This Is Jinsy – Series Two. Simply Media DVD Review

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Welcome to the island of Jinsy (population 791).  From their vantage point in the Great Tower, the vain and incompetent Arbiter Maven (Justin Chubb) and his long-suffering assistant Sporrall (Chris Bran) attempt to keep island life running as smoothly as possible. This is made easier by a handy gadget – the tessellator. It’s a multi-function device which not only monitors the residents at all times, but also has a handy nozzle to download products, a slot to pay fines and a screen which displays adverts, entertainment and propaganda.

Although the pilot was broadcast on BBC3 in 2010, when This Is Jinsy was picked up as a series (two runs were broadcast in 2011 and 2014) it went to Sky Atlantic. The fact it was hidden away on a pay television channel could explain why the show never became mainstream, although even if it had appeared on a terrestrial channel it might just as easily have remained a cult curiosity.

Given its surreal nature, there were inevitable comparisons made to Monty Python, although The Prisoner seems a much closer fit (an isolated community under observation at all times, with a mysterious never-seen overlord – here it’s the Great He). It also has a touch of The League of Gentlemen, although This Is Jinsy’s world is warmer and far less cruel.

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Justin Chubb & Chris Bran

What impresses about the series is the list of top-drawer names who guest star across the run of episodes (continuing the trend set in series one). Particular highlights include Stephen Fry as Dr. Bevelspepp, who has to tangle with Maven’s wig when it develops a mind of its own, and Derek Jacobi as Robunce Barnatty, the oldest resident on the island. Elsewhere, Eileen Atkins, Rob Brydon, Olivia Coleman, Phil Davis and KT Tunstall are amongst the other familiar faces who pop up whilst Jennifer Saunders can be heard, but not seen, as the Voice of Miss Reason – dispensing words of wisdom from the depths of the tessellator.

Although each episode tells a self-contained story, the tessellator is a handy device which allows the narrative to be interrupted for public service messages or songs.  And it’s the songs which are This Is Jinsy’s trump card – annoyingly catchy, once they’ve embedded themselves into your brain it’s almost impossible to remove them. Below is one such example, Vegetable Tricks.

The songs and other skits allow Chubb and Bran to dress up (often as women) but occasionally they’ll step aside to let someone else take centre-stage. Rob Brydon, crooning Female Badger, is a definite highlight, as is the appearance of KT Tunstall (who also appeared in series one). In series two she entertains with the song Mittens.

Let’s take a quick trot through the eight episodes which make up series two.

Intelligent Hair finds Stephen Fry on fine form as Dr. Bevelspepp.  The central theme – a historic wig used in an arcane Arbiter’s ceremony takes on a life of its own and grows to enormous size – should give you a clue about precisely what sort of series this is.

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Stephen Fry

Maven is anxious to get his accounts sorted in Acco! The problem is that all the island’s accountants have gone feral – little better than animals – and this tricky situation isn’t helped when he refers to them as Accos, a slang word which is also a terrible insult. Luckily Maven is able to strike a deal with the Chief Accountant (Ben Miller) but unluckily it involves the Chief Accountant’s daughter Berpetta (also played by Ben Miller).

Katy Brand guests in Double Duck as Madame Astrasline, a psychic who obtains her readings from a basketful of rats. When she foretells Maven’s assassination, he needs to find a dead-ringer to take his place (fortunately there’s one close at hand). Elsewhere, the tessellator keeps us up to date about a nasty outbreak of femininity in the lower parishes. But luckily for the male residents this can be rectified with a dose of Rob’s Burly Water (“now available in beefcake and butch”).

In Penny’s Pendant, Maven and Sporrall tangle with Miss Penny (Eileen Atkins), the island’s imposing etiquette teacher. Atkins is splendid as the sinister Miss Penny (her chat with Cecil, a giant mute rabbit, is another of those unique Jinsy moments).

