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DRAMA AND DELIGHT: The Life of Verity Lambert / Book Review

If you're expecting some huge revelations about Verity Lambert's tenure as producer of Doctor Who in Richard Marson's new book Drama and Delight - The Life and Times of Verity Lambert then you'll probably be disappointed.

As the author emphatically declares, Verity Lambert was so much more than the first producer of the legendary science fiction series, a fitting accolade in and of itself. Marson therefore traces her early upbringing, schooling and employment as a secretary at ITV before her move to the BBC and her continuing success as a producer and executive with London Weekend and Thames Television, Euston Films, Thorn-EMI and finally her own production company Cinema Verity.

Just as the book essays her professional triumphs and disasters in the entertainment industry, producing a wonderful boardroom drama about the comings and goings of working at the BBC or ITV with plenty of anecdotes from friends and colleagues, so it also charts the choppy waters of her personal life and both the delight and disappointment she found in her friendships and relationships. You certainly get the sense that Verity enjoyed a challenge, dealing with rival producers or difficult writers or juggling a career with marriage, Great Danes and volatile friendships.

As the television industry changed, from the technical and production developments at BBC and ITV to the launch of Channel Four and to the impact of John Birt's much criticised 'producer choice' at the BBC that ushered in the rise of the independent sector, Marson shows Verity taking on these upheavals with determination. The climate for making good drama radically alters between the 1960s and the 1990s but this woman always seemed to be in the thick of it, maintaining the quality of her productions until her demise.

Initially, the introduction of the book feels a little bit uncomfortable. While it sets the stage for the exploits of 'Hurricane Verity' (as she was known) it seems to end with a bit of a demolition job on Jessica Raine's portrayal of Verity in Mark Gatiss' An Adventure in Space and Time, the film that dramatised the troubled birth of Doctor Who in 2013.

Raine's performance is demoted to one which has 'no presence' compared to the firebrand that, quite rightly, Marson then goes on to profile and offers as proof that the version of Verity Lambert we saw on screen didn't quite live up to her inspiration. It's a shame this contrast has to be brokered by various colleagues of Verity Lambert being rather unfair to Jessica Raine but pulling no punches is the thrust of Marson's book and opinions from Verity's fellow travellers are honest and direct. Much like the revered producer herself.
... her ongoing and remarkable ability to manage a crisis
The book briefly traces her childhood and teenage years up to 1955 when at the age of sixteen she left Roedean, the girls school with which she was often associated in various press profiles. She took her six O Levels, her Jewish faith and her sense of being an outsider with her to pursue her education on a six-month course at the University of Paris (not the Sorbonne as often originally attributed), much to her father's relief.

There's a sense here that Verity embraced her own independence and did things very much her own way despite an unimpressive academic record. Her achievements in the entertainment industry and the energy behind them indicate she was always determined to make up for this deficiency. Her Doctor of Laws honorary degree from the University of Strathclyde in 1988 must have gone a long way to repairing that old wound.

After typing up menus for a hotel restaurant and several secretarial jobs, she worked in the Granada Television press office, acquiring the job after her father, who knew the chief executives Sidney and Cecil Bernstein, put a word in the appropriate ears.

Eventually sacked from Granada, she also ended an engagement, much to her father's dismay, and instead transferred her considerable efforts into securing a job at ABC television. It was here that her potential was recognised and Marson describes her progress through the corridors of ABC, including a riveting recollection of the production of the Armchair Theatre nuclear holocaust play 'Underground' (transmitted live 30 November 1958) directed by Canadian Ted Kotcheff at their Didsbury studios in Manchester.

This was clearly Verity's baptism by fire in television production and it is evocatively retold by the play's director Kotcheff and one of the actors, Peter Bowles. Taking the directorial reigns on a live production, when actor Gareth Jones had just collapsed and died, showed her ongoing and remarkable ability to manage a crisis - something she would tenaciously apply again and again to rescuing scripts, editing and producing television and films. While she was in a relationship with Kotcheff, the book suggesting both Verity and Ted regretted it never achieved its true potential, she was also introduced to ABC's wunderkind Head of Drama Sydney Newman.

She would eventually follow Newman to the BBC but prior to this she spent a formative year in New York working as a secretary with noted television producer David Susskind. There's an indication that Susskind had an influence on Verity's career development and she returned to England and ABC determined to be a television director. She had so impressed Newman with her 'piss and vinegar' attitude that, after he had been poached by the BBC, he rang her up and asked her to produce Doctor Who (after failing to persuade Don Taylor, Shaun Sutton or Richard Bates to take on the task).
... her choice of William Hartnell for the role was 'fucking awful'  
Marson's book spends some time unpicking the professional relationship between Verity and Sydney Newman against a background of gossip about whether they actually had a physical relationship. Director Herbert Wise claims they did and the book emphasises that, in the context of the times, it was common place for women to do so in order to move up the career ladder. As to whether this 'casting couch' principle was the origin of her eventual promotion by Newman to producer at the BBC remains unclear and even on her death bed, Verity categorically refuted the suggestion.

