And A Nightingale Sang – Simply Media DVD Review

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The 3rd of September 1939 may be a momentous day in the history of the British nation (with Neville Chamberlain shortly due to announce that the country is now at war with Germany) but not everybody has Hitler on their minds.  For example, in a terraced house in Newcastle, young Joyce (Pippa Hinchley) is debating whether to marry Eric (Stephen Tompkinson), who is shortly due to depart with his army colleagues to France.  As for the rest of Joyce’s dysfunctional family, they all have concerns of their own ….

And A Nightingale Sang was adapted by Jack Rosenthal from C.P. Taylor’s 1978 play.  Rosenthal (1931 – 2004) was one of British television’s greatest dramatists, equally adept at adapting other people’s material as he was at crafting his own.  He also slipped easily between genres – penning over a hundred episodes of Coronation Street during the 1960’s whilst also working on sitcoms and original one-off plays.

In many respects, the 1989 production of And A Nightingale Sang was a perfect fit for him – since it deftly mixed humour with drama in a way that was highly characteristic of his own output.  It’s very much a home-front drama (we may see soldiers, but only when they return home on leave).  But despite this, the war-time feel is very strong, partly due to the soundtrack.

Many of the familiar songs are delivered by John Woodvine’s character, George, on the piano.  George and his wife, known only as Mam (Joan Plowright), head an incredibly impressive core cast.  Woodvine has long been a favourite actor of mine, and George is a plumb of a part – there’s plenty of scope for humour (when at home George spends all his time in the front room, banging out tunes on the piano whilst the rest of the household ignores him) but he’s also afforded moments of drama and pathos.  George, who works at the shipyards, later breaks down in tears after he confesses to a workmate that he’s spent hours cleaning a ship which has recently arrived back from Dunkirk.

When his friend tells him that the bowels of the ship smell like a compost heap, George replies that it’s “human bloody compost. Stuck to the bulkheads like shit to a blanket. I’ve been trying to wash them off, scrape them off. Somebody’s lads, somebody’s flesh and blood”.

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John Woodvine

For Woodvine, born in South Shields, And A Nightingale Sang provided him with an opportunity to use his natural accent.  Some of the others, such as Joan Plowright, might not have been as local, but everybody manages credible accents.  Plowright, as the religious matriarch of the family, doesn’t get quite as much to do as Woodvine, but she makes every scene count.  The moment when she reacts in horror to the foibles of her family (such as George’s decision to become a communist) is very nicely done.

This was an early screen credit for Stephen Tompkinson, who had previously made several brief sitcom appearances in series such as After Henry, The Return of Shelley and Never The Twain.  It’s a substantial role, calling on him to experience a roller-coaster of emotions, but he handles it well.  Eric’s main problem is Joyce, who initially can’t decide whether she wants to marry him or not.  The cons (“he smells of bacon”) seem somewhat trivial, but the physical side of their potential union also seems to be troubling her.

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Pippa Hinchley & Stephen Tompkinson

But eventually she puts her worries behind her and they wed.  After all, with him shortly to leave for France it’s not as if they actually have to live together.  It’s only when he returns home on leave that the cracks really begin to show.  “When are you going back?” is one of her first questions (she’s also unimpressed with the French knickers he’s bought her).  Mind you, she quickly shrugs off her sexual anxieties – the only problem is that she seems to be spreading her favours very widely, with just about every American serviceman she can get her hands on ….

Pippa Hinchley and Stephen Tompkinson share some wonderful scenes together, as do Phyllis Logan (Helen) and Tom Watt (Norman).  Helen, Joyce’s elder sister, is the sensible one of the family, seemingly destined for a life where her own wishes and desires are secondary to the demands of others.  But when she meets Norman, one of Eric’s army buddies, everything changes.  In contrast to the bickering between Eric and Joyce, Norman and Helen instantly bond.  But, as you’d expect, things don’t turn out to be straightforward.  Watt, who’d recently left his signature role (as Lofty in EastEnders) and Logan are possibly at the dramatic heart of the play.  Like the rest of the main cast, they offer first-rate performances.

Produced by Philip Hinchcliffe and directed by Robert Knights, And a Nightingale Sang is a glossy production with a filmic sweep.  The Newcastle locations (cobbled streets, shipyards) help enormously with this, plus it’s an ironic bonus that certain areas of the North West in the late 1980’s were so run-down and desolate that they could easily stand in for the parts of the city devastated by German bombs.

Also included on the disc are three wartime public information films – They Keep The Wheels Turning (8″15′), Britannia is a Woman (9″17′) and The New Britain (10″16′).  These are fascinating extras which help to place the main feature into its correct historical context.  Britannia is a Woman as you might expect, looks at the role played by women during the conflict (which is obliquely touched upon during the play – both Joyce and Helen work at a munitions factory) whilst The New Britain considers the future of the country and They Keep The Wheels Turning looks at how everybody has their part to play in ensuring that the wartime effort is maintained.

