Some Books: Richard Osman’s ‘The Thursday Murder Club


This irregular series began as a conscious decision to re-read certain books I had enjoyed many years ago when borrowed from Didsbury Library in South Manchester, and to consider how well, or otherwise, they stood up to my recollection of them. Since then, it’s become an umbrella for odd books here and there, such as this one.
I am not known for liking what everybody else likes. This goes double for books, popular books, top-the-bestseller-list books. Some of this, I admit, is snobbery: I have gotten very used to being in a class of my own, a small class at that, when it comes to book and, let’s be honest about this, there is a varying degree of Lowest Common Denominator to all best sellers. Well, most of them. I point in my defence to The Da Vinci Code, which I read and thought was utter crap but, because I am too honest and have to be my own Devil’s Advocate, I must also point to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which was amazing.
So this past few years, when Richard Osman has been cock of the walk for The Thursday Murder Club, first as a book then as a series, I have taken no interest in it precisely because of its popularity. And of its subject, based on the little I had not avoided learning, which suggested tweeness and bland comedy. I did not spurn the book, just didn’t take any interest in it.
But the pickings were slim on my last visit to the Library, and I spotted it there and thought I’d see for myself, and as I always try to be honest when I’m in the wrong (not that it prevents me heading straight back there first opportunity I can), I’m reporting that I found it enjoyable, not to mention absorbing. Read it practically all the way through, in one sitting (well, I was without my laptop and the distraction of the internet…)
It’s easy to see why it has been such a big-seller. Osman writes a clear, easy prose, varying his approach throughout the book, avoiding excess and in places presenting a conversational, pseudo-amateurish element. He switches viewpoints, internal, external, omniscient and personal, in diary form, with ease and smoothness. It’s very easy to read in all its respects, without ever being bland or banal.
The Thursday Murder Club is obviously a crime novel, and a cosy crime at that, but the set-up is uncommon and the amateur detectives unusual and individual. The Cub is a group of four pensioners, all in their late seventies, living in a plush Kent retirement community, who meet once a week to go over unsolved crimes, and who become enthused and efficient when faced with two actual murders. You can see why I’d be immediately suspicious of such a premise, given its overwhelming potential to be handled atrociously. But the four Club members are a deliberately disparate bunch, unlikely friends in real life but, just as with the original concept for Last of the Summer Wine, brought together by circumstance, the need to keep their minds active and, of course, time. Too much of it for what little is left.
Each of the four bring different personalities, strengths and expertise to their pastime. Elizabeth, the leader, was clearly someone senior in the intelligence community, Ibrahim,an Egyptian, a top-notch psychiatrist, Ron a firebrand Shop Steward, and the newcomer, Joyce, an ordinary widow and housewife, was nevertheless an experienced nurse.
When we meet the Club, Joyce has just been drafted in to replace co-founder Penny, brought down by a massive stroke. They are poring over an unsolved murder of fifty years ago, a girl stabbed and bleeding to death. Everyone is convinced the boyfriend did it, though he claimed it was a panicking burglar. This case isn’t irrelevant, not a quasi-McGuffin, designed to introduce you to the Club and how they think, before they are distracted by the more proximate excitement – and fun – of two real-life murders on their doorstep, murders that they will insinuate themselves into the solving of, despite the police’s attempts to keep them out. Just remember, this is not irrelevant.
As I say, there are two murders, one bludgeoning, one lethal injection. Though the victims are substantially connected and, for half the book the second is a very plausible suspect for the murder of the first (his own murder clears the last vestiges of suspicion), there are two murderers, each with separate and very different reasons for what they have done. Both will turn out to be not wholly unjustifiable.
And Osman presents us with other suspects, all on the surface more obvious possibilities than those who are eventually revealed to us. Each of the other suspects come under consideration for a long time, and indeed all of them have something to hide that is ultimately dodgy, if not actual crimes in themselves. I did pick out one of these characters as a potential suspect at a rather early stage, just on a general understanding of detective stories, which would have been a plus point for my perceptions, except that he was the one whose guilty secret was not criminal but rather tragic.
I also have to say that the real killer – who got away scot free with the Club and the audience more or less blessing him – was also fairly obvious once you knew who it was, but not during the book. By that point, he should have been obvious indeed, given that everybody else it could possibly have been had been eliminated, but I was too absorbed in what was going on for the kind of dispassionate database headcount to pick him out.
Nor was I aware, as Osman very skilfully finessed, that there was a third killer, out in plain sight, and who might have been the most noble of them all.
But, as surely ought to be the case in all the best fiction, especially light fiction, there was more to The Thursday Murder Club than its story or its characters. It’s set in a retirement home. It’s principals are octogenarians. The two Police Officers are much younger but they’re not the point. Four people, two women, two men. Joyce and Ron have lost their spouses, Ibrahim never reveals if he had one to lose, Elizabeth is married and still loves her husband Stephen dearly, but he is slipping away from her mentally.
All four are aware that they are in their last years, that dissolution is not distant. Each have accepted that in their own ways, and are enjoying the unexpected freedom that having practically no future confers on them. They don’t waste time unless they want to, they’re unconcerned about consequences. Osman captures this robust, liberated yet still melancholic frame of mind with great deftness. Without it, the book would be what I imagined it would be.
I haven’t gone into any details about the story, for the benefit of anyone who, like me beforehand, has ignored the book and now might decide to have a look for themselves. They deserve a clear run at it without spoilers, or even hints. Two murders and other stuff, that’s all I’m saying. Give it a go. When I take it back to the Library, I shall be looking for the sequel, to see if that lies up to this story.


Wednesday Morning Sitcom Time: Last of the Summer Wine s02 e01-04 – Forked Lightning/Who’s That Dancing With Nora Batty?/The Changing Face of Rural Blamire/Some Enchanted Evening


For some reason or other, the second series of Last of the Summer Wine, broadcast in 1975, ran to seven episodes instead of the traditional six, so that meant that, one week or another, I would have to take a bigger bite. As the four episode set was on disc 3 of my boxset, we have that here.

Paradoxically, this might be a shorter post than usual as there didn’t seem to be that much to draw attention. It’s the second series, Michael Bates is still there as Cyril Blamire (though for the last time). Bloody Wainwright and Mrs Partridge at the Library are out and are replaced by Miss Probert and Miss Jones, the former determined to wipe out filth and degeneration whilst hating all men for being men but they only appear in episodes two and four and then vanish for good. Of more lasting import, the fourth episode introduces the brilliant Joe Gladwin and his fantastic throaty Lancashire burr as Wally Batty.

I didn’t think much to the first two episodes because nether of them amounted to stories. They were loose, unstructured things showcasing dialogue that went all over the place without any of the scenes really hanging together. ‘Forked Lightning’ was about Clegg having problems with his bicycle, and threw together a few homages to the bicycle scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid that only really worked for me in the closing scene, where big Sid rides Cleggy’s repaired bike round the little paved courtyard outside the cafe, showing off gleefully, and the trio break into ‘Raindrops keep Falling On My Head’: a surreal gem.

