As Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt outlines his policies and puts forward proposals to develop a new generation of regional broadcasting in an attempt to reverse a broadcasting industry that is "deeply, desperately centralised" many of us, who have seen the decline of regional and local programme making in favour of the outputs of wholly owned commercial juggernauts, will be happy to turn to the Conservative minister and say "we told you so."
In 1990, when the Thatcher government deregulated the commercial broadcasting industry, marked by the auctioning off of the regional ITV franchises, it sounded the first death knell for quality programming developed specifically by different regional broadcasters in the UK. Add to this the relaxation of franchise ownership rules that also saw mergers between many of the larger franchise operators. Yorkshire and Tyne Tees merged and were then swallowed up by Granada and eventually Granada and Carlton, who originally outbid Thames for their licence, became the monolith that we now know as ITV. Gradually, since the 1990s, local and regional programming has been squeezed off the air.
Scottish Television, known as STV, remains as ITV's second oldest franchisee after Granada and concentrates on local news programming, documentaries, sports coverage and had a decent track record in children's programmes until recently. Only this month its bid to to become an 'indie' production company, able to compete for commissions from the likes of Channel 4 and the BBC, was rejected by the DCMS. Its drama output, perhaps unfairly epitomised by the now defunct long running soap Take The High Road (1980-2003) has included adaptations of the Ian Rankin Rebus (2000-7) books and Taggart (1983-), another instantly recognisable drama from the franchise, continues to this day.
Like many of the current ITV franchises, STV's archive of drama, entertainment and documentary hasn't seen the light of day for decades and certainly the complex rights issues surrounding the ownership of archives and the programmes housed in them as part of ITV plc has made clearances for public release on home entertainment formats extremely onerous.
Charles Endell, Esquire is one of those forgotten STV drama nuggets. Best forgotten, you may ask yourself? It has a pedigree that is certainly not to be sniffed at. Glaswegian Charlie Endell, a Soho spiv and porn merchant created by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall for the highly successful LWT drama Budgie (1971-72), was a character you certainly couldn't forget, particularly when the wit of Waterhouse and Hall's scripts was channeled through a larger than life performance from the superb Iain Cuthbertson.
His double act with Adam Faith, as ex con Budgie, was central to many of the series' most memorable episodes with Endell using him to run errands and act as the fall guy when various schemes ran foul of the law or Budgie's ineptitude. Robert Banks Stewart, a seasoned television writer, resurrected the Charles Endell character seven years later in 1979 for Scottish Television, returning him to his old stomping ground of Glasgow. Now an ex con himself, he emerges back into the world, from confinement at Her Majesty's pleasure, and finds that the times have certainly changed.
STV, embracing multi-platform broadcasting, have now unearthed the episodes of Charles Endell, Esquire from the archives and have posted the first episode 'Glasgow Belongs to Me' (and eventually it is hoped all six episodes of Charles Endell, Esquire will be available from Sunday November 14 onwards) for a new generation of TV fans to enjoy on YouTube. There are also interviews with director David Andrews, trailers and a wonderful montage of the 'wit and wisdom' of Charlie Endell.
Jonathan Melville also interviews writer Robert Banks Stewart HERE and offers his own fascinating profile of the series HERE. My own thanks to Jonathan Melville for providing me with the opportunity to reacquaint myself with one of my own treasured television memories and to review all six episodes. The review below does contain spoilers for the six episodes of this short lived series.
Appropriately the series, produced by Rex Firkin (the original executive producer of Budgie seven years previously), emerged during a turbulent period for politics and industrial relations in the UK. Margaret Thatcher came to power in May 1979, certainly a huge turning point in British politics of the time, after the desperate winter of 1978-79 had led to widespread strikes across the UK and a vote of no confidence in the Labour government. Ironically Labour's fall stemmed from the SNP's withdrawal of support for the Scotland Act of 1978 (proposing a Scottish Assembly with very limited powers) when a referendum failed to meet the 40% of electorate votes in favour of it and Labour dropped its proposed devolution.
