Telford's Change
BBC 1979
TX : 7th January 1979

Cast : Martin Benson (Jacques Dupont), Julian Holloway (Simon), Paul Williamson, Nula Conwell and Jane Lowe.

Synopsis :
Mark Telford's existence as an international banker, with its constant travel and expense-account living, looks exciting to outsiders, but he has begun to question it, and so has his wife, Sylvia.

Notes :
The episode was originally transmitted 7:15pm to 8:30pm.

TX : 14th January 1979

Cast : Patrick Barr and David Markham.

Synopsis :
Mark Telford moves to Dover and starts his day-to-day work as manager of the bank there. But Sylvia makes it clear that she is looking for a job that will keep her in London.

Notes :
The rest of the season was originally transmitted 7:15pm to 8:05pm.

TX : 21st January 1979

Synopsis :
While Sylvia job-hunts in London, Mark Telford finds himself faced with the unpleasant task of bankrupting a customer in Devon.

TX : 28th January 1979

Synopsis :
While dealing with local problems in Dover, Mark Telford still finds himself involved in the bank's International Division in London and is again called upon to justify the apparent step backwards in his career. His wife, meanwhile, take a step forwards, landing herself a job in theatre management.

Cast : Richard Steele (Felpersham), Simon Lack (William Harvey), Jacqueline Reddin (Pat), Martin Benson (Jacques Dupont), Paul Williamson (Philip Haslet), Bernard Hill (Jack Burton) and Frederick Wolf (The Waiter).

TX : 5th February 1979

Synopsis :
Mark Telford tries to make a local firm think big.

TX : 12th February 1979

Synopsis :
Mark is preoccupied with the problems of Maddox and take-over threat, while Sylvia is preoccupied with Tim Hart.

TX : 19th February 1979

Cast : Zena Walker (Helen Santon), John Carson (Jean Dieber) and Nula Conwell.

Synopsis :
Mark Telford hopes that a weekend alone on his boat with his wife will restore the good relationship they had before he took his new job.

TX : 26th February 1979

Cast : Zena Walker (Helen Santon) and Nula Conwell and Phoebe Nicholls.

Synopsis :
Mark Telford increasingly doubts the wisdom of his decision to take a backward step in his career, and meanwhile Sylvia takes a step closer to Tim Hart.

TX : 4th March 1979

Cast : John Carson (Jean Dieber), Michael Maloney, Nula Conwell and Roger Brierley.

Synopsis :
A visitor from Head Office makes Mark Telford realise his days in Dover are numbered, and a visit from his son makes him wonder if the days of his marriage are numbered too.

TX : 11th March 1979

Cast : Zena Walker (Helen Santon), Nula Conwell, Bill Paterson and Tim Wylton.

Synopsis :
Mark Telford faces a crucial decision about a new job in the International Division and also decides that he must meet the threat to his marriage, Tim Hart.

Notes : This episode attracted 10.9 million viewers and was ranked the eleventh most popular programme of the week.

The first episode of the series was publicised in the Radio Times with the following article:

Banking On Barkworth
Money, and the lack of money, does more to shape most ordinary lives than love or crime, those two staples of television drama. So the idea came to Peter Barkworth to spin a series round a bank manager's routine. The idea has been taken up. Brian Clark has written the scripts. Peter Barkworth himself plays the bank manager. Here Robert Cushman, drama critic of The Observer, meets the actor … and the man of ideas:

A year ago I interviewed Peter Barkworth in the radio, ostensibly on the subject of comedy. We must have wandered off that topic a bit since at one point he got to telling me how he had enjoyed the different professional roles he had been called upon to assume during his acting career. He had enjoyed, he said, being a doctor and a politician (in Michael Frayn's Dinkey's Years in which he played for a year on the West End stage) and a king (Edward VIII in Crown Matrimonial; this he rated a very good job, if with limited prospects) and a philosopher (Tom Stoppard's Professional Foul was about to burst upon the screen); and he was looking forward greatly to being a bank manager. A bank manager? I didn't follow that one up, which was remiss of me since this was to be Barkworth's full-time job for most of the next year. He plays the leading role in the ten-part drama series Telford's Change, a title that's riddled with puns. Mark Telford is the hero's name; the "change" obviously refers to the currency in which he deals, but also to a change of lifestyle. When we first meet him he is "in the higher echelons of the international division of a major bank".

