Public Eye – Nobody Kills Santa Claus

santa claus

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And like Callan, it was originally made by ABC Television, and after ABC lost their franchise it was picked up by Thames.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

Public Eye – The Morning Wasn’t So Hot

the morning

Written by Roger Marshall
Directed by Kim Mills

Marker is hired to find Jenny Graham (Carole Ann Ford) a twenty-year-old runaway from Hull.  The chances of tracking her down in London are slim, to say the least, but he takes the case.  Jenny is working for a small-time pimp called Peter Mason (Roland Curram), who haunts the cafes at Kings Cross Railway Station, spotting unattached young girls who’ve run away from home.

Jenny is no innocent though – this is a lifestyle she’s chosen, and she plans to make it to the top.  Mason is invited to a meeting with Dannon (Philip Madoc).  Dannon describes himself as an agent, somebody who provides items for collectors – and the item in question is Jenny.

The Morning Wasn’t So Hot is a bleak little tale.  Philip Madoc is suitably sinister as Dannon, polite and cultured on the surface (and surrounded by valuable antiques) but also quite capable of viewing Jenny as just another item for sale, as he explains to Mason.  “Three, six months, that’s the life expectancy of one of your girls. Ten to one she’s in court by the end of the month or she’s got pneumonia hanging about shop doorways or you’ve done a little crude rolling”.

Mason agrees to sell her for three hundred pounds, but unfortunately for him she’s already gone.  Marker questions Mason and he breaks the bad news to him.  “You sold her. Now she’s welched on you and you’re piggy in the middle. They’re going to be fitting you for an apple in the mush”.

And that’s the last we see of Mason.  When Marker and Dannon meet, Dannon tells him that Mason’s retired and there’s no doubt that it’s a permanent retirement with no plans to return.  Marker agrees to tell Dannon first if he finds Jenny, but it’s obvious that he won’t (and this will spell trouble for Frank).

Carole Ann Ford

Marker eventually tracks Jenny down, but she’s not prepared to listen to him or return home to her mother.

MARKER: Look, your friend Mason did a deal with one of the retail flesh merchants. Now according to the agreement you should be working for them.
JENNY: Really? First I heard of it.
MARKER: Well you ran off on the day he made the deal.
JENNY: Tough.
MARKER: Look, these people are not to be fooled about with, you know.
JENNY: I’ll bear it in mind.
MARKER: You’ve heard of the girls who end up in the river, naked and dead? Well it wasn’t Jack the Ripper, it was girls just like you, girls who stepped out of line, who wouldn’t do what they were told.
JENNY: Which was?
MARKER: A girl has a certain lifespan, did you know that? Every now and again they like to juggle the faces.

Dannon obviously had somebody following Marker, as after he left Jenny some of his associates picked her up – and dumped Frank into the river.  Marker then considers the case closed – he tried to persuade Jenny to return home, she refused and he regards his dip in the river as a clear warning.  If he interferes again, they’ll kill him like they did Mason.

So sadly, Jenny has to be written off.  And her meeting with Dannon is a chilling moment.  She tells him that he can’t force her.  “Oh my dear, it’s the easiest thing in the world. I shouldn’t be saying this of course, because I’m only an agent in the transaction, but these people they have their ways. They have, ah, what do they call it? A battery farm. Even the most rebellious become totally compliant”.

If Jenny is now beyond Frank’s assistance, then the episode does end on a hopeful note since he’s able to help another young runaway, Sue Forbes (Susan Burnet).  Which causes him to remark that “the morning wasn’t so hot, maybe the afternoon will be a bit better”.

An uncompromising story, Alfred Burke continues to impress (soaking his feet after a hard day pounding the streets is a nice, realistic touch!).  Philip Madoc is always worth watching, especially when he’s playing menacing (which he did an awful lot).  It’s hard to warm to Jenny, but Carole Ann Ford does manage to express a certain vulnerability in the last few minutes when she realises she’s in too deep.  It’s certainly a change of role following her year on Doctor Who, and was exactly the sort of part she wanted – a chance to do something different.

Next episode – Don’t Forget You’re Mine

Public Eye – Don’t Forget You’re Mine

don't forget

Written by Roger Marshall
Directed by Kim Mills

Marker’s relocated to Birmingham – a new city and a fresh start.  The first job for Frank is to find an office – which he does at the back of a local estate agent.  It’s somewhat dingy and overlooks a timber yard, but it’s still a snip at £4.00 a week, furnished.  His first client is Mrs Jessup (Pauline Delaney) who hires him to find her missing husband.  She asks him if he’s good at finding people and Marker replies it that depends on “how well they’re hidden. How far they’ve gone. How long they’ve been gone and then on whether or not they want to be found”.  It seems a straightforward case, but as so often happens, Frank later finds out that he hasn’t been told the whole story ….

