The intro page to the TV section of this humble journal mentions shows ‘judged too weird or too controversial for audiences at the time’. This is the one we had in mind for ‘weird’. Take the 60s penchant for crime and espionage dramas, chuck in a bit of Becket and a dash of early Ken Russell, and you’re almost there. Nearly. Ish.
Originally aired in 1966, The Corridor People has never been repeated, only seeing the light of day thanks to Network DVD. It concerns the various plots of criminal mastermind Syrie van Epp, played by Elizabeth Shepherd, the original choice for The Avengers’ Emma Peel. Syrie’s plots are variously thwarted and abetted by American private eye Phil Scrotty (Gary Cockerell) who is in turn either working with or against Mr Kronk of Department K (John Sharp). The other regulars are Inspector Blood (Alan Curtis) and Sergeant Hound (William Maxwell) who are somewhere between a music hall double act and Tintin’s Thompson and Thomson.
The central plots are staple stuff for the spy/crime genre: ‘Victim as Birdwatcher’ is ostensibly about corporate espionage, ‘Victim as Whitebait’ covers death duties, ‘Victim as Red’ tackles the Cold War, while ‘Victim as Black’ handles the thorny topic of race relations. It’s how the show deals with them that makes The Corridor People stand out. The first two episodes use a lot of visuals popular at the time: letterbox shots, cropped shots and tilted, angled camerawork; however, on a Granada TV budget with studio cameras, some of these stabs at visual flair are a bit arthritic in execution.
Where the show is more successful in its experimentation is in the scripts. Writer Eddie Boyd (creator of the equally odd The Odd Man) lets his imagination run riot: where else does the MOD have a Prophecy Approximation Department, complete with bitchy, gossiping computer? Alcoholic scientists resurrecting corpses to cover the fact that Scrotty isn’t actually dead? Assassinations carried out by midgets in prams?
The last two episodes see the trick camerawork give way to theatricality. The monologues, notably Pearl’s in ‘Black’ are redolent of Play for Today as the girl who, like Cinderella, has become the object of the affections of the King of Morphenia after losing a shoe in a Soho nightclub, muses on the experiences of being young, poor and black in Sixties Britain. Poignantly, she is in her room at the end, reading her horoscope, when she is confronted by a hitman: the British government cannot sanction the relationship for its political and social ramifications. The final freeze-frame of Pearl facing the gun is hard-hitting and wouldn’t have been out of place in series like Callan.
It’s not clear if more episodes were planned- info about the show is scant. Maybe it’s for the best. Eddie Boyd has taken a bit of this and that (possibly literally) and come up with four episodes of odd TV that needs to be seen to be believed. Well, maybe just seen.