Elaborate Cover

I watched Dangerous Knowledge, the 1976 thriller starring John Gregson and Patrick Allan.

The series ran as 6 episodes of 25 minutes, each split in 2 parts. The title sequence starts with the old thriller stand-by of the scared, blinking eye in close-up, in this case clearly belonging to Gregson’s character William Kirby.

Christopher Gunning’s moody jazz theme music kicks in, as the image transforms to the spinning wheels of Kirby’s classic car.

Then the titles themselves, with the author’s name (N.J.Crisp), and a cascade of images of the old boy driving in the countryside.

Kirby is officially employed as an insurance salesman, and so every episode has an insurance-related title: “Comprehensive Cover”, “A Deadly Policy”, “Clause For Concern”, “Death Risk”, “Surrender Value”, “Dividends”.

We start with our man looking a bit unsettled on a cross-channel car ferry.

He sees a solitary female passenger and insists on accompanying her as a foot passenger off the boat.

Meanwhile the Citroen 2CV he was loitering nearby has turned out to contain an unconscious man who was carrying a gun. But it also turns out there are 2 chaps in suits who are after Kirby. We learn that the agent played by Ralph Bates is called Sanders.

Laura turns out to have her own boat, which is handy for making a getaway and also as a spare room to chat in. The makers of this show sensibly film all the boat interiors on land, avoiding the lighting difficulties that afflicted the later series Triangle. Kirby is divorced but apparently on good terms with his ex-wife, and able to roll up and stay in their old house even though she got ownership in the settlement. He is honest about his money troubles but not how he’s planning to solve them.

Kirby is an old-fashioned guy, with a fresh glass of whisky and a smoke on the go in every scene except outdoors (unless there’s a drinks cabinet in that phone box we see him in), and presumably also when he’s driving, when he must be pretty sozzled anyway. As well as working in insurance (he’s the best salesman in the business, allegedly, though we never see anything to support this claim), he also knows about a mysterious cafe in Notting Hill run by genial Charlie, where it is possible to have a cryptic conversation about setting up meetings with other mysterious people.

Also having meetings and trying to keep on top of events is top civil servant Sir Roger Fane.

Fane has great faith in his special advisor Dr. Vincent.

As is explained:

FANE: Dr Vincent joined us a year ago as a political advisor on counter-espionage.

SANDERS: Oh yes I read the notifications of course but I don’t exactly move in policy-making circles. You were in Vietnam with the Americans weren’t you, sir?

FANE: And more recently in the Middle East where he, er, um… well, I’d better not mention his achievements.

Although it was broadcast a few years earlier, in some ways Dangerous Knowledge is a budget-priced Tinker Tailor about a desperate attempt to expose a high-level mole in the security services. As with the Le Carre story, when the baddie owns up he has a little speech about how Britain has been rubbish since 1950, but it’s short and to the point. There is a clear plot and resolution… which is a pity, because the first 2 episodes do an excellent job of setting it up that none of these characters are what they seem at first. We don’t really know if Kirby is a hero, since we realise later he was actually knocking a man unconscious just before we started seeing him. Why should we believe he has any genuine career in insurance? That office in London we see him meeting his boss in once could be as much of a front as Charlie’s cafe. Plenty of times he doubts himself and urges others to not believe what they are told. There was huge potential for this series to just keep ramping up the uncertainty, getting to a climax of frame-breaking hysteria like Gangsters or The Prisoner.

But we do at least get plenty of illustrations that knowledge, like insurance, depends on networks of trust and reliability, and that testimony alone isn’t decisive.

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