The Main Chance – The Walls of Jericho (12th October 1970)

Abdul Naji (Aly Ben Ayed) alleges that his brother was murdered and a precious artifact – one of the Dead Sea Scrolls – was stolen from him. David Main is sympathetic, but doesn’t believe Naji has much of a case – unless he can force a libel action (by penning a thinly disguised novel about these events). The book is swiftly published and a libel action is forthcoming, but not in the way Main was expecting ….

The first of two Main Chance scripts by Louis Marks, The Walls of Jericho features an increased role for Anna Palk (as Sarah Courtney), who has a little more to do for once than just take messages and look at Main in a worried and/or affectionate way (Sarah’s the one who befriends Naji and brings his case to Main’s attention). As per usual, Main begins by telling her (and later him) that there’s absolutely nothing to be done. But since that would make for a rather dull fifty minutes, by now the attentive viewer will be well aware that he’s bound to have a trick or two up his sleeve.

There’s a similar trick to be pulled in the episode’s ‘b’ plot (Main’s car is severely damaged when a lorry sheds its load of oil drums right onto it).  The company who owns the lorry aren’t admitting liability and both Margaret and Henry Castleton are convinced there’s nothing to be done, but wily old David Main pulls something out of the bag.

It’s something of a story contrivance that the scroll is put up for auction at exactly the same time Naji’s book is published. The name of the auction house – Christaby’s – rather tickles me (an obvious amalgamation of Christie’s and Sotherby’s).

The seller of the scroll – Professor Ian Allardyce (Freddie Jones) – isn’t the man Naji alleges murdered his brother (Allardyce bought the scroll off this apparent murderer). But the problem for Main is that, as the current owner of the scroll, Allardyce is the one who’s been libeled and he’s been convinced to sue.

As you’d expect, Jones gives his usual polished performance. Allardyce might be the walking cliché of an academic (hard-working, distracted) but Jones manages to tease out some decent moments from this fairly stock character. Jones’ best scene occurs when Naji confronts Allardyce. It’s also good for Aly Ben Ayed, who elsewhere tends to overact a little.

Allardyce maintains that he bought the scroll in good faith, although it’s left hanging about whether or not he’s telling the truth. What isn’t in doubt is his belief that the scroll belongs in expert hands (otherwise it risks damage or destruction). That’s laudable enough, although it’s odd that he’s selling it now for a large profit (why not donate it to a museum?)

Although Main appears to have won the day, there’s a late twist in the tail regarding the scroll’s ownership. This isn’t really a surprise though – indeed, it’s odd that no-one mentioned the possibility earlier.

The Walls of Jericho  isn’t top tier MC, but it clips along very nicely. Cynthia Grenville (as Allardyce’s wife, Mary) and Peter Cellier (as Braintree, a man who crosses swords with Main and fails badly) both catch the eye with small, but well-played roles.

The Main Chance – A Little Black and White Lie (5th October 1970)

A Brazilian diplomat, Manuel Patino (Clifton Jones), and his wife, Carlo (Valerie Murray), are desperate to adopt a baby. The only problem is that they’re black and their intended adoptee is white ….

This is the second of David Weir’s three Main Chance scripts, so you should once again expect a few slightly jarring scene transitions (although this episode flows better than his previous effort).

The colour problem was a topic tackled in numerous British drama and comedy series during this period (often well-meaning, sometimes controversially). A Little Black and White Lie falls into the well-meaning category, although the first half of the story does display something of a sledgehammer subtlety.

The baby’s natural mother, Eileen Donnell (Margaret Brady), remains pretty passive until the last few minutes of the episode, which means that her mother, Mrs Donnell (Elizabeth Begley), makes all the early running. What can you say about Elizabeth Begley’s performance? Hmm. It’s certainly memorable, although maybe director John Frankau should have asked her to tone it down several notches.

Mrs Donnell is very, very Irish (swigging pints of Guinness like they’re going out of fashion). She launches a tirade of racial abuse against the Patinos which is fairly shocking, although if she’d been less of an Irish caricature this scene might have had even more of an impact.

Convinced that Margaret Castleton has become emotionally involved, Main takes over the case and proceeds in his own fashion (bad-tempered as usual). Indeed, Main’s apoplexy reaches new heights today although thankfully things quieten down for a scene which is easily the highlight of the episode.