A sharply observed human drama, And a Nightingale Sang is a treat, featuring an excellent cast who never put a foot wrong.  It’s available from the 6th of November 2017, RRP £12.99, and can be ordered directly from Simply here.

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Tom Watt & Phyllis Logan
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The Crunch and Other Stories – Network DVD Review

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The Crunch and Other Stories collects three short plays by Nigel Kneale, broadcast between 1964 and 1988.

Studio 64: The Crunch (1964).  Harry Andrews stars as a prime minister attempting to avert a nuclear catastrophe in London; Maxwell Shaw, Anthony Bushell and Peter Bowles are among his co-stars.

Unnatural Causes: Ladies’ Night (1986).   A chilling story of misogyny as members of a gentlemen’s club turn on a woman who ridicules them; a strong cast includes Alfred Burke, Ronald Pickup and Bryan Pringle.

The ITV Play: Gentry (1988). Roger Daltrey stars in a blackly comic suspense drama in which a couple buy a shabby house in an up-and-coming area but find themselves drawn into the aftermath of an armed robbery.

This is the third in a series of curated DVDs under the ‘Forgotten TV Drama’ banner (the first two were The Frighteners and The Nearly Man).  The following excerpt from the press release for The Frighteners provides a little detail about the aims of these releases.

Broadcast only once (or at most twice) in a time before on-demand, catch-up or the video recorder, most of the drama made for British television up until the early 1980s has lain unseen for generations. Since 2013, The ‘History of Forgotten Television Drama in the UK’ research project at Royal Holloway, University of London, has existed to investigate and celebrate the tremendous wealth of neglected dramas made for British TV, unearthing forgotten treasures and presenting them again to new audiences.

Forgotten TV Drama’ is a new range of DVDs presented by Network Distributing Ltd in association with the project. Selected and curated by TV experts Lez Cooke, John Hill and Billy Smart, the collection will make a wide selection of unseen titles from the ITV archive available once again. The range aims to encompass a broad spectrum of plays, series and serials; comic and tragic, realistic and fantastical, film and videotape, lavish and intimate.

The Forgotten TV Drama blog is worth checking out – hopefully some of the programmes discussed there might feature on future releases.

Nigel Kneale rose to prominence in the 1950’s via the Quatermass trilogy and his controversial adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984.  In the decades to come he would occasionally return to the series or serial format (BeastsKinvig, a fourth and final Quatermass story) but he tended to concentrate more on one-off plays and adaptations.

Adaptation wise, his retooling of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black is well worth tracking down (a R2 DVD release is long overdue). Sharpe wouldn’t have been the sort of series you’d have expected to have recruited Kneale as a writer, but he did contribute an episode – Sharpe’s Gold – which, unsurprisingly, jettisoned most of Bernard Cornwell’s original novel in favour of something much odder and off-kilter.

Although Kneale is fated to always be remebered primarily for Quatermass, it can often be rewarding to dig through some of the more obscure nuggets from his back catalogue – and the three plays on this release all qualify on that score.

The Crunch opens on what appears to be a normal London street.  We see a man walking his dog, a woman riding her bike and a milkman making his rounds.  But these signifiers of normality clash uneasily with the constant honking of car horns in the distance.

Within a matter of minutes it becomes clear that all three people were part of a military operation designed to penetrate the Mekagense Embassy.  Mekang, an ex-colonial state, is demanding reparation for the way its natural resources were plundered for British gain.  And if the British don’t accede to their requests then a nuclear device will destroy London ….

Although we’re not privy to the wider London scene, the continual sound of car horns in the distance (and occasional television reports) help to reinforce the general state of panic.  The power of the media is amusingly demonstrated after a reporter broadcasts that the emergency seems to be over.  A group of soldiers, watching the television from their command post just around the corner from the Embassy, are delighted – seemingly more willing to believe what they see on screen as opposed to their own military intelligence!

The Crunch centres around three characters – British prime minister Goddard (Harry Andrews) and two members of the Mekagense government – President Jimson (Wolfe Morris) and Ambassador Mr Ken (Maxwell Shaw).

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Andrews plays a pleasingly pro-active prime minster who’s right in the thick of action (he goes alone into the embassy to negotiate).  This might be a little far-fetched, but no matter.  Sadly, some of the themes of the play are just as relevant today as they were some fifty years ago. Goddard is aghast to learn that Ken is prepared to sacrifice himself and his wife and children (not to mention the rest of London) for the sake of his beliefs.  Goddard finds it hard to believe that any religion could support such a monstrous action.

