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Television: past and present

At the risk of being a bore [surely not, Editor] I continue to enjoy the vintage retro tv of the seventies and eighties shown on ITV4. I have praised the quality of the scripts, the acting and the creation of memorable  characters in Minder and The Professionals but there are two more features which I would laud. Firstly, ones sees celebrated actors at the inception of their careers. Over the last episodes of The Professionals I have seen Pamela Stephenson, David Suchet and Charles Dance all in minor roles. Yesterday I watched Patrick Malahide as a policeman in the series – I wonder if this was the inspiration to cast him as Inspector Chisholm, the officious cop who Arthur Daley  always outsmarted? I also recognised Michael Redfearn, he of the OXO ad, as a colleague in CI5 of the two stars.  Next up, on Minder was Andrew Sachs playing a dishonest Jewish businessman in the rag trade in a role that would be too non-PC nowadays. He of course went on famously to become Manuel in Fawlty Towers and more recently insulted by Russell Brand.

The second feature is that both programmes are reflection of the times. You don’t just get the totemic emblems of the seventies in The Professionals: the Capri, flared trousers, big fat ties, tartan jackets, but as so much was filmed outside location in wine bars, restaurants and hotels I nostalgically remember from my first visits to London as an American student. The last Minder I watched was filmed in Brighton. When Ray, Arthur’s nephew, drives a caravan hiding Andrew Sachs (as Sidney Myers) on the run from a contract killer he turns from the seafront into the Marina. Arthur Daley is confused why there is now a whole complex there. In fact eighties Brighton was not that different from contemporary one with so much gorgeous Georgian architecture that, as Arthur Daley says, “They could build, that Regency firm”. All of this connects me with my own youth as well as making me laugh at one of of TV ‘s funniest persona in Daley. As for The Professionals, for all its non-PC , macho male chauvinism it remains high tempo drama, rarely achieved today. I doubt if Cuffs the latest tv police effort, also set in Brighton, will be  on any retro channel in 40 years time.

Finally I must mention The Dresser. Three theatrical knights worked on this adaptation of the Ronald Harwood 1990 play: Sir Richard Eyre, the director, Sir Antony Hopkins and Sir Ian Mckellen. I’m old enough to remember the first dramatisation with a very good actor Freddie Jones who never achieved the fame of those mentioned, nor of the two nominated for the Oscars  in the film version – Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay. The latest dramatisation for television was inevitably something of a benefit performance. Hopkins was actually more convincing in playing Lear than the Wolfit character, ironically referred to by the cast as the “Sir” he played(Harwood was Wolfit’ s dresser) whilst McKellen, though very good as the mannered dresser Norman, did not take the interpretation beyond that of Tom Courtenay. I suppose there are not that many parts for two old men. There was a strong supporting cast too of Edward Fox and Emily Watson. Set almost exclusively in the dressing room and thus deprived of the wonderful scene in the film when Sir (as he is called) raises his arm as if in Shakespearean battle on the steps of a railway station as the train  is just departing and commands it to stop. At nearly two hours it dragged its weight and left an aftertaste that was not entirely satisfactory.

My conclusion is that popular can be best and that acclaimed actors like Gordon Jackson and George Cole as George Cowley and Arthur Daley served their careers and audience well by popularising tv roles – in roles of which theatrical knights are a bit sniffy.

About Bernadette Angell

After cutting her journalistic teeth in Boston USA, Bernadette met and married an Englishman, whom she followed back to London. Two decades and three children later, they divorced. She now occupies herself as a freelance writer (credits include television soaps and radio plays) and occasional amateur gardener. More Posts