Similar to Bernard Kay a few episodes back, it was initially a surprise to see Douglas Wilmer tackling the role of Dr. Lowton. The doctor responsible for arranging the adoption, to begin with it looked like a pretty minor role.

But when they meet, Main is able to dispassionately chip away at Lowton’s seemingly honest façade to reveal an unrepentant racist underneath. Lowton knew trouble would erupt when news filtered out that a black couple intended to take a white baby out of the country (indeed, he did all he could to stoke things up). This scene is far more chilling than Mrs Donnell’s tirade, thanks to Wilmer’s underplaying.

It’s Lowton’s calm denial that he’s done anything wrong which really has an impact (so maybe we had to suffer the rantings of Mrs Donnell first in order to appreciate this contrast).

Apart from Wilmer, there’s another familiar face guesting – Jack May. He has a fairly unexciting part though (a newspaperman called Harry Turner who doesn’t – as expected – look to dish the dirt).

Things are left open ended. Eileen visits Mr and Mrs Patino and – seeing how much they love the child – elects not to contest the adoption. But as Main says, that still only means that there’s an even chance it will be approved.

A Little Black and White Lie is rather heavy-handed in places, but it does generate some food for thought.

The Main Chance – First, You Eat – Later We Ruin You (28th September 1970)

Kenneth Manmer (Peter Jeffrey) enters into a lucrative property deal with David Main. Main’s 7.5% holding promises to make him a rich man – although it isn’t long before he starts to wonder exactly where the seemingly affluent Manmer’s money is coming from ….

The first of three Main Chance scripts by David Weir (and not a killer cat in sight) there’s something a little off-kilter about First, You Eat – Later We Ruin You. Partly this may be down to Weir’s unfamiliarity with the series and characters (it’s very jarring to see a happy Main singing arias at the top of his voice whilst cleaning his teeth!) but there’s also some bafflingly quick scene transitions, which are unusual to see.

Most notably this occurs at 14:10 into the episode. We go from a scene with Margaret, then to Sarah, then to Main, then to Sarah again (wearing different clothes, so obviously time has passed) and back to Margaret. It’s a bewildering series of jumps which in total lasts no more than twenty seconds.

Remaining in niggle mode, you have to say that it was very unwise for Main to so readily agree to jump into bed (business wise) with Manmer. The attentive viewer would have expected there to be a sting in the tail (after all, Peter Jeffrey’s stock in trade was playing shifty types). Any time the audience is ahead of Main, it doesn’t make him look good.

It’s a very entertaining guest turn by Jeffrey though, who plays the affluent lord of the manor (chomping cigars and shooting pheasants) very well. And everything is given a little extra spice when we meet Manmer’s rather frightening wife, Meriel (Valerie Sarruf), and begin to learn that his devoted assistant, Doran (Tom Kempinski), is possibly the one pulling the strings.

Main makes a totally pointless trip to Switzerland in order to question Manmer’s banker. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to learn that Swiss bankers don’t divulge any secrets, but it was nice to see Vladek Sheybal.

Even though Peter Jeffrey has the most screen time of any of the guest stars, my favourite performance came from Bernard Hepton as Bridges (the man from the Inland Revenue). Hepton always seemed incapable of giving a poor performance and he’s very much on song today. Bridges is a softly-spoken, seemingly innocuous sort of man, but it’s plain that he possesses considerable tenacity. This character type was very much Hepton’s stock in trade.

Oddest performance comes courtesy of David Hutchenson as the crusty old banker, Sir George More-Litton. Hutchenson struggles with his lines at times, particularly in a key scene towards the end of the episode.

Everything is wrapped up a little too neatly. Just before the second ad break a jubilant Manmer tells Main that he can’t walk away from the deal (Manmer’s been paying funds into a Swiss bank account in Main’s name just to make him look even more guilty). But over the remaining twenty minutes Main is calmly able to extract himself whilst Manmer is never seen again (the inference is that he’s been chopped up into tiny pieces by his Mafia associates).

Although there’s not a lot of time for pleasure in this episode, Main does hook up with Edie Semple (Georgina Ward), a fellow divorcee who seems to have always carried a torch for him. She appears in the next episode (also written by Wier) although I found Edie to be a little distracting today, mainly due to her wig.

First, You Eat – Later We Ruin You is a decent watch, thanks to Jeffrey and Hepton. It’s just a shame that Main comes over as a little foolish.