Ken does have his reasons and he articulates them well.  Shaw offers a very still, nuanced performance (which is particularly apparent when he’s placed opposite Wolfe Morris’ blustering, unhinged President) and is easily able to command the screen.  Ken’s vision of Mekang – a desolate country which will turn into a utopia once they’ve received reparations from the British – sounds too good to be true, so it possibly won’t surprise you to learn that things don’t turn out quite the way he planned.

Although The Crunch seems to be a straight, contemporary drama, during the last few minutes it lurches into telefantasy.  The final shot – held for what seems like an age – reinforces this sudden change in emphasis (as does the fact we then cut to the credits – there’s no mopping up scene to contextualise what we’ve witnessed).

The cast offers strength in depth.  Anthony Bushell, who had memorably portrayed the blinkered Colonel Breen in Quatermass and the Pit, appears as another military man here – Lt. Gen. Priest.  Priest might only have a fraction of Breen’s screentime but there’s more than a hint that he’s a character drawn from the same cloth.  A young Peter Bowles is the enthusiastic Captain Buckley (forever itching to storm the embassy single-handed) whilst the unmistakable sound of Frank Crawshaw’s whistling speech impediment makes him an actor who can be identified by sound alone.

Picture quality is pretty good (the location scenes, recorded on videotape, are a little smudgy though) and the soundtrack, whilst hissy, is pretty clear.  A nice bonus is the 35mm insert for the climatic scene – ideally it should been dropped back into the programme but having it available as an extra is the next best thing (as the sequence on the telerecording is, naturally enough, not nearly as sharp).

When considering forgotten television drama, it’s hard not to think of Alfred Burke.  There can be few actors so beloved by archive television fans yet so totally under the radar of modern television watchers.  Possibly his final role, as Professor Dibbet in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, may have brought him a smidgen of late recognition, but his lengthy career seems to be comprised of programmes which have now faded from view (even Public Eye, a major success for a decade but not a series that’s endured in the memory of the general public).

But for those who like their television programmes old, Burke continues to be cherished and he’s a major attraction in the second play in this set – Ladies’ Night.  Broadcast by Central in 1986, Burke is the crusty Colonel Waley, outraged that his beloved Hunters Club allows ladies through its hallowed portals every Monday evening.

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Burke’s in good company – Brian Pringle, Ronald Pickup, Nigel Stock and John Horsley also appear – whilst Fiona Walker, as Evelyn Tripp, plays the rather annoying wife of James (Pickup).  Evelyn’s presence proves to be crucial as she and her husband have a somewhat violent disagreement which then involves all the other members.  Directed by Herbert Wise (I Claudius), Ladies’ Night, like I Claudius, favours long takes which allow the actors to remain in control.

It’s unusual to see Burke essay such a grotesque performance, but it suits the surroundings of the Hunters Club – the Colonel, like the club, is mired in the past and totally unable to accept the realities of the present.  Women are just one of his problems – the decline in the club’s finances mean that a merger or a sale of part of the building is desirable.  But Colonel Waley is not a man who can countenance any form of change.

If Burke is excellent, showing how Waley grows ever more unhinged as the evening wears on, then he’s matched by the rest of the cast (especially Ronald Pickup).  This extends down to the minor roles such as Abigail McKern’s frightened and flustered Ann Holroyd (although she’s much more relaxed when she’s drunk).  The members can’t help rolling their eyes at her choice of drink (a tequila sunrise) whilst she makes the mistake of attempting to pat the stuffed aardvark which sits forlornly in the entrance hall.  All members have to touch the aardvark on arrival and any who don’t are firmly reminded by the Colonel. But any women attempting to take such a liberty will face the full force of his fury.

A dark (and occasionally violent) comedy, Ladies’ Night isn’t subtle, but Kneale’s script, the performances and Wise’s direction all combine to produce a bracing, if uncomfortable, fifty minutes.  It’s good to finally have it available on DVD.

Following The Who’s first farewell tour in 1982 (apart from a couple of one-off performances they wouldn’t tour again until 1989) Roger Daltrey found he had plenty of time on his hands to restart his acting career.  He’d already appeared in a handful of films during the seventies and early eighties (Tommy obviously, Listzomania and most notably McVicar) but during the mid to late eighties he really began to rack up the credits.  In Gentry (1988), Daltrey plays Colin, an East End gangster who clashes with the upwardly mobile Gerald and Susannah (Duncan Preston and Phoebe Nicholls).