The basic idea of Telford's Change was not Clark's. As a matter of fact it was Barkworth's. "The Bank Managers I Met All Admitted The Job Was Fun": As a punctilious diarist, he could even tell me the date on which it first occurred to him: "24 April 1968. And we actually started production on 22 April 1978. If only they'd waited another two days they could have begun the enterprise with anniversary champagne". The ten-year gap came about because of what seemed a definitive turn-down from a commercial television executive. "He pointed out that a series about a bank manager would have to be set in banks, and that this would not make interesting television". A move to Dover has apparently taken care of this problem: out of town your friendly, implacable financial adviser gets out and about. Barkworth had thought of a series in which money, rather than love or crime, acted as the dramatic mainspring. As he says, it does more than either to shape people's lives. Back in 1968 he felt this particularly acutely; he lived (as he still does) in a charming Hampstead side street whose small shops all seemed to be going out of business.

He wanted a format in which the personal problems caused by cash-flow, or the lack of it, could be dramatised. And, as an alumnus of The Power Game, he wanted to disprove the accusation thrown at that programme and its descendants by the business community itself: that, really, :business can't be truthfully portrayed on television because it's always glamorised". The idea was revived more or less by accident. He was working on another Brian Clark television play, Country Party, and found himself driving with the director, Barry Davis, to a restaurant that had been suggested as s possible location. "It was a Thursday in February 1977. There we were, sitting in a car going to Oxford. Just the night before a friend had reminded me of my banking idea, so to pass the time I mentioned it to Barry". Davis enthused. Word spread round the Country Party production team. "Brian Clark asked if he could write it. Mark Shivas asked if he could produce it. The BBC asked if they could do it". All were informed they could. What's more, they have been performing these various functions, more or less non-stop, ever since. When I spoke to Peter Barkworth this time he was having his first day off in more than six months, during which he has lived "even more like a recluse than usual".

He takes his work extremely seriously, both the research and the execution. He has recently spent more time in the company of real bank managers than most of us are ever likely to - or perhaps would care to. But they are, he reports, "not really interested in the fear they inspire. On the other hand, they all admit to finding banking fun. Before they interview clients they arrange the room as if they were setting a stage, clearing their desk of everything except that client's file, and placing the chairs exactly where they want those customers to sit. They don't, on the whole, take work home with them - that did surprise me. And they told me that a change of life like the one Telford decides on many occasionally happen, but not often". He didn't think that a character's job was all that important until he had played the part of a doctor in a television play. He got a letter from Clifford Evans (who had played his father in The Power Game series) saying, "You Got the job right, that's half the battle".

"I now quite like not looking like an actor". The meticulousness you sense in his own life (for example in the discipline with which he maintains his diary - never, he insists, lying to it, which may cause problems if the question of publishing it ever arises) comes over strong in his acting. "All Good Actors Are Good At Comedy": It was there most notably in Professional Foul; his don, one of the half-dozen best television performances I've seen, not only did justice to the man's profession but to a whole tradition of professional thought and to a particular kind of Englishness - distances, studies, conscientious, polite, and finally stung by injustice. And, of course, it was both intensely witty and slightly absurd. Barkworth claims that he is not really a born comedian (though he enjoyed the farce Donkey's Years he was not altogether at ease with it - "I prefer serious plays with a lot of laughs"); he belongs firmly in that middle generation of English actors who excel at demonstrating the absurdities of respectable existence - and who are served by playwrights whose antennae are similarly tuned. (Barkworth has never played in Alan Ayckbourn but he wants to, and would be a natural). He names Richard Briers and Richard Beckinsale among his favourite "serious comedians". All good actors are good at comedy, because the things that comedy requires - bright voice, entertaining speed, the tone kept up till the last syllable of a line, skilful timing of course - are all good for acting generally".

He used, all the same, to find comedy the most difficult of all things to teach. He taught an acting class at RADA for seven years (from 1956 to 1962) and he talks of it now as the most important work he has done. "It clarified my own ideas about acting; it let me talk about it, which I enjoy; and I got to know three-thousand young people". Though the general image of Barkworth is of a polished and traditional technician he found that teaching, in fact, made his own acting less technical; he could leave all that behind in the classroom. "Acting Is Largely A Matter Of Self-Revelation": But even there, his approach tended more and more towards improvisation; and the way in which his ex-pupils talk of him suggests that he may have been one of the greatest neglected influences on acting in this country. Even now that he no longer teaches, he is one of the actors actors talk about; the only predictable thing about his work these days is its craftsman's excellence.