Nightly Bye. The island celebrates the forbidden festival of Nacken – but Maven is kept in the dark about it. This episode is simply an excuse to have many more silly songs than usual, but that’s fine by me. Amongst the delights is Rob Brydon as Rex Camalbeeter, a man who likes nothing better than dressing up as a female badger and then singing about it.

In The Speckled Pom-Pom, Maven is convinced that a group of islanders are sending covert messages to each other, via ‘textile messaging’.  He has a ready-made suspect, Mr Lovely (Stephen Mangan), and encourages a reluctant Sporrall to assist him in his crusade. There’s another edition of Sandy’s choice (“a talent competition judged by a dog”). KT Tunstall joins in with a touching song all about mittens, but what will Sandy think of it? Will it be a “Woof” or an “Enoof”?

The population on Jinsy is strictly controlled, so when – in Population 791 – it exceeds the required number, Maven is ordered by The Great He to dispose of the island’s oldest resident, Robunce Barnatty (Derek Jacobi).

In the final episode, The Golden Woggle, Maven, after taking tea with a former Arbiter, Jenkins (Phil Davis) and his wife Joan (Olivia Coleman), is dismayed to learn that Jenkins never handed back the official woggle after his reign came to an end, meaning that all this time Maven has been making do with a make-shift one.  He vows to retrieve his rightful woggle from Jenkins, but he’ll have to brave Joan and an awkward parrot first.

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Alice Lowe and Chris Bran

Although This Is Jinsy doesn’t lack for star quality, series creators and writers Justin Chubb and Chris Bran more than hold their own.  The relationship between the pompous Maven and weary second-in-command Sporrall is a familiar sitcom one (think Mainwairing and Wilson in Dad’s Army) which works to good effect here.

Maven and Sporrall have two other regular characters – Trince (Geoffrey McGivern) and Soosan Noop (Alice Lowe) – to bounce off.   Trince is a dry academic, played to perfection by McGivern (the original Ford Prefect) whilst Soosan is the third member of a curious love triangle (she’s besotted with Maven, he ignores her, whilst Sporrall pines for her).  The likes of Greg Davies and Janine Duvitski in small but regular roles are further plusses, as is the strong cast of Jinsy Players who tackle different parts from show to show.

Originally released on DVD by Delta in 2014, This Is Jinsy – Series Two has been brought back into print by Simply Media.  It’s essentially the same as the previous edition (four episodes of around 23 minutes duration per disc, no subtitles, two of the briefest special features you’re ever likely to see and a short photo gallery) so if you have the Delta DVD there’s no particular reason to upgrade.  But if you don’t want to buy a second-hand copy of Delta’s OOP version, then this new pressing should be most welcome.

Possibly we’ve seen the last of the residents of Jinsy.  I hope not though and maybe this re-release might spark a little more interest in this unforgettable, idiosyncratic and very, very silly comedy gem.  Nightly Bye.

This Is Jinsy – Series 2 is released by Simply Media on the 15th of May 2017.  RRP £19.99.

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The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – The Secret of the Foxhunter

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Derek Jacobi as William Drew in The Secret of the Foxhunter by William Le Queux
Adapted by Gerald Kelsey. Directed by Graham Evans

After two European spies join a hunting party at an English country house, William Drew (Derek Jacobi) tags along as well.  As a friend of the family Drew is easily able to mingle amongst the guests – and one especially catches his attention.

Beatrice Graham (Lisa Harrow) is a luminous beauty, engaged to one of Drew’s colleagues, but she’s clearly very perturbed.  Can she, or her fiance, be a traitor?  It later turns out that Beatrice is in possession of a document that the foreign spies are extremely eager to obtain – and they’ll stop at nothing, including murder, to achieve their ends.

William Le Queux was a prolific writer, most successful in the decade or so before WW1.  The Invasion of 1910 (serialised in the Daily Mail in 1906) was a notable bestseller for him.  Le Queux tended to concentrate on the thriller, spy and mystery genres and whilst there’s a certain pulpiness about his works, he can still lay claim to being one of the founding fathers of British spy fiction.  The Secret of the Foxhunter can be read here.