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The gentrification of the East End of London is one of the obvious themes of this play.  The first few minutes shows us various well-heeled types (walking dogs, stowing golf clubs into their car) who have begun to infiltrate this once run-down area.  Gerald wants to be the next – although Susannah’s far from happy that he’s already bought a house (for just under one hundred thousand) without telling her.  When they discover the seller upstairs in the bath (very, very dead) it’s the first sign that their day is not going well …

Colin and his gang (Michael Attwell as Slatter, Tim Condren as Doug) are old-school criminals (Gerald, a solicitor, is also corrupt – but his criminality doesn’t involve violence).  Gerald may initially appear to be in control, but it’s not long before his pompous, self-important persona is pricked.  This is very apparent when Colin and the others come calling – it’s Susannah who remains calm whilst he rather goes to pieces.

The first part, concentrating on Gerald and Susannah, offers some amusing comic moments but it’s the arrival of Colin (initially concealed behind a scarf – masking his recent injuries) just before the first advert break which moves the story up several gears.  Daltrey offers a magnetic performance – alternating between charm and violence – and commands the screen whenever he’s on.  Attwell is amusingly over the top as the homicidal Slatter.

The lead performances of Daltrey, Preston and Nicholls ensures that Gentry holds the attention – the brief bond formed between Colin and Susanna (he’s pining for the old East End which she gently tells him has gone forever) is just one of several interesting areas developed.

Including a booklet featuring a foreword by Gentry director Roy Battersby and concise but insightful viewing notes by Billy Smart, The Crunch and Other Stories is an attractive package which showcases some of Nigel Kneale’s lesser-known works.  Recommended.

The Crunch and Other Stories is available now from Network and all good retailers.

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Agatha Christie on TV – My Top Six

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A recent post by Simply Media has inspired me to select my favourite Agatha Christie adaptations (due to the parameters of this blog I’ll concentrate on television only).

06. Peter Ustinov in Thirteen at Dinner (1985).  I’ve a lot of time for the 1980’s American Christie television movies.  They may take liberties with the source material (this one, for example, is updated to the present day – giving us the odd sight of Poirot guesting on David Frost’s chat show) but you can’t help but love Ustinov’s idiosyncratic and entertaining Poirot.

It boasts a wonderful guest cast – David Suchet as Japp!, Faye Dunaway in a duel role with Bill Nighy, Diane Keen, John Barron and Jonathan Cecil as the ever-loyal Hastings offering solid support.  Certainly well worth a look.

05. Francesca Annis and James Warwick in Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (1980).  Prior to the 1980’s, Agatha Christie adaptations on television were a rarity.  This was due to Christie and later on her estate not wishing to see her stories distorted (although given some of the, ahem, more interesting adaptations during recent years I guess the copyright holders now hold a more relaxed view).  Therefore the early 1980’s ITV adaptations were something of a trial run – with Poirot and Miss Marple off-limits, ITV had to scrabble around amongst the more obscure corners of Christie’s catalogue in order to prove that they could do her works justice.

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Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? isn’t classic Christie, but it’s a more than decent mystery.  Annis and Warwick, as Lady Frankie Derwent and Bobby Jones, team up nicely (a few years later they’d return to the world of Christie as Tommy and Tuppence Beresford).  Evans has another cast to die for – a pre-Marple Joan Hickson, James Cossins, Madeline Smith, Eric Porter and an amusing cameo from John Gielgud.  It’s maybe slightly too long, but it’s still very agreeable.

04. And Then There Were None (2013).  I may loathe Sarah Phelps’ adaptation of The Witness for the Prosecution with a passion, but there’s no denying that And Then There Were None is a quality production.  The main problem I have with Witness is that it’s mostly Phelps with very little Christie showing.  And Then There Were None is more recognisably Christie, albeit with a few tweaks.  An all-starish cast helps to bring to life one of her darker works.

03. The Moving Finger (1985).  Whilst the debate about the best Sherlock Holmes isn’t clear cut, surely there can’t be much of a question about who was the best Miss Marple?  In every respect Joan Hickson wipes the floor with her ITV counterparts (as well as Margaret Rutherford – a fine actress, but no Miss Marple).  If Hickson is first-rate, then so too are the twelve BBC adaptations she starred in.  All-film productions, with high production values, they just ooze class and style.

With Roy Boulting on directing duties and some fine performances (always a pleasure to see John Arnatt and Richard Pearson, amongst others) The Moving Finger is one of the best of the early Hickson Marples.  It may not be the most taxing mystery Christie ever wrote, but it has more nuanced characters that we sometimes saw – for example, the relationship between Gerry and Megan is an atypical touch.