Doctor Who's creation and production certainly ruffled feathers at the BBC when its female producer entered a battle of wills with designer Peter Brachacki over the design of the TARDIS set and with original director Rex Tucker about casting the significant role of the Doctor. Herbert Wise, not one to mince words it seems, also believed her choice of William Hartnell for the role was 'fucking awful' even though she transformed him into an early television star. She also had something of a difficult relationship with director Richard Martin. His opinion of Terry Nation's scripting efforts is as equally disparaging as Wise's is of Hartnell.

The familiar tales of Newman making her and director Waris Hussein (a fellow outsider), remount the pilot, his rejection of the Daleks as bug-eyed monsters, and the troubles with the outmoded production environment of Lime Grove studios have passed into legend. Marson captures the cut and thrust of these pioneering days of television and its inherent prejudice and snobbery. Verity's determination to make Doctor Who work enshrined her attitudes about shattering the glass ceiling that prevented many minorities and women from progressing in the business.

After Doctor Who, this attitude saw her through something of a roller coaster ride through the mixed fortunes of working at the BBC and ITV and film production at Thorn-EMI. Her hopes of getting a Sexton Blake series off the ground were stymied by Newman's request she take the reigns on a new soap to replace Compact (BBC, 1962-65). The short lived 199 Park Lane (BBC 1965) - so terrible she demanded her name be removed from the credits - eventually led to her producing the first eight episodes of Colin Morris and Anthony Coburns's twice-weekly drama serial The Newcomers (BBC, 1965-69) which reunited her with director Waris Hussein.

There is a fascinating account of the shambolic production of Adam Adamant Lives! (BBC, 1966-67) and Verity's crisis of confidence about its scripts and direction. She was also very unhappy about the lack of promotion and inconsistent scheduling of the second series.

Marson deftly interweaves the problems with Adam Adamant Lives! with Verity's relationship with gay director David Sullivan Proudfoot. One of many close friendships she formed with gay men during her career, there was talk of an engagement with Proudfoot. However, this never transpired and it seems he sought some security with her at a time when being openly gay was difficult.

She continued to work at the BBC on the 1968 revival of the anthology series Detective, which introduced her to a different calibre of writers, including Hugh Whitmore, and she formed a very strong friendship and working relationship with a young (and gay) script-editor Andrew Brown.

He first worked with her on W. Somerset Maugham (BBC, 1968-70), a series of the writer's plays that consolidated Verity's determination to work with the best writers and directors, with adaptations by Simon Raven, John Bowen, Simon Gray and Julian Mitchell and directed by Moira Armstrong, James Cellan Jones, Michael Lindsay-Hogg and Christopher Morahan. Despite the series winning BAFTA awards, the BBC did not renew her contract in 1970 and London Weekend Television eventually gained the benefit of her hard working, no nonsense attitude and production experience.
'She could taste what was wrong with a script' 
She made her mark with the fondly remembered Budgie (LWT, 1971-72), created by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall and starring Adam Faith and Ian Cuthbertson. Again she was working with good writers and directors and hired Mike Newell, Jim Goddard and Lindsay-Hogg to helm the series about a charming Cockney ex-con's involvement in rash, money-making schemes. The chapter on Budgie is very insightful about the casting and creation of the series. It also introduces another writer who would regularly work with her, Douglas Livingstone. Here, Livingstone indicates Verity's acumen for good taste: 'It was in every aspect of her life. Food, wine, furniture and particularly scripts. She could taste what was wrong with a script and, in my case, she was never mistaken.'

Production on Budgie ushered in a new man in her life, film maker Colin Bucksey who had ambitions of his own in the business and was ten years younger than the 35-year-old Verity. A holiday in Portugal brought them together and, despite her friends' disapproval and prejudice, their relationship endured and after marrying Verity, Bucksey carved out a very successful career as a director on his own terms.

She then made a brief return to the BBC to make Shoulder to Shoulder (BBC, 1974) and in 1975 worked at Thames on The Naked Civil Servant, both landmark dramas for very different reasons. Six 75-minute plays, Shoulder to Shoulder offered her an opportunity to channel many of her personal ambitions and feelings as a creative woman into an inspiring drama about suffrage which chimed with the rise of feminism in the early 1970s.

A fascinating account is provided of the production, writing and casting of the series and shows Verity trying to please her partners in the production, Georgia Brown and Midge Mackenzie, despite the latter being determined that men should not be involved in the series at all according to Waris Hussein, and fulfilling the practicalities of production and scripting. Marson never lets us lose sight of her personal triumphs and disasters and tragically 1974 is also marked by her first encounter with the cancer that would ultimately cut short her life five days before her 72nd birthday in 2007.

