The Life and Loves of a She Devil
For six Wednesday nights from 08/10/1986, the nation was gripped by this Fay Weldon drama. Julie T. Wallace made her debut as the big-boned, neglected housewife Ruth, who exacts revenge on her husband Bobbo (Dennis Waterman) when she finds out he's been having an affair with romantic novelist Mary Fisher (Patricia Hodge). Tom Baker and Bernard Hepton were among the guest stars who were obliged to leap into bed with Wallace, while Stephen Greif played the plastic surgeon who transformed her into a Patricia Hodge doppelganger.
Playing two parts, including the titular rôle, Paul Scofield heads the cast of this witty 1994 dramatisation of Martin Chuzzlewit, written by David Lodge. Other performances to delight the eye are turned in by Tom Wilkinson, Julia Sawalha, Philip Franks, Keith Allen, Pete Postlethwaite and John Mills, but as the young architect hero, Ben Walden (son of Brian) seems a little too measured. Musical genius Geoffrey Burgon is responsible for the theme and incidentals, at once placid and sinister.
When Andrew Davies dramatised George Eliot's classic novel for BBC2, the six-part series applied a much-needed defibrillation to the then flat-lining genre of costume drama. Produced by Louis Marks, it stars many fantastic character actors, among them Juliet Aubrey, Patrick Malahide, Peter Jeffrey, Robert Hardy, Douglas Hodge and Trevyn McDowell. Unlike the BBC's studio-bound 1967 production, this one was filmed entirely on glossy Super 16mm, in locations ranging from Stamford to Rome.
Throughout her acting career, Joan Hickson (1906-1998) seemed to specialise in playing prim mother-in-laws and eccentric maiden aunts. When at the age of 78 she created a new interpretation of Miss Marple for the BBC, it was as if the rôle had been written for her. In fact, after Hickson's 1946 stage appearance as Miss Pryce in Appointment with Death, Agatha Christie herself was prompted to write to her, "I hope you will play my dear Miss Marple." Hickson was awarded the OBE in 1987 by the Queen, reputedly a Marple fan. Hickson was an understated but class act as the indestructible sleuth, in twelve Miss Marple films made between 1984 and 1992. The first dramatisation was The Body in the Library (26/12/1984), while the last, The Mirror Crack'd, was first seen on 27/12/1992.
A Pocketful... Clip
The Monocled Mutineer
Paul McGann stars in this award-winning series alongside Cherie Lunghi, Timothy West and Penelope Wilton, with an early sighting of Jerome Flynn. Alan Bleasdale's script is drawn from the novel by William Allison and John Fairley and tells the story of Private Percy Toplis, who leads a mutiny at the Etaples training camp in northern France during World War One; after which he takes flight in the disguise of a British officer. But no-one can outrun the full might of the British Army...
There were three series of Wendy Craig's self-devised period drama, about the newly-qualified nanny Barbara Gray and her various positions in 1930s homes, culminating in her establishment of a children's home. Episodes were contributed by such writers as Terence Brady & Charlotte Bingham, and there were plenty of classy actors to lend solid support, Patrick Troughton, Jane Booker and Joan Hickson among them. Exported all over the world, one might say this series was merely harmless, a long way from dramatic fireworks and not something one would itch to see again, but the title sequence and Grant Hassock's music are charming; the Radio Times claimed that this series lead to a rise in the number of nannies... (10/01/1981 to 13/03/1983)
The Power Game
1966, ITV/ATV Midlands © Granada Ventures
The Power Game was born in 1965 after Lew Grade decided that its predecessor, a drama entitled The Plane Makers, was too boring. "Who wants machinery and the noise of a factory when they get home at night? Move out of there," he said. Both series were built around the central character of John Wilder, a bullying managing director played by Patrick Wymark, but here the action is devoted to boardroom powerplay. The theme music is fantastic, and as is appropriate for the Dynasty of its day, the titles involve the key cast members stepping up to face the camera.
1965-68, ITV/ABC-TV; 1969-75, Thames
Roger Marshall and Anthony Marriott created Public Eye, which concerns a world-weary private detective Frank Marker (Alfred Burke). 87 episodes were made over ten years from 1965, each portraying the life of a private eye with as much grit, realism and dour charm as possible. The theme music and graphics reflect the downbeat, grass-roots nature of the series. Dressed in his shabby raincoat Marker was usually forced to operate from low-rent offices. He even spent two and a half years in prison for a crime he did not commit, after a crooked solicitor framed him for a robbery. Series four, the first to be made by Thames, begins with his release. Of the 87 episodes, just five of the 41 ABC-made shows remain. The later Thames episodes exist in full. Clips show #1.2 (30/01/1965, ABC) and #4.1 (30/07/1969, Thames).
Reilly Ace of Spies
1983, ITV/Thames © Fremantle Media
Around the same time he screen tested to replace Roger Moore as James Bond, a rôle he was less than interested in taking on, Kiwi-born actor Sam Neill achieved his big break in this lavish Euston Films series, created by Troy Kennedy Martin and based on a true story. Neill's face dissolves into the opening titles, a montage of Edwardian scenes over which Reilly's espionage may well have had an influence. The title music, adapted from Dmitri Shostakovich's 1955 composition The Gadfly, was released as a single. Twelve episodes: 05/09/83 to 16/11/83.
Rumpole of the Bailey
1978-1988, ITV/Thames © Fremantle Media
John Mortimer's fab barrister Horace Rumpole started life in a BBC Play for Today, but the BBC took so long to snap up the series that producer Irene Shubik took it to Thames instead. Leo McKern excelled in the lead rôle, becoming a hero to barristers everywhere, with Peggy Bates as his wife, Patricia Hodge, Peter Blythe, Peter Bowles, Richard Murdoch and many other great guest stars. Series two followed in 1979, the third in 1983, the last in 1988, in which Marion Mathie played Rumpole's wife a.k.a. "She who must be obeyed".