-mouthed individual you really wouldn’t want to entrust with the delicate matter of finding a ship and crew to sail to the Spanish Main in search of buried treasure.  Walters is a delight as the Squire, he may be pompous and vain but he’s also curiously lovable.

The way that Silver manipulates Trelawney into engaging him as the ship’s cook and then agrees that he can handpick the crew provides us with another opportunity to witness the apparently charming and helpful side of Silver (although he’s only serving his own interests of course).  His charm is seen again when the wily Long John takes Jim under his wing.  There’s no reason why Silver should seek to deceive Jim, which leads us to assume that his friendly stories have no ulterior motive.  But there’s a sting in the tail – at the same time he’s regaling Jim with yarns about the sea, Silver is planning to murder Trelawney, Livesey and Captain Smollett (Richard Beale) and anyone else who stands in his way.

Would he also do the same to Jim?  It’s not explicitly stated, but he does confide to Israel (the ever-watchable Patrick Troughton) that he doesn’t intend to leave any witnesses, so we can pretty much take it as read.  This dichotomy in Long John’s character is what makes him so fascinating – the other pirates make little or no attempt to hide their evil intent, but it’s the way that Silver can wear different masks at different times that makes him such an enduringly appealing creation.  And of course, in the hands of an actor as good as Alfred Burke it’s just a pleasure to watch.

Not all of the crew are content, like Silver, to wait for the right time to make their move, some want action now.  Prime amongst the malcontents is Merry (Roy Boyd) who paces the ship with a murderous look on his face, but you get the feeling that he’s never going to be any sort of match for Long John.

During this era of television, directors tended to have a “rep” of actors who they employed on a regular basis.  If you’re familiar with some of Michael E. Briant’s previous productions then names such as Roy Evans, Richard Beale, Royston Tickner and Alec Wallis will be familiar ones.  Alec Wallis has a nice little cameo as Patmore, a corrupt tailor who Silver deliberately sends along to Trelawney, just so he can denounce him before the Squire and therefore gain his trust.  Beale is suitably upright as the incorruptible Smollett, a man who sets to sea with the gravest misgivings about the crew (a pity nobody listened to him).

Before the ship sets sail there are several scenes which take place within the Squire’s cabin.  Thanks to a very simple CSO effect (bobbing waves outside the cabin window) the illusion at being on the water is created very effectively.  But there’s no substitute for the real thing and it’s the later filmwork aboard the Hispaniola, as it makes it way towards Treasure Island, which really opens up the production.

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Treasure Island (BBC, 1977) – Part One

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Treasure Island, an evergreen classic of children’s literature for more than a century, has generated more film, television and radio adaptations than you could shake a cutlass at.  But even though there’s many versions to chose from, this one (broadcast in four episodes on BBC1 in 1977) has to rank amongst the very best.

Like the majority of the BBC Classic Serials from the sixties, seventies and eighties, the adaptation (this one from John Lucarotti) displays considerable fidelity to the original source material, although Lucarotti is unafraid to build upon the original narrative.  In a way this isn’t surprising, since the book was told from Jim’s perspective it’s inevitable that it has a somewhat restricted viewpoint.

Lucarotti’s additions begin right from the start, as Jim’s father, Daniel (Terry Scully), someone who merited only a handful of mentions in Stevenson’s original, is fleshed out into a substantial character.  Scully excelled at playing people who suffered – he had one of those faces which could express a world of pain – and Daniel is no exception.  Daniel is clearly far from well and concern that he’s unable to provide for his family is uppermost in his mind.  So the arrival of Billy Bones (Jack Watson) seems to offer a chance to extricate himself from his financial problems.

Watson’s excellent as Bones.  With his weather-beaten face and the addition of a wicked-looking scar, he’s perfect as the rough, tough, seaman with a secret.  Bones’ decision to recruit Daniel (an invention of Lucarotti’s) is quite a neat idea, since it explains how Long John Silver and the others came to learn where Bones was (Daniel heads off to secure passage for himself and Bones to the Caribbean, not realising that Silver is monitoring the port for any unusual activity).

Lucarotti also elects to bring Silver and his confederates into the story very early, making it plain that Bones has absconded with something of great value that they’d all like back.  If you love British archive television of this era then the sight of Silver’s gang will no doubt warm the cockles of your heart (step forward David Collings, Patrick Troughton, Stephen Greif and Talfryn Thomas amongst others).

Alfred Burke’s Long John Silver impresses right from the off.  He doesn’t have Robert Newton’s eye-rolling intensity, nor does he have Brian Blessed’s physical presence – but what Burke’s Silver does possess is great charm and a rare skill at manipulating others to do his will.  But although he seems pleasant enough to begin with, it doesn’t take long before he demonstrates his true colours.

Bones’ run-in with Doctor Livesey (Anthony Bate) is kept intact from the original.  Bate is yet another wonderful addition to the cast and Livesey’s stand-off with Bones is a highlight of the episode.  Lucarotti’s subplot of Daniel’s doomed night-time misadventure slots into the original story very well, as it explains why his health suddenly took a turn for the worse, which then resulted in his death shortly afterwards.

A member of Silver’s gang, Black Dog (Christopher Burgess), arrives to confront Bones.  Burgess was a favourite actor of the producer, Barry Letts, so it’s maybe not too much of a surprise that he turns up.  He and Watson step outside (and therefore onto film) for a duel, which leads to Bones’ stroke.  Watson’s particularly fine as the bedridden Bones, suffering nightmares accrued from the horrors of a life spent on the high seas and dreading the arrival of the black spot.

David Collings’ nicely judged cameo as the malevolent Blind Pew is yet another highlight from a consistently strong opening episode.

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Treasure Island (BBC, 1977) to be released by Spirit Entertainment – 21st November 2016

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I’m delighted to hear that the 1977 BBC adaptation of Treasure Island, starring Alfred Burke as Long John Silver, will shortly be available on DVD from Spirit Entertainment.

Adapted by John Lucarotti, directed by Michael E. Briant and produced by Barry Letts, this has a cast to die for.  The likes of Talfryn Thomas, Patrick Troughton, David Collings, Jack Watson, Anthony Bate, Terry Scully, Stephen Greif, Thorley Walters, Richard Beale, Edward Peel and Brian Croucher all feature.

It’s due to be released on the 21st of November 2016 (pushed back from the original release date of early October).

Espionage – Covenant with Death

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Covenant with Death opens in 1942, with two young men – Magnus Anderssen (Bradford Dillman) and Ivar Kolstrom (Don Borisenko) – leading an elderly couple through the woods.  Joseph and Sarah Blumfield (Arnold Marle and Lily Freud-Marle) show signs of flagging and stop for a rest.  Magnus and Ivar then both pick up rocks and it’s clear that they intend to kill the Blumfields.

