Angels – Nights (13th October 1975)

Having previously mostly acted as Jo’s confidant and sounding board, Nights is the first time that Ruth’s character has been placed centre-stage. Given the night-time setting, there’s a very different feel to this episode than previous ones – the subdued lighting and the general peace and quiet of the ward contrasts sharply with the bustle of the daytime environment.

Ambient noise is used effectively to reinforce this difference. The regular stream of traffic outside (presumably St Angela’s is close to a main road) is a good example – no doubt during the day it would be drowned out by the general hubbub of hospital life.

We check in on several patients (considerately they all wake up at different times, meaning that Ruth can attend to each of them in turn). All of these encounters – bar one – add a little extra colour to the episode but aren’t key. Mr Summers (Ken Parry) is first. Complaining of being hot (and also the fact that he’s hooked up to a very bulky looking monitor) he’s fairly easily dealt with. His mildly cantankerous nature does give Ruth an early opportunity to demonstrate her winning personality skills though.

When Mr Pointer (Richard Butler) heads out of the ward at one thirty in the morning (a regular occurrence for him) it seems that the audience is being invited to assume it’s a toilet related issue. But in fact he’s just nipping off to make a cup of tea – since his working life has been spent working the night shift, his body clock now operates differently from everyone else.

The arrival of Mr Wallace (Anthony Dawes) is an interesting moment. The only brief film insert during the episode occurs during the first few minutes when we see an ambulance pull up with yet another patient (presumably Wallace). This subconsciously suggests that Wallace is going to be a key figure, but it doesn’t turn out that way. Once he’s been loaded into bed he’s pretty much forgotten about.

The conflict in today’s episode is generated by Ruth and Audrey Steiner (Myra Francis). Audrey might be the senior, but Ruth is contemptuous of the fact that she’s an agency nurse. Ruth believes that her experience of the ward should trump Audrey’s greater knowledge of nursing (she also has a simmering resentment because Audrey is paid more). Nothing that Audrey does is particularly terrible, but decent drama is generated via her clashes with Ruth. Another plus of the night setting is the fact that even when they have an argument it has to be done sotto voce in order not to wake the patients.

During her break, Ruth discusses the dreaded Audrey with Sita and Sandra Ling (Angela Bruce, making her Angels debut). Sandra makes most of the running here – disagreeing with Ruth by pointing out the difficulties that an agency worker has to face (mainly the fact that they’re never in one place long enough to make friends). But this flashpoint is brief and there’s a later short scene which makes it plain that their friendship is unaffected.

The arrival of Dr Frank Crozier (John Duttine) breaks the routine. Duttine is another of those Angels performers who could have easily returned again as the same character, but sadly didn’t. Something of a letch (Crozier’s first action is to squeeze Ruth’s bottom) he’s obviously used to wrapping the nurses around his little finger. He later asks Ruth to rustle him up an omelette, even though he knows that nurses are strictly forbidden to cook (because of this she later fouls foul of the formidable sister). But Ruth’s not upset and her weekend date with Crozier remains unaffected.

The death of Mr Marshall (John Stuart) ends the episode on a bleak and reflective note. An elderly man with severe breathing problems, his poor health is stated throughout, but it still comes as a shock when he suddenly expires. Angels‘ first patient death, it’s all the more effective for the matter of fact way it’s handled. The pain felt by Ruth is obvious (losing a patient is always hard) but as Crozier tells her, you simply have to develop a hard shell and move on.

The travails of this particular night shift is one reason why Ruth and Audrey find some common ground by the end of it (Audrey’s offer of a cup of tea is something of an olive branch). Like Duttine, it’s a shame that Francis’ character was just a one-off.

Alan Janes’ script is economical with its dialogue (understandable during an episode set at night). Another strong episode though, and I look forward to seeing what he does with his next (Accident, from series two).

Out of the Blue – Series Two, Episode Six

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The team investigate the death of a fourteen year old prostitute called Justine Painton (Caroline O’Hara) ….

We’re pitched straight into the action. It’s late at night and in a run down part of town, Justine’s body is discovered. With a plastic bag over her head and rope marks on her wrists it seems that natural causes can be ruled out.

The officers stand around cracking weak jokes in the time honoured fashion (anything to take their minds off the actuality of the present situation). A brief moment of levity is provided when Becky sets the record straght about her night of limited passion with Lew (she knows that he would have already spun them his version of events). The only problem is that he hasn’t said a word ….

Justine’s mother, Fran (Siobhan Finneran), maitains a shrine to her daughter at home. Numerous school photos and beauty pagent trophies act as reminders of the girl she was, not what she’d become. Wasted potential (Becky and Warren view the cleaned up girl on the mortuary slab and Warren mentions how beautiful she was) is a theme of the story.

Family-man Ron finds the case a little hard to deal with. It’s not dificult to understand why (girls the same age as his daughter leading a dissolute life). One of Justine’s friends, Kirsty (Sarah Jane-Potts), tells him and Marty that Justine embraced life on the streets wholeheartedly. Is this the truth or simply an obfuscation? And what precisely did her mother know about her daughter’s new life?

One very striking moment occurs when Kirsty is speaking about Justine. The scene is overlaid with photographs of a younger Caroline O’Hara, which serves as an effective counterpoint between the past and the present.

It’s a remarkable coincidence that Richard Shaw (Pip Donaghy), the father of Warren’s ex-girlfriend Lucy, knew Justine intimately (he took bondage photographs of her). He offers to share his information, provided the police can arrange a meeting with his estranged daughter. Warren knows precisely where she is, because he’s been keeping tabs on her (mmm, a touch obsessive).

Local celebrity, boxer Vinnie Harper (Adam Kotz), was involved with Fran. But was he also intimate with Justine? The big guns (DI Temple and Lew) are wheeled out for a pulsating interrogation as we see Vinnie hauled over the coals.

Although Caroline O’Hara (making her screen debut) has very limited screentime (after all, her character is dead when we first see her) Justine still permeates every part of the story. Her death means that she’s robbed of her own voice, so others have to ascribe her with motivations and fill in her character for us.

Although answers are provided, justice is harder to come by. This was one of the strengths of Out of the Blue, a series which never felt obligated to pretend that life was fair. One of the final scenes – in which a distraught Lew makes this point to a resigned Temple – could be seen as a setup for the third series which never came. Would series three have finally been the point where Lew went too far?

We’ll never know, but while Out of the Blue never became a mainstream success, twenty years on it stands up as a flawed – but fascinating – series.

Out of the Blue – Series Two, Episode Five

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Three homeless people (one of them played by the highly recognisable Andy Devine – who would later appear as Shadrach in Emmerdale) are poisoned after a seemingly good Samaritan offers them a drink of champagne laced with prescription tranquillisers.

Temple’s mildly curious, but doesn’t regard it as much more than a sick joke.  It’s a sign of the times that the office only seems to have one computer and – as the victims use it to put together an identikit picture of their well-heeled poisoner – Temple gripes about the expense.  “Have you any idea how much that computer takes out of my budget? It’d be cheaper to hire Walt Disney”.

Temple’s given some good lines in this one.  A few minutes later he asks Becky and Warren exactly what they’re going to do.  “Put out an All Points Alert for Burlington Bertie?”  That’s a rather obscure reference which – back in the pre-internet nineties – would probably have perplexed a section of the audience.

