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Beiderbecke Tapes, The (1987)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Beiderbecke Tapes, The (1987)
ITV, 13/12-20/12/1987
2 x 90 mins, colour
Directed byBrian Parker
Production CompanyYorkshire Television
ProducerDavid Cunliffe
Written byAlan Plater
Original novelAlan Plater
PhotographyPeter Jackson
Original musicFrank Ricotti

Cast: James Bolam (Trevor Chaplin), Barbara Flynn (Jill Swinburne), Dudley Sutton (Mr Carter), Malcolm Storry (Mr Peterson), Keith Smith (Mr Wheeler), Beryl Reid (Sylvia)

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School teachers Trevor and Jill have to go on the run when they uncover a plot to dump radioactive waste in the Yorkshire Dales.

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Alan Plater has contributed scripts to a variety of crime dramas over the decades, including police procedurals Z Cars (BBC, 1962-78) and Softly, Softly (BBC, 1966-76), period mysteries Cribb (ITV, 1980-81), The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (ITV, 1984-85), and Miss Marple (BBC, 1984-92), and contemporary whodunits Inspector Wexford (ITV, 1997-) and Dalziel and Pascoe (ITV, 1994; BBC, 1996-). His characteristically dry wit, however, blended most effectively with the genre in his trilogy of knowing comedy thrillers, beginning in 1985 with The Beiderbecke Affair (ITV). These leisurely fables, named for the ill-fated American jazz trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke, use detective story conventions as a gentle counterpoint to the essentially humdrum existence of the two sweet-natured protagonists, using the juxtaposition to deflate the criminal plots they encounter.

Plater developed the format from Get Lost (ITV, 1981), his four-part serial about a pair of schoolteachers (played by Alun Armstrong and Bridget Turner) who become embroiled in a missing person case. In the Beiderbecke trilogy, the leads were recast, with James Bolam as laconic woodwork teacher, jazz buff and reluctant hero Trevor Chaplin and Barbara Flynn as his girlfriend Jill Swinburne, a politically active English teacher.

The tone is discursive and undramatic, while the plots are fairly loose, never more self-consciously than in The Beiderbecke Tapes (ITV, 1987). Trevor and Jill are mistakenly given a secret tape recording, which results in their harassment by security forces, their home being invaded, their private lives used to discredit them at school and their being pursued all the way to Amsterdam and Edinburgh. Eventually the tapes are revealed as just a MacGuffin, a charade invented by shady government forces as a part of a disinformation campaign.

The series works as a kind of down-to-earth update of Hollywood's 1930s Thin Man series, with its two bantering protagonists exchanging barbs not among the high society of Manhattan and San Francisco, but at a run-down secondary school in Leeds. This is emphasised by Tapes, which, like the second Nick and Nora Charles adventure After the Thin Man (US, 1936), concludes with the announcement that the couple are to have a baby.

The other major character in the series is the 1920s jazz music, faithfully recreated by Frank Ricotti and featuring the late Kenny Baker. As the Ricotti All Stars, they perform at the Limping Whippet club in the final serial, The Beiderbecke Connection (ITV, 1988).

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Dirty scrabble (2:26)
2. Alas poor John (2:45)
3. Flowers for Sylvia (3:18)
4. Supermarket capers (3:30)
Bolam, James (1938-)
Plater, Alan (1935-2010)
Reid, Beryl (1919-1996)
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