Z Cars – Appearance in Court. 10th July 1962

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Given the episode title, the opening few minutes (which finds PC Lynch in court as a chief prosecution witness) appears to be something of an exercise in misdirection. Lynch (James Ellis) has been called upon to give evidence against a man accused of stealing a bottle of milk – not exactly the crime of the century (nor one that you would assume would be sufficient to maintain fifty minutes of drama).

But in one way it does turn out to have a later significance. The case is quickly proved, with the magistrate (played by John Gabriel) commenting that although Lynch was accused of planting this bottle of milk, he can find no reason why he would have done so. A modern audience might possibly look slightly askance at this seemingly automatic assumption that the police would be incapable of speaking nothing but the whole truth, but they’d be well advised to watch the remainder of John Hopkins’ script before jumping to any conclusions.

The bulk of the story revolves around a series of fairly petty thefts of foodstuffs organised by Trevor Kiernan (Richard Leech). Kiernan runs a small supermarket, frequented by the likes of Fancy Smith (Brian Blessed), and has taken to pilfering from his competitors in order to increase his profit margins.

But the dogged Detective Inspector Dunn (Dudley Foster) is on his case. Foster didn’t appear in that many episodes of Z Cars, which is a slight shame as Dunn’s incredibly phlegmatic and passionless officer is quite compelling. It’s plain though that he’s never going to be the sort of person to make many friends (at one point he tells a weary Lynch to grab some sleep before returning to duty but – as Lynch says – always manages to make a friendly remark sound like an insult).

Fancy and Jock Weir (Joe Brady) seem to have created a watertight case against Kiernan (thanks to a marked box) but this all comes to naught after they’re both destroyed in the witness box by Kiernan’s smooth-talking barrister, Garston (Jerome Willis).

This last ten minutes or so is easily the most compelling section of the episode. Willis’ character is able to effortlessly run rings around both Fancy and Jock, casting just enough doubt on their evidence without ever stepping over the boundary to accuse them of outright corruption. Thanks to this, he’s able to secure an acquittal for his client. Therefore the same magistrate who earlier found in favour of the police – Lynch – now finds against them.

Dunn’s reaction to the hapless Fancy and Jock afterwards is interesting. You might have expected him to be more than a little ticked off, but instead he’s fairly sanguine about the whole affair. No, they didn’t gain a conviction, but he’s convinced that Kiernan would have found the whole trial and subsequent publicity to be so off-putting that from now on he’ll stick to the straight and narrow. Other, later, police shows might regard the conviction as the be all and end all – but for this era of Z Cars that’s not the case.

Brief appearances by Barlow and Watt help to enhance a fairly routine instalment, although Jerome Willis’ appearance (and the always solid performances from the regulars) helps to keep the interest ticking along.

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The Further Adventures of the Musketeers – Simply Media DVD Review


Broadcast between May and September 1967, The Further Adventures of the Musketeers (based on Dumas’ novel Twenty Years After) was a sixteen-part serial which followed on from the previous years adaptation of The Three Musketeers.

Brian Blessed and Jeremy Young returned as Porthos and Athos, but there were also two important changes.  Joss Ackland took over the role of d’Artagnan from Jeremy Brett whilst John Woodvine replaced Gary Watson as Aramis.

I have to confess at not being terribly impressed with Brett’s performance as d’Artagnan, so I wasn’t too sorry he didn’t return – although it would have been intriguing to see how he would have handled the older, more cynical character seen in this story.  In The Three Musketeers, d’Artagnan is young, keen and filled with dreams of heroism.  It’s therefore more than a little jarring when Ackland’s d’Artagnan is introduced at the start of the first episode.

Others may continue to call him a hero, but he’s not convinced.  Although he still holds a commission in the Musketeers, it now appears to be a hollow honour – especially since his three former steadfast friends (Porthos, Aramis and Athos) have all left and gone their separate ways.  When he recalls their old battle cry (“one for all, and all for one”) it’s done so ironically and whilst he bursts onto the screen with an impressive bout of swordplay, it was only to subdue a drunk in a tavern.  Brawling in taverns seems to be something of a comedown for the brave d’Artagnan, as he himself admits.

He’s therefore keen to grasp any opportunity to rekindle the glory days of old and when Queen Anne (Carole Potter) asks for his help, how can he refuse?  Potter was something of a weak link during The Three Musketeers and her rather grating performance continues here. This may be a deliberate acting choice though, as we see over the course of the serial that the Queen is a far from admirable character – instead she’s capricious, vain and frequently misguided.

d’Artagnan pledges his allegiance to the Queen, her young son, King Louis XIV (Louis Selwyn) and Cardinal Mazarin (William Dexter).  They are the orthodox ruling establishment, but the majority of the people seem to side with the imprisoned Prince de Beaufort (John Quentin).

The question of personal morality is key, especially when understanding which side the four Musketeers support.  As we’ve seen, d’Artagnan supports the Cardinal and Queen, but is this because he believes they are the right choice for France or is it just that they’ve offered him a chance to redeem his tarnished honour?

When d’Artagnan meets up with Porthos, his former colleague quickly joins him.  Blessed, a joy to watch throughout the serial, is never better than in his first scene.  He’s the lonely lord of a manor, complaining that his neighbours consider him to be something of a peasant and won’t talk to him, even after he’s killed several of them!  So he agrees to join d’Artagnan, mainly it seems because he’s always keen for a scrap.