Similarly, the second episode was supposedly pegged to the idea of throwing a farewell party for Compo’s neighbour, Gloria, who’s emigrating to Australia, which gives Compo the chance to get his hands on Norah Batty by dancing with her, and requires the trio to borrow and transport a piano. oth the first two episodes start to develop the physical comedy the series became famous/notorious for, but that’s in its infancy and Roy Clarke doesn’t make hardly anything of the piano bit at all, except for Michael Bates playing some clanging, heavy-handed quasi-tune that showcased his real ability by being so carefully bad.

However, the second pair of episodes picked things up by the simple expedient of having a coherent story running through the half hour, to which the asides and surreal conversation could be attached and remain focussed. I vaguely remembered ‘The Changing Face of Rural Blamire’, but not as it really was. Ostensily because he felt time hanging too heavily on his hands, but subliminally because the Conservative Cyril found it demeaning to be out of work, Blamire decides to get a job, dragging his two redundant companions with him. Michael Bates was, to some extent, used as the straight man but here got the chance to fully participate, though the episode was stolen by guest actor Gerald James as the cheapo businessman with the defective and destructive product he gets the trio selling door-to-door. There’s a dark edge to this storyline but Clarke chooses not to go there. the humour, especially in the exchanges between the trio, may be many degrees more abrasive than the LOTSW we remember, but this was always intended to be cosy comedy.

Equally, there was a serious element underpinning ‘Some Enchanted Evening’. Compo’s mooning over Norah Batty again (not that way though at this early stage you wouldn’t put it past him) and gets his chance when Wally makes a break for it and runs home to his mother. Compo seizes his chance to get his feet under the table, romancing Norah, even getting dressed up smart (in Wally’s left-behind clobber) and combing and parting his hair! The transformation is startling.

Of course, ultimately, Wally’s not gone for good, he’s just taking a breather, and Compo knows this all along. He’s just taking advantage in the happy knowledge that there will be no long term commitment, until Blamire and Clegg deliberately bugger it up for him by convincing him that wally really is going for good, down the airport with his passport, which makes him revert pretty damned quickly.

The thing is though that Clarke takes the opportunity to use a large chunk of the episode to present Blamiee and Clegg as a duo, in order to demonstrate that the pair need Compo. Left to their own company, Cyril and Norman don’t have enough in common to flesh out the hours they have to spend together. They need Compo as a third pole, a mediator, a contrast, someone to jointly pick upon, even as his presence facilitates either of them picking on the other. It’s a neat encapsulation of the basis of this trio’s relationship, one that would dissolve in later years into just a relationship that had always existed and thus become customary.

That’s a common flaw of a lot of British television series: if it goes on long enough, it’s theme gets forgotten and it subsists solely upon the characters: soft and intrinsically duller writing.

There’ll be one more visit to Holmfirth in four weeeks time, in which I’ll be making some further observations about what changed after this second series, and about whether the changes were for the better or not.


I have just had an email from WordPress to say they’re introducing an AI Assistant to all their blogs, for ease of content creation. Well, WordPress, you can go fuck yourself with a rusty pitchfork pals, my writing is me, not some fucking ape-me computer and it’s always going to be. If I could rip the very idea out of this site, I would already have done so.

Stargirl: s01 e06 – The Justice Society

The Justice Society

Still building up.

This week’s episode divided not quite evenly into the character half and the action half, the show’s first extended superhero sequence, which was decently handled for television, aided by it taking place at night so that most of the flaws and weaknesses were covered up by not being easily visible.

The development angle did not include any further information about what the Injustice Society intend to do with their ‘Project New America’, save that it needs the access codes to world-wide satellite broadcasting that they steal during the episode, and that it can’t work without Brainwave, who’s going to be in his coma for a good while yet.

Instead, we were introduced to three more of the conspirators. So far, I haven’t mentioned Eric Goins as Stephen Sharpe, an overweight dandified southern-drawler whose beeen here and there around the fringes. Now we learn, as comics fans automatically spotted, that he’s The Gambler, portrayed here as an archenemy of the dead Hourman where he was actually one of the Golden Age Green Lantern’s foes. We also get to see the two remaining conspirators, The Sportsmaster and The Tigress. These two, the ‘gym rats’, are the simpletons, the psychopaths, the thugs of the band, seen in the open killing the latest team coach for dissing their offspring, the school’s star football player, Artemis Crock: yes, their daughter, and the apple of their eye.

Actually, we know Lawrence ‘Crusher’ Crock as the fitness freak gym owner who was pushing Pat Dugan around in the first episode,but we’ve not really had proper chance to meet his wife, Paula Brooks. They’re the ones who face off against the Justice Society in the big fight and though Tigress is wearing the modern day costume that Artemis sports in the comics, rather than her own leopard-skin outfit frm the Forties, both actors make their costumes work brilliantly.

Which is more than you can say for Hourman and especially Dr Mid-Nite.

The character half of the story starts with Pat discovering Courtney has been handing out costumes and powers to untrained, inexperienced teenagers behind his back, pointing out that Courtney is only going to get them killed and charging her with recovering Yolanda and Beth’s gifts whilst he approaches Rick. Both the girls are super-possessed of their new roles so Courtney at first doesn’t have the heart to confront them and when she does they refuse flat-out and won’t be her friend any more. Rick, who’s being played as a hot-headed, sullen, morose, one-note angry teen, also refuses.

In a minor subplot, the annoying Mike Dugan makes a chocolate volcano for the Science Fair, insists no-one turn up, gets hurt when they don’t, but Barbara arrives late, is wonderfully impressed by his effort and the pair do some bonding. Forty-one words: more than it was worth. Still, it gave them something to do this week.

So, as we knew was coming, Courtney gives up trying to persuade her new Justice Society to step down and instead leads them on a raid to stop the Gambler getting the access codes. They’re confronted by Sportmaster and Tigress, who proceed to wipe the floor with them because, surprise, surprise, the villains know what they’re doing and work together whereas even Courtney is inexperienced and besides, they all go charging headlong, especially Rick, because he’s stupid on top of all his other better qualities. If it hadn’t been for Pat turning up at the end in his S.T.R.I.P.E. robot suit it would have been a real disaster.

