IN A TWO-PAGE ADVERTISEMENT in the American show-biz magazine “Variety,” Rediffusion trumpeted its 10 years of achievement in Independent TV.
“There must be something special about the work we do,” the advertisement read. “Like Around the Beatles, This Week, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Crime and Punishment, Freedom Road, Riviera Police.”
Since Rediffusion has lined it with Shakespeare and Dostojevski as amongst its finest hours, it is clear that the London TV company is very proud of its series, Riviera Police.
Now it is clear that the vast majority of sensitive and intelligent critical opinion in Britain does not share Rediffusion’s enthusiasm for Riviera Police.
It has had an even worse critical reception than Groucho – Rediffusion’s other recent major light entertainment show – and when one has said that one has about plumbed the depths of pejorative language.
One critic called it “decadent, trashy entertainment,” and added that “everyone in it is courting contempt.”
“The Spectator” said: “This dear and nasty programme is apparently inspired by Continental Films, a publication rich in pin-ups which are a solace to tired TV executives.”
Now the name of the “Spectator” critic who penned those lines is Stuart Hood. Mr. Hood was Programme Controller at Rediffusion when the decision to make Riviera Police must have been taken.
If he thought the idea was “nasty,” theoretically it was in Mr. Hood’s power to prevent the series being made. Unless, of course, he was overruled. And there was only one man who could have overruled him – Mr. John McMillan, the general manager and present Programme Controller. Could this offer some clue to Mr. Hood’s short tenure of high office at Rediffusion?
In any case, it is clear from the “Variety” advertisement that Mr. McMillan does not share Mr. Hood’s distaste for this farrago of sun-tanned shenanigans on the beaches of the Mediterranean.
And it must be reported that Mr. McMillan certainly has numbers – if nothing else – on his side. Since it first began, Riviera Police has consistently jogged Coronation Street for the heady accolade of being No. 1 in the Tam Ratings. Why curl up with shame when that medal is being pinned to your breast?
Indeed, when I spoke to Lord Hill a fortnight ago, I asked him what he thought of a situation where critical opinion was at such wide variance with mass preference. Did he think the critics were wrong or out of touch? He tactfully dodged the question.
But in spite of Lord Hill’s reticence, it is evident that certain discreet noises emanating from the ITA indicated that the Authority was not happy with the moral tone of certain stories transmitted so early in the morning nor with the cameras creeping pre-occupation with flesh for flesh’s sake.
I recall one early episode where a fetishist party – with girls dressed as animals so that they could waggle furry tails at the camera – occupied a good deal of the time.
A blonde sun-bathing on a piano stuffed the base of a champagne glass into her bikini top and cooed, “Fill me another, lover.” Another, removing her swim-suit, innocently gurgled: “Don’t these bikinis cut into you when they’re wet.”
The plot involved the detective being hit on the head and falling between the straddled legs of a bathing beauty. The legs were his only clue to the villains, and the rest of the film was a flurry of navels, thighs, bosoms and calves as every photogenic clue on the Riviera was carefully examined.
What a sad change, then, there is to report on one recent episode of Riviera Police.
Not a navel within whistling distance. The one bikini in view was dangled in middle-shot as if it were something ready to go to the laundry. The heroine was dressed in a one-piece black swim-suit and bosoms were so scarce that Riviera tourists authorities might well contemplate an action for defamation and loss of trade. Indeed, the most exciting garb was worn by some monks who were dragged into the plot.
Without sun-tan lotion to act as an aphrodisiac or rounded contours as a diversion, what is there to hold audiences to Riviera Police other than inertia?
The story was typically feeble and contemptuous of viewer intelligence. A woman archaeologist, madly possessive of her son, jealously murders all girls the son is interested in. She convinces the boy he has done the murders in his sleep.
Such details as to why the hotel authorities conspired to deny the presence of one of the murdered girls in the hotel were conveniently dumped – unexplained and forgotten.
The French accents of the cast came and went with bewildering uncertainty. The shooting was flat, the editing leaden and the dialogue crass.
Determined to cash in on the success of such sophisticated thrillers as Burke’s Law, Riviera Police seems on every count merely a bumbling, pathetic copy from its colourless four detectives – some recruited from the Dominions to make them palatable in Australia or Canada – to the dire selection of cretinous plots chosen by its editor and producer, Jordan Lawrence.
The BBC, I would suggest, deserves some share of the credit – or blame – for sending Riviera police to the top of the ratings. Since it has consistently opposed it with repeats – either Hugh and I or the Likely Lads (and both recently seen before) – it has unwittingly conspired in the creation of the canard that the British public prefers programmes like Riviera Police to anything else on TV.
But what will the ITA think – I wonder – when it is handing out its new contracts of a company that lists Riviera Police as one of the finest achievements of its 10-year-career?