Frank Marker (Alfred Burke) is a private investigator, or as he prefers, ‘enquiry agent’. A somewhat disheveled figure in a dark shirt and Oxfam suit, the ensemble is topped with what his colleague Ron Gash describes as a “hard porn” mack.
Marker eschews personal comforts, avoids driving whenever possible and often struggles to make ends meet. Unmarried, with little ambition in life, Marker puts all his energy into his work (for which he drastically undervalues himself) preferring to give the punter ‘value for money’ where he can rather than worry about his overheads.
Marker’s cases can involve anything from robbery to blackmail, adultery to revenge. Marker is sometimes prone to fundamental errors which jeopardise his enquiries. He smartens up his image (even buying a new three-piece suit) when working with ebullient ex-detective Ron Gash (played with relish by a charismatic, pre-Minder Peter Childs). Everywhere he goes Marker makes himself known to the local police force; early episodes find him working with DI Firbank (Ray Smith, later seen in Dempsey And Makepeace).
The series has a running back story as Marker, initially working alone for next to nothing, is beaten up by a couple of thugs. Teaming up with Ron Gash for several episodes to improve his prospects, Marker goes solo again, eventually settling into a new office at Chertsey railway station. Many subplots in the later episodes show his struggle with the electricity board to get connected.
Two of the best episodes are No Orchids For Marker and Lifer. In the former, an eccentric old lady asks Marker to spend three nights in her conservatory, hothouse-sitting her orchids. Marker discovers the conservatory is built on a buried stash of valuable paintings but, in a great twist, the horde has been destroyed by weedkiller.
Lifer, by dependable writing duo Bob Baker and Dave Martin, is a powerful story of retribution featuring Norman Bird as a man seeking revenge for his daughter’s death. Marker, himself an ex-con, ultimately tries to protect the recently released killer.
Public Eye ran for ten successful years between 1965 and 1975 on ITV. Created by Roger Marshall (who had written for The Avengers) and Anthony Marriott (No Sex Please: We’re British), the series was initially produced by ABC television and after the 1968 franchise re-allocation by its successor Thames. At the end of the monochrome ABC series, Marker was framed and sent to prison. In the colour episodes made by Thames he was released and carried on his enquiries.
Public Eye has a very downbeat quality. From the deliberately ‘low rent’ opening titles the series announces its honest, functional approach. Episode titles are unusually long-winded, often deriving from the dialogue.
The cast is top notch. Alfred Burke, often seen playing slightly sleazy characters, is clearly very comfortable as the middle-aged Marker. Burke has honed the character over the years and balances perfectly the enquiry agent’s cynicism with his compassion for the people he is able to help. This is arguably Burke’s most famous role. Soon afterwards he played Long John Silver in the memorable 1977 BBC adaptation of Treasure Island. Burke also had roles in Minder and Tales Of the Unexpected. More recently he appeared in the Harry Potter film, Chamber Of Secrets.
Peter Childs, four years away from becoming Arthur Daley’s nemesis Sgt Rycott in Minder, is seen here as ex-copper Ron Gash. Childs steals every scene he is in and enlivens many of the early episodes as Marker’s flashy, well-attired, car-obsessed colleague. He makes a welcome return in a later episode to see how Marker is getting on.
The series boasts a rich supporting cast. A mix of established and up and coming actors including Richard Hurndall, Stewart Bevan, Mary Tamm, Tenniel Evans and Philip Madoc, all of whom will be recognised by Doctor Who fans. Robin Askwith, Karl Howman and Diane Keen, were, at this stage, perhaps best known for their roles in sex comedies. Later episodes feature Jan Harvey and Stephen Yardley (both later seen in Howard’s Way), Peter Bowles, Alun Armstrong, Stephanie Turner (Juliet Bravo), Richard Pearson, John Quayle (Terry And June), Julian Holloway and Gwyneth Powell (Grange Hill). The much admired Douglas Camfield directed several episodes.
This is a four-disc package containing all 13 episodes of the final seventh season from 1975. The picture quality is good given the archive nature of the show. The first episode is a mix of interior videotape and exterior 16mm film which was common to television production in the 70s and 80s.
The majority of the episodes, however, are a mix of interior videotape and exterior OB video, which was still relatively new at the time. The outdoor shots have a slightly fuzzy quality in comparison with the interior studio work. There is no incidental music which gives the series a more naturalistic edge and it’s to the series credit that it doesn’t make anything of the final episode.
Strangely, the commercial break caption cards are retained in each episode, giving the viewer a chance to pause the action. There are no extras, which is in keeping with the functional style of the programme. The episodes are simply allowed to shine in their own right.
In short, this is a very compelling series with an excellent central performance. Public Eye is very much a programme of its time. Sadly, it’s also the sort of show no longer made by British television. Given this is the final series, the quality is remarkably consistent – a real sense of going out on a high.
Public Eye The Complete 1975 Series is available now.