So, after letting Courtney dig her own grave by going off at her team-mates for being headstrong, refusing to listen, doing their own thing, under-estimating the risks, which was definitely amusing, Pat agrees to train the new Justice Society…

The Infinite Jukebox: Half Man Half Biscuit’s ‘Slipping the Escort’

I know I haven’t really kept up with Half Man Half Biscuit from those early hilarious delirious days of John Peel sessions, gigs where the audience sang along with every word, caustic and sarcastic urban fantasies, but forty years ago I would never have imagined them singing a song like this. It’s not rock’n’roll, it’s definitely not funny but every line is both a heartfelt sympathy and a stiletto that tracks every vein. From the moment you understand what Nigel Blackwell is singing about, ‘Slipping the Escort’ tears you open.
Musically, the band have never been massively impressive. They’re a good, competent, low-key rock band who can play nice tunes, sometimes excellent tunes, but the music is and always has been in service to Blackwell’s lyrics, and that’s where the magic resides. Blackwell is an observer, possibly one of the most acute we’ve been blessed with this past thirty-odd years. He sits around and watches TV, and feeds what he sees back to us in absurd juxtapositions, in an almost cubist approach that shows every facet of something to us at the same time, but in particular the ones from the back and sides that you never even knew existed let alone saw.
‘Slipping the Escort’ isn’t in that surrealist tradition. It’s open and straightforward. It doesn’t tell you what it’s about, but it closes in on the little details, the actual experience, that make it plain to you in terms you cannot help but recognise, that makes what is happening so very real that you can touch it for yourself.
The song is about an old man, seen through the eyes of the wife who has lived with him into old age, in that kind of comfortable, timeworn, unshatterable partnership that’s love, complacency, habit and interdependency, like your Granny and Grandad. But the time has come for the unbreakable to be broken. He has Alzheimer’s and his condition has deteriorated to the point where she can no longer care for him, and he must go into a home, leaving her behind and alone. She sees the future, of how the course of his condition and the absence of close personal care, delivered with love, will overcome him. Yet she cannot help him any further.
And Blackwell throughout couches understanding and empathy in words that sometimes take a seemingly light look at what is going on (his ‘best before’ draws near), but which also move in close to centre what is going on into a seemingly unimportant yet in fact heartbreaking detail: the heartbreak is always in the details, the overlooked things that nevertheless enclose the macrocosm in the microcosm.
The Surgery leaflets offer advice
But there’s no preparation for losing him twice
And now he’s washed and dressed and ready
To keep him safe she’ll face the hurt
And if she could hold that needle steady
She could sew his name into his shirt.
And if you don’t recognise how far inside that final couplet goes, you shouldn’t be reading this post in the first place.
That a band who burst onto the scene with ‘Trumpton Riots’ can within the same career grow to create a song like this tells us that the human mind and heart is infinite, and that there really is nothing that a song cannot aspire to. I think back to the Seventies and the Progressive Era, to its pretensions of superiority and complexity, and how it held itself out as being grown-up music and mature, and if this song allowed the negativity, I would sneer, because compared to this, they were little kids, playing in the dirt.
And because this is Nigel Blackwell, and Half Man Half Biscuit, there is that moment of surreality, as the song’s coda changes everything. It’s been mid-tempo, low key, a rumbling and rhythm of guitar and a plodding bass, lit with a light, bright, tinkling piano but Blackwell starts to raise his voice and the band their sound level and intensity, as he compares this couple to Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, and then the song spins off into surreality as the band join him in a football chant, Thirty Airbus, Thirty Airbus, giving it the big ‘un in the Town End seats, incongruous and almost incomprehensible, unless you know that one of Blackwell’s favourite pastimes is watching Welsh Premier Division football on television, that Airbus UK are one of the teams in that League, and that ‘Slipping the Escort’ is a joking reference to getting away from the wife to go watch the football, and understand that we have gone from her mind, here in the present, to his in the past.
I’ve missed a lot of Half Man Half Biscuit by not paying attention. I have missed a lot.

Film 2023: The Cat and the Canary


A few weeks ago, I re-watched the 1937 Will Hay film, Oh Mr Porter, which I remember seeing on a black and white TV, at home one midweek night, a long time ago, and thoroughly enjoying. The Cat and the Canary is another film from that same period, this time from 1939, also seen on TV in that same era, and making a very great impression on me. But whereas the Will Hay, though primitive and out-dated, archaic in its humour, was still enjoyable and still made me laugh quietly, in total contrast The Cat and the Canary was primitive, out-dated, archaic in its humour, and terribly, terribly unfunny and terrible. An object lesson in contrasts.

This film was the second, and most notable adaptation to film of the original 1920s play by John Willard, first filmed in 1927 as a silent. It stars Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. I used to find Bob Hope very funny, especially in the ‘Road to…’ films, but here I found him to be dreadfuly flat. The film plays to his strengths as a quipster, the comedy being primarily verbal but times having changed, even though Hope was reknowned as a fast talker, smothering the audience with funny lines, he’s far from fast in modern terms, a kind of mid-paced and curiously unemphasised perforance that ended up being irritating more than anything.

The Cat and the Canary is a comedy horror, ladling on the shadows, the sinistrality and the creepiness in a way that was very effective to my younger self eperiencing the film in his early teens, or perhaps much younger, but which now is only cliches that the film itself sends up via Hope. It’s a very stage-bound performance, befitting Willard’s original conception, set at night in a decaying mansion on an island in the Louisiana Bayous, where eight people are gathered who cannot leave. Ten years ago, the mansion’s eccentric owner, Cyrus Norman, died, leaving a Will that was not to be read until midnight in the Library on the tenth anniversary of his death. The lawyer who drew up the Will and knows its contents, the housekeeper who has maintained the property this past ten years and six relatives attend.

The two important ones are Hope as Wally Campbell, a radio actor, compyulsive talker and coward (Hope’s normal film persona) and Goddard as Joyce Norman, a noted magazine illustrator. Fred Blythe and Charlie Wilder are handsome young men, the former of whom is an ex-boyfriend of Joyce and still carrying a torch for her and there’s Aunt Susan, a poisonous old baggage and Cousin Cicily, a jittery spinster.

The Will comes in two parts, the first of which names Joyce as the solitary heir. However, given that there’s a streak of insanity in the family, Cyrus has provided that if his heir should die or go insane within thirty days of inheriting, the second part will be unsealed and the heir named therein shall inherit instead. And someone has tampered with and read both parts of the Will at a time and in a manner unknown to Lawyer Crosby. One of the beneficiaries, or possibly housekeeper Miss Lu, all exotic and mysterious, hearing the voice of the spirits, knows who’s named whereas only Crosby should know.

Add to this the presece of an armed insane asylum guard, looking for an escaped and homicidal madman who likes to crawl around on all fours and who’s nick-named ‘the Cat’ and you have all the ingredients for a routine horror thriller of the time, to be alleviated by Hope’s non-stop quips and his self-portrayal of the coward. And that’s the problem. The horror is too familiar, too cliched. It’s nicely put together but it’s still the same old things and it no longer spooks or scares. As for Hope, even the funniest line, the one I laughed at almost hysterically when first I heard it, and remembered it forever after, fell completely flat. There’s no energy to his performance, none of the manic quality that is needed to make wally work. Instead, he just comes over as the kind of defensive, insecure jerk who has to make his presence felt by talking all the time, trying to be funny any only coming over as a bore. Not what this kind of film needs.

