Minder – A Nice Little Wine

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When Clive Stannard (Peter Jeffrey), a business associate of Arthur’s, is robbed by a prostitute in his hotel room, he’s convinced that Arthur’s set him up.  So Arthur and Terry have three days to find Stannard’s stolen money, otherwise Arthur will receive a beating from Billy Gresham ….

Arthur’s social climbing is always a wonderful source of comic material.  Stannard is a wine dealer and his erudite knowledge of the trade clearly impresses Arthur.  The sight of Dave acting like a wine waiter at the Winchester is something of a treat as is the scene where Arthur and Stannard pop round to Terry’s flat to drop off Arthur’s purchase.

Arthur can’t bring himself to admit that his business associate could possibly live in such a run down part of the city, so he tells Stannard that it’s simply Terry’s London address, where he stays for the odd day (he has a much more palatial property in the country).  Of course the sight of Terry in his dressing-gown, wondering why his living room is filling up with boxes of booze, rather punctures this picture, but to be fair to Terry he plays along.

The wine part of the story doesn’t really continue after the first ten minutes or so (apart from one later section and the tag scene).  Instead, the action switches to a reasonably palatial hotel where Stannard plans to spend a relaxing evening.  But when a note pushed under his door offers a discrete massage service, his plans change.  Bettina (Rachel Davies) is an alluring young lady, but she doesn’t stay for long – once she’s drugged and robbed Stannard there’s no reason to.

After setting up the reason for the plot, Stannard then drops out of the picture until the final few minutes.  And it’s interesting that although he tells Arthur that he’s got friends in low places (Billy Gresham) who are capable of handing out considerable punishment, we never actually see Gresham or any of his associates.  This means that although there’s a sense that the clock is ticking for Arthur, it’s never reinforced by anybody popping up to ram the point home.

If Bettina is a tart without a heart then Sandra (Lois Baxter) is a tart with one.  With Terry posing as a punter looking for a massage, she’s able to provide him with a link to Bettina.  Coincidentally, both Peter Jeffrey and Lois Baxter appeared in the same Doctor Who story (The Androids of Tara) although they don’t share a scene here.  Sandra is a prostitute purely out of necessity and, unlike Bettina, never robs her clients.

Terry tracks Sandra down to her house, where he meets her mother (played by Pam St. Clement) and one of her sons.  Everyone is clearly unaware of her double-life and Baxter exudes a touching vulnerability as Sandra asks Terry if he’d like to come out for a drink sometime.  He does ring her later on, but when her mother tells him that she’s out working he takes it no further.  A nice, bittersweet moment.

When Terry poses as a guest in the same hotel where Stannard was robbed, the porter George (Ron Pember) decides he must be part of the wine conference and points Terry in the direction of the tasting.  This part of the story feels a little contrived – Terry hardly looks like a wine buff, plus it’s rather a coincidence that, given the theme of the episode, a tasting is taking place right under Terry’s nose.  No matter, as it leads into another strong comedy scene where Terry holds his own amongst the erudite connoisseurs.

But possibly the funniest moment of A Nice Little Wine occurs when Terry and Arthur’s investigation leads them to a dodgy shop in Soho.  Terry goes inside to”persuade” the staff to tell him where Bettina is whilst Arthur remains in the car.  So far, so good, but he’s parked on a double-yellow line which irritates a passing policeman (played by Davyd Harries).  Arthur claims that a migraine has made him unable to move the car and every time he witnesses a spot of violence coming from the shop it gives him an authentic twinge.  George Cole is as good here as you’d expect, and whilst it seems more than a little unlikely that the copper wouldn’t twig something odd was going on, they just about manage to get away with it.

A Nice Little Wine is packed with familiar faces.  We’ve already seen the likes of Ron Pember and Pam St. Clement, whilst Burt Kwouk also pops up as another of Bettina’s victims.  Cyd Child might be less of a household name (she plays Bettina’s flatmate) but the reason for her presence – she was an experienced stuntwoman, doubling for Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson on The Avengers – becomes clear after Terry and Arthur attempt to retrieve the money from Bettina.  This they do, but only after the girls put up something of a fight.