Gerald Kelsey’s adaptation takes certain liberties with the source material, mainly by injecting a certain amount of humour (Le Queux’s original is lacking in this).  One major difference is the role played by Miss Baines (Denise Coffey).  Miss Baines is governess to the daughter of the German spy Count Kremplestein (Richard Warner) and takes a much more active role in the adaptation (in the original story she’s a very marginal figure).  Coffey, a noted comic performer, tackles her role with gusto and plays against Jacobi very well.

Another touch added by Kelsey is the extreme reticence of the British government, in the form of Drew’s boss The Marquess of Macclesfield (Richard Pearson), over the whole beastly business of spying.  The Marquess clearly regards spying as a deeply underhand business and not something that a British gentleman should undertake.  A good example is when Drew comes into possession of a letter written by Beatrice – it could contain a vital clue, but the Marquess really doesn’t like the idea of opening a lady’s letter (he does overcome his scruples though).

The Secret of the Foxhunter was Lisa Harrow’s television debut.  She would rack up an impressive list of television, film and theatre credits over the years (she’s probably best remembered for playing Nancy Astor in the 1982 series of the same name).  Here, she brings an excellent, doomed intensity to Beatrice – Drew is keen to help her, but it’s to no avail sadly.

Derek Jacobi (despite a fake moustache – the curse of the series, alas) gives a strong central performance as William Drew.  Equally able to play comic scenes with Denise Coffey and Richard Pearson as well as more dramatic moments with Lisa Harrow, Jacobi’s never less than first rate.  In terms of the adaptation, a major change by Kesley comes at the conclusion of the story, which provides Jacobi with another chance to shine.  It’s an unexpected moment – but all the more powerful because of this.

Minder – The Bounty Hunter

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When Arthur learns that an old friend of his, Jo (June Richie), is somewhat down on her luck he does his best to help.  Following her husband’s death, she decided to sink all her savings into a Spanish villa.  Unfortunately, the villa was never built as the company responsible, Sunworthy, went bust and all her money (along with a great many other people’s) was lost.

He knows just the man for the job – Terry, of course.  And after traipsing around the streets, Terry manages to run down Freddy Fenton (Derek Jacobi) – who was the brains behind Sunworthy.  He pleads poverty, but it’s clear that he’s a skilled con-man who’ll be a tough nut to crack.

The first episode of Minder to be filmed, The Bounty Hunter is chiefly memorable for Jacobi’s turn as Freddy Fenton.  Initially, he seems to be a broken man, living on social security, but it’s later revealed that he lives in a palatial house, complete with servants and a gorgeous lady-friend, Val (Rikki Howard – best known as a yellowcoat from Hi-De-Hi!).  And even when Terry tracks him down, Fenton remains as slippery as ever.  He tells Terry that he owns nothing – everything is leased.

Jacobi’s spot on as the arrogant wide-boy, convinced that Terry’s threats are meaningless.  In the immediate years following his career-defining appearance in I Claudius (BBC 1976) he only made a handful of television appearances, so there must have been something in the character of Fenton that appealed to him.  Speaking of I Claudius, I wonder if it’s just a coincidence that Christopher Biggins (who appeared as Nero) also has a role in this story?

George Layton, as Des the mechanic, would be a semi-regular during Minder’s early years.  Here we see him con Terry into stealing cars (Terry, trusting as ever, believes that Des has authorisation to remove them!).  But he’s able to later put Des’ skills as a thief to good use when they steal Fenton’s Rolls-Royce and refuse to return it unless he pays them the money he owes Jo.

Like some of the other early episodes, this one is fairly heavy on the library music tracks (which would tend to diminish in later series).  But although some of the cues are a little on the cheesy side and the story is quite slight, Jacobi’s presence makes it well worth watching.