Plot-wise, the film sets ‘the Cat’ up as the threat, the Freddy Kruegar of its day. but we know that will all turn out to be a bluff and that the real villain will turn out to be one of the beneficiaries, the scond heir. Though I was tempted to hope for the dithery Cicily to turn out to be the ruthless mastermind, which would have made for a brilliant twist, that was never going to happen: a decade later, maybe. Realistically, it had to be one of the three men and of course Wally had to be ruled out so that left one of easy-going Charlie or intense Fred. I shalln’t tell you which but, based on a lifetime of watching films, which out of those two would you expect it to be? Heh heh, right.

Two final points. Paulette Goddard was excellent: bright, lively, self-confident and as self-reliant as a film of this era and this type would allow her to be. Aside from their having been childhood sweethearts, you couldn’t honestly see why she would end up with Wally, but that’s films. She was slim, attractive, elegant and graceful and I couldn’t help but notice just how often the three men took the chance to cop a feel, touching her arms or her shoulders, invading her personal space as if it was their entitlement. Which back then it no doubt was.

The film didn’t really hold up for me on any level, but it’s final sequence, when Joyce ventures into and is trapped in the secret passages that permeate the mansion had a profound effect upon me when I first saw the film. The idea, and its dark, narrow, twisty conception here both thrilled and spooked me as a youngster, when I would have been both fascinated beyond measure and frightened to death about having access to a real-life one.

It didn’t do anything like as much for me today, but it brought back the memory, and brought back the way the film preyed on my mind for a very long time afterwards. which, as far as I’m concerned, makes the time spent watching this past-it’s-time movie this sunny morning worth it.

Thirty Years Ago

I was sat in the Pavillion at Old Trafford, side on to the pitch as it then was. It was the second day of the Test, England were batting. They’d not long since lost their first wicket after a good opening partnership, the extent of which is long forgotten with recourse to Cricinfo. Mike Gatting had come in at no. 3, was off the mark. He was on strike at the Stretford End. Australia brought on their spinner, a bleached blond, fairly chunky lad named Shane Warne, who’d been carted about a bit in the preliminary games: one more in the line of Aussie spinners who couldn’t do it in English conditions. He strolled, rather than ran up, turned his arm over. Gatting played no shot. But the Aussies went wild, all of them, keeper and slip cordon,roaring, leaping with their arms up, running forward. Gatting’s standing there, looking like the fall guy who’s about five minutes behind what’s going on. What’s happened? I hadn’t a clue. I doubt anyone in the Pavillion had any idea, given our view of the game. But Gatting’s out, that was eventually clear, he’s walking in our direction. Then they showed the replay on the big screen, that few seconds of footage during which the world turned over and has never been the same since, and I saw what I’d seen happen and for the first time I understood it. Thirty years ago today this became a Shane Warne world and it still hurts that he’s no longer here to enjoy it. Bloody hell.

The Prisoner Audio Adventures: s01 e01 – Departure & Arrival

Prisoner 1

I had to do it again, didn’t I, even though I knew better.

I’ve known about the works of Big Finish, producers of audio dramas on SF subjects, primarily Dr Who, for many years. They do full cast audio adaptations and new adventures, available as CDs or in mp3 form and, in several cases, broadcast on Radio 4 Extra. In effect, they are B7 Media’s big brother. Between 2016 and 2019 they produced three series of four episodes based up the classic cult series The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan’s finest hour. These were broadcast on the BBC and thus are available free of charge at any time via the BBC Radio Shows Internet Archive: check it out here.

Having found this new contribution to my favourite series, I was bound to try it out, just like the Dan Dare. Bound to try it, to assess it and then give my considered opinion of it, favourable or otherwise. And on the strength of the opening episode, I conclude that Big Finish have made just as fucking awful a job as B7 Media did to Dan Dare.

The first, biggest, most conclusive and most inevitable elememt in this latest bastardisation is Mark Elstob. I’m not blaming him, the poor sod is doing his best at doing the impossible, which is substituting for Patrick McGoohan. It can’t be done. Even if he were to practice the closest impersonation of McGoohan that he could, eschew in every respect any individual approach to the part of Number 6, he couldn’t do it. He cannot come close to McGoohan’s underlying anger: his rage, his defiance, his absolute insistence on not being defeated, all of it bound up in white-hot concentration upon controlling himself in the face of the enemy. Elstob is just inadequate: not his own fault, but he betrays too much impotent anger, too much confusion in the face of his circumstances. He simply isn’t forceful enough. Where he is required to be strong, he comes over as a bully. Where he does not know where he is, he comes over as too easily baffled. He simply is not the force of nature McGoohan was: he lacks the intensity.

Leaving that aside, how else does the episode match up to its original? The majority of it is a reimagining of The Prisoner‘s first episode, using a lot of the original dialogue but changing the context. A lot of work needs to be done to cover the loss of the visuals. This is a difficulty that the audio drama doesn’t do enough to cover. I don’t mean the loss of the truly striking and exciting visual aspect of the series but the number of times someone such as the original Number 2 has to tell the audience what’s happening.

And that Number 2 is a serious disappointment. He’s far too jovial, acts too much like this is all a game, and one in which he is taking too childish a glee. Leo McKern could sell this but not John Standing playing this part McKern had steel beneath the bonhomie. And the episode is determined to escape the prevalent masculine temper of the original times, with female voices as the Controller and the new Number 2, not to mention the minor parts.

And that’s another area where the show makes a colossal blunder. The Prisoner was made and started being broadcast in 1967. The audio version makes the wise decision to set itself in January 1967, but then it properly fucks things up by placing the Village in 2015 in terms of the contemporary technology Number 6 encounters everywhere. It’s a mistake on two levels. Firstly, it thoroughly confuses the series’ milieu, even worse than the novel The Prisoner’s Dilemma did, but worse it undermines Number 6 by presenting him with technology that he hasn’t any hope of comprehending because it leaps nearly forty years beyond his understanding, and makes him look ignorant.

Writer Nicholas Briggs may well be a Prisoner enthusiast but he makes changes that directly contradict one of McGoohan’s most sacred principles. Twice in the episode, Number 6 kisses a woman. Two different women, in fact. One is a fellow agent named Janet, who is intended to at least echo the fiancee that was revealed in ‘ Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darling’, and with whom ‘ZM73’ has a personal relationship. The other is Nunber 9, a lady with a West Indian accent who substitutes for both the Maid and the woman at Cobb’s funeral. To cover her passing over the electropass at the bandstand, she gets Number 6 to embrace her and kiss her, and it’s a long kiss. McGoohan wouldn’t even have stood for the hug. It’s one thing to update something but another to chuck out one of its unique factors and substitute it with ordinary and cliched stuff every other programme does.