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02. David Suchet in The Third Floor Flat (1989).  The Suchet Poirots were clearly following in the footsteps of the Hickson Marples with a similar glossy all-film style.  That Suchet managed to film the entire canon is laudable, although it’s a little sad that some of the later adaptations began to veer severely away from the originals.  Possibly this is why I’m most fond of the earlier runs which began by concentrating on Christie’s short stories.  It’s true that some of them are a bit thin (Christie’s early short stories can be fairly perfunctory in some respects) but the television versions are nicely bulked out thanks to the sympathetic adaptations.

01. Joan Hickson in The Body in the Library (1984).  Back to Hickson for her debut as Miss Marple, broadcast on BBC1 during Christmas 1984.  Sarah Phelps has recently restarted the tradition of a “Christie for Christmas” – hopefully her next one won’t be quite so depressing though.

Allo,Allo! fans will be able to spot a pre-Crabtree Arthur Bostrom, Jess Conrad is perfect as the pearly-white Raymond Starr, Andrew Cruickshank is an intimidating Conway Jefferson whilst David Horovitch and Ian Brimble begin their careers as Slack and Lake – two police officers destined to always be at least two steps behind the elderly spinster who may look harmless but possesses a mind like a steel trap.

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Minder – A Lot of Bull and a Pat on the Back

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Arthur, shrewd businessman that he is, is always happy to turn his hand to anything.  Repossess a bull for a couple of farmers?  No problem, especially when the fee is more than generous.  But when it turns out that Terry and Arthur were duped into a spot of bull rustling, Terry insists they reunite the bull with its rightful owner ….

Leon Sinden and Derek Benfield play Smith and Brown, the two farmers who ask Arthur to arrange the bull repossession. I’ve a feeling that they’re using false names (something which also seems to strike Arthur – although it doesn’t stop him from doing the deal).

As ever, Arthur’s optimism is a wonder to behold (he tells Terry that the bull in question is a totally domesticated beast). Further amusement can be derived from the cross-cutting between Arthur ‘s visit to a gentleman’s outfitters (in which he’s obtaining the best country clothes) and Debbie’s striking performance at the striptease club.

Before Terry and Arthur’s adventures in the countryside, Terry’s called upon to help Debbie (Diana Mallin). She’s concerned about a punter who’s been threatening the girls at the strip club where she works.  With Penny (Ginnie Nevinson) also making an appearance, Terry’s cup seems to be running over – although at present it’s plain that Penny’s the girl for him.

As Terry doesn’t spot anybody hassling Debbie, this part of the story doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, although it’s not not too surprising that we’ll come back to it later.

Despite Arthur’s claims to the contrary, you just know that he’s going to be totally adrift in the country (having to help herd a bull doesn’t help of course).  Some of the comedy might not be terribly subtle – Arthur stepping into a cowpat – but it still raises a smile, thanks to George Cole’s supremely wounded dignity.

It’s interesting to learn that Arthur’s slip-up was unscripted, but George Cole’s cowpat (or possibly bullpat) encounter was deemed to be far too good not to include.  If it hadn’t, then presumably it would turned up on numerous editions of It’ll Be Alright on the Night.

The first time we see the bull, it’s shot in close-up (and a touch of ominous incidental music helps to ramp up the tension a little more). Arthur, supreme coward that he is, suggests that it would be best if he stayed in the lorry (the country air isn’t doing his chest any good) but Terry’s adamant that he’s not getting the bull by himself.

It’s therefore ironic that Terry ends up doing all the work anyway whilst Arthur simply blunders about and then falls over (getting even muddier than he was before).

If you want to pick holes in the plot, then it’s strange that the bull was simply standing unprotected in a field, waiting for Terry and Arthur. Since there was nobody about, why didn’t Smith and Brown take the bull themselves? If they had then it would have saved them having to pay Arthur four thousand pounds. And it’s very unlikely that the story of the stolen bull would have made the front page of the Daily Mirror, even if was a very, very slow news day.  Also, Terry and Arthur manage to track down Smith and Brown with embarrassing ease (the countryside’s a big place after all).  And it’s odd that we never meet the bull’s owner (although had the subplot of Debbie not been included then there might have been time to do so).

Dave can always be called upon for a dry comment. When Arthur and Terry find out the bad news about the bull, Dave tells them that he still thinks rustlers can be hung ….

When Terry gets back to town, he finds Debbie in hospital. She looks pretty bad, although luckily the damage to her face is only superficial.  Diana Mallin plays this scene well (Debbie’s more concerned that her cat gets fed than she is about her own welfare).  Terry’s distraught. He promised to mind her and he blames himself for her injuries. Justice therefore demands that he catches up with Debbie’s attacker (and justice is served).

A Lot of Bull and a Pat on the Back revels in the seedier side of life, so there’s a number of scenes at the strip club where bare breasts are on display.  Unsurprisingly this has to led to the episode being somewhat cut whenever it turns up in the daytime schedules.

