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The Wilde Alliance
cast: John Stride, Julia Foster, John Lee, and Patrick Newell

producer: Ian Mackintosh

650 minutes (15) 1978
Network DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Nostalgia can sometimes run a little faulty and not everything enjoyed as a child lives up to those fond recollections when the return engagement comes. The Wilde Alliance was a regular fixture on our family's television set and I tell myself that I never missed an episode of this show's run of 13 mini-adventures. So why is it that all I actually recall was a guest appearance by Zienia Merton (too exciting as a young Space 1999 fan keen to see the cast of the cancelled sci-fi series pop up anywhere) and John Stride zipping down country lanes in a TR7, a car that was then too cool for words... I had to settle for the Dinky version. Thirty years on and the series is a squall of embarrassments. Then I remember that there was only the one television set for the family at the time and that the nine o'clock prime-time slot was not our own... and that possibly our enjoyment was self-imposed out of necessity. Either that or find something less riveting to do... like homework.

Bearing in mind that one really should beware any series in which the surname of the protagonists is turned into a rubbish pun of a title, the Wildes in question are author Rupert Wilde (John Stride) and wife, Amy (Julia Foster). The only other regular characters for most of the series are Rupert's put upon agent Christopher Broadhurst (John Lee), and pornographer neighbour, Barley (Patrick Newell), who puts in three appearances. Over the duration of this series, the Wildes will be mistaken for spies, hunt for a rare orchid, become the unwitting mules for a smuggled diamond, get to the bottom of a haunted house mystery, and become embroiled in several other routine crime capers that happen upon their doorstep. If this sounds familiar then that may be because the format was more successfully 'acquire' by the Americans for the equally absurd and irritating Hart To Hart (right on down to that dumb joke of a series title).

The Wilde Alliance is not an entirely lost cause but it is a hard battle putting up with most of the tales, particularly with dialogue keening with atrocious comedy quips... inanities like suggesting some harridan is the descendent of the Frankenstein monster. Oh, the hilarity! The Wildes are snobs, yet are broke, and Rupert sounds like a bluffer as he drops obvious references to classical literature. They are supposed to be endearing but are, in fact, repellent. The middle class prannocks refer to America as 'the colonies' and snidely talk of a village shop which has only two bottles of champagne in stock. The producers might imagine Julia Foster to be the posh pin-up of the series but she is the dullest of dollies. Her wardrobe is such that any fanciers for her in the television audience would have to await Barbara Woodhouse before next tenting their trousers. Coming in 1978 as it does at the heart of punk it stood as little chance of survival as prog. rock. We were entering a new punk age and this kind of television would go largely trampled in the upstart stampede. Its like would survive though, as something of everything always tends to do, in benign comedies like To The Manor Born, and A Fine Romance.

The biggest shock to come out of this Yorkshire TV series is that there is some mighty talent on board. It appears to have been part-devised by Ian Mackintosh, who kicks the series off with an 'espionage' tale, typical for this writer. The Wildes are investigated by the secret service when Rupert's research into jet planes brings the couple under the authorities' nervous scrutiny. The government responds by planting a fake au pair under their roof. Mackintosh, best known for wicked one-liners and evil twists, was clearly saving his best for the next series of The Sandbaggers. Like many of the episodes there are lengthy sequences of banter in the Wilde lounge and kitchen as if 'x' amount of screen time was committed to the studio set. There are real hints of Mackintosh in the other episodes that come out of his typewriter, Danny Boy, and Some Trust In Chariots.

Danny Boy sports some of the quirkiest and better timed comedy in the series. It also includes a postmodern element in that Rupert is meeting with an American film producer, Wingman (Ed Bishop), who wants to adapt one of his scripts but makes changes that completely cancel out motive. When Wingman makes the absurd claims that there is such a thing as a motiveless crime Rupert makes a wager. Encircling them is a separate mystery in which an American singer is seemingly being stalked by an older man of some apparent status and Rupert states that if he cannot prove there is a motive then he will concede to the producer's demands and sign the contract. By the end of the episode Rupert wins his argument and at the same time by dint of the outcome proves himself to be the stubbornest of pillocks. In the script, a writerly notion overtakes all sense. The episode is also memorable for a bizarre turn by Leon Lissek whose appearance has clearly inspired someone to suggest he become Peter Lorre for the day. The story is set in Manchester and the millionaire stalker is revealed to have a home in Charnock Richard (later the home of the Camelot theme park) and making the next line from Foster all the more coincidental: "Lancelot is alive and well in a dinner jacket."