Elsewhere, Bruce, Lew, Marty and Ron go in mob-handed to tackle Gibbs (Peter Jonfield), who appears to have a shop full of stolen goods – although annoyingly none of his stock appears to be on the stolen property register.  By racially taunting Bruce, Gibbs successfully manages to get under his skin – making him all the keener to nail him, although it also might serve to make him more reckless.

This subplot somewhat moves into the background once it’s discovered that Jackson (Devine) has been attacked again, only this time he’s dead.  Is it connected to the previous poisoning?  The descriptions of the suspects indicate not and the fact that one of them had red hair gives Marty the chance for a droll comeback.  “That’s handy, I’ve been looking for an excuse to arrest Mick Hucknall”.

They trawl the drug rehabilitation centres for clues, which sees Lew and Tony take diametrically opposing views on their usefulness.  It’s no surprise that the humanitarian Tony believes they help to prevent crime as well as getting people back on the straight and narrow whilst the more cynical Lew begrudges the fact that his taxes are used on such people.

Bruce has been operating on a tight-fuse for a while.  And after Warren makes an offhand remark (wondering if his obsessive nature is a family trait) Bruce takes it as a dig directed at his father and fisticuffs ensue.  This creates a nice sense of tension which, together with Lew’s off-kilter personality, means that the team have never been more dysfunctional.

Another soap favourite, Maggie Jones (Blance Hunt from Coronation Street) makes a brief appearance as Joan Palmer.  Bruce wants Joan to identify the property from Gibbs’ shop as hers, but when she’s unable to do so Bruce is once again frustrated.  Emma Bird, who also would have been a familiar face at the time (she’d played Maxine during the 1992/93 run of Casualty) makes an impression as Nikki, another of the poisoned down and outs.  She’s an actor who seems to have slipped off the radar, as her last screen credit (an episode of Liverpool 1) was all the way back in 1999.  And the eagle-eyed might spot a young Benedict Wong making a brief appearance as a wages clerk.

The team arrest a suspect, Eamon Timmer (Simon Tyrell), for Jackson’s murder.  He’s very talkative before the tape starts rolling (“I killed Jackson Hanley! I did it. And I’ll kill every tosser in this room”) but doesn’t say a word after the red light goes on.

Although none of the plots really engage, the interactions between the team (especially the continually wise-cracking Marty) helps to keep the interest levels up.  The final scene is especially intriguing. After Becky’s attempt to console Warren (still smarting over the end of his relationship with Lucy) comes to nothing, she winds up in bed with Lew.  Her post-coital expression makes it plain that she realises what a terrible mistake it was ….

Out of the Blue – Series Two, Episode Four

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Danny Caswell (David Prosho) makes a stand against local drug dealer Tommy Defty (Neil Stuke). But when Danny’s house is trashed and his car is torched he wonders if talking to the police was the best option. Meanwhile, Tommy continues to taunt the police, convinced that he’s untouchable.

This episode’s cold open is very effective. A typically bleak, run-down estate is the venue as Lew and Bruce rush over to Danny’s house. It’s not just the damage that’s disturbing as the imagery (stickmen hanging) is plainly designed to intimidate. But although Danny’s not scared off, the CPS, in the form of Barbara, decide that they haven’t good enough evidence to proceed.

Warren caustically refers to the CPS as “Couldn’t Prosecute Satan” whilst Marty has his own unique take on how they might deal with Tommy. “I could take me Black and Decker round his house and drill his arse”.

Danny and his wife, Diane (Kate Rutter), cooperated with the police and got nothing for their pains – except a burnt car, a trashed house and the enmity of Tommy’s crew. It’s not really a great advert for working with the police. A frustrated Danny later vandalizes Barbara’s house and when questioned by Temple angrily tells him why. “You’ve given up on us. You’ve pulled the ladder up after you”.

Lew’s off-kilter personality comes to the fore when he and Bruce question Tommy’s mother, Mrs Defty (Barbara Ewing). He fingers her drying underwear and lays a delicate hand on her shoulder. Later, he breaks into her bedroom for a chat ….

Lew’s mind games are effective, if unconventional (and no doubt illegal). He knows that Tommy’s mother, just like everybody else, lives in fear of him – so needling both her and him might be the way to chip away at his hard shell. Ewing (best known for Brass) is effective whilst Stuke (who has gone on to enjoy a considerable career) is excellent value as the cocky drug-lord.

The loose cannon that is Lew is the motor which drives this episode along. Mrs Defty sums it up well. “Tommy scares me right enough, but you scare me more”.

Warren’s relationship with Lucy seems to have hit an impasse after she starts chatting to Tommy at a nightclub (despite Warren telling her not to). This might be good news for Becky, who seemed a little perturbed that Lucy and Warren were becoming serious. It’s doubtful that Lucy and Becky will ever be friends though, especially after Lucy spits in her face.

When Lucy – an unstable person if ever there was one – declares that she’s heading off to be with Tommy it adds another complication to the story. Warren and Becky go riding to the rescue, which involves them planting drugs on Lucy so they can extract her without making Tommy suspicious.

Another strong story which features a victory of sorts, although the collateral damage also has to be taken into account.

Out of the Blue – Series Two, Episode Three

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Terry Forrest (Thomas Craig) is the victim of a male rape. Chris Mannings (Fine Time Fontayne), a gay man who lives on Terry’s estate, becomes a suspect ….

An unusual topic to cover, the episode isn’t graphic but the aftermath of the assault resonates throughout. Unsurprisingly there’s some unreconstructed views offered by the team, notably Marty. When Temple tells him and Ron to hit the gay clubs to look for leads, he mutters “better get that frock ironed Ron”. Ron seems to find the case particularly distasteful. Becky tells him to think of it as an assault, rather than a rape, but this doesn’t seem to help.

Ron later explains his problems to Temple. “It’s just that if it’s a lass who’s been raped, then I can tell her that she’s safe, that I’m there to protect her. I looked at Terry Forrest today. What can I say to him. What can I offer him?”

When Mannings’ naked, battered body is dumped outside the police station, it’s obvious that the locals have dished out their own brand of summary justice. One of Forrest’s friends, Kevin Ryan (Karl Draper), seems to be implicated in the attack, but he denies it.

There are plenty of parallels to be found in real life with this sort of knee-jerk vigilante action, but the question here is whether Mannings is actually guilty. The wonderfully-named Fine Time Fontayne (unsurprisingly not the name he was christened with) impresses as Mannings as does Thomas Craig as Forrest.

As the story continues, there are varying degrees of empathy to be found. Lew, on hearing the news of Mannings’ beating, decides there’s little they can do to help the gay community ward off further attacks unless they “supply an armed guard for everybody on the estate with a Judy Garland album”.

It’s also an interesting wrinkle that Becky is the one who voices the opinion that Forrest might not have been raped after all – possibly it was consensual sex which then turned violent. It wouldn’t have been surprising, had this been a female rape, to hear the male officers express a similar viewpoint, so there’s an obvious irony at work here.

We eventually learn the identity of Forrest’s attacker. Given that the story had only given us a few possibilities it doesn’t come as a complete surprise, but the scene where the rapist offers his plea of self-justification is another nicely done moment.

Although the various personal traumas of the regulars – Marty’s marriage problems, Warren’s tense relationship with Lucy – are still bubbling away, for once they’re reduced to background noise as the policework dominates.