It’s a fairly simple story, but Cole and Waterman are on fine form, especially Cole. Arthur’s misadventures in the countryside are the highlight of another entertaining script from Tony Hoare.

Minder – Caught in the Act, Fact

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It’s not Terry’s day.  First of all Des cons him into delivering a car which is later used in an armed robbery.  But that pales into insignificance thanks to Arthur’s latest minding job.  It should be straightforward – accompanying Lady Margaret Thompson (Angela Browne) on a few odd jobs, such as a shopping trip to Harrods.  But after Terry is arrested for shoplifting he faces a court appearance.  Luckily Arthur offers his services as a character witness ….

Caught in the Act, Fact is an episode which sees Terry used as a fall-guy on multiple occasions.  Firstly, it’s Des who incurs his displeasure after the trusting Terry delivers a hot motor for him.  Terry’s about to inflict some serious damage on Des when Arthur appears.  After Terry explains why he’s about to dish out his own brand of summary justice, Arthur sorrowfully tells Des that what he did wasn’t very nice.  “I don’t want to be nice Arthur, I just want to be rich” replies Des, which doesn’t improve Terry’s temper!  Des later backtracks and claims this was a joke, but although he’s always been an affable and amusing character, Des is also a crook and it’s easy to believe he knew exactly what he was doing.

Arthur’s latest scheme is a beauty – goldfish for old clothes.  Arthur subcontracts Stevie (Colin Proctor) to go round the estate, collecting clothes from children in exchange for goldfish (“Old Clothes for Fish”).  This is ridiculous, even for Arthur, although you have to love the way he proudly shows off his goldfish to Terry. Terry agrees that, yes, they’re goldfish but Arthur’s ripsote is “goldmine, Terry. Goldmine”.

Arthur’s explanation as to why a goldfish would make the perfect pet is another priceless moment. “There is nothing wrong with a goldfish. It would be a good friend. Loyal, trusting, quiet. And the nice thing about them is if they start to give you any hump you can always flush them down the toilet”.

But Terry’s not interested in being a goldfish handler. Eventually he admits to a chortling Arthur that he doesn’t like the thought of touching them. Of course, had Terry taken the fishy job then he wouldn’t have got tangled up with Des. So for once sticking with Arthur would have been the safer option.

As Terry’s prints were found on the car, Chisholm is more than interested in him. Maybe Arthur hopes that minding Lady Margaret will take his mind off his problems.  Although Arthur can’t resist instructing his associate about exactly how he should behave when attending the gentry.  Terry tells him that he’ll be sure to tug his forelock every so often.

Lady Margaret’s story has some parallels to the real-life Lady Isobel Barnett, although this must have been a coincidence (albeit an eerie one, as Lady Isobel committed suicide in October 1980, a few days after being found guilty of shoplifting goods to the value of eighty seven pence.  This episode of Minder was recorded in August 1980 and broadcast in November 1980).

Although Arthur is told, off-screen, by Lady Margaret’s husband Harry (Glyn Houston) about her little “problem”, he doesn’t let Terry know. This is rather odd – when the pair meet up with Harry he assumes that Terry’s been fully briefed. Otherwise, how would he be able to spot the warning signs when Lady Margaret decides to pick up something without paying? He can’t, of course, meaning that Terry is forced to carry the can after Harry and Lady Margaret disown him.

When Terry finds himself in court, he needs all the friends he can get – and this is where Arthur comes in.  There are few more glorious sights than Arthur Daley in full flow and the tone is set from the moment he steps into the witness box.  “I swear by almighty god the evidence I give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, stand on me”.

When Des later tells Terry that Arthur did him a right turn in the courtroom, Dave counters with “gave him a right turn you mean”.  Tony Hoare’s script is typically sharp, with exchanges like this occurring throughout.

The sight of Arthur playing golf with Harry is another scenario that’s ripe with comic potential. And Arthur doesn’t disappoint, chuckling that there’s nothing wrong with him when Harry wonders what his handicap is. These scenes don’t advance the plot at all but they’re worth it for the sight of Arthur in his tartan bobble hat alone ….

On the trivia front, this episode sees the first appearance of DC Jones, although he’s played here by Ken Sharrock rather than Michael Povey. It’s also worth listening out for the phone call that Harry receives from Chisholm some thirty five minutes in. I don’t know who was on the phone, but it certainly wasn’t Patrick Malahide ….

Juggling three plotlines – the stolen car, fish for clothes and Lady Margaret – there’s certainly plenty going on. It’s a shame that Angela Browne doesn’t have more screentime, but that’s about the only drawback I can find in another strong script.

