Reviews

THE PRACTICE (1985)

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Show ImageTwice weekly series set round a modern health centre, Granada's The Practice explored the professional lives of doctors, health visitors, district nurse, social worker and staff in the fictional Manchester inner-city area of Castlehulme. The central characters covered the spectrum of contemporary medical attitudes from the traditional family doctor to the career-conscious idealist and the warm down-to-earth district nurse to the somewhat cynical social worker. As well as exploring their professional relationships and conflicts The Practice also explored the characters personal attitudes, frienships and conflicts. Each story was said to be based on real case history taken from actual events to provide human predicament with medical, moral and legal dilemmas. The series didn't perform particularly well during its initial 34 episode run on Friday and Sunday evenings in 1985 but returned for a second series the following year. However, it was finally struck off the schedule after another 13 episodes. The BBC revived the format of life in and around the the staff and patients of a medical centre far more successfully with Doctors, which (at the time of writng) has been going strong since 2000.

THE PRACTICE (1997)

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Show Image Being a former lawyer, it wasn't surprising that television producer David E. Kelley made his name creating legal dramas (with such exceptions as the medical drama Chicago Hope and the high school-themed Boston Public). The Practice turned out to be one of Kelley’s better efforts, with his now-trademark combination of realistic court proceedings and outrageous situations. But the show kept an even keel; the excesses never got in the way of a good story. The Practice was set in the Boston, Massachusetts law firm of Robert Donnell and Associates, a struggling operation that took all types of cases-criminal and civil-that came through their doors. The firm's leader, Bobby Donnell, helped keep the firm afloat by representing the clients other lawyers would not take-drug dealers and seemingly guilty clients who needed a miracle to stay out of jail. Working under Bobby were associate attorney Ellenor Frutt, a "plus-sized" woman who was effective in representing clients; African-American attorney Eugene Young, who had more of a moral compass in his dealings than Bobby; and associate Lindsay Dole, a strong-willed attorney.

ABC premiered The Practice as a short-run series on March 4th, 1997 (temporarily replacing NYPD Blue); relatively good ratings led to a renewal. But for its second season, the series ranked in the lower half of the popularity charts due to poor time slots. In the fall of 1998, ABC moved The Practice to Sunday nights at 10:00 PM, where its ratings began to rise. The Practice was soon a top ten series, winning accolades along the way. The Practice gained a reputation of hiring well-known actors and actresses for guest roles, and using them to their best advantage. As a result, the show won more Emmys in the guest performance roles (both male and female) than any other series, along with the most nominations in those categories. Among the Emmy winners who appeared were John Larroquette, Edward Herrmann, James Whitmore, Beah Richards, Michael Emerson, Charles S. Dutton, Alfre Woodard, Sharon Stone, and William Shatner. Actors and actresses who were nominated for their work but did not win an Emmy included Tony Danza, Paul Dooley, Henry Winkler, Marlee Matlin, Rene Auberjonois and Betty White. During its run, The Practice won a total of 41 Emmy awards, including Outstanding Drama Series (1998, 1999) and acting wins for co-stars Camryn Manheim and Michael Badalucco.

The Practice had some of its characters cross over to other Kelley-produced series. In April 1998, Ally McBeal's law firm Cage & Fish hired Bobby Donnell and his team to help defend an axe murderer. It was an unusual crossover because it involved different networks-the storyline began at 9 PM on Fox's Ally McBeal and viewers who wanted to learn the outcome had to switch their dials to ABC at 10 PM for The Practice. The stunt angered some Fox stations who felt the network was hurting their local news or other programmes that aired against the ABC series. Kelley later engineered another two-part crossover between The Practice and his high school-based Fox drama Boston Public. And on a 2001 episode a character turned to a doctor of the short-lived medical drama Gideon's Crossing. While The Practice officially ended its long run on May 16th, 2004, the adventures of two characters would continue that same year in a new ABC series created by Kelley called Boston Legal. (Review: Mike Spadoni)

PRESS GANG (1989)

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The series that inspired a generation of journalists: The Junior Gazette, a young newspaper, is produced by pupils of a comprehensive school. Click Here for review

PRETENDERS (1972)

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17th century historical action teenage adventure series. Click Here for review

THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (1978)

