PD James: Death of an Expert Witness (1983), Shroud for a Nightingale (1984), Cover Her Face (1985), The Black Tower (1985) [Network DVD]
When Britain’s ITV commercial channel was first set up, it consisted of a network of individual regional franchises that between them covered the entire country. Each produced their own output, contributing to the content pool available for national schedules. Pretty soon a number of these franchises became first among nominal equals – Manchester’s Granada and London’s Thames and LWT became powerhouse drama and light entertainment producers, with Yorkshire and ATV (later Central) among those succeeding at a slightly lower level. Scotland’s STV naturally maintained a ferociously independent output of its own, frequently eschewing programmes from other regions altogether in preference to its own. However a number of the more provincial out-of-the-way companies suffered from a lack of access to big budget and talent, and therefore largely stuck to local news aimed at their immediate market. The Norwich-based Anglia Television was one such, and for years its only significant weekly contribution to the wider network output was Sale of the Century hosted by Nicholas Parsons, a sort-of predecessor to The Price is Right. The start of the show was heralded by the station’s quaint ident, a revolving silver desk ornament from a jumble sale depicting a mounted knight flying the Anglia standard.
Anglia was also behind the long-running Tales of the Unexpected anthology show; and another very smart thing Anglia did in the 1980s was to pick up the rights to adapt PD James’ successful series of detective novels featuring Adam Dalgliesh. Both shows became popular staples of ITV’s drama output for the rest of the decade. Ultimately Anglia made ten Dalgliesh adaptations, all of them starring Roy Marsden who had already risen to fame as the lead in the short-lived but hugely popular spy series The Sandbaggers. In this case Marsden was one of those bits of inspired casting which proved utterly perfect – so much so that when the BBC revived Dalgliesh for two further outings in 2003 with Martin Shaw in the role, it never felt quite right. Read the rest of this entry »
Having been watching The Game on BBC2 recently, I was prompted to hunt out my DVD of another spy series set in the 1970s that was a big favourite of mine when I was growing up.
It’s alarming to realise that The Sandbaggers was actually made only four years after The Game is set. You wouldn’t know it to look at it: unlike the über retro-stylised The Game, the older series wears its 1970s setting very lightly because it never occurred to the show that it belonged to a period, the programme makers instead merely opened the door and filming what was outside at the time. Other than obvious details such as fashion and cars together with a complete lack of computers and mobile phones there’s very little to date this show. Even a new cold war with the Russians is currently back in vogue in 2015, although a late visit to the Berlin Wall reminds us of an artefact of the age that will be completely bemusing to anyone born post-1989. Read the rest of this entry »