Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Paul Temple Again

I have been watching Jason King again. He is probably an acquired taste, but how I love that show. I have been reflecting on what makes it appeal to me, and I think it is its setting, which I will refer to as ‘seventies opulent’. He is actually in a great tradition of people, frequently writers, who have a day job and yet seem to spend all their time either reclining in the most luxurious settings of the time or else doing the real purpose of the show, frequently investigating crimes. To me there is little point criticising the seventies opulent school for rubbing people’s noses in it when the world was going through a bad time, since nobody can live on gritty realism all the time.
It’s my own silly fault, since it is always a mistake to judge different ‘takes’ on a story in the same light (for example I like to approach The New Avengers as if I am watching The Professionals rather than as if I am approaching The Avengers), and I realise that I did Paul Temple’s TV incarnation a disservice when I roundly slagged it off in my last post about it. I was comparing it to the stiff-upper-lipped hero (ironically in the writer who lives a luxury life class, although he seems to do quite a lot of actual writing) of the radio series. This is actually a 1970s take on Paul Temple and I should have been comparing it to the other shows of the time. For this reason I bought the boxed set again when I saw it for sale today and am giving it another go.
This Paul Temple is so very much of the seventies. I have just noticed that the lettering on the DVD box is in an art deco-style font, which makes me wonder whether this was a deliberate reference to the era of the older radio series. This TV series is one where you just have to sit back and let it happen: the collars are huge, the carpets are deep, the cars are petrol guzzling monsters, and the chests are hairy. I didn’t take to this series when I watched it for the first time, I think for the reason that I didn’t allow myself to forget about the radio series. As I commented above, it is much better to watch it the way you would watch any implausible seventies luxury series. If you had watched this series in the actual seventies, you would have been exposed to the multiple levels of understanding of the time. You may have thought the clothes desirable, for example.
Time, and our distance from events or fashions, has a remarkable effect on how comfortable we feel with things. Now, you may still think the clothes portrayed in this TV show desirable, or you may think them ridiculous. I have a feeling you would find them more appealing if you weren’t alive in the seventies to remember them. It’s like that with eighties retro: it makes me embarrassed because I  can see how much of the fashion of the times was awful. However early 1960s TV, such as The Avengers, leaves me unembarrassed because it has no immediate relevance to my life and memories. This adaptation of Paul Temple directly accesses my memories and shows up some of the things I thought very sophisticated at the time, as very embarrassing in retrospect! This once again invites a comparison to Jason King, which does not have this embarrassing memories effect on me, and I have a feeling that that may be because even if I had been a wealthy adult of the time I still wouldn’t have gone around dressed like Jason King, in fact a colleague couldn’t understand recently why I had hysterics when she told me she wears a kaftan around the house, until I showed her the image in my head, which was nothing like the image in her head!
Of the three series I have been thinking about mostly this week – the others being Domwatch and Jason King – I think Paul Temple is the most sedate and worthy. What it boils down to is a fairly straightforward detective series. I think it is possibly more open to the criticism I expected to make of Doomwatch (although I found I was wrong factually) – that you can expect a series with multiple writers to have patchy plots. Here I am finding the plots much more variable, and yet I believe that Francis Durbridge actually wrote all of them, so I can’t really account for that unless he was approaching it as jobbing writing and not perhaps being as attentive to quality as he could be. I believe him to be a writer with a devoted following to this day, and have read a few of his books myself, so I would be surprised to find any great degree of variability in his writing.
I would identify as a greater criticism that Temple himself seems to have lost much of the character he had on the radio. Not long after this was made, Dick Barton made it onto the TV in an adaptation which was less divorced from the radio series than this one is, so it is unfortunate that the things which make Paul Temple himself have largely been removed. He is more of a generic rich man of the time than he is in the radio series. If my theory about the length of time before memories become embarrassing, is correct, then it is certainly possible that the original radio series of Dick Barton had become embarrassing by this stage, so it was considered best to branch out afresh.
I find the character of Steve even more mystifying. In the first episode of the box set I am watching, Games People Play, she is portrayed very much in contrast to Temple himself, as if she is very much younger and in fact quite in with the young crowd. They are both portrayed as very na├»ve to let this crowd get their hands on her alone, since it is plainly obvious that they are playing some dangerous games and you can see what is coming. I am also rather surprised at the contrast her crop top makes with Temple’s relatively dowdy clothing throughout the episode. It is conceivable that she is deliberately portrayed as much younger, perhaps to provide a bridge into the youth culture which Francis Matthews was certainly too old readily to move in, but this makes them an awkward couple together.
Similarly, this is definitely comfort viewing, in a Jason King vein. Yes, there are baddies, but you know they are never going to win really. None of the great traumas of the time is referenced in any meaning way which would make them threatening – perhaps it is a mistake to watch Jason King and Paul Temple in too close proximity to Doomwatch! I get the feeling that the comfortable world of Paul Temple shows no sign of ever being at risk or coming to an end.
These criticisms aside, re-watching this series has forced me to re-evaluate my original rather harsh opinion of it. I still prefer the films for a visual presentation of Paul Temple, followed by the radio series for the classic adaptation. However, this series is not without quality if it is watched as 1970s luxurious escapism, rather than a direct ancestor of the other adaptations of Paul Temple.

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