The Main Chance – It Could Happen To You (21st September 1970)

David Main continues to seethe over the fact that Patrick Bell (Bernard Kay) is now responsible for the upkeep and moral guidance of his children. He remains intensely keen to win back custody …

We’ve seen Main angry before, but at the start of this episode he reaches levels of hysteria which are quite new. The reasons why are obvious – but it takes Henry Castleton some time before he can talk Main down and remind him that emotion won’t help to win the day. But the law very well might.

What’s really interesting about this episode is what we don’t see. With Kate O’Mara no longer a member of the cast, Julia’s increasing desperation at the prospect of losing her children has to be discussed through third parties. It’s surprising that O’Mara didn’t return for these first few episodes, as the tug of war custody battle would have given her a hatful of dramatic scenes (something sorely lacking for her character during the first series).

After Main wins custody, his uneasy fumbling relationship with his children (who, due to the pressures of his work, are like strangers to him) is reported second hand rather than shown. It seems strange to skip such an obviously dramatic scene, but this plotline hasn’t been about Main and his children (who remain shadowy indistinct figures, only briefly glimpsed on film). It’s much more concerned about the clash between Main and Bell.

Bell crumbles in the witness box once some of his darker secrets (a fondness for using the cane) have been unearthed. Sidney Bulmer proved his worth by digging up the dirt, although if the positions had been reversed and Bell had been Main’s client, no doubt the tone would have been somewhat different.

Two scenes late on in the episode are both standouts. The first – Main talks to his ex-wife on the phone – required a lot from John Stride. His monologue is convincing enough to suggest he was actually speaking to someone.  The way the camera slowly closes in on his face helps to ratchet up the tension.

Main had earlier confided to Bell that Julia, deprived of the children, would be in a mental institution within six months. Given this harsh statement it’s fairly easy to guess how the story will be resolved – Main retains custody but allows the children to go back to Julia and Bell, provided they accept Main’s choice of schools and Bell moves to a slightly better neighbourhood. Once again, Stride and Kay both command the screen. Bell’s initial reluctance to betray his principles is bitterly mocked by Main (who processes to be sickened by the inflexibility of his rival).

The episode’s secondary plot – an antiques dealer called Mrs. Clifford (Diana Coupland) is seeking financial restitution from two young thugs who blinded her – ticks along nicely as well.

It Could Happen to You might be a little predictable in places, but the drama still plays out effectively – especially in the last few minutes when Main fights a two-pronged battle. Not only seeing off Bell but also tackling the smooth defender – Mark Freedler (John Barcroft) – who dared to deprive Mrs Clifford of her money.

The Main Chance – A Time to Love, a Time to Die (14th September 1970)

It’s the first episode of the second series, which means we’ve moved into colour with a similar – but reshot – title sequence. After the scene-setting opening – Alec Grafton (Robin Hawdon) accuses his father, Dr. John Grafton (Patrick Barr), of murdering his mother – there’s a fair bit of info-dumping to be done at Main’s London office.

David Main’s wife, Julia, is now his ex-wife. Her divorce, successful custody battle and remarriage all seem to have gone through without a hitch. Main is outwardly sanguine about it, although inwardly you can tell he’s seething. A brief visit by Julia’s new husband, Patrick Bell (Bernard Kay), strikes a slightly discordant note, but their encounter seems fairly inconsequential. However, it’s reasonable to note that you don’t cast as good an actor as Kay in a nothing role, so it seems plain he’ll return later.

Dr Grafton is a respected man about town, and therefore a great deal of sympathy comes his way. Because his wife was terminally ill and in a great deal of pain, there’s an unspoken suggestion that even if he did do something, it was in her best interests. Indeed, Det. Chief Insp. Guthrie (David Lodge) is quite happy to speak it aloud – in his eyes, Dr Grafton (even if he had a hand in her death) should be held blameless.

Alec Grafton is a less respected man about town – this seems to mainly be due to his youthfully arrogant and bumptious nature. Hawdon’s performance is a little odd and overplayed, although he does calm down by the time Alec Grafton meets with Main (who eventually agrees to take on his case). Alec Grafton might be a plain-speaker but – like his father – he’s a notable local citizen (running a factory – set up by his mother – which presumably employs a fair few people).