The action then moves to a courtroom shortly after the end of WW2.  Magnus and Ivar are in the dock, accused of the Blumfields’ murder.  But why would two war heroes (they had been members of the Norwegian resistance) kill a defenceless couple?  The prosecutor (Allan Cuthbertson) is convinced of their guilt, whilst their defense attorney (David Kossoff) struggles to find a way to prove their innocence.  As might be expected, there’s more to this story that meets the eye …..

After the opening credits, a caption helpfully tells us the exact setting and time – Tonstrand, Norway, October 9th 1947.  You might wonder why so many Norwegian nationals (like Cuthbertson) speak perfect English, but that’s par for the course with a series shot in the UK.  It may be a little incongruous but it’s preferable to everybody attempting dodgy Norwegian accents.  And as touched on previously, the fact this was an American co-production necessitated that the two Norwegians in the dock, Magnus and Ivar, were played by an American and a Canadian respectively.

Allan Cuthbertson is his usual immaculate self as the prosecutor.  He seems to have a very solid case – both Magnus and Ivar confessed their guilt to the police and when Ivar was arrested he had Joseph’s gold pocket watch in his possession (he also admitted to the police that he took the watch from Joseph’s dead body).

A recess provides an opportunity for Ivar and Magnus’ attorney to speak to them.  He urges them to change their plea to guilty, but Magnus refuses – they may have killed the couple, but he tells him it wasn’t murder.  This intriguing statement drives the rest of the narrative as slowly the events of five years earlier are uncovered.

Several lengthy flashbacks help to stop the story from being a static courtroom tale.  The first flashback also helps to bring the character of Joseph Blumfield into sharp focus – his Jewish heritage meant that he was under increasing pressure from the Nazis, one of the reasons why he and his wife decided to flee.

Kossoff, like Cutherbertson, impresses, as he slowly teases out the story from the defendants.  Ivar tells the court what happened immediately after the deaths of Joseph and Sarah.  “After we did it, it was suddenly very quiet. Like we’d killed everything in the forest except ourselves. The old man bled a lot, for some reason the woman didn’t seem to, but we knew they were both dead.”  Don Borisenko is perfect as the twitchy Ivar, a man who lacks the certainty of his friend Magnus that they did the right thing.

Although Joseph and Sarah have been presented as harmless and helpless victims, Peter Stone’s screenplay constantly teases us that there must be more to the story than a simple tale of opportunistic murder and robbery.   It’s strongly hinted on several occasions that during wartime people have to do things which would be unthinkable during a time of peace.  If Magnus and Ivar felt that the security of their organisation was threatened by the old couple it would explain why they had to die.

Apart from Cuthbertson and Kossoff, other familiar faces pop up, most notably Alfred Burke and Aubrey Morris.  In the present day, Burke (as Ivar’s brother, Gustave), sports a natty eye patch, which is absent when the action flashes back to 1942.   Burke’s contribution is small but he was such a good actor that he could make even a handful of lines come alive.  His jousting with Cuthbertson is a special treat – Gustave angrily wonders why the court is attempting to prosecute two war heroes, which incenses the prosecutor.  “Many of the men in this room, and the women too, risked their lives in the struggle against the Nazi occupation. Some of us suffered just as much as you. Torture, imprisonment under death sentence, but we didn’t sink so low as to murder those we had pledged to protect, to save our own skins.”  It’s an electrifying scene.

Covenant with Death shows how moral absolutes are a luxury often denied during a time of war.  The scene of Joseph and Sarah in the moments before their deaths is very powerful – both know they will shortly die, both are afraid, but they’re also reconciled that it’s the only way.  But was it?  It’s is a question that remains right until the end and no doubt each viewer will have their own opinion as to whether Magnus and Ivar were guilty or innocent.

Although espionage doesn’t form any part of the story, this is a deeply thought-provoking tale that, even when the verdict is delivered, doesn’t seem to bring closure for the men in the dock.

The Glory Boys – Episode Three

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Helen reports back to Jones and is scathing about what she’s witnessed, describing it as a shambles.  As for Jimmy, she tells her boss that he’s “a knight in shining bloody armour ” setting off in hot pursuit.

Jimmy’s desire to finish the job is self evident.  Despite the fact he told Sokarev he’d be right beside him every step of the way, once he can scent blood in the air he’s off and running.  Although it’s probable there wasn’t a backup terrorist team in place – designed to take Sokarev out on his way back to the hotel maybe – Jimmy didn’t know this for sure.  But his dereliction of duty is never really remarked upon.

He tracks McCoy and Famy to a quiet cul-de-sac.  And when we see McCoy force his way into Norah’s house it becomes obvious that he wasn’t simply driving at random.  Before that, there’s a brief gun battle with Jimmy and the British agent hits him in the shoulder.  McCoy responds by lobbing a grenade under Jimmy’s car, which causes quite an explosion (although it’s odd that the neighbours are slow to investigate).

That we’re very much in the pre-mobile age is shown via a nice scene with Jimmy and an old man in one of the adjacent houses.  Jimmy’s desperate to use the phone but the man, no doubt spooked by the gunfire and explosion, tries to close the door on him, trapping Jimmy’s foot in the process!

The juxtaposition between a quiet suburban house and the onslaught of loud, ugly violence is striking.  McCoy, dripping with blood and brandishing a rifle, quickly rounds up Norah and her mother and father.  Famy darts out the back door, heading to Heathrow where he’ll have one more chance to complete his mission.  So for McCoy the position is clear – he has to stay holed up as long as possible.  The longer he can last out, the more time he buys Famy.

Because of his injury, he forces Norah to tie up her mother and father.  Although maybe this is also an exercise in control and fear – it’s certainly an effective moment as we see the girl attempting to bind her mother’s legs with a pair of tights.  As Norah is instructed to pull tighter, her mother reacts with distress.

When Jones arrives, Jimmy asks if he can go in with the assault team.  Jones, naturally enough, refuses.  Jimmy’s request reiterates his desire to be in at the kill – it isn’t enough to be close by, he wants to be right in the thick of the action.  He heads off to slump dejectedly in the back of a patrol car, another nicely played scene by Perkins.

Torture is seen several times in The Glory Boys.  The opening scene of episode one features Elkin and Mackiewicz brutally torturing a suspect whilst in this episode Jimmy indulges in a milder form of abuse following McCoy’s extraction from the house.  In some ways this makes Jimmy a proto Jack Bauer – a single-minded agent determined to do whatever it takes to complete his mission.  But Jimmy’s not acting without authority – Jones tacitly gives his approval (in front of McCoy) to do whatever he has to do.

So in the world of The Glory Boys, the ends justifies the means.  If the rights of prisoners are abused then so be it – provided it happens behind closed doors.  As is seen later, Jimmy’s downfall occurs after he decides to demonstrate his methods in public.

A little psychology and pain forces McCoy to admit that Famy’s going to make a last-ditch attempt to kill Sokarev immediately before he boards the plane.  But the security cordon is tight enough to nullify Famy’s attempt.

