Treasure Island (BBC, 1977) – Part One


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.

treasure 01-02.jpg

Prince Regent – Simply Media DVD Review

164454- Chief Crazy Horse Sleeve.indd

Prince Regent was an eight-part serial broadcast between September and October 1979.  Peter Egan played George, Prince of Wales, a man destined to ascend the throne of England.  But the madness of his father, George III (Nigel Davenport), and the strained relationship enjoyed with his wife Caroline (Diana Stabb) ensure that his succession is far from straightforward.

Unusually, multiple writers worked on the serial.  Robert Muller penned five episodes with the remainder provided by Reg Gadney, Nemone Lethbridge and Ian Curteis.  Carl Davis scored the music whilst Michael Simpson and Michael Hayes shared directing duties.

As might be expected, Peter Egan is supported by a highly impressive cast.  Nigel Davenport, Francis White, Keith Barron, Clive Merrison, Susannah York, Diana Stabb, David Horovitch, Barbara Shelley, Caroline Blakiston, Murray Head, David Collings, Cheri Lunghi and Patsy Kensit all appear in multiple episodes whilst the likes of Geoffrey Chater, Jane Freeman, Jo Kendall and Trevor Martin make one-off appearances.

Below is a brief episode by episode review.

Episode One – Mad For Love – 4th September 1979

In his own estimate talented, passionate, sensitive, a lover of art, of sport, of freedom, of women. In his father’s opinion scandalous and irresponsible, a drunkard, a ne’er-do-well, a lecher. 1782, and George Augustus Frederick, Prince of Wales, heir to the throne of England, approaches his coming-of-age (Radio Times Listing)

Mad for Love opens with a montage of the Prince of Wales enjoying various pursuts (fencing, shooting, carriage racing) which quickly establishes his less than serious nature. That he’s easily distracted by a pretty face is also in evidence after Maria Fitzherbert (Susannah York) catches his eye. The Prince finds (much to his amazement) that he’s violently in love with her, something which Maria – after listing George’s numerous previous conquests – finds impossible to believe.

The testy relationship enjoyed between the King and the Prince of Wales is explored for the first time. The King (wonderfully portrayed by Nigel Davenport) has a low opinion of his son, but it’s puzzling that he denies the Prince the opportunity to serve in the army. By doing so he condems his son to sort of aimless life he claims to despise.

regent 01.jpg

Episode Two – Put Not Your Trust in Princes – 11th September 1979

The Prince has married his beloved Maria. The ceremony is illegal and secret, hidden not only from the King but also from Fox. And the rumours and whispers of scandal, soon begin … (Radio Times listing)

Nigel Davenport continues to entertain as George III. Whether he’s at the dining table and lecturing his children about why they can’t afford certain fruit (Egan’s in full eye-rolling mode here) or displaying a lack of interest in the Bard (“oh dear god, not Shakespeare. Detest the fellow, sad stuff”) he’s great fun. But the early signs of the King’s madness casts a shadow, especially as we know what’s to come. It also has to be said that whenever George III goes “what, what, what” (which he does rather often) I can’t help but be reminded of Neddy Seagoon ….

Keith Barron, another quality player, gives a strong performance as Fox, although his heavy 5 o’clock shadow makes him look rather odd. Malcolm Terris, as a yokel politician bitterely opposed to George’s marriage, has a couple of nice scenes.

Episode Three – The Bride from Brunswick – 18th September 1979

The illegal marriage to Maria turning cold, his debts steadily increasing, the Prince begins to think the unthinkable. Why not a second, official, marriage? But who will be the bride this time? (Radio Times listing)

The Prince decides to show his gratitude to his father for settling his substantial debts by agreeing to marry whoever the King chooses. George III plumps for Princess Caroline, who is, to put it mildly, a woman of character.

