It's Murder. But Is It Art?
BBC 1972
Mister Drake Takes A Hand
TX : 23rd March 1972

Synopsis :
Inspector Hook has no doubt who is responsible for the murder of the blonde found in Brigadier Binghop's drawing room. But Mister Drake is not convinced. Inspector Hook is convinced that the Brigadier murderer the blonde in his sitting room. But the versatile Phineas Drake has other ideas. It's murder. But is it art?

Notes :
The series was transmitted 8:00pm to 8:30pm on BBC 1.

Mister Drake Goes To Jail
TX : 30th March 1972

Synopsis : Inspector Hook is holding Brigadier Binghop in custody, convinced that he is the murderer. But Mister Drake thinks otherwise.

Mister Drake And Ars Gratia Artis
TX : 6th April 1972

Synopsis : In an effort to clear Brigadier Binghop of suspicion of having murdered Tina Kent, Mister Drake cons his way into the house where she lived. But Inspector Hook is still gathering evidence against the Brigadier.

Mister Drake Has Visitors
TX : 13th April 1972

Synopsis : While Inspector Hook is still trying to pin the murder of Tina Kent on Brigadier Binghop, Mister Drake has ample cause to be certain that the killer is someone in Mrs MacPherson's Chelsea house. But who?

Mister Drake Asks Questions
TX : 20th April 1972

Synopsis : Investigating the murder of Tina Kent at great risk to himself, Mister Drake is now faced with a second untimely death. But Inspector Hook is still stubbornly convinced that Brigadier Binghop is the killer.

Mister Drake Reveals All
TX : 27th April 1972

Synopsis : At grave risk to his own life, Mister Drake initiates the final moves to clear Brigadier Binghop of the murder of Tina Kent - and to bring the real killer to justice.

The following text appeared in the Radio Times to promote the first episode of the series:

Arthur Lowe, Cheerful On Parade As Mister Drake The Eccentric Sleuth: Arthur Lowe - on leave from Dad's Army in a new comedy thriller serial - talks to Deirdre MacDonald about the parts he played on the way up …: 'AH! But you're working with a star. This is all about a day in the life of a superstar!' Many a star might mean that. Not Arthur Lowe, who parades no airs and graces. He was joking placating Lyn de Winne, the pretty make-up girl who was agitated by the prospect of our photographer recording her work. He can crack that joke about himself, because success is almost a burden to brusquely workman like Arthur Lowe. And publicity is a chore, which on this occasion he'd decided to tackle cheerfully.

Short, stocky Lowe was in a belted tweed jacket, a dog-tooth-checked deerstalker in his hand. Mr. Drake, the latest in the long line of Arthur Lowe characters was taking form. During the process, Lowe was talking through clenched teeth about Mr. Drake. 'He is an eccentric amateur detective, equally as happy in his pony-trap as in his 160 mph Mercedes. His peculiar interests range from campanology to yoga on top of a chest of drawers. He's irascible, yes. And a bit of a poseur. But he's very brave to". A blonde girl came into the make-up room. "Ah. Hello. You're the body then, the corpse, are you?" Lowe's gruff voice asked. She was. Gilly Young smiled.

For Lowe, It's Murder but is it Art? - a six-part comedy thriller serial - is a change. The characters he plays have a habit of dying hard. It began with Leonard Swindley, Coronation Street's draper, back in 1961. Until then, Lowe had had a comfortable stage career - 'an adequately paid supporting player,' he contentedly called himself at the time. His first meeting with Mr. Swindley in script form was 'favourable.' He's not a man to wax lyrical. 'I didn't know what I was letting myself in for. I didn't realise how long it would last.' Mr. Swindley thrived for six years in all. Granada Television 'peeled him off' Coronation Street, promoted him to assistant manager of a Northern chain store as the central figure in Pardon The Expression. 'Leonard Swindley turned out a far more complex character than was ever intended,' says Lowe.

If he is tempted to feel sentimentally grateful to Swindley for the success that followed, Arthur Lowe conceals the fact. He is quite testy about the way the public identified him and the part: ' Playing Swindley hasn't done me any harm. But now he's dead. It's taken years for the public to find out my name is Arthur Lowe.' Wandering among the patches of light and shade in Television Centre's Studio 1, Lowe, as Mr. Drake was in pyjamas by now. He wasn't yet due on the set. No ditherer, Arthur Lowe he used the time to read another script, in his dressing room, to watch his colleagues at work and talk to us. In 1963 Lowe played Hudson the solicitors clerk in John Osborne's Inadmissible evidence at the Royal Court. 'That was certainly a modern and daring production to be in. Hudson was prissy, prudish easily shocked, but still a sympathetic character, though its not a play that I'd have gone to see. Acting must be scaled down for the screen. A drawing room is a lot smaller than a theatre auditorium.' Lowe found himself playing to drawing room audiences once more when the part of Captain Mainwaring in BBC Television's award-winning Dad's Army was specially written for him, by David Croft and Jimmy Perry. ' We expected the show to have limited appeal, to the age group that lived through the war and the Home Guard. We didn't expect what has happened - that children from the age of five upwards would enjoy it too.'

