Clear evidence of desperation among the boys who write those crime series


This week, Milton Shulman is disliking ABC’s ‘Intrigue’ on your behalf

Syndicated to newspapers on 12 November 1966

WHEN I WAS in television a few years back, a favourite pastime of executives was trying to dream up backgrounds upon which a new series could be pinned.

The difficulty was that almost everything had been exhausted. Lawyers, hospitals, schools, factories, board-rooms, airports, civil service, luxury flats, working-class streets, hotels, shops and, needless to say, spies.

Since then clear evidence of desperation can be detected nightly with activities swirling around football clubs, motels, new towns, blackmailers, police spies and country cousins.

The trouble with most of these subjects is that they are basically undramatic. In truth little ever happens to these people and their days are usually as uneventful as that of real estate agents in the Sahara.

Thus the producer of Intrigue, Robert Banks Stewart, is evidently having a trying time finding plots that bear some relevance to his brief.

The inspiration for this series is obvious enough. If the public enjoys the boardroom intrigue of The Power Game and the mystery of a spy series like Danger Man, why not something that marries business and espionage?

I can just imagine the congratulatory back-slapping that went on at ABC’s weekly Creative Meeting when some bright spark put this one on the agenda.

There has been a good deal of industrial espionage, but what shennanigans really go on by which the secret of a raised hem-line or a new coloured toothpaste is stolen from a business rival?

Inevitably a private eye figure, burly Edward Judd, is the central character, equipped with sofa-strewn office and a hot-and-cold running secretary in the shape of the delectable Caroline Mortimer.

The episode, That’s What’s Pushing the Price Up, by Paul Finney, seen a fortnight ago, was about the efforts of some unscrupulous car manufacturers to buy a photograph of a new car model being secretly tested by a rival firm.

Their aim was to publicise the fact that a radical new model was about to be put on the market by their competitor and this news would mean that no one would buy their present model because it would soon be out of date.

Unable to market their current crop of cars, the firm, already financially shaky, would be an easy victim for a take-over bid.

All this seems to me to be a reasonable enough Machiavellian situation and plausibility was never too seriously outraged.

Even the price offered for the photograph had a nice austerity ring in these days when car manufacturers are unlikely to have two share bonuses to rub together and when taking over another car manufacturer may not be as digestible a process as it used to be.

There were some clever character vignettes – Michael Harrington as a rapacious tycoon was particularly good – and the denouement in which the photographs were seen to contain no information at all had a genuine ring of truth.

The merit of this episode was that the plot had some relevance to credibility. Although some of the characters were over-drawn and some of the plotting was superficial, it was basically a likely situation that kept you watching because of its authenticity.

But last week’s episode, Cut Price, Cut Throat, by Paul Lee, was inglorious gibberish that shows up this type of series at its worst.

The contest this time was over the sale of a clothing contract to some European customer who was inevitably fat, bald and slightly sinister because he liked good music.

To gain their ends the villainous clothing manufacturers would stop at nothing-seduction of beautiful Latin women, hiring of sinister Italian thugs, bribery of police, kidnapping, beatings, blackmail, threatened murder.

Russian agents trying to wrest anti-anti-missile blueprints from Cape Kennedy would not have been more violently sinister than these rag-trade gentlemen eager to make a wholesale deal on the Continent.

While commending their zeal to break into the export market, I hardly think the Board of Trade is yet ready to condone guerilla warfare to establish our right to sell mini-skirts in Milan.

Mr. Robert Banks Stewart, the producer, should now take a look at the rest of the scripts he has lined up for this series.

Before deciding to put them into production he should ask himself if the plots are really concerned with industrial espionage or if industrial espionage is merely being used as an excuse for some trite thuggery to fill up a mindless Friday evening.

Glossy sets. heavy breathing villains, aimless violence, lavish spending, svelte females have little to do with the routine business in this country which tends to be involved with timid executives, dreary offices. dowdy wives and every penny watched by eagle-eyed accountants.

But a series like Intrigue would be far more effective if it concentrated on authenticity at the expense of glamour.

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