But Aramis and Athos are both on the Prince’s side.  They believe their cause is just and Athos regards d’Artagnan’s allegiance to the Cardinal with extreme disfavour.  Athos supports the King, but in his opinion the Cardinal is manipulating both the King and the Queen to serve his own ends. It’s telling that d’Artagnan doesn’t deny this.

Joss Ackland, from his first appearance, is totally commanding as d’Artagnan.  If Brett’s take on the role tended to see him play the character at a hysterical pitch then Ackland is much more restrained and therefore much better. As I’ve said, Brian Blessed is tremendous fun – he gets to shout a lot and has some great comic lines.  John Woodvine, a favourite actor of mine, is excellent as Aramis whilst Jeremy Young once again impresses hugely as Athos.

Although there wasn’t a great deal of evidence of this in The Three Musketeers, at the start of this serial d’Artagnan tells us that Athos was always his mentor and closest friend (essentially a second father to him) so the fact they are on opposing sides means there’s some dramatic scenes between them.

Young, a rather underrated actor I feel, is compelling across the duration of the serial. Athos’ monologue in episode five, after d’Artagnan bitterly rounds on his old friends, is one performance highlight amongst many. “We lived together. Loved, hated, shared and mingled our blood. Yet there is an even greater bond between us, that of crime. We four, all of us, judged, condemned and executed a human being whom we had no right to remove from this world. What can Mazarin be to us? We are brothers. Brothers, in life and death.”

Athos is referring to the murder of his former wife, Milady de Winter. As we’ve seen, her death still preys heavily on his mind – but he’s not the only one. She had a son, Mordaunt, who spends the early episodes vowing vengeance on the men who murdered his mother. As the serial progresses we see that his thirst for revenge makes him a formidable foe. A variety of other plot threads also run at the same time – such as the kidnapping of the boy King, Athos and Aramis’ secret mission to England to rescue King Charles I (d’Artagnan and Porthos are also in England and change sides to fight for the King) and the continuing conflict between Queen Anne and Prince de Beaufort – all of which helps to ensure that the story, even though it lasts sixteen episodes, never feels repetitious.

Plenty of quality actors drift in and out.  Edward Brayshaw (once again resplendent in a blonde wig and complete with a wicked-looking dueling scar) returns as Rochefort, Michael Gothard is suitably villainous as Mordaunt, Geoffrey Palmer is memorable during his fairly brief appearance as Oliver Cromwell, David Garth is remote and aloof as King Charles I, whilst the devotee of this era of television can have fun picking out other familiar faces such as Nigel Lambert, Anna Barry, Morris Perry, Vernon Dobtcheff, David Garfield and Wendy Williams.

The budget was obviously quite decent, as there’s a generous helping of location filming and several notable set-pieces – such as the Prince’s escape from his prison fortress, which sees him absail to safety from the castle ramparts (although the use of illustrations as establishing shots for various locations is never convincing). Generally though, Stuart Walker’s production design is impressive – for example, his studio reproduction of Notre Dame Cathedral includes various architectural features from the original. Few would have missed them had they not been there, but it’s a nice example of the trouble taken to be as accurate as possible.

With a number of interconnecting plotlines, there’s certainly a great deal to enjoy in Alexander Barron’s dramatisation.  The episodes set in England may lack a little tension (as we know Charles is doomed to die) but his execution is still a powerful moment.  Athos is under the scaffold, frantically attempting to rescue the King, and is crushed when he realises that all his efforts have come to nothing.  A macabre note is created when Charles’ blood drips through the floorboards onto the numb Athos. Christopher Barry and Hugh David share the directorial duties and although there’s (possibly thankfully) few of the directorial flourishes that made The Three Musketeers notable, they manage to keep things ticking along nicely.

The Further Adventures of the Musketeers looks and sounds exactly how you’d expect an unrestored telerecording of this period to look and sound.  It’s perfectly watchable, although the picture is a little grainy and indistinct at times (and the soundtrack can also be somewhat hissy).  A full restoration would have been possible, but as always it’s a question of cost.  Niche titles like this don’t sell in huge numbers, so it’s no surprise that this DVD was a straight transfer of the available materials.

But although the picture quality is a little variable, the story and the performances of the four leads more than makes up for it.  With many classic BBC black and white serials still languishing in the vaults, hopefully sales of this title will encourage more to be licenced in the future.

The Further Adventures of the Musketeers runs for sixteen 25 minute episodes across three DVDs.  It’s released on the 23rd of May 2016 by Simply Media with an RRP of £29.99.

The Three Musketeers. Part Ten – Walk to the Scaffold

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The war is over and Milady de Winter once more vows vengeance on her enemies, especially D’Artagnan.  She’s tracked down D’Artagnan’s mistress, Madame Bonacieux, who is sheltering in a convent and anxiously awaiting the arrival of her lover.

Although she’s been absent for a few episodes, Kathleen Breck picks up where she left off (alas) by still playing Madame Bonacieux as a wide-eyed giddy schoolgirl, which makes her fate something of a mercy killing for the audience. And given her broad performance during the serial it’s no surprise that she also milks her death scene for all its worth.  You can probably guess how Brett’s D’Artagnan takes it (not very well at all).  It’s just as well that the ever pragmatic Athos is on hand to tell him that “women weep for the dead, men avenge them.”