Her career at Thames and later with its subsidiary Euston Films provides an amazing roll-call of some of the best British television ever made. The aforementioned The Naked Civil Servant, Philip Mackie's highly regarded dramatisation of the life of Quentin Crisp, 'one of the stately homos of England', was a project she championed after it was turned down by the BBC. She empathised with Crisp's outsider status and battle for recognition and equality.

She also confidently supported Trevor Griffiths when he pitched political drama Bill Brand (Thames, 1976) and worked again with Andrew Brown on the development of Howard Schuman's Rock Follies (Thames, 1976-77), a wonderfully experimental, award-winning musical drama that stretched the stylistic possibilities of studio production, and on the award-winning royal drama Edward and Mrs Simpson (Thames, 1978).

The success of Rock Follies would, however, be tinged with bitterness when the originators of the idea for the series successfully sued her and Thames. Similarly, after 'poaching' Rumpole of the Bailey (Thames, 1978-92) from its producer Irene Shubik, she was caught up in the unfortunate recriminations when the BAFTA jury of 1991 chaired by Shubik awarded Best Drama Serial to Prime Suspect rather than, as the industry had expected, Verity's production of Alan Bleasdale's G.B.H. These are great stories about the internecine workings of show business and they elevate this book from being merely recollections about Verity's work on Doctor Who and offer a personal view of the changing fortunes of British television and those working in the industry.

Working with Johnny Goodman, Linda Agran and Lynda la Plante at Euston was clearly fruitful for Verity. Minder (1979-94), Quatermass (1979), Danger UXB (1979), Fox (1980), Reilly: Ace of Spies (1983) and Widows (1983) all provide testimony she was a shrewd judge of quality and talent. A groundbreaking and challenging project was 1981's The Flame Trees of Thika, a seven-episode adaptation of writer Elspeth Huxley's book about her childhood in Kenya. There were the ones that got away too. She had within her sights the original scripts The Paddy Factor and A Thoroughly Filthy Fellow but uncharacteristically she passed on these and under other producers they were transformed into the films The Long Good Friday (1980) and Scandal (1989).

As a counter to this extremely fruitful career then perhaps the period at Thorn-EMI as a film executive rather than a television producer was evidently less successful. She clearly struggled to adapt to a very different development and production ethos and only Dreamchild (1985) and Clockwise (1986) emerged as critical successes from the handful of films she produced, including 1985's ill-feted Morons From Outer Space. She brokered a deal with Cannon, the new owners of Thorn-EMI, and as an independent producer in 1988 put all her energies into producing A Cry In The Dark, an adaptation of John Bryson's book about the infamous Michael and Lindy Chamberlain 'dingo baby' case in Australia.

The focus on A Cry in the Dark also emphasises how passionately she felt about Australia, the love of the country and the friendships she had made there. However, this also coincided with the breakdown of her marriage to Colin Bucksey which ended in divorce in 1984 and the damaging court case over the ownership of the idea for Rock Follies. But if there is one thing patently clear from the book, Verity always reappraised her life and career and simply got back into the fray. Out of the disappointments of working at Thorn-EMI, she had set up her own independent company Cinema Verity and would provide the BBC with sit-coms May to December (1989-94) and So Haunt Me (1992-94) and Channel Four with 1991's critically acclaimed Alan Bleasdale drama G.B.H.
'The only real failure that she had. And my God, was that a failure...' 
Her greatest gamble and one that also damaged her reputation was Cinema Verity's co-production with the BBC of soap Eldorado (1992-3). Marson's sympathetic appreciation of the disastrous production of the soap about ex-pats living in Spain provides further incentive to read this book.

From the clashes with formidable BBC producer Julia Smith, the debacles over casting inexperienced actors, the problems with the sets built in Coín, to the impossible transmission deadlines and script-editor Tony Holland's disappearing acts, Eldorado was clearly a project where Verity, also dealing with the harrowing and impending death of her friend Andrew Brown, took her hands off the steering wheel. Director Herbert Wise, one never to disappoint with his brutal honesty, offers: 'The only real failure that she had. And my God, was that a failure...'

And yet, she emerged from the aftermath and carried on. In her last decade, she produced She's Out! (ITV, 1995), a sequel to Widows, Douglas Livingstone's adaptation of Elizabeth Jane Howard's 'The Cazalet Chronicles' as The Cazalets (BBC, 2001) and, from its second series onwards, David Renwick's Jonathan Creek (BBC, 1997-) and his comedy-drama Love Soup (BBC, 2005-8). It was during the production of Love Soup that it became clear she was gravely ill after the cancer she defeated in the 1970s had returned in 2005. The book concludes with a deeply touching and emotional recollection from writer David Renwick, featuring pages from his diaries that chronicle her last days and her funeral in December 2007.

Richard Marson is to be commended for fashioning a gripping memoir of this woman's life and career, mapping the highs and lows with candid detail and providing us with a picture of a private but joyful individual who never suffered fools gladly but could also recognise and embrace similar strengths of character in those she would come to regard as friends.