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Show ImageThis charming adaptation of Muriel Spark's enduring 1961 tale (which was first published in 'The New Yorker') about a 1930s Edinburgh schoolteacher with somewhat radical ideas of education was inspired by the success, some 10 years earlier, of the 20th Century Fox movie version starring Maggie Smith in an Oscar winning lead role. Jean Brodie is an eccentric and egotistical teacher at the Marcia Blaines School for Girls where she gets the chance to mould and influence the lives of the impressionable 16-year-olds in her 'set' or class. Some of Brodie's opinions are quite radical, too-especially her fascination with Fascism and her enthusiasm for Hitler. And boiling below the surface is a smouldering sexuality, which Brodie knowingly uses to manipulate the two men in her life; bachelor fellow teacher Mr Gordon Lowther and the married art master Teddy Lloyd, whose jealousy Brodie hopes to arouse by making known her relationship with Lowther. Many of these intrigues, especially Brodie's radical political beliefs, were toned down somewhat for the TV series and Geraldine McEwan played the lead with a lighter touch than her predecessors (on stage -Vanessa Redgrave, then Anna Massey and -in the USA, Zoe Caldwell) whilst maintaining an almost aristocratic elegance and a mischievous glint in her eye as she attempted to turn all of her girls into the 'creme de la creme.' The series was produced by Richard Bates, son of Darling Buds of May author, H.E.Bates and the series adaptor Jay Presson Allen knew his subject well as he had written both the original play adaptation and the screenplay for the movie.

PRIME SUSPECT (1991)

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Show Image Prime Suspect was a hard-hitting British TV crime drama starring Helen Mirren as the determined and strong Jane Tennison. The show focuses on the crimes she solves throughout the seven series, while tackling controversial topics such as racism, prostitution and child abuse. However the recurring theme throughout all of the series is one of feminism and sexism and how difficult it is for a woman to break through the glass ceiling in an all-male profession. Although Tennison does eventually get her promotion, we see her struggle to be respected for her hard work. In series one she is only chosen to lead a case when there is no other option available. In series two she is ignored for promotion that she genuinely feels she deserves. Even towards the end of her career, she is pressured to resign by her male colleagues who seem to be waiting for her to fail. None of them want to be shown up by a woman who they consider to be inferior.

Our heroine's work/life balance is another major theme. She is completely obsessed with work. We see that she rarely eats properly, living off ready meals. We see her listening to voicemails from her parents who can never get hold of her to actually talk. We see her have affairs with men she doesn't seem to be interested in having an actual relationship with. Tennison is so determined and obsessed with her career that she does not have time for anything else. In series three, the show tackles another sensitive subject when Tennison decides to have an abortion. This leads her to admit to having a drinking problem which shows itself at testing times in her life.

Despite her desire to be taken seriously by her male colleagues, it is her womanly features that seem to help her solve cases where men fail. Like the men she can be strong, hard and brave. However she is not as easily provoked as her male counterparts, and usually remains calm even when listening to the most shocking and sickening of confessions. Her gentle nature helps her to win the trust of her suspects although she is not easily trusting in return. At the time, there were no crime dramas with a woman in the leading role as it was also extremely unusual in real life. Policing was considered a real man’s profession and even in more modern times this still seems to be the case. She became an inspiration for police shows including an American show called The Closer. The comparisons between the two shows were noted by many TV critics. Prime Suspect was so well received that it also paved the way for other crime dramas in the UK including Cracker. The show won lots of awards including BAFTAs, Emmys and Golden Globes.

Prime Suspect was writer Lynda La Plante's long awaited second television series after Widows. Born and raised in Liverpool, La Plante trained for the stage at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. After finishing her studies, using the stage name Lynda Marchal she appeared in a number of popular British television series including Z-Cars, The Sweeney, The Professionals, Bergerac and The Gentle Touch. In the latter series' episode Something Blue (broadcast in 1980), she had a scene with the show's star Jill Gascoine but found the script to be too contrived. She believed she could write more believable dialogue and Gascoine encouraged her to do so. Widows was her breakthrough, but it was Prime Suspect that catapulted her into the big league. The last episode was shown in 2006 and saw our well-loved Detective Superintendent solve her final case and try to cope with the death of her father. She realised that after all her years of hard work and living for the job that she would have a lonely retirement. Series 7 was shown in two parts with each episode receiving around 8 million viewers. Jane Tennison will definitely be missed by her fans.
(Review: Suzanna Hayes-Goldfinch)