Patrick Malahide appears for the third time (and the first during S2) as Chisholm.  At this point in the series the character clearly wasn’t viewed as a potential regular, as his part is limited to turning up and carting off the unfortunate Stannard, who therefore turns out to be just as big a crook as Arthur.

Stanley Price’s sole script for the series (during the 1970’s he was a writer in demand – penning a number of film screenplays, including Gold, Shout at the Devil and Golden Rendezvous) is a most agreeable episode.  Not the finest vintage that the series produced, but not unpalatable either.

Survivors – Garland’s War

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Abby’s quest for her son continues to be fruitless and the latest lead is possibly the cruelest blow yet.  Abby, Greg and Jenny travel to an isolated farmhouse because they’ve heard that a boy lives there.  When she’s told that his name is Peter, Abby’s hopes are instantly raised.  She rushes out to meet him but the expression on her face makes it quite clear that he’s not her son.

Since Abby is quite a humourless, driven character, it’s sometimes a challenge for Carolyn Seymour to give her any light and shade.  Garland’s War is a good script for Seymour since it gives her more to play with (and she works well opposite Richard Heffer).

Terry Nation returns to scripting duties for the first time since episode three and this episode bears all the hallmarks of a typical Nation story.  It’s a direct, action-based yarn which features strongly written characters who are placed in direct opposition to each other.

Next, Abby travels to a country house called Waterhouse as she’s heard that several boys are living there.  She sneaks out in the middle of the night, much to Greg’s annoyance, but he decides that it’s too late to follow her and so they’ll wait for her return.  This means that McCulloch and Fleming only appear at the beginning and the end (it’s very much Seymour’s episode).

On the way to Waterhouse, Abby runs into a hunted man.  They manage to escape and he introduces himself as Jimmy Garland (Richard Heffer).  He’s also the Earl of Waterhouse, and he tells Abby that he’s been dispossessed of his ancestral seat by Knox (Peter Jeffrey) and his followers.

Garland is something of a cliched boys-own character, but Heffer is able to give him some depth.  Unlike most of the people we’ve met so far, Garland is happy to be alive in this harsh, post-apocalyptic world.  He was a solider and an adventurer and he’s quite candid in telling Abby that he was made for this time.  Waging a one-man guerrilla war against Knox and his followers is therefore all in a days work for him.

There’s a definite attraction between Abby and Garland, although she is slightly shocked by his callous attitudes.  When she asks him if he doesn’t feel anything for the millions of people who died, he says no – how can anybody processes the pain of such a catastrophe?

Although slightly underused until the last fifteen minutes or so, Peter Jeffrey is his usual immaculate self as Knox.  Since the script was written in such a way to present Garland as the clear hero and Knox as the clear villain, it comes as a surprise when Abby meets Knox face to face and finds him to be an apparently reasonable man.

He’s able to sow several seeds of doubt in her mind as he paints Garland as someone who wants to assume his place as the lord of the manor, with everybody else effectively working as his serfs.  Of course, it’s all a ruse to gain Abby’s confidence and Garland does turn out to be the man we think he is.  He’s able, with the help of Greg, to extract himself from Knox’s clutches, but although Garland has lost this battle, he’s still fighting the war.  This gives the story an open-ended feeling as we leave him to carry on his struggle to retain his home.

An interesting thing about the first series of Survivors is that people pop up from time to time – they might appear in one episode, not feature for a while and then re-appear.  This gives the programme a different feel from many series, which are more episodically self-contained.  For example, the likes of Tom Price, Vic Thatcher and Anne Tranter will all return shortly (and Jimmy Garland will be back in the series finale).  This fluidity certainly works to the series’ benefit.

We’re now moving into the phase of the programme where they have a settled base of operations.  For the remainder of series one it’s the Manor and in series two they join Charles’ community.  This gives the show a different feel, not least because from the next episode Survivors changes to an all-VT series (there’s no filming until the second series two-parter Lights of London).

It’s a pity in a way, because we lose the glossy filmic shooting from episodes like this one (the night-time hunt for Garland through the woods, for example).  But on the other hand, had Garland’s War been an all-VT production then some of the studio shots that were meant to be outside might have been a tad more convincing.

The next few episodes will see an influx of new (and not so new) characters who will swell the regular cast.  Some make it into the second series, whilst others aren’t so lucky …..