I watched Wilde Alliance, the show that ran for 1 series in 1978. It starred John Stride and Julia Foster as Rupert and Amy Wilde.
I suppose the title is a play on “Grand Alliance” but that doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s better than calling it “Wilde Ones” or “Born To Be Wilde” but not much. This is a problem running through the show: there’s an awful lot of rather sub-par “witty chat” (as Amy refers to it) which does not sparkle as much as it needs to. But the Wildes themselves are not really so smart and sophisticated, they are really a suburban couple with unusual jobs and a lot of spare time for hobbies.
Rupert is an author of thrillers that are “bestsellers” but presumably not blockbusters since they never have too much money, or at least not as much as they feel entitled to. Tax problems seem to menace whenever any modest success comes around. It seems that he writes spy thrillers as well as crime stories, as we find out he is linked to the Crime Writers Association, so maybe he drifts across genre boundaries, much as this show tries to be comedy and a crime show as well. His agent Christopher doesn’t seem to regard him as a safe and bankable property. Julia works as a painter as well as a graphic designer and illustrator, and does all the unpaid work of typing and editing Rupert’s creative efforts. They do not have any children – it is stated by Amy in the final episode that they “chose not to have any”, but it’s already clear that Rupert is an overgrown child who needs nannying and support in his hobbies, such as making model aircraft. He says so himself. We do not get much detail of their backgrounds and how they fell into their current jobs, and I don’t think either of them ever mention being graduates from any institution. Amy must at least have attended some Art School since her work is good enough to be accepted for exhibition at the RA.
The title sequence shows the 2 of them in parallel, engaging in excitements as well as their jobs and somehow being in sync and them arriving together for a big hug. The theme music is a pleasant jazz tune that switches back and to with tense shuffling. Each episode is divided into 3 parts, with adverts they would fill up an hour.
The premise of a crime writer solving crimes goes back at least to Dorothy L. Sayers creating Lord Peter Wimsey’s relationship with Harriet Vane, and it was of course the basis of the very successful Murder She Wrote. In some ways the Wildes are an early British draft of the big 80s success of Hart To Hart. However the Harts were actually wealthy, whereas our couple are just rather pleased-with-themselves whilst living in a not very big interior, within the impressive exterior of Ming Court near the centre of York.
Their car is a Triumph TR7, which from a distance looks almost as sleek and smart as the Lotus Esprit that James Bond was driving in 1977. From a distance, not so much when you get nearer. Those pop-up front headlights looked exciting and futuristic to children, but I can now imagine them causing a lot of drag when driving on motorways at night. Their social connections bring them close to properly-rich people, and Rupert’s bluff and bravado sometimes wins little bets against them, but there’s not much chance of a big move up in the world unless he knuckles down and writes a proper blockbuster that brings in millions, and he doesn’t seem to have the stamina or imagination for it. He could maybe take some of the ingredients from the capers they get caught up in, but he doesn’t seem to have the application to attempt that either. More usually, we see the Wildes chuckling as they find themselves caught up in a plot made by some stereotype Bad People around them, which they extricate from without too much difficulty.
The Wildes are not hopeless innocents in all respects: they understand that the fruity-voiced neighbour in the flat downstairs is involved in dodgy business, which Rupert refers to as “white slaving”, and which turns out to be pornography. We are to understand this is all a jolly old lark and that the slightly dim young women who work for him aren’t getting harmed, although some time later the Wildes have to look after a bag full of items he leaves with them as he worries about having his premises raided by the Vice Squad.
Many different writers worked on the series and there are clear differences in the tone and the material used between them. It was broadcast at the start of 1978 and the final story was clearly recorded in summer time, so there is no reason to assume that cancellation had already been decided on when Rupert delivers what turns out to be his final speech.
- A Question Of Research by Ian Mackintosh, broadcast 17th January 1978.
The Wildes debut in a story that brings them straight up against the secret state. Phone taps and bugs and bogus visitors are brought to bear on them because Rupert is working on a plot set around an RAF base that has developed a new secret weapon. Someone has got hold of the synopsis and concluded there must be a leak from an actual programme looking in to such an idea.
It all plays out as a jolly old misunderstanding, nothing to worry about all round. MI5 surveillance was going on in lots of 70s TV drama – even Rock Follies had a sub-plot about a radical underground magazine being monitored – this may be the only time where it’s just a bit of fun and the secret important men are just harmlessly incompetent bureaucrats. Fun fact: the top spook is played by Jerome Willis, who played it straight as a secret service man in The Sandbaggers, also made by Yorkshire Television and broadcast later in the year.
2. Flower Power by Anthony Skene, broadcast 24th January 1978.
A very important businessman tries to get his elderly relative to organize a spurious grassroots campaign (“astroturfing” does not exist as a term yet) in favour of a reservoir being created, which will suit his business. This will involve flooding the valley that has romantic associations for Amy and also an old flame she re-encounters when called in to meetings about it all.