And Briggs takes a very dubious step in providing a context for ZM73’s resignation as opposed to having it just happen out of the blue to start the series. It’s shrouded in mystery and implausibility; ZM73 has driven to Belgium on an official mission for which he has been requested by Janet. It has something to do with Professor Seltzman, whose name crops up in the title of the final episode, so I’m postponing judgement but am horrified at the idea that Briggs is going to finish things off by answering the vital question, ‘Why did you resign?’ Please God, don’t let him. If that’s his intention, strike him down for his hubris.

The weird bit is that, having crossed the Channel in stormy weather and driven helter-skelter all the way to Belgium, met Janet outside Seltzman’s placed, kissed her, told her to wait there whilst he fetches the car, he then gets back in it, drives off and hands in his letter of resignation the next morning, having apparently booked a flight to the Bahamas leaving Heathrow at 11.00am. TMD where any detail is too much. And Briggs goes on to bugger up his own timeline by having the agent who breaks into the Prisoner’s London flat to discover he’s vanished be Cobb, who then turns up in the Village as first the running man who first gets smothered by Rover, and then plays his part as per Paul Eddington, having supposed to have been there for weeks. Yegods.

The broadcast episode doesn’t contain any cast credits (in fact it segued seamlessly into episode 2, of which I heard nearly ten minutes before realising) and the online credits are for series 1 as a whole, from which I have gleaned that John Standing played the original Number 2 and Celia Imrie the new one, Sara Powell was Number 9, Jim Barclay ZM 73’s Control and a very working class Cobb, and Sarah Mowat the Controller.

So, here we are for the next twelve weeks or as long as I can stand it. Just remember, I’m doing this so you don’t have to. And the Richard Hannay dramatisations are a damn sight better, those you should listen to.

Lost Opportunities and Wasted Potential: Thriller

If you weren’t there at the time, you won’t know what I’m talking about. And even if you were there’s a better than even chance that you still won’t know what I’m talking about or that, at best, you’ve completely forgotten. Thriller was an unsuccessful comic book series published by DC Comics between 1983 and 1984, running for twelve issues and never to be revived. It was a sales failure, only making it to twelve issues in order to have it wrapped up as a complete series although, as I will explain due course, it might have been better if it were not. It retains a loyal fanbase to this day, who hold it in higher esteem than its co-creator does. I’m amongst the fans. Thriller had its moments, good ones as well as bad. It was both cliched and original, but what it had of the latter was vivid enough to wish that it had had a better chance. The writer who originated it all but will never go back to it, remains convinced it would have stood a better chance if it had all happened five years later. Let me tell you its story.

thriller 1

In 1983, Robert Loren Fleming was working for DC as a proofreader. He had an idea for a series that would contain pulp elements, terrorism, quasi-superheroes, an idealistic leader who he described as ‘a cross between Jesus Christ and my Mom’ (Fleming came from a Catholic family: it showed) and a setting that was generally said to be ‘fifty years into the future’. Having worked his idea out, he took it to Dick Giordano, DC’s then-Managing Editor. This was the DC that was rebounding from the still recent ‘Implosion’, that was settling for second place to Marvel in commercial terms but which was aiming to outdo its rival artistically, by broadening the boundaries, taking chances, doing things differently. This was the DC that had recently hired an anarchist from Northampton to completely transform one of their established if never, until then, commercially successful properties: you know, Swamp Thing.
So, at that time, it was almost inevitable that Giordano would take a chance of a fresh take, a new direction brought to him by someone with no writing credit or experience (prior to Thriller, Fleming had sold only one story, to a late issue of House of Mystery). And Fleming was to team up with new hotshot artist, Trevor von Eeden, to create this new series. Which was to be printed in the ‘Baxter Paper’ format, signalling better paper stock, whiter and thicker, with brighter colours, not to mention being sold in the direct market only. In short, prestige.
Thriller was advertised under the intriguing tag-line, ‘She has seven seconds to save the World’ (also ‘You cannot read this fast enough’, though I never saw that). First question: who was ‘She’?
She was Angie Thriller, Angeline Marietta Salvotini Thriller. We were introduced to her in issue 1 as a face filling the sky, though that was all we got of Mrs Thriller in the introductory episode, which was about throwing in the whole cast at high speed, creating impressions. Which was fitting because von Eeden’s art was all about the same thing, subjective experience, experimental layouts intended to evoke the feeling of the action depicted instead of merely depict it for you.
So who, what and why? We saw the opening of the story, and most of its first act, through the least member of the cast, self-proclaimed ‘third rate newsreel cameraman’ Dan Grove. Dan is son to and twin brother to War Correspondents, heroes who got in there where it was dangerous and brought the story back. Dan, by his own admission, is nothing but a nobody, a tag-along. His Dad is dead and at the start of the series he and brother Ken are on a mission to Mecca, threatened by Molluskan terrorists, under a leader code-named Scabbard, because he carries a double-edged sword sheathed in the flesh of his back, which he uses to cut off Ken’s head.
Two other characters also briefly appear, Malocchia Lusk, a woman with hypnotic eyes, and a shadowy, unseen figure who distracts Dan’s attention at the moment of decapitation, thus saving his life. All we know of this person is that he is known as Quo, though we’ll eventually learn that his full name is Richard Quorum.
So here we have Dan, a weakling, a nothing, a nobody, all alone in the world and standing on the Brooklyn Bridge, about to throw himself off when he looks up to see the night sky full of a woman’s face: Thriller. She has seven Seconds now, only her Seconds are not increments of time but assistants, specialised, one might almost say super-powered family and friends, and that now includes Dan Groves, though one might well ask, the hell why? Certainly Dan wouldn’t disagree with you.
The rest of the issue is about introducing, succinctly, each of the other six. These are, in the order in which they appear, Data, White Satin, Salvo, Beaker Parish, Proxy and Crackerjack. Edward Thriller, scientist and husband to Angie in a manner not entirely conventional, provides a base for the Seven Seconds at a tower/laboratory known as the Trinity (nothing to do with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, but rather a pertinent religious joke: remember your Bible). Why Dan? Because Angie sees pieces of the future and he is in hers: it is time for him to grow up.
So who are these mysterious strangers? Data is Freddy Martin, an enormously corpulent black man, who lives in and operates by computer interface to his mind, a massive Rolls Royce connected to what we would now call the internet: he is the Information Specialist. He’s also the son of the President, William Martin. White Satin is Janet ‘Jet’ Valentine, daughter of a massive Charitable foundation, airline pilot, a beautiful blonde possessed of a kind of nerve touch that can make people sick or drunk: all she needs is bare skin. She’s also the girlfriend of Salvo, or Tony Salvotini, dishonourably discharged Special Service Soldier, brother to Angie. Tony’s an almost supernaturally brilliant marksman, but he won’t kill: ‘Only flesh wounds, only out-patients, I won’t kill a fly so don’t ask me’.
Beaker Parish is a 25 year old Roman Catholic priest who’s nine feet tall, an artificial man created by two renegade scientists and raised by an entire parish. He provides spiritual comfort and pilots a helicopter, a literal deus ex machina. Proxy is ex-actor Robert Furillo, Tony’s best friend, who burned his flesh off free-basing cocaine and, thanks to the synthetic flesh created by Edward Thriller, can look like anyone in the world for 24 hours. Lastly, Crackerjack is Jack, no other name given, Edward’s 14 year old Honduran ward and a genius pickpocket, safecracker and escape artist.

