Roger Marshall (1934-2020) and Anthony Marriott (1931-2014) were the creators of Public Eye. Roger told The Daily Express (1.8.69) "I got fed up with series like The Avengers, sick to death of the camp and the champagne. The series was created as an antidote to that kind of phoney material. I felt it was time to get down to reality." He had an idea for a show about an enquiry agent but found TV producers struggling to believe that such individuals existed, wedded to the traditional idea of the tough private eye fighting serious crime. However Anthony Marriott found such a real-life agent in Brighton and this helped to convince them. It does seem that this agent's experiences helped to inspire some of the stories, particularly the early ones.
Originally the lead actor was to be called "Frank Marvin". The part was not written for a specific actor although Roger had thoughts of Donald Pleasance. The name "Marvin", redolent of Lee Marvin, suggested a tough image but the casting of Alfred Burke encouraged a rethink. It might have been interesting to see a more aggressive Frank, or maybe even a different actor in the role, but there is no doubt that the move away from the more predictable "tough guy" to a reflective Marker was a fine one while Alfred Burke's performance was superb.
Originally the show was to be called The Public Eye, as indicated in very interesting promotional material issued by ABC (included on the Series 4 DVD) but the title was truncated by the time of broadcast. This material also names Anthony Marriott as one of the scriptwriters although ultimately none of the instalments screened were written by him. It seemed he took no further part in the TV show although he did write a Public Eye novel called Marker Calls the Tune in 1968.
The show first aired in January 1965, produced by ABC. The first season, set in London, ran for fifteen episodes and was broadcast on Saturday evenings from 9.10 to 10.05 pm. It made a solid impression. Compared to later series these shows were almost entirely studio bound, which is unfortunate as the later location filming was a real strength and it would have been great to see Marker exploring London. Only two of these exist, and only one has been seen in recent times - the second story Nobody Kills Santa Claus which appeared on the Series 4 DVD. What is striking about this promising and professional, if not top-line, outing is the relatively low profile of Marker. However some hallmarks are there, including Frank having to help unlikeable characters and being beaten up! Although none of the other episodes from this run have been seen in recent times, and only one of them exists, the story descriptions issued by ABC indicate that realistic, downbeat and mundane cases were Frank's stock-in-trade from the beginning. The show's identity was clear and consistent from the outset.
The second series from 1966 is also almost entirely lost. The main shift was a move to Birmingham - a welcome focus on the provinces - and a greater use of outside filming, especially for a video-tape production. It seems this move was in part motivated by ABC's desire to use studio facilities in the Midlands, while opening up the opportunity for outside scenes. This use of location filming, wherever Marker was based, remained a key feature in the show's history and was very refreshing. Marker remained in Birmingham in Series 3 from 1968. This ended with Marker being unfairly convicted of receiving stolen goods and sent to prison for two and a half years. Sadly this story "Cross That Palm When We Come To It" is not one of the surviving shows.
More details on the show's early years can be found in The ABC years.
Thames takes over
At the end of the third series in 1968 it seemed possible that Public Eye had ended, with ABC ceasing to operate as a station. However, and very fortunately, that proved not to be the case. The new Thames station took over the show, as it did with some other ABC productions like Callan. In 1969 a new series was commissioned. Full details of these Thames series, all of which fully exist, can be found elsewhere on the site.