The solution is to discover that a rare orchid is growing in the valley and thus the scheme has to be cancelled for environmental protection reasons. Thus the NIMBY sentimentalists defeat, or at least divert, the march of capitalism, which is a victory for them all, including 2 slightly odd lady animal welfare campaigners who seem to be quite close.
3. Too Much, Too Often by Philip Broadley, broadcast 31st January 1978.
A much harder-edged story this time, and all the better for it. This might have been a smarter choice to start the series with. Our heroes are invited to a weekend with a more-successful couple David and Helen Bardsley. David is now pretty much a compulsive drinker who puts everyone on edge and gets awfully competitive even for playing on his Scalextric racing track.
David disappears and Rupert tries to unravel what’s been going on, as a secret web of fraud is slowly exposed.
4. Things That Go Bump by Philip Broadley, broadcast 7th February 1978.
The openly Supernatural Story in this series. Christopher has acquired a rotten old country property that has lots of strange noises going off in the night, and he sees and speaks to a strange young woman, who vanishes mysteriously.
I’m not spoiling much by revealing that there-was-a-real-ghost-all-along. The Wildes aren’t surprised either, the reveal is done in a very rushed and perfunctory way and we’re immediately driving away and chuckling smugly at Rupert’s lack of curiosity or stamina to stick around and investigate further. The twist must surely be that the Wildes are even more unbearably complacent than you suspected already.
5. The Private Army Of Colonel Stone by Jacques Gillies, broadcast 14th February 1978.
We start unusually in a rocky wilderness, where desperate men are struggling to hold on.
Back in Yorkshire, Rupert is asked to investigate by an elderly relative of a young man who died on the diamond-hunting expedition to Namibia (not named as such, but that is where they were since they travelled back to and were in hospital in Windhoek). It seems the other soldiers, led by upper-class smoothie Colonel Stone, have come back and taken over the cottage she made over to him, claiming some sort of title on it granted by the dead man.
The suspicion is that a naïve and trusting young fool was exploited and done away with by unscrupulous older men… or was he. The ending is quite twisty but once again the Wildes are never in much danger, and it takes quite low effort to figure it out, if indeed they do, or really care.
6. Danny Boy by Ian Mackintosh, broadcast 21st February 1978.
The Wildes are in Manchester to meet an American producer arriving at the airport, who is offering a big film deal for Rupert’s new book. Celebrating prematurely at a fancy restaurant the night before, they see a cartoonish sad bad guy who requests the tune “Danny Boy” from the violinist.
The mystery guy seems to be interested in the American singer Carol Fortune who was also arriving on the same plane as the producer. Rupert is convinced that something nasty is at foot, and that the sad man is obsessed with the song and is going to kidnap her for some terrible purpose. He gets Christopher to ask a police detective he knows for background information on the man and his weird accomplices.
In parallel with this, he has to argue back at the American producer who wants the plot of the book altered so that it doesn’t include a character being divorced, which financial backers aren’t keen on. Rupert is oddly precious about this, insisting that in any case it would ruin the plot by removing the motive, as all crimes have to have a motive. The producer argues back that many great crimes have no real motive at all. And so it unfolds that they are both demonstrated to be right and wrong by events.
7. Well Enough Alone by Anthony Skene, broadcast 28th February 1978.
Rupert is visited by his Spanish translator, the wife of a Mexican diplomat. She wants him to help out tracing her daughter, who should have been staying in York and attending a local music college.
Further inquiries discover that someone at the college is collecting the post for the missing young woman, who was never properly enrolled. We also meet a young American guy who’s helping out various people with non-standard immigration status.
It all ends up at one of those dances for young people, playing an eclectic mixture of hard rock and disco funk.
8. Express From Rome by Philip Broadley, broadcast 7th March 1978.
The Wildes are travelling back from Rome by train, and get mixed up in a weird smuggling plot as a young Swedish woman bribes the conductor to swap her room with theirs, so that get bothered by the various creeps chasing after her.
It’s a jolly old wheeze and our heroes are pleased with themselves to see everyone else arrested.
9. A Game For Two Players by John Bowen, broadcast 14th March 1978.
The best episode by far and a completely different mood to all the others. We start with a sad young boy trying to hitchhike to York. He gets picked up by Rupert, and the Wildes put him up in their spare room whilst trying to make out his story of being in pursuit of his mum, whom he thinks has had to go up to York whilst his dad is in prison for “possession”.
The Wildes try to work out what this story means and work out connections that the mother could be linked to. Rupert talks to the madam of a discreet call girl agency, and to understand the drug scene he talks to a young dude played by Jeff Rawle under the name “Pusher”, who explains slowly and patiently to this muppet that no one travels to York to get drugs, they source it from cities with ports and airports and then do a quiet bit of supplying in places like this.