The six episodes of Charles Endell, Esquire, as was the majority of ITV's output at the time, were also the victim of an eleven week long technician's strike that kept ITV off the air between August and October of 1979. Only two episodes were shown in July 1979, in the Anglia and ATV regions, and it wasn't until April 1980 that the whole series was networked. Its fragmented transmission history probably accounts for its forgotten status. The TV Times of 24th November 1979 certainly showed that G. May of Keswick, Cumbria was missing the show and described it as 'one of the most promising series I have seen on ITV for a long time'.
The series opens with 'Glasgow Belongs To Me', establishing Charles Buchanan Endell's return to civilisation, or in this case Glasgow at the fag-end of the 1970s, and sets ups a number of plot strands that develop over the following episodes. The then faded grandeur of Glasgow, epitomising the similar deprivation of the inner cities in the late 1970s and early 1980s such as the Liverpool seen in Bleasdale's Boys from The Blackstuff (1980-82), forms the backdrop to the series along with some location shooting in the wintry looking Scottish countryside and, although the series isn't aiming for gritty realism as such, it provides stark contrast to Endell's ebullient attempts at get rich quick schemes.
Cuthbertson is on magnificent form throughout the series, a gruff voiced dandy with his sharp suits, camel hair coat draped over his shoulders and a twinkle in his eye little changed from the spiv introduced to us in Budgie. He finds that his attempts to relocate his empire (Soho has become 'a Mickey Mouse land for cheatin' the tourists' and has 'gone beyond the bounds of decent indecency') are hampered by a distinct lack of money and the unwelcome attentions of two 'gangsters' Kenny Croall and Alastair Vint who would rather not have Endell muscling in on their patch.
The series therefore concerns Endell's constant failure to ingratiate himself with 'King' Kenny and Vint, to involve them in his entrepreneurial efforts to raise money, and his pursuit of £180,000 in assets that mysteriously disappear along with his solicitor Archibald Telfer, whose death Endell tries to prove is simply one faked for convenience. While he tries to negotiate his new territory, he also has to contend with a glamorous probation officer, Kate Moncrieff (he meets her upon discovering that the Royal Caledonian Hotel is 'reduced to a flamin' doss house'), suffer the indignities of taking a room above a dance school run by an old friend, Dixie, and deal with the local police in the form of Dixie's suspicious brother, CID Detective Sergeant Dickson (the wonderfully hang-dog Phil McCall).
'There comes a moment in a man's life when he has to return to his roots, a moment for...er...reappraisal, to rediscover the source of his energy,' he claims to Dickson who meets him off the train in Glasgow. Charlie certainly epitomises the Thatcherite ambition of the times and embraces the idea of the business enterprise of the era being unshackled from numbing Labour policies, the individualist genie let out of the bottle. Over the course of the series, with the help of Tony Osoba playing Hamish MacIntyre ('Hamish MacIntyre I hope?' 'Aye, I'm Hamish MacIntyre' 'Aye, and I'm Sherpa Tensing!'), his bodyguard cum chauffeur (affectionately christened Worldwide after the name of his ailing cab company) he dips his elegant fingers into many pies.
He tries everything from the home entertainment industry (very prescient of writer Bill Craig to spot the home video boom just before it happened), art forgery, bootlegging whisky (Glen Endell!), music promotion (chart rigging the ditties of new wave band Blunt Instrument), sauna and massage parlours, to managing footballers (his handling of footballer Sandy Murdoch a nod to Trevor Francis, the first £1M player in the UK who had just been bought by Notts. Forest in February 1979) and nobbling race horses.
As he clearly informs Telfer in the first episode, 'Not te worry, there'll be no capital investment without a sound, searching review of profitability and growth potential' but even with the best intentions most of his schemes bear little fruit and only serve to antagonise Croall and Vint. With a partly dour sensibility, a dash of Ealing comedy and hard nosed British thrillers from the 1950s and 60s, all laced with superb wit and pithy one liners, Charles Endell Esquire was a series with enormous potential that lost its audience through no fault of its own.
