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Paul Temple and the Vandyke Affair by Francis Durbridge

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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 Martin C.Webster.