thriller angie

You might think I’m going into much more detail than is necessary for a failed 12 issue story, but there’s a lot to tell, and I want you to understand the ways in which Thriller differed from everything else around it at DC, and the potential it held to be absolutely fascinating.
For the rest of which, see issue 2, labelled Special Origin Issue. It was a beautifully told, intimate, multiple-level story, about life and death and sacrifice across two generations but above all about family. Remember Fleming’s line about a cross between Jesus Christ and my Mom? We learned that Angie was dead, in a way, that she had stumbled into an experiment by Edward that seemed to be about to kill him, that just as her father Peter, a clown, had hurled himself into a burning building to save her as a girl, losing his life out of his love, she sought to save Edward only for both of them to be changed. The two incidents were correlated symbolically: Marietta Salvotini had been blinded and so too was Edward in the one area most important to him. He and Angie merged into one, his the body, hers the soul. He cannot touch her.
And to pile Pelion on top of Ossa, the fire had been started by Tony, the only one to get out unscathed. Angie can merge into his flesh, can alter things around him to assist him.
One more thing. Edward Thriller was renowned for curing cancer. He had a partner who shared equal credit, Moses Lusk (Molluskan?), who had a daughter, Molly, who’s nanny to Edward and Angie’s baby Scottie. She’s also Malocchia. And Scabbard’s about to kidnap Marietta.
Which is where and how we learn why Dan? Scabbard wants Tony to assassinate President Martin and takes Marietta hostage to force him. He also wants Dan as the sole media representative: that’s why. But Dan’s scared and won’t do it, until he goes to confession and learns the true circumstances of his father’s death, through reliving it and learning from it. There’s also a telling moment, when von Eeden’s deliberately crude and blocky style suddenly cuts through. The Seven Seconds are preparing, their plan is detailed and dovetailed, they are all professionals. But what of Dan? Can he cut it? And Tony says, ‘He has to,’ and you feel every fear crowding in on him just from how tightly he is wound around himself.
Which brought everything together to complete the first arc in issue 4, as the plan is carried out, ‘Down Time Part 4, Happiness (bang bang, shoot shoot)’ one of my favourite titles ever. The plan worked, but it also didn’t work, because of that random thing called chance that stopped the train. Marietta suffered a fractured skull. Angie merged with Beaker to melt part of his artificial flesh to seal the fracture. Quo appeared to confront Malocchia/Molly, and to force her eyes from her head, into Beaker where, as natural flesh and unbearable to Angie, she flung them from her, into her mother. Who gained hypnotists’ eyes. And you know how dangerous that can be in the, uh, hands of an Italian mother…
It was good, but unfortunately that was about as good as it was going to get.

thriller seven

At this point, let us step back. Fleming had sold his story whilst a proofreader, leapfrogging several much more experienced writers to do so. He had sold it to Dick Giordano, who was Managing Editor and who thus would not have any direct editorial responsibility for the series. Though issue 1 credits Karen Berger as ‘Editorial Co-Ordinator’, the series would actually be edited by Alan Gold, newly-hired by DC and with no experience of the comics industry.
Fleming didn’t know what he was doing and neither did Gold. That’s not necessarily a bad thing when it means you don’t know what you’re supposed not to be able to do but that wasn’t what was happening here. Fleming now admits he simply wasn’t ready to write a full-time series. As for Gold, he was just another among many editors to have passed through DC’s doors and move on have done nothing to distinguish their stay. He was simply wrong for Thriller in the first place, wanting the books under his control to be simple, commercial and clear, almost the exact opposite of what Fleming was aiming for.
Nor did DC’s office culture of the era assist. There seems to have been little collegiate structure and a lot of hazing went on. Someone who could be seen as having got above his station was an obvious target. Fleming has spoken of von Eeden being scheduled to begin drawing the series once he’d completed his existing series, and then being assigned to draw Batwoman (not that one) instead of Thriller, whilst Fleming himself was told that an entire script was unacceptable and would have to be re-written before it could be drawn, then receiving von Eeden’s completed art and having to re-work his new script to fit it to the art.
Bear this interference in mind whilst I go over the next phrase. And if you’re tempted to wonder why everyone was being so pathetically juvenile, do remember that this is comics we’re talking about.
There’s often a moment of holding your breath about issue 5 of a new series. The first four issues are where a lot of work has gone in to impress. The writer has worked and polished this. Sometimes it was actually commissioned as a mini-series, cf. Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, but it’s caught on. Issue 5 is a bit of an acid test, the ‘what else has he got?’ moment.
What Fleming had was Elvis Presley, which was not the greatest idea as far as I was concerned. Actually, this was ‘Kane Creole’, who looked, sounded and sang exactly like Presley, they just couldn’t use the name, not without paying Colonel Tom Parker the usual extortionate sum. Kane was a bank-robber and it was in that capacity he ran into half the Seven Seconds and was captured.
However, more of the issue was about personal things, the family. Angie appeared to baby Scotty. She had to help Tony and Beaker explain her problematic status to their mother. She conveyed on Dan the blessing of restoring all the photos of his mother, who had died when he was three, and who his grieving father had ripped out, loving her too much to bear seeing her.
And in response to Edward’s misery in being separated from her, in being alone in being unable to sense her, Angie reminded him that she did indeed still love, and forgive him, the proof of which being her heartbeat in their body, alongside his. It was short on action, but long on feeling. And Dick Giordano had taken over inking von Eeden, smoothing things out a bit.
But then Fleming, for want of any information about editorial interference, blew it utterly, by making issue 6 a practically issue long repeat of Creole’s bank robbery, this time in battle with the Seconds, the only element of any depth being that convoluted revelation – in the Confessional, where else – that this Creole was a clone of the original Creole, himself a clone of Presley. The older Creole had murdered his Promoters when they wanted to replace him with the younger version: not because of that but because, having realised he effectively was Presley, they had robbed his grave.
Von Eeden returned to full art on issue 7, which would be Fleming’s last issue. A lot of it was again passive and personal: the Seven Seconds invited both Creoles to dinner by way of an apology for the previous issue’s misunderstanding. Some of it was explaining who Quo was, which was that he was a martial arts trainer who was married to Janet Valentine, teaching her the nerve pinch, before evolving to become a concept rather than a person: the Balancer.
The rest of the issue was set-up for what would be the next major arc. There were tensions with the USSR over an accidental American passenger jet incursion into Soviet airspace on a flight to Seoul. Coincidentally, or rather not, that was Janet Valentine’s next flight. Meanwhile, the mainframe START computer – State of the Art Corporation – was reprogramming the flight path of her jet to repeat the incursion.
And with that just starting, Fleming left the series he’d created after only seven issues, never to return.

