Burglary, shooting, murder - and that's just been my recent personal life! You never think the old saying that life imitates art could apply to you, but the juicier bits of recent releases seemed to be played out in real life for my in-laws, and whereas there are nice tidy endings to fit within a 50 minute episode on screen, real-life is messier and more time-consuming.
Thankfully all is well, or as well as can be expected, but there is a lot to catch up on, so in no particular order...
Hot on the heels of the first series of LADY KILLERS is the second. A slightly different take on the title this time, with men killing ladies, but still as good as the first. Robert Morley returns to introduce each instalment (complete with eyes tracking the autocue that, once spotted, can never be ignored again) and a star-studded cast including Hannah Gordon, Christopher Cazenove, Ian Charleson, Michael Jayston, Kenneth Haigh, Gayle Hunicutt and Phyllis Calvert. Obviously Dr. Crippen appears on this set, along with bigamist George Jospeh Smith, convicted of murdering his three wives, Neville Heath whose sex attacks attracted international coverage, and the concurrent trials of Ronald True and Henry Jacoby, murderers from opposite ends of the social spectrum whose treatment sparked anger and controversy. Released July 16 with an RRP of £19.99.
HINE is an odd series. A drama about arms dealers doesn’t immediately spring to mind when thinking of prime-time scheduling, neither does casting a Quaker and pacifist, Paul Eddington as Astor Harris, head of weapons sales for Pendles. It is a stunningly good series though, and is presented by Network as a mix of colour masters and black and white telerecordings – funnily enough the black and white episodes seem to work better for the lack of colour.
Barrie Ingram stars as Joe Hine, an independent dealer battling to stay one step ahead of the competition, whilst working within a very restrictive industry closely monitored by Walpole Gibb (what is there not to like about a series with Colin Gordon in?) at the Department of Arms Disposal Overseas. Business rivalry and Whitehall red tape are often the least of Hine’s worries though. An odd series, yes, and excellent series, definitely, and with only one repeat run to my knowledge a couple of years after the initial broadcast in 1971 with is a welcome release on DVD. Released July 16, with an RRP of £39.99.
The Sweeney is back under the spotlight with a new film about to hit the cinemas (and a blu-ray release – more later), but before that there was NEW SCOTLAND YARD starring John Woodvine. This series presents a grippingly authentic portrayal of detective work in London during the rapidly changing 1970s and the first series featured ex-Chief Superintendent Frank Williams, former head of the Yard’s Murder Squad) as advisor and scripts by Philip Martin (creator of Gangsters) and Robert Banks Stewart (Shoestring).
Woodvine plays workaholic Detective Chief Superintendent John Kingdom of the Central Office of the CID. He knows the force, working his way up through the ranks of various Greater London divisions, and the villains and tackles some of the capitals most high profile, serious and perplexing cases. Assisted (and sometimes hindered) by Detective Inspector Alan Ward (John Carlise), this prime-time Saturday drama from LWT promises a lot, and delivers. Released July 16, priced £39.99.
UNDERMIND is one of those weird hybrid shows, and in this case it is crime drama meeting science fiction. First broadcast in 1965 and starring Rosemary Nicols (Dept S), Jeremy Kemp (Z Cars) and Jeremy Wilkin (UFO) this is available for the first time.
Detective Sergeant Frank Heriot is healthy, happily married and has a good job, but this suddenly changes and he becomes cold, distant and suffers terrible headaches. It slowly becomes clear that Frank is the victim of an unknown force seeking to undermine the British establishment.
Scripted by Robert Holmes (Doctor Who), on paper this looks to be a fascinating series, but I found the reality slightly disappointing and in places very ham-fisted. It didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be and with other events going on in my life, I found it very easy to stop watching and move onto something else. If this had been released 20 years ago when any title was greeted enthusiastically, I am sure I would have lapped it up, but with so much else being released I have to pick and choose carefully to fit everything in. This will get another outing, but the well will have had to run dry by then. Released July 23, priced £29.99.
Another Sweeney connection, the second series of KING AND CASTLE was released July 16, by Network DVD. Written by Ian-Kennedy Martin and starring Derek Martin and Nigel Planer, this series continues to follow the exploits of ex-detective Ronald King and his Manor Debt Collection Agency. An OK series, the pilot episode, forming part of the Thames’ Storyboard anthology series, was much stronger than the subsequent run. Priced £19.99.
Other titles that have been released over recent months include Mr Rose, Parkin’s Patch and Justice. PARKIN’S PATCH is a brilliant little series, and worth getting for the opening titles alone. Set in a rural constabulary fraud and burglary sit alongside sheep rustling! MR ROSE follows retired Chief Inspector Rose, played by the charismatic William Mervyn attempting, however reluctantly, to write his memoirs, but being hampered by figures from his past appearing at the prospect of being featured in his bestseller. Rose is as sharp as ever as he sets about a succession of new investigations with customary aplomb – and evident relish. JUSTICE, starring Margaret Lockwood, I found to be disappointing. The one off play the series stemmed from is included, and is far better than the series proper. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I just didn’t warm to the character of Harriet Peterson, much like some of her opposition, and I found myself wanting her to lose cases almost out of spite!
Now deliberately I have saved the best until last. ARMCHAIR THEATRE volume 3 is a collection of single plays from the ABC archives, and this fact alone should have you rushing out to buy a copy just out of respect for Network working so hard to get them released. I can forgive the mish-mash logo and jingle for Studio Canal+ that begins each edition (I assume some branding bod is extremely pleased with the efforts) as it is followed swiftly by the ABC logo and 6 chimes – now that is how to do branding, simple, memorable and effective.
All are strong plays and it would be foolish to try to single out one or the other as the best, but for me, The Criminals, and Tune On The Old Tax Fiddle have been the most enjoyable so far, and by coincidence both have Raymond Huntley in the cast. Stanley Baker, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick McGoohan, Colin Blakely, Hugh Griffith and Judy Cornwell all appear and there is something for everyone with most genres catered for, and even includes Old Man’s Fancy, and unaired play from 1964. Released August 13, this is priced £39.99 and contains 4 discs.