Beyond this the book provides an individual and tangible history of television and Verity's role in shaping it, from its haphazard, adrenaline fueled 'live' days in Manchester studios to multi-million pound filmed productions that demonstrated the real scope, relevance and power of British television drama.

Drama and Delight: The Life of Verity Lambert
Richard Marson
Miwk Publishing
April 2015
379pp
Selection of black and white and colour plates
ISBN: 978-1-908630-33-X (Hardback edition)
ISBN: 978-1-908630-33-9 (Softback edition)

Coppers & Spies Revisited
Continuing with the re-written versions of the original Coppers and Spies blog posts published on the MovieMail site in 2014. Each part contains additional research material and information on the various crime and spy adventure series the original blog series covered, timed to celebrate Network's highly-anticipated release of The Professionals in high-definition last March.

3: We Want Information - ITC and The Prisoner

Mention the acronym ITC to a certain generation and it conjures up memorable images: Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds machines, Roger Moore and his saintly halo, Number Six being menaced by a huge white balloon and Jason King’s outré wardrobe. Formed in 1954 by Charleston champion and talent agent Lew Grade, Incorporated Television Company was a subsidiary of ITV franchise ATV and first made an impact in the 1950s with filmed period adventure series featuring Robin Hood, William Tell and Sir Lancelot.

Grade was ‘a shrewd judge of public taste’ and financed dramas and light entertainment series with an emphasis on mass popular appeal. 1955’s The Adventures of Robin Hood demonstrated his prowess for securing co-production deals and ensuring sales of British made television to the major US networks. It paved the way for the international success of Gerry Anderson’s puppet and live action series and ITC’s cult spy and crime adventure dramas of the 1960s.

ITC’s major advantage was to shoot on film rather than record on tape, the industry standard adopted at the time by the BBC and other ITV commercial franchises. High quality, export-ready filmed productions shot on location and in technically sophisticated British film studios were more appealing to the lucrative US television market. ITC eventually generated $100 million for the UK economy and received a Queen’s Award for Export.

The company became synonymous with its crime adventure series, beginning in the 1960s with Danger Man, The Saint, The Baron, Man In A Suitcase, The Prisoner, The Champions, Department S, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and ending in the 1970s with The Persuaders! and Jason King.

All predominantly featured male secret agents, freelance troubleshooters, private investigators and amateur sleuths and embellished this male dominance with an emphasis on style, production values and Britishness. Each series also had an iconic title sequence, often designed by Chambers and Partners, and memorable theme music composed by the likes of Edwin Astley, Tony Hatch, Ron Grainer or John Barry.

Beneath the surface of what could now be viewed as conservative, misogynist and sexist male stereotypes lay Grade’s willingness to support the ‘questioning of taken-for-granted assumptions.’ This is perhaps best showcased by The Prisoner’s unique perspective on the genre, as a disquieting alter ego to the equally playful The Avengers, and the fantasy elements that delineated the formats of The Champions and Randall and Hopkirk. Jason King was itself, perhaps unintentionally, a satirical view of the format and one constructed entirely from the clichés of the ITC back catalogue.

These programmes consolidated ITC’s export drive in the 1960s and on the back of this it promoted a wide range of male heroic types. Although they offered various performances of masculinity, which expressed certain changes in attitudes and values during the explosion of British popular culture in that decade, these series globalised the crime and action genre and created heroes with transnational appeal.

Jet-set lifestyles

Danger Man and The Saint, broadcast from 1960 and 1962 respectively, began the cycle and were influenced by international crime-fighting series of the late 1950s such as The Third Man, Interpol Calling and The Four Just Men and pre-war fictional gentleman adventurers like Richard Hannay and Bulldog Drummond. Both series initially attempted a level of realism before they reflected the arrival of pop aesthetics and fantasy celebrated in rival series like The Avengers.

Danger Man’s origins are credited to Ralph Smart, who had produced, directed and written on The Adventures Of Robin Hood, Interpol Calling and The Invisible Man for ITC. When Grade commissioned him to create a new series, Smart first had a number of meetings with Bond creator Ian Fleming with a view to bringing Bond to television but Fleming had already sold the rights to Eon.

Smart developed a pitch for a series called Lone Wolf. It was an espionage thriller with a cool, no nonsense central character sorting out the assignments Interpol and the CIA wouldn’t touch. With writer Ian Stuart Black's input the original pitch made the character of John Drake an American (probably with a view to selling the series to the US market) working for NATO.

Grade commissioned the pilot Smart co-wrote with Brian Clemens, who would shortly afterwards pen the opening episode of The Avengers. Patrick McGoohan was cast in the role of Drake after Smart saw him in a 1958 Play Of The Week television production, ‘The Big Knife’. McGoohan’s star was in the ascendancy and, as he started filming the first series of 39 half hours of Danger Man, he picked up an award for his role in ‘The Greatest Man In The World’ a 1959 play in ITV's Armchair Theatre.

