The Long Firm
BBC 2004
1961 - Teddy's Story
TX : 7th June 2004

Synopsis : Harry Starks, charismatic nightclub owner, racketeer, porn king and keen Judy Garland fan, rules 60s Soho. His story is told through the eyes of four characters who fall under his spell, in this impressive dramatisation of Jake Arnott's acclaimed novel. Lord Teddy Thursby, a hard-up politician with decadent tastes, gets a little too involved with the dangerous Harry Starks.

Publicity : Here's a real touch of class; an immensely stylish adaptation of Jake Arnott's bestseller about gangland London in the 1960s. These were funny old times, when gangsters freely rubbed shoulders with celebrities keen to soak up some of their "magic". And vice versa.

Often, though, these associations ended in tears - or worse. In the first episode Mark Strong is mesmerising as the outwardly affable Harry, a smartly dressed "businessman" with plenty of money and lots of influential friends. He's also an openly promiscuous gay man, something that only adds to his allure for the hapless, impecunious Lord Teddy Thursby (the fabulous Derek Jacobi).

Teddy is rather a naïve old soul with a hopeless penchant for attractive young men. Harry is happy to keep up a steady supply, just so long as Teddy enters into a Faustian pact by lending Harry's "companies" some much-needed gravitas.

But soon Teddy is in much deeper than he ever imagined when he observes at first hand that Harry is a man of moods. And he does not like to be crossed. The Long Firm (the term will be explained, fear not) looks terrific and the acting is top-notch. Strong manages to both engage and repel as Harry, while Jacobi elicits sympathy as a silly old man caught up in dark dealings. Marvellous. (Radio Times article by Alison Graham).

Cast : Jock McClusky (Geoff Bell); Tom Driberg (Damien Thomas); Craig (Robert Boulter); John Ogunbe (Israel Aduramo); Dr Chukwuruh (George Harris); Ruth Thursby (Judy Parfitt); George Budgen (Shaughan Seymour); Harry's Pretty Boy (Andrew McKay); Dignitary (Yule Masiteng); Soldier (Dexter Nwanya).

Notes :
Episodes were shown at 9.00pm on Wednesday evenings on BBC2

Mark Strong previously appeared in Births, Deaths and Marriages, Prime Suspect 6, Prime Suspect 3, Fields of Gold and Fever Pitch amongst other things.

George Costigan was Bob in Rita, Sue and Bob Too, as well as having appeared in City Central, The Riff Raff Element, So Haunt Me, Chimera and The Beiderbecke Connection.

Lena Heady played prostitute Colette in Band of Gold.

George Harris was one of the original cast members in Casualty, and also appeared in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Black Hawk Down and Flash Gordon. More recently he has appeared as a regular in 55 Degrees North.

Judy Parfitt has been acting since the 1950's and guest-starred in just about every British series going, as well as more recently having appeared in the American series E.R. as Isabelle Corday.

Composer Rob Lane has scored dozens of television series and films, including Charles II: The Power & the Passion, Prime Suspect 6, Daniel Deronda, The Hound of the Baskervilles, David Copperfield and Hillsborough.

1965 - Ruby's Story
TX : 14th June 2004

Synopsis : Fading starlet Ruby Ryder is drawn to charismatic nightclub owner and racketeer Harry Starks. But she soon finds herself out of her depth after agreeing to give his boyfriend acting lesson.

Publicity : Mark Strong makes such a tremendous villain. He can invest more in a subtle shift of his head than a lot of actors can in a ten-minute monologue. He's so good as the black-hearted Harry Starks that you'll flinch every time Harry twitches - it's a sign that someone has upset him. And the consequences will not be pretty. Lena Heady is impressive, too, as small-time film actress Ruby Ryder in the second part of this classy dramatisation of Jake Arnott's bestseller. She's lured into Harry's vicious circle after her gangster husband goes to prison.

