BBC 1979

Francis Durbridge's final foray on British Television came in the form of Breakaway, two six-part serials for BBC Television which featured Martin Jarvis as Detective Superintendent Sam Harvey, an officer at Scotland Yard who, having written a best-selling children's book, decided to resign from the police force to pursue his budding writing career. However, when he handed in his notice to his superior officer, news of his parents' inexplicable and brutal murder shattered his future plans.

Assigned to the investigation, Harvey pursues a line of enquiry which leads to mysterious packages, threatening telephone calls, strange numbers in a personal address book and a trail which brings a final solution very close to home. In classic Durbridge style, the cliffhanger endings of each episode ensured audiences were kept on the edge of their seats week after week. The second six-part serial, which saw Harvey serving out his period of notice with one final case in Market Cross, saw the officer led a merry dance by a collection of characters with variable versions of events and laced with more than a few red herrings.

A tale of blackmail and murder, the second serial was perhaps not as gripping as the first, yet underlined Durbridge's pedigree as a master of the mystery-thriller tale as the revelation of the reasons behind and perpetrator of Ms Rita Black's murder was left to the final stages of the last episode (thus ensuring viewers remained with the programme throughout). Derek Benfield, Lockwood West, Geoffrey Beevers, Edward Peel, David Collings and Ed Bishop were some of the more notable faces to grace this series, which whilst perhaps not being Durbridge's best effort, was a fitting conclusion to an exceptional run of dramatic, thrilling and often gripping serials for BBC Television across over twenty years.

To mark the start of the series and to act as an overview of Durbridge's work the Radio Times for January 5th 1980 ran an article by Nicki Household entitled Danger Men: Jack Hedley … Gerald Harper … Peter Barkworth … they're all mixed up in it. And now Martin Jarvis. There has to be a connection there somewhere. There have been others too … Francis Matthews … John Thaw. Is there more to this than meets the eye? Nicki Household is looking for more clues.

If you're beginning to think all this sounds rather like a Francis Durbridge mystery, you've cracked the case wide open - for all the gentlemen named above have played the central character in one or more of the eighteen Durbridge thriller serials televised since 1952. Not that The Broken Horseshoe in 1952 marked Francis Durbridge's debut in the suspense business; his first amateur detective - that urbane fellow Paul Temple - was glueing people to their wireless sets as long ago as 1938. His latest offering, Breakaway, consist of two six-episode tales featuring Sam Harvey, a young police superintendent turned writer, and stars Martin Jarvis. A new Durbridge television serial is always something of an event, since they attract a huge following both here and abroad. There's something about the twists and turns of a Durbridge plot that makes compulsive socialites refuse invitations and keeps hardened drinkers away from the pub. To find out what that is, I persuaded a few former protagonists to assist me with my enquiries.

Gerald Harper played Detective Inspectors Alan Milton and Jack Kerry in, respectively, A Man Called Harry Brent (1965) and A Game Of Murder (1966) and he's also been in Durbridge on the stage. "Francis Durbridge? I shall be eternally grateful to him," he said. "I was at this jet-set lunch party sitting next to a German countess who was the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. I tried various topics of conversation, but as I obviously bored her stiff I eventually turned to someone else who asked me what I was doing. `Oh, I'm in a Francis Durbridge play,' I said - whereupon the countess sat up and said: `Did you say Francis Durbridge?' - and from then on it was plain sailing". Yes, but what about his professional opinion? "Ah, well, he's an absolute master of keeping the suspense up till the very end. And his real brilliance is the banality, the ordinariness of the scene before a bullet hits someone and things start to happen. Of course Durbridge is a great perfectionist. He hones and polishes his plot, even at rehearsals, till it all fits together like a jigsaw puzzle".