THE PRISONER (1967)

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Resigned British agent is captured by people unknown and taken to a mysterious village. "I am not a number, I am a free man!" Click Here for review

PROBATION OFFICER (1959)

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Show ImageThe first hour-long series on ITV, Probation Officer focused on the work of the men and women charged with the welfare of juvenile delinquents and criminals. Told in semi-documentary style the shows were based on real court cases by creator Julian Bond, who spent many hours in magistrates' courts, in the offices of real probation officers, and with experts in the field of probation work. One of the principle actors in the show had even done real-life probation work before coming to the series. The show originally centred round the work of three probation officers, Philip Main, who is seen reporting for duty in the first episode, was played by John Paul, in real-life a former prisoner of war who became interested in acting as a way of entertaining his fellow inmates, then after his release joined the Birmingham Repertory Company before landing a role in Emergency Ward Ten as R.S.O. Tim Hughes. The second officer was Jim Blake, played by David Davies, who started his career as a singer before a serious throat operation put an end to ambitions. After a spell as a policeman he turned to acting and appeared in a number of films and television series. The third officer was Iris Cope, played by Honor Blackman. Born in East Ham in 1926, Honor had made her film debut in the 1947 movie Fame Is The Spur, but came to the attention of the producer of Probation Officer (Antony Kearey), after playing the part of Mrs Lucas in the British made Titanic disaster movie A Night To Remember. But it was of course as Cathy Gale in The Avengers that she later became a true TV icon. During its three-year run the series introduced numerous other characters and gave first outings to many stars of the future. Probation Officer was realistic, down-to-earth entertainment that tried to reflect true life with an air of sincerity.

THE PROFESSIONALS (1977)

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Show Image Originally commissioned as London Weekend Television's answer to the massively popular The Sweeney - The Professionals was the expertly produced, gritty and hard-hitting creation of Brian Clemens, one of the key creative core responsible for the phenomenal success of The Avengers. In February 1977 Clemens and fellow New Avengers executive producer, Albert Fennell, approached London Weekend Television head Brian Tesler with an idea for a new, more realistic crime show format. LWT requested Clemens submit two possible series ideas. The first concerned two undercover police officers, but ultimately Tesler opted for Clemens' second proposal which concerned an elite squad of special agents, whose mandate was to tackle the rising tide of professional crime and the growing number of terrorist groups that were threatening to engulf Britain. Originally entitled The A-Squad, the fledgling series was quickly rechristened The Professionals. Immediately, Fennell and Clemens established a new production company to produce the series under the banner of 'Avengers Mark 1 Productions.' Contracts were signed with Martin Shaw to play Doyle, an ex-East End cop, and Lewis Collins as Bodie, a former SAS officer, both of whom are recruited to CI5 (Criminal Intelligence 5), by tough, no nonsense commander, George Cowley (The experienced and much admired Gordon Jackson, last seen as butler to the Bellamy household in Upstairs Downstairs.) In May 1977 both Collins and Shaw had coincidentally played opposite each other in the second season New Avengers episode 'Obsession', in which Collins' Kilner character prophetically remarks to Shaw's Larry Doomer "Maybe we should work together again sometime - a good team!".

An immediate successful with the viewing audience, the series, whilst devoid of the hallmark quirkiness of The Avengers, consistently delivered a steady stream of fast paced actioneers, with much tyre screeching and bullet flying. It was not without controversy either. There were numerous complaints about it's level of violence which forced a 'toning down', and in one extreme case the dropping of a completed episode "The Klansman." But perhaps the most damning indictment came from Martin Shaw, who dismissed his character as a 'violent puppet', and refused consent for repeats until as late as 1992. In 1983 after five seasons, the show finally came to an end when LWT made the decision that due to rising production costs, it was no longer financially viable to sanction further episodes. The format was revived in 1999 though, with Edward Woodward taking over as CI5's controller, and a new team of 'professionals' ready to defend the nation. However, the major terrestrial channels turned it down, forcing The Professionals to find a minimal audience on the cable and satellite channel Sky 1. (Co-writer Stephen R Hulse)


PROSPECTS (1986)