Out of the Blue – Series Two, Episode Two

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Zamwa Sidikki, owner of a minicab business, is discovered bludgeoned to death, a blood-covered baseball bat nearby. Racial or personal? That’s what Temple and the others have to discover.

Since Sadikki wasn’t the most popular of men there’s no shortage of suspects, such as his estranged son – Rafi (Raji James) – who had a falling out with his father several months ago. Gareth Chester (Neil Boorman), the only white driver employed by Sadikki, also seems to be a strong suspect. But possibly Sadikki’s daughter, Yasmin (Rina Mahoney), might hold the key.

Warren continues to let his lower regions rule his head as his relationship with Lucy continues. He thinks nothing of nipping away during the middle of the day for a moment of passion with his attractive, if flaky girlfriend. This flakiness is on show after she flashes him (and a delighted elderly passer-by) from her bedroom window.

It’s fair to say that his colleagues aren’t terribly sympathetic about Warren’s conquest. Bruce succinctly sums up their mood. “He’s been going off at us for years about respecting womankind. And then it turns out that kid Warren is just another copper who can’t keep his toolbox in his trousers”.

He’s not the only one with personal concerns though. Marty and his wife have decided to adopt (a storyline which bubbles away in the background for the remainder of the series) whilst Bruce’s father, Andy (Oscar James), suffers a paranoid attack.

James, instantly recognisable thanks to his three year stint on EastEnders, makes an immediate impact here. Andy, currently living with his daughter, comprehensively smashes up her kitchen, although it’s clear that he’s not responsible for his actions.

The tricky subject of mental health would have been a fruitful one to tackle over the course of the series, but it’s somewhat glossed over since this episode is the only time we meet Andy. But even given this, Lennie James has a couple of decent scenes as Bruce attempts to come to terms with his father’s illness.

Although Sidikki’s murder is never that engrossing a mystery, the script still clips along at a nice pace, helped no end by the dialogue. One of my favourite moments occurs when Marty, who can always be relied upon, loses his patience with a suspect. “I can always tell when you’re lying ‘cos your lips move. We are not being paid to stand around here listening to you feeding us your tripe and bollocks. Do we look like Richard and Judy?”

Out of the Blue – Series Two, Episode One

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A baby is snatched from the bus station and a major incident is launched.  But things turn out to be more complicated than they first appear ….

After a new title sequence we’re thrust straight into the action via a cold opening.  The reason for all the rushing about quickly becomes obvious, but despite the best efforts of everybody there’s no sign of the child.  It’s interesting that Jim ‘Lew’ Llewyn (David Morrissey) isn’t given a proper introduction (Lew has obviously been a member of the team for some time) but this probably works to the series’ benefit.  Showing Lew finding his feet might have worked dramatically, but it also would have slowed the main story down.

But although Lew seems to have fitted in well, bantering easily with the likes of Marty, a slightly discordant note is struck by Temple.  A brief throwaway comment from him makes it plain that he has little love for his latest recruit.  The reason will become a little clearer as we work through the second series.

Joanne Player (Keeley Forsyth) and Matt Pearson (Paul Nicholls) play the young couple who may not be telling the whole truth.  Both Forsyth and Nicholls were at the start of their careers with only a handful of credits prior to this (both of them had appeared in The Biz, for example).

When a witness later suggests that when they saw Joanne and Matt the baby wasn’t with them, the story veers off into a different direction.  Temple orders the floorboards at their flat to be lifted up, although Marty comments that if they were organised enough to concoct a fake story of abduction, it’s unlikely they’d be stupid enough to shove the child under their floorboards.

Love is in the air.  Tony is going out with a widow, a fellow member at his local church.  Since Bruce has decided that Tony may be a little out of practice with women, he decides to give him the benefit of his advice – although it seems that Bruce is more concerned with winding the anxious Tony up.

Meanwhile, Warren meets Lucy Shaw (Nicola Stephenson) for the first time.  To begin with it doesn’t appear that a relationship is on the cards, since she’s simply a witness in an investigation.  Her father, Richard Shaw (Pip Donaghy), is accused of taking bondage photographs.  Although he strenuously denies it, as time goes on his true colours are revealed.

Donaghy gives a chilling performance as a seemingly innocent family man.  But his one-on-one interview with Becky provides us with clear evidence that there’s more to him than meets the eye (although since he’s done nothing illegal he can’t be charged).  Shaw will return in the final episode, whilst his daughter features throughout.  When Warren learns that a distraught Lucy doesn’t want to return home, he takes her under his wing.  I have to say that the sight of Darrell D’Silva’s naked backside, as Warren and Lucy become intimately acquainted, was something of a surprise.

Even this early on it seems obvious that their relationship is doomed.  She seems to be vulnerable and unstable, which suggests that Warren’s simply taking advantage of her.  The sensible thing would be for both of them to walk away, but since both are flawed characters it’s not that simple.

Marty remains in fine form.  On spying a teenager defacing a Missing Persons poster with a marker-pen, he gives the young lad a taste of his own medicine by drawing a pair of glasses and a beard on his face!  Quite how Marty manages to get away with these sort of things is anybody’s guess, but I daresay a certain section of the audience would have approved of his brand of rough justice.

Although the main story is pretty bleak, there’s the odd moment of levity.  Lew stops a man, Phil Draper (Jim Millea), who’s acting suspiciously.  After Lew asks him to open the boot of his car, he reacts in horror as a sheep jumps out and beats a hasty retreat down the road.  Phil coolly suggests that the sheep must have already been there when he bought the car.

The ending might not come as too much of a surprise, but Nicholls and Forsyth are both effective.  Overall, another strong episode and  it provides a more than decent opening to the second series.

Out of the Blue – Series One, Episode Six

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The hunt for Franky’s killer begins in earnest ….

There’s a certain amount of dramatic licence at play here, since it seems more than a little unlikely that the close colleagues of a dead officer would be the ones leading the investigation to find his killer. Surely the fact they’d be emotionally involved would have ruled them out?

The opening plays as you’d expect – the team are shellshocked (Bruce is the one we follow into the station as – disorientated – he reels from the buzz and bustle of the crime scene) whilst Franky’s widow, Lorraine (Denise Stephenson), blames Temple and just about any other copper she can find for Franky’s death.

Although Temple later warns the others not to cut any corners, Marty – when questioning a suspect – spells out precisely what Franky’s death signifies. “Do you know what a dead copper means? It means the sky falls in on every little arsewipe who might know anything”.

Assistant Chief Constable Friel (Trevor Cooper) makes a small, but telling, contribtion. He informs Temple that he doesn’t want any of Franky’s dirty linen washed in public. They have to tell the truth about Franky’s activities, but anything unsavoury needs to be hidden from public consumption. The conflict between the need for truth (the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth) and police politics is clearly delineated here.

It’s hard not to feel that the unstable Victor was pushed into a corner by Franky. Temple later makes that point to the team, although most of them – especially Marty – don’t really want to hear. Even though Temple then goes on to say that he’s making the potential case of Victor’s defence laywers, there’s more than a kernel of truth in his statement.

Apart from a voice on the phone, we don’t see Victor until we’re well into the episode. The stake-out nature of the middle part of the story, as the team wait for him to surface, enables there’s a little time for various personal problems to be given an airing. Warren still hasn’t given up hope that he and Becky might become an item whilst Ron gives Marty some sage advice about children (Marty and his wife have been unable to conceive).

