"Armchair Theatre" is a British television drama anthology series of single plays that ran on the ITV network from 1956 to 1974. It was originally produced by Associated British Corporation, and later by Thames Television from mid-1968.
Harry H. Corbett,
London millionaire playboy, James Hadleigh, returns to his Yorkshire birthplace and buys a local newspaper his father founded decided on turning it into a relevant force for change against the wishes of its plodding editor, Frank Walters.
Only in the 1960s could such an oddity as this have gone out on a prime slot on the UK's (then) only commercial TV broadcaster.
Nominally a crime/espionage drama of intrigue, "The corridor people" plays like a theatre of the absurd satire, making other "oddball" 60s shows like "The Avengers" and even most of "The Prisoner" seem rather conventional by comparison.
What does the title of this series mean? Possibly it refers to the "corridors of power" (a term coined by the English novelist CP Snow a few years earlier)-but there seems to be more to it than that. I have my own theory that the title is a reference to the characters existing in metaphorical corridors, not whole "proper" human beings because they lack any ability to empathize with others, are bereft of any altruistic instincts in their dealings with people.
So, here we have our main characters. A portly police official called Kronk (played by John Sharp-the show's eccentricity is reflected by the character names too), assisted by two Keystone coppers called Blood and Hound, an international villainess/adventuress called Syrie Van Epp (Elizabeth Shepherd) and a sleazy American private eye called Phil Scrotty (Gary Cockrell), a sort of Chandleresque Phil Marlowe gone wrong. None of these characters are sympathetic. Scrotty, who would have been the hero in a more conventional series, is a double dealing rogue always out to financially profit from whatever he's involved in; he's made, superficially at least, a bit likable by reason of his quick wits and natural ebullience. Kronk is an Establishment guard dog, with a totally ruthless and amoral approach to his business. He is the creature of the powers that be. Syrie, sexy but chilly, is (like Scrotty) out for money, or at least anything else which will increase her share of selfish worldly pleasures.
The doings of these characters are played out mainly on a small series of sets, the show rarely leaving the confines of the studio. Shot on tape and in black and white, it looks a little like the early video episodes of "The Avengers", probably a mark against it in 1966, by which time many of ITV's hour long crime series were being made more expensively on film, using a lot of outdoor location shooting and even colour (though this development bypassed most 60s viewers who had black and white TV sets).
Confusing, erudite, self consciously absurd and pretentious, "The corridor people" can be easily dismissed as the most extreme example there was of arch 60s TV tosh, injecting Kafka and Alfred Jarry (and maybe Karl Marx too) into the 60s spy/crime show, something done better (and with a much bigger budget) a year later by Patrick McGoohan's "The Prisoner". However, for some this unhinged little series will provide a few hours of brain twisting pleasure. As you watch, bemused by the eccentric dialogue, narrative oddity and sights like a midget hit man assassinating someone from a pram (the kind of flummery you might also see on "The Avengers" and "Get Smart") you may discern that the world of "The corridor people" is, uniquely for a 60s crime drama, utterly bleak. This is severely cynical stuff. Even if given 35mm film and a lavish budget "The corridor people" could never have been "The Avengers". The latter was utterly conventional in portraying a dominant ethically run society, but one threatened at times by various evil forces who must be vanquished by feats of derring-do in order to reassert a benign status quo. This basic narrative was often (especially in the later filmed episodes of "The Avengers") spiced up with nods to pop art and surrealism; the makers using 60s "kookiness" while at the same time mining a rich vein of good old English eccentricity. But there is no benign status quo in "The corridor people"; the "villains" are morally indistinguishable from the principals (you could not call them "heroes"). Evil is not some external threat, but is a key element within the established order, an order which naturally makes (clandestine) use of the immoral and amoral (Scrotty, Syrie) in exercising its control and authority.
"Nothing odd will last" said Dr Samuel Johnson, a maxim which proved all too true for "The corridor people", which ran for a mere 4 episodes. Whether this was what was intended all along, or the "plug" was pulled on it due to poor ratings, I don't know. But it's hard to see something like this series going on for years. The show was produced by Granada, the same ITV company who made the prosaic eternal kitchen sink soap opera "Coronation street". One wonders what "Corrie" viewers at the time made of "The corridor people"-the two shows don't seem to be from the same planet, never mind being shot at the same time by the same studio.
I have no recollection of seeing this show in 1966. For long it remained something of a legend among TV cultist, many probably fearing it had been wiped along with so much else from the 50s and 60s. However the magic of DVD has unearthed "The corridor people" and made all of it available to view today.
16 of 17 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this