Public Eye would regularly relocate to new cities (later series found Marker in Brighton and then Windsor) and refreshing the location does help to shake the stories up.  We get to see a bit of Birmingham in this story as he walks the streets looking for Mrs Jessup’s husband.

Pauline Delaney would later return to Public Eye during the fourth series as Mrs Mortimer, the closest thing to a friend that Frank ever has.  Here, she plays a completely different character – initially she’s the concerned wife, but later we scratch a little deeper under the surface to uncover the truth.  When Frank learns that Donald Jessup left three years ago, he begins to smell a rat and when he finally tracks him down he understands just how he’s been used

Roy Dotrice is Donald Jessup, or as he’s now called, Donald Scott, and Virginia Stride is Karen Scott.  Roger Marshall plays a good wrong-footing trick as the audience is allowed to make an inference about their relationship, which turns out to be incorrect.

Along the way Frank bumps into various characters, my favourite is Angie (Diana Beevers), who’s intrigued by the notion that Frank’s a private detective, asks him to sample the punch she’s made (judging by his expression it packs quite a kick) and then invites him to stay for her party – the carrot is that afterwards she’ll look for Jessup’s forwarding address.  Marker agrees and Angie asks him to answer the door.  “Don’t forget you’re mine” she says, a sentiment that’s at the heart of the story.

Next Episode – Works with Chess, Not with Life

Public Eye – Works with Chess, Not with Life

works with chess

Written by Roger Marshall
Directed by Basil Coleman

Marker’s been doing some work for a solicitor called George Faulkner (Laurence Hardy) and he asks him to keep an eye on Dr Alan Skerrett.  Faulkner is concerned about Skerrett’s wife Nancy (Susan Dowdall) as he considers himself something of a god-uncle to her.  Skerrett’s recently cancelled a life insurance policy and also hasn’t renewed his golf club subscription.  That indicates to Frank that he plans to leave, the question is does he intend to take anybody else with him?

Marker quickly discovers that Skerrett’s having an affair, with Ann Lynn (Susan Lambert).  But matters are complicated when Nancy pays him a visit as she also wants to hire him to follow her husband.  She knows he’s having an affair – and who he’s having it with – she wants Marker to force him to choose between her and Ann.

Works with Chess, Not with Life provides us with several good examples of just how good a liar Frank Marker is.  One of his jobs for Faulkner concerns a woman called Miss O’Hara (Valerie Bell).  She’s threatening to sue a local hotel because she claims they gave her food poisoning and she’s been hardly able to eat since.  Frank strikes up a conversation with her in a pub and treats her to a slap-up meal – with Faulkner present to observe her healthy appetite.  With Miss O’Hara, he slips effortlessly into the persona of a commercial traveller, complete with the gift of the gab, and she doesn’t suspect a thing.

The main part of the episode revolves around Skerrett’s infidelities.  To be honest, he’s so weak and indecisive that it’s difficult to understand what either woman sees in him.  Eventually he decides that he can’t leave with Ann and she begins to make things difficult for him.  So he becomes the third person to come to Marker to ask for help.

It’s easy to tell that Frank’s not impressed with him.  “How a so-called intelligent man gets himself … What’s it cost to train a doctor? About ten thousand? Ten thousand pounds worth of education. Do you know how old I was when I left school? Fourteen. And that was an achievement my mother boasted about”.

Marker stops Ann from taking any action (by not strictly ethical means as he admits) and it’s another good example of how he’s able to spin a convincing yarn.  Clearly he could have had another job as a confidence trickster!

This isn’t a particularly Marker-centric episode since it concentrates more on the love triangle.  And as Skerrett’s such an annoying character this doesn’t make it the most compelling of stories.  But even average Public Eye is better than a great many other dramas.

Next episode – The Bromsgrove Venus

Public Eye – The Bromsgrove Venus

bromsgrove venus

Written by Anthony Skene
Directed by Jim Goddard

Chief Librarian Paul Ainsworth (Leon Sinden) hires Frank Marker to find out how a picture of his wife Marie (Sylvia Kay) ends up in the Library’s photographic competition.  It’s a tasteful nude portrait (taken from behind) which copies a famous painting – and has been dubbed the Bromsgrove Venus.

Ainsworth is much older than his wife and Frank puts his finger on the nub of the matter.  “You think you don’t deserve her, don’t you? She’s beautiful and French and clever and you’re just a ordinary middle-aged Englishman”.  His first port of call is John Ingleby (Timothy Carlton) who entered the photograph in the competition.  Frank has to work hard to discover the truth and come to a conclusion that will keep the Ainsworth’s marriage intact.