Even in this final episode, it’s clear that Peter Hammond was attempting to push the limitations of studio shooting as far as he could (the convent set features several high camera shots, not easy to do with the sort of cameras in use during the mid sixties).

Mary Peach’s bosoms once again heave impressively as D’Artagnan and the others track her down, list her crimes and find her guilty.  Naturally enough, the sentence is death.  Her executioner (Kevin Stoney) is already known to her and it’s poetic justice that he’s the one who’s tasked to carry out the act.  Shot on film, Milady’s final scene is extravagantly played by Peach, but unlike some of the other broad performances it works well.

Although some of the playing throughout the serial isn’t subtle and Peter Hammond’s direction is rather idiosyncratic, there’s still plenty to enjoy in The Three Musketeers.  The 25 minute format means that each episode zips along and there’s plenty of familiar faces – Kevin Stoney in this episode, Pauline Collins and Milton Johns, amongst others, earlier on – who pop up in small roles.

It’ll be interesting to shortly compare this to The Further Adventures of the Musketeers, especially how the recasting (Joss Ackland for Jeremy Brett, John Woodvine for Gary Watson) blends with the returning Brian Blessed and Jeremy Young.  The additional six episodes and shared directorial duties (Christopher Barry and Hugh David) should also give the sequel a different feel.  My review can be found here.

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The Three Musketeers. Part Nine – Assassin

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With a limited budget, the battle scenes we see throughout the serial have to be somewhat impressionistic.  This is demonstrated at the start of Assassin, as D’Artagnan and the Musketeers are seen defending a hill fort.  Although there’s a limited number of extras – representing both their allies and their enemies – sound effects, smoke and hand-held camera work all have to create the impression of many more.

The jumpy camera-cuts do effectively suggest the confusion of battle though, and it’s amusing that the Musketeers and D’Artagnan are cool enough to stop for a bite to eat and a discussion of their current troubles.  Milady de Winter’s mission to England spells trouble for all of them and although some of her plans (such as arranging the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham) don’t directly involve them, it’s still vital that they stop her.  A letter to Milady’s brother-in-law (who, we remember, had his life saved by D’Artagnan) should do the trick.

Presumably The Three Musketeers, like many series and serials of the time, had an allocated amount of film work per episode.  Since the previous episode had no filming at all, this may account for the more generous allocation in Assassin.  Some of it – for example, showing Milady’s arrival in England and her travels through the country –  aren’t strictly speaking vital to the plot, but they provide gloss and an expansive feeling (otherwise it would be too easy for the story to simply jump from one interior set to the next).

Milady de Winter’s reunited with her brother-in-law, but it’s not a happy meeting.  “Spy, bigamist, would-be-assassin, branded criminal. I’m sending you to our Southern colonies. In a few months the tropic sun would have burnt out that fatal beauty and sucked dry your evil mind.”  He leaves her a prisoner, guarded by young Felton (John Kelland) but Milady is easily able to manipulate this pious, worthy man.  Once again, it’s a pleasure to watch the delight on Mary Peach’s face as Milady manipulates yet another hapless victim.  She clearly has deep powers of persuasion, as not only is she able to obtain her release, she also convinces him to kill Buckingham.  A powerful lady indeed.

The scene where the Cardinal confronts D’Artagnan and the Musketeers is, like the earlier scene with Brett, Blessed, Young and Watson, shot on film.  This clever piece of scheduling meant that they weren’t required for the studio recording, therefore giving them a week off.

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The Three Musketeers. Part Eight – The Cardinal

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The revelation that Milady de Winter is Athos’ treacherous wife, whom he believed was put to death years ago, spins the story in a different direction.  Athos doesn’t fear for his own life – we’ve already seen that he doesn’t care if he lives or dies – but this revelation also places D’Artagnan’s life in immediate peril.

After the high drama of the opening scene, we quickly change gear as Porthos is brought face to face with the cuckolded husband of his latest mistress, Madame Coquenard. Porthos is humiliated by the elderly Monsieur Coquenard, who capers around in a bizarre fashion (complete with antlers on his head!) before collapsing.

D’Artagnan is summoned for a meeting with the Cardinal. Pasco’s Cardinal remains conversational and reasonable – as stated before, it makes a change from portraying Richelieu as a cackling villain and it only serves to make him all the more deadly. He doesn’t attempt to suborn people through fear, instead he uses the much subtler weapon of charm. And even when he gives D’Artagnan an ultimatum, Pasco still doesn’t raise his voice. “Up till now, whether you knew it or not, my hand has been behind you. The moment I withdraw my hand, why then my friend I would not give one farthing for your life. You will remember hereafter, if any misfortune befalls you.”

There’s more odd shot changes during this meeting. Every so often, the camera cuts away from the two actors to show the various suits of armour dotted around the room. If it happened once you might believe it was a miscue from the vision mixer, when it happens again it must be a deliberate choice.

Later, the Cardinal enlists the assistance of the three Musketeers to escort him to a meeting. This is a baffling move, since his meeting is with Athos’ hated wife Milady de Winter, whom he’s planning to send to England to meet with Buckingham.

