Travelling Man was a thirteen part series/serial written by Roger Marshall, broadcast between 1984 and 1985. After scripting the Survivors episode Parasites (tx 2nd June 1976) Marshall began to mull over the possibility of a series where the central character traversed the country in a narrowboat. Given the slowness of this form of travel, it certainly offers a change of pace from most action/adventure series where high speed car chases are usually the order of the day ….
Marshall initially offered the series to the BBC, with John Thaw earmarked as the lead character Lomax. They turned it down and several ITV companies also rejected it before it finally found a home at Granada. By that point Leigh Lawson had been cast as Lomax and although only a few years separated Thaw and Lawson, it’s hard to imagine Thaw playing the character as written (or convincing in some of the stunt set pieces). But possibly Marshall tailored the scripts to suit Lawson and had Thaw taken the role, Lomax would have been subtly different.
This opening episode, First Leg, has an echo of the Public Eye episode Welcome to Brighton? (Marshall, the co-creator of Public Eye, wrote all seven episodes in the series’ fourth run which began with this episode). Both Lomax and Public Eye‘s Frank Marker open their respective episodes as inmates awaiting release after serving a prison sentence for a crime they didn’t commit.
It quickly becomes clear that Lomax is a loner like Frank Marker, although they’re very different character types. Marker has long been a loner out of preference but prior to his conviction, Lomax had a wife, a son, a house and a job. All of these have now been taken away from him, which forces him into the life of a solitary (although he still possesses an approachable charm, so it’s easy for him to make friends).
The search for his son, Steve, is one of the motors which drives the series. And it’s also a handy dramatic device, providing Lomax with a good reason to always keep moving (plus when he turns up in a new place there’s invariably some problem that needs to be sorted out). Also bubbling away close to the surface is the mystery of his conviction – Lomax used to be police officer and is rumoured to have walked away with a fortune following an aborted drugs bust. He denies this, but as we’ll see in the second episode not everyone is ready to believe him.
Lomax’s character is quickly delineated – before the opening credits have run in fact. Taking a shower after returning from a prison work party, he’s approached by a prison officer who offers to take special care of him after he’s released. It’s an offer which Lomax declines in a violent fashion, leaving the prison officer on the floor nursing a broken hand. This gives us a short, sharp insight into the man he is – clearly not someone you would wish to cross lightly. An unfortunate drug dealer (played by Peter Faulkner) discovers this later in the episode.
First Leg effectively sets up the premise of the series. Derek Newark essays a memorable cameo as DCS Sullivan, a former colleague who makes it plain that Lomax should move on with all haste. Morag Hood (as Sally Page) plays an unlikely drug addict whose plight forms a key part of the episode. And Lindsay Duncan (as Andrea) forms an instant connection with Lomax which will spill over into the second episode.
Everything’s working well then – throw in Duncan Browne’s haunting theme and incidentals and you’ve got a series which hits the ground running.