“Talent borrows, genius steals” said Oscar Wilde (“and Doctor Who writers get it wholesale off the back of a lorry, no questions asked” added Doctor Who writer Ben Aaronovitch, but I digress).
Great TV and film make their mark, they change the landscape that future productions operate in. Most obviously nothing was the same for science fiction after Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977), both in terms of production values and how the genre was viewed by the public in general. This lead to a boom in late 70s sci-fi with Disney getting in on the act with The Black Hole (Gary Nelson, 1979)………….
A big screen revival of Star Trek……………
TV has also had its fair share of game changers, the 2005 revival of Doctor Who led to both BBC and ITV commissioning numerous telefantasy series including Primeval (2007-11), Robin Hood (2006-09), Merlin (2009-13) and of course, Bonekickers (2008).
Of course this was the second time Doctor Who had an influence on popular culture, but back in 1963 Doctor Who itself was a product of influences. Its…if not creator then instigator Sydney Newman was poached from ABC by the BBC to work his magic with Auntie. And Arguably his most significant legacy there was The Avengers (1961-69).
Other series from around that time that invite comparison to The Avengers include The Saint (1962-69), Danger Man (1960-68), The Prisoner (1967-68), The Odd Man and its sequels (1960-68), Adam Adamant (1966-67) and The Corridor People (1966).
Created by The Odd Man writer Edward Boyd, The Corridor People ran for a total of four episodes. It is a……challenging series to categorise.
Ostensibly a 60s spy/detective series, we follow the exploits of Department K, apparently part of the UK Government, under the control of Kronk (John Sharp). There’s Iranian villainess Syrie Van Epp (Elisabeth Shepherd)1, and American Gumshoe Phil Scrotty (Gary Cockrell).
As this is a largely studio bound, multi camera affair it can’t really compete with the ITC films series on budget or scale and director David Boisseau is given a rather lot of creative freedom to make things a visually diverting as possible. Mention must also go to Micheal Grimes’ set designs, which seem to be attempting Ken Adam’s work on Dr Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964) on a fraction of the budget and for the most part succeeding.
Indeed as the episodes progress you notice that this is a series that is less concerned with aping the style of The Avengers as has been suggested and more placing itself somewhere between German Expressionism and French New Wave, with a dash of Noir. Scrotty may be a lover of Bogart but Cockrell’s performance brings to mind Samu Frey in Bande à part (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960).
It also has an excellent theme tune but no incidental music, which is frustrating.
The first episode, Victim As Bird Watcher concerns Van Epp kidnapping a man for a controlling stake in a perfume company that has unwitting produced a knock out gas.
On the face of things this is straightforward 60s spy fayre but pretty much every character is playing this a theatrically as possible, and once you know that no one seems to be taking this too seriously, it’s hard to be overly concerned with what passes for a plot. They’d probably get away with it if it worked as comedy but what jokes there are largely fall flat. The two police officers Blood (Alan Curtis) and Hound (William Maxwell) have one joke, and it isn’t funny. The only interesting character, Miss Dunner, a dour secretary cum assassin (June Watson) is killed part way through the second episode, Victim As Whitebait. As Scrotty is killed in the first episode and then resurrected in the second I thought we’d see Miss Dunner return. Sadly no.
The camera work is as inventive as it comes for such a production, partial screen wipes, letterboxing, 90 degree camera tilts. All very interesting but very much style over substance
The second episode deals with a scientist who has found a way of bringing people back to life which could be great fun but we never see it in action. On top of which Aubrey Morris as the scientist, Robag chews the scenery beyond all measure of humour and you have to conclude he’s just taking the piss. Certainly we know he’s capable of so much better.
The third episode Victim As Red is the best of the bunch, concerning a missing soldier, Hugo Lemming (John Woodnutt), Cold War defection and a missing £2 million. It deals with memory, loss and betrayal, and it’s the only episode that comes across as more of a character piece than art installation. If all the series was like this, we could have had something rather special. “The potency of cheap music” is a lovely line.
Lastly and leastly Victim As Black returns to pointless surrealism with a somewhat problematic addressing of endemic racism. It falls back on ‘subverting’ expectations by showing a camp, well spoken black man, Theobald Abu (Calvin Lockhart). Y’know, just in case you thought they were all savages. Crass doesn’t really cover it. This episode was broadcast around a month before Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party in the US and about three months after James Meredith was shot. There are better ways of introducing black characters into mainstream culture than is shown here. But The Corridor People was hardly the only culprit.
The plot concerns the Royal family of a fictious country, Morphenia and the attempts of its King (Roger Hammond) to find a black girl he once met at a party and marry her. Once again, the most interesting character on display, the girl in question, Pearl (Nina Baden-Semper) is largely wasted and the few scenes she gets make use of internal monologue and addressing the viewer directly. Once again there are hints of something more interesting but there’s nowhere near enough of it.
Oh and look out for a young Pauline Collins as Syrie’s maid.
The Corridor People is unique but that doesn’t make it any good. The similarities with The Avengers are misplaced, this has its sights set in a different direction. It’s bold and inventive but it tries too hard and falls well short. A more character based piece would have made up for its budget shortfalls than any number of odd ball sets and ‘surreal’ acting.
If you’ve ever wondered what a Pinter play directed by David Lynch might look like, this is about as close as you’ll get. But it’s less than the sum of its parts.
1 The original choice for Emma Peel in The Avengers, Shepherd left part way through filming her second episode after disagreements with the production team over the character.
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