thriller page

According to Wikipedia this was due to interference from DC management. At the time, I heard rumours of disagreements between Fleming and von Eeden, on one occasion at least resulting in a fist-fight, though Fleming denies that utterly, calling the relationship completely harmonious, though at the time I assumed DC had simply sided with their hotshot artist instead of their novice writer. I’m not going to castigate Alan Gold, not without any real knowledge of the part he played in this but, given his approach on the other titles he edited, I will never doubt that he was the wrong choice on Thriller. Let me quote him from issue 8’s lettercol: ‘Let’s just say that risks are taken only in the face of unusual difficulties, that risk-taking for the sake of risk-taking is just showing off. I personally dislike obfuscation in my entertainment. (emphasis added)… An unusual page layout to convey mood, tension or movement is what we’re sometimes after. Sometimes (more often than not, I suspect) a “standard” page layout tells the story better.’
Ipso fatso, my case rests.
Von Eeden only lasted one more issue as Bill DuBay, a veteran at Warren but who, so far as I can determine, never wrote anything else for DC, was brought in to take over, and finish off the series, in more ways than one, paired with Alex Nino for the last four issues. I cannot recall any greater disaster in undermining and destroying everything that came before.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that. DuBay, either off his own bat or under editorial direction, set out to smash practically everything that had come before, in a comprehensive manner that demonstrates it could only have been deliberate.
The impact wasn’t immediately felt whilst von Eeden was present to keep the visual continuity but the atmosphere changed rapidly. Whether it was Fleming’s intention or not, issue 8 suddenly went very Cold War, with ignorant cliched Russian military roaring about American military plots. White Satin’s plane entered Russian airspace and was challenged. She joked wearily about being a spy so the Russians took her at face value and shot her down. Despite a multi-missile aerial explosion at cruising height, she survived and was taken prisoner to attract the Seven Seconds to rescue her. It was all a plot by them, you see, but actually it was all organised by Infant, the world’s first bio-sensitive computer, built for Russia by START, but who arranged everything to get Mrs Thriller’s little mob there to kill him.
That was the first sign. Salvo – ‘Only flesh wounds, only out-patients, I won’t kill a fly, so don’t ask me’ – and DuBay coerces him into killing. The Russians refer to Tony as a protege of Colonel Bishop Fortune, retired. Hang on to that nugget.
It’s confused and cheap. White Satin has been kidnapped to draw the rest of the team out to rescue. Gagged and bound, she’s shot at point blank range. But then she turns up dumped at the airport, having been shot with a tranquiliser gun. But why was she dumped so she could be found? Because DuBay was a shit writer who didn’t know how compose a decent story.
Nino’s debut issue was on the immediate sequel, as the Seven Seconds tried to escape from Russia, only for Angie to divert them to a super-secret military complex on which all their budget for over half a century had been spent keeping up a bluff that they were as powerful as the US. The Seven Seconds were here to destroy it and everyone in it including the genocide of an artificial race of dinosaur-like monsters that Tony had to kill, again. It was ugly in all aspects. The previously well-knit team that planned and rehearsed its operations was stumbling around haphazardly, arguing among themselves and even slanging Angie – ‘the ever manipulative Mrs Thriller’ and that was Beaker – for dropping them in it without consultation.
But if you think DuBay has already done serious damage, wait until the double-sized issue 10.

thriller 10

In all the times I’ve read this issue over the near forty years since it was published, I still have not been able to comprehend what DuBay was on about and long ago I concluded that was because he couldn’t comprehend what he was on about. Issue 9 was messy, but issue 10 an utter mess. Let me advance one tiny example to begin with: two issues ago, DuBay proffered Tony Salvotini as the protege of Colonel Bishop Fortune. Herein, at much greater length, he is shown to be the protege of Colonel Mosse Trench. No comment.
The first two-thirds of the issue is primarily the extended ‘origins’ of Beaker Parish and Tony, set against the backgrounds of world tension in the wake of a Yemeni/Omani War in 2009, a crisis defused by the negotiating skills of UN Secretary General Mrs Faith Verity. DuBay has already demonstrated his sloppiness (and Gold his lack of oversight) and now he loses control. An International Conference on complete Nuclear disarmament is taking place now, i.e., in 2035 and Mrs Verity is still Secretary-General, unchanged after twenty-six years. President Martin, Data’s father, was President then and is President still, despite the US Constitution limiting any President to an absolute maximum of nine years, 364 days, and then only in exceptional circumstances that have never yet occurred.
This Conference is taking place against the threat of a nuclear warhead being detonated in New York to destroy the city, precipitate global conflict and total destruction, organised by Middle-Eastern terrorists led by the newly-introduced Iskariot, who is ‘brother’ to Tony and Beaker. The bomb’s been created by START but the plot is by Moses Lusk and both Tony and Beaker are supposedly acting for the wrong side though what the hell they’re actually doing, especially Beaker, and in the end the bomb goes off and everyone is killed and everything destroyed. Deep breath.
At which point real Moses and ghost Angie meet up, she confesses that she’s been blind and that Moses was right all along (of course he was) so now they push the sun back across the sky, reversing everybody through Armageddon, which is no better from being done backwards. All of this starts a new age for humanity, which can now enter puberty (bullshit). Amidst all of this, DuBay has the bulkier than morbidly obese Data get out of his car, for no better purpose than to fuck further with anything Fleming had set up, and if you still don’t believe me when I say that, he sets up Mrs Verity as the uber-Angie, with her own earlier Seven Seconds (Edward, Angie, Tony, Iskariot, Moses, Beaker and Quo). Oh, and Tony kills again, one terrorist deliberately (only flesh-wounds… sigh) and Mrs Verity accidentally.
In terms of perverting a series beyond all recognition, Thriller 10 stands unchallenged.
Personally, I’d have killed it off there or, preferably, after issue 9 but though sales had fallen below the danger point, Gold got two more issues to ‘finish’ the overarching story. No. 11 continued the atrocity. ‘Enlightenment’ lasted two hours. Tony told off Angie and Quo for manipulating them all with something they knew wouldn’t work, Moses decided to try things his way, seeming to forget that last issue had been ‘his’ way and on page 9 the ultimate glob of shit was the revelation that baby Scotty’s father wasn’t Edward Thriller but Moses Lusk. Still think DuBay wasn’t going out of his way to render everything into crap?
Then it got real confusing as Lusk was revealed to be Angie’s real father. Remember when she was supposed to be a cross between ‘Jesus Christ and my Mom’? And Moses had in some fashion kidnapped Angie. At least there was only one issue left with complete nuclear Armageddon on the table again, already.
I’m determined to kick every little bit of DuBay shithousery I can so let me point out that, after he’d destroyed the entire military capacity of the Soviet Union in issue 9, he started the last issue with Russian ICBM’s launched at America. The end result was even less comprehensible than what had gone before. In some manner not explained all the nuclear warheads on Earth were not just launched but exploded way about the atmosphere with no fallout (making as much sense as anything), with the exception of the non-existent mega bomb that DuBay has pulled out of his arse, which baby Scotty teleported into the Trinity, causing his grandmother Marietta to faint.
Oh, and just in case you thought you had any grip on where this little tale was going, the last page featured Moses and Malocchia Lusk (who had recovered her sight without anyone noticing it, least of all the editor who was still sneering at the audience for liking the book the way they did: great look) walking away, he asking her want she wants to do next and she, sounding like a ten year old, asking him to dream up something new, ‘a really different game’. What the hell was that about?

