I never got to see Bognor when it was first shown on television. It ran for 21 episodes from 1981-2 at a time when I wasn't watching much if any TV. Years later, I had the pleasure of meeting Tim Heald, author of the books on which the show was based, and asked him about it. To cut a long story short, he felt that Thames TV had made a bit of a mess of it. For instance, he'd very much favoured Derek Fowlds being cast in the lead as Simon Bognor, but in the end the role went to David Horovitch, a decent actor but perhaps not ideal for the part. They also put the shows out at times which were unlikely to attract a big audience.
Thanks to Talking Pictures TV, it's now possible to judge Bognor for myself. This channel has a real knack of finding lost gems, as well as some shows and films that haven't really stood the test of time. They have run Public Eye, the downbeat series about the private eye Frank Marker, which was very low-key but pretty good, and the obscure but rather enjoyable anthology series Shadows of Fear as well as the original Van der Valk, which I found surprisingly disappointing.
Bognor comprised the adaptations of four books, starting with Unbecoming Habits, set in a monastery, with one of the monks played by Patrick Troughton. Bognor, who works for the Department of Trade, is sent to investigate a suspicious death. There are some pleasing moments in the story, but overall it's pretty lightweight and forgettable. Apparently the series was cancelled long before it came to an end, and in all honesty, I can see why.
I'm glad to have caught up with it, though. Tim was as amusing in person as he was on the page, and although he took the disappointment of the adaptations in his stride, his enthusiasm for writing about the character waned. I encouraged him to consider reviving Simon Bognor after a long hiatus, and he duly contributed a fresh Bognor short story to an anthology I edited for the CWA, Original Sins. Before long, he was working on a new Bognor novel. Thanks to Bognor, I've thought back to those times (too few, alas) that I spent in his convivial company, and those pleasant memories are enough to keep me watching, even if the scripts don't quite do the trick.