The Cardinal wishes to prevent Buckingham from intervening in France’s civil war and has chosen the Englishman’s love, the Queen of France, as the lever. If Buckingham doesn’t withdraw his army, then the Queen’s honour will be tarnished beyond repair. With the three Musketeers ear-wigging in the next room, they now know all of the Cardinal’s plans ….

Once again an episode closes strongly, this time as Athos confronts his wife. Both Jeremy Young and Mary Peach are excellent in this short scene. Considering the wrongs he’s suffered, you might expect that vengeance would be uppermost on his mind, but, as highlighted before, he’s more concerned about D’Artagnan’s fate.

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The Three Musketeers. Part Seven – All Cats are Grey in the Dark

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Milady de Winter has succeeded in winning the love of D’Artagnan, but tells the Cardinal that she’ll only reciprocate in order to convert him to their side. Interestingly he reacts strongly against this, as he wants no suborned followers. If D’Artagnan is to serve him then it must be because he wishes to act for the glory of God. Appearing in just this single scene, Richard Pasco continues to impress as the wily Cardinal, offering a subtle performance that contrasts sharply with some of the more, shall we say, exuberant turns.

Speaking of exuberant, D’Artagnan turns up at the house of Milday de Winter, only to be told by her maid Kitty (Pauline Collins) that her mistress doesn’t love him at all. Considering that he spent the previous episode bemoaning the loss of his one true love, Madame Bonacieux, he clearly seemed to have quickly forgotten her once Milday fluttered her eyelashes at him (he’s clearly a fickle type). When Milady returns, Kitty hides him and this enables him to hear Milady utter the following words. “One day I will have D’Artagnan’s head on a platter.”

The Musketeers are tasked to escort the King in his upcoming campaign against the Huguenots. Porthos would sooner be fighting the English and given the current political climate it looks as if that will happen soon.

Aramis’ desire to leave the secular world has been a running thread throughout the serial and now it seems to be on the verge of happening. Porthos isn’t best pleased about this (and Brian Blessed shows this displeasure in his most typical way – he raises his voice). The cultured, religious Aramis contrasts well with the sensual, rumbustious Porthos and the pessimistic, nihilistic Athos – over the course of the seven episodes to date their various differing character traits have been skilfully drawn out.

The news that Aramis’ love still loves him changes everything though. All thoughts of taking holy orders are instantly forgotten, demonstrating that, just like D’Artagnan, he’s ruled by the women in his life.

More directorial flourishes are in evidence after Milday receives a letter which pleases her, but upsets Kitty. The picture rapidly cuts between Milday’s ecstatic face and Kitty’s distressed one. Elsewhere, a lack of location filming means that the friendly duel between Porthos and Aramis has to take place on a rather unconvincing studio set dressed as a forest clearing. Animal sound effects and a gentle breeze attempt to sell the illusion, but it’s no substitute for the real thing.

D’Artagnan’s climatic confrontation with Milady reveals that she bears the mark of the fleur-de-lys. Which means there’s a great deal of wailing and the return of the projected fleur-de-lys on the wall. It’s a strong way to conclude an episode that’s mostly chugged along in second gear (which is understandable in a ten-part serial – there’s bound to be a few episodes where the plot doesn’t advance a great deal).

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The Three Musketeers. Part Six – Branded

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The King is upset that the Queen isn’t wearing her diamond studs and the Cardinal sees the chance to discredit her by giving the King the two studs he obtained from Milady de Winter.   But the Cardinal is foiled when she reappears shortly afterwards wearing it – and since Buckingham was able to get it repaired in England, the Cardinal’s two diamond studs are superfluous.

It’s intriguing that Milady is the one who’s out for vengence.  She wants to see D’Artagnan stretched on the rack, whilst the Cardinal would prefer to win him over to his side.  He professes admiration for D’Artagnan’s bravery, although this doesn’t prevent him from deciding to strike at him through his mistress, Madame Bonacieux.  The Musketeers warned him this might  happen, so it’s maybe another sign of D’Artagnan’s inexperience that he gave no thought to protecting her.

Kathleen Breck continues to demonstrate that she could scream for England as she’s carried off by Rochefort’s men.  D’Artagnan is characteristically hysterical at the news, allowing Brett to go soaring over the top once again.

He’s neatly contrasted by Young’s pragmatic Athos, who tells him that he’s only lost his mistress, not his soul.  When D’Artagnan snaps back that Athos seems to love nobody, he agrees and has little sympathy for his friend’s claim that he shares a deep love with Madame Bonacieux.  “You child! Every man believes his mistress loves him. He’s deceived.” Athos’ deep cynicism constrasts well with D’Artagnan’s boundless romantic yearnings.  Athos then tells D’Artagnan a tale about a friend of his (although it’s obviously about him).

It’s another chance for Peter Hammond to craft some striking images.  Athos’ friend married a beautiful woman, but was shocked to discover some time in to their marriage that she bore the sign of the fleur-de-lys seared into the flesh of her shoulder – the brand of a criminal.  As Athos reaches this point in his tale, a giant fleur-de-lys is projected on the wall and Athos goes over and stands in front of it.  He then tells D’Artagnan that he put the woman to death, which explains why he has a rather jaundiced view of the female of the species.  It’s a wonderfully delivered monologue by Jeremy Young.  “Killing her has cured me of women. Beautiful, fascinating, poetic women. May god grant it does as much to you.”