James Harris, the Earl of Malmsbury (Julian Curry), is given the task of travelling to Brunswick, Germany, to arrange the match. The court at Brunswick is a delight, with Ralph Michael offering a fine comic turn as the Earl of Brunswick. The Earl likes to have endless fanfares whenever he eats, even if it means that the unfortunate players pass out after straining to maintain the notes!

Caroline is a real handful and it’s plain that she’ll shake up the Prince’s life. The meeting between Caroline and George’s most prominent mistress Lady Frances Jersey (Caroline Blakinston) is a treat but this is topped when George and Caroline first set eyes on each other. He recoils at her heavily made-up face whilst she bitterly comments that “he’s terrible fat and by no means as handsome as his portrait”. This is not going to be a marriage made in heaven ….

Episode Four – The Trouble with Women – 25th September 1979

An official wife, an unofficial wife, and a powerful and determined mistress – is it any surprise that the Prince feels besieged by women? (Radio Times listing)

Caroline bears the Prince a daughter, Charlotte, but if he’s to finally extricate himself from his debts then he’ll need to produce many more (each new child would see an increase in his allowance). George doesn’t take kindly to this thought, the fact he refers to Caroline as “that unnatural hell-hag from Brunswick” makes his postion abundantly clear.

David Collings (as Pitt) is yet another fine actor who enriches the production no end. Pitt has been opposed to George’s antics in the past, but now supports the suggestion that the Prince and Caroline should live separate lives. The Princess of Wales’ man-eating tendances (which occur off-screen) are touched upon after George tells his wife that he’s found her a nice house in Blackheath, which will be convenient, since the Royal Naval College and a home for distressed seamen are both nearby!


Episode Five – Father and Son – 9th October 1979

The King’s health has been good for several years but now there are ominous signs of a relapse into madness – convulsions, delusions, incessant talking. Is it at last time for a Regency? (Radio Times listing)

This one opens with the unusual sight of George indulging in amateur dramatics, performing an intense monologue before a select, but appreciative, audience. Although I’m sure there’s more than a touch of sychophancy in their fulsome appreciation.

George III cuts a tragic figure. He knows that his intermittent madness has returned, but the prospect of the “cure” (beatings, leeches, isolation in a darkened room) is more than he can bear. Davenport once again commands the screen.

George’s wish that his father either dies or goes properly mad is chilling.

Episode Six – God Save the King – 16th October 1979

A delicate investigation has been ordered into the alleged adultery of Princess Caroline. The Prince sees a chance for divorce from his hated wife. (Radio Times listing)

Peter Egan’s appearance at the start of this episode comes as a bit of a shock. He was slighly made up in the previous episode in order to portray an ageing and portlier George, but here it’s even more pronounced. Oddly, George III looks no different …

The investigation isn’t able to prove that Caroline has commited adultery, a verdict which rather upsets George. But even with his rather unforgiving make-up, Egan impresses as an older, wiser George. His conversation with the dying Fox is a touching one.

With George III’s madness even more of a problem, his son is finally confirmed as Regent. But now this long-cherished day has arrived, what will be the outcome?

Episode Seven – Milk and Honey – 23rd October 1979

The Regent decides that it is time for his beautiful and high-spirited daughter, Princess Charlotte, to marry. He has a candidate – but the strong-willed Princess has her own opinions on the subject. (Radio Times listing)

Princess Charlotte (Cheri Lungi) brings her new man, Captain Charles Hesse (Paul Herzberg) to meet her mother. Princess Caroline is much taken with him (they end up in bed a short while later!)

Lungi’s appearance might be fairly brief, but she’s yet another strong addition to the cast. Charlotte tells her father that she takes after him (a double-edged compliment that’s for sure). The Queen is concerned about her – Charlotte has a stutter and delights in showing people her underwear, whether they ask to see it or not. Jane Freeman, as Charlotte’s governess Lady de Clifford, has a brief but amusing cameo.

