The Top Secret Life of Edgar Briggs (1974– )
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Coming straight after his TV debut on 'Do Not Adjust Your Set!', these 13 episodes revealed a mastery of comic timing not seen since the old silent movie days. By comparison, Porridge, Open All Hours and that awful series 'Lucky Man' did not come close.
I believe Jason banned the series being repeated because it showed him at his rawest. Shame on him. A new generation deserves to enjoy this. The series actually flopped in the ratings but that is most likely because it was shown against 'The Brothers' which aired on BBC at the same time, before VCRs were commonplace.
BTW, I have only just noticed that his long suffering assistant, Spencer, was played by Mark Eden ; Alan Bradley off Coronation Street. I am amazed he didn't try to murder Edgar Briggs!!!!
Back in 1974, it was David Jason who was wearing a shoulder holster and carrying an attaché case full of documents marked 'Classified'.
'The Top Secret Life Of Edgar Briggs' was his first starring role in a sitcom, after years of being a supporting actor in such shows as 'Six Dates With Barker', the 'Doctor' series, and 'Hark At Barker'.
Humphrey Barclay had found him working in a pier theatre in Bournemouth and was sufficiently impressed to include him alongside Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Eric Idle in the children's comedy show 'Do Not Adjust Your Set!'.
'T.T.S.L.O.E.B' cast Jason as 'Edgar Briggs', a well-meaning but incompetent agent for the Secret Intelligence Service. Whereas John Steed wore a bowler hat, Briggs had a trilby. Whereas Napoleon Solo carried a radio pen, Briggs owned a pipe. Objects fell to bits in his hands. He read Confidential documents in bed while his wife ( Barbara Angell ) perused Woman's Own ( on one occasion it would be the other way round ). When he tracked a pair of Russian agents to a heliport, he accidentally switched on the airport's Tannoy system, and broadcast his plans to capture them! When he hid on a train so as to photograph a meeting between an S.I.S. man and his enemy-contact, it moved off with him aboard and took him straight to Brighton! When he tried to organise the defection of a female Russian scientist, he took a 'short cut' to elude his pursuers, only to wind up hopelessly lost in a car park. Yet, like 'Inspector Clouseau', he always seemed to come out on top at the end, much to the dismay of his colleagues.
As previously mentioned, he was married. His wife Jennifer was understanding about the sort of work he did. Though they had a row once which resulted in her yelling at him from the window of their high-rise flat: "Secret Service this, Secret Service that! You never stop thinking about the Secret Service!". He shouted back: "Think of the neighbours! They're not supposed to know I'm in the Secret Service!".
Briggs was part of a team of agents whose number included 'Coronation Street' villain Mark Eden ( he was the psychotic Alan Bradley ) as 'Spencer', Michael Stainton as 'Buxton', and 'Doctor At Sea''s Elisabeth Counsell as the lovely 'Cathy Strong'. They answered to 'The Commander', played by the late Noel Coleman. The Commander was kidnapped in one episode, leaving Briggs temporarily in charge of the S.I.S. - which naturally horrified everyone.
This hilarious show was by Richard Laing and Bernard McKenna, who had written for the 'Doctor' series. Rather than spoof Bond, it was more of a send-up of the serious spy shows such as 'Callan' ( though it had a Bond-style theme tune ). Furtive meetings in underground car parks, code-breaking, stolen missile plans, that kind of thing. Jason brought a lot of energy to the role, doing a lot of his own stunts, such as Briggs falling off a ladder whilst decorating his flat, and tumbling down a hill in a wastepaper bin, and were reminiscent of those to be found in the 'Pink Panther' films.