Milady de Winter persuades her brother-in-law to kill D’Artagnan and then confides to her maid Kitty (Pauline Collins) that she’s a winner either way. If D’Artagnan dies, all well and good, if not then she inherits the family fortune. Mary Peach hasn’t had a great deal to do up to this point, but she seems to enjoy being able to let rip in this scene.

As D’Artagnan does battle with Lord de Winter (Patrick Holt), a voice-over (an unusual storytelling device for television, although one very common in radio) pops up to move the action along to the house of Porthos’ latest mistress, Madame Coquenard (Delia Corrie). He’s quite shameless in telling her that he needs money for a new horse, clothes for his servant, etc. And since her elderly husband is a wealthy man it seems logical he should provide the cash. Her cuckolded husband, listening outside the door, doesn’t seem too keen though!

D’Artagnan spares Lord de Winter’s life. Since de Winter would have told him that the duel was because of (imaginary) slghts made by D’Artagnan against his sister-in-law’s honour, it’s a little odd that D’Artagnan doesn’t treat Milady with more caution when they meet for the first time.

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The Three Musketeers. Part Five – Scandal

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Peter Hammond’s by now familiar directorial tic is firmly in evidence at the start of this episode, as D’Artagnan and the Musketeers pull up at a country inn.  Rochefort has arrived ahead of them and he (as well as the audience) observe their arrival through a slightly obscured window.

That Rochefort is something of an underhand cad is clearly demonstrated when he shoots one of the Musketeers’ servants.  His men, also carrying guns, then approach our heroes which, since they’re only armed with swords, hardly seems like a fair fight.

But it’ll come as no surprise that even with such uncompromising odds D’Artagnan and the Musketeers still manage to gain the upper hand.  Plenty of swashes are buckled, but it’s still a struggle for the greatly outnumbered Musketeers to hold their attackers off – and in order to buy D’Artagnan some time to complete his mission they urge him to make his escape whilst they stay behind, still fighting furiously.

When D’Artagnan reaches the coast he indulges in more swordplay.  For anyone who’s been upset of the lack of fighting in the last few episodes, the first ten minutes of this one (all shot on film) more than make up for it.

D’Artagnan meets with Buckingham. The Duke gladly gives back the Queens gift in another scene that’s uniquely shot. Buckingham has created a shrine to the Queen, complete with flickering candles, and Hammond chose to overlay even more candles over the picture. This gives the scene a rather strange look, but it sort of works.

It’s ironic that although the Queen is the woman he professes to love, his earlier dalliance with Milady de Winter obviously indicates that he’s not the faithful type! And just as we can lay blame on the Queen for giving him the gift in the first place, if he hadn’t entertained Milady in his bedchamber then she wouldn’t have been able to snip off a few of the diamond studs.

Poor Buckingham goes to pieces when he learns of Milady’s treachery. Simon Oates is once again highly entertaining as Buckingham, now rather highly strung as he and D’Artagnan try to prevent Milady from reaching the Cardinal as well as attempting to repair the Queen’s damaged gift.

Given some of the strange camera shots we’ve seen so far, I’m not sure whether the one some fifteen minutes in was an accident or another piece of Hammond planning. Buckingham and D’Artagnan exit from different sides of the frame, but the camera doesn’t follow them. Instead, for a few seconds we focus on an empty room whilst Buckingham’s voice continues off-camera. An intentional shot or a miscue? Hmmm.

It’s interesting that the three Musketeers don’t make any attempt to follow D’Artagnan after they finally manage to battle off Rochefort’s men. Instead they spend a convivial evening at the inn, eating and drinking – although there’s a twist. Porthos is perturbed to find that Athos wagered his horse in a bet with the landlord (and lost). Aramis is equally upset to discover his silver crucifix has gone the same way. Although this is nothing compared to the revelation that the meat they enjoyed earlier was Porthos’ horse! Lovely comic playing by all three actors, with a final pay off that Athos was lying to them all along and both Porthos’ horse and Aramis’ crucifix are unharmed.

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The Three Musketeers. Part Four – Audacity

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Peter Hammond’s showy camera-work continues in the first scene, as the Cardinal subtly manipulates the King (John Carlin). Several of the shots take place through a window, thus giving the audience a restricted view of the meeting (and also ensuring that we’re placed in the role of observers, eavesdropping on their conversation). The Cardinal professes that the Queen is wholly innocent of any inappropriate liaison with Buckingham, but then smoothly changes tack and suggests the King host a Ball in her honour. And wouldn’t it be an ideal time for her to wear the diamond studs he recently gave to her …..

Carole Potter’s Queen is distraught (again). Lying on her bed, crying woe is me, she’s fretting about how to get the diamond studs back from Buckingham in order to prevent a hideous scandal. Although as I’ve previously said, it was silly of her to give them away in the first place. Never mind, if she hadn’t then there wouldn’t have been much of a story.