Cadfael – Monk’s Hood

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Gervase Bonel (Bernard Gallagher) has gifted his manor at Mallilie to the Abbey.  In return, he’s given a small house, close to the abbey grounds, and his needs (such as food) will be attended to by the brothers.  To give up so much could be seen as a generous gesture – but Bonel doesn’t appear to be a generous man.  He’s bad-tempered and lecherous and it looks as if he’s ceded his estates to the Abbey in order to spite his step-son Edwin (Jonny Lee Miller) who would have inherited them.

Within a short while, Bonel is dead – poisoned by a dish sent from the Abbey kitchens.  Cadfael is disturbed to discover that the poison came from his stores – Monk’s Hood.  Monk’s Hood is completely safe when used as a liniment – but if ingested it is deadly.  The fact that murder has been committed with something prepared by his hands makes Cadfael keen to find the culprit.  Edwin is named as the most likely suspect, but Cadfael isn’t convinced.

This isn’t the only surprise he faces though – as Bonel’s wife Richildis (Mary Miller) was betrothed to him many years ago.  When Cadfael left to fight in the Crusades, they lost touch and Richildis later married another.  After her first husband’s death, she married Bonel and now she pleads with Cadfael to clear Edwin’s name.

Monk’s Hood was the third Chronicle of Brother Cadfael and was originally published in 1980.  In book order, it followed on from One Corpse Too Many and this adaptation is able to keep a key element of the ongoing story intact.  This depicts Abbot Heribert’s (Peter Copley) departure to London, where he’s called to account for his stewardship of the Abbey during the recent siege of Shrewsbury by King Stephen.  Because Heribert was slow in allying himself to Stephen’s cause, there are many (including the Abbot himself) who believe he’ll be stripped of his responsibilities.

With Heribert away, the Abbey is left in the care of Prior Robert (Michael Culver) and his slimy acolyte Brother Jerome (Julian Firth).  The uneasy relationship between Cadfael and Robert from the books is transferred perfectly in this, and the other, adaptations.  Robert dislikes the freedom that Cadfael enjoys and is keen to clip his wings at every available opportunity.  Usually, he’s unable to – but now he’s in temporary charge he wastes no time in telling Cadfael that the matter of Bonel’s murder is nothing to do with him.

Cadfael, of course, will take no heed.  His initial meeting with Richildis is tender – and she seems to still have an affection for him that is more than pure friendship.  Whatever his own feelings are, his duty to his vows comes first (witness the moment when she places her hands on his face and he gently takes her hands in his and removes them).  These scenes give us an insight into the younger Cadfael and Jacobi is his usual impeccable self.  Unfortunately, Jerome was witness to one of the meetings and he takes great pleasure in telling Robert and the other brothers …..

Once again, Cadfael was lucky in picking a good crop of guest actors who would go on to enjoy lengthy careers.  Jonny Lee Miller (currently staring in Elementary) is the earnest young Edwin Gurney.  To be honest, it’s probably not a part that’s particuarly high on his cv – as he’s rather flat and lifeless.  Normally the young man accused of murder would be a central figure, but in this one he sits in the background a little more – as more of the focus is on Cadfael and Richildis.  Another familiar face is Thomas Craig (a regular in Murdoch Mysteries) as Aelfric, one of Bonel’s servants.

Sophie Lawrence (a regular off-and-on in Eastenders) enjoys a rare role outside of the soap as Aldith, a serving maid who has to fight off the unwanted attentions of Bonel.  And although Bonel himself only has a short amount of screen time, Bernard Gallagher certainly makes an impression.  It’s not a subtle performance (he’s such an awful man that anybody watching the story with no prior knowledge would know for sure that he’s going to be murdered) but it’s quite entertaining nonetheless.

