Fearful Symmetry

Film. Books. Comics. TV. Music.

Bird Of Prey

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Hunter...

Hunter...

The two series of this great computer conspiracy thriller originally came out in the early 80s. I can remember watching it at the time and being totally captivated. It was fairly recently re-released on DVD and but I’m now prompted to write about it after a friend, knowing my obsession with the program, sent me the tie-in novelisation that he had come across in a charity shop.

Richard Griffiths – who’s probably now most well-know for playing in the Uncle Dersley in the Harry Potter films – stared as Henry Jay, a mild-mannered middle-ranking civil servant. He starts almost comically ordinary – his hobby is stamp collecting. He bumbles into a international criminal conspiracy while trying to increase his chances of being promoted by fattening up the file he had written on computer security with the help of copper he knows in the City of London Fraud Squad. The events then slowly because almost insanely complex (especially in the follow up series) with Griffiths on the run from a web of international criminals, having to use his knowledge of computer security to survive. The advantage of DVD is you can watch it at your leisure now so the arcane plot becomes less of a problem.

The world has obviously changed a lot in the years since this was made. Computers were only just starting to become common. I would have been programming my Spectrum (or more likely playing games on it) during the time the program was on the air. It’s a bit of shock to watch it now and see offices without PCs on the desk and typing pools in the background. At one point Griffiths buys a computer which has, I think, ‘a whole 640K of memory’. Wow!

Another major theme that I did not really notice when I first watched it was the increasing international arrangements in business due to the opening up of Europe by the EEC. Something to be taken for granted now but something new, and worrying for some, at the time.

... or hunted?

... or hunted?

Something else that passed my by originally, but seems more prominent now is the fantastic performance of Carole Nimmons, slowly cracking up from the strain of the having to deal with the fall out from Griffiths’ activities and the near break-up of her marriage. In one harrowing scene she tells Grittiths she only married him for a quiet uneventful life.

One unusual innovation at the time was the regular appearance of, now ancient looking, blocky computer graphics of Henry as a cartoon pig running away from animated wolves. This seemed so cutting edge back then. The catchy synth music that accompanied this, and the rest of the program, was written by Dave Greenslade of the prog-rock band of the same name. The producer, Michael Wearing, went on to make the equally brilliant nuclear thriller Edge of Darkness.

Seeing it again, older and hopefully slightly wiser it was not quite the epic of my memories – there’s one of two duff bits and the production values of the time are now a bit distracting, the contrast between the studio interiors and exteriors for instance. But overall it’s still pretty damn good. I can only recommend this as one of the best series the BBC ever made. And the habitual moan is why can’t they make something like this now?

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Written by Fearful Symmetry

July 14, 2009 at 10:24 am

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