As Famy lies helpless – already downed by several shots from the ring of armed soldiers around the plane – Jimmy comes rushing over.  He couldn’t take part in the mission to extract McCoy and he wasn’t close enough to prevent Famy from launching his attack at the airport, but now he can finish the job.  As Famy struggles to get up, Jimmy aims his gun at his opponent’s head and pulls the trigger.  A quick cut to a roaring jet engine is a clever way of hiding the fact that we don’t see the fatal shot fired, but the power of the moment is still strong as we see Jimmy walk away, with a ring of onlookers behind him.

This most public of executions means that Jimmy is now highly toxic and the Minister (Ian Cuthbertson) tells Jones to fire him.  So Jimmy’s out of a job and Sokarev has safely left the country.  But there’s a final ironic twist, quite in keeping with the bleakness of the tale, which amuses a drunken Jimmy. We leave him as he slowly wends his way through the darkened London streets (with the haunting title music by Philip Japp and Julia Downes playing).

The Glory Boys has an excellent cast, although it’s pity that several familiar faces have very little to do.  The likes of Anthony Steel, Ian Cuthbertson, Alan MacNaughton and Robert Lang were all good enough actors to have taken major parts, but instead they only make the briefest of appearances.  Steiger and Perkins naturally dominate, although Alfred Burke has a quiet assurance as Jones.  Bur Joanna Lumley, despite being fourth billed, has little to do – Helen’s main usefulness seems to be that she can sense the real Jimmy behind the heroic façade.

YTV were no doubt hoping that this serial would repeat the success of their previous Gerald Seymour adaptation (Harry’s Game, 1982).  This didn’t really happen and the critical reaction was muted (with some newspaper reviews, latching onto the gunplay and violence, unimaginatively dubbing the series “The Gory Boys”).  The fact that it’s never been released on R2 DVD is another reason why it maintains a fairly low profile (although it’s available in R1).

As a time capsule of the mid eighties and also as a vehicle for both Rod Steiger and Anthony Perkins it’s well worth seeking out though.  It’s not perfect (and the 105 minute “movie” edit is tighter and more satisfying than the 3 x 50 minute serial) but the themes and characters continue to resonate down the decades.

The Glory Boys – Episode Two

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Famy’s inexperience is demonstrated at various points throughout the serial. McCoy is appalled to discover that he doesn’t have a plan to kill Sokarev – Famy has to weakly admit that the others (now dead) had the plan – and he further complicates matters by killing a woman who was rifling through his possessions at the flat where he and McCoy were holed up.

This means they’re on the run – which delights Jones, as he believes this leaves them in no shape to make the hit. Jimmy isn’t convinced and Jones quickly picks up on the vibe that Jimmy’s hoping that they’ll attack anyway. “You want to be in work, cheering them on. That makes me sick.” For Jimmy, the thrill of the chase (not to mention the kill) is all.

Although Rod Steiger’s performance can be florid at times, he still manages to throw in some subtle touches. One occurs as he prepares to say goodbye to his wife, prior to flying to London (she’s been forbidden from traveling with him). As they embrace, his eyes dart around in a worried fashion, but he manages to put on a brave face as they pull apart.

We see Norah’stifling home-life, complete with a father (played by Hubert Rees) who reacts to the news of Famy’s murder of the girl by muttering that the killer should be strung up. Of course, neither he or Norah’s mother realise that their daughter’s boyfriend is involved. But although Norah now knows what sort of man McCoy is, her love for him overrides every other consideration. But does he have any feelings for the girl, or is he simply using her?

The difference between Famy and McCoy – the one who’s prepared to give up his life for the struggle he believes in and the other who has no interest in a suicide mission – is restated. Famy tells him that “because my people have suffered, are suffering now, they trust me, for what I will do for them. In my country, the martyrs of our movement are honoured”. McCoy responds by telling him to shut up, proving that the ideological gulf between them is too wide to be breached. But while McCoy doesn’t share Famy’s hope for a glorious martyrdom, he does seem to have some sympathy for him.

Whilat a modern terrorist would probably plant a bomb, Famy’s eventual plan is much more old school – a rifle through the window and, hopefully, a clear shot at the podium where Sokarev is speaking. It’s possible to see the ease with which Famy and McCoy breach the elaborate security procedures set up to protect Sokarev as a weakness of the story or it could be deliberate.

Windows from the lecture room are accessible from the street outside, but although the street is cordoned off no thought seems to have been given to positioning substantial numbers of police or security officers outside these very vulnerable spots. Jones suggests it’s due to lack of resources, but that seems strange given the number of officers deployed elsewhere.

So the pair are able to run across the road and – as McCoy gives him a leg up – Famy breaks the glass in the window and takes aim at Sokarev. His lack of experience is highlighted again as he fires off multiple shots but isn’t able to hit the target. In desperation he throws a grenade in, which is leapt on by Mackiewicz.

Mackiewicz therefore protects both Sokarev and the others, but at the cost of his own life. It’s a chilling moment which brings home the point that often a bodyguard’s job is to take the bullet (or grenade) intended for the person they’ve been charged to protect.

With McCoy now injured from a brief gun battle with one of the security officers outside, he and Famy make their escape. Once more Famy’s inadequacies are displayed when he admits he can’t drive a car – forcing the badly injured McCoy to take the wheel as Jimmy follows close behind.

The Glory Boys – Episode One

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Palestinian terrorists hatch a plan to assassinate Professor David Sokarev (Rod Steiger), an Israeli nuclear scientist, during his forthcoming visit to Britain.  He has his own people protecting him – Maciewicz (Michael J. Jackson) and Elkin (Ron Berglas) – but the head of SIS, Mr Jones (Alfred Burke) plans to put his own man next to Sokarev every step of the way.

Jimmy (Antony Perkins) was the best, but in many people’s eyes he’s yesterday’s man.  His skill with a gun is still razor sharp, but he’s also inclined to be reckless and insubordinate.

Three terrorists attempted to reach Britain.  Two were killed in France, leaving one survivor – Famy (Gary Brown).  He makes contact with McCoy (Aaron Harris) a member of the Provisional IRA and together the mismatched pair begin to hatch a plan …..

The Glory Boys was a three-part serial, based on the novel by Gerald Seymour, made by Yorkshire television and broadcast over three consecutive evenings during October 1984.  That it was stripped across three nights indicates that it was seen as “event” television, and no doubt the two star names at the top of the credits helped to strengthen this feel.

Both Rod Steiger and Anthony Perkins were bona fide film stars, although it would be fair to say that their stock had fallen a little by the mid eighties, which probably explains how YTV were able to snag them.  But it was still a coup to see Steiger (On The Waterfront and In The Heat of the Night) and Perkins (Psycho) in a British television drama.

