The Glory Boys – Episode Three

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Helen reports back to Jones and is scathing about what she’s witnessed, describing it as a shambles.  As for Jimmy, she tells her boss that he’s “a knight in shining bloody armour ” setting off in hot pursuit.

Jimmy’s desire to finish the job is self evident.  Despite the fact he told Sokarev he’d be right beside him every step of the way, once he can scent blood in the air he’s off and running.  Although it’s probable there wasn’t a backup terrorist team in place – designed to take Sokarev out on his way back to the hotel maybe – Jimmy didn’t know this for sure.  But his dereliction of duty is never really remarked upon.

He tracks McCoy and Famy to a quiet cul-de-sac.  And when we see McCoy force his way into Norah’s house it becomes obvious that he wasn’t simply driving at random.  Before that, there’s a brief gun battle with Jimmy and the British agent hits him in the shoulder.  McCoy responds by lobbing a grenade under Jimmy’s car, which causes quite an explosion (although it’s odd that the neighbours are slow to investigate).

That we’re very much in the pre-mobile age is shown via a nice scene with Jimmy and an old man in one of the adjacent houses.  Jimmy’s desperate to use the phone but the man, no doubt spooked by the gunfire and explosion, tries to close the door on him, trapping Jimmy’s foot in the process!

The juxtaposition between a quiet suburban house and the onslaught of loud, ugly violence is striking.  McCoy, dripping with blood and brandishing a rifle, quickly rounds up Norah and her mother and father.  Famy darts out the back door, heading to Heathrow where he’ll have one more chance to complete his mission.  So for McCoy the position is clear – he has to stay holed up as long as possible.  The longer he can last out, the more time he buys Famy.

Because of his injury, he forces Norah to tie up her mother and father.  Although maybe this is also an exercise in control and fear – it’s certainly an effective moment as we see the girl attempting to bind her mother’s legs with a pair of tights.  As Norah is instructed to pull tighter, her mother reacts with distress.

When Jones arrives, Jimmy asks if he can go in with the assault team.  Jones, naturally enough, refuses.  Jimmy’s request reiterates his desire to be in at the kill – it isn’t enough to be close by, he wants to be right in the thick of the action.  He heads off to slump dejectedly in the back of a patrol car, another nicely played scene by Perkins.

Torture is seen several times in The Glory Boys.  The opening scene of episode one features Elkin and Mackiewicz brutally torturing a suspect whilst in this episode Jimmy indulges in a milder form of abuse following McCoy’s extraction from the house.  In some ways this makes Jimmy a proto Jack Bauer – a single-minded agent determined to do whatever it takes to complete his mission.  But Jimmy’s not acting without authority – Jones tacitly gives his approval (in front of McCoy) to do whatever he has to do.

So in the world of The Glory Boys, the ends justifies the means.  If the rights of prisoners are abused then so be it – provided it happens behind closed doors.  As is seen later, Jimmy’s downfall occurs after he decides to demonstrate his methods in public.

A little psychology and pain forces McCoy to admit that Famy’s going to make a last-ditch attempt to kill Sokarev immediately before he boards the plane.  But the security cordon is tight enough to nullify Famy’s attempt.

As Famy lies helpless – already downed by several shots from the ring of armed soldiers around the plane – Jimmy comes rushing over.  He couldn’t take part in the mission to extract McCoy and he wasn’t close enough to prevent Famy from launching his attack at the airport, but now he can finish the job.  As Famy struggles to get up, Jimmy aims his gun at his opponent’s head and pulls the trigger.  A quick cut to a roaring jet engine is a clever way of hiding the fact that we don’t see the fatal shot fired, but the power of the moment is still strong as we see Jimmy walk away, with a ring of onlookers behind him.

This most public of executions means that Jimmy is now highly toxic and the Minister (Ian Cuthbertson) tells Jones to fire him.  So Jimmy’s out of a job and Sokarev has safely left the country.  But there’s a final ironic twist, quite in keeping with the bleakness of the tale, which amuses a drunken Jimmy. We leave him as he slowly wends his way through the darkened London streets (with the haunting title music by Philip Japp and Julia Downes playing).

