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Bognor: Deadline


There isn't very much about this show on the internet so I hope I will achieve writing about a show Mitchell Hadley hasn't heard of again.

I have had this box set for some time. The reason I have rather avoided writing about it is that it is a show which repays attentive viewing, and that it also takes some understanding. It is based on a series of books by Tim Heald in which Simon Bognor is a special investigator for the Board of Trade. I'm not going to lie, I find it slightly confusing how the apparent remit of the Board of Trade could require lengthy investigations spilling over into investigating such things as murder! Because the show is adapting whole novels, an adventure lasts several episodes and the two series only adapted the first four novels of the series of books. The show therefore operates in a way which benefits from extended viewing and is not that good for dipping in and out.

I suppose that TV series based on series of books, unless based on phenomenally popular works or great classics, depend for their popularity on the popularity of the original series. The only other series in a similar position to Bognor, would, I think, be Murder Most English, which may also appear here at some point, and dramatises the Flaxborough novels of Colin Watson. I feel the rather low-key popularity of this show reflects the popularity of the books.

While Flaxborough looks backwards in time, one of the greatest charms of Bognor is that it is very much of the 1980s. You will have noticed that 1980s TV rarely gets mentioned here, and that is simply because I think an awful lot of 1980s TV isn't much cop. A lot of the TV I remember also isn't set in the 1980s. In retrospect the decade was in many ways a bizarre time, but I personally prefer to remember it as a happy time - probably reflecting the age I was. One of the things I associate with the time, rightly or wrongly, is the relationship between the press and other bodies being somewhat troublesome. Deadline, the second book dramatised for the series, is set in a newspaper office after the gossip columnist is murdered. As Bognor says, the murderer could have been pretty much anyone in the country! It also features a trade union of the time, a sort which is now extinct, to the loss of every worker. You get to see into many homes in this one, and I know for a fact that if I had set foot in those homes in the eighties I would have thought their residents very sophisticated. I suppose I am acknowledging a totally personal reason for liking this show!

Deadline, which I have focused on here is the whole of the second adventure over six episodes. I like to focus on one episode of a thing usually, simply because even if I don't blog about the whole thing I have something to come back to in the future if the mood takes me. In this instance I thought that one episode alone wouldn't really provide enough meat. This is not a criticism because the show is not designed to move snappily, but if you like your TV at a fast pace you'll be bitterly disappointed. As I say it is a matter of design, but I think the action could have easily been got into four episodes. I do have one criticism which I would like to get out of the way, though. Bognor is supposed to be an investigator for some such body as the board of trade. Yet he gets involved in matters, such as murder, which are clearly CID business. I am, however feeling a little confused about this, because I have read in some reviews that the Board of Trade job is a cover for an actual job investigating this sort of thing. This is the fourth or fifth time I have watched through the series and I haven't noticed any mention of his nominal job being a cover. It is not impossible that I have missed it or that that fact appears in the books. However if a worker who is supposed to investigate business is investigating murder and not either protesting or walking out, it leaves a real problem of credibility. He also has a knack of getting duffed up in the course of his investigation which makes it even less watertight.

The characterisation of this show is superb. Characters leap off the screen fully developed and sympathetic. The conflicts within the newspaper are also very clearly described. I find David Horovitch's performance very interesting. Regular readers will be familiar with my dislike of intrusive faces who appear in lots of TV shows. I only realised when I read it that Horovitch also plays the inspector in Joan Hickson's Marple. He comes across as quite a different personality here, which I think an exemplar of how to do it and a Hallmark of good acting.

The plot gets complex as the episodes go on, although there is a unifying theme of the effect of the dead man on other people. Come to think of it, this complexity may be such that it needs the whole six episodes, but I'm not fixed in this view or my previous one.

There is just one thing I keep thinking, which is that this show would be better for being watched all in one go. Watching one a week as intended would be very confusing. Overall I think you would either like this show or not, but you will know!

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