Sunday, 8 January 2017
Turtle's Progress Compared to Minder
Today I want to write about a series I bought on spec and comment on the way it is often compared to the slightly later series Minder. Turtle's Progress is what we would now call a spin-off from the 1975 show Hanged Man. I have owned Hanged Man on DVD, have watched it all the way through, and am not going to beat about the buch in declaring frankly that I didn't take to it. I bought it thinking that I would like its main premise, of a company boss who 'dies' in order to investigate who has it in for him. I still do like that premise, I just found that it lacked oomph and failed to hold my attention, a completely personal response to it, and of course you are welcome to disagree with me vehemently.
Turtle's Progress features one character from Hanged Man, but the setting is very different. It is the sort of East London gangland with forays into the respectable world TV series, which the word 'gritty' could have been coined to describe. Turtle (John Landry) and his sidekick Razor Eddie (Michael Attwell, who I eventually managed to place as playing one of the burglars in the Are You Being Served episode where it is stock taking and burglars break into Grace Brothers) are petty thieves who mistakenly steal a van which just happens to contain a consignment of safe deposit boxes. Naturally the contents of the boxes is much more valuable than the van itself, and the whole series is based on the implications of opening the boxes one by one.
I actually like that plot very much. It allows for a basic set of characters who interact with a different set of characters each episode, and the underbelly of such enterprises as racing and antiques can be visited, depending on who has an interest in the contents of the box opened in that episode. The constant background is the seedy setting and criminal family background of the protagonists.
The internet reviews I have been able to find for Turtle's Progress are few and far between yet almost relentlessly positive. It is evident that this show gained a strong cult following at the time it was first broadcast, and those people have cottoned on to its release on DVD with glee. I therefore feel obliged to make some criticism of the show, and I think it would have to be that considering this show dates from 1979-80 it is remarkably studio-based and doesn't compare well with the action-based series of the time, such as The Sweeney. This is purely a production criticism, but I think that is a major drawback for this show. A further production criticism is one which is simply because this show is caught in an unfortunate time frame: nowadays British ears are more accustomed to hearing real American accents than we were in the 1970s. Unfortunately this means that the actors speaking in 'American' accents are in no way convincing. Perhaps this is best seen as a historical record of how British TV portrayed Americans in the 1970s.
Turtle's production values also show when it is compared to Minder. You will read everywhere that Turtle's Progress had an influence on Minder, in fact it is mentioned on the box. To my mind the way in which it compares best is the depiction of the London demimondaine criminal fraternity, populated entirely by cockney chappies. Nonetheless Turtle's Progress feels much more 'worthy': it feels much more like a series of plays, and while the theme is clearly criminal it feels to me as if the treatment is much less adult. I am almost all the way through Turtle so far and I'm yet to meet a single reference to sex, to a crooked copper, or to the kind of desperation routinely referenced in Minder. Yes, Malone is clearly Turtle's minder, but to my mind the comparison really begins and ends with that fact and the London setting.
A question is raised in my mind by these shows, as to who their intended audience could be. I have written before about the north-south divide in Britain - by this was an ATV show so it couldn't possibly have been to entertain northerners. I also wonder, since the characters are to a man working-class, loveable cockneys, whether this was intended for the entertainment of the middle class? I just wonder that, rather than stating it as a fact. Turtle's aunt Ethel is the sort of loveable cockney character who makes mistakes in terms of simple general knowledge: I love the way she thinks that tea from the Co-Op in Fulham is not foreign, but nonetheless... There is of course a further historical element to this show in that I don't think for an instant the original working class population can afford to live in Fulham these days, unless housed in social housing, inherited a place, or sharing. Turtle is set at a time which has forever vanished in the wake of Thatcher, and the irony is that Turtle bizarrely emulates the private industry advocated by Thatcher.
On a completely personal level, both Turtle and Minder raise questions for me as to what differentiates these shows from what I would consider 'real' cult TV shows, such as The Avengers, The Prisoner, and so on. I think the difference is that those shows have a real streak of unreality. The problem for me with so much 'real' TV is that of course it isn't real at all!
Nonetheless I don't feel the need not to comment on Turtle's Progress as being a complete dud. I don't think the comparison with Minder holds up, and I think they are best approached looking for slightly different things. If you like cheeky Cockney chappies who are down on their luck, well Turtle's Progress might be just your thing.