McGoohan demanded changes to the lead character before he would commit to the series. He was unhappy with the pilot's depiction of Drake as a man of violence and a womaniser. Gradually, as the series progressed McGoohan transformed him into a man who rarely carried a gun, treated women with utmost respect and only resorted to fisticuffs when necessary. Drake was a deeply moral man who often questioned the unforgiving nature of his profession.

Before the cinematic Bond became notorious for his use of gadgets, Drake was already making ingenious use of tie-pin cameras, dart-firing umbrellas and electric shavers with built in recorders. When he was offered the role of James Bond in Dr. No at the end of Danger Man’s first series, McGoohan turned it down, citing the dubious morals of the character and the poor script as his reasons.

Three years elapsed before Danger Man returned for a second series, during which McGoohan pursued a film career. ITC scored another hit with The Saint and the spy adventure genre was popularised by the success of the first two James Bond films. These factors initiated the return of John Drake and Sidney Cole took over as producer for a further 32 hour-long episodes. Filming commenced in March 1964 and the second series was transmitted just before the Christmas release of Goldfinger, the Bond film that firmly established the iconic franchise. 

The second series saw some changes. Drake now worked for a branch of the British Secret Service, M.9 and as Ralph Smart explained in the ITC press book: “John Drake is now less cold, clinical and perfect. He is less infallible. He behaves more humanely. He makes mistakes. And he is altogether more likeable.” The glossy aesthetics of the Bond films were also of greater influence. Drake was shown using more gadgets and, importantly, employing them while dressed in clothes created by the Fashion House Group of London. Yet, just as Danger Man increasingly represented the cultural and consumerist values of the decade, the series maintained its realistic approach to global politics, the Cold War and Britain’s role in international security.

Joining Cole as story-editor at the end of the third series in early 1966 was ex-journalist George Markstein. Markstein was a major influence on the genre and worked with McGoohan again, later joined Thames Television as story editor on Special Branch and Callan, oversaw the development of The Sweeney at Euston Films and provided the original storyline for Who Dares Wins, the SAS embassy siege film starring Lewis Collins.

Being one of ITC’s most successful exports, preparations were made to move Danger Man from black and white into colour for its fourth series. However, McGoohan was tired of the role and concerned the series was becoming repetitive. He was keen to develop a new project. In April 1966, after Danger Man had filmed two final episodes in colour, ITC announced the end of the series. McGoohan had already secured backing from Grade for a new series, created in partnership with Markstein and second-unit director David Tomblin, called The Prisoner.

Meanwhile, suave playboy Simon Templar of The Saint and based on the Leslie Charteris character introduced in 1929’s novel Meet The Tiger, set the tone on television for self-made amateur investigators living the jet-set lifestyle. Charteris’s Templar, a gentleman outlaw and crime-fighting crusader, has enjoyed an extended life in novels, magazine stories, radio, cinema and television adaptations since the 1930s.

Charteris eventually sold the television rights to producers Monty Berman and Robert S. Baker. ITC financed the series and production commenced in June 1962. Originally, Grade wanted Patrick McGoohan to play Simon Templar when Danger Man went on hiatus after its first series in 1961 but Baker felt McGoohan did not have the romantic style or tongue-in-cheek panache the role demanded. Leading man of ITV’s Ivanhoe series, Roger Moore, was cast and for millions of viewers came to embody the charismatic, debonair Templar.

A glossy, cosmopolitan adventure series which ‘elaborated a male fantasy of luxury and laid back cool’, it successfully ran for 118 episodes over seven years and sold to over 80 countries. It epitomised ITC’s production and sales ethos - particularly when the series moved into colour in 1966 - and through the figure of the immaculately tailored and coiffed Moore, it projected ‘a form of masculine identity that embraced a credo of affluent pleasure, narcissistic style and personal ‘liberation’ through consumption.’

Baker revised the format when he worked with producer Monty Berman on The Baron, featuring high life antiques dealer, part-time British intelligence operative John Mannering, and on The Persuaders!, the ultimate expression of these playboy investigator tropes. Simon Templar also reappeared, unchanged save for Ian Ogilvy replacing Moore, in Baker’s 1978 series Return of the Saint.

Clearly targeted at an international audience, The Persuaders! was co-produced for ITC by Baker, Johnny Goodman and star Roger Moore through their own Tribune Entertainment subsidiary. They deliberately secured an American co-star to appeal to the US networks and Hollywood star Tony Curtis played rough diamond Danny Wilde as the foil, in the series' double act, to the sophisticated Brett Sinclair played by Moore.

The series was a mixture of private investigation caper and spy thriller and was driven by the abrasive relationship between Wilde and Sinclair whose ‘form of friendly rivalry, light-hearted banter and constant oneupmanship’ dominated the narratives. It reflected the penchant in the 1970s for male buddy relationships in films and television, echoing the success of films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the partnership between that film’s stars Robert Redford and Paul Newman.