James Garbutt, as Lord Elson, has some acid lines which demonstrate that he’s not Princess Caroline’s greatest admirer. “She’s a foul-mouth, a slut and I don’t care who hears me say it.” As he says himself, there’s plenty more where that came from ….

The episode ends with the bleakest of news. It’s another blow for George, who has cast an increasingly melancholy figure as the years have progressed (a far cry from his carefree younger self).

Episode Eight – Defeat and Victory – 30th October 1979

The Prince prepares for the greatest battle of his life. His adversary is his hated wife Caroline, and he is determined to rid himself of her once and for all. (Radio Times listing)

Defeat and Victory opens with the deaths of the King and Queen.  Both Nigel Davenport and Francis White have been exemplary throughout the serial and this continues right up until their final moments.  With George now due to become King he is gripped by a single obsession – to ensure that Caroline is not crowned Queen and to that end she’s put on trial by the House of Lords.  Leading the prosecution is Sir Robert Gifford (James Cossins).  Cossins, the latest in a long line of wonderful character actors to grace the serial, seems to be enjoying himself enormously.

The episode title is an apt one, as although the Lords find Caroline not guilty, George is still able to ensure that his wife never becomes Queen.

Peter Egan, skilled at playing charming rogues, was perfect as George.  But whilst he was easily able to exude George’s affable nature, Egan didn’t shy away from showing us the other side of the coin – the irresponsible man who sometimes rode roughshod over others. Capricious, charming, selfish, generous, George was all these things and more. It’s his ever-changing moods, as well the increasing melancholy which desended on him in his later years, which makes him such a fascinating character.

A co-production with Time Life Television and Polytel International , it’s plain that the budget was pretty generous since the studio sets are detailed and impressive.  The serial also benefits from location recording at the Brighton Pavilion, this really helps to add an extra gloss to proceedings.  A typically impressive BBC costume drama of the era, Prince Regent is a sharply scripted and well-acted serial that just oozes class.  It may be something of a forgotten treasure, but it’s a treasure nonetheless and comes highly recommended.  Prince Regent is released by Simply Media on the 17th of October 2016.  RRP £24.99.

regent 03.jpg

Gideon’s Way – The Prowler


Gideon is under pressure (thanks to negative newspaper reports) to catch a mysterious masked prowler who’s been terrorising London.  So far he hasn’t hurt any of his female victims – he’s simply cut off locks of their hair – but Gideon is concerned that violence and murder might be the next items on his agenda.

The prowler, Alan Campbell-Gore (David Collings), is a troubled young man.  He may come from a wealthy and titled family, with a mother – Lady Campbell-Gore (Fanny Rowe) – who dotes on him, but it’s obvious that the balance of his mind is disturbed.  He still pines for Wendy, his dead girlfriend, and it’s his inability to come to terms with her death that proves to be his downfall  …..

Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman had already successfully brought the Saint to the small screen, thanks in no small part to the talents of Roger Moore, and with Gideon’s Way they were once again tasked with the problems inherent in transferring a literary creation to the small screen.  Because ITC liked to sell their products worldwide, this meant that excessive violence, for example, would be frowned upon.  It’s well known that the Saint had to be rather watered down from the amoral, anti-hero of the original books – emerging in the television series as the affable globe-trotter familiar from Leslie Charteris’ later novels (which tended not to be as highly regarded as the earlier books).

Revisiting John Creasey’s Gideon novels, it’s easy to see that a similar retooling took place.  The Prowler was adapted from Gideon’s Night, published in 1957, and it offers a subtly different story experience.  To begin with, Gideon opens by musing on how his marriage went through a rocky patch a few years ago (in contrast, the television couple never seem to have a single argument).  Lemaitre is also suffering from domestic strife, as his “bitch” of a wife is blatantly conducting affairs with numerous men.  A little character development like this would have been good for the television Lemaitre as Reginald Jessup, despite being a regular, has a fairly thankless role – mainly existing to line feed both Gideon and Keen.  As for the prowler, he’s instantly made much more sinister after it’s revealed that he strangles his victims (as opposed to the television prowler who simply clips off a lock of their hair).   Other themes in the novel – such as a murderer of young children – were unsurprisingly never adapted for the series.

