The Agatha Christie Hour
The Case of the Middle Aged Wife was the first of ten Agatha Christie stories, airing from 07/09/82 - 16/11/82, dramatised by five writers including Freda Kelsall and Gerald Savory. Gwen Watford stars here as Maria Packington, intent on solving the heartache caused by her husband George (Peter Jones) lavishing too much time on his secretary. In return for a fee, Maurice Denham, as Parker Pyne, lines her up with a make-over and introduces her to a suave toyboy, Claude Lutrell (Rupert Frazer).
Anyone for Denis?
The public's perception of former Prime Minister Lady Thatcher's late husband Sir Denis was that of a shambling old buffer who was intolerant of pinkoes and lefties and obsessed with gin. This was mostly due to the "Dear Bill" series of letters printed in Private Eye magazine, supposedly written by Denis to his friend Bill, but in fact dreamed up by writers John Wells and Richard Ingrams. Bill was always assumed to be Bill Deedes, editor of The Daily Telegraph. In addition to dreaming up the words of Denis, Wells had perfected an expert comic impersonation. He adapted the letters into a West End farce, which subsequently became a Thames comedy drama for Christmas 1982. Angela Thorne co-starred as "Maggie", giving a spookily well-observed performance which has been sadly overlooked. Mapledurham House in Reading stands in for Chequers; the title music is from Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije suite.
The Bill is the only show to survive from the original Thames franchise right up to present-day ITV1. How different, how dynamic it seems now in comparison to its slow-paced origins in 1983, and the launch series of weekly, hour-long episodes in 1984. The first clip is from episode 2, A Friend in Need, tx 23/10/1984; the second is introduced by announcer Philip Elsmore, the episode entilted Loving Care, tx 06/06/1989. By this time, a format change to two half-hours per week, notched up the pace, as did the enhancement of Morgan and Pask's theme tune, Overkill. These days, vast numbers of episodes spill out from the Merton-based production.
Rather like Public Eye, this series had begun life at ABC-TV, first as a play in the famous Armchair Theatre strand (04/02/1967), and then a series of six episodes in 1968. When Thames picked up the franchise, three more series were made from 1969-72. Edward Woodward stars as the secret serviceman Callan, supported by Russell Hunter as his grass, Lonely, and William Squire as his commander.
Arguably one of the best series Thames made, and one of ITV's most memorable. It was intended as a vehicle for Dennis Waterman post-Sweeney, but series creator Leon Griffiths gave us the immortal Arthur Daley (George Cole), a character who lasted on TV for 15 years and lives on in popular memory. Arthur conceived many a dodgy deal well away from the prying eyes of 'Er Indoors, usually guaranteed to be a nice little earner. He chose as his minder the ex-convict and boxer, Terry McCann (Waterman), and spent much of his time drinking in the Winchester Club with barman Dave (Glynn Edwards). Detective Inspector Chisholm (Patrick Malahide) spent most of his time raiding Arthur's lock-up. As Little Britain viewers know, the theme tune, "I Could Be So Good For You", was co-written and sung by Waterman.
Dennis Waterman quit the series in 1991, so Gary Webster was brought in as Arthur's new "minder", his nephew Ray Daley. The series continued to be a ratings winner, but came to an end in 1994. Waterman no longer sung the theeeeeme toooon, but in spite of the jazzier arrangement of the later series, I always preferred his original.
The Naked Civil Servant
John Hurt won a BAFTA award for his rôle in this film, based on Quentin Crisp's autobiography. Hilarious and shocking for its day, this film was a breakthrough in TV's treatment of homosexuality. The BBC declined the offer to make it, while the IBA censored a line from Philip Mackie's witty script, "Sexual intercourse is a poor substitute for masturbation." The director Jack Gold scooped a BAFTA too. Verity Lambert executive produced, while Carl Davis composed the music. (tx: 17/12/1975)
Roger Marshall and Anthony Marriott created Public Eye in 1965 at ABC-TV, and 87 episodes were made over ten years lasting into the Thames era. World-weary private detective Frank Marker (Alfred Burke) is portrayed with as much grit, realism and dour charm as possible, and the music and graphics reflect the downbeat nature of the series. The fourth series in 1969 was the first to be made by Thames, and begins with Marker's release from a two-and-a-half year prison sentence for a crime he did not commit.
Thames made 46 episodes of Public Eye from 1969 to 1975, and this one dates from 29/11/1972. Various storylines were set in Brighton, then Windsor and Chertsey, with Marker moving from one location to another in search of work. After 1975, Thames had wanted to continue the series on film, under the Euston Films moniker, just as had happened with Van der Valk. But Alfred Burke feared the increase in production values might also lead to an increase of pace and cause the series to lose its particular, low-key identity. He declined to continue as Marker.
The BBC had been due to make this series in 1972, having made three successful Quatermass series in the 1950s. But a year later it was abandoned and the scripts sat on the shelf until 1977 when they were picked up by Euston Films, for a million-pound ITV production starring John Mills. The 4x50mins episodes were later edited into a theatrical release entitled The Quatermass Conclusion. Mills brought impressive qualities to the character, who steps out of retirement in Cumbria for a TV interview and is projected into a dystopian nightmare of killer gangs and hippies. The world is in crisis, with fuel and food shortages bringing civilisation to the verge of collapse. That's when the Earth comes under attack from space, leaving only the ill-fated Professor Quatermass to defend it. (ITV tx 24/10/1979 - 14/11/1979)
This one-off drama film by Ian Kennedy Martin was screened in the ITV Armchair Cinema season, on 04/06/1974. The star was John Thaw, who had been the lead in the 60s ABC series Redcap but was still hardly known on TV. Thaw was teamed with Dennis Waterman and the partnership proved so successful that four series of The Sweeney followed, along with two movies. It all started here.
