1990 – Series 2. Simply Media DVD Review

Broadcast between February and April 1978, series two of 1990 continued to chronicle Jim Kyle’s (Edward Woodward) fight against the all-powerful Public Control Department (PCD). My thoughts on series one can be found here.

Several key cast changes had been made since the conclusion of the first series. Although Robert Lang returned as PCD supremo Herbert Skardon, Clifton Jones and Barbara Kellerman (who played deputy PCD controllers Henry Tasker and Delly Lomas during S1) didn’t. It’s fairly easy to understand why Jones might have been dropped (Tasker was by far the least developed of the three and therefore often seemed to be surplus to requirements) but Kellerman’s absence was more perplexing.

The relationship between Kyle and Delly provided the first series with dramatic impetus (especially the “will they, won’t they” conundrum) and the introduction of the new deputy PCD controller, Lynn Blake (Lisa Harrow), could be seen as an attempt to replicate a similar relationship. Kyle and Lynn have a history – they used to be lovers – which instantly creates a source of tension, since her new job will inevitably bring her into direct conflict with Kyle.

Lisa Harrow & Edward Woodward

It’s possible that Lynn’s character was a hastily written replacement for Delly Lomas (maybe because Kellerman was unavailable for S2) otherwise it rather stretches credibility that Delly’s replacement was also someone whose relationship with Kyle had the same uneasy mix of business and pleasure.

Home Secretary Dan Mellor (John Savident) is another absentee, with Kate Smith (Yvonne Mitchell) taking his place. 1990 was Mitchell’s final television role (she died in 1979, aged 63). Although primarily a stage actress, she had notched up some notable film and television credits during her career – for example, Nigel Kneale’s 1954 adaptation of Nineteen Eighty Four in which she played Julia opposite Peter Cushing’s Winston Smith.

Series two kicked off with Wilfred Greatorex’s Pentagons. Kyle is now a member of Pentagon, one of a growing number of dissident groups. But whilst he favours non-violent action (“words have won more batttles than bullets”) others, such as Thomson (John Nolan), are more keen to fight fire with fire ….

Nolan (probably best known for his semi-regular role in Doomwatch) is one of a number of familar faces who pop up in this one – Barry Lowe, Oscar James and Edward de Souza also feature. Lisa Harrow, debuting as Lynn, makes an immediate impression. Harrow and Woodward share a series of strong two-handed scenes which form the core of the episode (Lynn has been tasked to discover the identity of the PCD mole who has been passing sensitive material to Kyle). Juggling several plotlines – including the complex relationship between Kyle and Lynn – Pentagons is a solid season opener.

Lisa Harrow & Robert Lang

As with the first series, the second run of 1990 used a small pool of writers. Creator Wilfred Greatorex penned four episodes, Edmund Ward contributed three whilst the remaining episode was provided by Jim Hawkins (his sole contribution to the series).

Edmund Ward’s three episodes – Trapline, Ordeal by Small Brown Envelope and Hire and Fire – were broadcast third, fourth and fifth and therefore form the heart of the second series.

In Trapline, Commissioner Hallam (John Paul) seeks Kyle’s assistance. Hallam may be a senior officer in the civil police, but he bitterly tells Kyle that it’s “the second-class police force. The street sweepers that clear up after the politicals”. Private security firms such as Careguard, run by William Grainger (John Carson), are where the real power lies, thanks to their links to the PCD.

It’s always a pleasure to see John Paul (Doomwatch‘s Spencer Quist) as well as John Carson (one of the most dependable and watchable character actors of his generation). The episode explores how the authorities (both Hallam and the new Home Secretary, Kate Smith) have grown increasingly concerned about the unregulated power wielded by the PCD and Careguard. The fact they want Kyle to help them is an irony which amuses him greatly.

Edward Woodward & John Paul

The verbal fencing between Skardon and Smith, as both jostle for supremacy, is highly entertaining as is the interaction between Kyle and Smith, who become unlikely allies. When Kyle calls her “love” (a rather Callan-like touch) watch how Yvonne Mitchell moves from mild disapproval to amusement in a heartbeat.