Madame Bonacieux is convinced that she can count on her husband to travel to England and save the day, but he’s now the Cardinal’s man. Not only because he’s been paid off, but also for more pressing reasons. “Intrigue frightens me. I’ve seen the Bastille. I’ve seen the torture room. Wedges of wood to drive between your knees to crush your joints.” Peter Hammond’s love of mirror shots continues, as do scenes shot with restricted views. Here it’s because D’Artagnan is upstairs, viewing the confrontation between husband and wife through a crack in the floorboards. As with the opening scene of the episode, it allows the audience a chance to eavesdrop on a private conversation.

Paul Whitsun-Jones departs the serial in this episode. Later to star as the rather ineffectual baddy in the Doctor Who story The Mutants, it therefore came as something of a surprise that he was amongst the subtler actors in these early episodes. Kathleen Breck continues to be a stranger to subtlety, as Madame Bonacieux responds to her husbands departure by flinging herself across a table in a highly theatrical manner. “Dear god, what am I to do?” If I was uncharitable, I’d say a second take, but I’m not so I won’t.

It’s clear that her prayers will be answered, as D’Artagnan – due to his overpowering love for her – will do anything that she asks. “Since I love you. Since I would go through fire for you. Since I am brave, loyal to the throne, I’m your man.” Brett continues to push his intensity level up to eleven, especially when Madame Bonacieux appears to reciprocate his love. The moment when they kiss is an interesting one – as D’Artagnan is rather clumsy, to say the least. A bungled take or was this Brett’s choice, attempting to show how young and inexperienced (in so many ways) D’Artagnan is?

The Musketeers are sidelined in this episode until the last five minutes. It’s fair to say that at first they’re not best pleased at having to go to London, but duty calls. Despite the fact that D’Artagnan isn’t even a Musketeer, they seem to have no problem in accepting that not only is he is charge but that he won’t divulge the reason for their mission. For Athos, if it means a chance to fight and die then he’s content, whilst Porthos and Aramis also relish the chance for a scrap, even if they lack Athos’ apparent death wish.

With four of them, the odds are that at least one will reach London to deliver the vital message. And one is all they need. “All for one and one for all.”

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The Three Musketeers. Part Three – Peril

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Madame Bonacieux’s bosom heaves in an impressive fashion as D’Artagnan attempts to divine the reason why she was targeted by the Cardinal’s men. A very blatant boom shadow is a little bit of a distraction, but there’s another example of Peter Hammond’s quest to find interesting camera angles – the conclusion of the scene is shot directly at a mirror, showing us the reflections of Madame Bonacieux and D’Artagnan.

Monseuir Bonacieux finds himself a prisoner in the Concierge, questioned by the relentless Commissary (Vernon Dobtcheff). Making his sole appearance in the serial, Dobtcheff’s another very dependable actor who’s always a joy to watch – his relentless bullying of Paul Whitson- Jones’ hapless Bonacieux is very nicely played. The Commissary is further irritated when he’s presented with someone whom he believes to be D’Artagnan, but turns out to be Athos. This shows us Athos’ chivalrous side – he doesn’t deny that he’s not D’Artagnan in order to enable his friend to remain at liberty – but Jeremy Young still remains the least developed of the Musketeers at this point.

Jeremy Brett continues to chew the scenery as his love for Madame Bonacieux deepens, as does his paranoia that she loves another (and he seems to have forgotten that she’s a married woman anyway!) “Madame, if you could see my heart, you would discover so much love.” At present she can’t reciprocate, telling him that she has gratitude for him, but little else. The arrival of a strange man provides more fuel for D’Artagnan’s jealousy. But the Duke of Buckingham (Simon Oates) hasn’t got his eyes on Madame Bonacieux, he’s aiming a little higher …..

Oates, later to star as the womanising, foppish scientist John Ridge in Doomwatch, plays a womanising foppish member of the English nobility here. So not too much of a stretch. He does seem to be enjoying himself though, as he clearly relishes the ripe dialogue. More restrained performances can be seen when the disheveled Monseuir Bonacieux is brought into the presence of the Cardinal. If Buckingham and the Queen are florid and histronic then the Cardinal and Rochefort continue to downplay. This is an interesting choice, as you’d normally expect the villains to offer broad and moustache twirling performances.

Brian Blessed and Gary Watson only pop up towards the end of the episode. Blessed remains as loud as you might expect, but he’s also as entertaining as you might expect too. He tells D’Artagnan and Aramis that he has an assignation with a noble lady and takes his leave of them.  But the truth is somewhat different – he finds his pleasures with women from a lower class of society (pride prevents him from admitting the truth). It’s a nice character beat and the brief following scene is played well by Blessed, as Porthos momentarily show irritation when he’s in the company of his latest date, before he puts on a brave face and makes the best of it.

More bosoms heave as Milady de Winter reappears. The Cardinal has learnt that the Queen gave Buckingham a casket containing twelve diamond studs gifted to her by the King. It seems rather strange that not only would she decide to give away a present presented to her by her husband but also one that would be so identifiable. The Cardinal sends Milady de Winter to England with the clear directive to obtain several of these studs. Once a link between the Queen and Buckingham can be proved, the Cardinal will have all the evidence he needs to bring the monarchy crashing down …..