"Like a crossword puzzle," was Peter Barkworth's simile. He starred in The Passenger (1971) and Melissa (1974), playing a detective inspector and an (at first) unsuspecting journalist. "His construction is flawless - everything is interconnected and usually everyone is behaving suspiciously. There are all these middle-of-the-road, everyday characters and gradually you realize that every man jack of them has got something to hide - at times you wonder if they aren't all in collusion! But of course only one is the real culprit. And there are always little hints - little incongruities that might not strike you at the time but which turn out to have immense significance. A Durbridge thriller is an interesting experience for an actor because there's almost no emotion written into it - it's entirely up to you to judge just the right degree of emotional reaction when something unexpected happens. And there's an art in knowing when not to react at all. There was a scene in Melissa when I put my briefcase down in what I thought was an empty house, and five minutes later it had disappeared. There was no need for me to act astonished. It was enough just to look at the empty space and for the camera to focus on it. The plot does half the work for you".

When he played the title role in the eighteen episodes of The World Of Tim Frazer (1960), Jack Hedley became an overnight heart-throb. The Times called him a "red-brick Hannay" (after Buchan's hero) and someone else nick-named him "the hero who never smiled". The truth is he hardly ever spoke, either. Like Barkworth, Hedley found that doing nothing was often what was called for. "You can't go reacting dramatically every time a body falls out of a cupboard. Most of the time I was completely deadpan". In those days, television serials were performed live which involved some careful deception: "I'd finish a scene with a character at one end of the studio and another character would begin a conversation with me at the other end. Of course, the camera would stay on him because I wasn't actually there. I would be rushing towards him changing my clothes and lighting a cigarette of a different length until eventually I arrived and leaned nonchalantly next to him on the bar. Then the camera would turn to me as if I'd been there all the time. It was pretty hair-raising".

Martin Jarvis, who stars in Breakaway, said Durbridge was a bit wary of him at first: "He looked at me very dubiously and said: `I understand you've been in a comedy series'. It must be nerve-racking for a writer - handing over his trust to an actor. I always feel a great sense of responsibility". Though people mainly associate him with Rings On Their Fingers, it's the only comedy role Martin Jarvis has played. He was Jon, the man that Fleur really loved, in The Forsyte Saga, Nicholas in Nicholas Nickleby and Octavius in Shaw's Man And Superman. On the stage he's been Arnold in Somerset Maugham's The Circle in the West End and Hamlet in Hamlet at Windsor. Durbridge says he's "absolutely perfect" for Breakaway. Sam Harvey, the character Jarvis plays, is a Detective Superintendent. "He's sensitive," Jarvis said. "He's written a best-selling children's book and decided to resign from the Force to write full-time". And the story? "Ah, that would be telling. Let's just say that something occurs - a personal tragedy - and Sam finds himself in the role of both victim and investigator. It's a brilliantly constructed plot". Like his predecessors, Martin Jarvis finds that the plot dictates his performance. "I can only describe it by saying that you inhabit the story - there are so many twists and turns. Durbridge's skill is that he sets up an everyday situation and then introduces one or two little things that make you think: "Wait a minute, there's something funny going on here".

Alan Bleasdale would later bring Durbridge's most famous production, Melissa, back to life in the late 1990s (sanctioned by Durbridge who was extremely pleased with the final result), thus ensuring that one of the most prolific and successful crime writers of the late twentieth century had at least one production per decade from 1950 to 1990. His death shortly after the transmission of Melissa was a great loss to the literary world, but the productions of his works are a lasting legacy to his ability to make television instantly gripping, entertaining and frequently unexpected.

Regular Characters (Season One)
Portrayed By
Detective Superintendent Sam Harvey
Martin Jarvis
Chief Superintendent Bert Sinclair
Glyn Houston
Hannah Harvey
Joan Benham
Jason Harvey
Richard Caldicot
Jill Foster
Hilary Ryan
Phil Morgan
Norman Hartley
Walter Randell
Derek Farr
Margaret Randell
Angela Browne
Norman Harris
John Lee
Peter Bradford
Paul Shelley
Leo Corby
Derek Benfield
Chris Daley
Gilly McIver
Hubert Daley
Patrick Westwood
Jonathan Daley
Samuel Holland
Larry Foster
Simon Oates
Sergeant Hunter
Jason James
George Adams
Lockwood West
Regular Characters (Season Two)
Detective Superintendent Sam Harvey
Martin Jarvis
Scott Douglas
Ed Bishop
Becky Royce
Judy Geeson
Doctor Tucker
David Collings
Giles Stafford
William Marlowe
Iris Smith
Gillian Rhind
Ernest Clifford
Michael Culver
Sergeant Holiday
Edward Peel
Detective Superintendent Hallam
John Abineri
Police Constable Mason
Miles Fothergill
Freddie Galbraid
Robert Morris
Paul Luty
Jo Hathaway
Lynn Dalby
Isabel Black
Vivien Merchant
Geraldine Newton
Suzan Farmer
Elaine Wigmore
Margaret John
Rita Black
Sandra Bryant
Susan Field