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Show ImageSet and filmed around the Isle of Dogs in the East End of London, Prospects followed the misadventures of two 'likely lads', Jimmy Pince (Gary Olsen) and Billy Pearson (Brian Bovell). This gritty comedy drama was set during the grim high unemployment days of Thatcher's Britain in the mid eighties and the two friends were continually duckin' and divin' as they struggled to survive on their 'social' (unemployment benefit) and the odd 'fast earner' from any dodgy employer willing to pay 'cash-in-hand.' The series didn't shy away from social issues such as unemployment and racism but always maintained its humour throughout with sharply written scripts and great chemistry between the two leads. No matter what schemes they came up with Pincy and Billy always seemed to lose out - ending up with little or no future prospects. Writer Alan Janes penned all 12 episodes and the series was made as a joint venture by Thames and Channel 4. Prospects was an instant hit with the viewing public and a second series was planned in which the boys were to go and work for a mini-cab company owned by 'Del' (Mike Savage) the cafe owner and mentor of the two lads. It is unclear why it was never made although there were rumours that both Thames and C4 were at loggerheads over ownership of the series and there may have been some dispute over script ownership too, although this has never been confirmed. Ray Dorset of Mungo Jerry fame, sang the show's theme song although it has been said that Roger Daltrey of The Who was originally going to sing the it, but the producers were so impressed with Ray's demo version that he got the job.

THE PROTECTORS (1964)

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Show Image The Protectors had one of the most difficult jobs on television when first introduced in 1964, as this team of specialists were brought in to bridge the gap left by the concluding episode of that year's highly successful series of The Avengers. "We sell security. Object: To prevent crime," was the motto of the three specialists operating out of a plush London office. Producer Michael Chapman said of the series, "This is in sharp contrast to The Avengers, which dealt with crime in a stylish, fantasy world. Our show is about three level-headed people who try to prevent crime from happening." Certainly Heather Keys played by former Compact actress Ann Morrish was no Cathy Gale. "I suppose it is inevitable I should be compared to Cathy," said Morrish in 1964. "But off-screen and on we couldn't be more different." The series took for its inspiration the many security firms that were beginning to spring up around Britain at that time, and after placing advertisements in newspapers, asking prospective clients to call 'Wellbeck 3269' the SIS (Specialists in Security) firm headed by former insurance investigator Ian Souter (Andrew Faulds), and assisted by ex policeman Robert Shoesmith (Michael Atkinson) found themselves assigned to cases involving forgery, espionage and murder. African born Faulds had previously come to public notice as a prospective Labour parliamentary candidate for Stratford-on-Avon, and took up his political career once more after retiring from acting to become an MP. Ann Morrish went on to be a presenter on the pre-school children's show Play School.

THE PROTECTORS (1972)

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Small team of international crimebusters. Click Here for review

PUBLIC EYE (1965)

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Show Image 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. (Review: Stephen R. Hulse)

THE PURSUERS (1961)

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Show Image South African born actor Louis Hayward began work in British films, the first, Self Made Lady (1932), was followed by five UK films through 1933 before Hayward took off for the USA where his most notable role was that of Simon Templar in Leslie Charteris' The Saint in New York (1938). While never really rising above a steady jobbing actor career Hayward enjoyed a comfortable living and later moved enthusiastically into television - producing his own series, The Lone Wolf, after buying the exclusive rights to several of Louis Joseph Vance's original stories. He also produced this British series originally to be titled Police Dog (his 'sidekick' in the series was an Alsatian), for Crestview Productions with Donald Hyde executive producing. Shooting starting on 29 August 1960. Hyde described it as "...a purely British production. Probably the first that will not have any mid-Atlantic accents." In it, Hayward played Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Steve Bollinger who "walks the lonely streets of London." The series was a standard police procedural and writers included Philip Levene, John Warwick, Leonard Finchman, Basil Dawson. The theme tune, The Persuers, was composed by Malcolm Lockyer. Apart from one man and his dog, Gaylord Cavallaro also featured regularly as DS Steve Wall and guests passed through included John Le Mesurier, Leonard Sachs, Ronald Leigh-Hunt, Honor Blackman, Arthur Lowe, Barry Foster and Sam Kydd. The series debuted in 1961 given a 730pm Sunday slot but after around 10 episodes was moved to Saturday at 11pm.

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