The Bromsgrove Venus is the last surviving ABC episode and the only story to exist from the third series. There’s plenty to enjoy here – such as Frank blackmailing Ingleby in his quest to find out who took the photo.  He knows Ingleby didn’t (he just saw it on display in a local photographic shop, recognised Ainsworth’s wife and pinched it) but he’s no compunction in engaging his unwilling assistance to help to solve the mystery.

The trail sends Frank to a box number at a newsagents where he meets his match.  All of his persuasive charm cuts no ice with the old lady behind the counter (Daphne Heard) who chases him out of the shop with her broom!  Marie is more successful with her (she gives her money) and she manages to get the address of the box number.

Marie then visits Frank with the address (she can’t bear to go herself) and explains that she’s been blackmailed for years – she pays five pounds a month to this box number.  It’s maybe the only weakness of the story that Marie would independently decide to engage Frank’s services (unaware that her husband already has).  The box number leads Frank to a dance studio where he professes a desire to brush up on his Tango skills!  And he’s not a bad mover.

Given how few episodes exist from the first three series, it’s difficult to gauge the overall quality of Public Eye’s early years – but based on the little we do have and the later Thames series, it does seem an awful pity that so much was wiped.

Series four will see Frank Marker relocate to Brighton following his release from prison.  But that’s another story.

Public Eye – Welcome to Brighton?

welcome to brighton

Welcome to Brighton? was the first episode of Public Eye‘s fourth series, originally broadcast in 1969.  It was also the first series to be made by Thames (the previous three were ABC productions).  Sadly, only a handful of episodes from the ABC years exist (a mere five out of forty one).  Given how good these surviving episodes are, it’s a great pity that so few escaped the archive purges – but luckily all of the Thames episodes are present and correct.

The fourth series is noteworthy for several reasons – firstly it’s the shortest series of Public Eye (seven episodes) and secondly it’s the only one where all the episodes were penned by a single writer – in this case, Roger Marshall (who co-created the series with Anthony Marriott).  Having just the one writer allows for a unity of characterisation – which is particularly important, since most of this series revolves around Marker himself.

When a show has an actor as good as Alfred Burke, it’s understandable that the scripts would be tailored to his many strengths.  So series four of Public Eye is concerned with Marker’s journey back into society first and foremost, and we don’t see him back in his old job as an enquiry agent until later in the run.

At the end of the final episode of series three (Cross That Palm When We’ll Come To It) Marker was convicted of handling stolen goods (although he was innocent) and sentenced to two years imprisonment.  Welcome to Brighton? opens with him in his last few days at Ford Open Prison, prior to his release.  There’s plenty of people ready to offer advice, such as fellow con Jakeman (George Sewell) and the Governor (Martin Dempsey).  Both, in their different ways, are somewhat pessimistic about Frank’s chances.

Frank tells Jakeman that he plans to go straight, but Jakeman isn’t convinced – as he believes that the police will constantly be on his back.  “Once you’re in their little black book, you’re there forever.  They’ll be leaning on you, turning you over.”  This is something we see borne out later in the series, though Frank’s done his time and is now a free man, he still has to face the suspicion of the police and others – once a con, always a con, it seems.

The Governor is concerned that Frank is a solitary individual, with no apparent friends or family.  “Have you always been so withdrawn? Or has prison made you like that?” Frank counters that he’s still the same person he’s always been and the Governor suggests he should try changing – “bend with the wind occasionally”.  In the Governor’s opinion, without people look out for him, he’s likely to re-offend again.

Frank’s release day comes and he’s driven down to the railway station in a Black Maria.  This obviously marks him down as a released prisoner and he has to face the curious and accusing stares of his fellow passengers.  The probation service have set him up with a job in Brighton and also accommodation – at a bed-and-breakfast run by a Mrs Mortimer (Pauline Delaney).  Mrs Mortimer takes in the occassional ex-criminal (provided they’re not violent, she says she doesn’t want to wake up in heaven) as something of a civic duty and welcomes Frank into her home.  Although she only has a single scene in this story, during series four Mrs Mortimer will become the closest thing to a friend that we’ve ever seen Frank have.

After checking out his room, Frank goes for a walk around Brighton.  The most notable occurrence is a meeting with Grace (Heather Canning).  She spies him drinking a bottle of whisky by the seafront and offers him the use of her toothmug back at her flat – he readily agrees and it’s clear that there’s more than whisky on offer.  It’s uncharacteristic of Frank to pick up a total stranger, but after two years and more in prison, it’s understandable.  When he goes to the toilet, she steals some money from his wallet and Frank, when he returns, knows instantly that something’s wrong.  Alfred Burke here (as he is throughout) is excellent, as we see the repressed anger bubbling just beneath the surface.  Marker is usually a pretty laid-back character, but circumstances change that.  He nearly strikes her and has no compunction is forcibly removing the money from her clutches.  He does leave the whisky with her though, as a consolation.