After it is clear Telfer has absconded with Charlie's money (and tried to kill him by crushing him in a car and blowing up his hotel room), hard times force him to room above the dance school and a tender if somewhat abrasive relationship begins between him and former stripper Dixie who now runs the dance school ('I don't believe it. Not you. Hearts and flowers to a bunch of Lena Zavaronis?') and she warns him not to get involved with the likes of 'King' Kenny ('to him robbery without violence would be like fish without chips') and Vint ('cold as a chisel and vicious with it'). Between her and Kate, they attempt to set Charlie on the straight path and both Annie Ross and Rohan McCullough provide the perfect foils to Endell's crime lord pretensions.
The series also boasts a number of wonderful cameos from the cream of Scotland's drama and entertainment industry, with the legendary Rikki Fulton, probably best known for that Hogmanay sketch show fixture Scotch and Wry (1978-92), playing the viper-like Vint with utter relish and suave insouciance (complete with eye patch after the events of episode two 'As One Door Closes Another Slams in Your Face') and Jimmy Logan turning up in episode five 'Stuff Me A Flamingo' as Croall's henchman Sammy McPhee.
McPhee certainly emphasises the series' obvious homage to the film noir and gangster genres with Endell referring to him as the 'George Raft of Partick Cross'. Bill Denniston is also rather splendid as regular character Kenny Croall who, whilst taking a shine to Charlie, spares no mercy when he believes Charlie has involved his daughter Fiona, a pupil at the dance school, in kiddie pornography. It's left to Dixie and Worldwide to rescue Charlie, stripped of his clothes and upended in a cement mixer, at the end of 'As One Door Closes Another Slams in Your Face.' There is also a terrific cameo from Bernard Gallagher as Major Forbes-Forbes, a character as crooked and slippery as Charlie and who involves him in an art theft and fixing horse races in episodes two and six.
'Slaughter on Piano Street' in which Charlie supports a young punk band, Blunt Instrument, is also rather delightful in the way that it pokes fun at the music industry and its attendant marketing. There is also a subplot that reveals the drummer of the band is in fact Charlie's son from a previous moment of indiscretion. If the series had continued, it would have been interesting to see that relationship rekindled and developed further. The best moment in the episode is when Charlie turns up at Scottish Television's headquarters and in a nice bit of meta-textual play asks to see a Mr Izzard to see if he can plug Blunt Instrument on the telly. Mr Izzard is, of course, referring to Bryan Izzard, the executive producer of the series itself.
Certainly the highlight of the series is, for me, a script from Terence Feely, 'The Moon Shines Bright on Charlie Endell.' It plays like a demented version of MacKendrick's Whisky Galore (1947) where Charlie sets up a whisky distillery in the wilds of the country, claiming it to be a hydroponic farm to hoodwink the local busybody Mrs McTeague.
The episode opens with a dream sequence, worthy of Dennis Potter, where Charlie imagines himself to be the king pin of the Glasgow underworld sashaying into a plush restaurant with Kate on his arm to dine with the likes of Croall and Vint (sporting a glittery eye patch for this sequence) who are now reduced to toadying has-beens. 'Who the hell's that one-eyed freak?' enquires Charlie as the smoked salmon and champagne are served to a bouncy ragtime jazz standard. However, his wish fulfillment is rudely disrupted by his alarm clock and his hand ending up in a slop bucket under his bed. Dixie insists he tries and get a job on a building site but he declaims, 'I'm an artist, woman! I had a sensitivity and touch that made me the Yehudi Menuhin of the world of pornography!'