The Persuaders! consolidated its globetrotting credentials by consciously eschewing ITC’s standard use of stock footage to represent international locations in favour of actually filming the series on location in France and Italy. However, despite its lavish overtures to a male lifestyle fantasy and success in the UK and Europe, it failed to set the US market alight.

Performances of masculinity

When McGoohan ceased being John Drake, former CIA agent Sam McGill firmly occupied the realist male hero mode (Texan method actor Richard Bradford insisted upon this approach) in Man In A Suitcase, co-created by writers Dennis Spooner and Richard Harris and produced by Sidney Cole.

Like The Baron, its American leading man diluted ITC’s inherent Britishness and injected a dose of cynical, macho, no-nonsense virility. McGill was a hard-boiled Chandler-esque figure who openly criticised the establishment, shed light on the ills of post-colonialism and offered ‘a distinctly jaundiced view of ‘Swinging London’.’

Spooner’s work with The Baron’s producer Monty Berman led to the formation of Scoton, a partnership that had a major influence on the development of ITC’s adventure series. In The Champions, Department S, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and Jason King, all created and produced by Scoton, realism was eclipsed by science fiction, fantasy and comic elements.

For instance, The Champions featured three secret agents whose abilities were augmented by telepathy, precognition, super hearing and strength through an encounter with a mystical Tibetan civilisation and, in the dark but whimsical Randall and Hopkirk, one of the private investigators was a ghost.

While The Champions’ themes tapped into the Western vogue for joining the so called ‘hippy trail’ search for Eastern enlightenment in the late 1960s, its agents were fighting its very antithesis. Like all of their series produced within the confines of the Pinewood, Elstree and Borehamwood studios, ITC ensured their three ‘super heroes’ defeated communist threats from East Germany, Cuba, China and Russia and their modus operandi was to protect international security rather than a specific threat to Britain.

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) was initially something of a departure for ITC. Originally a vehicle considered for comedian Dave Allen, the series begins as a whimsical, supernatural fantasy but jettisons these elements in favour of seedy crime narratives.

Unlike many of the other ITC series in which the protagonists spend their time jetting around the world (mainly through the use of the aforementioned stock footage), Jeff Randall and Marty Hopkirk (the dead detective resurrected as a ghost) are more or less confined to the grubbier back streets and domestic fringes of London. The only exception was the studio recreation of Monte Carlo for the highly amusing episode 'The Ghost Who Saved the Bank at Monte Carlo'.

Becoming a mythology of conspicuous affluence and style, with stories forged in the ‘white heat of the scientific and technological revolution’, ITC crime and spy adventure also offered various performances of masculinity that spanned stoic Drake, gentlemanly flâneur Templar, hardnosed ex-CIA agent McGill and, by 1971, author Jason King, a character who redefined the male mystique.

Appearing in Department S before headlining his own series, the foppish aesthete Jason King was a crime writer much happier to raise a glass of champagne than throw a knockout punch. King, played by Peter Wyngarde, took conspicuous affluence, style and notions of class to such exaggerated and contradictory levels in Jason King that his masculinity seemed to exist on the nexus of heterosexual and homosexual codifications.

The hero in King’s novels was Mark Caine, a Bondian alter ego whose exploits were self-reflexively interchangeable with King’s own reluctant investigations of international crime. As Andy Medhurst noted: ‘this particular fop is also a stud, with women both on-screen in the episodes and off-screen in the audience finding King a sexual magnet of immense and irresistible proportions.’ While the series originally made King and Wyngarde into ‘a byword for potent heterosexuality’, seen in hindsight it provokes multiple, complex readings about gender, style and masculinity.

Jason King may have mocked ITC’s macho clichés and stereotypes but its female characters were little more than window dressing. Scoton’s formula of teaming two men with one woman offered some progress but the equality of Steed and his female partners in The Avengers rarely troubled ITC’s male dominated world of spies and agents. Agent Sharron Macready in The Champions and Department S’s computer expert Annabelle Hurst were the closest ITC got to depicting emancipated female heroes.

The surveillance society

McGoohan, having left Danger Man, created The Prisoner for ITC. It began in 1966 with a pitch to Lew Grade, including George Markstein’s 60-page treatment, art director Jack Shampan’s sketches and McGoohan’s photographs of the Italianate North Wales village of Portmeirion. It ended in winter 1968 with McGoohan hurriedly editing ‘Fall Out’, his stream of consciousness finale, two weeks before transmission.

‘Fall Out’, the final episode of The Prisoner, left millions of viewers puzzled and angry when it was transmitted on 2nd February 1968. After 17 episodes, it was not the conclusion they expected to McGoohan’s latest series.

