Public Eye – The Bromsgrove Venus

bromsgrove venus

Written by Anthony Skene
Directed by Jim Goddard

Chief Librarian Paul Ainsworth (Leon Sinden) hires Frank Marker to find out how a picture of his wife Marie (Sylvia Kay) ends up in the Library’s photographic competition.  It’s a tasteful nude portrait (taken from behind) which copies a famous painting – and has been dubbed the Bromsgrove Venus.

Ainsworth is much older than his wife and Frank puts his finger on the nub of the matter.  “You think you don’t deserve her, don’t you? She’s beautiful and French and clever and you’re just a ordinary middle-aged Englishman”.  His first port of call is John Ingleby (Timothy Carlton) who entered the photograph in the competition.  Frank has to work hard to discover the truth and come to a conclusion that will keep the Ainsworth’s marriage intact.

The Bromsgrove Venus is the last surviving ABC episode and the only story to exist from the third series. There’s plenty to enjoy here – such as Frank blackmailing Ingleby in his quest to find out who took the photo.  He knows Ingleby didn’t (he just saw it on display in a local photographic shop, recognised Ainsworth’s wife and pinched it) but he’s no compunction in engaging his unwilling assistance to help to solve the mystery.

The trail sends Frank to a box number at a newsagents where he meets his match.  All of his persuasive charm cuts no ice with the old lady behind the counter (Daphne Heard) who chases him out of the shop with her broom!  Marie is more successful with her (she gives her money) and she manages to get the address of the box number.

Marie then visits Frank with the address (she can’t bear to go herself) and explains that she’s been blackmailed for years – she pays five pounds a month to this box number.  It’s maybe the only weakness of the story that Marie would independently decide to engage Frank’s services (unaware that her husband already has).  The box number leads Frank to a dance studio where he professes a desire to brush up on his Tango skills!  And he’s not a bad mover.

Given how few episodes exist from the first three series, it’s difficult to gauge the overall quality of Public Eye’s early years – but based on the little we do have and the later Thames series, it does seem an awful pity that so much was wiped.

Series four will see Frank Marker relocate to Brighton following his release from prison.  But that’s another story.

Public Eye – Works with Chess, Not with Life

works with chess

Written by Roger Marshall
Directed by Basil Coleman

Marker’s been doing some work for a solicitor called George Faulkner (Laurence Hardy) and he asks him to keep an eye on Dr Alan Skerrett.  Faulkner is concerned about Skerrett’s wife Nancy (Susan Dowdall) as he considers himself something of a god-uncle to her.  Skerrett’s recently cancelled a life insurance policy and also hasn’t renewed his golf club subscription.  That indicates to Frank that he plans to leave, the question is does he intend to take anybody else with him?

Marker quickly discovers that Skerrett’s having an affair, with Ann Lynn (Susan Lambert).  But matters are complicated when Nancy pays him a visit as she also wants to hire him to follow her husband.  She knows he’s having an affair – and who he’s having it with – she wants Marker to force him to choose between her and Ann.

Works with Chess, Not with Life provides us with several good examples of just how good a liar Frank Marker is.  One of his jobs for Faulkner concerns a woman called Miss O’Hara (Valerie Bell).  She’s threatening to sue a local hotel because she claims they gave her food poisoning and she’s been hardly able to eat since.  Frank strikes up a conversation with her in a pub and treats her to a slap-up meal – with Faulkner present to observe her healthy appetite.  With Miss O’Hara, he slips effortlessly into the persona of a commercial traveller, complete with the gift of the gab, and she doesn’t suspect a thing.

The main part of the episode revolves around Skerrett’s infidelities.  To be honest, he’s so weak and indecisive that it’s difficult to understand what either woman sees in him.  Eventually he decides that he can’t leave with Ann and she begins to make things difficult for him.  So he becomes the third person to come to Marker to ask for help.

It’s easy to tell that Frank’s not impressed with him.  “How a so-called intelligent man gets himself … What’s it cost to train a doctor? About ten thousand? Ten thousand pounds worth of education. Do you know how old I was when I left school? Fourteen. And that was an achievement my mother boasted about”.

Marker stops Ann from taking any action (by not strictly ethical means as he admits) and it’s another good example of how he’s able to spin a convincing yarn.  Clearly he could have had another job as a confidence trickster!

This isn’t a particularly Marker-centric episode since it concentrates more on the love triangle.  And as Skerrett’s such an annoying character this doesn’t make it the most compelling of stories.  But even average Public Eye is better than a great many other dramas.

