Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Bird of Prey (1982)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Bird of Prey (1982)
BBC Birmingham, 22/4-13/5/1982
4 x 50 minutes, colour
DirectorMichael Rolfe
ProducerMichael Wearing
ScriptRon Hutchinson
MusicDavid Greenslade

Cast: Richard Griffiths (Henry Jay); Nigel Davenport (Charles Bridgnorth); Jeremy Child (Tony Hendersly); Carole Nimmons (Anne Jay); Richard Ireson (Det Sgt Vine); Trevor Martin (Chambers); Roger Sloman (Harry Tomkins); Jim Broadbent (Det Insp Richardson)

Show full cast and credits

When his report on computer fraud is tampered with, unassuming civil servant Henry Jay finds himself drawn into a complex pan-European conspiracy involving a prominent Euro MP and a shadowy force known as le Pouvoir - the Power.

Show full synopsis

From its video game-inspired opening titles to its pervasive electronic music track, Bird of Prey (BBC, 1982) went to great lengths to demonstrate its credentials as 'a thriller for the electronic age'. These elements, together with a clever and complex plot that combines a breathless fascination with the still-young field of computing with pan-European fraud, international terrorism, rogue intelligence operatives and organised crime, link it firmly to the early 1980s, expressing that era's growing anxieties about the burgeoning 'Eurocracy'.

Ron Hutchinson's incisive script captures the cold cynicism of a ruthless decade - "This is the '80s: death by violence counts as natural causes," one character memorably laments - while showing little interest in the traditional left/right polarities of the conspiracy genre. Bird of Prey's hazy villain, le Pouvoir, is altogether more amorphous, less ideological. A loose alliance of diverse interests - governmental, commercial, criminal, terrorist - le Pouvoir seems chiefly concerned with overriding bureaucratic obstacles to the accumulation of wealth and economic power. In this sense, the series perceptively anticipates today's concerns about unfettered global capitalism.

The unlikely opponent of this nebulous force is Henry Jay (Richard Griffiths), a time-serving Principal Scientific Officer in the Department of Commercial Development preoccupied with his promotion prospects and pension rights. Dismissively assessed as "another grey face on the 8.15", a "tubby pen-pusher" who would be "out of his depth in a car park puddle", Henry proves surprisingly resourceful. When his police contact Richardson (an entertainingly grumpy Jim Broadbent) is murdered bringing Henry details of an apparently corrupt Euro MP, Henry uses the proceeds from selling his stamp collection to buy a powerful computer and doggedly sets about unmasking the conspiracy, undeterred by the rising body count. A dedicated bureaucrat to the core, his ultimate, and effective, weapon is scrupulously to record every detail of the conspiracy - and file it.

A 1984 sequel, in which Henry and his wife, Ann (Carole Nimmins), go on the run from a revitalised le Pouvoir, added welcome humorous elements - among the couple's numerous pursuers is Ann's formidable mother - but allowed the computer graphics and other video trickery to begin to overwhelm the narrative.

Mark Duguid

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Meeting Hannah Brent (3:52)
2. Hannah unmasked (1:58)
3. The official line (5:04)
4. Suspicions (1:48)
Complete episode: 'Mode Murder' (50:18)
Davenport, Nigel (1928-2013)
Griffiths, Richard (1947-2013)
Wearing, Michael (1939- )
Conspiracy Drama