Cadfael eventually finds the murderer, but he doesn’t hand him over to the authorities.  Rather like Sherlock Holmes, Cadfael is content to use his own judgement when deciding whether the law should take its course.  In this case, Cadfael’s view is that the man’s actions were uncharacteristic and he informs him that his penance is to live a long life and do as much good as he can.

Cadfael’s constant flouting of the rules has appalled Prior Robert, but a new arrival stops him in his tracks.  Heribert has returned with their new Abbot, Radulfus (Terence Hardiman).  This is a severe blow to Robert, who obviously had designs on the position himself.  Radulfus hears Robert’s complaint against Cadfael, but the new Abbot, like the old, is a man of wisdom and this means that Cadfael’s place is secure.

Monk’s Hood brought the first series of Cadfael to a close.  The series would return with the snowy drama of The Virgin in the Ice.

Cadfael – The Leper of St. Giles

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The wedding of Baron Huon de Domville (Norman Eshley) and Lady Iveta de Massard (Tara Fitzgerald), due to take place at Shrewsbury Abbey, seems to be a very mismatched affair.

Huon de Domville is middle-aged and cruel (on the way through town he thinks nothing of whipping a number of lepers begging for alms) whilst Iveta is young, beautiful and loves another.  Her heart belongs to Joscelyn (Jonathan Firth), who works for Hugh de Domville as one of his squires.  But she is jealousy guarded by her aunt and uncle, Agnes and Godfrid Piccard (Susan Fleetwood and Jonathan Hyde), who take great pains to ensure she is never alone with him.

But the pair do manage to steal a few moments together (in the sanctuary of Cadfael’s hut).  Cadfael discovers them, but characteristically doesn’t give them away, since he’s concerned that Iveta is being forced into the marriage against her will.  Later, after Joscelyn is accused of theft, he’s dismissed from de Dornville’s service.

The next day, de Dornville doesn’t turn up for the wedding service and shortly afterwards it becomes clear why.  He’s found in the woods – murdered.  Joscelyn is the chief suspect, but there are others.  And a mysterious leper called Lazarus seems to have a part to play in this tangled tale.

The Leper of St. Giles was the fifth Chronicle of Brother Cadfael and was originally published in 1981.  There’s a familiar feeling to the story, not least because we once more see a pair of young lovers who find their union blocked for several reasons – mainly because the man is accused of murder. Coming back to these episodes after a few years it’s striking just how well cast they are.  Jonathan Firth (younger brother of Colin) is dashing and energetic as Joscelyn.  His tale of love certainly seems to strike a chord with Cadfael and though things look bleak for the young man, he’s lucky that the wily monk is on his side.  Tara Fitzgerald gives a suitably delicate turn as Iveta, seemingly doomed to a very unsuitable marriage.

Norman Eshley (as de Domville) looked quite familiar (although most of his dialogue seemed to be dubbed – possibly because of poor recording conditions on location?) but it took me a few moments to twig that he had previously played Jeffrey in George and Mildred.  I think it was his lack of hair that made the identification a little more difficult. Jamie Glover (the son of Julian Glover and Isla Blair) played another of de Domville’s squires – Simon.  It’s quite a good performance, and Simon appears to be a loyal friend to Joscelyn, but things aren’t always as straightforward as they seem.

Indeed, later on we witness another side of Huon de Domville – thanks to the testimony of Avice of Thornbury (Sarah Badel).  She was de Domville’s mistress for many years and paints an unexpected picture of him.  There was no particular sense of love felt by Avice towards him (theirs was strictly a business relationship) but he was considerate towards her.  After his death, she decided to become a nun – and her meeting with Cadfael is an interesting one.  Both are similar in many ways – as they came to the cloister after an active life in the outside world.

After Joscelyn is accused of the murder, he becomes a fugitive and is hidden in the leper-house by Lazarus (John Bennett).  In the book, Lazarus has formed a friendship with a young boy called Bran, and it’s Bran who acts as an intermediary between Iveta and Joscelyn.  He makes a brief appearance in the teleplay, but his role is virtually excised.

