Department 'S' on DVD

Sunday, 20 April 2008 20:39

Department S – DVD Special Edition

Network has at last let loose its DVD release of cult favourite DEPARTMENT S. This eight-disc set sees all 28 episodes of the series available for the first time in one set in the UK.

Peter Wyngarde stars as flamboyant crime writer Jason King in this popular espionage series with an extravagant mindset. King is a crime novelist and freelance operative for Department S, an elite branch of Interpol which specialises in solving the seemingly unsolvable. Along with fellow detectives, straight laced action man Stewart Sullivan (Joel Fabiani) and glamorous computer expert Annabelle Hurst (Rosemary Nicols), King attempts to unravel bizarre and inexplicable mysteries which have left other police baffled.

 

Department S on UK DVDThe series sees the trio face a range of challenging cases as they try to get to the bottom of strange and often eerie assignments, under the ever watchful supervision of Sir Curtis Seretse (Dennis Alaba Peters), Head of Department S.              

Created by prolific writer Dennis Spooner and cult producer Monty Berman (Randall and Hopkirk Deceased), this is a quirky classic which features witty dialogue, unexpected plot twists and excellent performances from a talented cast, which includes an early appearance from screen icon Anthony Hopkins in the episode “A Small Matter of Nerves”.

Department S was another of the jewels in ITC’s crown - produced in 1968 it catapulted Peter Wyngarde to the status of global phenomenon. In each episode the team solved the most convoluted and perplexing of cases with charm and humour.

Special features for this set include “Wanna Watch a Television Series? - Chapter One: Variations on a Theme”, an exclusive new documentary on the making of the series, narrated by Peter Bowles and featuring contributions from, amongst others, Joel Fabiani, Rosemary Nicols and director Cyril Frankel.  Fans will undoubtedly be disappointed, however, that Peter Wyngarde is conspicuous by his absence – indeed, him being missing from the celebration is eyebrow-raising when you consider his fine contribution to Network’s recent box set for The Prisoner, in which he was a single-episode guest star.

Let’s hope this situation is put right for the expected release of sequel series (of sorts) Jason King, which is expected from Network this summer.

Also on this set are a commentary on the first episode “Six Days” with director Cyril Frankel and assistant director Ken Baker, and one on “The Double Death of Charlie Crippen” with writer Leslie Darbon. 

You get an extensive image gallery (including many behind the scenes and coverage of the inaugural press party) accompanied by a suite of incidental music from the series, and a (mute) episodic image gallery, as well as commercial break bumpers, and an extensive set of materials as PDF files (playable in your PC), including original press pack information, UK and US brochures, quick facts, press information and more.

A real oddity is a re-edit of the episode “The Mysterious Man in the Flying Machine” - just 25 minutes long, it is described as an ‘international version’ – this was probably prepared to try and re-sell the series into syndication in the 1970s.  Half-hour shows were judged to be easier to market than full hours at that time, but it has to be said that the episode verges on being almost incoherent in places, due to the absence of scenes that were consigned to the cutting room floor for this version of the episode.  However, as a curiosity, it’s quite fun playing ‘spot the difference’ between this and the full version.

To ensure you get the best value from the eight DVDs in this set, you also get an episode of Man in a Suitcase – the reason that “Day of Execution” in include is that one of the guest stars is Rosemary Nicols, who also contributes a short introduction.

So, for those of you who don’t yet have the full run of Department S in your collection, then this is well worth getting hold of.  The print quality is excellent – just like watching the series as if it had been made yesterday, rather than 40 years ago. Even today, the stories are completely ingenious – rumour has it that story editor Dennis Spooner would give writers the pre-credit ‘teaser’ sequence to work up into a full story, which would allow their imaginations to be challenged, and in many cases run riot!

However, much like Network’s new box set of The Prisoner, which was sorely lacking in not being able to persuade Patrick McGoohan to participate, this Department S set, in not having the superb Mr Wyngarde involved in the extras, does leave one slightly deflated. 

Granted, the involvement of Joel Fabiani, and in particular the extremely elusive Rosemary Nicols, is in itself something of an exclusive.  Ms Nicols left the acting profession in the early 1970s, apparently to become an astrologer and moved to the USA.  Since that point she disappeared off the radar – admittedly Cult TV did find her in 2006 and tried to persuade her to join us for our Festival that year, but the dates didn’t work out, unfortunately.

Network raised the bar with the release of The Champions when they reunited the three stars of that ITC series fro DVD extras, so the expectation, and hope, was that similar joint interviews and commentaries feature the Department S triangle of talent might have been possible.  However, for those who view the documentary intently, there are a few clues as to why this might never have been possible.

Department S is out now, an eight disc set with a running time of 1400 minutes (plus extras) for £59.99, or less at www.culttvstore.com

 

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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