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Hazell (1978-80)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Hazell (1978-80)
Thames Television for ITV, 6/1/1978-30/1/1980
22x60 min episodes in 2 series, colour
ProducersTim Aspinall, June Roberts
Created by'P.B. Yuill' (i.e. Terry Venables, Gordon Williams)
Theme MusicAndy Mackay

Cast: Nicholas Ball (James Hazell), Desmond McNamara (Cousin Tel), Roddy McMillan (Choc Minty), Peter Bourke (Graham Morris), Maggie Riley (Maureen), Barbara Young (Dot Wilmington)

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The adventures of wisecracking Cockney private eye James Hazell.

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James Hazell first appeared in the 1974 novel Hazell Plays Solomon, introducing himself as "The biggest bastard who ever pushed your bell-button." He was the creation of novelist and sports writer Gordon Williams and footballer-turned-manager Terry Venables, using the joint pseudonym 'P.B. Yuill'. In transferring his adventures to the small screen, producer June Roberts presented Hazell as a slightly tarnished East End version of Raymond Chandler's immortal detective Philip Marlowe.

The series struggled at first to find the right balance of humour, action and 1940s pastiche, getting through three story editors before hitting its stride under experienced comedy and thriller writer Richard Harris. The original authors also had quite a lot of input, although Venables' involvement was curtailed when he became manager of Crystal Palace. Each episode features humorous voice-over narration in classic private eye fashion, while visually providing a 1970s equivalent to the distinctive film noir look of 1940s Hollywood thrillers. Beating out John Nettles for the title role, Nicholas Ball plays Hazell as a rueful but charming cockney lad who successfully picked himself up after being kicked off the police force (for turning to drink when his marriage broke up).

Although perhaps a bit too young to suggest the slightly jaded world-weariness of the character in the books, Ball's humorous yet tough portrayal ensured that he was more than able to hold his own against a large cast of supporting characters, especially when facing the perpetually unimpressed Inspector 'Choc' Minty (Roddy MacMillan). Showcasing early performances by Michael Elphick and Pamela Stephenson (Nicholas Ball's wife at the time), the series is also remembered for Hazell's office landlady and occasional employer Dot Wilmington (Barbara Young), one of the first regular gay characters in British series television.

Due to a technicians' strike at Thames TV, only ten of the projected thirteen episodes in the first series were made, although some of the remaining scripts, including one by Willis Hall, were used for series two instead. One highlight was an episode written by Brian Glover in which he played Harry the Ear, an officer with a Mike Tyson-like way of dealing with adversaries.

Another of the later episodes was written by Leon Griffiths, who developed on the series' mixture of black humour, cockney charm and delinquency when devising Minder (1979-94), the hugely successful series that eventually replaced Hazell in the ITV schedules.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Chez Courtney (2:49)
2. The dinner party (2:56)
3. Reporting secrets (1:57)
4. Driving Sarah (2:28)
Complete episode (1) (20:31)
Complete episode (2) (15:54)
Complete episode (3) (14:35)
Goddard, Jim (1936-2013)
Preston, Trevor
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