I was disappointed by the first episode I watched of Murder Most English, the 70s mystery series now on DVD, so I’m glad to report that the second was a distinct improvement. This was Lonelyheart 4122, in which Inspector Purbright (Anton Rodgers, warming to the role) is called upon to investigate the unexplained disappearances of two respectable middle-aged women.
Before long, the detective decides that there is likely to be a connection between the missing women and an upmarket matrimonial agency run by a Mrs Staunch. But attempts to establish a link between the women and a particular male client of the agency get nowhere. So Purbright decides to keep an eye out for other potentially vulnerable women.
He lights upon Miss Lucilla Edith Cavell Teatime, newly arrived in Flaxborough. She is a woman who intrigues him, and she is less than frank about the fact that not only has she signed up with the agency, but she has also met up with a rather predatory chap who says he is a retired naval officer. But it soon becomes clear that Miss Teatime is not as naïve as she seems, and that anyone who crosses her path needs to be very sharp-witted indeed.
I found this episode entertaining, though not up to the high level of the very enjoyable book by Colin Watson upon which it’s based. Brenda Bruce (who apparently was a notable classical actress, and the first victim in Michael Powell’s film Peeping Tom) is a charismatic Miss Teatime, while John Carson, once a familiar figure on British TV (usually as a smooth villain), is appropriately awful as the gruff old salt.
Coming right up to date, I also wanted to mention Outnumbered - a UK series which had its Christmas special edition last night. This is a comedy, not a crime show (although the special did feature the aftermath of a burglary and a possible insurance scam) but I find it hugely entertaining, and I do admire the writing. It's the work of Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin (the latter also wrote for the superb time travel crime series, Life on Mars), and their scripts are both funny and, at times, poignant. There is much for anyone interested in the craft of writing to learn from scripts like these - the way that humour flows from character and situation, which the added twist, in this case, that the lines of the three young children who star in the show (and 'outnumber' their hapless parents, very believably played by Hugh Dennis and Claire Skinner) are not fully scripted. The scenes featuring the kids' grandfather in particular are almost invariably funny and moving. Last night's excellent special was well up to standard.