The Glory Boys has an excellent cast, although it’s pity that several familiar faces have very little to do.  The likes of Anthony Steel, Ian Cuthbertson, Alan MacNaughton and Robert Lang were all good enough actors to have taken major parts, but instead they only make the briefest of appearances.  Steiger and Perkins naturally dominate, although Alfred Burke has a quiet assurance as Jones.  Bur Joanna Lumley, despite being fourth billed, has little to do – Helen’s main usefulness seems to be that she can sense the real Jimmy behind the heroic façade.

YTV were no doubt hoping that this serial would repeat the success of their previous Gerald Seymour adaptation (Harry’s Game, 1982).  This didn’t really happen and the critical reaction was muted (with some newspaper reviews, latching onto the gunplay and violence, unimaginatively dubbing the series “The Gory Boys”).  The fact that it’s never been released on R2 DVD is another reason why it maintains a fairly low profile (although it’s available in R1).

As a time capsule of the mid eighties and also as a vehicle for both Rod Steiger and Anthony Perkins it’s well worth seeking out though.  It’s not perfect (and the 105 minute “movie” edit is tighter and more satisfying than the 3 x 50 minute serial) but the themes and characters continue to resonate down the decades.

The Glory Boys – Episode Two

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Famy’s inexperience is demonstrated at various points throughout the serial. McCoy is appalled to discover that he doesn’t have a plan to kill Sokarev – Famy has to weakly admit that the others (now dead) had the plan – and he further complicates matters by killing a woman who was rifling through his possessions at the flat where he and McCoy were holed up.

This means they’re on the run – which delights Jones, as he believes this leaves them in no shape to make the hit. Jimmy isn’t convinced and Jones quickly picks up on the vibe that Jimmy’s hoping that they’ll attack anyway. “You want to be in work, cheering them on. That makes me sick.” For Jimmy, the thrill of the chase (not to mention the kill) is all.

Although Rod Steiger’s performance can be florid at times, he still manages to throw in some subtle touches. One occurs as he prepares to say goodbye to his wife, prior to flying to London (she’s been forbidden from traveling with him). As they embrace, his eyes dart around in a worried fashion, but he manages to put on a brave face as they pull apart.

We see Norah’stifling home-life, complete with a father (played by Hubert Rees) who reacts to the news of Famy’s murder of the girl by muttering that the killer should be strung up. Of course, neither he or Norah’s mother realise that their daughter’s boyfriend is involved. But although Norah now knows what sort of man McCoy is, her love for him overrides every other consideration. But does he have any feelings for the girl, or is he simply using her?

The difference between Famy and McCoy – the one who’s prepared to give up his life for the struggle he believes in and the other who has no interest in a suicide mission – is restated. Famy tells him that “because my people have suffered, are suffering now, they trust me, for what I will do for them. In my country, the martyrs of our movement are honoured”. McCoy responds by telling him to shut up, proving that the ideological gulf between them is too wide to be breached. But while McCoy doesn’t share Famy’s hope for a glorious martyrdom, he does seem to have some sympathy for him.

Whilat a modern terrorist would probably plant a bomb, Famy’s eventual plan is much more old school – a rifle through the window and, hopefully, a clear shot at the podium where Sokarev is speaking. It’s possible to see the ease with which Famy and McCoy breach the elaborate security procedures set up to protect Sokarev as a weakness of the story or it could be deliberate.

Windows from the lecture room are accessible from the street outside, but although the street is cordoned off no thought seems to have been given to positioning substantial numbers of police or security officers outside these very vulnerable spots. Jones suggests it’s due to lack of resources, but that seems strange given the number of officers deployed elsewhere.

So the pair are able to run across the road and – as McCoy gives him a leg up – Famy breaks the glass in the window and takes aim at Sokarev. His lack of experience is highlighted again as he fires off multiple shots but isn’t able to hit the target. In desperation he throws a grenade in, which is leapt on by Mackiewicz.

Mackiewicz therefore protects both Sokarev and the others, but at the cost of his own life. It’s a chilling moment which brings home the point that often a bodyguard’s job is to take the bullet (or grenade) intended for the person they’ve been charged to protect.

With McCoy now injured from a brief gun battle with one of the security officers outside, he and Famy make their escape. Once more Famy’s inadequacies are displayed when he admits he can’t drive a car – forcing the badly injured McCoy to take the wheel as Jimmy follows close behind.

