The Silver Age of British TV
As DVD companies like Network delve deeper into their back catalogues to find some of the more obscure British TV series for release, I’ve heard about a couple I’m keen to see.
‘The Man in Room 17′ was set in Room 17 of the Department of Social Research, where a former wartime agent-turned-criminologist Edwin Oldenshaw (Richard Vernon) solved tricky police cases through theory and philosophical discussions with his assistants. The novelty of the series was that Oldenshaw and his colleagues never needed to leave their office in order to resolve cases, Mycroft-like, preferring to spend their time playing the Japanese board game of Go.
In each episode they provided their prognosis and left the police to do the cleaning up. Different directors were appointed to film the Room 17 sections and outside-world scenes independently, to maintain a sense of distance between the two worlds. Part comedy, part thriller and part adventure, ‘The Man In Room 17′, created by Robert Chapman, was an espionage series with a high IQ.
A sequel to the two seasons was then made called ‘The Fellows’, which in turn led to another series about a crime boss, ‘Spindoe’, and that in turn led to the more criminal ‘Big Breadwinner Hog’ series – which I just about remember. The idea of exploring crimes from a more intellectual angle was a very sixties idea, and it’s remarkable just how many smart shows appeared during this time.
My friend Kim Newman is particularly fond of ‘Undermind’, a science fiction series with a strong psychological underpinning about alien subversion, in which an alien force tries to establish a foothold in Britain by undermining society and morale. The aliens send high frequency signals that are picked up by people who become brainwashed into subversive acts to create a climate of social unrest.
These shows offer genuinely original thinking for high concept TV shows, and it seems unlikely that they would ever be made now.