Reilly Ace of Spies
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
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".
A Euston Films/Warner Sisters co-production, this five-parter was based on the book by Robert Harris. Jonathan Pryce starred as a West German writer who is conned into buying what he thinks are the diaries of Adolf Hitler, from a conman (Alexei Sayle) in East Germany. Other stars include Tom Baker and John Shrapnel as Pryce's magazine editors, Julie T. Wallace, Alison Doody, Roger Lloyd Pack as David Irving and Barry Humphries as Rupert Murdoch. Brilliant!
Special Branch began in 1969, a combination of studio VT and sporadic 16mm inserts. The stars were Derren Nesbitt and Fulton McKay. But it is best remembered from the third and fourth series (1973-74), made entirely on 16mm by Euston Films, entirely revamped and re-cast. George Sewell assumed the lead as D.C.I. Craven, with Roger Rowlands as North. Patrick Mower replaced him in series 4 as Haggerty, while Paul Eddington guest starred as Strand, a government official. Not quite The Sweeney, but getting there, it was a big hit and travelled well! The music is excellent, managing to be both upbeat and melancholy, while the rapid-cut, crash zoom titles have been coloured in curious shades of green (series 3) and turquoise (series 4); clips above from episodes Red Herring (06/05/73) and Double Exposure (14/02/74).
Die Spezialisten aka Special Branch
Germany saw Special Branch dubbed as Die Spezialisten, on the station ARD. This is the series 4 episode Jail Bait, retitled Ausbruch in Raten (Breakout by Instalments), shown on 01/04/80 and 08/07/83 (original UK tx of 28/02/74). The music edits in these titles are awful!
1975 - Series 1-3 Titles
The opening episode of The Sweeney, Ringer by Trevor Preston (02/01/1975), sees John Thaw and Dennis Waterman joined by Garfield Morgan as Haskins, and guest stars Ian Hendry & Brian Blessed. Famous for straight talking characters and gritty realism in acting and filming, there are no Dixon of Dock Green platitudes to be found here. The title sequence, a dynamic montage of colourised stills, is driven by Harry South's pounding and yet haunting theme tune. These seminal images spawned many imitators, including a 90s Nissan car commercial.
1978 - Series 4 Titles
The 'prism' titles from series four show Regan and Carter in hot pursuit of a felon. As the closing credits roll, they are observed sauntering through Soho at closing time, stubbing their fags out on a grubby pavement outside a porn cinema. Morecambe and Wise appear as themselves in episode 11, Hearts and Minds (tx. 23/11/1978). They were returning the favour to Thaw & Waterman who had appeared in their BBC Christmas Show in 1977.
Van der Valk
1972 Series 1 Titles
Barry Foster made his debut as Piet Van der Valk on 13/09/1972. Back then, he was perhaps best known as Robert Rusk, the chirpy Covent Garden Tie Murderer, in Alfred Hitchcock's great thriller, Frenzy. Ten novels by Nicholas Freeling inspired the series, revealing the daily police procedures of an Amsterdam detective.
Van der Valk
1973 Series 2 Titles
The tourist visuals and smashing Jack Trombey/ Simon Park Orchestra theme tune Eye Level contrive to depict Amsterdam as a canal-side idyll, rather than the crime-filled capital that makes Van der Valk such an arrogant, hard-drinking copper. For 22 weeks in 1973, Eye Level was number one in the UK chart. The first two series co-starred Susan Travers as Van der Valk's long-suffering wife Arlette, and Michael Latimer as his colleague Kroon. They combined 16mm location film with studio VTR interiors, and seem a little slow-paced to modern eyes.
Van der Valk
1977 Series 3 Titles
Euston Films made the third series more edgy, applying The Sweeney technique (total 16mm dynamism and grittier stories), though these seem at odds with the charming titles. As it's now slap bang in the middle of the Swinging Seventies, Van der Valk drives a Ford Granada...
Van der Valk
1991-2 Series 4 & 5 Titles
1991 saw a revival on glossy 35mm, as per the late 80s trend for lengthy, intelligent drama in the Morse mould. Foster returned for the seven two-hour movies, but the older Commissaris was given less of the action, in favour of his son Wim (Richard Huw) and younger officers, to appease as wide an ITV audience as possible.
A Voyage Round My Father
Watching Laurence Olivier chuntering about in this clip, you wouldn't know you were about to witness a chilling scene.... Possibly one of the campest "oohs" I've ever heard when somebody banged their head on a tree. This is the play by John Mortimer about his relationship with his own father, Clifford, who refuses to accept that he has been blinded and makes everyone pretend nothing has happened. For twenty years...
A real cracker! This six-part crime drama was Lynda la Plante's first TV script, written with the encouragement of Euston Films producer Linda Agran. The cast was comprised of unknowns, but all gave excellent, gritty performances, chief among them Ann Mitchell who starred as Dolly Rawlins, plus Maureen O'Farrell, Fiona Hendley and Eve Mottley. Four widows revive their late husbands' plan to rob a security van in a London underpass, after the men were killed in the first attempt. It's just brilliant.
Never planned, but created by popular demand two years later. Dolly's 'usband 'Arry ain't dead after all, and he wants a share of the booty! The stripper Bella was played in these six episodes by Debby Bishop, since Eve Mottley had been found dead of a suspected drugs overdose.