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By the time this series was made, Anthony Valentine was already a
household name, due to his portrayal of the villainous Major Mohn in
"Colditz". Here he gets to display a wide range of acting skills as E W
Hornung's gentleman burglar A J Raffles. The part demands a range of
different accents, which Valentine performs without slips, as well as
some amusing scenes where he is being searched by the police. Any
aspiring actor would do well to watch Valentine in action.
If Conan-Doyle's Sherlock Holmes was the most popular crime fiction of the Victorian/Edwardian era, Raffles, written by Conan-Doyle's brother-in-law, was number two. Hornung paid homage to Conan-Doyle by saying that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery. What he meant was that his stories were narrated by a companion who had an inferior intellect to the hero. There the similarity ends, and Conan-Doyle even went so far as to condemn Hornung's work by stating that a criminal should never be a hero. This argument is utter drivel, since audiences had been thrilled for hundreds of years by the exploits of Robin Hood.
A J Raffles is ex-public school who has a flat in Picadilly. He seems to live in evening clothes, and exists on a diet of Scotch whisky, Sullivan & Powell Turkish cigarettes, and coffee. He is a cricket all-rounder who plays for England. But he has to pay for his bon vivant lifestyle, and this he does by cracking safes. He is accompanied by a semi-inept schoolmate called Bunny Manders, and they are always just one step ahead of the wild-haired policeman Inspector McKenzie. Some of the scenes involving McKenzie and Raffles are performed with Chaplinesque timing.
In a strange way, Raffles has a code of ethics, based on public school practice. Interesting is Episode 1.9, where Raffles is up against Lord Ernest Belville (played by Robert Hardy), who is, in effect, a Raffles without the code of ethics.
I originally saw these episodes in black and white, and have only recently seen them in colour. The costumes and sets are utterly superb, and are a history lesson in themselves. At one stage, Raffles's flat is being converted from gas to electricity, and a telephone is being installed. There is a terrific attention to detail.
Mackie's scripts are witty, although, in my opinion, they lack some of the charm of the original Hornung dialogue, because the public school patter between Raffles and Bunny are toned down for this series. Nevertheless, with a wealth of acting talent involved, Raffles is by far and away the best costume drama I have seen on British television; and I cannot for the life of me think why it never gets mentioned as a classic TV series.
All the episodes are available, and I recommend you watch them. Believe me, you will not be disappointed.
Well said loza-1! A series which gets far too little attention, considering its quality. You need only compare an episode like "A Bad Night" with the BBC's more recent glossy attempt to 'tech-up' Raffles (with Nigel Havers) to see that you can't win over simply respecting E W Hornung's source material. The studio-bound nature of this series just did not hold it back. If, please the muse of good storytelling, A J Raffles and Bunny ever make it to the cinema screen again, as they should, a full orchestral rendering of Anthony Isaac's theme is a must have. This Yorkshire Television production is worth seeing to hear that theme alone. The fact that the programme itself is finely scripted and the lead performed with charm and subtlety, that rare combination, are just amazing bonuses. You can see here that British Television spoilt its audience in the 1970s. Having but a tiny edge over "Cribb", YTV's "Raffles" was only trumped in this field by the more costly Granada Sherlock Holmes adaptations of the next decade.
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