DVD Review: Fox

As someone who watched countless episodes of Minder while growing up in the 80s and early 90s, and also as a fan of the much missed Verity Lambert, I recently decided to try and track down some other productions from Euston Films, the company where Verity did much of her best work and where some of the UK’s finest series originated.

I decided to start with Fox, a series from 1980 which I’m too young to remember but which I’ve read enough about over the years to know that I really should be checking it out.

The thirteen-part series is set in South London and concerns the actions of the Fox family, a tight-knit clan headed up by Billy Fox (Peter Vaughan) and consisting of his five sons – Kenny (Ray Winstone), Vincent (Bernard Hill), Ray (Derrick O’Connor), Joey (Larry Lamb) and Phil (Eamon Boland) along with wife Connie (Elizabeth Spriggs). That’s a cracking cast, and those are just the leads, with other characters making appearances as the episodes go on.

As the series opens, the family are making do under the watchful eye of “King” Billy, an ex-market trader and a well known face in the manor who rules the roost with a stern-but-fair hand. At some point in the past Billy was obviously a major player in town, well known to all the local gangsters, though it’s never explicitly explained how far his reach actually went.

His sons are all working hard to make a living, whether that’s in the building trade, as a boxer, a taxi driver or, in Phil’s case, as a mature student. Thanks to the number of episodes given to the series, characters are allowed to build up naturally, with all the flaws and traits growing as time passes.

While major events do occur, there’s usually some background to them so that the viewer actually cares about what’s happening and can see the ramifications and the effects on the family.

The nature of family is central to Fox. While to Billy family is the most important thing in the world, uniting people and bringing them together, to Phil it’s almost the opposite. To him it’s stifling and oppressive, his desire to escape Clapham leading to issues with his dad which play out over the eleven-hours of the series.

Of the actors it’s hard to single anyone out for particular praise. Vaughan is both tender and terrifying at the same time, Boland impressive as he shows his struggle between being an individual and staying part of the family. For me the standout performances come from Derrick O’Connor and Larry Lamb, both of whom are given some great material to work with. Watching the latter mature of the course of the series is particularly rewarding.

O’Connor was a real revelation. Having not seen him in much before I didn’t realise his range. He’s able to do both funny and dramatic at the drop of a hat and I found myself wanting more and more scenes with Ray as the series progressed. Again, the length of the series means that when events do spiral out of control for him near the end of the series it really means something.

There is one slightly odd storyline concerning Ray Winstone’s character which I’m still not sure about, but to say much more would spoil things. Coming so soon after the traumatic repercussions of his boxing match, the introduction of The Bill’s Mark Wingett as a small-time criminal makes for a strange few episodes which could almost be from another series, but it does again give O’Connor some major screentime so I should be pleased.

I’d recommend this series to anyone who’s a fan of great British drama and who is willing to spend a bit of time with some talented actors and scripts which aren’t dumbed down. TV just isn’t made on this scale in Britain anymore, and we’re the worse of for it. Writer Trevor Preston knows his characters inside out and isn’t afraid to take his time making them real. He also wrote the songs which appear in each episode and which play an important part of the narrative.

I’ve now ordered Euston Film’s Out starring Tom Bell and my old mate Derrick O’Connor, and written once more by Trevor Preston. Here’s hoping it’s as good as Fox.

Fox is available on DVD from Network.

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