Downtrodden private eye struggles to make ends meet.
87 episodes (28 black and white, 59 in colour) of 60 minute duration. ABC/Thames TV 1965-75.
Although almost forgotten today, over a period of ten years between January 1965 to April 1975, the ABC/Thames drama series 'Public Eye,' and its world-weary, ageing, but essentially honest central character of downtrodden private enquiry agent, Frank Marker, successfully walked the all important transitional path between the gloss and glamour of the ITC adventure series of the 60's and the grittily violent action of emerging new shows, such as 'The Sweeney,' which would go on to dominate the television screens of the 70's.
Originally beginning life in black and white, the series introduced us to Marker, (a subtle and perfectly judged portrayal by the consistently excellent Alfred Burke), unmarried, a loner, barely making a living working as an independent freelance enquiry agent in London. Of the original series of fifteen episodes, only two, 'Nobody Kills Santa Claus', and 'The Morning Wasn't So Hot' survive (neither having enjoyed a repeat broadcast), due to ABC, as was common at the time, purging their archives. Sadly, the following two ABC seasons also fell victim to a similar fate, although happily, 16mm copies of two of these episodes were rediscovered during the early 1990's, giving us a total of five of the original episodes still in existence.
From the very beginning of his association with the series, lead actor Burke had a very clear view of how the character of Marker should be presented, opting to deliver a performance which would distance the character from the more stereotypical, 'square-jawed' traditional private eyes familiar to viewers in that period. Indeed, with this reason very much in mind, one of his first suggestions to co-creators Roger Marshall and Anthony Marriott was for his character's name to be changed from 'Marvin' to 'Marker'. For the duration of the second and third seasons, the character was relocated from the back streets of the capitol to a new office above a timber yard in Birmingham. But though the venue had changed, Marker's professional and personal circumstances remained unaffected.
Guided very much by his strong personal sense of what was 'right', Marker trod a precarious line between the expectations of the forces of law and order on one side, and the inherent danger of dealing with the potentially violent and destructive elements of the underworld on the other, whilst retaining both his physical safety, and much more importantly, his innate integrity. In this respect, the character exhibited many of the staple traits of the more classical Private Investigators such as Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlow, or much closer to home, the character of McGill, from ITC's classic, 'Man in a Suitcase.'
The now lost final episode of the third season, 'Cross That Palm When We Come To It', culminated in Marker being sentenced to two and a half years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, and by the time he saw release at the beginning of season four in 1969, there had been drastic changes behind the scenes, as ABC had merged with Associated-Rediffusion to form a new production company, Thames, who went on to retain their franchise until 1992. This fourth season found it drastically reduced from the preceding seasons to a short run comprising a mere seven episodes.
From the fourth season, and particularly during the fifth, (by which time the setting had changed yet again, this time to Brighton), a small number of other actors joined Burke on the programme as what could almost be termed a repertory company of recurring or semi-regular characters. Joining Pauline Delany's character of Helen Mortimer, the fourth season also introduced John Grieve as Jim Hull, Marker's probation officer, while the fifth season saw the introduction of what was destined to become one of the shows most noteworthy characters, Detective Inspector Percy Firbank, (played by veteran Ray Smith).
By the end of the final season in 1975, 'Public Eye' had successfully delivered to the viewers a diverse range of quality stories which, whilst covering a wide range of subjects, still succeeded in presenting possibly the most 'realistic' depiction of the shadowy, seedy, morally ambiguous world which Frank Marker inhabited. With a tremendously convincing and sustained central performance from Alfred Burke, 'Public Eye' was a series of genuine dramatic depth and emotional power.
The great crime here is that so much of the series early triumphs are lost to television posterity. An even greater crime is that the episodes that do survive have yet to be widely and comprehensively rebroadcast to a modern audience.
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