Steiger plays Sokarev in a very deliberate, ponderous way.  Sokarev is not a politician or a soldier, he’s a scientist and in his early scenes gives the impression that he’s somewhat unworldly.  He treats the news about the threat on his life with alarm and is keen to cancel his British trip.  But he’s told in no uncertain terms that this is impossible – it would send out a signal to the terrorists that they’ve won and Israel would then become a country under siege.  He eventually sees the logic in this.

Perkins’ British accent has met with mixed opinions down the years.  I think it’s pretty good and Perkins certainly impresses as the alcoholic, chain-smoking, cold-hearted killer.  If Steiger tends to be a bit wooden, then Perkins’ easy charm (although always with the sense that there’s something nasty lurking just below the surface) provides a nice counterpoint.

It’s no surprise, especially for this era of television, that the Palestinian terrorist Famy was played by a British born actor, Gary Brown.  It’s not a problem though as Brown is quickly able to sketch out Famy’s character quite effectively.  He was the youngest of the three terrorists and the most inexperienced.  But like them he has a fanatical desire to carry out his mission, even if it costs him his life.

This desire to die for a cause will be something that’s unfortunately all too familiar from modern acts of terrorism, but for British audiences watching thirty years ago it would have been more unusual.  The point is driven home by McCoy who tells Famy that he’s not prepared to throw his life away – McCoy might be IRA, but that doesn’t mean he has any desire to die.

Famy’s political ideology remains somewhat nebulous.  At one point he does attempt to explain his views to McCoy, but is cut off.  As for McCoy, in this first episode we learn that he has a British girlfriend, Norah (Sallyanne Law).  She seems an odd choice for an IRA terrorist, since she’s in her late teens and very innocent (with her love of cuddly toys she seems little more than a child at times).

The SIS we see is very much in the pre-computer age and for all intents and purposes it could just as easily been a snapshot of the 1950’s.  The offices are large, gloomy and old fashioned, complete with furniture that’s seen better days.  When Jones prepares to sleep in overnight, Helen (Joanna Lumley) makes up his camp-bed, complete with a hot water bottle.  To complete this very British picture, he spoons Ovaltine into a mug.

The first time Jones mentions Jimmy he looks at a picture on his wall, showing a wartime scene.  It’s a cliché moment for sure, and later the story is spelled out.  Jones and Jimmy served in Malaya back in the 1950’s and Jimmy saved Jones’ life.  So Jones feels he owes Jimmy a debt ever since, even up to and including today.  Did Jones chose Jimmy for this job because he’s still haunted by the events of Malaya or did he really think Jimmy was the best man to carry it out?

Alfred Burke, even with a fairly small part, catches the eye – as does Joanna Lumley.  Helen works for Jones and is Jimmy’s girlfriend, so her loyalties are somewhat divided.  Lumley has even less to do than Burke, but like him she’s a notable presence.

Minder – Come in T-64, Your Time is Ticking Away

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Candy Cabs, a minicab firm that Arthur has a share in, has suffered a series of attacks over the last few weeks – drivers have been beaten up and cars torched.  Arthur enlists Terry’s help by giving him the most clapped-out car imaginable and adding him to the drivers roster.  It soon becomes clear that these aren’t random acts of violence though, there’s a definite reason behind them.

The first of twenty Minder scripts written by Tony Hoare (his last, The Long Good Thursday, aired in 1994 and was the final episode of the original run).  He would end up writing more episodes than series creator Leon Griffiths, and whilst Griffiths’ contribution was absolutely key, in many ways Hoare would be as important as Griffiths in shaping the direction of the series.

Come in T-64 has its comic moments, but it’s also very much a product of Minder‘s earlier, more gritty, period.  It captures the late seventies run-down nature of London perfectly – Candy Cabs is located in a dilapidated part of town and whilst Arthur dreams of taking the business more upmarket and appealing to a more refined clientele, it’s clear that this will remain just a dream.

Early on, one of the drivers is attacked by two young tearaways.  Terry drives him home and before he drops him off he wonders why he’s spending his time mini-cabbing.  Terry’s told that he doesn’t have a choice – he married young, at nineteen, and has a wife and two children to support.  They live in three crummy rooms and in order to try and get on the property ladder he works nights in a bakery and spends the afternoons and evenings driving a cab.  It sounds like quite a bleak existence.

There are a few lighter moments though.  Terry agrees to spar with the local boxing champ as his regular partner hasn’t turned up.  Whilst he’s in the ring, Arthur turns up and gives Terry plenty of, no doubt well-intentioned, support even though it’s clear that Terry’s coming off second best.  When he’s knocked down again, Arthur’s incensed – he tells the barely conscious Terry that this is very damaging to his (Arthur’s) reputation!

One of Terry’s customers is Debbie (Diana Malin) who works as a stripper (the first of five appearances she’d make in the series).  Terry’s instantly attracted and it doesn’t take too long before they get together.  The next morning, Arthur calls to see him and is shocked by her nakedness (“oh my good gawd”).  This is the more familiar, prurient, Arthur that we’d grow used to seeing – always disapproving of Terry’s numerous liaisons – and is far removed from the lecherous Arthur of the earliest episodes.

By far the best comic moment comes when Kevin walks out, leaving Arthur in charge of the office.  His increasingly frantic efforts to keep track of the calls and direct the cabs makes him more and more stressed!  It’s a lovely comic sequence from George Cole.

Come in T-64 also highlights Arthur’s ruthless nature.  Although he’s invested £5,000 into the business, Kevin bitterly complains that he leaves him to do all the work.  Kevin’s keen to buy Arthur’s share, that way he claims he’d be able to make a decent living, but Arthur’s not interested – unless Kevin can come up with £8,000, some three thousand more than Kevin was expecting.

As might be expected, Alfred Burke is excellent as Kevin.  Best known for Public Eye, Burke brings a similar level of laconic weariness to this character.  There’s a few other familiar faces that pop up, such as Oscar James who’d later be a series regular in the early years of Eastenders.

In the end, both Arthur and Terry do quite well.  Arthur ends up buying Kevin’s share of the business (for a mere two thousand) and it’s plain that he’ll make a great deal more money once the site forms part of a new redevelopment.  It was Kevin, of course, who was behind the attacks – attempting to panic Arthur into selling his stake cheaply, so that he could benefit.  And even Terry, who spends most the episode being conned by Arthur, manages to make some money (a rare victory for Terry at this early point in the series).

Public Eye – A Fixed Address

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The first noticeable thing about A Fixed Address is that it’s in colour.  The original broadcast, back in 1969, was in black and white, but the programme was recorded in colour as a test for the forthcoming switchover.  It takes a little getting used to, as after six episodes of moody, black and white stories it’s something of a jolt.

The story opens with Frank and Mrs Mortimer working together on the dishes.  It’s another example of how comfortable he’s become with her – he’s now essentially one of the family.  The only guests staying are a young couple – Peter (Barrie Rutter) and Rosemary (Deborah Grant).  Peter is rather oafish and irritating whilst Rosemary is quiet and polite.  They don’t seem to be enjoying themselves especially and Frank wonders why.  This allows Mrs Mortimer to demonstrate her detective skills for once.  She tells Frank that they’re not married (she knew this when Peter didn’t know whether Rosemary liked kippers!) and this explains why they don’t quite seem at ease with each other.  She tells Frank that apart from enjoying love-making “they’ve nothing else in common.  They’re going to make themselves very miserable.”

