“Get yer trousers on, you’re nicked!” Perhaps as well known in modern culture as anything from the Bard or Dickens, those words are spoken (make that shouted) by John Thaw in the TV movie Regan, presented here as part of Armchair Cinema, a set which presents some of the most sought after output from one of the UK’s most important production companies, Euston Films.
Best known for such long-running series The Sweeney (of which Regan is the pilot episode) and Minder, Thames TV subsidiary Euston were known for shooting on film and taking their cameras onto the streets of London, realistic dialogue and locations replacing studio-bound settings.
Five discs and ten plays are on offer here, brief summaries doing little justice to the quality and range on offer.
This new package opens with two pre-Euston films from Thames, Suspect (1969) and Rumour (1970), both written and directed by Get Carter director Mike Hodges. Suspect, starring Rachel Kempson and the first Thames drama filmed in colour, is the tale of a murdered girl and the effects on her family of the disappearance starring , while Rumour features Michael Coles as newspaper columnist who stumbles upon a conspiracy involving the UK Government.
The success of these two one-offs led to the creation of Euston Films and a series of plays with different casts and stories that would span the next five years, providing a consistently high standard of television drama to the ITV network.
As well as Regan, a suitably bleak start to what would soon become Armchair Cinema’s only spin-off series, The Sweeney, we’re offered Paris-set The Prison (1974), an odd story about a man (James Laurenson) whose wife kills her sister, The Sea Song (1974) in which Tom Bell’s character takes the helm of a one-man yacht only to discover he’s not alone and When Day is Done (1975), a fascinating character study starring Edward Woodward as a would-be musician with a dream which puts those around him in danger.
There’s also Patrick Mower in In Sickness and Health (1975) and Anthony Valentine in Tully (1975), in which he stars as an insurance investigator who travels to Australia to investigate and take part in dodgy dealings which never seem to tax him or the viewer.
Finally there’s the return of Tom Bell in The Sailor’s Return (1978), a message-heavy story about a sailor who returns to England with a new black wife and David Hemmings as the not-quite-Bond Charlie Muffin (1979), a spy who takes the bus rather than an Aston Martin and gets involved in international intrigue as his superiors try to hamper his every move.
Moving between genres and never outstaying their welcome – though Prison seems an unusual choice for production in the first place – Armchair Cinema was a brave attempt to bring viewers something different each time.
Pinpointing the best performance is difficult, though Edward Woodward’s turn in When Day is Done is worth mentioning, equalled by that of his screen wife Rosemary Leach. David Hemmings’ Charlie Muffin is a neat alternative to the usual screen secret agent, his world of expense forms and receipts a far cry from anything we’re used to – it’s a shame the character didn’t get his own series like Regan.
Yet another above par release from Network, who at this rate will have emptied the ITV archives in the next few years, this purchase should reinvigorate any aficionado’s love of great British television: here’s hoping some up-and-coming TV executives learn something from the past.
Armchair Theatre is out now from Network