Thursday, 11 July 2019

Out of the Public Eye

The programmes on Talking Pictures TV, broadcast on Freeview channel 81, are fast becoming some of my favourite on television.

As well as documentaries, like John Betjeman's elegaic early sixties train trip from Kings Lynn to Hunstanton, on a now closed north Norfolk branch line, and films such as the social realist late forties film noir "The Blue Lamp", with its superbly-shot finale at the White City dog track in west London, there are lots of repeats of sixties and seventies drama series.

My current favourite is the detective series "Public Eye", made for ITV between 1965 and 1975. I hadn't heard of it before and am not sure why, unlike many other, in some cases inferior, shows from the era, it hasn't been repeated on a more mainstream channel.

Although the central character, private detective Frank Marker, might seem like a bit of a TV cliche, a loner, slightly dishevelled and with a somewhat murky past, the writing and acting really lift it (as with my favourite TV detective, Columbo, it's now impossible to imagine anyone else playing the role apart from Alfred Burke, despite neither he nor Peter Falk being first choices for the part), and span the comedy of the Christmas special "Horse and Carriage" to the pathos of "The Man Who Said Sorry", a terse, almost hour-long, two-hander, apart from the dialogue-free opening scene and the final one, where Marker chats to his sometime ally, sometime adversary, DI Firbank, at their usual public bar meeting place.

The location of the series moves around southern England, but for the latest, and final run, Frank Marker has setttled in Eton, renting a spartan shopfront office where he seems to subsist on instant coffee brewed on a single gas ring and takeaway meals from the adjacent Chinese restaurant. There are lots of late sixties and early seventies details, from keg fonts in the pubs to his fee of six guineas plus expenses (later decimalised as £6.50, a slight increase, no doubt the result of rising inflation, although given his seemingly sparse workload it appears doubtful that the operation would have really been commercially viable, especially in one of England's posher towns where he also rents a flat).

Perhaps the coolest feature of the series though is the jazzy theme tune, composed by Robert Earley.

1 comment:

  1. I do vaguely remember this first time round, and I've watched a few episodes recently. I like the fact that it's downbeat and doesn't insist on always having some kind of contrived happy ending. I'm thinking of old US cop shows where the happy ending would be along the lines of:
    "Hey - does anyone know how X is?"
    "I've just phoned the hospital, and s/he is going to be okay."

    A more recent example of an unrelentingly grim show is "Waking The Dead" - not many laughs there.