The Desperate People is the earliest of the many serials written by Francis Durbridge for the BBC to have survived (although a couple of episodes of one earlier serial, The World of Tim Fraser, also survive. It was made in 1963 and was one of the serials screened under the umbrella title Francis Durbridge Presents.
The Desperate People has a typical Durbridge beginning. A perfectly ordinary chap suddenly encounters an unexpected event that propels him into a world of mystery and murder. In this case the ordinary chap is photographer Larry Martin (Denis Quilley). His brother Phil, serving in the British Army in Germany, arrives to spend his leave in London. Firstly though Phil has to dash off briefly to Dublin in connection with a car accident that claimed the life of a fellow soldier.
Phil never does go to Ireland. Instead he goes off to a hotel somewhere in England and then sudden death intervenes. It is a clear case of suicide, but Larry refuses to accept the verdict of the coroner’s court. This again is a typical Durbridge device - a man is sure that murder has taken place but he can’t prove it and the police don’t believe him and he ends up doing some investigating on his own.
Larry soon discovers some very curious things. Everything that seemed clear-cut about the case now turns out to have been a series of deceptions. There are photographs that suddenly turn up and just as suddenly vanish, there’s the mystery of a book of poetry read incessantly by a man who has never in his whole life been known to read poetry, there’s a mysterious key that everyone wants, there are accidents that are almost certainly no accidents, and there are more murders.
As the story progresses Larry finds that there are even more things that he didn’t know about his brother.
Durbridge was never much interested in ingenious murder methods. What matters is not the how, but the who and the why. And it is the why that is most important. In The Desperate People there aren’t many suspects to choose from but we can’t guess the murderer’s identity until we figure out exactly what kind of crime (and what kind of criminal) is actually behind it all. The murder (or murders) is incidental to the real crime.
Denis Quilley is a pretty good hero, full of steely determination if not always showing the soundest judgment. Hugh Cross makes a fine police inspector, businesslike and a man who gives very little away.
Francis Durbridge was a great television mystery writer whose scripts were enjoyably tangled and yet perfectly plausible.
It’s typical early 60s British television, mostly shot on videotape with a bit of location shooting. Production values are reasonable by BBC standards (in other words they're really rather basic).
Considering that it dates from 1963 this serial is still in reasonably good condition. Picture quality is variable but generally quite acceptable (no 1963 British television show shot on videotape is going to look spectacular).
The slightly later A Game of Murder (from 1966) and the much later (1975) The Doll are other Francis Durbridge Presents serials that are well worth catching.
The Desperate People is one of four Durbridge serials included in Madman’s Australian Region 4 Francis Durbridge Presents Volume 1 DVD boxed set. A set well worth getting.
The Desperate People is fine entertainment. HIghly recommended.