Meanwhile some other mysterious people have heard about the Wildes and go to track them. This takes them to confront the shop assistant played by Spencer Banks.
Eventually we are given an explanation which satisfies the Wildes, and young Steve is taken away. Rupert’s idea that his parents were involved with an IRA cell is dispersed. But was the truth told in that scene? This John Bowen script has similarities to the film of the John Bingham story Fragment Of Fear, in that the audience sees multiple threads that go outside the central character’s experience and put in question the version of the conspiracy that he is told about. Of course the Wildes are not paranoid ex-junkies who need any excuse to stop being concerned.
There is also a rather tasteless thread to this story about Amy having maternal instincts awakened by Steve’s presence and then depressed by his departure. We have not been told at this point that they are childless by choice, although we might wonder how much choice was available from a selfish old prick like Rupert. Incidentally, Julia Foster is the mother of Ben Fogle, who has a famous name but I’m not sure what for. I found that out whilst Googling to see if she’d had any other roles outside acting, and it turns out that’s the role she’s mainly defined by in the media 45 years later.
10. Time And Again by Anthony Skene, broadcast 21st March 1978.
Rupert is doing a talk to some prisoners, a role usually done by Christopher but he’s taking it over as a favour.
When he gets home he finds out one of them has slipped a handwritten manuscript into his briefcase. It’s a brilliant crime story and so Amy takes it to Christopher for his consideration.
But soon some cartoonish villains are in pursuit of the manuscript, which of course describes how an incredible true-life heist was carried out in detail, since it is a thinly-fictionalised account written by someone who was on the job and is now inside for a different one. So the big boss Golombeck, played by Anthony Bate (Sir Oliver Lacon in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) wants to get hold of it so no one can work out his identity. Desperate measures include kidnapping Amy, but she isn’t in much peril at his bad taste mansion, and can soon have him listening to her advice on how to hang great paintings.
11. Affray In Amsterdam by Philip Broadley, broadcast 28th March 1978.
Another foreign trip, this time to Amsterdam in order to spend Rupert’s Dutch royalties which wouldn’t be worth the bother of bringing back to Britain and getting taxed on. We have some farcical business about semi-naked Rupert coming out of the bathroom to find a young woman hiding behind the curtain, and then getting surprised by Amy. There is never any moment in these stories that suggest Rupert has ever desired, or been attracted to, other women apart from Amy, although we do know that Amy has other options available.
This is essentially the same premise as “Express From Rome” (foreign smugglers trying to exploit the hapless British couple) but here we get a twist in which the Wildes are successfully used as unwitting couriers… and then figure it out. The punchline of course is that if they’d kept the police out and played along, they could have had a share in the millions.
12. A Suspicion Of Sudden Death by Jacques Gillies, broadcast 4th April 1978.
We start with a funeral. The Wildes are turning up late, but nearby another couple are having doubts about some scheme they are involved in.
We see everyone together at the wake, which is for another crime writer who died recently. He hadn’t been published for a while, but there is an unfinished manuscript that Christopher thinks was quite good and perhaps Rupert could get the job of completing it.
Something isn’t quite right and of course there’s a weird conspiracy which is playing out the plot of the unfinished manuscript.
13. Some Trust In Chariots by Ian Mackintosh, broadcast 11th April 1978.
The title is taken from Psalm 20:7, which is not acknowledged as the Wildes have never shown any religious attitudes beyond conventional respect for the ceremonies of births, marriages and deaths. In this story they hear that their friend Debbie is in distress – she keeps seeing her sister Annette around her house, even though she’s supposed to be away in America. Trying to take photographs is no luck as when the prints come back they show no one standing in the garden (NB. This plot line would need a bit of reworking if you try to update the storyline to the 21st century world of digital cameras on smartphones).
It ends with the Wildes convinced that they’ve exposed a plot to drive someone to a breakdown with faked apparitions.
But, as with “A Game For Two Players”, I’m not sure everything that happened in the scenes they weren’t in quite fits with that. For example, the moment where Debbie sees Annette’s reflection in a window and then turns around to see – no one there. Since it was established in episode 4 that ghosts exist in this world, maybe the twist could have been that Annette was murdered earlier.
Episodes 5, 9 and 13 all have potential to be a very different kind of mystery story to most of the others, some of which really want to be a farcical sitcom about a fairly straitlaced British couple always falling amongst comic criminal stereotypes and hackneyed plots about smuggling. I think Wilde Alliance had several different ambitions and couldn’t realise them all well enough.
And here’s that final speech from Rupert:
RUPERT: We’re so damn clever, Amy. We solve problems, right wrongs, ride off into the sunset with a laugh and a wave. So what the hell happened this time?