Another death follows (that of Iveta’s uncle Godfrid Picard).  Lazarus seems to be connected in some way and the story ends with a compelling meeting between Cadfael and Lazarus.  John Bennett was a quality actor (the list of his numerous credits bears witness to this) and he’s very good in this scene.  He was no stranger to acting in restricting make-up (for example as Li H’Sen Chang in the Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng-Chiang) and he has to do so again here.  For most of the time he’s masked – though we do see his face briefly (this is done to demonstrate to Cadfael that he can never return to his family – he maintains that his distorted features would repulse them). With such restrictions, Bennett has to make the character come alive with little more than his voice – and this he manages to do.  In the hands of a lesser actor we might have been invited to feel pity for Lazarus – but Bennett plays him with dignity.  It’s only a small role, but in the context of the story it’s a telling one.

The Leper of St. Giles is a story that fits the 75 minute running time well, as it doesn’t feel particularly compressed.  Strange dubbing is still a slight distraction though – my favourite is the character Jehan who speaks a line at 1:05:17 into the story.  He was clearly a local non-English actor later dubbed in the UK – as his mouth opens and closes in a rough approximation of the words spoken, but it’s pretty rough.  It’s just as well he only had the one line!

Cadfael – The Sanctuary Sparrow

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Liliwin (Steven Mackintosh) is a penniless jongleur who has been hired to perform at the wedding feast of Daniel Aurifaber (Hugh Bonneville).  When he is dismissed without payment, Liliwin leaves the house threatening vengeance.  Later, the head of the house, Master Walter (Roy Barraclough) is found unconscious and robbed.

it seems obvious that Liliwin is guilty and he’s pursued through the town by an angry mob.  He manages to reach the safety of the Abbey and once there he claims sanctuary.  He’s given into the care of Brother Cadfael, who takes an instant like to the young man.

Shortly afterwards, another member of the Aurifaber household is murdered.  Is the murder connected to the robbery?  And if so, how?  Cadfael and Beringar find no shortage of suspects in and around the Aurifaber household …..

The Sanctuary Sparrow was the seventh Chroncile of Brother Cadfael, originally published in 1983.  Like the other adaptations, it’s somewhat streamlined from the original book but it’s fairly faithful to the source material.  One slight difference is that here we see Abbot Heribert (Peter Copley) in charge, whereas in the book Abbot Radulfus leads the brothers (this was simply a consequence of the series adapting the stories out of sequence).

Copley’s terribly good at the start – in the dramatic scene where Liliwin, chased by a mob wielding flaming torches, claims sanctuary.  Even when Heribert has confirmed that Liliwin is now untouchable by the outside world for forty days, the mob still make moves to take him.  Copley (who was pushing eighty at the time) is able to impressively quell the rabble with a few choice words.

As touched upon previously, the Cadfael Chronicles more often than not feature a young man accused of the crime who Cadfael takes under his wing and eventually proves to be innocent (usually so he can marry another character featured in the story).  This one is no different and Steven Mackintosh gives a pleasing performance as the travelling player, Liliwin.  He can’t always be guaranteed to tell the truth though, and this does cause Cadfael to wonder if his trust is misplaced, but all is sorted out eventually.

His bride-to-be is one of the Aurifaber’s serving-maids, Rannilt (Sara Stephens).  Like several other actors, she was at the start of her career when she appeared here, and she’s very appealing as an innocent who finds herself in danger at the conclusion of the story.

Another actor making an early screen appearance is Hugh Bonneville (credited as Richard Bonneville).  With long hair and a beard, he’s pretty unrecongnisable and, to be honest, it’s something of a ripe turn.  His character, Daniel, is rather a boor and a rake (bedding every available woman in town, even though he’s a newly married man) and it’s not the most nuanced or convincing of performances, shall we say.