The tension that hangs over the episode, indeed the whole series, concerning Franky continues here. His colleagues have always been loyal and – toasting his memory in the pub – they continue to be. All except the newcomer Tony. “When everything else comes second best to your ambition. Your mates, your wife, your kids …”

Victor confesses but there’s little sense of celebration. The mood is best summed up by Marty in a short speech which could easily serve as the series’ raison d’etre. “Where’s the blame? I’ve been searching in me head for where the blame is. All day. Thinking and looking. Asking and asking. No, it’s kids going mad, but its not. Who teaches you to be stupid? Where does greedy start from? You know what I’ve decided? I can’t find it”.

The last scene – Franky entertains the others from beyond the grave via the power of VHS – proves to be something of a cathartic experience. If some questions about his character will remain unanswered for ever, at least this provides them with the opportunity of remembering his better side.  The truth then, but not the whole truth ….

Out of the Blue – Series One, Episode Five

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A woman called Anna Cornish is shot. Who did it and why was her body moved across town?

Although Mrs Cornish is a respected member of the local community (a black lawyer and a noted anti-drugs campaigner) the team can’t expect to receive much in the way of cooperation. Temple sums the mood up when he mentions that the community despises the police only slightly more than they hate each other.

The bleakness and hopelessness of mid nineties inner-city Britain is a running theme of Out of the Blue and gets developed in this episode. Mr Megson (Tony Barton) was the publican who wheeled Anna from away from his pub and he doesn’t waste any time in explaining why.  Anna was “a colonial cousin” and, according to him, a member of a race that doesn’t have a great respect for human life.

Megson believes that all of the estate’s problems can be dated to the arrival of the black community, which leaves us with the strong impression that he regarded Anna as little more than a piece of rubbish to be removed. It’s striking that Megson doesn’t seem to understand that he’s done anything wrong although when Bruce tells him that he may end up charged with manslaughter he starts to take attention.

A tip-offf leads them to three suspects, Shaun Hayley (Tim Evans), Bunny (John Muir) and Daniel Gelder (Taurean Mulholland). They’re only fifteen though. Could a group of fifteen year-olds really be responsible for this shooting? It’s a telling moment that nobody dismisses this out of hand. It clearly wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened.

On the plus side, the episode doesn’t feature Franky whining about his epilepsy. Instead we see just how far he’ll go in order to get a result. Convinced that the shooting has a drug connection, he infiltrates a gang of low-lifes. First he shares their drugs and then he asks to buy a gun (because, he says, he wants to shoot a copper). By acting alone and without backup he’s taking an incredible risk – this seems to demonstrate he’s got something of a death-wish.  He’s remarkably convincing as an unstable psychopath ….

Nobody wins in this one since the shooters can be said to have been just as much victims as Anna was. Moments of levity are therefore few, although the spat between Marty and Ron is good fun (Ron’s aggrieved that Marty let slip about his philandering ways to the others).

The episode ends with Franky being confronted by Victor (Gary Sefton). Victor’s a drug dealer as well as Franky’s informant. Although Victor seems upset and a little unstable, Franky’s the sort of person you always imagine will win through, so when he’s stabbed and collapses in a large pool of his own blood on the office floor it’s a considerable jolt.

That the action then switches to the pub, where we see the others unwinding after another long day.  We’ve seen during the course of the first series how Franky has isolated himself from the others – declining to join them in the pub or for bowling nights on previous occasions – so the fact he dies alone whilst the others are together is clearly an intentional bitter irony.

Out of the Blue – Series One, Episode Four

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A women is found dead in a bus shelter located just outside her house. It looks as if she was sleeping there, but why? A baker, Mr Flood (Kenneth Cope), is once again sweeping up broken glass from his shattered shop windows. Convinced that no-one is taking him seriously he resorts to drastic action to make himself heard. Meanwhile, Franky has disappeared. He had been working unofficially on a cold case, so the team follow it up ….

Dave Norman, playing Ray Chaplin, has an easy time of it. Ray, a pimp, previously had his tongue cut out, so Norman didn’t have to go to the trouble of learning any lines. All he had to do was look moody and scribble down his answers to Becky and Warren.

This was the cold case Franky was working on, so it serves a dual purpose in the narrative – not only is there a mystery to be solved, but finding the answer might allow the team to discover Franky’s location.

Ron’s dalliances with his ex-wife become public knowledge around the office (although his curent wife remains in the dark). He’s yet to discover that Marty let this secret slip though, but I’ve a feeling he’s going to find out soon …

Bruce and Tony visit Mr Flood. Their different reactions speak volumes about their characters. Bruce wants to be out looking for Franky, so dealing with a case of broken windows seems completely trivial (he caustically refers to Mr Flood as Mr Pastry).  But Tony instantly emphasises with the victim – he can see that Mr Flood is living a life of quiet desperation (his life made a misery due to abuse and vandalism) and wants to help. So Tony is idealistic, Bruce realistic.

Tony later confides that as a uniformed officer he felt part of the community, but now he’s in plain clothes there’s more of a sense of isolation. The fact that we never actually see any of the tearaways who abuse Mr Flood is an interesting touch – as making the threat abstract means it becomes more problematic and insoluble.

Kenneth Cope nicely underplays as a man driven to the edge by antisocial behaviour.  The way he finally gets a little attention is a wrong-footing moment (although due to the way the camera coyly doesn’t focus on the action, it’s possibly not as impactful as it could have been).  No matter though, Cope still deftly sketches the character of Mr Flood – a man who doesn’t want to be labelled a victim, but urgently needs help.

The dead woman at the bus stop, Angela Grainger, was also a victim of antisocial behaviour.  In her case, she was driven to distraction by pounding music played at all hours by her next door neighbours. But did one of them attack her in the days before she died of a heart attack?

It can’t be a coincidence that Kenneth Cope’s daughter, Martha, appears as Marilyn Jowett, Angela Grainger’s neighbour. Another familiar face, Sheila Ruskin, pops up as Margot Gillespie, the doctor who tells Franky that his epilepsy isn’t operable.

Alternating between these two storylines as well as the search for Ray’s attacker and Franky’s continuing tantrums, it’s a packed episode. At one point, Ron confides that there’s no justice and by the time the credits roll it’s hard to disagree with him.

Out of the Blue – Series One, Episode Three

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When Ron’s daughter is discovered with a computer disc containing violent pornography, the team spring into action to track the perpetrator down …

This episode is of particular interest due to the computer porn angle. Given it was the mid nineties when computers – and the internet – were just beginning to establish themselves, it has to be a pretty early example of this type of storyline.

Bruce is puzzled by this brave new computer world (no doubt a section of the audience would have been just as perplexed as he was) but luckily there’s a young schoolboy on hand to explain the world of networks, notice boards, DOS and floppy discs.  We must be pretty much pre-internet for most people, since the images were distributed on 3.5″ discs, which helps to date the programme.

John Hannah’s been boiling away nicely for the last few episodes but now Franky’s been suspended Hannah takes the opportunity to ramp up the intensity level several notches. Franky blames Bruce for shopping him, but he’s blameless (it was Franky’s wife, Lorraine, who informed DI Temple).  When Franky later learns the truth, does he apologise to Bruce? Nope. Which provides more evidence that Franky’s a charmless, self-centered, self-pitying sort of chap. Possibly he’s a good thief-taker, but his social skills need more than a spot of work.