Minder – All About Scoring, Innit

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When Arthur crosses paths with celebrity footballer Danny Varrow (Karl Howman) he spies a nice little earner.  Danny has a story to sell and if Arthur can locate Fleet Street’s finest – Ronnie Raikes (Antony Douse) – then he hopes he’ll be quids in.

Terry’s assigned to mind Danny, but he’s a wanted man.  Not only is he being pursued by Leo Rafferty (Sean Caffrey), a bookmaker who’s rather miffed that Danny’s been sleeping with his mistress Jenny (Adrienne Posta), but the shotgun-wielding Arklow (Forbes Collins) also wants a word …..

All About Scoring, Innit opens in the countryside, where the bucolic peace and quiet is shattered by Danny’s efforts to escape Arklow and his shotgun.  Subtle is not a word you could use to describe Forbes Collins’ performance here.

If the viewers were wondering exactly who Danny was, then the next scene neatly fills in the gaps.  Arthur holds up a paper in which Danny’s latest disappearing act is featured prominently.   Danny might be a talented footballer, but he’s equally as talented at drinking, gambling and chasing birds.  George Best is an obvious real-life parallel.  Unsurprisingly, Terry respects him (“one of the chosen, he is”) whilst Arthur is much less impressed (“he’s a muddied oaf”).  But once Arthur realises just how much money Danny makes – and how he may be able to cream a little off himself – his opinion changes ….

Although the story may be a little thin, the interaction between Arthur and Terry is so good that this really isn’t a problem.  There’s plenty of wonderful little moments spread throughout the fifty minutes, such as Terry’s desire to clock off so he can head over to Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea.  Arthur is affronted by this – who will unload his sporting goods?  Terry’s answer is brief and to the point.  “Balls”.

He elaborates. “Ping pong, for the playing of”.  After leaving Arthur holding a box of ping pong balls, it’s inevitable that the box is going to break and the balls will go everywhere.  Out of nowhere Arthur finds himself besieged by a gang of kids (“go on, go and play in the river”).

Next we see Arthur – preparing to enter the Winchester – observe a gang of football fans walking down the street.  Since they’re somewhat boisterous, he pops back into his car, pulls his hat over his eyes and waits for them to walk on by.  After they’re out of earshot he feels brave enough to call after them.  “Thickheads. Louts. Come back and try that again and I’ll push you through the wall”.  After he’s made his heroic gesture he spies an old woman standing in the street.  “The highway’s quite safe now madam, I’ve seen them on their way”.

Arthur walks into the Winchester, bemoaning that you can never find a copper when you want one.  He then wonders who originally said that. “G.H. Chesterton, wasn’t it? Or was it the Bard himself, George Bernard?”  Simply glorious.

There’s a chance to see the grimy reality of early eighties football since Minder was able to shoot at Stamford Bridge during an actual match.  This gives the story a little extra reality as we spy Terry standing on the heaving terraces.  It leads into another classic comedy moment as Terry incredulously spies his name on the scoreboard, requesting him to contact the office urgently.

A police sergeant (Bill Dean) has some bad news for him – his mother’s been run down by a green-line bus.  Terry takes the news rather calmly, indeed he’s so laid-back that when he notices Chelsea have scored he bemoans the fact that they couldn’t do so when he was watching them.  But he’s not really hard-hearted, as Terry’s mum has been resident at Kilburn Cemetery since 1967.  The sergeant (a wonderfully world-weary performance by Dean) is less than impressed by this hoax call and flings Terry out of the ground, which is exactly what Arthur wanted.

With all this going on, what should be the main plot – Danny’s troubles – somewhat pales into insignificance.  But although he somewhat plays second-fiddle, it’s still a decent portrait of the footballer-as-celebrity, something which was already fairly well established then (although nothing like nowadays of course).  He and Terry enjoy themselves in a luxury penthouse whilst they debate the ethics of professional sport.

Danny has no loyalty to anybody but himself.  This irritates Terry, who believes he should show some respect to his team-mates, his manager and the fans.  Danny is unrepentant though and the message seems to be that Danny can behave like he does because he has talent – if he didn’t then it wouldn’t be acceptable.  That’s questionable logic it has to be said.  It’s also interesting that Danny mentions he owes a considerable sum – five thousand pounds – to Rafferty.  For a modern footballer, that sort of money would be little more than loose change ….

Terry’s minding skills aren’t at their sharpest in this one – he nips off to the toilet, Danny opens the hotel-room door and is snatched by Rafferty’s goons.   Terry manages to track Danny down before he’s given a beating, but the imposing figure of Clifton Fields (George Sweeney) bars his way.  But once Clifton recognises Terry (they both boxed against each other in the old days) they suddenly become less interested in fighting and take a stroll down memory lane instead.

