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The Odd Job Man
BBC 1984
1
TX : 11th February 1984

Publicity : A Tough Role - BBC-1's new serial is a three-part thriller about a former member of the SAS floundering in failure. Jon Finch, who plays the character, was himself a member of the SAS. But he's no failure, as Claudin Cooke found out: Actor Jon Finch adjusts his dark glasses and mutters thickly about the effects of the previous night.

He is also wearing camouflage trousers and big boots, possibly because he has just finished shooting The Odd Job Man, a three-part thriller in which he plays an ex-SAS man gone slightly to seed, who takes on private, SAS-style missions because he can't find another job. Jon, forty-one, has been a successful actor for many years, but began his career, rather appropriately, with a three-year stint in the SAS Reserve regiment. "I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the SAS and I'm still very proud of having been a member. But eventually I had to leave because I was becoming more and more involved in the theatre and the SAS demands most of your weekends and several nights a week. I was quite relieved, actually, because they ended up in Borneo just after I had left, with all those spiders and things! Things have got a lot tougher since I left. We had a forty percent pass rate, but in a recent selection course they took just eleven out of two-hundred-and-seventy-three applicants. Jon considers it quite feasible that former SAS men, like The Odd Job Man, could find themselves doing similar work when they rejoin the civilian world. His only reservation about the plot is that it has the hero selling encyclopaedias for a while, which he feels is highly improbable.

There is a pause before he adds: "Well, actually, I sold encyclopaedias for a while once, but only for three weeks. I was absolutely disgusted by the whole thing, not to mention terrible at it. I think I only sold one". The man he plays in The Odd Job Man is a loner. Years of intense training have taken their toll on his emotions, leaving him unable to sustain happiness in his private life. Says Jon: "I, too, am a bit of a loner; I think it is something which runs in the blood anyway and is merely encouraged by the SAS. Its members don't play team games well; they are highly self-sufficient; and if they stay in the regular SAS for long, they probably don't make the best family men". Until his marriage two years ago to actress Catriona MacColl, Jon's West London flat contained little besides a bed, an electric kettle and a camping stove.

"Poor Catriona nearly had heart failure when she first came here, but in those days I nearly always ate out. Now we have a proper kitchen and everything and I find I love cooking and staying in for the evening. I've become engrossed in things like saucepans for the kitchen; those mail order firms are my downfall!". An active man with a passion for motor racing and a yearning to fly aeroplanes, Jon was dismayed to discover, eight years ago, that he suffered from diabetes. But he is philosophical: "I am over all the trauma of it now and, apart from flying, parachuting and a few other things, I can still do what I want. I have plenty of energy for the parts I play and I just thank God for the discovery of insulin, otherwise I'd be dead". Jon and Catriona both work extensively abroad as well as in England, and have homes in London, Paris and southern Spain, and plan to invest in a house in Ireland next year - "with a full-size snooker table". Jon has now made nine films in Spain, as well as two in France.


He has starred in several television dramas and played Macbeth in Polanski's film. Making The Odd Job Man also introduced him to Scotland, where it was filmed, and he fell in love with the country. "I expected to loathe Glasgow, but I adored it. The people have a marvelous sense of humour. Nobody ever called me Jimmy by the way, and I didn't see one fight!". Fighting, in real life, is not something he relishes. He admits: "I never had to do any fighting in the SAS, which is just as well, as I probably wasn't brave enough". He has done little live theatre work, confessing that that, too, frightens him: "But I would love to do some stage work again soon, if I can find the courage". (Radio Times, February 11, 1984 - Article by Claudin Cooke).


Synopsis :
Escorting a defecting Warsaw Pact Planning Officer across the East German border seemed just another job for Sergeant George Griffin of the SAS, but the effects of that mission were to follow him…

Notes :
Episodes were originally transmitted 9:00pm to 9:50pm on BBC 1.


2
TX : 18th February 1984

Synopsis :
Down on his luck, Jon Finch, the ex-SAS man carrying out espionage jobs for British Intelligence, accepts the job of trying to find an East German hit-man called Tauber.


3
TX : 25th February 1984

Synopsis :
Tonight, George Griffin, an elimination expert working for British Intelligence and the CIA, manages to find a cottage hide-out for the East German, Tauber.


Characters
Portrayed By
Jon Finch
George Griffin ("The Odd Job Man")
Ralph Bates
Major Drew
Polly Hemmingway
Nancy
Wolf Kahler
Tauber
Andrew McCulloch
Nick
Lex Van Delden
The Interrogator
Louis Sheldon
Border Guard
Terry Gurry
German Farmer
Kenneth Owens
Border Guide
Paul Young
Victor
Leon Sinden
Bill Cook
Terry Cavers
Brenda
Andrea Miller
Housewife
Gertran Klauber
German Businessman
Gerard Slevin
Off-Licence Manager
Sheila Grier
Club Hostess
James Kennedy
Waiter
Van Sylvester
Officer's Wife
Susie Silvey and Wesley Pestano
Cabaret Act

The series was created and written by N J Crisp. The series was directed by Tristan de Vere Cole and produced by Bob McIntosh. Script Editor for the series was Maggie Allen.


BBC Television
, having embarked on a bold plan to revitalise Saturday evening and late-night viewing with a wide range of new, confronting, challenging and largely entertaining serials (such as Paula Milne's Driving Ambition) throughout 1984, engaged BBC Scotland and N J Crisp to produce The Odd Job Man, a three-part thriller serial which proved a gripping and popular work with audiences.




Largely preoccupied with affairs in East and West Germany, the serial concerned Sergeant George Griffin (Jon Finch) of the SAS, assigned to escort a defecting Warsaw Pact Planning Officer across the East German border for British Intelligence. He succeeds in executing his mission, but only narrowly escapes with his life. His pursuit of an East German assassin, Tauber (Wolf Kahler), leads him to Scotland, where the pair occupy a "safe house" whilst being pursued by East German officials determined to eliminate the defector Griffin rescued.

Moulded from the classic spy-thriller genre, the serial proved nicely diverting and sustained healthy audience figures for the duration of its three-week run. N J Crisp, who penned the serial, had produced more creative fare in the past, yet the series is to his credit as the deft touch with which he approached the material (fairly hackneyed from an objective point of view, but under his adept handling sustaining a heightened state of drama throughout). The series was produced for BBC Scotland by Bob McIntosh, and directed by the trusty Tristan de Vere Cole, something of a fixture at the BBC for over thirty years. Notable supporting performances came from the likes of Ralph Bates, Andrew McCulloch, Leon Sinden and Paul Young. The serial was globally exported, but the limit of its commercial realisation was a television tie-in novelisation released to coincide with the transmission of the series.

Text © Matthew Lee, 2004.