Bird of Prey (BBC 1982). Episode Three – Process Priority

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A four-part thriller for the electronic age featuring Richard Grifiths
Episode 3: Process Priority
One name recurs in Henry Jay’s single-handed investigation into the affairs of ‘Le Pouvoir’ – Euro MP Hugo Jardine. With British Intelligence now implicated in the cover-up, Henry has a story to sell – if he can stay alive long enough.
(Radio Times Listing, 6th May 1982)

Generally, the third part of a four part story is a bit of a problem. You’ve set up the plot and characters in the first two parts but you’re still one away from the conclusion – so part threes generally involve a good deal of running on the spot.

While it’s true to say that Process Priority does conform to this rule, on the plus side it introduces an interesting new character, Rochelle Halliday (Ann Pennington).  Rochelle runs a commercial intelligence consultancy and she had contact with Henry when he was drafting his report on computer fraud.

She’s a playful, irreverent character, which is highlighted when she asks Henry to read the notes she made about him after their previous meeting.  “First impressions are that he would be out of his depth in a car park puddle, but first impressions may be deceptive. Give him a couple of months then try sex or straight cash. Say five hundred. He shouldn’t be expensive”.

Ann Pennington is a major reason why this part three doesn’t feel too draggy.  It’s a pity that this is her only episode – but as has been mentioned before, many characters in Bird of Prey have a very short shelf life.

Rochelle sends Henry off to speak to Julia Falconer (Mandy Rice-Davies).  Julia is the proprietor of a high-class call-girl agency which has links to Hugo Jardine.  She’s able to fill in a few blanks, but these scenes are of primary interest due to Mandy Rice-Davies herself, since along with Christine Keeler she will be forever remembered for her role in the Profumo affair.  It could be regarded as stunt-casting, but since she’s a decent actress I wouldn’t say so.

Elsewhere, Hendersly (Jeremy Child) is starting to have his doubts about Bridgnorth (Nigel Davenport).  It’s been a fairly thankless role for Child so far, as his character has been drawn as a colourless, yes man.  But now the worm turns and he tells Bridgnorth that he’s compromised his career “to protect Hugo Jardine, who you advised me is risking his life in a long, drawn out and elaborate intelligence operation. On a need-to-know basis, you’re the only person I’ve had any contact with. As this operation staggers from one blunder to the next, I’ve just kept my head down and assumed that you’ve known what you’ve been doing. I find myself questioning that now. And even more seriously, questioning who it is that I’m ultimately working for and with whom your loyalties lie”.

After a speech like that (and given what we’ve already seen) it’s interesting to ponder what his life expectancy will be …..

As the end of the episode approaches it’s clear that matters are building to a head.  The cliffhanger is certainly arresting – as we witness two separate explosions (although the second is admittedly a little weedy).  Both explosions help to thin out the cast a little more but Henry is still unscathed and he appears to be heading for a showdown with Jardine.

Next Episode – Printout Urgent

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