Harry, who likes to mingle with celebrities in the hope that some of the stardust will rub off on him, sees a chance to use Ruby - a canny operator and a born survivors - in his nightclub business. She's also an effective "beard" during nights on the town with Harry's latest flame, young Tommy (Joe Absolom), accompanies Harry on a disastrous visit to his family, and is by his side when he meets his idol, Judy Garland. Harry has a bully's sentimentality, and wallows in Garland's tortured delivery of torch songs.

But times are changing. Harry's clubs are beginning to look old-fashioned, and his business life is knee-deep in murky dealings with corrupt police officers, notably the creepy DI Mooney (a splendidly vulpine George Costigan). Things are thus about to take a very dark turn… (Radio Times article by Alison Graham).

Cast : Tommy (Joe Absolom); Eddie (Christopher Simon); Harry's Mum (Diana Brooks); Harry's Dad (Sidney Kean), Auntie May (Eve Shickle); Johnny Ray (Tim Flavin); Bill (John Chancer); Judy Garland (Tracie Bennett); Compere (Charles Barker).

Notes :
Joe Absolom made his name as Matthew Rose in Eastenders.

Christopher Simon appeared in the short-lived sci-fi soap Jupiter Moon.

Tracie Bennett is a former Coronation Street cast member, where she played Sharon Gaskell, Rita Fairclough's adopted daughter.

1967 - Jimmy's Story
TX : 21st June 2004

Synopsis : Low-life speed dealer Jimmy becomes embroiled in gangster Harry Starks's quest to find the murderer of a young rent boy.

Publicity : It's 1967 and club owner / gangster / psychopathic thug Harry Starks (the magnetic Mark Strong) is unravelling, a decline that shows in his increasingly ruined face. As Harry's moods darken, he becomes obsessed by the brutal murder of Billy, a 17-year old rent boy of his acquaintance. Determined to find the killer, he presses "lairy little geezer" Jimmy (Phil Daniels) into service as his gopher.

Jimmy is a drunken, amphetamine-addled waster with an eye to the main chance. And he's possibly the only man in the world who can directly address Harry Starks as "you big poof" and get away with it with his limbs and organs intact.

The penultimate story in this dramatisation of Jake Arnott's bestselling novel is as sleek as it predecessors (with a sensational soundtrack), though it's characterised by an astonishingly sadistic act of murderous brutality in a scene that appears to tip its hat to Quentin Tarantino's bloody fable, Reservoir Dogs. This episode also sees the brief return of the dissipated Lord Thursby (the sublime Derek Jacobi), who utters the greatest understatement of the series when he remonstrates with the out-of-control Harry: "must you manhandle me every time you see me? It's very rude."

Daniels as Jimmy is his characteristic cockernee geezer - so much so that I half-expected him to break into his famed narration for Blur's Parklife. But this is still Mark Strong's show. In Harry Starks, Strong has concocted a dangerous brew of base sexiness and pure evil. He walks away with every scene he's in (Radio Times article by Alison Graham).

Cast : Beardsley (Bryan Dick); Joe Meek (Gregor Truter); Cutter (Michael Colgan); Freddie Bird (Billy Keating); Marty the LSD dealer (James D White); Samantha the dolly bird (Anna Hope); Hippy (Samuel Gough); Bouncer at Ram Jam club (Jack Brady); Harley Street shrink (Peter Symonds); Jimmy's tart (Katherine Ingle); Barman at the Stardust (Sam Lathen); Rent boy (Dean Abrahams); Ted Baker (Ray Kelvin); Jack McClusky (Geoff Bell).

19?? - Lenny's Story
TX : 28th June 2004

Synopsis : When idealistic criminologist Lenny meets a confined Harry while teaching in a prison, he is enthralled by the gangster's thrilling machismo. Striking up a friendship, Lenny soon finds the relationship increasingly disturbing.

Publicity : It's the final chapter in the life of the charming but ruthless gangster, Harry Starks. Harry's in prison, sewing mailbags, when gauche, well-meaning Marxist sociology lecturer Lenny (Shaun Dingwall) falls into his orbit.