It’s a nice moment that forges the bond between Mrs Mortimer and Frank a little tighter, although we’ll see upcoming events threaten this.  Frank’s looking to start up on his own again, as an enquiry agent, and he’s searching for offices.  When his probation officer, Jim Hull, calls round, she lets slip this information – which comes as a surprise to him.  He then offers Mrs Mortimer a word of advice (“Marker’s a very lonely man, I mean he’s a lone wolf.  Don’t make too many plans involving him.”)  Needless to say, this doesn’t go down well.

Events then take an unexpected turn when Mrs Mortimer’s estranged husband, Denis (Philip Brack) appears on the doorstep.  This provides the meat of the episode as he enjoys several spiky encounters with Frank as well as some memorable sparring matches with his wife.  He’s a charmer – but he walked out of his marriage seven years ago and it’s clear that his presence isn’t welcomed by her.  But why has he come back?

Eventually it becomes clear.  He offers her the chance to travel to Malaya with him.  It’s a three year trip and there’s plenty of benefits.  “House servants, change of air three times time a year.  Free travel, Siam, Penang, Hong Kong.”  It sounds tempting, but it’s obvious that the offer wasn’t made out of love or affection – as Denis’ company favours married employees, rather than single ones.  Mrs Mortimer has great pleasure in telling him no and her refusal means he doesn’t waste time hanging around.

Rosemary and Peter’s relationship also founders, so this isn’t the best episode for relationships.  Unless we count Frank and Mrs Mortimer?  Series four of Public Eye was essentially the story of Frank Marker’s journey back into society. At the start, he’d just come out of prison and was something of a drifter, with no home or friends.  By A Fixed Address, he has a friend (and she clearly wants to take things further) and a home, plus the chance to start his business again in Brighton.

But series five would see all of this jettisoned in favour of a move to Windsor.  This may have been down to a change in the production team.  Series four was entirely written by Roger Marshall, but he didn’t contribute a single script to the next series.  Presumably the new producer (Michael Chapman) decided that the Brighton location had run its course and decided to move Frank on again.  This is something a of shame, since there was still areas that could have been developed (for example, Mrs Mortimer’s guest house would have been a rich source of potential clients and problems for Frank).

But notwithstanding this, series four of Public Eye saw the series hit a consistently high standard – thanks to the scripting of Roger Marshall and the fine casts, headed by the incomparable Alfred Burke.

Public Eye – The Comedian’s Graveyard

comedian's graveyard

The Comedian’s Graveyard boasts a wonderful performance from Joe Melia as Billy Raybold.  Raybold is an end-of-the-pier entertainer, who is seen at the start of the story holding auditions for his latest show.  When Judy Blackburn (Tessa Wyatt) turns up, his attention is immediately drawn to her, since she’s young, nervous and very attractive.  He does his best to calm her nerves by telling her that they’re not here to eat her (“I wouldn’t mind” mutters his sidekick Arthur Mack, played by Leslie Dwyer).  So the scene seems to be set for Raybold to take advantage of the naive girl, but it doesn’t quite work out like that.

Raybold is always performing, even when off-stage, cracking corny jokes – but there’s plenty of opportunity to view the real man behind the greasepaint (and he’s someone who’s well aware of his mediocrity).  This is clearest at the end, when he tells Judy that “I could stand being a has-been, but a never-was, that takes some swallowing.”

Frank’s still working for Joe Ryland’s detective agency (although not for long – by the end of the story he’s resigned, finally worn down by the endless form-filling and his personal dislike of Ryland) and has been given the case of locating Judy.  There’s a clear difference of opinion between Frank and Ryland – Ryland is happy to take the client’s money, but Frank feels they’d be better off going to the police.  “I’m one man.  With one pair of eyes and one pair of feet.  The population of Brighton and Hove is something like 240,000, not counting the tourists.  I”d have to get very, very, lucky.”

Eventually he agrees with Judy’s aunt, Mrs Reid (Mona Bruce) that he’ll spend a few days looking for her.  And since this is television, he does manage to find her fairly easily.  Frank spies her on the pier, handing out leaflets for Raybold’s show.  This brings Frank into conflict with Raybold, since he showed him Judy’s picture earlier in the day and he claimed not to have seen her.  Frank’s suspicious of Raybold’s motives, but the comedian tells him that “I don’t want any trouble, I’ve done nothing wrong.  All I want is some decent trade, bit of fishing, little money to show for it at the end.”

Earlier, Raybold confessed to Mack that he wasn’t getting anywhere with Judy, and he’d decided not to.  His reputation as a womanizer in the past was well known, but he now admits he’s “too old for the chase, the lies, promises, chat.”

As I’ve said, Melia’s riveting as a third-rate comedian, hiding the pain of his mundane existence behind the false bonhomie of the professional comic.  It’s a familiar character (think of Archie Rice in The Entertainer) but it works just as well here.  Tessa Wyatt is appealing as the seventeen year-old Judy, who dreams of stardom but finds that the reality is somewhat different.  Leslie Dwyer (later to be a regular in the early series of Hi-De-Hi!) offers solid support as Arthur Mack, who seems keen to move in on Judy, since Raybold isn’t interested.

Another thread developed in the story is the continuing relationship between Frank and Mrs Mortimer.  Together they take Mrs Reid to see Judy perform in the show.  Although it’s essentially a professional trip (after Judy’s performance, Mrs Reid confronts her and pleads with the girl to come home) it could also said to be virtually a date for Frank and Mrs Mortimer.  Certainly as they reach home, they’re both still in high spirits – and even though Raybold has never topped the bill at the London Palladium, he’s still able to put on a good show which they both seemed to enjoy.

Over a nightcap, the conversation turns to Frank’s long-term plans.  He confesses that he doesn’t see himself staying with Rylands much longer.  Mrs Mortimer tells him he should set up on his own again, but Frank knows that’s easier said than done.  “There’s a little item buzzing around Parliament called the private investigators bill.  The bit that caught my eye said ‘agents would have to satisfy a judge of their competence and honesty.’  And here am I, still on parole.  You’d also have to deposit a one thousand pound bond before you could set up shop.”

Mrs Mortmer offers without hesitation to provide the bond.  Frank refuses (“finance and friendship, like oil and water”) and the fact he mentioned friendship is picked up by Mrs Mortimer (“coming out of your shell, aren’t you?”)  It’s a far cry from the start of the series, where Frank was an isolated character with no friends at all.

