The Hanged Man & Turtle’s Progress – DVD Review
By Roger Crow
I thought I had an encyclopaedic knowledge of old British TV shows, but had never heard of The Hanged Man. It’s a hidden gem from the Yorkshire TV stable, and as mid-1970s dramas go, it’s as solid as an oak table.
The Hanged Man centres on Lew Burnett (Colin Blakely), a successful businessman repeatedly targeted, so he goes undercover to see who wants him dead before they succeed.
The opening titles feature Blakely rattling along a makeshift bridge in an out-of-control digger. It verges on the comedic, but get past that wobble and the drama starts to unfold nicely.
I do a double-take when a suave Michael Williams turns up in the opening credits as Alan Crowe, my brother’s namesake. Williams is smoother than a silk shirt, while fans of Blake’s Seven will be thrilled to see Brian Croucher a few years before he achieved cult status as the gloriously evil Travis in that BBC saga.
While Edmund Ward’s scripts might not be filled with pithy one liners, it’s a treat to see some much missed British thesps at the top of their game. Arguably best of all is Alan Tew’s funky score, elements of which were later used a Two Ronnies serial.
The new DVD set stands up well; no video strobing that affected some seventies dramas, though a little camera wobble in episode one felt a tad Crossroads. Trivia fans may note that director Tony Wharmby wound up helming some of the biggest shows in the States, including The X Files and NCIS.
Episode two is a cracker for star-spotters, with 1970s TV favourite Jenny (Magpie) Hanley and Julian Glover adding gravitas in the years before he found fame in The Empire Strikes Back and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The series spawned a spin-off, and Turtle’s Progress was another show that managed to pass me by in an era when I was glued to the box from the minute I got home from school until bedtime. Edmund Ward’s curio is a gag-free saga which looks like a dry run for dodgy dealing comedy-dramas such as Only Fools and Horses and Minder.
“Has a weird charm”
Imagine Turtle (John Landry) as a younger, balder Arthur Daley (he even sounds like George Cole at times), while Razor Eddie (Michael Attwell) is his fearsome bodyguard. Unsurprisingly Landry went on to feature in an episode of the Arthur Daley smash.
The plot centres on the eponymous hero and his sidekick who peruse the contents of stolen safety deposit boxes on a weekly basis. Though Landry and the cast are okay, there’s an inertia to the pilot episode that will leave some checking their social media feed.
I’m not surprised the series was cancelled after 13 episodes. But problems aside, the London-based saga has a weird charm. ‘It’s tough at the top, but rougher at the bottom and positively boring in-between’, sings Alan Price over the closing titles, summing up some of the problems with this hit-and-miss show. Like his work on the movie O Lucky Man!, more Price songs would have helped the show no end.
Though the format is sound, like a damp spark plug on a winter’s morning, this comic vehicle fails to fire up, or progress.
The Hanged Man / Turtle’s Progress – The Complete Series (12) is £59.99 from Network