Tales of the Unexpected: Season 3, Episode 2

A Picture of a Place (16 Aug. 1980)

TV Episode  -  Horror | Thriller
6.4
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Ratings: 6.4/10 from 39 users  
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Con artist Merv Pottinger travels the East Anglian countryside, telling unsuspecting elderly people that their valuable art treasure is fairly worthless and that he will do them a favour by... See full summary »

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Cast

Episode complete credited cast:
...
Himself - Introduced by
...
Hazel
Bill Maynard ...
Merv Pottinger
Michael Troughton ...
Andrew
...
Solicitor
Judy Riley ...
Lucy
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Storyline

Con artist Merv Pottinger travels the East Anglian countryside, telling unsuspecting elderly people that their valuable art treasure is fairly worthless and that he will do them a favour by taking it off their hands. However, when he meets Hazel, whose son is struggling to keep on their run-down old farm, he thinks that he can get her to part with an Old Master for pea-nuts. In fact she is a far better confidence trickster than him. Written by don @ minifie-1

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Horror | Thriller

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16 August 1980 (UK)  »

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User Reviews

The End of the Road
9 March 2007 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

This is a light, vaguely entertaining tale made for Anglia and set on a bleak Suffolk farmhouse, about an art forger. Messrs Maynard, Troughton and Sallis provide capable support, and Roald Dahl makes a brief introduction. It also happens to be just about the last appearance of one of the great stars of her era.

It was shown as the final part of the Jessie Matthews season at the NFT in London. The audience was also treated to a feature produced by Edward Mirzoeff (best known for his work with Jessie's near contemporary, John Betjeman), plus a series of clips from "The Good Old Days", "This Is Your Life", etc. in which Leonard Sachs and Eamon Andrews provide support.

The whole collection of clips and off-cuts was depressing to a degree. In the Mirzoeff programme (dating from 1986) we see that Matthews' ashes had been deposited in an unmarked grave in Ruislip churchyard (the oversight has now been corrected). She seems to have wafted through life stirring up a great deal of enmity in the process. Hardly anyone had a good word to say for her - or if they did, the praise was (tellingly) equivocal. The contributions of her adopted daughter (in particular), her agent and her rival Chili Bourchier ooze contempt. This is perhaps understandable: her daughter has been cut out of her (no doubt modest) will, and seemed to be living in cramped conditions - she seemed to find her 'mother' almost physically repulsive (it was virtually a 'Mommie Dearest' performance); her agent was prepared to attribute to her all the deficiencies of a star, including the warped and deluded mindset; the remarkable Ms Bourchier was still raw with the affair between Matthews and her husband, and decried her attempts at bettering her accent.

Nor was Matthews much helped by her 'friends' (her agent remarked that there were precious few of these). Her brother remarked that she had thought her life pointless; Lord and Lady Elwyn-Jones (a very entertaining couple) emphasised her ill-health (Elwyn-Jones had been a not overly distinguished lord chancellor in 1974-9); her neighbours spoke of how tiring (and therefore by implication how tiresome) her late night calls and egotistical behaviour had been; her nurse, had largely forgotten about her, but obviously found her quite an effort.

In the final analysis her reputation rests upon a tiny repertoire of quite good songs (mainly by Rogers and Hart) and two or three British films that almost reached Hollywood standards in terms of quality and spectacle. The clips from TV shows revolved around "Over My Shoulder", "Dancing on the Ceiling", "When You've Got a Little Springtime in Your Heart", "Look for the Silver Lining", and not much more. Her heyday on stage and screen was 1927/28 to 1936/37, which is quite brief, and her days of film stardom (1933-37) were shorter still, even by the standards of female leads of that era. The period following 1938 is a virtual blank, save "Mrs Dale's Diary", which was almost an afterthought and not thought strong enough for Radio 2 to preserve. Her health issues aside, she was not much helped by the parlous state of Gainsborough and Gaumont and by the virtual disappearance of homegrown musicals from the West End. Matthews' career compares invidiously to Ginger Rogers (although considered by some to be a better dancer - a persuasive argument, but by no means definitive), much as Jack Buchanan does when put alongside Fred Astaire.

Fans of Matthews (of whom I am one) have noted her attractive mixture of star presence and innocence. Actually, the appearance of innocence - and her tendency to wear a wide-eyed, startled look - also indicates a chronic insecurity - hence the lifetime of 'starry' behaviour, and the recurrent breakdowns. Her weight was, somewhat predictably, the barometer of her vulnerability. She started to gain pounds after her miscarriage and once Sonnie Hale began to direct her. Once the roles dried up with the war (when her ethereal, lissome, gamine-like qualities became passé) she became quite plump. The shots taken of her recording 'Mrs Dale' show greater self-discipline, but during her appearances in the 1970s see seems to stagger across the stage (her voice weakened) like the ghost of Florrie Forde. It is only around 1980 (when the cancer was starting to tighten its grip) that she shrank greatly. The appearance alongside her, of a very well-preserved, though virtually bankrupt, Anna Neagle (her former understudy) in "This Is Your Life" made this physical 'fall from grace' all the more painful. Matthews could so easily have played the roles that Neagle enjoyed in the 1940s - only she had no Herbert Wilcox to rescue her.

Matthews is the acme of the tragic star. What a waste!


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