Arthur Lowe likes Captain Mainwaring, the stalwart Home Guard commander and (in office hours) stout-hearted bank manager, who is of course alive and well and thriving in Walmington-on-Sea, and still far from any threat of demob. 'It's a wonderful part,' he says with warmth. 'Mainwaring is a sort of military extension of Mr. Swindley. He's prudish and pompous. It's pricked pomposity again, and that's where the fun comes in. He's an extremely brave little man who would gladly go through hell and high water for Walmington-on-Sea's safety. He is also a very good bank manager. Good for the bank, that is.' He can't be bad for Arthur Lowe's bank account either. Captain Mainwaring will soldier on. That does not prevent Lowe from doing other things between series. In 1968 he played the part of AB Raham in Maugham's Home and Beauty at the National. In that, he was a seedy solicitor.

In 1969 he turned to stage musical in Ann Veronica at the Cambridge Theatre. He was Mr. Ramage. 'A very different sort of chap. An old lecher who tried to get off with Ann Veronica. He was an idiot to think he could make the girl in first place and, of course, he got his face slapped.' He played Sir Davey Dunce in Soldier's Fortune in 1966. 'A Cuckold. He was a very funny character, but there was a lot of sadness and bitterness in him.' Arthur Lowe's recent television work outside the barracks of Dad's Army has been varied. He starred in a television series of Ben Travers farces. 'Farce is the higher mathematics of acting - precise and demanding.'

He played Charles Dickens' father (immortalised in the form of Mr. Micawber in the BBC 2 tribute to Dickens. He played Bodkin the butler in the ITV comedy series, The Last of the Baskets. By the time we were ready to leave, Lowe, as Mr. Drake, robust in an ample white pullover and red shorts (his bell-ringing uniform), was on the set a mortuary - but far from dead. Lowe has always been irritated by press attempts to compare him with the characters he plays. 'Can you understand why a professional reporter should ask such a question of a professional actor?' We made no attempt. One treats Arthur Lowe with respect. He had said: ' An actor is an actor is an actor. The less personality an actor has off stage the better. A blank canvas on which to draw the characters he plays". (Radio Times, March 16, 1972 - Article by Deirdre Macdonald).

Portrayed By
Phineas Drake
Arthur Lowe
Inspector Hook
Dudley Foster
Arthur Howard
Brigadier Austin Binghop
Richard Hurndall
Lady Skerrington-Mallett
Ambrosine Phillpotts
Detective Sergeant Watson
Anthony Sagar
Police Constable
Norman Mitchell
Chief Constable
Howard Lang
Brian Gower
John Nolan
Samantha Preston
Jill Allen
Mrs MacPherson
Sheila Keith
The Warder
Alister Williamson
Prison Visitor
Julie May
Helen Hunter
Vicki Woolf
Fanny Templer
Petronella Barker
Tony Holland
Philip Dunbar
Julian Tomkin
Christopher Owen
Metropolitan Policeman
John Hughes
John Charnley
Small Boy
Philip Baldwin
Boutique Owner
Leslie Lawton
Yvette Vanson
Peter Gale
Discoteque Barman
Paul Thompson
Club Barman
Ralph Arliss
Car Hire Driver
Frank Abbott
Art Gallery Assistant
David Simeon
Mrs Binghop
Eunice Black
The Pop Group

The series was written by David Pursall and Jack Seddon and directed and produced by Graeme Muir.

Arthur Lowe as Mister Drake .

Bearing the eye-catching title of It's Murder. But Is It Art?, this delightful comedy-drama (often also labelled a comedy-thriller) penned by David Pursall and Jack Seddon afforded Arthur Lowe a welcome vehicle away from his Dad's Army duties and proved an interesting entry into BBC Television's flirtation with the combination of thriller content with a touch of light entertainment (in a similar vein to Murder Most English).

The story appeared relatively straightforward, with somewhat eccentric amateur detective Phineas Drake (Arthur Lowe) charged with investigating the murder of a beautiful blonde Tina Kent, who was found in Brigadier Austin Binghop's (Richard Hurndall) drawing room. The police, and in particular Inspector Hook (Dudley Foster), the man in charge of the investigation, seem fairly convinced of the Brigadier's involvement in the affair, but Drake had his doubts and is determined to prove Binghop's innocence.

Whilst the police hold him in custody, Drake sets about on a line of investigation which places himself in considerable personal jeopardy, yet the wily detective is more than a match for the task at hand. However, Inspector Hook is also in pursuit of further evidence of Binghop's guilt, and as such it proves a race against time to prevent Binghop from standing trial for murder. He becomes acquainted with Mrs MacPherson (Sheila Keith), a Chelsea socialite with more than a passing interest in the affair. He believes that the real killer of Tina Kent may be residing in her home, but his endeavours to track down the culprit result in a second, untimely murder, and soon the killer targets Drake as the means of ensuring Binghop is found guilty of the original crime …

Light entertainment is an approach to television which the BBC are often reluctant to pursue, considering its content to be far too light-weight and middle-brow for its audience share (deeming that this type of production is more akin to ITV), yet this series, as with the likes of Murder Most English and, to a certain extent, Ripping Yarns and, later, The Hitch-Hikers' Guide To The Galaxy, proved that audiences often like a quality story shrouded with humour.

Produced and directed by Graeme Muir, the programme featured performances of note from the likes of Jill Allen, Petronella Barker, Anthony Sagar and Ambrosine Phillpotts. The series received global exportation but was never commercially released in any format.

Text © Matthew Lee, 2005.