The series written by Francis Durbridge. Both seasons were produced by Ken Riddington. Season one was directed by Paul Ciappessoni, season two by Michael E Briant. Episodes were transmitted on Friday nights.


The Family Affair (Part 1)
TX : 11th January 1980
Additional Cast : Reg Turner, John Cannon, Paul Grinsberg

Synopsis : Detective Superintendent Sam Harvey intends to resign from the police force, but his superior at Scotland Yard, Bert Sinclair, gives him some horrifying news which forces him to stay on temporarily - or so he thinks…

Notes : The series was originally transmitted on BBC-1 from 8:30pm to 9:00pm.

The Family Affair (Part 2)
TX : 18th January 1980
Additional Cast : Martin Fisk, Mike Lewin

Synopsis : Leo Corby calls on Sam and Chief Superintendent Sinclair at Scotland Yard with some extraordinary information and a package which changes the whole nature of the case.

Notes : The series was transmitted under the banner headline Francis Durbridge Presents.

The Family Affair (Part 3)
TX : 25th January 1980
Additional Cast : Clifton Jones, Mela White

Synopsis : Three telephone numbers found by Sam lead him to two shootings. But he is warned again not to get involved.

The Family Affair (Part 4)
TX : 1st February 1980
Additional Cast : Rebel Russell

Synopsis : Sam meets a journalist and a solicitor, each of whom give him incredible information.

The Family Affair (Part 5)
TX : 8th February 1980
Additional Cast : Clifton Jones, Geoffrey Beevers

Synopsis : Another body and a warning telephone call take Sam nearer the truth…or so he thinks.

The Family Affair (Part 6)
TX : 15th February 1980
Additional Cast : Pat Gorman, Ray Knight, Brian Peck, Jerry Judge

Synopsis : Confrontation. At last Sam has the solution to the death of his parents.

The Local Affair (Part 1)
TX : 22nd February 1980
Additional Cast : Jack McKenzie

Synopsis : After having solved his parents' murder, Sam reluctantly goes to Market Cross on a new case, which he thinks is routine. He soon learns differently…

Notes : After only a short break this second series was transmitted from 8:30pm until 9:00pm.

The Local Affair (Part 2)
TX : 1st March 1980
Additional Cast : Elisabeth Rider, Eric Mason, Richard Seagar

Synopsis : A body in a wood, a host of local people and an American who all have conflicting stories, make Sam wish he was writing his children's stories full-time.

Notes : The music for both seasons was provided by Joe Griffiths.

The Local Affair (Part 3)
TX : 8th March 1980

Synopsis : A set of keys found near the body, a $200,000 blackmail and a gloved hand - all add to Sam's confusion.

The Local Affair (Part 4)
TX : 15th March 1980
Additional Cast : Elizabeth Chambers

Synopsis : Another murder and the surprising revelation of the blackmailer's go-between force Sam into dubious methods

The Local Affair (Part 5)
TX : 21st March 1980
Additional Cast : Clarke Stephens

Synopsis : Was the watch a present after all? If so, from whom? Sam's guile leaves a shaken Scott Douglas waiting for the blackmailer.

The Local Affair (Part 6)
TX : 28th March 1980
Additional Cast : Juliette James, David Griffin

Synopsis : The blackmailer collects, and a suitcase full of notes leads Sam to Rita Black's killer.

Text © Matthew Lee 2004.