Poor Warren’s lack of success with the opposite sex leads the others, notably Ron and Marty, to offer him some well-meaning words of advice. Bruce is more caustic, he opines that Warren’s problem is due to the fact he dresses off the peg (at the Salvation Army!)

There’s a nice mid-episode change of pace as Ron, Marty and Becky attempt to track down a suspect in the computer porn case, Gary Lowell. They encounter Craig Page (Andrew Dunn) at Lowell’s house, who looks more than a little shifty. The fact that Lowell’s dead body is stuffed in a cardboard box might have something to do with that ….

The episode also features a back-street strip club which employs disabled performers. Warren, at the club in surveillance mode, is appalled. The camera coyly doesn’t show us the stripper, but we get a good insight into Warren’s distressed state of mind by the way the camera starts to weave and lose focus.

The mystery of who killed Gary isn’t much of a mystery after all, but it’s still a strong enough episode with a pre-dinnerladies Andrew Dunn making the most of his limited screentime.

Out of the Blue – Series One, Episode Two

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Ron and Marty are pursuing Neil Chettle (Matthew Wait). They’re convinced that he’s responsible for robbing a series of pensioners of their life savings, but there’s no solid evidence. Chettle’s clever, as by selecting only the elderly and infirm, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to pick him out of an identity parade ….

This second episode continues to put more meat on the bones of the regular characters. Becky’s fledgling relationship with PC Alex Holder (Stephen Billington) seems to have put Warren’s nose slightly out of joint whilst Tony’s casual statement that he believes in God somewhat nonplusses Marty (who then can’t resist questioning him on his beliefs).

This is a strong episode for Neil Dudgeon. Although the story isn’t doing anything we haven’t seen countless times before in other shows – Marty doggedly pursusing a cocky suspect who believes he’s untouchable – Dudgeon and Wait are still on top form. When the tables are turned and Chettle begins to target Marty’s wife, the pressure gets ramped up a notch, although this part of the plot is never really developed as much as it could have been.

Bruce continues to glower at Franky. Franky claims that he’s now perfectly fine but Bruce – he is a detective after all – doesn’t believe a word of it. This is confirmed later on by Franky’s retching and pained staring into the toilet mirror.

There’s a later oblique conversation between Bruce and DI Temple in which the senior officer seems to be warning Bruce against doing anything about Franky. Although this is contradicted towards the end when Temple spells out Franky’s options to him – none of which seem to appeal.

Broken marriages are a common sight in police series and Marty helps to explain why. He may still be married, but the job has plainly had a toxic effect. “I went home to Judy one time and I had to tell her that I’d been tying labels onto the toes of a kiddie who’d been strangled, and you know what she said to me? Do you know what my own wife said to me? Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me”.

Although the episode juggles several other plotlines – the mystery of how a man, dead for several months, has continued to open his mail and a potential robbery at a pub – it’s the feud between Marty and Chettle which dominates. Marty may be satisfied with the eventual outcome, but Ron isn’t. “Racing around like the caped crusader, you’ve turned this into a schoolroom brawl between you and him”.

Whilst the others enjoy an evening’s bowling, Franky – as befits a flawed hero – broods alone in the office, with only a cigarette for company.

Out of the Blue – Series One, Episode One

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Hugh Evans was sixty seven years old and dying of cancer. So why would somebody shoot him four times as he lay in his hospital bed? Meanwhile, as the only female detective, DS Rebecca Bennett is called upon to interview a traumatised rape victim.

Out of the Blue hits in ground runnng. In the opening few minutes as – somewhat oddly – all the detectives hot-foot it over to the hospital, the regulars’ characters are deftly sketched.

DC Marty Brazil (Neil Dudgeon) and DC Ron Ludlow (Peter Wight) make for an entertaining double-act. Marty is clearly the iconoclast of the team (thinking nothing of giving a man who spat in the street a hard time). Also making an early impression is Orla Brady as DS Rebecca ‘Becky’ Bennett (partly because she’s the only female detective in an all-male enclave).

DS Franky Drinkall (John Hannah) and DC Bruce Hannaford (Lennie James) chase down a suspect in the shooting case, but it’s what happens afterwards which will haunt the remainder of the first series. Franky suffers an epileptic fit in the pub and refuses to report it to the medical officer. This not only puts his own career in jeopardy but swearing Bruce to secrecy only serves to complicate matters even further (as well as creating a simmering sense of tension).

Becky and DC Warren Allen (Darrell D’Silva) make up the third team and putting them together on the rape case helps to generate a certain amount of debate between them which defines both their characters, although at this point Becky is the one who’s received the most screentime.

DC Tony Bromley (Andy Rashleigh) has been newly transferred to the team and, as an outsider, serves as the audience identification figure. As he begins to understand how his new colleagues tick, so do we. Rounding off the squad is DI Temple (John Duttine). By far the most familiar television face, Duttine doesn’t have a great deal to do here (the harrased boss is a long-standing police series cliche) but having a quality actor in the role gives Temple the gravitas he needs.

Juggling two strong storylines, this opening episode is a solid one. The visual style (shaky camerawork and the occasional loss of focus as the camera – effectively acting as an unseen member of the team – moves from person to person) helps to give the story a little impetus.

Out of the Blue – Simply Media DVD Review

Running for two series and twelve episodes between 1995 and 1996, Out of the Blue is a somewhat overlooked police series.  Filmed in Sheffield, it’s a bleak and unsettling show which doesn’t attempt to wrap each episode up with a happy ending (or at times a definite conclusion).  The frenetic hand-held camerawork gives the series a fly-on-the-wall atmosphere at times (seemingly inspired by the likes of Hill Street Blues and Homicide: Life on the Street).

If Out of the Blue has a flaw then it’s probably that there’s few surprises – many of the regulars are character types we’ve seen so often before (the unorthodox maverick, the woman making her way in a man’s world, etc).

But the fact that Out of the Blue didn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel shouldn’t count too strongly against it.  One plus point is the fact that all twelve episodes were scripted by Peter Bowker and Bill Gallagher (often together, sometimes apart). This gives the series a feeling of unity whilst the strong cast (a mixture of experienced hands and younger talent) is also something to be counted in its favour.

With a large cast of regulars and only six episodes to play with, the first episode of series one has to hit the ground running.  Several cases (the murder of a man already dying of cancer, the rape of a middle-aged woman) help to bring the motely group of detectives into sharp focus.

(L-R, Back Row) DC Bruce Hannaford (LENNIE JAMES), DC Tony Bromley (ANDY RASHLEIGH), DC Ron Ludlow (PETER WIGHT) and DC Marty Brazil (NEIL DUDGEON)
(L-R, Front Row) DS Frank ‘Franky’ Drinkall (JOHN HANNAH) DI Eric Temple (JOHN DUTTINE) DC Warren Allen (DARRELL D’SILVA) and DS Becky Bennett (ORLA BRADY)

DI Eric Temple (John Duttine) has the job of keeping them in order. He generally isn’t called on to do a great deal except bark some gruff orders, but having a familiar television face (and a good actor, of course) like Duttine helps to bring Temple to life.

DS Becky Bennett (Orla Brady) is the lone female detective, meaning that she’s a source of fascination for her unreconstructed male colleagues. Her decision during series one to conduct a clandestine affair with PC Alex Holder (Stephen Billington) will no doubt set tongues wagging …

DC Warren Allen (Darrell D’Silva) carries something of a torch for Becky, but his general persona – the nice guy who never gets the girl – suggests that he’s going to end up disappointed.

