One of Francis Durbridge’s most famous tv serials was Melissa. The original was first shown in the 60s, and I watched a version written – unlikely though it seems – by Liverpool playwright Alan Bleasdale a few years ago. Bleasdale is a good writer, and I was delighted to discover that he was a Durbridge fan, but suffice to say that on the evidence of his take on Melissa, weaving mysteries is not his strong suit.
So I didn’t quite know what to expect when I watched a DVD of the three-episode remake of Melissa shown on BBC TV in 1974, and starring Peter Barkworth as Guy, the grumpy writer whose glamorous wife disappears one evening and is found strangled.
What I got was a classic Durbridge plot, and it was a challenge to keep up with the twists and convolutions of the story-line Wherever Guy turns, he seems to find himself in more and more trouble. Like many a Durbridge protagonist, he receives enigmatic messages inviting him to a rendez-vous where – guess what? – the next victim of the devilish strangler turns up.
This is escapist fiction at its best. Durbridge isn’t strong on characterisation and social comment is almost non-existent. Agatha Christie is often accused of weakness in these areas, but Durbridge is even more focused on plot than Christie. But judged by what he is trying to do, he is very good indeed. Peter Barkworth, incidentally, was as excellent as ever as the baffled, irritable but rather likeable lead.
However, there was one element of the plot that, for the life of me, I couldn't figure out. Has anyone else seen this one, and been equally baffled, I wonder?