The end of the scene does imply that Mrs Mortimer would like to be more than friends though.  But since series five would see Frank relocate again (this time to Windsor) their relationship is already on borrowed time.  Had Frank stayed in Brighton, it’s intriguing to wonder exactly what would have happened to the pair of them.  But maybe it was the fear that he was getting too domesticated that caused the programme-makers to move him on again.

Public Eye – Case for the Defence

case for the defence

Helped by the sole writer on this series, Roger Marshall, there’s a strong sense of continuity between the stories – so that at times it feels more like a serial than a series.  This is evident in Case for the Defence, which harks back to events and characters first seen in Paid in Full.

During Paid in Full, Marker tangled with Detective Constable Broome (Leslie Lawton) who was convinced that Frank had stolen a colleague’s pay-packet.  Eventually the true culprit is caught and Broome returns here to try and make amends for the injustice Frank suffered (losing his job at the builder’s yard).

Frank’s now got another job, stacking supermarket shelves, but it’s obviously far from satisfying.  Broome tells him that there’s a position vacant at a local detective agency.  It’s a tempting possibility – although it would mean the fiercely independent Frank would have to work with others (which isn’t always his strongest point).  But the chance of returning to what he knows best is irresistible, so he accepts the offer of the agency’s owner, Joe Rylands (Stanley Meadows).

His first case involves gathering evidence for the defence concerning the forthcoming trial of Barry Osborne (Billy Harmon).  This is another link back to Paid in Full – as Marker encountered Billy during that story at the police station (Marker was in another interview room, discussing the wages theft).  It’s an undisputed fact that Billy killed a garage owner, Flockton, by stabbing him with a screwdriver.  There seems to be no reason for this, which is even more baffling when you consider that Billy comes from a wealthy family and has received every privilege.

His father, Ben Osborne (William Lucas), is keen to impress on Marker that he wants his son to get off, by whatever means possible.  It’s a powerful performance from Lucas, portraying a single-minded wealthy man (who’s made his money by being the main meat supplier for the county) used to buying whatever or whoever he wants.  This is going to place him on an inevitable collision course with Marker, who prizes the truth highly and will refuse to be cowed or intimidated by him.

Frank is able to establish that Flockton had gone to prison a decade earlier for GBH.  Osborne is delighted – it gives them a chance to craft a plea of self defence.  Together, Osborne and Frank visit Flockton’s victim, Mr Jackson (Richard Bird). but a series of strokes has rendered him virtually unintelligible.  Osborne’s pressurising of the sick old man disgusts Frank, who exits the house.

By now, Frank’s seen more than enough to be convinced that Osborne will do anything, including bribery, to ensure that he can produce witnesses to support his line of defence (that Barry was attacked by Flockton and inadvertently caused his death whilst defending himself).  Frank corners Rylands and lets him know what’s been going on.

MARKER: I think you ought to know that you could be letting yourself in for a great deal of trouble.
RYLANDS: How?
MARKER: Friend Osborne and his cheque book is going around getting at witnessess. Bribing them, getting them to perjure themselves.
RYLANDS: Strong words.
MARKER: Well you’d better hear them now than in the dock.
RYLANDS: Any proof?
MARKER: Not yet.
RYLANDS: Well I’m glad you let me in on this, Marker. Yes, they’re very pleased with you, you know. I’m delighted.
MARKER: Well I don’t want another job to fold up underneath me.
RYLANDS: You’re quite right. But you must remember Marker, when you’re paid to turn up stones, you mustn’t get too queasy at what you find underneath.
MARKER: I’m not queasy, but I just don’t want to be there when he offers the judge fifty quid and a years free meat.

In the end, Barry decides to plead guilty, despite his father’s protestations.  Exactly what happened at the garage is never established, and never will be.  It’s possible that Barry was defending himself, but equally it could just have been a motiveless murder.  Later in the story, Frank talks to a friend of Barry’s, Dorry Milner (Pauline Challoner).  She’s convinced that the blame for Barry’s current situation can be firmly laid at his father’s door.  “He screwed up Barry pretty efficiently.”

There’s no pat resolution to this story.  Marker was paid to do a job, which he did to the best of his ability.  Barry’s decision to plead guilty manages to negate most of Frank’s investigations – so what we take away from Case for the Defence is the unscrupulous nature of Ben Osbourne and his assertion that the truth can be bought.

Marker’s rarely in the position to be able to pick and choose his clients and his conflicts with them, when he comes to realise that their aims are ones he is morally unable to respect, will fuel the drama of many of the episodes to come.

Public Eye – My Life’s My Own

my life's my own

After three very Marker-centric episodes, My Life’s My Own offers a change of focus – as somebody else’s problems take centre-stage.

Early on, Frank has a meeting with his probation officer, Jim Hull (John Grieve).  There’s the possibility of another labouring job, but it’s clear that Frank’s heart isn’t really in it.  He tells Hull that eventually he’ll probably return to his old job as an enquiry agent although he admits that it’s never going to earn him a fortune.  “Often, the big chunks of money can be for something quite trivial.  I mean a couple of hundred quid for finding out who’s stealing in a factory.  What, two day’s work.  And then you can spend a week or more putting the whole world straight for somebody, for a tenner.  Because that’s all they can afford.”

The possibility of doing a great deal of work for little or no reward is also the theme of this episode.  Shirley Marlowe (Stephanie Beacham) unofficially becomes a client of Frank’s after a failed suicide attempt (although no money ever changes hands).  His motivation for attempting to help her is characteristic of him (and maybe he sees something of him in her – they both appear to be loners operating on the fringes of society).

Shirley turns up at the boarding house looking for a room.  Mrs Mortimer’s away (looking after a sick relative) and Frank’s initially reluctant to let her in.  When she tells him she simply can’t walk the streets he agrees to let her have a room.

There seems to be something odd and off-key about her, although Frank either doesn’t pick up on it or maybe he considers that it’s not his problem.  Is the fact he didn’t spot the signs of her distress a motivation for his involvement afterwards?

She’s fond of her transistor radio, which blares out the latest pop hits.  But when it’s still playing at three in the morning, Frank’s concerned – and he breaks her door down.  He finds Shirley unconscious, with a glass containing the dregs of a cocktail of drugs nearby.  Whatever else he is, he’s good in a crisis and he drags her to the bathroom, forces her to vomit and waves some smelling salts under her nose.  He also shakes her violently and slaps her hard across the face several times, which may not be in the first aid manual!

This eventually brings her around, although she’s still very groggy.  When Mrs Mortimer returns she asks Frank why he didn’t call an ambulance.  He doesn’t have a particularly good answer, merely that he thought he could cope.

But as events later seem to spiral out of control, he begins to question his judgement – maybe he decided to take charge because he’s been used to dealing with people’s problems for so long or possibly it was to spare her family the distress of the publicity and the inevitable official enquiries which would follow.

Frank takes her out and walks her up and down Brighton seafront (a nicely atmospheric sequence).  As it’s three in the morning this attracts the attention of a passing police car, but luckily they don’t stop.  When she’s more recovered, Frank’s able to tease her story out of her – and it seems to revolve around a married man called Chris.

