He’s nasty and he’s a stoolpigeon yet a great many viewers like to see him


Milton Shulman takes a penetrating look at The Informer

IN the search for an anti-hero some very unsavoury creatures have crawled out from under the stones of TV drama.

One of the nastiest is Alex. Lambert of The Informer, who has temporarily replaced Sergeant Lockhart of “No Hiding Place” as Rediffusion’s man with the TAM appeal.

It has been consistently high in the ratings since it first appeared some six weeks ago.

Without wanting to be over-priggish, I find the glamorisation of a stool pigeon, the romanticisation of a cheapjack Lazarus, a rather clammy device for hooking popular audiences.

If Lord Hill is seriously concerned about the corrupting influence of programmes that appear on the air before nine p.m. – the wasteland reserved for programmes not unsuitable for children – then I suggest he consider some of the moral implications of “The Informer.”

“I didn’t realise what a fascinating subject informing was until we started researching for the programme,” cooed Stella Richmond, its executive producer, in a recent interview.

If you read that sentence quickly you might have thought Miss Richmond’s bubbling enthusiasm was related to some harmless activity like shrimping, or stamp collecting, or skin diving.

It was not. She was talking about the fascination of “informing.” Selling people to the police, not because of any sense of duty or conscience or moral responsibility, but purely for money.


And Alex. Lambert, the disbarred barrister turned copper’s nark, does very well, thank you very much, out of betrayal. He’s handsome, has a sardonic grin, lives in sumptuous surroundings, wears Saville Row suits, eats in the best restaurants, drives fast cars, has a pretty, devoted wife, is adored by a ravishing girl friend, keeps no regular hours, moves freely in artistic circles and, apparently, has no overdraft problems.

Such a life and such a hero might well warrant emulation in the young. Why not Alex. Lambert fan clubs? Membership open to all those who have reported that Mom hasn’t renewed the TV licence and that Dad has cheated on his income tax.

It is, perhaps, arguable that an originality in approach, brilliant, adult dialogue, imaginative stories with a sardonic thrust and drive, characters whose motivations are intelligently probed and portrayed, might have justified the part the informer plays in a society groping for acceptable values.

But nothing like this is remotely attempted in “The Informer.” Its routine thug-ear plots are well below the least ingenious efforts of Edgar Wallace or Peter Cheyney.

Top: Ian Hendry as Alex Lambert, the informer. With him in this scene from “It’s An Unfair World, Baxter” is Dorothy Frere. Below: Heather Sears as Mrs. Alex Lambert and Jean Marsh as Sylvia in “The Informer”.
Top: Ian Hendry as Alex Lambert, the informer. With him in this scene from “It’s An Unfair World, Baxter” is Dorothy Frere. Below: Heather Sears as Mrs. Alex Lambert and Jean Marsh as Sylvia in “The Informer”.


Hardly any effort is made at plausibility and it is extremely irritating to find the script-writers blithely contemptuous of such obvious plot mechanics as the fundamental one about how Alex. Lambert gets his information in the first place.

We sometimes see him conveniently watching a rehearsal for a smash-and-grab. Or picking up a casual piece of notepaper on his girl-friend’s desk (who, incidentally, is a lady with more mysterious contacts than a supernatural octupus) which just leads him to some nefarious skulduggery.

Having saddled themselves with characters and a story-line they have no credible viability, the writers constantly slow up the action paying lip-service to the demands of continuity.

The wife, played with crunching, repetitive sincerity by Heather Sears, is ignorant of her husband’s profession and, therefore, has to put on the same look of pained surprise when he gets into bed with her regularly at four in the morning.

Her dialogue consists largely of endless permutations on the line “I don’t like sitting/standing/lying here at home/in bed twiddling my fingers” and her moods vary between flouncing anger at his curt explanations and wifely forgiveness when he takes her out to a meal.

The girl friend, who must be the most frustrated glamour girl in modern TV, can ooze sex and suggestion all over Lambert, but the minute she touches his hand or invite him along to her flat for a longer evening he scurries off too his wife. Any virile man who can do that week after week to a girl looking like Jean Marsh surely needs some serious medical advice.

Together with the enigmatic, purposeless Lambert himself – whose perpetual frown must be due to the fact that he can’t think of any fresh place in which to meet his police contact now that they have exchanged secrets in museums, steam baths, morgues, airports and gent’s lavs – they make a rum, hollow trio.

The farrago of stolen paintings, neurotic wives and Edwardian super-crooks owed much to “Danger Man” and “The Avengers” without at any time touching the authentic suspense element or the wry mocking tone of either of these series.

Although Ian Hendry plays Lambert with a nice detached coolness, and although the directorial pace sometimes glibly disguises the flaws in story and conception (I should also say that the sound quality in some of these episodes has been atrocious), its technical facility is not good enough to justify the cheap, nasty values that are glorified in the person of Alex. Lambart the informer.

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