Much better is Fiona Gillies as Susanna Aurifaber.  Susanna has run the household for several years, but now finds herself displaced by Daniel’s new wife.  Gillies displays a calm control to begin with, but as events begin to spiral out of control she is able bring more of Susanna’s true nature to the fore.

All in all, this is impeccably cast (with more good performances from the likes of Rosalie Crutchley as the grand-dame of the household and Roy Barraclough as her money-obsessed son).  As ever, Jacobi is the glue that holds it all together – and we see Cadfael in full investigative mode (making deductions from the smallest traces).

A satisfying mystery.

Cadfael – One Corpse Too Many

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Between 1977 and 1994, Edith Pargeter (writing as Ellis Peters) penned twenty novels featuring the Crusader turned Benedictine monk Brother Cadfael. The Cadfael novels were set during the early part of the 12th Century, a period when England was divided by a bitter civil war fought between the Empress Maud and King Stephen.

Whilst the Cadfael Chronicles didn’t invent the historical genre of detective fiction (Peter Lovesey’s Victorian detective Sergeant Cribb, for example, first appeared in 1970) it’s fair to say that Peters’ books encouraged other writers to try their hand with historical detectives and the last thirty years have seen something of a boom in this genre.

The character of Cadfael himself is undoubtedly one of the reasons for the continuing appeal of Peters’ novels. When we first meet him, he’s a man in his early sixties and is obviously someone who’s lived a full and rich life before deciding that the world of the cloister was for him. Prior to this, he had been both soldier and sailor, fighting in the Holy Land.

His knowledge of the outside world tends to give him a broader outlook than many of his brothers (some of whom have little knowledge of life outside of the cloister) and his independent spirit tends to bring him in conflict with Prior Robert (as well as his obsequious shadow, Brother Jerome).

With such rich source material, it was inevitable that radio and television adaptations would follow. On radio, Cadfael has been portrayed by both Glyn Houston and Philip Madoc, whilst thirteen of the novels were adapted for the Carlton series, broadcast between 1994 – 1998, which starred Derek Jacobi.

For lovers of the original novels, the Carlton series can be a frustrating watch at times. Some stories are more faithful to the original source material than others, but it’s true that all of them lose out somewhat in the transfer from the printed page to the screen. Partly, this is unavoidable, as one of Ellis Peters’ strengths was her deft descriptive ability.

It’s hard to replicate her atmospheric prose style on screen (the radio adaptations retained it with the use of a narrator) so this ensures that all the television versions lack a little something. Also, Peters herself never made the claim that she was the greatest whodunnit writer – and after you’ve read a few of her stories, a pattern becomes obvious.

Most of them feature a young man and woman who meet and fall in love – but we see that their potential union is threatened (usually because the man is either suspected of the murder or is being hunted by the authorities for some other reason). You can tell that Peters was always kindly disposed towards them and eventually Cadfael is able to unmask the true murderer and see the pair off to safety. Other crime-writers (like Agatha Christie) would have been far more ruthless and nobody could be ruled out as a suspect (even the young lovers).

So if the mysteries aren’t always the strongest and the Carlton series could never hope to replicate the atmosphere of the novels, it was therefore essential to cast a strong actor in the role of Cadfael. Derek Jacobi, of course, fits the bill nicely. He’s never less than totally compelling and his commitment to the part is clear.

One Corpse Too Many was the second Cadfael novel, but it was the first set in Shrewsbury and also the first to feature Hugh Beringar, so it was an obvious choice to launch the series with. The first six minutes or so are rather stilted, but when Cadfael makes his first appearance things pick up instantly.

It’s a very efficient introduction for the character, as it clearly demonstrates exactly who he is, who he was and what he stands for. Cadfael is castigated by Prior Robert (Michael Culver) and Brother Jerome (Julian Firth) for his late attendance at Vespers. Cadfael explains that the Abbot gave him leave, as he was tending the sick. For Robert, devotions come first and the secular world is a very distant second. Cadfael has completely the opposite view – whilst he accepts his duties as a Benedictine monk, he also considers they have an equal duty to the world at large. This difference of opinion will drive much of the tension between Cadfael and Robert for the rest of the series.