'Briggs' had all the ingredients to be a smash-hit. Unfortunately, it was not networked. In the London area, it was put out on Sundays at 7.25 P.M. where it was trounced in the ratings by the B.B.C.'s soapy drama 'The Brothers'. It was then moved to Fridays at 7 P.M. because I.T.V. wanted to showcase its latest American import - the T.V. version of 'Planet Of The Apes'. Briggs never found an audience. A similar fate befell Jason's next major show: 1976's 'Lucky Feller'. It was not until 1977 and 'A Sharp Intake Of Breath' that he found his first successful solo vehicle.
You can see the title sequence ( along with two brief excerpts in German! ) for this series on YouTube. Unfortunately, that is all you can see. Jason will not permit his early starring shows either to be repeated or released on D.V.D. A great shame. For the moment, however, Edgar Briggs' life will have to remain top secret.
CODA: I have seen a number of episodes recently and I'm pleased to say it stands up incredibly well.
Not that Briggs wasn't funny. Some of the stunts are wonderful, the timing excellent. The pratfalls and verbal tics come at you bam-bam-bam, Airplane-style. If there is a drink, Briggs will spill it; if there is a telephone, Briggs will get himself tangled in the wires; if there is a hat, Briggs will cram it down ludicrously on his head; if someone else has a line, Briggs will misinterpret it.
The gags are more miss than hit, but most scenes have one or two splendid moments. The verbal jousting is less effective; situations can't build up slowly and hilariously, because Briggs gets absolutely everything wrong. He forgets who he is talking to, he forgets the orders he has just given. A typical scene might involve Briggs ordering Spencer to conceal his identity and pretend to be Smith; Spencer introduces himself as Smith, and Briggs will immediately call him Spencer loudly, and wonder who Smith is.
So it's not, as some reviewers have suggested, a work of genius. Neither is it, as other reviewers have suggested, a childish load of nonsense. In style, it's probably closest to the Piggy Malone and Charley Farley strand in the Two Ronnies. It is easier to enjoy this if you're not feeling sophisticated. Its very amateurishness is quite endearing. I can certainly understand why David Jason was embarrassed to let it out. But it's fun.
The aforementioned Edgar Briggs was an agent for the SIS ( Secret Intelligence Service ). How he ever got the job there was a mystery. He is clumsy, careless, incompetent and over-zealous. He never listens and is incapable of answering even the simplest of questions correctly and anyone who hears his name ends up almost on the verge of a breakdown. He is married to the lovely Jennifer ( Barbara Angell ), a woman who despite his ineptness, seems to stand by him no matter what.
Briggs' long suffering colleagues include Buxton ( Michael Stainton ), Spencer ( Mark Eden ) and the gorgeous Cathy ( Elisabeth Counsell from 'Doctor At Sea' and 'Brush Strokes' ), all of whom answer to The Commander ( played by the late Noel Coleman ). However, despite his incompetence, Briggs always seems to crack the cases, much to the bewilderment of his colleagues.
The show relied heavily on visual slapstick, usually relying on stunts, not unlike that seen in 'Some Mother's Do 'Ave 'Em'. In one episode Briggs fell off a ladder whilst decorating his flat whilst in another episode he plummeted to the ground from a window ledge.
'The Top Secret Life Of Edgar Briggs' did not find an audience on its original broadcast as it was not networked by ITV. The same problem occurred with his next show, 'Lucky Feller', which was written by Terence Frisby. It would not be until the arrival of 'A Sharp Intake Of Breath' in 1977 that Jason would find his first successful solo vehicle.
It was 'custard pie in the face stuff' which was cringe making, infantile and on the whole pretty appalling, but at the same time in some weird twisted way amusing. David Jason's physical energy and talent for visual comedy helped see 'The Top Secret Life Of Edgar Briggs' through.
When ITV wanted to repeat the show in the '90's, Jason denied permission for it to be re-shown ( or even to be made commercially available ), much to the displeasure of his co-stars, who needed the repeat fees. However it seems he has now had a change of heart as it was released on DVD in 2015. Perhaps his change of heart was triggered by the poor response to his 2011 sitcom 'The Royal Bodyguard'.