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The Three Musketeers. Part Two – The Three Duels

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Although we open episode two with D’Artagnan facing the prospect of dueling with all three Musketeers, it doesn’t take too long before he’s accepted by them and Brett gets to utter the immortal line “one for all and all for one.” Cue another fight scene shot on film with more highly dramatic music. It’s interesting to note that Hammond seemed to have the use of a crane, as there’s a couple of very high shots which gives the scene a little lift.

The three Musketeers and D’Artagnan enjoy their tussle with the Cardinal’s men which then leads us into our first sight of Cardinal Richelieu (Richard Pascoe). Pascoe is another strong performer, exuding quiet menace in his meeting with Brayshaw’s Rochefort.

The Queen (Carole Potter) has a low opinion of the Cardinal. “That man of God who wears the face of Lucifer. A priest who in his lust for power once dreamt of making France’s Queen his mistress. His passion filled me with disgust and I so scorned him that his breast cannot contain the hatred he now bears me.”

Potter emotes freely as the Queen struggles to free herself from the trap she knows Richelieu has set for her (he hopes to make capital out of her relationship with the Duke of Buckingham, an English noble). This is an early example of the two main parts of the serial – there’s derring do and fights aplenty, but inbetween the action the pace slows down as lengthy dialogue scenes dominate. Carole Potter’s television cv isn’t particularly extensive. She returned as Queen Anne in The Further Adventures of the Musketeers the following year and the year after that appeared as Violet Smith in the Sherlock Holmes story The Solitary Cyclist (one of the episodes from the Peter Cushing series that’s sadly wiped). Like Brett’s early scenes as D’Artagnan, she seems a stranger to subtlety as she wails about her misfortunes to her trusted servant Madame Constance Bonacieux (Kathleen Breck).

The long arm of coincidence is in operation after D’Artagnan rents a comfortable room from Madame Bonacieux’s husband (played by the always reliable Paul Whitsun-Jones). With the Queen in trouble and Madame Bonacieux her only confidant, it seems plain that it won’t be long before she and D’Artagnan meet (within a matter of minutes as it happens). D’Artagnan observes her enter through a loose floorboard and Breck rather unsubtly demonstrates Madame Bonacieux’s distress by placing both hands over her face in a very exaggerated manner. After the Cardinal’s men catches up with her, Breck starts wailing very loudly, but luckily for those with sensitive ears D’Artagnan is on hand and makes quick work of them.

Afterwards, D’Artagnan and Madame Bonacieux regard each other for the first time and it’s clear that he likes what he sees ….

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The Three Musketeers. Part One – Enemies

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The Three Musketeers was a ten part serial, broadcast on BBC1 between November 1966 and January 1967. It was adapted by Anthony Steven, directed by Peter Hammond and starred Jeremy Brett (D’Artagnan), Brian Blessed (Porthos), Jeremy Young (Athos) and Gary Watson (Aramis).

With the sequel serial, The Further Adventures of the Musketeers, due to be released on DVD next month, it seems the ideal time to dig out The Three Musketeers for a rewatch. Although it’s never had an official UK release, the Koch DVD from 2006 seems to play perfectly well on R2 machines, even though the packaging states that it’s R1.   Whilst it looks like an unrestored telerecording, the picture quality is actually pretty decent (I’ve certainly sat through far worse).

As you’d expect from a BBC production of this era, the studio scenes were taped pretty much sequentially with any outdoor sequences pre-recorded on film and played into the studio via telecine. The “as live” nature of this type of recording meant that it was rare to stop recording for minor technical issues, so there will always be some wonky camera movements and line fluffs.

Some of the shots, right from the start, are slightly odd though – which makes me wonder whether they were actually chosen by Peter Hammond.  A good case in point is the opening scene, where D’Artagnan’s father hands him a sword, tells him he’s now a man and urges him to make his way in the world. The opening dialogue comes from D’Artagnan’s father, but the camera is positioned behind him, so we can’t see his face. The camera then closes in for an extreme close up of the sword’s hilt as D’Artagnan wields it for the first time – but why don’t we see Brett’s face? It’s slightly odd.

As is Brett’s performance. Later to become something of a national treasure for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, he’s a little hammy to begin with – although once he falls in with the Musketeers he does improve somewhat. Having been told by his father that a gentleman never refuses a fight, D’Artagnan, when arriving at a tavern, doesn’t back away from a tussle with Rochefort (Edward Brayshaw) who is amused by D’Artagnan’s mode of transport (a rather weedy looking pony). Brayshaw, even with his stick on beard, is wonderful in his opening scene – mocking and controlled, contrasting very well with Brett’s hysteria. Since D’Artagnan is supposed to be something of a callow youth it’s understandable that he’s easily riled, although this makes the casting of the thirty-three year old Brett a slightly strange decision.

Rochefort declines his offer of a fight, but D’Artagnan still doesn’t shy away from single-handidly taking on three others. As this was shot on film, the fight is nicely cut together and it’s something of a treat – complete with over-dramatic music. Once D’Artagnan has been dealt with, Rochefort keeps his rendezvous with the alluring Milady de Winter (Mary Peach).