Immediately after, we see Cadfael disarm a solider who had been attacking an unarmed man. It’s a moment invented for the series, but it works well as another shorthand moment to demonstrate that Cadfael is not only a man who will stand up for the underdog, but he also has the skills to do it.

The success of Inspector Morse in 1987 had an impact on all ITV crime series that followed in its wake. Before it aired, the two-hour (100 minutes excluding adverts) slot was seen as a risk. Until then, drama had tended to be broadcast in a one-hour (50 minutes excluding adverts) slots. Morse proved that audiences would stay with a two-hour drama if it was good enough, and many series that followed (the revived Van Der Valk, A Touch of Frost, etc) followed suit.

Cadfael had a ninety minute slot (75 minutes excluding adverts). This was quite unusual and it’s something of a comprise, I think. Had the novels been compressed to 50 minutes then far too much would have been lost, but there seems to have been concerns that 100 minutes would have stretched the material too far. One Corpse Too Many manages to be a reasonably faithful adaptation, but for those familiar with the leisurely original novel, it does tend to move at a breakneck speed.

The story opens with the aftermath of the siege of Shrewsbury. The town had declared its loyalty for the Empress Maud, but King Stephen’s forces were too strong and afterwards the King is totally ruthless – calling for all the rebels at the castle to be hanged.

Cadfael and the other brothers are given the grim task of preparing the ninety-four hanged men for burial. But as he counts the bodies he becomes perplexed – there are ninety-five and one of the corpses was clearly not hanged. He appears to have been killed and then placed with the others in the hope that nobody would spot the extra body. But Cadfael does, and he’s intent on bringing the murderer to justice.

One of the less successful parts of this adaptation is the introduction of Godric, who’s a young lad brought to help Cadfael. This isn’t really the fault of the programme though, as it’s plainly obvious that Godric isn’t a lad at all – she’s actually Godith (Juliette Caton), daughter of the rebel Fulke Adeney. In the book, Godric’s deception lasts a little longer (although not much) but here, Cadfael unmasks her instantly.  Characteristically, Cadfael doesn’t give her away – he has no allegiance to either Maud or Stephen, as he answers to a higher authority.

There seems to be a lot of dubbing in this story. Juliette Caton appears to be dubbed throughout as does Maggie O’Neill as Aline Siward. It’s possible to accept that smaller parts (such as the boy who appears at the end) might have been played by played by local actors (the series was shot in Budapest) who were then dubbed at a later date, but it’s hard to understand why some naturally-speaking English actors were dubbed. It’s a little distracting, especially when the two of them share a brief scene!

One Corpse Too Many is the only television story in which Aline Siward appears. She’s another casualty of the streamlining process – in the books she marries Hugh Beringar following the conclusion of the adventure and the pair become Cadfael’s close friends. Here, she vanishes, never to be seen again.

But Hugh Beringar does turn out to be a close ally of Cadfael’s in the years ahead, although to begin with he appears to be an enemy. Sean Pertwee played Beringar during series one (he was unavailable for the second series, so the role was recast). It’s a pity that he didn’t remain as there’s a nice rapport between him and Jacobi. The opening story puts Hugh in the middle of the action – he’s hunting for the treasure which was spirited away by the rebels (and Cadfael fears he’s also hunting for Godith). But Cadfael comprehensively outwits him and Beringar admits, without rancour, that he’s been bested (although it’s a pity that we don’t see him burst out with laughter when he realises that what he believes to be the bag of treasure contains nothing but rocks, as per the novel).

Although the story sometimes suffers from having to fit into the 75 minute format, it’s still a decent enough adaptation which benefits enormously from Derek Jacobi’s performance as the wise and wily ex-warrior monk.