DC Marty Brazil (Neil Dudgeon) and DC Ron Ludlow (Peter Wight) make for a classic team. Marty is a wisecracking, unpredictable loose cannon (Dudgeon making the strongest impression during these early episodes) whilst Ron is the more dependable, solid type. Ron’s a devoted family man, although the fact that he’s still involved with his divorced ex-wife suggests he’s been taking his family duties rather too far (especially since his current wife has been kept totally in the dark).

Neil Dudgeon & Peter Wight

DS Franky Drinkall (John Hannah) is a high-flier, tipped for the top – although his epilepsy looks set to put paid to that. His long-suffering partner, DC Bruce Hannaford (Lennie James), has to take the brunt of his moody outbursts.

Although Hannah had been acting since the late eighties, Out of the Blue was his first regular television role. Almost immediately afterwards he would star as the unorthodox McCallum, which was just a slight change from playing the unorthodox Franky.  Since Franky is such a monumentally unlikeable character it’s to Hannah’s credit that he never attempts to soften his playing, instead he allows us to plainly see just what a monster DS Drinkall is.

Franky’s epilepsy and the fall-out from it, would be a running thread throughout the first series.  It’s just a pity that, due to the fact there were only six episodes, it isn’t a plotline that has much room to breathe (we learn about it in episode one, everyone else does in episode two, etc).  A longer episode count would have enabled it to be spread out a little more, which would have worked to the series’ benefit.

Rounding off the team is DC Tony Bromley (Andy Rashleigh).  Newly transferred, he spends much of the first episode as a silent observer, but he later makes his presence felt.  A former teacher (and a devout believer in God) he makes for an unlikely copper, but his character – a patient, non-judgemental listener – will prove to be useful on occasions.

Most of the episodes tend to juggle several storylines, with many of the crimes having clear consequences for both the victims and perpetrators. One of the most striking things about the series is how the lines are blurred between the law-breakers and the law-makers. We also see that a number of serious crimes weren’t triggered by evil intent, instead the criminals were motivated by fear or boredom.

This is more disturbing than plain malice and although Peter Bowker and Bill Gallagher don’t hammer the point home, it’s plainly suggested that both the system and the environment has its part to play in shaping the actions of those who operate on the wrong side of the law.

Following a dramatic conclusion to the first series, Out of the Blue returned for a second and final run of six episodes in late 1996.  The cast pretty much remained the same, although Becky’s love interest had departed.  The major change saw David Morrissey fill the gap left by the departed John Hannah.  Morrissey played DS Jim “Lew” Lewyn, a maverick copper with secrets.  Mmm, not at all like Franky then ….

David Morrissey

Although Lew’s not a terribly original character, he helps to shake up the established team.  Temple might have been aware of some of Franky’s less admirable traits, but there was no doubt that he respected him.  But Lew arrives with considerable baggage and Temple isn’t prepared to cut him the same sort of slack.

Whilst Lew is treating suspects to his own unique brand of policing, the others have various personal problems to overcome.  Warren’s run of bad luck on the emotional front seems to be over after he snags a new girlfriend – Lucy Shaw (Nicola Stephenson).  But she turns out to be somewhat unstable, so Warren’s soon back to square one and not even the solicitous Becky can cheer him up (he decides he doesn’t want her pity).

Bruce is also feeling the pressure.  He’s always been tightly wound, but there are times when even an innocent remark can set him off – on one notable occasion he and Warren come to blows at the pub.

The storylines continue to be as uncompromising as ever.  Episode three, which concerns a male rape, attracted a certain amount of attention at the time whilst the fourth – featuring Neil Stuke as Tommy Defty, a seemingly untouchable drug-dealer – is a particular highlight.  The final episode (revolving around the death of a fourteen-year old prostitute) is yet another strongly-scripted and well-played story.

Out of the Blue failed to be renewed for a third series.  Possibly this was because, as previously touched upon, it wasn’t doing anything we hadn’t seen before.  This was a pity because there was potential there – maybe an increased episode count would have helped to strengthen and broaden both the format and the characters.

Shot on 16mm film, Out of the Blue looks somewhat gritty and grainy.  This no doubt chimes with the series’ aesthetic – bright colours and sunshine wouldn’t have been the correct tone – but the picture quality probably also reflects the age of the masters (although what we have is perfectly watchable).

Although it never made a great deal of impact at the time, Out of the Blue is still of considerable interest.  Not only for the strong cast, but also for the way that it generates a snapshot of the seedier end of mid nineties Britain.  Warmly recommended.

Out of the Blue is released by Simply Media on the 10th of July 2017.  RRP £34.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here.

David Morrissey, Orla Brady & Neil Dudgeon

The Day of the Triffids (BBC 1981). Episode Six

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Six years have passed since the events seen in episode five.  Bill and Jo now have a young son and Susan, the girl Bill effectively adopted, is growing up.  They, together with a blind couple who live with them, have managed to keep their small community ticking over.

There are problems though and these are mostly Triffid related.  Although they regularly destroy them, the Triffids always come back.  Bill has built an electric fence – but powering it constantly isn’t possible.  There’s a very effective sequence early on, when Jo opens the curtains to find a group of Triffids right outside.  Just the small glimpse that we can see of them makes them even more disturbing.

The unexpected arrival of Coker offers a way out.  He’s established a community of several hundred people on the Isle of Wight and since it’s an island, it can be defended against Triffids.  Coker asks Bill and the others to join them and work on a way to eradicate the Triffids once and for all.  He then talks a little about how the community functions.

Those of us all over there have all agreed we’re not out to reconstruct the world as it was.  We want to build something new, better.  Some people don’t agree with that, they want to keep a lot of the bad, old features.  If anybody doesn’t like us, or we don’t like them, we ask them to move somewhere else.

Shortly after Coker leaves, they are visited by a number of people in military fatigues headed by a man called Torrance (Gary Olsen).  The book makes it explicit that he’s the same red-headed man who shot at Bill and the blind people earlier in the story,  This doesn’t happen here, so you could be forgiven for thinking they’re two separate people.  Torrance wants to move another eighteen blind people into Bill’s community and whilst he admits that it’ll be hard work for them all to survive on the land for the next few years, after that he tells them they’ll be able to relax a little.

Bill comes to realise that Torrance is effectively inviting him to become a feudal lord.  Torrance, like Coker, is given a chance to outline how their community operates.

Supreme authority is vested in the council.  It will rule.  It will also control the armed forces.  Then, of course, there’s the rest of the world to consider.  Everywhere must be in the same sort of chaos.  Clearly, it’s our national duty to get on our feet as soon as possible and assume a dominant role and discourage any aggressors from organising against us.

It is the diametric opposite of Coker’s community.  Coker wants to build something new and different, whilst Torrance is seeking to rebuild the new world very much along the lines of the old.  Given that there’s been a general feeling throughout the story that any rebuilding must be an improvement on the old ways, it’s no surprise that Bill and the others reject Torrance’s offer and they leave him and his men to deal with the Triffids whilst they head for the Isle of Wight.

Earlier in the episode, Bill and Jo discuss exactly how the catastrophe happened.  Jo, like many people, believes that the comet was a natural phenomenon, but Bill isn’t so sure.

