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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > Action > Espionage > British TV > Mr. Palfrey Of Westminster – The Complete Collection (1984 – 1985/Mystery/British TV/Acorn DVD Set)

Mr. Palfrey Of Westminster – The Complete Collection (1984 – 1985/Mystery/British TV/Acorn DVD Set)


Picture: C+     Sound: C     Extras: D     Episodes: B-



A late-but-interesting entry into the classic cycle of British Spy TV, Mr. Palfrey Of Westminster was the last gasp, a show that tired to take such storytelling into the Thatcher era and did not take hold.  Whether it knew it or not, it was fighting a losing battle, a mix of contradictions ideologically that has aged oddly.  The show is still smart and good watching, so as limited as its run was, The Complete Collection is interesting to revisit.


Alec McCowen (Frenzy, Never Say Never Again) is the title character, an expert spy for Her Majesty’s government whose expertise is finding sleeper and traitorous agents.  His investigations have been very fruitful, but when he is reset to report to a new “Co-Ordinator” (Caroline Blakston (Sunday Bloody Sunday, Strange Report, The Avengers, Department S), looking like Princess Diana as by way of Thatcher!) who intends to run things by the book to the extent that she is blinded by it.  Palfrey intends to only listen to her so much to make sure he gets his job done.  He even gets a strange new office.


The episodes are as follows, with key guest cast noted:



1)     Once Your Card Is Marked (Alan MacNaughton)

2)     The Honeypot & The Bees (Richard Johnson, Frederick Treves)

3)     The Defector (Julian Glover, Ronald Hines)

4)     A Present From Leipzig


5)     Freedom From Longing (Brian Deacon, Tony Mathews, Donald Douglas)

6)     Return To Sender (Clive Francis)

7)     Music From A Dead Prophet (Hugh Cross, Roy Herrick, Paul Herzberg, James Marcus)

8)     Official Secret (George Roubicek, Jeffrey Wickham)

9)     Spygame (Dennis Edwards)

10)  The Baited Trap (Clive Francis)



Dated by some of the now older technology in the show (5-inch floppy disks anyone?) and The Cold War itself, the show had some good people working behind the scenes, with writers like Philip Broadley (Danger Man, Man In A Suitcase, The Saint, Department S, Jason King, The Adventurer, Zodiac) and George Markstein (The Prisoner, Callan, Return Of The Saint), as well as directors like Gerald Blake (Quiller, Doctor Who) and Christopher Hodson (The Main Chance, Hadleigh).  The talent was there and the show holds up better than expected because of them and the performances, but it has a problem deciding whether it should be as dark and serious as Callan and The Sandbaggers, or be “quality television” for the Thatcher era and those are thoroughly contradictory, so the show did not find an audience.  No one involved knew at the time The Cold War would be over in five years, so this is the pretty much the last major Spy show of the era.


Alec McCowen is so good here that he is reason alone to revisit Mr. Palfrey Of Westminster, but it is not a bad show still and an interesting show with smart writing and good performances that definitely deserves reissue on DVD.


The 1.33 X 1 image was shot in PAL analog videotape has some good color, but can be soft and have some aliasing errors, though this looks fairly good for its age.  It is just not as good as it should look over each episode.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is more of a problem, with smaller sound and a slightly rougher, harsher character than expected, so be careful of volumes and volume switching.  There are no extras.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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