Frank finds a letter addressed to a Dr C Nourse (Gary Watson) and goes to visit him and his wife.  Dr Nourse confirms that Shirley used to work for them, as a nurse for his wife, but she recently left.  He seems unmoved by Shirley’s suicide attempt (claiming that it wasn’t serious – if it had been then she wouldn’t have left the radio on for Frank to hear).  His wife seems much more upset, and the penny only drops as he leaves – her name is Chris, his name is Charles.

This is a fairly progressive theme for a mainstream late 1960’s drama and it’s handled subtly and well.  The episode is largely a two-hander between Alfred Burke and Stephanie Beacham, both of whom give fine performances.  Burke is his normal, excellent, self – excelling in the scene where Marker frantically tries to bring Shirley round, for example.

Roger Marshall’s script also provides a meaty role for Beacham.  It means she has to be disheveled and distinctly unglamorous for most of the story – but she’s certainly game for this and turns in an affecting performance as a vulnerable girl who’s prone to sudden changes of mood.

There’s two possible endings to this story – a happy or an unhappy one.  Either she makes another suicide attempt and succeeds or she gets on with her life.  It’s slightly surprising that her decision is taken off screen and therefore is reported second hand to Frank at the close of the story – but I suppose this allows the focus to be put back on him. And although this denies us a final scene between Burke and Beacham, it does bring My Life’s My Own to a decent conclusion.

Public Eye – Paid In Full

paid in full

When one of his colleagues, Arthur Wilson (Maurice Good), has his pay-packet stolen, Frank Marker is the obvious suspect.

The legacy of his criminal record and how it colours other people’s opinions of him is the main thrust of this episode.  Although his criminal past should have been a secret at the firm (only the owner, Kendrick, knew officially) somehow it’s public knowledge – which places him firmly in the frame.

While the police, in the form of Detective Constable Broome (Leslie Lawton), are making enquiries, Frank is totally oblivious to the oncoming storm.  He’s enjoying an afternoon off and has decided to do some shopping.  He passes by an antiques shop and is rather taken with a china figure he sees in the shop window.  It’s absolutely the last thing you would expect Marker to be interested in, and his reason for being drawn to it allow us to explore some previously unknown facets of his character.

He tells the shop’s owner (Susan Richards) that his family had something similar when he was a child.  “Must have been the only thing we had that was worth anything.”  She presumes that it must have been a happy family, since he has an attraction to this object.  Frank tells her, matter-of-factly, that no, they weren’t particularly happy and he’s not able to articulate fully the reason why this figurine appeals to him.  This is a lovely character moment for Marker and it seems to exist in the story purely for this reason – to shine a little light on this incredibly private man.

Frank has a visit from Broome who accuses him of the theft.  Marker vehemently denies it.  “And I’m favourite?  Yes, of course.  Well go on, search the place.  Take the bed apart, take the carpet up.”  The indignity of being visited by the police and having his room searched obviously affects him (he eats little at dinner time).  It’s then interesting to see how Mrs Mortimer and Enright (who, like Marker, is an ex-con lodging with Mrs Mortimer) react.

L-R - William Moore, Leslie Lawton & Tania Trude
L-R – William Moore, Leslie Lawton & Tania Trude

When Broome calls, Frank is out and although Mrs Mortimer agrees he can wait, it’s clear from her tone that she views the police officer with hostility.  Enright turns down Frank’s offer of a drink at the local pub, claiming he’s got some work to do, but since he’s coming towards the end of his probation no doubt he’s reluctant to get involved with anyone who’s attracted the attention of the police.

Later, Mrs Mortimer brings Frank a whisky in his room.  They then have a heart-to-heart discussion, which is a major step towards developing their friendship.  She tells him that she believes he’s innocent and goes on to explain that contrary to Frank’s surmise, she isn’t a widow – her husband is alive and (sadly for her) well.  Frank, as he so often is, is more of a listener than a talker, but it’s another well crafted character-based scene from Roger Marshall.

Next day, Frank has to face the accusing stares of his work colleagues.  He approaches Wilson and tells him that he didn’t steal his money and although Wilson says he believes him, from the tone of his voice it’s apparent there’s still considerable doubt.  Alfred Burke, once again, is on great form here, crackling with anger as he faces down Wilson.  “You lost eighteen quid, I could lose eighteen months.”

He does have some supporters though.  Kendrick’s secretary, Jenny (Tania Trude) believes him and she does assist in clearing his name.  Wearing a selection of ridiculously short skirts, Trude was a very appealing presence in both this and the previous story.  She only has a handful of television credits, of which Public Eye was her penultimate one.  Where she is or what she’s doing now is something of a mystery, but she’s one of those actresses that managed to light up the screen and therefore leaves you wondering why she didn’t have a much longer career.

Thanks in part to Jenny, the truth eventually comes out.  Wilson’s money was stolen by his friend Starkie (Brian Croucher on fine form as a loud-mouthed yob).  Starkie says he only took it as a joke, in order to teach Wilson a lesson (Starkie’s miffed that Wilson never wants to go out anymore, instead he prefers to stay at home with his family).

That should be that then, but Kendrick is forced, reluctantly, to let Marker go.  He says he doesn’t want to, but he’s been advised that Frank’s continued presence would be a “disruptive element”.  Again, Burke’s first-class here, railing against the injustice of it all.  But it’s all to no avail, and so the episode ends with Frank walking out of the yard for the last time.

Public Eye – Divide and Conquer

divide and conquer

Divide and Conquer opens with two bikers, Harry (Terence Rigby) and Frank (Richard O’Callaghan), enjoying their breakfast at a Brighton cafe.  They manage to con the cafe owner (Ken Jones) out of five pounds before making a stealthy escape.

At the same time, Marker is enjoying his breakfast at Mrs Mortimers, prior to starting his new job.  As with his accommodation, it’s been provided by the probation service.  It might not be exactly what he wants to do (he starts off by repairing the sea-wall at a lonely stretch of beach) but as an ex-prisoner he can’t afford to be too choosy.

A visit to the local pub with Enright (Peter Cellier) sparks trouble.  Enright, like Marker, is an ex-con who’s also lodging with Mrs Mortimer.  Unlike Marker, he’s something of a gregarious chap, and he eventually manages to persuade the insular Marker to share a drink with him.  At the pub, Marker sees Harry try to con the publican (played by Norman Mitchell) with the same trick he pulled on the cafe owner.

There’s no reason for Marker to get involved, but he does and it forces Harry and Frank to beat a hasty retreat.  Professionals wouldn’t have attempted to use the same trick more than once in the same area and by the same token, professionals wouldn’t hang about.  But Harry and Frank aren’t professionals and Harry vows to get even with Frank Marker.