Markstein’s original treatment incorporated his knowledge of Inverlair Lodge in Scotland where, during the Second World War, British Intelligence ‘managed’ recalcitrant agents, and his reflections on McGoohan’s resignation from Danger Man. The Prisoner was, for him, a continuation of Drake’s story. For McGoohan it was increasingly an expression of his own socio-political concerns. Markstein, unhappy with this direction, left in March 1967 when production concluded on the first thirteen episodes.

Expressing McGoohan’s own liberal but conflicted political awareness in a decade of radical social transformation and counter-cultural dissent, The Prisoner commented on and reused the formulaic tropes of the series he had just resigned from. It transformed them into a prescient, allegorical treatise on the surveillance society and the democratic state’s mission to coerce individuals into conformity.

A hyperbolised, satirical version of many ITC spy adventure series, using the era’s pop iconography to startling and memorable effect, The Prisoner was unique. Its central, unnamed anti-hero, Number Six, battled to retain his identity and sanity in a mysterious Village where ‘retired' former agents were controlled with drugs and brainwashed to extract the valuable information in their heads.

The parochial, cheery, mock-Italian Village, an analogue of Markstein’s Inverlair Lodge and Marshall McLuhan’s idea of the global village created by advances in communication technology, belied its totalitarian purpose. The Prisoner was not only about Number Six’s desperate attempt to escape incarceration but also his Kafka-esque journey to expose Number One, the anonymous power controlling the Village. The series concluded pessimistically as Number Six discovered he was Number One and ‘we all eventually join the enemy against ourselves’ in the battle between the individual and authority.

Subverting the James Bond conventions used in the episode, 'Fall Out' defied audience expectation the series would reveal the Village’s diabolical mastermind in its subterranean depths. Having escaped, Number Six returned home where, symbolically, his front door opened automatically with an electronic hum as the door to his Village cottage once did. McGoohan therefore intimated that, no matter how hard we try, we can never escape from the Village, or from ourselves. It was ultimately a rather conservative, pessimistic conclusion.

The Prisoner, a costly gamble on McGoohan’s concept by Lew Grade’s ITC, seemed to say freedom is elusive, resignation and rebellion are futile and conformity is inescapable but, like the decade from which it emerged, it continues to defy convention and to this day remains radical, enigmatic and thought provoking.

Bibliography

  • Chapman, James, Saints & Avengers: British Adventure Series of the 1960s (I.B.Tauris, 2002).
  • Cornell, Paul, Day, Martin and Topping, Keith, The Guinness Book of Classic British TV (2nd Edition, Guinness Publishing, 1996).
  • Courtman, Matthew, ‘The Beginning’, ‘The Basics’, ‘John Drake’ and ‘The Turning Point’, The Danger Man Website (2001) available at http://www.danger-man.co.uk/ accessed July 2014.
  • Fairclough, Robert, The Prisoner: The official companion to the classic TV series (Carlton Books, 2002).
  • Feasey, Rebecca, Masculinity And Popular Television (Edinburgh University Press, 2013).
  • Langley, Roger (ed), ‘Who Is Danger Man?’ in Danger Man Magazine, (Six of One, Issue 1, September 1984).
  • Medhurst, Andy, ‘King and queen: interpreting sexual identity in Jason King,’ in Osgerby, Bill and Gough-Yates, Anna (eds), Action TV: Tough Guys, Smooth Operators and Foxy Chicks, (Routledge, 2001).
  • Osgerby, Bill, ‘“So you’re the famous Simon Templar”: The Saint, masculinity and consumption in the early 1960s,’ in Osgerby, Bill and Gough-Yates, Anna (eds), Action TV: Tough Guys, Smooth Operators and Foxy Chicks, (Routledge, 2001).
  • Pixley, Andrew, The Prisoner: A complete production guide (Network, 2007)
  • Rodley, Chris, ‘Degree Absolute: The production, destruction and afterlife of The Prisoner,’ in Primetime (Volume 1, Number 3, WTVA, March-May 1982)
  • Tibballs, Geoff, Randall & Hopkirk Deceased, (Boxtree/ITC 1994).
Next time: Callan and Public Eye
Last time: The Avengers and Z Cars
Previously: Fabian of the Yard and Dixon of Dock Green

SHERLOCK HOLMES - The Classic 1965 BBC TV Series / BFI DVD Review

In the pantheon of celebrated Sherlock Holmes adaptations there is one BBC television series that tends to get overlooked. In 1965 the BBC produced a series of faithful adaptations of 13 Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories starring Douglas Wilmer and Nigel Stock. The series is perhaps unfairly eclipsed by the colour series made by the BBC two years later starring Peter Cushing, fewer episodes of which survive, and the Granada series that consumed much of the 1980s and 1990s and the energies of actor Jeremy Brett.

However, you can judge Wilmer's and Stock's celebrated interpretations for yourselves when the BFI release the remaining episodes of Sherlock Holmes on a 4-DVD set this month. Previously available as a Region 1 set, this new release features commentaries, interviews and using the remaining archive footage, the reconstruction of two episodes.

