BBC Radio 7, 1-5 June 2009
This fascinating serial dating from 1959 offered a real-life insight
into prevailing social attitudes at that time. Recently Patrick Rayner's adaptation of John le Carré's Call of the
Dead (BBC Radio 4) worked hard to recreate this atmosphere, but this was the real thing. Paul Temple (Peter Coke) was
the typical debonair British hero - suave, sophisticated, unruffled. His wife Steve (Marjorie Westbury), although possessing
a gender-neutral name, remained the perfect female sidekick, rooting out vital clues but lacking the intellectual know-how
to solve the case. This was Temple's duty. They zigzagged around a cosmopolitan - and now forgotten - London of seedy
night-clubs, espresso bars and stylish apartments stuffed with all mod cons, a perfect example of a world memorably described
by former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan as one where "you've never had it so good."
Paul Temple stood for everything that was believed to be best about Brtiain; a pre-1960s
world of prosperity in which the landed upper classes and the middle-class intelligentsia really did rule the waves. By comparison
Johnny Foreigner - represented in this serial by the mysterious Droste (Simon Lack) - could never aspire to such levels, even
if he had acquired all the current English colloquialisms ("old chap," "old boy," and "ta-ta"). Sometimes the Americans were
permitted an occasional intervention, but they assumed predominantly minor roles as servants, lowlifes or acolytes marvelling
at Temple's intellectual gifts. Politically speaking they might have been representatives of a super-power, but in the self-enclosed
world of Paul Temple they were kept at bay by the British bulldog.
Paul Temple also celebrated those stereotypical British traits of calmness, articulation
and witty repartee. He seldom lost his sang-froid, even in the midst of the direst situations. The dialogue was strongly
reminiscent of Noel Coward, full of snappy exchanges and ironic putdowns. The serial never seemed entirely serious; like its
successors on television (The Avengers, Adam Adamant), it was nothing more than a romp. Such impressions
were reinforced by the jaunty snatches of music linking each scene, a strategy that gradually died out in radio drama as the
sixties wore on.
The protagonists spoke the kind of marked Received Pronunciation characteristic
of the time, in which 'a' sounds were rephrased as 'e' sounds (as in "hendbegs" for "handbags"). Once again
this reminded us of a familiar convention in British radio (as in the cinema), whereby only those actors who spoke decently
were given leading roles. Authentically working-class accents were only likely to be heard from low-life characters or supporting
players. Nowadays this might seem old-fashioned, but then it seemed redolent of an era in which privilege still ruled and
the social revolution of the next decade seemed a long way away.
Rebroadcast on Radio 7 as part of the classic thriller strang, Paul Temple
reminds us of just how much has changed in Britain over the last half-century (much of it for the better). The director was