Do you know how many satellites were going round up there?  How many weapons?  Or what was in the weapons?  They never told us.  They never asked us.  I suppose one of these weapons had been specially constructed to emit a radiation that our eyes couldn’t stand.  Something that would burn out the optic nerve.  Suppose there was an accident.  This weapon would operate at low levels, only blinding people they wanted to blind.  But after the accident, it went off so far up that anyone on earth could receive direct radiation from it.

Back in 1981 this would have seemed horribly possible, so when you realise that it was part of Wyndham’s novel (published in 1951, six years before the first satellite was launched) it’s an impressive feat of prediction for him to anticapte the weaponising of space.  Torrance’s aggressive militarism seems set to repeat these same mistakes, so it’s understandable that Bill and his friends reject him.

In conclusion, this is a creepily effective serial that has only improved with age.  It naturally had a limited budget, so in earlier episodes it couldn’t show the devastation of London in any particular detail – but it did manage to efficiently imply it via sound effects (gunshots, cries, etc).  If you want to watch a faithful adaptation of the novel, then this is the only one to go for – as both the film and the 2009 TV version veer wildly from Wyndham’s original.

Something of a classic, this deserves a place in anybody’s collection.

The Day of the Triffids (BBC 1981). Episode Five

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Episode Five concerns itself with Bill’s quest to find Jo, which leads him out of London and into the country.  Coker joins him for the trip.  One of the major plus-points of this episode is Maurice Colbourne, who was always such a watchable actor with a very strong presence.  Although he appeared briefly in a few previous episodes, he’s much more central in this one.  After he and Bill rest in an abandoned pub, it’s Coker who can clearly see the way forward.

We must be part of a community to have any hope for the future at all.  At the moment we’ve got all we need.  Food, supplies, everything.  But the food will go bad, the metal will rust, the petrol to drive the machines will run out.  Before that happens, we have to learn to plough and learn to make ploughs, and learn to smelt the iron to make the ploughshares.  We must learn to make good all that we wear out.  If not …. we say goodbye to civilisation and we slide right back into savagery.

Bill and Coker find the community at Tynsham, but Jo isn’t there.  A number of the survivors have also moved on, due to a serious disagreement.  The remaining survivors at Tynsham are led by Miss Durrant (Perlita Nelson) and they’ve rejected the notion that pro-creation is key to survival – instead they plan to exist by strictly Christian principles and they put their faith in God to save them.

Coker decides to stay with them, as he believes that he can make something of the community, and Bill travels on.  Along the way he effectively adopts an orphaned young girl, Susan (Emily Dean).  It’s interesting to see how this, like so much of The Day of the Triffids, was directly paralleled in Terry Nation’s Survivors.  Essentially Survivors is The Day of the Triffids writ-large, but without any Triffids.

Wyndham gave Susan more of a back-story (about the death of her parents and her fears and feelings) which isn’t used here, that’s a bit of a pity as without it she’s something of an underdeveloped character.

Together they eventually manage to find Jo (along with a few others) and they all decide to return to the community at Tynsham.  But disease has struck – many are dead and the others have left.  Of Coker, there’s no sign.  So they face the prospect of having to establish their own small community, whilst all around the Triffids are looming …..

There’s certainly more Triffid action in this episode.  Bill gets to shoot a few of them – with both a rile and a Triffid gun.  When Coker asks Bill if the Triffids frighten him he says yes, “and they sicken me, too.  And what sickens me the most is that inside this mess they are the only things that are going to fatten and thrive”.

Whilst there weren’t that many Triffids in London, there seems to be more of them in the countryside – whether they’re breeding or whether there were tens of thousands in captivity who’ve escaped is never made clear.  But they seem to be an ever-growing menace (even more so in the final episode).

A word about Christopher Gunning’s score.  It wouldn’t have been a surprise (because of period when this was made) for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to have provided the incidental music, but instead Gunning uses more traditional instruments (instead of the synthesizers favoured by the Radiophonic Workshop).

In episode five’s score, the piano dominates – and as Bill’s search for Jo reaches a happy conclusion, the music reaches an appealing crescendo.  Given how dark the majority of the story is, Gunning’s music helps to provide a sliver of light and hope.

The Day of the Triffids (BBC 1981). Episode Four

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Bill and a number of other people (including Jo) have been captured by Coker – who staged the phony fire at the end of episode three.  He allocates one sighted person to a party of blind people and assigns them to a district.  They have to find a place to live and make regular trips to locate food – which will keep everybody alive until (Coker says) more organised help turns up.

Bill doesn’t believe that any help is coming but Coker’s a good enough judge of character to know that once he gets to know them, Bill won’t leave his party.  Whilst he was previously able to discuss (in abstract terms) that keeping the blind alive was ultimately fruitless, when he has to deal with actual people his humanity will ensure that he’ll do everything he can for them.

But even with his best efforts, there are numerous dangers.  Several are killed by a red-haired man (Gary Olsen) who’s leading a rival party.  His motivation for shooting them isn’t clear here, but he’s a character that will return later in the story.

The Triffids also claim some victims in another nicely directed scene.  As mentioned before, as they haven’t featured for a while their sudden reappearance in the middle of the episode comes as something of a jolt.

Disease thins Bill’s party even more and he’s powerless to prevent their deaths.  As London becomes even more of a health hazard, it’s clear that the longer he remains, the more danger he’s in.  Bill seems to be on the point of leaving when he’s visited by a young woman (Eva Griffith) who asks him to stay and offers herself to him.  It’s a heartbreaking scene and like so much of Douglas Livingstone’s adaptation, it’s taken directly from Wyndham’s novel.

Shortly afterwards, she dies and the few survivors flee in panic.  So Bill’s left alone once more. but this time he has an aim – he needs to find Jo.

Brian Aldiss once notoriously dubbed the works of John Wyndham in general and The Day of the Triffids in particular as “cosy catastrophes”.  Aldiss wrote that “the essence of the cosy catastrophe is that the hero should have a pretty good time (a girl, free suites at the Savoy, automobiles for the taking) while everyone else is dying off”.

I have to admit, I don’t find anything particularly “cosy” about either this adaptation or Wyndham’s original novel.  True, Wyndham’s novel did tend to feature mostly middle-class characters (another point which upset Aldiss) and this is changed here by making Bill (courtesy of John Duttine) more working class – but the concepts and themes developed thus far are pretty bleak.

The Day of the Triffids (BBC 1981). Episode Three

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After Bill and Jo escape from the maurding pack of blind people, they find a place to hole up for the night.  After enjoying a good meal and a decent mug of wine, they both learn a little more about each other – although Jo says, “but all that, all the details of my life, they were yesterday. It’s the same with you.  I think I’d like to know you from today and you know me from today.  You might not like what I was yesterday.  I might not like what you were”.  The sense that yesterday is a closed book and that the future starts today is a theme that is picked up again later in the episode.

They then discuss what to do next.  Bill is keen to get out of London as he tells Jo that soon, “the city will begin to stink like a great sewer.  There are already corpses lying around.  Soon they’ll be more.  That may mean cholera, typhoid.  God knows what”.

But a light in the distance changes their plans and the next morning they meet a group of thirty or so survivors who all have sight.  They see another sighted man, called Coker (Maurice Colbourne), who’s leading a group of blind people.  He asks the others for help in finding food, but they refuse.  This is a debate that has cropped up before and Bill and Jo discuss it again shortly afterwards.  Bill says that Coker is right and wrong.  “We could show some of them where to find food for a few days or for a few weeks.  But what happens afterwards?”.

