Friday, November 11, 2011

Rare Blooms

A rare date like 11-11-11 might perhaps be the right day on which to remember rare cultural blooms. One that comes to mind—because we’ve recently watched the series again—is Reilly: Ace of Spies, a 12-episode dramatization of the life of Sidney George Reilly. The series, produced by Euston Films, first appeared in 1983; the next year appeared the 14-episode The Jewel in the Crown, a filmed version of Paul Mark Scott’s Raj Quartet. That was another. Reilly was made by Euston Films, Jewel by Granada Television. We’ve always had a very high regard for Granada—so much so that, in the olden days when early credits for a new show began to roll and Granada appeared on the screen, we relaxed. We were in good hands. Granada also produced Brideshead Revisited (1981) and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984).

The dates tend to cluster, and if we add a few other stunning shows, they extend back to the 1970s and forward somewhat to the early 1990s. Well, it turns out that both Euston Films and Granada Television were agents of ITV, Britain’s commercial television; the I stands for Independent. Euston Films was a subsidiary of Thames Television, a licensee of ITV, and created by ITV executives to produce programming; Granada Television was an ITV contractor for North West England but lost its identity in 2002.

ITV itself was created by the Television Act of 1954 as a competitor to the BBC. And some of the shows that we admire are evidently the flowering of this competition. It took about twenty-thirty years for the products to ripen—but they rapidly faded within another decade. Alongside these classics in British television grew programming consciously aimed at different classes with barely disguised propaganda slant (okay, it’s just an opinion). But for a while there both BBC and ITV produced some rare flowers.

Those of you who watched Reilly probably still remember the haunting musical theme that introduces and ends each episode, composed by the Russian Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975). He lived through the weird period that this very strange story covers and the music reflects it. If you want to hear it and watch the opening images, here is the YouTube link.


  1. You have got to be kidding! A very young Sam Neill in Reilly!
    Every winter in the coldest times beneath the dull silver skies, we have a viewing of the entire The Jewel in the Crown on DVD, and relive those times.
    Sometimes we add Brideshead, too.

  2. Were you surprised by the airing date, Montag? It appeared in the U.S. much, much later.


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