Blood Money (1981)

Blood Money was a six-part serial broadcast in late 1981, written by Arden Winch, directed by Michael E. Briant and produced by Gerard Glaister.

As you’d expect with a Glaister series, most the regulars had either worked with him in the past or would do so in the future.  Blood Money featured a trio of ex-Secret Army actors (Bernard Hepton, Juliet Hammond-Hill, Stephen Yardley) as well as Michael Denison (Howards’ Way). Even a fair number of the supporting actors had strong Glaister connections (such as Dean Harris – The Fourth Arm, Cold Warrior, Howards’ Way).

With Glaister having such a say in casting, presumably Michael E. Briant had to content himself with organising the minor players. Such as Julia Vidler, who makes a fleeting appearance as a newsreader (Briant had previously used her in Angels and Blakes’ 7).

Blood Money is a good example of a programme type that would gradually fade from view as the 1980’s progressed – the 30 minute serial. It had been a staple of British television for decades (notably the BBC Classic Serial strand and Doctor Who) but by the end of the eighties, 50 minutes would be most popular format for drama slots. The success of Inspector Morse in 1987 spawned a series of imitators who also adopted its 100 minute running time, but few seemed interested in working in half hours.

That’s a slight shame, as although it’s easy to argue that it can be a little constricting, it does force the writer to constantly keep the pace up (viewed now, some of those Inspector Morses, especially the later ones, proceed at a snail’s pace).

Arden Winch wastes no time in setting up the premise of the serial – a ten year old boy, the Viscount Rupert Fitzcharles (Grant Warnock), is abducted from his public school by a mismatched group of kidnappers – Irene Kohl (Hammond-Hill), Danny Connors (Gary Whelan), James Drew (Yardley) and Charles Vivian (Cavan Kendall).

The police, led by Det Chief Supt Meadows (Hepton), are tasked with the job of finding Rupert, but their job is hampered (and occasionally helped) by frequent interjections from Captain Aubrey Percival (Denison), a member of the Security Service whose ultimate aims may run counter to those of the police.

As you’d expect, the disparate natures of the kidnappers (holed up in an anonymous house, waiting for their demands to be met) soon causes friction between them. Hammond-Hill, playing a character not totally dissimilar to her one from Secret Army, is the clear leader – Irene Kohl is a quietly fanatical idealogue to whom the concepts of surrender or comprise are alien ones.

Her lover, the Irish terrorist Danny, is a totally different type. He’s an emotional powder-key, constantly espousing, in the early episodes, bitter disdain towards the English (which is ever so slightly overdone). Rupert – a symbol of the English establishment – is an easy target for him to terrorise, but over the course of their time together he gradually forms a bond with the boy (by the end, when it looks likely that one of them will have to kill Rupert, Danny refuses point blank).

James Drew is more than happy to carry out the job though. An unrepentant killer, he exudes menace throughout – and when he realises that Irene and Danny are both formidable in their different ways, he instead amuses himself by picking away at the weak link (Charles Vivian).

Vivian isn’t quite as well drawn as the others. Although we learn that he’s a wealthy, bored dilettante (presumably indulging in a spot of terrorism just for kicks) his actual function as part of the gang is less defined. Yes, he’s the one who drops off the ransom notes in person at The Times, but surely they could have sent them in the post or aired their demands by phone?

If the kidnappers experience stresses as the episodes tick by, then there’s similar tension on the other side. Hepton is typically solid in the unshowy role of Meadows (and there’s very good support from Jack Mackenzie, Daniel Hill, Reg Woods and Dean Harris) but the character of Meadows really comes alive when he’s placed opposite Percival.  Gerard Glaister clearly saw the potential in Percival as he would return in a second serial (Skorpion) and then a short series (Cold Warrior).

If Percival is unfailingly polite, then some of his underlings (like Davis, played by Brian Croucher) are less so. I liked the interaction between Davis and DS Danny Quick (Dean Harris). Danny Quick might look like he’s been dragged through a hedge backwards but he also has a quick, analytical mind that proves to be more than a match for Davis. Harris would reprise this role in Cold Warrior (which hopefully one day will emerge, blinking into the light, from the archives).

With the kidnappers’ hideout discovered at the end of part five, the final episode proceeds towards its inevitable bloody conclusion. This wasn’t unexpected, but it still has quite the impact.

The middle episodes might tread water a little, but overall, Blood Money is a taut thriller that still stands up well today. Next job is to track down a copy of Arden Winch’s novelisation ….