They then meet the leader of the sighted group, Beadley (David Swift).  He proposes moving out of London and establishing a community that will isolate itself for a year (in order to protect against disease).  One of the other members of their ad-hoc committee explains how the community will function.

The men must work.  The women must have babies.  We can afford to support a limited number of women who cannot see, because they will have babies who can see.  We cannot afford to support men who cannot see.  In our community, babies will be more important than husbands.  It follows from this that the one man/one woman relationship as we understand it will probably become an illogical luxury.

As for the Triffids, they only appear in a single scene (where they attack an old couple who we’ve never seen before).  As their appearance (although it’s very nicely shot at night) is divorced from the main narrative, it seems to have been put in simply to remind the audience that they’re still out there.  And since they don’t feature much in this episode, it helps to make their sudden reappearance in episode four even more striking

At the end of this episode, Bill and Jo (along with the rest of the potential community members) are settling down for the night when a fire alarm is raised.  Bill rushes down the stairs, trips over and awakes to find himself tied up …..

The Day of the Triffids (BBC 1981). Episode Two

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After leaving Dr Soames in an office, Bill tells him that he’ll go and find some help.  Soames knows there’s nothing to be done and he’s right – everyone else in the hospital is blind.  Along the way, Bill meets a patient in one of the wards who asks him to draw the curtains and when he has, the man tells him to stop playing about and draw the curtains.

This is another scene taken directly from the novel, although it might have been a good idea to omit it.  It’s impossible to believe that somebody couldn’t tell the difference between it simply being dark and being blind.  Even in the dark, it’s possible to distinguish shapes and outlines.

Elsewhere, he sees groups of people milling about anxiously and when he returns to the office he finds Dr Soames has jumped to his death.  As Bill ventures out onto the streets he finds no better news, until he spots a girl who can see.  He follows her into a house and meets her father, John (Stephen Yardley).  John and his wife are blind, but their daughter can still see.

John vacillates between believing that the problem is only local and temporary and pondering the implications if the majority of the population are now permanently blind.

Well, everybody will be like us at first. They won’t know what’s happened. They’ll be too frightened to move. Then they’ll get hungry and start looking for food. I mean this town’s nasty at the best of times. In two or three days it won’t just be hooligans, it’ll be people you thought butter wouldn’t melt killing each other for scraps of food.

There’s a great deal of truth in this, as we see pockets of the blind fighting each other for food, whilst one woman sits on the ground with a packet of washing powder in the mistaken belief that it’s edible.  Elsewhere, a group of football supporters are led by a sighted man and they grab a woman.  Their intentions are obvious and although Bill tries to intervene, it’s probable that his attempt was fruitless (we don’t see the conclusion).  As we witness other examples of people in distress, how will Bill decide which ones to help and which ones to leave?

Earlier in the episode, Josella (Emma Relph) was captured by a blind man and forced to be his eyes.  Bill discovers them and frees her.  Together they seek refuge in a pub and when she decides to find her father, Bill asks if he can come with her.  Jo agrees instantly and tells him it’s “not because I’m afraid of getting caught again.  I’ll watch out for that.  It’s just the dreadful sense of loneliness, being cut off from everybody else”.

Jo’s father is dead, killed by a Triffid and Bill and Jo only manage to escape after Bill kills another.  This the first major Triffid attack scene in the story and thanks to some tight framing and intense acting from Duttine it works well.  Whilst they’re not the most mobile of creatures, the occasional glimpse of them (as well as the eerie sound they make) is quite effective.

The episode has already discussed how the vast majority of the population could, because of their blindness, be turned into a mob – and this looks like it’s coming true at the end.  Bill and Jo’s car is surrounded by a group of blind people and whilst none of them are intrinsically evil, their desperation to hold onto any sighted person is somewhat disturbing.

triffid

The Day of the Triffids (BBC 1981). Episode One

triffids 01

John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris was born in 1903 and began his writing career in the 1930’s under a variety of names. Following the Second Word War he started writing again and produced his first novel as John Wyndham. That was The Day of the Triffids which was published in 1951.

The Day of the Triffids was an instant success and it established Wyndham’s reputation as one of Britain’s top science fiction writers.  It was faithfully adapted for the radio in 1957 (and the same script was re-recorded in 1968).  There was also a film version in 1962 which deviated substantially from the original book (as did the 2009 BBC adaptation).

In-between those two was this 1981 BBC adaptation by Douglas Livingstone.  It was directed by Ken Hannam and comprised six 26 minute episodes which were re-edited into three 52 minute episodes for overseas sales.  Livingstone did a remarkable job of faithfully transferring Wyndham’s novel to the small screen.  There are some changes (the action is moved from the 1950’s to the 1980’s and some minor characters are different) but overall there’s a great deal of fidelity to Wyndham’s original book.

In Livingstone’s teleplay, as in the novel, the thrust of the story is concerned with how the survivors of a global catastrophe will be able to survive after the technological infrastructure they’ve taken for granted has been destroyed.  The later BBC adaptation was much more of a straightforward adventure yarn, pitting the survivors against the Triffids.  But here, like in the book, the Triffids only pop up from time to time and they aren’t the most pressing problem.

The story opens with Bill Masen (John Duttine) recovering in hospital after an operation on his eyes.  He works at a Triffid farm and was stung by one of them – hence the operation.  Hopefully, once the bandages are removed he’ll be able to see again, but nothing is certain.

One annoying side-effect of his temporary blindness is that he was unable to witness the remarkable light-show the previous evening.  The precise origin of this natural display which lit up the night sky for hours (visible all over the world) was a mystery, but the morning after things feel different.  Where there should be noise and bustle (as befits a busy hospital) there is only an ominous silence …..

Both the novel and Livingstone’s adaptation open with Bill in hospital and work back from there to explain the history of the Triffids.  In Wyndham’s novel, Bill is writing the whole story to explain to those who were born after the catastrophe exactly what happened.  In the television version, Bill narrates how the Triffids came to exist onto cassette for his colleague Walter, who’s planning to write a book about them.

This is a decent framing device as it allows Bill to narrate over various scenes which explain where the Triffids came from and precisely the danger they pose. Walter (Edmund Pegge) works with Bill at the Triffid farm and in one of the flashbacks he discusses with him some of his theories.

Look at when they attack. They almost always go for the head. Now a great number of people who have been stung but not killed have been blinded. That’s significant of the fact they know the shortest way of putting a man out of action. If it were a choice of survival between a blind man and a Triffid, I know which I’d put my money on.

One interesting change by Livingstone is that to begin with, Bill still believes it’s the middle of the night – but we can clearly see the daylight streaming through the window and the time on the clock (the novel opens with him instantly aware that things aren’t right). This means that the viewers know more than Bill and so are aware, before he is, that something is seriously awry.

John Duttine spends the majority of the episode alone in his hospital room with his eyes bandaged.  It needed a good actor to make the character come alive, with so little to work with, and Duttine certainly delivers.  As time goes on, and still nobody comes, his self control begins to crack – until he decides to take off the bandages himself.

The irony that he’s now able to see whilst the majority of the world have gone blind isn’t something that’s overtly stated, but it’s obvious nonetheless.  As the episode ends, he meets the blind Dr Soames (Jonathan Newth) whilst the Triffids start to prowl …..