Sunday, 7 January 2018

Public Eye: The Girl in Blue

You have to be in the mood to watch Public Eye, in my humble opinion. Or rather, one of two moods. One would be the mood where everything is going your way, you've just won the lottery, you're one of the few people left in the world with a pension which may actually support a retirement, you get the kind of thing. The other mindset is a deeply world-weary mindset. You've seen all the bad behaviour that human nature has to offer, you've spent the day wearing out shoe leather in your enquiries, and you're almost certainly wearing an old mackintosh.
It may be incongruent, then, that this series of Public Eye is set in Windsor. It is location for our poshest public (private in US English) school, and we all know Who have Windsor as their surname. It almost seems to suit the show better when the earlier episodes take place up here in big bad Birmingham, and the down at heel world of Brighton also suits the show well. Nonetheless the world's problems manage to come through Marker's office in Windsor High Street.
The milieu for this one goes into the world of what the episode itself calls 'blue movies'. It starts with four businessmen watching one of these movies and one of them recognises his daughter in the film. That scene is one of the things I love best about this episode, simply because it so dated. The film is literally a film, being shown on a projector which chunters along in the way they did, although I don't think I have heard that sound in reality for at least 35 years. The titles of the films are subsequently revealed to be - hilariously - The Parson Knows and Fun and frolics with Francine Freda - but I suppose this was the seventies and there are real films with such corny titles of this date! The scene which follows takes place in the hotel bar which is similarly dated, and in my incongruent way, when one of the characters gives the barmaid an order to put it on his bill I found myself wondering how the hotel would have kept accounts like that in the days before computers. Now it would just appear, but I suppose then paper records would have been involved. Later there is a scene where Marker takes the three-pin plug off the projector to plug into a two-pin socket at the police station, which is also a scene very much of its time because our sockets were at the time only on the way towards the almost ubiquitous three-square-pin models we have now. If anyone particularly wants me to wander off into the subject of plugs just ask and I will put it in a comment but as it is I am holding myself back from talking about one of my little hobby horses.
I am also reminded of the moral milieu of the time - this was the age of Mrs Whitehouse trying to keep filth off TV. The director of a frozen food complany had hired both the projector for the occasion and hired the films from Soho, and it is interesting to see how quickly he caves in when Marker merely threatens him with exposure for this fact. This is shown in counterpoint to the attitude of Inspector Firbank, who has no hesitation at watching the film to see the daughter. Once again it means setting up a screen and the involved matter of threading the film.
Firbank is even more cynical than Marker, and not only shows no surprise at the film but accepts these 'blue' movies as part of the modern world. Marker is more sympathetic to the girl, commenting that all of these girls are always somebody's daughter. I would have to point out that this series of Public Eye has got a 15 certificate here, suggesting that standards have changed. I have no idea whether anybody would have found the shots of women in bras pornographic at the time, and of course this show was always intended for TV broadcast, and I have no doubt that there was much more graphic pornography than this widely available in 1972. Nonethless I agree with Firbank's verdict that The Parson Knows could be shown at choir practice!
This episode, having set up a moral issue around the blue movie, then cleverly goes on to complicate it by introducing the fact that Summers lost contact with his daughter after throwing her out of the house for getting pregnant. Of course it is at this point the viewer rather loses sympathy for him. It doesn't help that subsequently she is revealed to have also used drugs, and the distributor of Parson Knows implies that she could be on the game or even dead. We lose even more sympathy for Summers when discover that his wife knows where the daughter is but hasn't told her husband. Far from the straightforward grit-fest with the concomitant shocks and disgust at the world of porn, this show examines a complex and subtle moral issue.
It is also very apparent that however this one ends, it isn't going to be happy. Of course that is much of the point of this show, that Marker's business involves endless human misery, but it's a weakness in the plot of this one. Either the daughter is alive or she isn't, and if she isn't she has very obviously volitionally not contacted her father in five years. The nature of this is very apparent right from the start of the episode. Summers ends the episode in a worse place than he ended it because he has had his daughter tell him that she will not be forgiving him for what he has done. I have a feeling that this probbaly reflects many a fractured family, and Summers's attitude represents a common human attitude that we should seek forgiveness and try to fix things, but the message here is that some relationships are broken beyond fixing. We end the episode with our sympathies firmly in the daughter's benefit.
Despite its weakness of plot this is an excellent Public Eye episode, which revels in the kind of human misery which this show does so well. I know I normally tend to prefer unreality over reality, but the sympathetic nature of Marker's character and the interesting characters he investigates make this a show which fascinates me.

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