Divide and Conquer is another excellent character-driven story from Roger Marshall.  Harry and Frank, whilst occasionally faintly ridiculous, also manage to exude an air of menace.  Terence Rigby was always an idiosyncratic actor.  He could be excellent (for example, as Big Al in Alan Plater’s Beiderbecke stories) but he could also turn in fairly indifferent performances (such as a rather wooden Dr Watson opposite Tom Baker’s Sherlock Holmes in the BBC Classic Serial adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles).

This story showcases both his strengths and weaknesses.  At times, Harry is an intimidating figure (when he pulls a knife on Marker after the unsuccessful attempt to con the publican) but it’s fair to say that at times Rigby’s delivery and performance borders on the pantomimic.  O’Callaghan doesn’t speak too much, and therefore is more of a looming presence, but he’s key to the resolution of the story.

The last fifteen minutes are the heart of the episode.  It’s a single sequence, shot on film, which sees Harry and Frank confront Marker whilst he’s at work.  As I’ve said, it’s a lonely spot, so Marker wouldn’t be able to count on anybody coming to his aid.  We’ve previously seen that he can take a beating as well as give one out (for example, Nobody Kills Santa Claus) but the odds here are stacked against him.  If he’s going to walk away unscathed, then it’s words not actions that will save him.

That’s what the title of the story means, as Marker has to play Harry and Frank off against each other.  Harry is keen to attack Marker, Frank isn’t so sure – and Marker is able to slowly plant seeds of doubt in both of their minds.  He tells them what would happen if they carry out the attack.  “That would put you right in the big league.  Send you up for two years, soon as look at you.  If someone says to me, ‘two years inside’ I’d go like that.”  And Marker shakes his hand to indicate how frightened he is.  The more susceptible Frank agrees.

It’s a great three-handed scene and is yet another example of quality acting from Alfred Burke.  At the start there’s an imminent sense of violence, but Marker is able to chip away at their confidence bit by bit, targeting first one and then the other.  Once he’s managed to convince Frank, it makes Harry less of a threat – and eventually both of them decide to cut their losses and drive off.

Jim Goddard’s direction during this lengthy film sequence either favours very low angles, shooting up at the three actors, or tight close-ups.  Both help to keep the focus firmly on the characters and the dialogue, whereas wider shots would have dissipated some of the tension.  It’s a very well-shot section and it’s just a pity that the original film inserts no longer exist (this means that all the film sequences are a little blurry, they certainly aren’t as good as the remastered VT interiors).

Another very solid episode.

Public Eye – Welcome to Brighton?

welcome to brighton

Welcome to Brighton? was the first episode of Public Eye‘s fourth series, originally broadcast in 1969.  It was also the first series to be made by Thames (the previous three were ABC productions).  Sadly, only a handful of episodes from the ABC years exist (a mere five out of forty one).  Given how good these surviving episodes are, it’s a great pity that so few escaped the archive purges – but luckily all of the Thames episodes are present and correct.

The fourth series is noteworthy for several reasons – firstly it’s the shortest series of Public Eye (seven episodes) and secondly it’s the only one where all the episodes were penned by a single writer – in this case, Roger Marshall (who co-created the series with Anthony Marriott).  Having just the one writer allows for a unity of characterisation – which is particularly important, since most of this series revolves around Marker himself.

When a show has an actor as good as Alfred Burke, it’s understandable that the scripts would be tailored to his many strengths.  So series four of Public Eye is concerned with Marker’s journey back into society first and foremost, and we don’t see him back in his old job as an enquiry agent until later in the run.

At the end of the final episode of series three (Cross That Palm When We’ll Come To It) Marker was convicted of handling stolen goods (although he was innocent) and sentenced to two years imprisonment.  Welcome to Brighton? opens with him in his last few days at Ford Open Prison, prior to his release.  There’s plenty of people ready to offer advice, such as fellow con Jakeman (George Sewell) and the Governor (Martin Dempsey).  Both, in their different ways, are somewhat pessimistic about Frank’s chances.

Frank tells Jakeman that he plans to go straight, but Jakeman isn’t convinced – as he believes that the police will constantly be on his back.  “Once you’re in their little black book, you’re there forever.  They’ll be leaning on you, turning you over.”  This is something we see borne out later in the series, though Frank’s done his time and is now a free man, he still has to face the suspicion of the police and others – once a con, always a con, it seems.

The Governor is concerned that Frank is a solitary individual, with no apparent friends or family.  “Have you always been so withdrawn? Or has prison made you like that?” Frank counters that he’s still the same person he’s always been and the Governor suggests he should try changing – “bend with the wind occasionally”.  In the Governor’s opinion, without people look out for him, he’s likely to re-offend again.

Frank’s release day comes and he’s driven down to the railway station in a Black Maria.  This obviously marks him down as a released prisoner and he has to face the curious and accusing stares of his fellow passengers.  The probation service have set him up with a job in Brighton and also accommodation – at a bed-and-breakfast run by a Mrs Mortimer (Pauline Delaney).  Mrs Mortimer takes in the occassional ex-criminal (provided they’re not violent, she says she doesn’t want to wake up in heaven) as something of a civic duty and welcomes Frank into her home.  Although she only has a single scene in this story, during series four Mrs Mortimer will become the closest thing to a friend that we’ve ever seen Frank have.

After checking out his room, Frank goes for a walk around Brighton.  The most notable occurrence is a meeting with Grace (Heather Canning).  She spies him drinking a bottle of whisky by the seafront and offers him the use of her toothmug back at her flat – he readily agrees and it’s clear that there’s more than whisky on offer.  It’s uncharacteristic of Frank to pick up a total stranger, but after two years and more in prison, it’s understandable.  When he goes to the toilet, she steals some money from his wallet and Frank, when he returns, knows instantly that something’s wrong.  Alfred Burke here (as he is throughout) is excellent, as we see the repressed anger bubbling just beneath the surface.  Marker is usually a pretty laid-back character, but circumstances change that.  He nearly strikes her and has no compunction is forcibly removing the money from her clutches.  He does leave the whisky with her though, as a consolation.

If Weclome to Brighton? feels like a series of vignettes, then that’s a fair assessment.  The next concerns Jakeman’s wife, Freda (Anne Ridler).  Jakeman asked Frank to visit her and find out why she hasn’t replied to his letters or visited him recently.  This he does and he tells her that a wife who doesn’t stand by her husband in prison can’t be much good.  This is the signal for Freda to tell Frank in no uncertain terms exactly what she thinks.  “He’s safely banged away in his cell.  Every time responsibility comes up, he’s off, never fails.  Well, you’re all the same.  Half of you run back inside every time some little problem comes up you don’t want to cope with.  You’ll be back there, you see.”  There’s plenty more where that came from and Freda’s speech highlights how a prison sentence affects the people left on the outside just as much as those inside.

So Welcome to Brighton? is not only a series of vignettes, but it’s a series of  vignettes where Frank come off second best (particularly in his encounters with Grace and Freda).  It’s a sign that his new life in Brighton will be far from smooth.