One of his ambitions for Telford's Change was always that it would escape easy categorisation; that it could be sometimes violent, sometimes funny, but always truthful. "I used to think that acting was doing what the director told me, and being nice and smooth about making points - "click-click" acting. But there's been a complete reversal of what I used to believe at the beginning of my career. The theory then was that you wiped out your own face with a make-up base, and then painted a new one. I now know that acting is largely a matter of self-revelation". (Radio Times, January 6, 1979 - Article by Robert Cushman)

The same issue of the Radio Times also carried the following review by Joan Aiken:

Evaluating Change:
"The whole secret of the good play," Brian Clark's successful young impresario, Tim Hart, tells us in Telford's Change (7 January to 11 March, BBC-1), is to "take a problem everyone has and dress it out"; and for a smash hit "the problem must be commonplace but the dress has to be haute couture". He goes on to cite, extravagantly, King Lear and Hamlet, but we need look no further than the cosy comfort of Telford's Change itself. The four collaborators on this semi-independent series, Brian Clark, Mark Shivas, Peter Barkworth and Barry Davis, have delivered a very haute couture package indeed. But what of the problems decked so lavishly, and with such colour-supplement chic? It is a dangerous gloss on human destiny to assume that the jail of life is a problem-free existence; and that unions / governments / families / jobs (strike out according to personal bias) stand in the way of such a Utopia.

These Are The Sort Of Problems Everyone Wishes They Had: Not only philosophers and theologians but every dramatist knows that life is a series of problems, and, moreover, drama series depend on them for life. Now the peculiar success reserved for soap opera lies in choosing problems that in themselves fulfil many people's fantasies - nice, wholesome, worthy problems with roots secure enough in traditional values to keep is safe from the deep traumas of serious drama. (The hilarity of the American parody Soap is that it sets the latter in the context of the former). And in Telford's Change we find just such an amiable selection of storylines deftly spun together.

Consider the life of Mark Telford. He has problems other people would give their careers for: top dog with a City bank, he jets between lush business lunches in continental capitals so often that he hasn't time enough to be charming to his wife, solicitous to his teenage son, play his grand piano or sail his boat. He also suffers from stress and, at forty-five years old, seeks to change his life by opting down the ladder to become a bank manager in Dover. He still doesn't see wife, son or grand piano much, they're still in London. Still, he has added a rented bijou cottage to the family's territory, separation tweaks his feelings for his wife out of middle-aged lethargy and his cynical bosses in London bide their time until he tires of the golf-club business with local builders and farmers that furnishes interesting financial sub-plots.

These are not shattering issues: Dover is seventy-five miles from London, two trains each hour. Mark Telford hasn't dropped out, merely moved the furniture around a bit. He is manipulating a maximum number of choices with minimum risk of loss. Lucky man! And, as a bonus, doing it all with the charm and grace synonymous with being Peter Barkworth. These are the sort of problems everyone wishes they had. Instead of real ones. Now consider Sylvia Telford. To an even greater extent than her husband, her problems are fantasised. But, because her problem - middle-aged wife with grown children seeks place in the outside world - is so generally widespread among women, I find her side of the story not indulgent escapism but depressingly implausible.

Are we to believe that after sixteen years confined by domestic responsibilities with only eighteen months' experience as an assistant stage manager at the age of eighteen, she now sits on advisory drama panels of the Arts Council, and gets the first plum job she tries for in West End theatre management? (Factual error here: thriving young impresarios actually sit on the boards of subsidised theatres, and don't need to recruit Sylvia Telford to tell them about new writers). Having bagged the posh job through instinctive sexual manipulation, she is coyly wooed by her smooth employer, who fetes her in expensive restaurants and yet, after the first gulp of champagne in the hotel bedroom, retires discreetly before she can quite count herself "involved". Some women have all the luck! Plus the bonus of doing it all with the charm and grace synonymous with being Hannah Gordon. And then the family unit itself - potential source of a sociologist's whole checklist of problems. From them Brian Clark has plucked just the ones that present themselves as problems but are, in reality, thinly disguised successes: wife breaking free to set out on her own career, husband successful enough to give up being high-powered, teenage son working contentedly for A-Levels and university.

