Monday 23 October 2017

The Business of Murder

Richard Harris was the name of a famous Irish actor, and also of a contemporary of his, a very good TV writer, playwright and novelist. Perhaps because of the coincidence of names, the author Richard Harris is not quite as well-known as he deserves to be, given that his achievements are many and varied. Among other things, he was responsible for that excellent comedy play, later a TV series, Outside Edge. But it's his work in the crime field that I'm highlighting today.

Harris was closely involved with a wide range of excellent TV series, including Adam Adamant Lives!, Man in a Suitcase, and Shoestring, And back in 1981, he contributed a two-part mystery to the Sunday Night Thriller series. This was The Business of Murder, starring Martin Jarvis, Gareth Hunt, and Judy Loe. An excellent cast, and a story that still sticks in my mind.

I'm not quite sure which came first, the screenplay or the stage play, but The Business of Murder was first performed in Windsor in the same month that the TV version was screened, moving to London in April that year. Even though you might think the TV screening would have spoiled it for many fans, it became hugely successful, running for eight years. This was an era when thrillers did very well on the London stage, in the wake of Sleuth and Francis Durbridge's popular crime plays. Will the stage thriller ever regain such prominence in the West End? It doesn't seem likely right now, but as the revival of interest in crime classics in paperback shows, you never can tell.

I've never seen the stage version, but I've refreshed my mind about the storyline by reading the playscript. And it's certainly a clever piece of writing. Richard Harris has been a highly successful storyteller for many years, and this tale of a bitter man's ingenious revenge is surely one of his best. The play is still regularly performed in provincial theatres, and if I get a chance to see it in the north west sometime, I'll certainly grab it.


Clothes In Books said...

I saw quite a few thrillers on the stage back in the day, and always very much enjoyed them - I wonder why they have disappeared so completely. Not sure if I saw this one or not - it sounds excellent.
Shoestring was a great favourite - I was working radio myself at the time, and we all liked to watch this idealized combo of private eye and investigative journalist!

Martin Edwards said...

A very good question, Moira. I'm not sure what the answer is. I suppose that fashion has a great deal to do with it. Probably the glut of stage thrillers in the 70s and 80s led to a desire for something different, but I hope the wheel will turn again.

RJS said...

Yes, I enjoy reading Richard Harris' plays.

Anthony Shaffer is my favourite stage thriller writer. Many years ago I saw William Franklyn in Sleuth and Hywel Bennett in the Case of the Oily Levantine.

There is a wonderful book - Deathtraps - the PostModern Comedy Thriller by Marvin Carlson (1993).

This undervalued study of subversive detective drama inspired me to track down the script for Rupert Holmes' Accomplice (1989).

Accomplice is the most ingenious of them all. I don't think it has been performed in the U.K.

Copies are rare.

Martin Edwards said...

RJS, what a fascinating and informative comment. I've never come acrosss Deathtraps, but I've just ordered a copy on the strength of your recommendation. I shall also try to find Accomplices - Holmes was, oddly, born in my hometown, Northwich in Cheshire.

Clothes In Books said...

I loved the Rupert Holmes crime thriller Where the Truth Lies - I never see it mentioned anywhere. It was also made into a film - a lot of changes, but still very good... Had no idea he was a Cheshire boy!

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, his Dad was American, but based in Britain at that time. Rupert very kindly allowed me to refer to his song "Him" in one of my novels. Not only a great songwriter, performer, and a crime thriller man, but also a very nice chap.