When he meets Hooch O'Hagan (a gorgeous little performance from Patrick Lewsley) in the bar of the Argyle Lodge and gets a taste of something that Hooch has 'been saving for a special occasion like this' that 'first saw the dark of night on a mist enshrouded peak in the rolling hills of Connemara, midst the pooling waters of the Shannon,' he cottons on to a money-spinning scheme to produce his own blend of whisky and promptly ropes Worldwide and his girlfriend Janet ('to cast off the bonds of tyranny, to shove the excise man's dipstick up his nostril') into smuggling all the equipment and ingredients in Worldwide's old ice cream van to a deserted barn in the middle of nowhere.
The cat and mouse games with Mrs McTeague ('I promise you we'll run so many rings round Mrs. McTeague she'll think she's the planet Saturn') and the attempts of Vint and Croall to track Charlie down on behalf of Telfer all make for some fine screwball comedy, including a rather odd digression between Kate Moncrieff and Jack Leakey (guest star Russell Hunter's only scene but definitely a memorable one) where he warns her that Charlie will end up 'in bits all over Glasgow' with the result that Mrs McTeague and Dickson witness the barn going up in flames after Vint and Croall blow it to pieces with a bomb. It's use of period ragtime tunes as incidental music clearly put me in mind of Alan Plater's The Beiderbeck Trilogy.
Later episodes don't quite match this sophistication but have their moments. When Charlie is charged with looking after Croall's string of massage parlours in episode five, Alistair Bell's 'Stuff Me A Flamingo', he is also bequeathed the greyhound Linda and falls into the clutches of a dipsomaniac vet Tully, running a dodgy kennel, who cons him out of hundreds of pounds and gets the greyhound pregnant by a poodle. David Swift puts in a memorable turn as Tully and he is aided and abetted by Gerard Kelly (who sadly passed away just after I'd written the first draft of this review) playing the kennel boy (clip HERE), whom you will recognise from City Lights (1984-91) , Rab C. Nesbitt (1988-), Scotch and Wry, Brookside (1982-2003) and Extras (2005-7).
The final episode, 'If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em', which sees Charlie set up Worldwide Sports Enterprises in order to sell player Sandy Murdoch to the Americans but then running foul of Vint's interests also brings the storyline about 'dead' solicitor Telfer back into focus, featuring The Avengers Patrick Newell as his front man Cannadine. He also fails to fix the horse race for Major Forbes-Forbes and ends up owing him and Vint £10,000 each but the dance school and its pupils come in very handy when avoiding the eventual showdown.
Charles Endell Esquire has sadly been forgotten, perhaps because of the strike but also because Minder (1979-2009), which has a not too dissimilar premise and lead character in Arthur Daley, rather eclipsed it when that series started straight after the ITV strike in October 1979. Charles Endell Esquire didn't get back onto the screen until mid 1980 after two episodes were shown in July 1979 by which time Minder had eleven episodes under its belt and the promise of a further thirteen later that year.
It has a very quirky style, as expressed in its outrageous and raucous title song ('a-titty-bum-bum, a-titty-bumberoni') and the retro feel of the graphics reflect the late 1970s penchant for Art Nouveau with the ad break interstitials of gold watch, smoking cigar and a glass of sparkling champagne completed by Charlie growling in voice over, 'See me, I'm back!' or 'Oh, I'm def-in-itely back. Def-in-itely.' Certainly my memories of the show are as much formed by these as they are by the enthusiastic central performance from Cuthbertson which quite simply holds the whole thing together even when the scripts are somewhat uneven. A nostalgic treat.
Cuthbertson wrote a short piece of fiction 'The Coming Out of Charles Endell Esquire' for TV Times, for the issue dated July 28th-August 3rd 1979, that reintroduced the character to viewers since his last appearance in Budgie in 1972 and detailed his activities in London prior to returning to Glasgow. You can find that here with the cover of the TV Times, the listing for that week's episode, a profile of Rohan McCullough (Kate Moncrieff) and an interview with Tony Osoba (Worldwide) that appeared in the following week's issue.
He's def-in-itely back.