Sunday, 1 May 2016

Francis Durbridge Presents A Game of Murder

Yes, I know it is not even a fortnight since I blithely sat at this self same table and planned a series of posts on series one of The Avengers. That series of posts will of course be continuing, but I was surprised to find the amount of labour required, when I wrote about Nightmare, as it is a case of reading often contradictory reconstructions of a programme I have never watched and then trying to reach some kind of conclusion. Given that as well as the sense of reverence with which I ‘watch’ the last of the new Avengers programmes I will ever see, has made me think of that series of posts as something that will take longer than I thought. I will therefore give those programmes their own tag and interleave them with others.
Apart from that, I had to rush into print about this show. No, seriously. For ages it has been one of the suggestions that come up on Amazon for people who like Our Sort Of Television and I have been keeping an eye on the price until a copy should come down low enough for me to buy it. In fact since the subject of price has come up let me say right now that that is my only criticism of this set, that even though I am unaware of the complexities of restoration it is not worth the £34.21 Amazon are currently pricing it at, except to the most fanatical Durbridge fan. I would also just say that while it is boxed on three DVDs as if it is a boxed set, it is actually only six episodes, and while it is praiseworthy that subtitles are included (they are too often omitted on cult TV releases) there are no other extras at all. I find it difficult to believe that this series could not have been released on a single DVD, and I would also think the viewing experience would be improved by the potential to put the disc in and press ‘play all’.
In fact I’m getting more confused about this release the more I read about it. The adventure I’m reviewing here was part of a long-running series, and that this was released in a first collection in Australia with two other adventures, earlier this year, on a region 4 set. I see from the madman.com.au site that that collection is already out of stock, as is a second volume. I have managed to find some of these for sale on Ebay, and while I keep one of my laptops set to region 1 (mainly to watch I Love Lucy) I do not have the means to play region 4 so will see what happens. Given that my set, as well as the Australian-released ones all have ‘BBC’ emblazoned all over them, I gather it has become complicated. On the basis of this I would welcome the opportunity to watch the remaining series.
I have of course blogged here about Francis Durbridge in the past: he is perhaps most famous for his creation of Paul Temple (best known in the UK as a radio series) but was a prolific author of mystery novels over many decades, and frequently film and television adaptations of those novels. His repute for complex, subtle plotting is borne out in this adventure to the full. If you want to watch this as a convention whodunit, you can do. However, I realise, since blogging about the TV adaptation of Paul Temple, that Durbridge was not at all limited to the gin and jag milieu of the Paul Temple radio series, and that while fans of that Paul Temple may well be disappointed by his transplantation to the 1970s, A Game of Murder is Durbridge fully plugged in to the 1960s.
My price criticism is actually my only one, since I was hooked on the show from the instant the first episode started. A Game of Murder has exactly the sixties vibe I like so much. I love the opening scenes of the man opening up the sports shop in the morning, itself a very dated scene, since shop fronts don’t tend to look like that any more, being magnets for vandalism and burglary. The theme music is plainly real music, and creates a foot-tapping jazz vibe from the start. The street scenes do not quite blend seamlessly with the obviously studio-bound interiors, but I feel for the time that wouldn’t be too big a criticism. Certainly there isn’t the huge jump from externals to sets that you find in, say, series 2 of The Avengers. Jack Kerry’s flat is also dead sixties. Strangely, I notice that it has exactly the same kind of wood panelling on the wall that Steed’s flat at Stable Mews had, and wonder whether it would have been as colourful in reality!
Gerald Harper is superlative as the lead, Jack Kerry. While he obviously appears in a lot of sixties TV shows in various roles of varying prominence, he is best known to me as Adam Adamant. Given this it is a little strange at first apparently hearing Adamant’s voice coming from a 1960s character. Kerry is a very different character from Adamant, naturally as a ‘straight’ policeman he lacks Adamant’s more fantastic features completely and also recognises a prostitute in a photograph when he sees one, something Adamant would have shied away from! There is a real sense in which this show uses a very well-worn plot – that of the wronged hero avenging his wrong by finding out the truth – but it doesn’t come across as hackneyed in any way.
The restoration is also superlative: there are no evident problems with the picture. I have read comments on the internet that the first two episodes seem rather short in comparison to the others, suggesting that they were originally heavily edited or parts are missing, but I haven’t timed the episodes myself. Sound quality is excellent. The cast has many well-known names of the time in it, but not distractingly so, and you will agree it is unusual for me not to criticise return faces.
In summary, if you like the kind of TV I like, I think you will like this show. I would welcome region 2 releases of the other adventures in this series but would wish the prices were more reasonable.

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