Next episode – The Bromsgrove Venus

Public Eye – Don’t Forget You’re Mine

don't forget

Written by Roger Marshall
Directed by Kim Mills

Marker’s relocated to Birmingham – a new city and a fresh start.  The first job for Frank is to find an office – which he does at the back of a local estate agent.  It’s somewhat dingy and overlooks a timber yard, but it’s still a snip at £4.00 a week, furnished.  His first client is Mrs Jessup (Pauline Delaney) who hires him to find her missing husband.  She asks him if he’s good at finding people and Marker replies it that depends on “how well they’re hidden. How far they’ve gone. How long they’ve been gone and then on whether or not they want to be found”.  It seems a straightforward case, but as so often happens, Frank later finds out that he hasn’t been told the whole story ….

Public Eye would regularly relocate to new cities (later series found Marker in Brighton and then Windsor) and refreshing the location does help to shake the stories up.  We get to see a bit of Birmingham in this story as he walks the streets looking for Mrs Jessup’s husband.

Pauline Delaney would later return to Public Eye during the fourth series as Mrs Mortimer, the closest thing to a friend that Frank ever has.  Here, she plays a completely different character – initially she’s the concerned wife, but later we scratch a little deeper under the surface to uncover the truth.  When Frank learns that Donald Jessup left three years ago, he begins to smell a rat and when he finally tracks him down he understands just how he’s been used

Roy Dotrice is Donald Jessup, or as he’s now called, Donald Scott, and Virginia Stride is Karen Scott.  Roger Marshall plays a good wrong-footing trick as the audience is allowed to make an inference about their relationship, which turns out to be incorrect.

Along the way Frank bumps into various characters, my favourite is Angie (Diana Beevers), who’s intrigued by the notion that Frank’s a private detective, asks him to sample the punch she’s made (judging by his expression it packs quite a kick) and then invites him to stay for her party – the carrot is that afterwards she’ll look for Jessup’s forwarding address.  Marker agrees and Angie asks him to answer the door.  “Don’t forget you’re mine” she says, a sentiment that’s at the heart of the story.

Next Episode – Works with Chess, Not with Life

Public Eye – The Morning Wasn’t So Hot

the morning

Written by Roger Marshall
Directed by Kim Mills

Marker is hired to find Jenny Graham (Carole Ann Ford) a twenty-year-old runaway from Hull.  The chances of tracking her down in London are slim, to say the least, but he takes the case.  Jenny is working for a small-time pimp called Peter Mason (Roland Curram), who haunts the cafes at Kings Cross Railway Station, spotting unattached young girls who’ve run away from home.

Jenny is no innocent though – this is a lifestyle she’s chosen, and she plans to make it to the top.  Mason is invited to a meeting with Dannon (Philip Madoc).  Dannon describes himself as an agent, somebody who provides items for collectors – and the item in question is Jenny.

The Morning Wasn’t So Hot is a bleak little tale.  Philip Madoc is suitably sinister as Dannon, polite and cultured on the surface (and surrounded by valuable antiques) but also quite capable of viewing Jenny as just another item for sale, as he explains to Mason.  “Three, six months, that’s the life expectancy of one of your girls. Ten to one she’s in court by the end of the month or she’s got pneumonia hanging about shop doorways or you’ve done a little crude rolling”.

Mason agrees to sell her for three hundred pounds, but unfortunately for him she’s already gone.  Marker questions Mason and he breaks the bad news to him.  “You sold her. Now she’s welched on you and you’re piggy in the middle. They’re going to be fitting you for an apple in the mush”.

And that’s the last we see of Mason.  When Marker and Dannon meet, Dannon tells him that Mason’s retired and there’s no doubt that it’s a permanent retirement with no plans to return.  Marker agrees to tell Dannon first if he finds Jenny, but it’s obvious that he won’t (and this will spell trouble for Frank).

Carole Ann Ford

Marker eventually tracks Jenny down, but she’s not prepared to listen to him or return home to her mother.

MARKER: Look, your friend Mason did a deal with one of the retail flesh merchants. Now according to the agreement you should be working for them.
JENNY: Really? First I heard of it.
MARKER: Well you ran off on the day he made the deal.
JENNY: Tough.
MARKER: Look, these people are not to be fooled about with, you know.
JENNY: I’ll bear it in mind.
MARKER: You’ve heard of the girls who end up in the river, naked and dead? Well it wasn’t Jack the Ripper, it was girls just like you, girls who stepped out of line, who wouldn’t do what they were told.
JENNY: Which was?
MARKER: A girl has a certain lifespan, did you know that? Every now and again they like to juggle the faces.

Dannon obviously had somebody following Marker, as after he left Jenny some of his associates picked her up – and dumped Frank into the river.  Marker then considers the case closed – he tried to persuade Jenny to return home, she refused and he regards his dip in the river as a clear warning.  If he interferes again, they’ll kill him like they did Mason.

So sadly, Jenny has to be written off.  And her meeting with Dannon is a chilling moment.  She tells him that he can’t force her.  “Oh my dear, it’s the easiest thing in the world. I shouldn’t be saying this of course, because I’m only an agent in the transaction, but these people they have their ways. They have, ah, what do they call it? A battery farm. Even the most rebellious become totally compliant”.