Unlike the Harts who have an endless supply of dead friends, the Wildes adventures see few fatal incidents and murders are committed only in a couple of episodes. Typically, Mackintosh brings the series to an end with an old-fashioned 'he's driving his missus to an early grave by making her think she is mad' plotline. No great surprise but it is the last episode in the series and the increasingly defective detective husband and wife team criticise themselves for not reading the clues quickly enough and allowing a friend to commit suicide. The first episode to end without a weak quip, it was supposed to shock the viewer as did every episode of Mackintosh's The Sandbaggers, but at the end of a bland story it becomes neither here nor there.

Philip Broadley is the writer of four tales, including the haunted house tale Things That Go Bump, which, for fucking crying out loud, turns out to be a gang of forgers behind a secret wall. Not so much Scooby Doo as Goober And The Ghost Chasers is the episode when, at the end, it is implied that the girl witnessed twice during the story was not a member of the gang but a real shivering ghost (well played by an otherwise corporeal Janina Faye). Too Much Too Often is another tale that concludes with a death, the route taken by the story that of a malicious and wealthy man thriving on the misery of others. Broadley's other two tales are mediocre Euro pudding adventures in Affray In Amsterdam, and Express From Rome. The shoddiness of the latter produces one of the most bizarre visual blunders as the back-projections don't quite fit when the camera is placed at an angle down a corridor making it look as if the train is travelling sideways for a couple of shots.

Anthony Skene's contributions, Well Enough Alone, Flower Power, and Time And Again, are amongst the klutziest and dullest episodes, comic but unfunny. We find John Bowen slumming it up in disappointing and questionable fashion with A Game For Two Players, which sees Rupert picking up a boy hitch-hiker in search of his mother. It doesn't come across as Bowen, with too many bum notes in the dialogue... not that Bowen was ever faultless, but this is a mess. It becomes a bizarre nowhere-ville, the Terry and June setting, but the neighbour is a pornographer asking Amy if she would act as a chaperone for a teenage boy he wants to hire for a 'sex education' film, and where, in a drugs plotline, Rupert is led to a pub where a hippy boy sneaks a 'box of smarties' to a well-groomed old man. Rupert offends on many levels abbreviating all Irish as IRA terrorists and declaring that "one doesn't usually associate hash with the working classes," then proceeding to agree that teenagers of all classes might well use "speed, hash, uppers, downers, glue, lettuce leaves... the lot." Coronation Street's Blanche turns up as the manager of an escort agency in yet another preposterous moment offering one over the phone client a "a Rubens type."

It is left to Jacques Gillies, who died earlier this year, to provide a little strange excitement in a pair of stories which may not have seemed out of place in the 'Armchair Theatre' strand. The Private Army Of Colonel Stone opens with a death in 'West Africa' and the three surviving mercenaries coming under the investigative eye of the Wildes. There is a decent twist for the time which is improved upon by the fact that the soldiers thieving scheme is successful with the Wildes allowed to query but accept the lies given by the villains because it makes for a romantic conclusion. In A Suspicion Of Sudden Death, the Wildes are invited to attend a funeral for another writer on Christopher's books and the obvious plot veers through a ruse in which writer has assumed the persona of his non-existent brother and a handy corpse made as substitute for the reclusive author. It is made all the livelier for the presence of Philip Stone as the author, and Moira Redmond as 'the sister', the pair barely capable of obscuring their true celebratory response from those that vaguely knew him.

It never made it to a second series. The Wildes are probably still there in Ming Court, somewhere in Foot's Cray, Yorkshire, wallowing in their highfalutin chintz poverty and sticking their nose in the business of others. Let's disturb them never again and leave them to it.

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