Before and since Holmes has been reinterpreted many times on radio, film and television with the latest incarnations being the Guy Ritchie action films, the contemporary restaging of the characters and stories in Steven Moffat's hugely successful Sherlock and the CBS police procedural Elementary featuring Jonny Lee Miller. Holmes and Watson are a very prolific presence among the roll call of iconic British literary myths - including King Arthur, Robin Hood, Dracula - that have continued into the 21st Century, joining modern legends such as James Bond, Harry Potter and the Doctor.

Coppers & Spies Revisited
Continuing with the re-written versions of the original Coppers and Spies blog posts published on the MovieMail site in 2014. Each part contains additional research material and information on the various crime and spy adventure series the original blog series covered, timed to celebrate Network's highly-anticipated release of The Professionals in high-definition last March.

2: Kinky Boots and Z-Victor 2: From The Avengers to Z Cars

George Dixon had been on his beat for five years in Dixon of Dock Green when ABC’s canny producer Sydney Newman created Police Surgeon in 1960. A short-lived star vehicle for actor Ian Hendry, it featured the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by Dr Geoffrey Brent as he assisted the London Metropolitan Police with Bayswater’s dysfunctional families, disreputable landlords, delinquents and petty criminals.

Created, written and initially produced by Julian Bond, many of the scripts had been written in collaboration with J.J. Bernard, the pseudonym of a real police surgeon. When he raised certain contractual issues, Newman cancelled the half-hour drama after 13 episodes. It had also not fulfilled a brief from ABC’s chief executive Howard Thomas for Newman to develop an adventure series similar to Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man, featuring retired private detective Nick Charles and his wealthy wife Nora.

While the ‘police in the community’ theme of Dixon developed into the realism of Z Cars, Newman asked producer Leonard White to take elements of Police Surgeon and create an entirely new crime drama for his star Hendry, inspired by Hitchcock’s thriller North By Northwest (1959) and Fleming’s Bond books, and based on nothing more than a title…The Avengers. Police Surgeon’s successor ushered in a very different crime fighting partnership.

Coppers & Spies Revisited

I thought you might enjoy these extensively re-written versions of the original Coppers and Spies blog posts published on the MovieMail site in 2014. Each part contains additional research material and information on the various crime and spy adventure series the original blog series covered, timed to celebrate Network's highly-anticipated release of The Professionals in high-definition last March.  

1: Evenin' All: From Fabian of the Yard to Dixon of Dock Green
 Crime and detective fiction developed from the public’s appetite for lurid reports of court proceedings, the serialised, sensationalist ‘penny dreadfuls’ and the first appearance of Edgar Allan Poe’s creation C. August Dupin in 1841’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue. As Dupin worked his case, the Metropolitan Police set up Scotland Yard and, forever synonymous with the London detective force, the Yard caught the public’s imagination. Inspector Bucket, in Dickens’ Bleak House, and Wilkie Collins’ creation Sergeant Cuff in The Moonstone were inspired by the real-life exploits of the Yard’s officers.

Their popularity ushered in the ‘golden age’ of crime fiction and the success of Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, Edgar Wallace and Agatha Christie also went hand in hand with the
mythologising of Scotland Yard. Inevitably, these stories would be adapted for radio, film and, finally, television. The crime drama and police procedural television series then emerged out of several related pre-war and post-war film and television traditions and practices.

For example, BBC dramas of the 1950s and 1960s, such as Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars, developed from an experimental documentary ethos that stretched back to the General Post Office film unit overseen by John Grierson. It greatly influenced the BBC Documentary Unit’s production of public-information style crime documentary-dramas prior to Dixon of Dock Green. On the other hand, crime dramas shown on the commercial channel ITV, when it began transmission in 1955, evolved from economic and industrial changes to the production of B pictures.

DOCTOR WHO: Deep Breath / Review

Deep Breath
BBC One HD
23 August 2014, 7.50pm

Yes, take a deep one.

We've had all the hype, all the leaks (I wonder what Marcelo Carmargo was doing as the episode went out) and we're down to the brass tacks. Does Peter Capaldi live up to his promise? I'll get to that presently.

A new Doctor always precipitates some deft rearranging of the furniture. Back in 1966, replacing your lead actor was a risk in itself; in 1970 they did it again, went into colour and tweaked the format; and so on, and so forth. The series survived through changes of actor, rearranging of music, new titles, modes of production, not being on television at all... and as Capaldi himself self-effacingly admitted recently, he'll be loved by someone at least and he'll always be someone's Doctor. He knows the score.

And Steven Moffat's done this before, handling the change from David Tennant to Matt Smith in The Eleventh Hour, and in the scheme of things (yes, The Twin Dilemma and Time and the Rani I'm looking at you) Smith's debut was generally acknowledged as a particularly good example of how to introduce a new Doctor. And now Moffat has to do it all over again but the situation is trickier. He has to convince young fans an older actor can carry the show again. 

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