Harry (Mark Strong) is a past master at manipulation and he plays Lenny beautifully. Lenny, for his part, is caught up in Harry's gangster mythology and, in a completely non-sexual way, falls in love with him. Or at least, he falls in love with the Harry Starks legend. But Harry has big plans. He doesn't intend to rot in prison - he's going to use Lenny to give him an education. Thus, bizarrely, Harry Starks embarks on an Open University sociology degree.

After the extreme brutality of last week's episode, there's a remarkable change of pace to round of The Long Firm, at least for the first part of the hour. There's some very funny interplay between Starks and Lenny, as Harry explodes Lenny's pretensions with such compliments as: "You look like a Maltese ponce, you daft berk."

Things inevitably take a dark turn, though not before we learn more about what really resides in Harry Stark's core. But at the end of the day he remains very much an unknowable figure. It's been a great series. Mark Strong should clear space on his mantelpiece for the awards that will surely come his way. (Radio Times article by Alison Graham).

Cast : Lenny (Shaun Dingwall); Karen (Kaye Wragg); Janine (Fiona Glascott); Geoff the Warder (Karl Jenkinson); Prisoners (Paul Hamilton, Dave Nicholls, Sydney Golder); Prison Warder (Greg Hobbs); Fat Wally (Tony Bluto); Alexei Sayle (Darren Bancroft); Pool boy (Carlos Nocker); Taxi driver (José Dominoes); English Pete (Eddie Webber); Giles (Matthew Delamare).

Notes : Shaun Dingwall previously appeared in Crime and Punishment, Touching Evil, Messiah 2, Charles II: The Power & the Passion and Between the Lines.

Set in the seedy dangerous underworld of 1960's Britain, The Long Firm hit television screens in a blaze of publicity, with the series heavily-trailed on the BBC and heavily-promoted in the Radio Times.

Spanning the course of the 1960's (and into the 70's) the series delves into the dirty, crime-ridden, yet glamorous criminal underbelly of London - a place where gangsters like the chief protagonist of the series Harry Starks aim to make a fortune and mingle with the stars. Harry though, is not merely your usual 60's criminal in the mould of the Krays or the Richardsons - he is invested with more emotional depth than we are used to seeing in this type of person. Despite one particularly gruesome bout of violence that we see in episode 3, Harry is more than a purely one-dimensional villain. Mark Strong as Harry is particularly good in the scenes when he isn't being mean or malevolent.

As well as seeing London represented in the series, we also follow Harry as he makes an ill-fated business trip to Nigeria, and as he makes his escape at the end of the run fleeing from Spain to Morocco, scenes which the production team journeyed to South Africa to capture on film. The fact that they did, most likely incurring significant costs in the process, clearly demonstrates that amount of faith that the BBC had in the project.

The series was publicised in the Radio Times with an interview with the author Jake Arnott who commented on the central character: "I gave Harry the Stardust club to run in the heart of Soho, a place where pop stars and showbiz types could mix with wide boys, bent coppers and decadent politicians. There was a strange kind of glamour attached to villains at that time, they were allowed to be well connected. When fashion photographer David Bailey produced his Box of Pin-Ups in 1965, included alongside the great and the good of the Swinging Sixties was his iconic portrait of the Kray twins. This shocked some people, but it also showed how well the brand-new order of the 1960s could absorb almost everything with its sense of inclusiveness. For a while the well-dressed gangster could be seen as part of the working-class-boys-made-good ethic."

The Long Firm boasts a fantastic soundtrack which perfectly compliments what is happening in the drama (with tracks from The Kinks, David Bowie, T-Rex, Free and even The Jam), and features a top-notch guest cast which includes the always excellent Sir Derek Jacobi, Phil Daniels, Lena Heady, Shaun Dingwall and George Costigan as the sleaziest copper that you are ever likely to encounter on screen. With it's high production values, and superb acting, The Long Firm should be on everybody's list of essential viewing
. The original soundtrack for The Long Firm was released on CD on 5 July, whilst a DVD of the series was issued in August.

Text © Chris Orton, 2004.