Robert Lang is well served by this one. Not only has Skardon gained a girlfriend, the very attractive Barbara Fairlie (Sandra Payne), but he’s also given some killer lines. When informed that the Home Secretary is beating a path to his door, he replies on the intercom that he’s preparing to genuflect. Smith overhears this, leading Skardon to respond that on reflection he can’t. “Injury sustained in youth. Choirboy’s knee”!

In the intriguingly-tiled Ordeal by Small Brown Envelope, Skardon puts his latest plan into action – Authorised Systematic Harassment (ASH). Described as “an authorised version of the Chinese water torture” it uses the most deadly weapon of all – bureaucracy.

The unfortunate targets – Kyle’s editor Tom Doran (Clive Swift) and his family – find themselves under close surveillance, but that’s only the beginning. When the state bailiff moves to evict them from their home and into a slum area then the pressure really begins to tell. As a way of breaking somebody’s spirit, mindless officialdom can be more effective than kicks and blows.

Skardon succinctly sums it up. “The slow and noiseless steamroller of the state, the daily brown envelope dropping on the mat”. Doran used to be a fighter like Kyle, but now he’s older and more frightened of making waves, which makes this persecution even crueller. It’s all been arranged in order to put pressure on Kyle, but Lynn argues that by targeting Kyle’s friends they’ll simply turn him into an even more implacable enemy …

Because it’s so horribly plausable and shockingly bleak, Ordeal by Small Brown Envelope is one of the most memorable S2 episodes. Woodward, as usual, is electrifying.

A vicious protection racket, centered around a state factory, is the theme of Hire and Fire. Another first-rate cast – Colin Douglas, Joseph Brady, Simon Cadell – power a story which sees Kyle and the PCD (in the shape of Lynn) form an uneasy alliance for the common good. Skardon is less than impressed when he learns that Kyle has been brought in – which leads to an entertaining confrontation between them (Woodward once again in sparkling form). Also amusing is Kyle’s luncheon with Lynn and the Home Secretary, where he likens himself to “a rose between two thorns”.

Robert Lang & Yvonne Mitchell

Skardon’s pursuit of Kyle continues across the remaining episodes, with matters coming to a head in the series finale, What Pleasess The Prince. Will Kyle and his friends emerge victorious or can the beleaguered PCD fight back?

As with the first series, Edward Woodward shines. Kyle may be more of a thinker than a man of action like Callan, but their core characteristics (a disdain for authority and a highly developed conscience) aren’t too dissimilar. Robert Lang, Lisa Harrow and Yvonne Mitchell are all strong enough actors to hold their own against Woodward in full flight whilst Tony Doyle impresses again as Dave Brett, one of Kyle’s staunchest allies.

Even after all these years, it’s interesting to see how 1990 can be fashioned into a political weapon.  This article from Conservative Woman makes great play of the fact that the government in 1990 was left-wing, although it has to be said that series rarely made party political points (if 1990‘s government had been of the opposite persuasion there would have been little need for any serious redrafting of the scripts – it’s easy to see a fascistic right-wing police state operating in pretty much the same way).

But whatever your political leanings, 1990‘s dystopian future continues to resonate.  At the time of its original broadcast the show was tapping into contemporary concerns about the state of the country (numerous other examples can be found across many different series – Reggie Perrin’s brother-in-law Jimmy, feverishly planning for the day when “the balloon goes up”, is just one example).  Forty years on, 1990 still raises talking points and stimulates the imagination – the year 1990 may be behind us, but many of the issues encountered by Jim Kyle and the others remain.

Tightly scripted and well cast, the second series of 1990 offers another eight episodes of thought-provoking, character-based drama. Both this and series one come highly recommended.

1990 Series Two is released by Simply Media on the 1st of May 2017.  RRP £19.99.

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2 thoughts on “1990 – Series 2. Simply Media DVD Review

  1. Barbara Kellerman’s absence would have been because of her employment by the RSC for the 1977/78 season, in which she played Anabella in ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore and Katherine in Henry V.

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