As with the final episode of series one, there’s a suggestion of closed minds amongst the Leeds elite. Henry Castleton won’t even listen to Alec Grafton’s claims about his father – he doesn’t need to, as he’s known and respected John Grafton for many years. It takes an outsider like Main to break through this wall of polite silence.

There are a handful of stand-out scenes in this episode. Sarah’s clash with Peter Findon over the best time to tell Main that his children have been uprooted from their public school and placed into a rough comprehensive, is one. Sarah and Main are still enjoying a playful platonic relationship whilst Peter – now a full solicitor – begins to show his ruthless side. This a plot-thread that will run and run.

Patrick Bell is called back to the office, which is the sign for John Stride to hit the roof. Main is incensed that Bell has the temerity to have decided what’s best for his children. You get the sense that Main is on very shaky ground here as it’s obvious why Julia and Bell have had to move from Chelsea (as a humble schoolteacher he couldn’t afford to live there).

Bell’s argument that Main’s children should receive a decent public education like everyone else would no doubt have struck a chord with many. The arguments and counter-arguments between Main and Bell are excellently played by both Stride and Kay.

The moment when Main pauses, stricken, after Bell strikes home with the comment that all his money couldn’t buy his children “love, affection, companionship” is especially noteworthy. David Main might always have prided himself on providing his wife and children with material benefits, but it’s plain that he rarely gave them his time or attention. 

Still simmering nicely, Main takes this anger into court where Alec Grafton has brought a private prosecution of murder against his father. Richard Hurndall sits in judgement as the Stipendiary Magistrate – he doesn’t have a great deal to do, but Hurndall was always the sort of actor who could wring the maximum from a mere handful of lines. Main’s speech for the prosecution is a set-piece scene for John Stride. Since this was the opening episode of a new series it’s easy to understand why he was given such a showy moment.

Yet another strong MC episode from Edmund Ward.

The Main Chance – With All My Worldly Goods (23rd July 1969)

The final episode of the first series, With All My Worldly Goods has an abrupt opening – an irate Main insistent that he won’t defend George Mynter (Brian Oulton) on a charge of murder. This turns out to be the secondary plot of the episode, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.

Both Henry and Margaret Castleton view Mynter with a bizarre indulgence – he may have viciously bludgeoned his wife to death, but since he’s a pillar of the community and apparently was provoked (returning home to find his wife in bed with another man) they’re prepared to give him a free pass. This is a little difficult to swallow ….

In Outlon’s handful of scenes he manages to exude an air of Crippin-like menace. There’s no closure to the case, but it seems more than likely that Mynter is insane (possibly he fabricated the story of another man in the house). This leaves Main and Margaret (who’s acting for him) with a serious dilemma – given Mynter’s glowing record of public service it’s possible he might only have to serve a token sentence, but  do they have the right to get him off so lightly?

The main plot of today’s episode initially seems a little unpromising. I find it difficult to be too concerned about the business travails of the wealthy Tim Cowley (Richard Wyler), partly because Wyler offers a somewhat wooden performance. The fact that he and his wife, The Hon. Fiona Cowley (Elizabeth Shepherd), then engage in a rapid and bitter divorce is more interesting, but the real bombshell is yet to come.

In open court it’s revealed that Cowley has been having an affair with Julia (Kate O’Mara), David Main’s estranged wife ….

It’s strange that Julia didn’t feature more during the first series (this one certainly gives her the most to do). What’s also odd is that by the end of the episode it seems plain that she still wants to be involved with him (even if they can’t live together). But With All My Worldly Goods would prove to be O’Mara’s swansong – possibly she felt that the character was unlikely ever to add up to much or maybe this decision was taken by the production team.

With Neil Wilson and Hamilton Dyce both appearing, this is almost like a dry run of Spearhead from Space (well, sort of, there’s no meteorites or shop-window dummies).  It’s also good to see David Lodge again (playing Det. Sup. Guthrie).  Guthrie’s sometimes strained relationship with his old pal Sidney Bulmer (the always immaculate John Arnatt) is something that could have been developed a little more.

If the episode is a bit of a slow burn to begin with, then the final twenty minutes or so (Main goes off the rails, gets drunk several times, beds a lovely young lady and defends himself against a charge of professional misconduct) is definite recompense.

Revisiting series one has been rewarding, so now it’s onwards to series two and colour ….