What Kind of Fool Is He?

The Strange World of Gurney Slade on DVD

In Episode Four of The Strange World of Gurney Slade, our eponymous hero is on trial for having no sense of humour and therefore, by extension, creating an unfunny television programme. Slade is philosophical “I still think it could have been funny. Maybe the timing was wrong?” Certainly the timing was wrong, and on the evidence of the rest of this amazing series it was out by decades. For once, the old cliché that a programme was “years ahead of its time” is entirely appropriate: it makes those arch-whimsy merchants The Boosh look like Bootsie and Snudge.

An Education

Tales Out of School on DVD

Tales Out of School is a quartet of plays by David Leland concerned with the role of education in society, and the conflicts between pedagogical approaches that gradually evolved in the wake of the 1944 Education Act. That sounds like a recipe for unimaginable boredom, but in fact the four films that comprise Tales Out of School are compelling, challenging and, at best, downright thrilling pieces of television. The full quartet of films has only been repeated once (on Channel 4 in 1985) since its initial showing two years earlier, and to a large extent the final film, Made in Britain has overshadowed the rest, largely due to the fame of its remarkable director Alan Clarke, and its subsequent repeats…

Damp Patch

Spooner’s Patch on DVD

In the 1970s, the public’s perception of the police began to suffer. The revelations about corruption in the Metropolitan Police in particular were very damaging, and this was reinforced by an increasingly harder edge to the fictionalised representations of the force on television. The Sweeney is an obvious example, but while its lead characters Regan and Carter sailed close to the wind, they generally came good in the end, and indeed the climax of the series featured Regan trying to clear his name of corruption.

It was Les Blair and GF Newman’s controversial 1978 series Law and Order that, if not the first, was the most high-profile show to portray police corruption as a widespread fact of life, but its influence led to…

Bog Robbers

Villains on DVD

Villains is a relatively obscure drama serial that was made by London Weekend Television in 1972. It’s also one of the best and most surprising television DVD releases in many years. Not only is it a programme of real power and complexity, but as far as I’m concerned it’s also the key “lost text” of British crime drama in the 1970s. The traditional evolution of this genre usually focuses heavily on the role of Euston Films and Thames Television starting with Mike Hodge’s 16mm experiment Suspect, through Special Branch and The Sweeney and culminating in the sophisticated quasi-art house Out and Fox and the populist comedy-drama of Minder. While that lineage still holds, Villains demonstrates not only that Thames and Euston held…