Returning to this adaptation, the opening few minutes – as Alan pursues his latest victim through a foggy London street – are highly evocative, although there may be some (especially if you equate fog with the stories of Sherlock Holmes) who might regard this scene as something of an anachronism.  Not so.  Fog and smog continued to be a problem in London well into the 1960’s.  The worse case was the great London smog of 1952 which killed thousands and although the problem declined during the 1960’s, it was still there.

The Prowler makes no effort to keep Alan’s identity a mystery.  We know very early on that he’s the guilty man and Harry Junkin’s screenplay makes short work of explaining why this is so.

His continuing love for his dead girlfriend, a recent stay in a clinic (following a breakdown) and the suffocating love of his mother are all factors.  Although Lady Campbell-Gore no doubt feels she’s acting in his best interests, her domineering personality is precisely what he doesn’t need.  After one of the attacks, he pleads with somebody to help him – but since he’s alone in his bedroom, help is not forthcoming.

Clearly he’s reluctant to speak to her about his mental problems and although her actions  – telling him he’s not fit to work yet, ripping up a picture of Wendy – are, in her mind, meant for his own good it doesn’t work out that way.  And when he does later pluck up the courage to try and explain, she dismisses him with short shrift.  No member of their family, she tells him, has ever suffered from insanity.  It’s therefore clear that the reputation and standing of their family name matters more to her than the anguish of her son.

Director Robert Tronson was an experienced hand, active in television between the 1960’s and 1990’s.  A partial list of his credits – The Saint, Man in a Suitcase, Public Eye, Callan, The Power Game, Manhunt, Father Brown, Juliet Bravo, Bergerac, All Creatures Great and Small, Rumpole of the Bailey – reads like a list of some of the best series that British television has ever had to offer.  The Prowler was his sole GW credit, but thanks to the source material he was able to make his mark.

Tronson uses a number of tricks to illustrate Alan’s disturbed state.  The incidental music, whilst verging on the over melodramatic at times, is slightly unusual (thanks to the instruments used) which gives this episode a unique feel.  He also elects to shoot scenes from Alan’s POV – which allows us to see the world from inside his head.  Some of these moments – for example, Alan witnesses the torn photograph of Wendy reassemble itself – clearly can’t have happened, so this is an obvious sign that the way he observes the world is filtered through his own grip on reality.

This was only David Collings’ second television credit (following an edition of The Wednesday Play earlier that same year, 1965) but he’s very watchable as the troubled Alan.  Collings would later find something of a niche playing disturbed and damaged individuals, of which Alan is an early example.  Although the script seems to tell us that Alan isn’t responsible for his actions, it also poses the question as to whether the system is set up to give him the help he needs.

Alan staggers his way over to Wendy’s old flat, but naturally doesn’t find her.  Marjorie Hayling (Gillian Lewis) now lives there and treats the strange man who barges into her rooms with kindness and compassion.  He explains that he was Wendy’s fiancée – she knows that Wendy killed herself and gently asks him if he knows why.  He doesn’t and this may be one of the reasons why he tortures himself.  Marjorie agrees to go out with him, although she’s aware that he’s deeply troubled.  During this scene Alan shows himself to be personable, articulate and lonely.  It’s not an act – he’s all of these things – which makes his other compulsions even more of a tragedy.

The climatic part of the story – Alan is hunted through the dark streets by the police and eventually turns up at Marjorie’s flat – ramps up the tension, as he holds her hostage with a knife.  But had he not felt cornered, would this have happened?  It’s a question to ponder (since his later slapping of Marjorie is the first intended violent act we’ve seen him carry out).  The siege comes to an end, but Alan’s ultimate fate is not disclosed.

An unusual, but impressive, episode – thanks to David Collings.