But Are They All Too Good To Be True?: The family is on a very collision course of life satisfactions - and all of them with the honesty and fluency to talk their way through. And what a happy family they are! Barry Davis in his directing, with the talented collaboration of his three actors, chalks up the major achievement of creating the feeling of being inside a real, likeable family. The gently conspiratorial way in which the argument between husband and wife is mediated through the teenage son is a tribute to clever scripting and playing. Michael Maloney as the son gives a performance of rare perception and insight. But are they all too good to be true? In the actual world, theirs would be real enough problems. Is a two-career household who takes priority, who imposes on the other where to live and how? But somehow, their crises seem superficial, their attitudes to them are soft and easy.

Hard details of the real things that damage marriage - cruelty, apathy, sex and money - never surface. Instead, we enjoy, as they do, lyrical weekends, pleasant colleagues, fine wines, good deals, celebration drinks, tremendous sudden squabbles, quick hugs and kisses - all the most photogenic home comforts. But then, to return to the point I made to start, this is what soap opera is about. And this one has plenty of bubbles!

Actor Peter Barkworth had actually conceived the basic outline of this serial ten years prior to its eventual broadcast on BBC 1, but he had been forced to endure a variety of setbacks before his brandchild would come to fruition.

Having had the concept famously rejected by a colleague in the ITV hierarchy (who had effectively branded the programme as based on a particularly dull premise which would fail to attract audiences), it was not until he approached writer Brian Clark, producer Mark Shivas and director Barry Davis with the idea that a spark of enthusiasm was ignited, and the project was underway (though some eight years had elapsed by this stage, and their original meeting took place whilst working on a one-off BBC Television play).

BBC executives were excited by the concept of a soap-serial which could incorporate several "avarice" themes and contain not only a strong premise but also an equally worthy cast. The programme, entitled Telford's Change, would contain a double-meaning which would be borne out over the course of the first episode, transmitted in January 1979.

Mark Telford (Peter Barkworth) was a highly-successful director at the international department of the Knight Bank in central London. Living the international jet-set life, he wants for nothing and travels the world in the pursuit of ever-increasing wealth: Brussels, Paris and New York are his offices, and the money markets are his play things.

On one of his many business trips, Telford comes into contact with a small branch of the bank in Dover which intends to withdraw itself from the foreign aspects of the business and become a local bank. The idea appeals to Telford to the extend that he transfers his operations to the branch, much to the displeasure of his aspiring wife Sylvia (Hannah Gordon) and son Peter (Michael Maloney). Sylvia intends to return to the workforce after sixteen years in the domestic wilderness, and finds the prospect of a life in Dover particularly unappealing. Peter, too, finds the Dover relocation not to his liking, particularly as he is struggling with his University studies and does not see the move as beneficial to his future.

However, Telford is determined to make the situation turn to his advantage, and proceeds despite his family's objections. Thus, the two meanings inherent in the programme title refer not only to the central character's change of circumstances but also to the currency he trades on a daily basis (the currency of the pound and the currency of human interest in terms of dealing with the more personal aspects of banking and the needs of his clients).

Over the course of ten fifty-minute episodes, viewers were treated to the impact his decision to change his fortunes had on his family (his wife being tempted to engage in an affair, his son become dislocated from his parents) - the major point of which became the strain and gradual deterioration of his marriage to Sylvia.

At the end of the series, in order to save this fragile union (which had been threatened by the presence of Tim Hart, as played by Keith Barron), he reluctantly returned to the London operations at the bank in a management capacity (something of a colossal come-down for the serial, which promised so much but failed to deliver in terms of Telford's backflip at the programme's climax).

A largely forgettable series in the grand scheme of dramatic output throughout the 1970s, Telford's Change can (in part) be viewed as a forerunner to Howards' Way. Likeable performances were contributed by all concerned, and the storylines were of a high calibre, yet the programme has faded in the public memory over time. The series was globally exported but the limit of its commercial release was a television tie-in novelisation published in the year the programme was transmitted. The series is not available in any format to purchase.

Text © Matthew Lee, 2005.

Portrayed By
Mark Telford
Peter Barkworth
Sylvia Telford
Hannah Gordon
Peter Telford
Michael Maloney
Tim Hart
Keith Barron
Charlie Stewart
Elizabeth Cowley
Tessa Peake-Jones
Carol Milton
Veronica Sowberry
Keith Everly
Albert Welling
Jenny Bell
Gerry Cowper
Colin Douglas

The series was created by Peter Barkworth and Brian Clark. The series was directed by Barry Davies and produced by Mark Shivas.