Written by Roger Marshall
Directed by Kim Mills
Public Eye was a hugely popular series, starring Alfred Burke, which ran for seven series between 1965 and 1975. Burke played Frank Marker, a down-at-heel enquiry agent who possessed a strong moral core as he moved his way through the sometimes seedy underbelly of whatever town or city he was currently working in. Suffice it to say that if you have the slightest interest in British archive television, then Public Eye (like Callan) is a must watch.
And like Callan, it was originally made by ABC Television, and after ABC lost their franchise it was picked up by Thames. But whilst all the Thames episodes (series four to seven) exist, sadly only five episodes survive from the first three series (out of a total of forty one transmitted).
The first existing episode is Nobody Kills Santa Claus, the second episode of the first series. Paul Garston (Keith Baxter) is a successful young businessman. His success has partly been achieved by riding roughshod over other people – so he’s certainly the sort of person that makes enemies. When he confides to his managing director Eric Hart (Peter Barkworth) that he’s been receiving threatening phone calls, Hart recommends calling in Frank Marker.
The first ten minutes or so of Nobody Kills Santa Claus focus on Garston which allows us to see the type of person he is. He’s brash, arrogant and quite happy to engage in underhand dealings if it’s to his advantage. And although Eric Hart is the managing director, he plays a very subservient role to Garston – for example, when Garston clicks his fingers, Hart hurries over to light his cigarette.
It’s therefore not surprising that it’s Hart, not Garston, who visits Marker’s office to engage his services. But Marker doesn’t seem too keen to take on the job.
HART: He’d like to see you.
MARKER: He knows where I am.
HART: Ah yes, but he’d prefer you to go to him, if that’s not asking too much.
MARKER: I’ll try and fit him in.
HART: Oh thanks very much. You know, you make one big mistake, Marker.
HART: You like people to grovel. Why? Does it make you feel big?
MARKER: Depends who they are.
Garston wants Marker to act as his bodyguard for the next few weeks. Marker agrees and he begins to consider the possible suspects. Garston’s estranged wife Eva (Caroline Blakiston) must be one – although after Marker’s seen her it seems less likely. She’s well provided for (at least in terms of money) and she declares that “nobody close to him will ever kill him. Nobody kills Santa Claus”.
Ray Johnson (Robert Tunstall) looks to be a much more likely prospect. His wife Anne (June Barry) is having an affair with Garston and he pays to him have beaten up. Fortunately for Garston (and unfortunately for Marker) it’s Marker that receives the beating. This provides a good closer to the second act. Garston sees Marker being attacked in the street below, but he doesn’t raise the alarm or attempt to help – instead he goes back to Anne (whilst the sounds of the beating are reverberating in his head). Marker’s made of stern stuff though. Although there were two thugs and he took a bad beating, he was still able to scare one off and we see him pull the other one away for some, no doubt, intensive questioning.
Marker does eventually get to the bottom of the mystery of the threatening phone calls (it wasn’t Johnson after all) and Garston is grateful. He offers Marker a permanent job, which he refuses. It’ll become a familiar trait throughout the series, but Marker values his independence above everything else (which means there’s conflict in later series when he goes into partnership). Marker tells Garston that he’s “getting old. Too stiff to lick boots”. Garston responds by telling him that “you’re not Shane, you know, riding off into the sunset. You’re just another man in a dirty old mac”.
Even this early on, all of the basics of the series are firmly in place. Marker doesn’t necessarily have to like his clients to work for them – it’s purely a business transaction and he won’t follow their orders blindly, which means he often comes into conflict with them.
Keith Baxter was perfectly cast as the arrogant businessman Paul Garston, whilst it’s always a pleasure to see Peter Barkworth – such a solid and dependable actor. June Barry was also very good as Garston’s mistress, who candidly told Marker that she’d only be around for a short while and wasn’t intending to leave empty-handed.
Next Episode – The Morning Wasn’t So Hot