Bass Blayer and Blonde DVD

Monday, 14 March 2011 11:55

Edward Woodward was one of our national TV treasures in the 1970s.  His hit series, Callan, was hardly a straitjacket, as it allowed him to play host to the panel game Whodunnit in its first season, as well as have his own music show, allowing him to showcase his talents beyond acting.  Merging his skills together was the television play The Bass Player and the Blonde. This then led to a subsequent trio of three follow-up one hour episodes.

Like “The Graduate” but in reverse, Woodward is bass player George Mangham, a world-weary, out-of-sorts jazz musician, who thinks his short-lived days of fame are behind him. The blonde is Terry, a beautiful, wealthy and decidedly determined young lady, who fancies herself as a singer. The actress you should recognise in this role is Jane Wymark, who went on to play Joyce Barnaby, the wife of star John Nettles’ character Tom in the series Midsomer Murders.  Woodward and Wymark positively sizzle as initial mutual hostility thaws, and an unlikely romance is kindled.

Bass Player and the Blonde - out in full on DVDMangham is twice Terry’s age and penniless, unlikely to have the resources to keep her in the sort of life she is accustomed to. However, her love of jazz, and indeed Mangham’s back catalogue, sees her take him on as a pet project – can she resurrect his career, and get him back to writing sellable songs?

Terry’s furious father, Charlie (Ronald Fraser), is none too keen on what he sees as Mangham getting in the way of the perfectly co-ordinated wedding he has arranged for his daughter with wimpy Nigel (Jeremy Sinden). Being a Catholic girl, the physical side of their relationship is not something she is initially interested in – it’s Mangham’s jazz skills that entice her, and what she falls in love with. Unfortunately, Mangham is often let down by his transport, initially a yellow Fiat Panda, and then a wheezing sky blue Triumph Herald.

The Bass Player and the Blonde started out as a television play in the ITV Playhouse series, first broadcast 14 June 1977. Scripted by Roy Clarke, he of Last of the Summer Wine, it received much critical praise, and the regrettable decision was made to revisit the idea where the play had left off. Clarke passed on being involved, leaving it to two other writers. The first was Phil Redmond, just before he moved on to Grange Hill, who of course has also brought us the likes of Brookside and Hollyoaks.

The second was Ian Lindsay, who may or may not be the actor of the same name who has appeared in the likes of Bognor, The Paradise Club and Forever Green (if anyone knows for sure, get in touch!). How do you move on a story which was satisfactorily self-contained in the first place?

The three episodes were entitled “Rondo” (written by Lindsay, screened 8 August 1978), “Allegro” (written by Redmond, screened 15 August 1978), and “Andante” (written by both Lindsay and Redmond, screened 22 August 1978). The problem is that with the story having been left at a reasonable point by the play, this trio of stories just takes the characters around in circles, more or less leaving them at the same point as they were at the end of the original piece.


 

The quartet of stories were all produced and directed by Dennis Vance, his last major project before his premature death in 1983 at the age of 59. He’d been a director on many a Special Branch, even helming an early episode of The Avengers - “Please Don’t Feed The Animals”, but had made a name for himself as a regular producer and director for Armchair Theatre. Music for the series was provided by the legendary Jack Parnell. And look out for guest appearances from George Sewell, Sam Kydd, Alfie Bass, Stanley Lebor, Barry Linehan and Brian Haines.

Please note that this release has not been restored and is a bit shaky in places. The production itself is unusual, with the majority of scenes studio-bound, but it’s the external shots that are perplexing. For many of the outside scenes, we have the use of film cameras, and for others it shifts to video cameras – there seems to be no logic to the choice, and does make you blink on occasion, as during one course of action it changes several times for no apparent reason.  Last minute reshoots on a budget, perhaps?  Certainly the less said about the back projection in the first episode of the follow-up trio the better, as the couple drive along having a sing-song. It really is something from another time, even for 1978, and makes the production feel surreal.

That said, this is one of those productions which demonstrates the angst and unpredictable nature of relationships.  This May to December romance feels doomed from the start, but can love really conquer everything?  The lesson is that success or failure is entirely down to the participants, and if it’s what both sides want anything is possible.

The Bass Player and the Blonde is a two disc set, out now from Network. It has a running time of 200 minutes approx, a ‘12’ certificate, and a RRP of £20.41 or less, available exclusively from the Network Online Shop.

 

 

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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