If Weclome to Brighton? feels like a series of vignettes, then that’s a fair assessment.  The next concerns Jakeman’s wife, Freda (Anne Ridler).  Jakeman asked Frank to visit her and find out why she hasn’t replied to his letters or visited him recently.  This he does and he tells her that a wife who doesn’t stand by her husband in prison can’t be much good.  This is the signal for Freda to tell Frank in no uncertain terms exactly what she thinks.  “He’s safely banged away in his cell.  Every time responsibility comes up, he’s off, never fails.  Well, you’re all the same.  Half of you run back inside every time some little problem comes up you don’t want to cope with.  You’ll be back there, you see.”  There’s plenty more where that came from and Freda’s speech highlights how a prison sentence affects the people left on the outside just as much as those inside.

So Welcome to Brighton? is not only a series of vignettes, but it’s a series of  vignettes where Frank come off second best (particularly in his encounters with Grace and Freda).  It’s a sign that his new life in Brighton will be far from smooth.

Public Eye – Divide and Conquer

divide and conquer

Divide and Conquer opens with two bikers, Harry (Terence Rigby) and Frank (Richard O’Callaghan), enjoying their breakfast at a Brighton cafe.  They manage to con the cafe owner (Ken Jones) out of five pounds before making a stealthy escape.

At the same time, Marker is enjoying his breakfast at Mrs Mortimers, prior to starting his new job.  As with his accommodation, it’s been provided by the probation service.  It might not be exactly what he wants to do (he starts off by repairing the sea-wall at a lonely stretch of beach) but as an ex-prisoner he can’t afford to be too choosy.

A visit to the local pub with Enright (Peter Cellier) sparks trouble.  Enright, like Marker, is an ex-con who’s also lodging with Mrs Mortimer.  Unlike Marker, he’s something of a gregarious chap, and he eventually manages to persuade the insular Marker to share a drink with him.  At the pub, Marker sees Harry try to con the publican (played by Norman Mitchell) with the same trick he pulled on the cafe owner.

There’s no reason for Marker to get involved, but he does and it forces Harry and Frank to beat a hasty retreat.  Professionals wouldn’t have attempted to use the same trick more than once in the same area and by the same token, professionals wouldn’t hang about.  But Harry and Frank aren’t professionals and Harry vows to get even with Frank Marker.

Divide and Conquer is another excellent character-driven story from Roger Marshall.  Harry and Frank, whilst occasionally faintly ridiculous, also manage to exude an air of menace.  Terence Rigby was always an idiosyncratic actor.  He could be excellent (for example, as Big Al in Alan Plater’s Beiderbecke stories) but he could also turn in fairly indifferent performances (such as a rather wooden Dr Watson opposite Tom Baker’s Sherlock Holmes in the BBC Classic Serial adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles).

This story showcases both his strengths and weaknesses.  At times, Harry is an intimidating figure (when he pulls a knife on Marker after the unsuccessful attempt to con the publican) but it’s fair to say that at times Rigby’s delivery and performance borders on the pantomimic.  O’Callaghan doesn’t speak too much, and therefore is more of a looming presence, but he’s key to the resolution of the story.

The last fifteen minutes are the heart of the episode.  It’s a single sequence, shot on film, which sees Harry and Frank confront Marker whilst he’s at work.  As I’ve said, it’s a lonely spot, so Marker wouldn’t be able to count on anybody coming to his aid.  We’ve previously seen that he can take a beating as well as give one out (for example, Nobody Kills Santa Claus) but the odds here are stacked against him.  If he’s going to walk away unscathed, then it’s words not actions that will save him.

That’s what the title of the story means, as Marker has to play Harry and Frank off against each other.  Harry is keen to attack Marker, Frank isn’t so sure – and Marker is able to slowly plant seeds of doubt in both of their minds.  He tells them what would happen if they carry out the attack.  “That would put you right in the big league.  Send you up for two years, soon as look at you.  If someone says to me, ‘two years inside’ I’d go like that.”  And Marker shakes his hand to indicate how frightened he is.  The more susceptible Frank agrees.

It’s a great three-handed scene and is yet another example of quality acting from Alfred Burke.  At the start there’s an imminent sense of violence, but Marker is able to chip away at their confidence bit by bit, targeting first one and then the other.  Once he’s managed to convince Frank, it makes Harry less of a threat – and eventually both of them decide to cut their losses and drive off.

Jim Goddard’s direction during this lengthy film sequence either favours very low angles, shooting up at the three actors, or tight close-ups.  Both help to keep the focus firmly on the characters and the dialogue, whereas wider shots would have dissipated some of the tension.  It’s a very well-shot section and it’s just a pity that the original film inserts no longer exist (this means that all the film sequences are a little blurry, they certainly aren’t as good as the remastered VT interiors).

Another very solid episode.