16 March 2010

The Beiderbecke Affair, The Beiderbecke Tapes, The Beiderbecke Connection, The Beiderbecke Trilogy

The Alan Plater telly series Get Lost!, starring Bridget Turner and Alun Armstrong, began on June 12th 1981. In the first episode, Judy Threadgold was (like Mrs Dale of diary fame) worried about her husband, Jim. Jim Threadgold had disappeared, leaving behind a farewell message on video.

Judy joined forces with fellow teacher Neville Keaton in an attempt to track Jim down, and so began a wonderfully quirky four part series - a joy to watch.

I never missed an episode and, aged fifteen, was puzzled over the show's appeal for me. It seemed slow-moving plot wise. It wasn't the Sweeney. It wasn't even good old Coronation Street. There were no Regans and Carters "nicking" villains and making hard boiled buddy comments to each other, no Elsie Tanners using pub ashtrays concealed in handbags to clobber snide Ray Langtons. Going by my previous plot-driven TV form, Get Lost! didn't contain a great deal to command my attention.

So, why did it?

It took me ages to work out that the clever dialogue and ideas contained within the series were what was making it compulsive viewing for me.

I wasn't used to clever dialogue and ideas. In fact, "ideas" were frowned upon round my way. Anybody who "had ideas" was not to be trusted. Getting by day-to-day was usually the priority.

Get Lost! was good, but something absolutely wonderful lay just a few years ahead...

Above and below: programme details from the original "Beiderbecke Affair" press pack...

... issued by Yorkshire Television in January 1985.

From the press pack - "We are on the brink of a new era, if only..."

Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, London - the writer, members of the cast and production team gather for the launch of "The Beiderbecke Affair".

Back row (left to right) actors Dudley Sutton, Dominic Jephcott, Terence Rigby and Danny Schiller.

Front row (left to right) writer Alan Plater, director David Reynolds, actress Barbara Flynn and producer Anne W Gibbons.
"Look not upon the blondes when they are platinum..."

The first episode of The Beiderbecke Affair, a six part series, was shown on 6 January 1985. The show was similar to Get Lost! - it too was written by Alan Plater and also had two school teachers as its main characters, one of them being a jazz fan. But there were differences. The dialogue was wittier, tighter, cleverer, and the casting, whether by genius or lucky accident, was absolutely wonderful. Not that the Get Lost! cast had been bad, but this really was something else.

Trevor Chaplin (James Bolam), one of the two central characters, had well and truly "heard the music" of the jazz greats. He made frequent trips to headphone heaven.

Trevor hailed from the North East of England but had somehow ended up in Yorkshire, where he taught woodwork at a rundown-and-clobbered-by-the-cutbacks comprehensive school in the "moonstruck outer limits of Leeds".

Trevor's partner was one Jill Swinburne (Barbara Flynn), an English teacher.

Jill had stickers with slogans like Nuclear Power - No Thanks, stuck to her front windows.

Unlike her ex-husband, who (like so many) had protested when it was fashionable to protest and become a whizz kid when it was fashionable to become a whizz kid, Jill was a genuine idealist - out to save the planet, the whale, and anything else that needed saving. Her "let's go get 'em" attitude perfectly complemented Trevor's laidback approach and together they took us through three brilliantly idiosyncratic series - The Beiderbecke Affair, The Beiderbecke Tapes and The Beiderbecke Connection. The final series was in 1988.

Bix Beiderbecke, whose playing sounded like "bullets shot from a bell", was one of Trevor's jazz heroes, and his enthusiasm for this great man sparked off three adventures.

During them, we met other highly distinctive characters - including Big Al and Little Norm, who ran an illicit "White Economy" mail order business from a church crypt and an allotment shed; Sylvia, the oldest suffragette in town; and Detective Sergeant Hobson, who had a computer, a corrupt superior and a forward facing haircut.

And then there was the dog, Jason.

The whole thing added up to simply magical telly.

Trevor and Jill with Big Al.

The platinum blonde supplied Mr Carter with an exploding hedge trimmer...

Graduate policeman Detective Sergeant Hobson: "It is my view that the major challenge to the police force in the 1980s lies not with so-called major crime, but in the behaviour of people who, while outwardly respectable, show signs of social abnormality."

From the "TV Times", 1987.


John harris said...

(This is a letter to the author, rather than an item for the blog. That said, please feel free to post if if you wish.)

I found your site while looking up Nigel Pargetter, and strayed onto the Beiderbecke page, which brought back happy memories.

I was slightly disappointed not to find anything about 'A Very Peculiar Practice' when I searched for it. OK, it's a matter of taste but I'd rate AVPP along with Beiderbecke; it's darker, and more surreal ('25% cuts? That'll mean half a nun.') and it also had Barbara Flynn.

The second series was never repeated; thee are rumours about it being seen on Sky Arts, but we've got a Freesat box and we don't even get Dave and Blighty.

I'm off now to look for my third favourite - Peter Tilbury's 'It Takes A Worried Man'. I shan't write again if there's nothing there, but I'll be thinking it.

Keep up the good work!

Drew said...

So much to cover, so little time - one day, John - I promise! Thanks for writing.