After his diversion with Rochefort, D’Artagnan has a meeting with de Treville (Martin Miller), the leader of the Musketeers. Although Rochefort steals the letter of introduction provided by D’Artagnan’s father, he’s still readily accepted – which makes Rochefort’s actions seem a little pointless. We then meet the three Muskeeters. Brian Blessed is excellent throughout the serial, an ideal Porthos, Watson gives Aramis a cultured, amused air whilst we don’t really get to grips with Jeremy Young’s Athos until later on.

Although the humour isn’t overt, it’s still there (especially if you regard Brett’s overplaying as ironic) and this is clearly demonstrated at the episode’s close as D’Artagnan manages to upset Athos, Porthos and Aramis independently within the space of a few minutes. This means they all challenge him to a duel, so it appears he’s going to be killed three times over!

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The Further Adventures of the Musketeers to be released by Simply Media on 23/5/16


Simply Media will release The Further Adventures of the Musketeers on the 23rd of May 2016.  Review here.

Simply Media is also pleased to announce the release of another BBC classic family favourite The Further Adventures of the Musketeers (1967) on DVD for the very first time on 23 May 2016. Starring Brian Blessed (Z Cars), Joss Ackland (The Hunt for Red October) and Michael Gothard (The Three Musketeers), this classic adventure series is set twenty years on from the original and is based on Alexander Dumas’ sequel of The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After.

Z Cars – A Place of Safety


Tx 24th June 1964

A Place of Safety has something of an abstract opening.  We see a man climbing up several flights of stairs, but then the camera seems to lose interest in him as it tracks away – firstly to record some children going down the stairs and then to observe a woman slowly walking upwards.

But we can still hear his voice.  He’s banging on a door, demanding entry – promising that things will be worse if he has to come back.  The relative peace is then shattered as the man falls down the stairs.  We cut to the inside of a room to reveal a man holding a bloody axe.

If parts of Newtown (Z Cars‘ fictional location) were indeed new, then others most certainly were not.  The building where the man (who we later learn is a bailiff called Wallace) lies injured is a crumbling wreck, mostly populated by those on the poverty line (and who also happen to be black).  This doesn’t seem to please Fancy Smith (Brian Blessed) who is visibly exasperated when he’s unable to get any of the other residents to utter a word.  He ironically comments that they’re deaf, but the inference seems to be that they can’t, rather than won’t, speak English.

To begin with, it’s possible that the same could be said for the man with the axe – Adignu Sadik (Johnny Sekka).  Barricading the door, he’s depicted as a mute, irresolute figure.  He’s not alone, as his wife Nana (Alaknanda Samart) and his two young children are also present.  Bathed in sweat, Sadik doesn’t utter a word during these early scenes – not even when he’s tempted out of the room by Detective Chief Inspector Barlow (Stratford Johns).

Indeed it’s not until about twenty minutes in, when he’s being questioned at the police station by Detective Sergeant Watt (Frank Windsor), that Sadik utters his first words.  And he’s revealed to be an articulate, softly spoken man, unable to explain why he should have exploded in a sudden burst of anger against Wallace.

That Sadik is not an unthinking, violent creature is surely an intentional piece of scripting – as several characters have already expressed negative opinions about Sadik and the black community in general.  Wallace’s boss, Lowther (Norman Bird) regards them as savages whilst Fancy makes the unoriginal observation that they all look alike.

A Place of Safety doesn’t offer any glib answers or pat solutions and nor does it shie away from suggesting that the police are capable of prejudice just like anybody else.  Barlow gently probes Lowther to try and find out what Wallace was like as a person – did he enjoy his job too much?  Lowther reacts angrily.  Wallace was an ex-copper, doing a dirty job, he says, but he didn’t deserve to be the victim of an unprovoked assault.  After he leaves, Watt tells Barlow that Wallace does have a reputation as a troublemaker, but nothing ever comes of this (we never see Wallace after his tumble down the stairs, so he’s not a defined character).

Lowther bitterly believes that Barlow’s attempting to find excuses to excuse Sadik’s attack.  But when Barlow and Watt are alone, Barlow admits quite the reverse – he suffers from prejudice as well, so he’s doubly keen to ensure that he treats Sadik fairly.

Johnny Sekka is excellent as Sadik, a man with no previous history of violence who finds events has spiraled out of his control.  But the script also poses the question  about exactly how much sympathy we should have for him.  Another very strong performance comes from Alakanda Samarth as his wife, Nana.  She has several key scenes, but possibly the most notable one is right at the end.

With her husband locked up, she and her children have been thrown out onto the streets.  Watt arranges a temporary place for them to stay, but the children can’t remain with their mother.  Fancy and Jock drop her off and there’s an intriguing moment of tension between her and Fancy.  We’ve already seen that the bluff Fancy has an undisguised raft of prejudices and Nana is prepared to meet him head on – she’s proud and independent and can clearly pick up the negative signals from Fancy (and isn’t prepared to ignore them)

An excellent episode by John Hopkins, which also works as a fascinating slice of social history.

Timeshift – Live on the Night: The Story of Live TV Drama

I’ve uploaded some bits and bobs to my YouTube channel over the last few days and one of them is this Timeshift documentary from 2004.

It tells the story of live British television drama – from the early days and then right up to date.  Covering programmes like the original Quatermass serials, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars and featuring interviews with Nigel Kneale, Peter Byrne and Brian Blessed amongst others, it ties neatly into some of the shows that I’ve written about in recent months.