1 9 7 6 – 1 9 7 8 (UK)
12 x 50 minute episodes
Shot on video using a roving camera, this stylish but graphically violent underworld thriller made for a high-tension tour through the low-life (gang wars, prostitution, drug smuggling) of British Urbana.
Episodes – or “incidents” – related the attempts of former SAS man and ex-con John Kline (Maurice Colbourne) to penetrate the Birmingham underworld circa 1975 as an undercover agent for DI6.
Released from prison by DI6 agent Khan (Ahmed Khalil) and installed as the manager of the Maverick nightclub, Kline found himself mixing with all manners of seedy characters, including pimps, whores, extortionists, terrorists, drug pushers and illegal-immigrant smuggling rings.
Emboldened by strong ratings but stung by continued criticism of the show’s violence, writer Philip Martin altered the course in the second season, focusing on problems caused by the Triads. Crucially, he injected bizarre, surreal elements, intended to reassure viewers that they were not witnessing actual reality.
These reached their zenith when a W.C. Fields-type character (a role originally intended for Les Dawson but ultimately played by Martin himself) appeared as a mystical figure who effortlessly and mysteriously killed Kline.
It was a bafflingly strange series with a highly stylised postmodern script that combined film noir trappings, elements of hip British gangster movies like Get Carter and Performance, Bollywood and kung-fu set-pieces, as well as increasingly outrageous end-of-episode cliffhangers, memorable dialogue and a downright bizarre final scene to the last episode where the characters not only broke the fourth wall but actually walked off the set completely.
The 12-part series was developed from a 1975 Play For Today episode directed by Philip Saville. Chris Farlowe sang the theme song and Dave Greenslade composed the music.
Lily Li Tang