The Glory Boys – Episode One

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Palestinian terrorists hatch a plan to assassinate Professor David Sokarev (Rod Steiger), an Israeli nuclear scientist, during his forthcoming visit to Britain.  He has his own people protecting him – Maciewicz (Michael J. Jackson) and Elkin (Ron Berglas) – but the head of SIS, Mr Jones (Alfred Burke) plans to put his own man next to Sokarev every step of the way.

Jimmy (Antony Perkins) was the best, but in many people’s eyes he’s yesterday’s man.  His skill with a gun is still razor sharp, but he’s also inclined to be reckless and insubordinate.

Three terrorists attempted to reach Britain.  Two were killed in France, leaving one survivor – Famy (Gary Brown).  He makes contact with McCoy (Aaron Harris) a member of the Provisional IRA and together the mismatched pair begin to hatch a plan …..

The Glory Boys was a three-part serial, based on the novel by Gerald Seymour, made by Yorkshire television and broadcast over three consecutive evenings during October 1984.  That it was stripped across three nights indicates that it was seen as “event” television, and no doubt the two star names at the top of the credits helped to strengthen this feel.

Both Rod Steiger and Anthony Perkins were bona fide film stars, although it would be fair to say that their stock had fallen a little by the mid eighties, which probably explains how YTV were able to snag them.  But it was still a coup to see Steiger (On The Waterfront and In The Heat of the Night) and Perkins (Psycho) in a British television drama.

Steiger plays Sokarev in a very deliberate, ponderous way.  Sokarev is not a politician or a soldier, he’s a scientist and in his early scenes gives the impression that he’s somewhat unworldly.  He treats the news about the threat on his life with alarm and is keen to cancel his British trip.  But he’s told in no uncertain terms that this is impossible – it would send out a signal to the terrorists that they’ve won and Israel would then become a country under siege.  He eventually sees the logic in this.

Perkins’ British accent has met with mixed opinions down the years.  I think it’s pretty good and Perkins certainly impresses as the alcoholic, chain-smoking, cold-hearted killer.  If Steiger tends to be a bit wooden, then Perkins’ easy charm (although always with the sense that there’s something nasty lurking just below the surface) provides a nice counterpoint.

It’s no surprise, especially for this era of television, that the Palestinian terrorist Famy was played by a British born actor, Gary Brown.  It’s not a problem though as Brown is quickly able to sketch out Famy’s character quite effectively.  He was the youngest of the three terrorists and the most inexperienced.  But like them he has a fanatical desire to carry out his mission, even if it costs him his life.

This desire to die for a cause will be something that’s unfortunately all too familiar from modern acts of terrorism, but for British audiences watching thirty years ago it would have been more unusual.  The point is driven home by McCoy who tells Famy that he’s not prepared to throw his life away – McCoy might be IRA, but that doesn’t mean he has any desire to die.

Famy’s political ideology remains somewhat nebulous.  At one point he does attempt to explain his views to McCoy, but is cut off.  As for McCoy, in this first episode we learn that he has a British girlfriend, Norah (Sallyanne Law).  She seems an odd choice for an IRA terrorist, since she’s in her late teens and very innocent (with her love of cuddly toys she seems little more than a child at times).

The SIS we see is very much in the pre-computer age and for all intents and purposes it could just as easily been a snapshot of the 1950’s.  The offices are large, gloomy and old fashioned, complete with furniture that’s seen better days.  When Jones prepares to sleep in overnight, Helen (Joanna Lumley) makes up his camp-bed, complete with a hot water bottle.  To complete this very British picture, he spoons Ovaltine into a mug.

The first time Jones mentions Jimmy he looks at a picture on his wall, showing a wartime scene.  It’s a cliché moment for sure, and later the story is spelled out.  Jones and Jimmy served in Malaya back in the 1950’s and Jimmy saved Jones’ life.  So Jones feels he owes Jimmy a debt ever since, even up to and including today.  Did Jones chose Jimmy for this job because he’s still haunted by the events of Malaya or did he really think Jimmy was the best man to carry it out?

Alfred Burke, even with a fairly small part, catches the eye – as does Joanna Lumley.  Helen works for Jones and is Jimmy’s girlfriend, so her loyalties are somewhat divided.  Lumley has even less to do than Burke, but like him she’s a notable presence.