thriller 12

I thoroughly enjoyed Thriller, the first seven issues at any rate, and I remain to this day one of those fans that hold it in higher regard than Robert Loren Fleming. I’m not blind to the flaws Fleming perceived, both then and subsequently, the one that he and Gold ‘agreed’ upon being the slow pace of the first half dozen issues, and given my antipathy to Elvis Presley, I could have done without those two issues. It had lots of potential, all of it wasted. Fleming and von Eeden did discuss a prequel miniseries about Salvo, but neither he nor anyone else ever reappeared.
Fleming believes that, five years later, post-Crisis, from a DC very different from the company of 1983, Thriller would have stood a better chance. I always believed it would have stood a far better chance as a creator-owned series published by one of the burgeoning Independent companies, Eclipse or First. Free from editorial interference, set a lower bar in terms of commercially viable sales, not having Alan Gold within a million miles of it, the chances had to be better. Of course I have no knowledge of actual sales but if it had been selling so badly that an independent company would have cancelled it, it wouldn’t have lasted anything like as long at DC.
For the truth about such things we must once again repair to Earth-2, and pick up copies of issues 41-50, or thereabouts. In the version we got on Earth-1, Thriller is a forgotten failure, waiting for someone to come along with a proposal to revive it because, as we all remember, there is no such thing as a bad character, especially if she’s a cross between Jesus Christ and any of our Mums.

Rumpole of the Bailey: s01 e06 – Rumpole and the Heavy Brigade


The end of the series already? Doesn’t time fly? But that was the thing about Rumpole of the Bailey, that it ran in series of only six episodes, not five nor seven but six, only and ever. I’m assuming that to be because writer John Mortimer, who was also a practicing Barrister throughout this time, let us not forget, decided that he could not produce more than six stories to the standard set (or was it that the series budget didn’t stretch any further?) On the evidence of this episode, he may have been over-optimistic in his confidence.

The episode is set in 1977, virtually up-to-date: once this is done, Rumpole will only ever be set in the present day. Not that this is of any relevance, being indicated only by a reference to punk rockers, suggesting heavily that the notion of the series representing Rumpole’s career to date has run out of steam. It’s another episode about a murder trial, the big difference being that the client, or rather his brothers, want Rumpole alone: no Guthrie Featherstone, no Leader, no QC. Given that Rumpole, in the fortieth year of his profession, has been reduced for some time to piddling little Briefs down the Uxbridge Magistrates Court, it’s a return to old glories. Or so it looks to be.

The first big prolem with the episode is that the twist is laid on with the proverbial trial. I didn’t need to remember anything about this episode to see the ending from about five minutes in, and it was a blow to the show, and Rumpole’s credibility, that he didn’t so much as suspect it until it was thrown in his face in the midst of his euphoria at getting his client off.

Said client was Peter Delgado, a none-too-intelligent man with a crippling stutter, accused of stabbing ‘Tosher’ McBride, a ‘rent-collector’. Youn Petey was the baby of the family, looked after by his brothers Leslie and Basil, who sorted him out with his Brief. The Delgados were the ‘Heavy Brigade’, big, burly overdressed men, Sarf Lunnon accents, reeked of hale and Pace as ‘The Management’ fifteen or so years later. They was concerned for their little brother, poor sod, never been right, he’s not well, not up there. Got him a top notch psychiatrist, far too eager to diagnose a Guilty But Insane plea. Yes, people, Petey was being fitted up by hIs own brothers.

But Rumpole fights the case and gets Petey off. A decent and proper amount of time is given to the actual trial, including the now familiar presence of a Judge (Mr Justice Prestcold, vegetarian: Mortimer was not above taking out his prejudices in this series) who’s leading for the Prosecution. However, that still left plenty of time for irrelevant and unnecessary filler, most of it about rumpole’s disreputable and battered old hat, Featherstone’s attempts to build a bridge with Rumpole by inviting him and Hilda to a Scales of Justice Ball at the Savoy Hotel, Rumpole’s curmudgeonly refusal to consider doing something his wife would plainly enjoy: it was weak, it was filler, it was tedious. But it also played into the ‘twist’ so I suppose it had to be incuded only the nail did not need so many bangings on its head.

Because, as I have already mentioned, Petey was being fitted up by his sub-Kray Twins brothers. He was meant to lose. That’s why Rumpole was chosen: an old bugger, past it, trotting round Uxbridge Magistrates doing Indecent Exposures and wearing a hat that made him a laughing stock. Rumpole was chosen to lose. and he found that out in the midst of his euphoria at the verdict. It was meant to be a powerul, climactic, deeply emotional moment, triumph turned to ashes, victory to indignity, but between the faffing around over-emphasising that dratted hat, and the over-obvious nature of the beast, the fact Horace hadn’t had the least inkling of it up till then robbed the moment of its force. Twists are supposedto spring out at you, unexpected, not stand in the middle of the room underneath a neon arrow.

The episode then tried to set up a sinister threat. Petey was meant to go down, Rumpole was meant to lose: what dangerous consequences might flow from their failure to observe the script? But even that was blown. Rumpole meets Hilda at the Savoy, where they’re seated with the Featherstones. Marigold twinkles brightly, looking down her nose at crime, because it’s all so sordid, don’t you think, it’s sordid, well I find it sordid. Yes, like that, three uses of sordid inside less than thirty seconds, which is plain bad writing. Enter posh solicitor requesting an early Conference with the QC to defend Mr Leslie Delgado on charges of murdering ‘Tosher’ McBride: Rumpole not wanted on this occasion.

So, full of the joys of spring, even though this is taking place in November, Rumpole decides to get up and dance with Hilda, entirely unsurprisingly given how over-emphatic he’d been throughout over how he would not under any circumstances dance, and the credits run over them waltzing extravagantly to a painfully awful rendition of ‘The Last Waltz’, and even that lasts twice as long as it should have.

So, all in all, an episode with a good, strong story ruined, yes, ruined, by being over-Rumpoled. McKern plays Rumpole with great extravagance, a walking OTT performance, and that approch spread into every aspect of this episode and caused a generally good-to-excellent series to end with a flagrant whimper (or was that me?) But it had been the hit everyone expected it to be, it and Rumpole had been acclaimed, and it would definitely be renewed. Another six then, John? See you next week.