Tag Archives: Francis Durbridge

Francis Durbridge’s “The Teckman Mystery”

For anyone growing up in England during the middle years of the 20th century, the name of writer Francis Durbridge, in connection with mystery writing, was an indication of twists and turns, considerable cunning, and particularly fine writing.

Durbridge was very prolific and, although he wrote fiction, his greater reputation was as a scriptwriter for films and television. Throughout those decades, UK audiences would cancel appointments to make sure they were in when the latest Durbridge mystery was aired on our TV screens.

The Teckman Mystery, though, is a film, suggested by Durbidge’s original story The Teckman Biography. It features one of his regular characters the crime-writer Philip Chance, played in this 1954 production by John Justin.

As the film begins, we meet Chance flying back to England from his villa in the south of France. He is returning to London to meet his publisher, who wants him to write a biography of Martin Teckman, an airman who has died testing a new aircraft, though his body was never found.

By coincidence, on his journey to England, Chance meets Teckman’s sister Helen (Margaret Leighton), who seems puzzled by the death of her brother.

Now, I’m not going to give away much else of the plot, for Durbridge deserves to be seen with no spoilers.

Enough to say, that, as so often with Durbridge stories, nothing is quite what it seems to be. Which characters can be trusted, and who are your real allies as opposed to enemies.

A series of “accidents” beset the would-be biographer of Teckman, leading to attempted bribery, burglary and murder – but who wants his investigation into Teckman’s accident hushed up?

And just why are Scotland Yard and MI5 so interested in Philip Chance’s inquiries?

This Cold War thriller made in 1954, was directed by the excellent Wendy Toye, and features an superb cast, including – apart from Justin and Leighton – Roland Culver, Michael Medwin and Duncan Lamont. It’s shot, as are most good films in this genre, in crisp black and white. And how wonderful to see a 1950s London before the city was wrecked by tower-blocks…

Watching the Teckman Mystery is a very enjoyable way to spend a rainy afternoon.

To see links and versions please click on the link below:

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Francis Durbridge’s “Melissa”

One of our Christmas DVD treats was Francis Durbridge’s mystery drama Melissa, which was televised in 1974. Starring that very fine actor Peter Barkworth, it was in three parts and we watched over three weeks to get the original effect. Although we both remember seeing it when it was broadcast, luckily we didn’t recall more than the premise.

Guy Foster is an unemployed Fleet Street journalist who’s writing a novel. When he comes home one evening, his wife Melissa and their friends Paula and Felix are waiting to go to a party. Guy’s forgotten they’re going out and cries off as he’s tired. The others leave without him. Later that evening Melissa telephones him and persuades him to meet her at the home of another guest. When Guy stops at a police car to ask directions, he hears that a woman’s body has just been found. To his horror the corpse is Melissa.

From that moment Guy’s world disintegrates as he’s under suspicion for his wife’s murder. A baffling series of events seem to show that he’s been expertly framed as he struggles to find the truth before he’s arrested. The plot is full of the dazzling twists and cliff-hangers that were Francis Durbridge’s trademark. Guy starts to wonder just how well he knew his wife and who is out to destroy him?

Peter Barkworth was superb in a role that’s akin to Hitchcock with its innocent-in-peril theme. He was always one of my favourite actors, effortlessly natural and completely believable. He taught many distinguished actors at R.A.D.A and wrote several books about acting.

The supporting cast are also very good, including Moira Redmond, Joan Benham, Ronald Fraser and Ray Lonnen. Philip Voss is quietly compelling as the enigmatic police inspector.

Much of the drama takes place in the Fosters’ London flat which gives the feeling of watching a stage play and adds to the tense atmosphere. Melissa feels like a masterclass in acting and the scriptwriting of suspense. And it’s a great pleasure to see actors from television’s golden age of drama.

This was the second version of Melissa, the first was televised in 1964. Francis Durbridge then adapted his script into a novel – something he often did -published as My Wife Melissa three years later. In a prolific career Durbridge (1912-98) wrote forty-three novels, some in collaboration, seven stage plays and umpteen radio, film and television scripts. His most famous character was of course Paul Temple, closely followed by Tim Frazer.

Melissa is highly recommended and we’re looking forward to getting more of Francis Durbridge’s surviving dramas. It’s a sad loss that so many tapes were wiped by the BBC in the Sixties.

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