Monday 22 June 2009


One of Francis Durbridge’s most famous tv serials was Melissa. The original was first shown in the 60s, and I watched a version written – unlikely though it seems – by Liverpool playwright Alan Bleasdale a few years ago. Bleasdale is a good writer, and I was delighted to discover that he was a Durbridge fan, but suffice to say that on the evidence of his take on Melissa, weaving mysteries is not his strong suit.

So I didn’t quite know what to expect when I watched a DVD of the three-episode remake of Melissa shown on BBC TV in 1974, and starring Peter Barkworth as Guy, the grumpy writer whose glamorous wife disappears one evening and is found strangled.

What I got was a classic Durbridge plot, and it was a challenge to keep up with the twists and convolutions of the story-line Wherever Guy turns, he seems to find himself in more and more trouble. Like many a Durbridge protagonist, he receives enigmatic messages inviting him to a rendez-vous where – guess what? – the next victim of the devilish strangler turns up.

This is escapist fiction at its best. Durbridge isn’t strong on characterisation and social comment is almost non-existent. Agatha Christie is often accused of weakness in these areas, but Durbridge is even more focused on plot than Christie. But judged by what he is trying to do, he is very good indeed. Peter Barkworth, incidentally, was as excellent as ever as the baffled, irritable but rather likeable lead.

However, there was one element of the plot that, for the life of me, I couldn't figure out. Has anyone else seen this one, and been equally baffled, I wonder?


Karen (Euro Crime) said...

I watched the 1997 version but can't remember much about it now alas. I did enjoy it. It was on Channel 4 I think and I watched it mostly because Jennifer Ehle, recently famous from P & P was in it.

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, I must admit I remember Jennifer Ehle better than the srript!

Philip Amos said...

It is so long since I saw the 1974 version of this, and I've been racking my brains re your question, Martin. Was it the business of the doctor who claimed Guy as a patient? Bleasdale said his rewrite of Melissa was a homage to Durbridge -- a very odd sort of homage, it seems to me.

Martin Edwards said...

Very odd!
The point that baffled me was who wrote the message sending Guy to the village to meet a teenage boy - and why?

Steve Lewis said...

This miniseries, which I've just finished watching -- and thanks for the heads-up on it! -- has a complicated plot, indeed. (I'm referring to the 1974 version.)

But when a detective tales has as many threads to it as this one has, I guess it comes as no surprise that there are one or two that are left hanging at the end.

The business of the teenage boy was the surprise that ended Episode One, but it was definitely downplayed in the other two.

Here's my explanation. The killer had already decided to kill the boy's sister, and thought of this as a ruse to get Foster involved with the girl somehow -- by sending him on a wild goose chase that the police would hardly believe, and getting him on the scene so suspiciously like this was bound to implicate him even further than he had been already.

Not that the killer needed to do this, but sometimes killers get too clever for their own good!

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Steve. Thanks for this! I'm glad that I wasn't being too obtuse. I think your solution is probably on the right lines, though it was an unnecessary elaboration on the culprit's part. A pity in a way, since the finale to episode one was brilliant, and it's a shame it didn't have an equally brilliant explanation!