The sole benefit of an enforced break has been the chance to watch a few DVDs I’ve never found time for in the endless rush of everyday life. And I really did admire The Charmer, an ITV series that I missed when it was first shown 22 years ago.
The Charmer is divided into six episodes, 50 minutes each, and features Nigel Havers cast successfully against type as Ralph Ernest Gorse. Havers is a light and likeable actor, but although Gorse has a good deal of superficial charm, in truth he is a cold and calculating sociopath, a man with no money but a burning desire to enjoy pleasures beyond his means.. He allows nothing and nobody to stand in his way.
At the start, Gorse sets his sight on an affluent widow with a fondness for drink, brilliantly played by Rosemary Leach. She is flattered by his attentions, provoking intense jealousy on the part of an unappealing estate agent called Donald Stimpson, equally well played by Bernard Hepton. Stimpson is infuriated when the woman who has fobbed him off for years sleeps with the glamorous younger man, and his determination to exact revenge on Gorse is a driving force of the story-line.
As the plot becomes increasingly complex and dark, Gorse seduces and marries the daughter of a rather thuggish Brighton car dealer played by George Baker – yes, Inspector Wexford himself! Gorse kills the girl, accidentally, while burning down their house in an insurance scam, but soon gets involved with another widow, played by Judy Parfitt. But Stimpson is on his trail…
The screenplay is by Allan Prior, who was involved with Troy Kennedy Martin (who died recently) in starting that seminal cop show Z Cars. (Trivia buffs might like to know his daughter is Maddy Prior, the singer from Steeleye Span.) The source material for the scripts was extracted from the books that Patrick Hamilton wrote about Gorse. The incidents in the books are somewhat different, but The Charmer is a real success, which can still be viewed with a great deal of pleasure a generation after it was made. Hamilton was a fascinating writer, by the way, and I’ll say more about him in future posts.