With Rafferty nullified, everything seems settled.  But then Arklow re-appears and Terry gets in the way of his shotgun blast.  But luckily (and somewhat unbelievably) he escapes with only a scratch.  This gives us yet another glorious Arthur/Terry moment as Arthur visits him in hospital.  Firstly, Arthur has a present for Terry (a pot-plant) which he declines.  No matter, Arthur will take it back home to Er Indoors.  Even better is when Terry fishes into Arthur’s bag for a grape.  No, he’s told – they’re for Er Indoors too.  The sight of Arthur calmly removing the single grape from Terry’s hand and replacing it in the bag is yet another classic comic moment from an episode that’s overflowing with them.

Minder – The Old School Tie

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Despite only having a few months left to serve on his five-year sentence, an old schoolfriend of Terry’s, George Palmer (Paul Copley), escapes from prison in order to prove his innocence.  Naturally enough, Terry offers to help him, but this decision puts those nearest to him in danger ….

The Old School Tie opens with yet another split in the Arthur/Terry relationship.  Terry’s been out of contact for a few days, doing a friend a favour, and Arthur’s incensed at his lack of consideration.  Terry’s equally irritated at Arthur’s controlling nature and tells him from now on he’ll find this own jobs.  Arthur has the last word.   “Modern bloody generation, you’re all the same. Give ’em a leg to stand on and they use it to kick you up the arse”.

The dynamic between Arthur, Terry and Dave is at the heart of this episode.  It’s revealed that Dave was the friend Terry did the favour for and because of this Terry asks him to shelter George.  Dave is reluctant – if the police find him then there’ll be trouble all round – although eventually he agrees.

But what’s really interesting is Arthur’s reaction.  When he learns that Terry was doing a job for Dave he seems to regret his earlier harsh words.  Other writers might have had Arthur demand payment from Dave for Terry’s services (Terry declined any money) but Jeremy Burnham didn’t go down this obvious route.  Arthur may often be painted as mercenary and self-seeking, but it does seem that friendship overrides all other concerns.

Yorkshire-born Paul Copley seemed to be struggling a little to master a London accent but he’s still effective as the mild and honourable criminal.  The early scenes between George and Terry waste no time in telling us that George is a career criminal (and was actually out on another job when he was arrested in error for the diamond blagging).

Terry therefore doesn’t see what George has to complain about – he might have been innocent of the crime he was sentenced for, but since he was guilty of many others then natural justice has been served.  Ironically this was no doubt the attitude held by many bent coppers and would have served as their justification for fitting up suspects.

George has a wife, Olive (Sherrie Hewson) who’s concerned about George, although she pretends not to be.  Olive’s brother, Harry (Derek Thompson), is also concerned, although for different reasons.  From the moment we first see Harry he’s operating in a very shifty fashion, making it plain that he knows more than he’s telling.   The later revelation that he was involved in the diamond blagging is not a very surprising revelation.

This is a much grittier and harder-edged episode of Minder than usual.  The two heavies, Billy (Ziggy Byfield) and Tommy (Nick Stringer), don’t look too different from similar characters who pop up most weeks, but the difference is that Billy and Tommy actually do some damage.

First they pay a visit to Debbie (Diana Malin), a stripper who’s staying at Terry’s flat for a few days.  She’s plainly terrified of them and would have no doubt told them everything she knew with only a little persuading, which makes the fact that we later see her with a badly bruised face somewhat disturbing.  Presumably they gave her a going over off-screen just for the fun of it.  Dave is also the recipient of an off-screen beating from them, although in his case it’s easier to imagine that he would have kept quiet until they started inflicting real pain.

Prior to visiting Dave, they’d called on Arthur.  It’s Arthur who gave George’s location away and later he admits this to Terry.  They didn’t physically attack Arthur – only damaged some of his stock in the lockup.  Arthur’s cowardice initially irritates Terry,  but again the scene’s played straight as Arthur tells Terry that he couldn’t have stood up to physical violence.  Terry instantly agrees and understands.

When Terry and George are captured by the baddies they too receive some punishment, although this happens on-screen for once.  Everything’s set up for the final reel as the cavalry – in the unlikely form of Rycott and Arthur – come riding to the rescue.  This was Peter Childs’ only S2 appearance, but he’s great value in each and every scene – especially the brief fight at the end.  As Arthur cowers in the doorway, Rycott steams in and smashes one unfortunate against the wall.  Ouch!

As ever, Arthur and Terry are reconciled.  I like the tag scene in which Arthur, blind drunk, asks Terry to drive him home.  When quizzed about how long he’s been in the pub, Arthur replies half an hour!  He’s clearly a fast drinker.

A refreshingly tougher story which ranks as one of the strongest from the second series.