If Jenny is now beyond Frank’s assistance, then the episode does end on a hopeful note since he’s able to help another young runaway, Sue Forbes (Susan Burnet).  Which causes him to remark that “the morning wasn’t so hot, maybe the afternoon will be a bit better”.

An uncompromising story, Alfred Burke continues to impress (soaking his feet after a hard day pounding the streets is a nice, realistic touch!).  Philip Madoc is always worth watching, especially when he’s playing menacing (which he did an awful lot).  It’s hard to warm to Jenny, but Carole Ann Ford does manage to express a certain vulnerability in the last few minutes when she realises she’s in too deep.  It’s certainly a change of role following her year on Doctor Who, and was exactly the sort of part she wanted – a chance to do something different.

Next episode – Don’t Forget You’re Mine

Public Eye – Nobody Kills Santa Claus

santa claus

Written by Roger Marshall
Directed by Kim Mills

Public Eye was a hugely popular series, starring Alfred Burke, which ran for seven series between 1965 and 1975.  Burke played Frank Marker, a down-at-heel enquiry agent who possessed a strong moral core as he moved his way through the sometimes seedy underbelly of whatever town or city he was currently working in.  Suffice it to say that if you have the slightest interest in British archive television, then Public Eye (like Callan) is a must watch.

And like Callan, it was originally made by ABC Television, and after ABC lost their franchise it was picked up by Thames.  But whilst all the Thames episodes (series four to seven) exist, sadly only five episodes survive from the first three series (out of a total of forty one transmitted).

The first existing episode is Nobody Kills Santa Claus, the second episode of the first series.  Paul Garston (Keith Baxter) is a successful young businessman.  His success has partly been achieved by riding roughshod over other people – so he’s certainly the sort of person that makes enemies.  When he confides to his managing director Eric Hart (Peter Barkworth) that he’s been receiving threatening phone calls, Hart recommends calling in Frank Marker.

The first ten minutes or so of Nobody Kills Santa Claus focus on Garston which allows us to see the type of person he is.  He’s brash, arrogant and quite happy to engage in underhand dealings if it’s to his advantage.  And although Eric Hart is the managing director, he plays a very subservient role to Garston –  for example, when Garston clicks his fingers, Hart hurries over to light his cigarette.

It’s therefore not surprising that it’s Hart, not Garston, who visits Marker’s office to engage his services.  But Marker doesn’t seem too keen to take on the job.

HART: He’d like to see you.
MARKER: He knows where I am.
HART: Ah yes, but he’d prefer you to go to him, if that’s not asking too much.
MARKER: I’ll try and fit him in.
HART: Oh thanks very much. You know, you make one big mistake, Marker.
HART: You like people to grovel. Why? Does it make you feel big?
MARKER: Depends who they are.

Garston wants Marker to act as his bodyguard for the next few weeks.  Marker agrees and he begins to consider the possible suspects.  Garston’s estranged wife Eva (Caroline Blakiston) must be one – although after Marker’s seen her it seems less likely.  She’s well provided for (at least in terms of money) and she declares that “nobody close to him will ever kill him.  Nobody kills Santa Claus”.

Ray Johnson (Robert Tunstall) looks to be a much more likely prospect.  His wife Anne (June Barry) is having an affair with Garston and he pays to him have beaten up.  Fortunately for Garston (and unfortunately for Marker) it’s Marker that receives the beating.  This provides a good closer to the second act.  Garston sees Marker being attacked in the street below, but he doesn’t raise the alarm or attempt to help – instead he goes back to Anne (whilst the sounds of the beating are reverberating in his head).  Marker’s made of stern stuff though.  Although there were two thugs and he took a bad beating, he was still able to scare one off and we see him pull the other one away for some, no doubt, intensive questioning.

Marker does eventually get to the bottom of the mystery of the threatening phone calls (it wasn’t Johnson after all) and Garston is grateful.  He offers Marker a permanent job, which he refuses.  It’ll become a familiar trait throughout the series, but Marker values his independence above everything else (which means there’s conflict in later series when he goes into partnership).  Marker tells Garston that he’s “getting old. Too stiff to lick boots”.  Garston responds by telling him that “you’re not Shane, you know, riding off into the sunset. You’re just another man in a dirty old mac”.

Even this early on, all of the basics of the series are firmly in place.  Marker doesn’t necessarily have to like his clients to work for them – it’s purely a business transaction and he won’t follow their orders blindly, which means he often comes into conflict with them.

Keith Baxter was perfectly cast as the arrogant businessman Paul Garston, whilst it’s always a pleasure to see Peter Barkworth – such a solid and dependable actor.  June Barry was also very good as Garston’s mistress, who candidly told Marker that she’d only be around for a short while and wasn’t intending to leave empty-handed.

Next Episode – The Morning Wasn’t So Hot