The only normality comes from the attractive, extremely likeable Barbara. Sheila Allen gives a great display. The frisson between her and Frank is super viewing and is the strongest chemistry seen between him and a female character. He is not impressed by the cynicism of Percy who is all too willing to believe that she may have reverted to crime. Frank judges on actions and he will not hold her past against her. However he doesn't let his respect for her cloud his judgement or relax his vigilance - his professionalism does not drop.
The conclusion is a real treat, reflective and offers much food for thought. The very final scene exhibits great writing and direction. It takes place in silence and could have been marked by emotional display but a subtle approach makes all too clear what is going on. It is in keeping with one of the very best instalments - essential viewing.
Writer: Robert Muller Director: Piers Haggard
Cast: Alfred Burke (Frank Marker); Sheila Allen (Barbara Lewson-Jones); Ray Smith (Inspector Firbank); John Collin (Allan Biddersloe); Helen Shingler (Eve Biddersloe); Lesley Anne Down (Anne Biddersloe); Michael Menaugh (Simon); Roy Herrick (Jeremy); Adrienne Conway (Shop Assistant); Hilary Bamford (Representative).
Wealthy, self-made local property developer Allan Biddersloe asks Frank to help him. He is cagey about the exact task, although it seems to involve his daughter Anne. Frank is invited to dinner with the family under the cover of being the new surveyor for West Slough. Once there it becomes evident to Frank that there are problems in the family. Alan is aggressive, particularly in his frustrated efforts to control the wayward Anne. Anne is extremely rude to all concerned, including Frank. Alan's wife Eve is a genteel, well-intentioned, but ineffectual woman.
The only person within the household who helps Frank at all is the housekeeper Barbara Lewson-Jones. She tells him that there have been thefts following raucous parties held by Anne. However she defends Anne and her friends and asserts that their parents' parties are much worse. Barbara is an intelligent, warm and charming woman and she soon seems to develop an attachment to Frank - although she accuses him of flirting with her it's very much the reverse. She does confess that she has been in prison for fraud and theft. Mrs. Biddersloe has given her a chance, a great job that she is determined not to squander. However she is more than aware that as an ex-criminal she will be the obvious suspect for any thefts. As an ex-prisoner himself who has been on the rough end of discrimination Frank can empathise and sympathise with her. Will she be the scapegoat? Will anything come of her promising relationship with him?
A superb episode, probably the best of such a strong fifth series. This was originally broadcast one week after the mediocre Transatlantic Cousins but there is no comparison in terms of quality. This is far more typical of the high standards of the show. In fact this was recorded earlier, unfortunately in black-and-white due to the technical dispute at ITV at the time. The lack of colour is though a minor drawback. The story - the only one written by Robert Muller - is exceptionally strong. This series saw a number of one-off episodes by writers that were quite outstanding and it is a shame they could not have done more. It was also the last story shot by Piers Haggard and he does another fine job, creating some suspense as well with some clever shots.
The characters are excellent. John Collin is just right as the volcanic Alan Biddersloe, an utterly unpredictable and impetuous man. At one point he sacks Marker without waiting for him to divulge the major breakthrough he has made. Helen Shingler is similarly capable as his wife. Mrs. Biddersloe is clearly an emotionally broken woman, timid and quite unable to exert any influence within the family despite her good nature. Her background is obviously one of privilege and it seems strange, coupled with her weak personality, that she should be married to such a boisterous, rough-edged man. Maybe his dominating personality demolished hers.
With such an ill-matched and flawed set of parents it is unsurprising that their daughter should be so incorrigible. Anne is deeply unpleasant - thankfully for the viewers if not for those who meet her. She seems to delight in winding others up, especially her father. She is perceptive though, quickly seeing through Frank's alias and diagnoses her dysfunctional family perfectly: "Daddy's a bully who married money, Mummy's gone to seed, I sleep around and the home-help's on probation." Her upper-class boyfriends are if anything even more obnoxious. Lesley Anne Down's performance as the spoiled brat Anne is marvellous.
Anne (Lesley Anne Down) seems
to delight in disobedience
Barbara Lewson-Jones (Sheila
Allen) has her eyes on Frank