To Catch a Thief by David Dodge, adapted by Jean Buchanan

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BBC Radio 4, 7 January 2011

Triumphantly proclaimed on Radio 4 as the first adaptation of David Dodge’s novel, To Catch a Thief told the story of the Cat (aka John Robie) (Jeff Harding) a professional criminal who had retired after having pursued a successful career depriving Europe’s richest aristocrats of their jewels. However the security of his life was threatened by an unnamed pretender to his felonious throne, who stole jewels using precisely the same methods as the Cat had done. Quite naturally the finger of suspicion pointed at the Cat, even though he was entirely innocent. The action focused on his unwavering pursuit of the true criminal, who actually turned out to be a woman Francie Stevens (Jennifer Lee Jellicorse).

Memorably filmed in the mid-1950s, To Catch a Thief could have been created with Cary Grant in mind. Like the actor, the Cat began life as an acrobat, before turning to a more profitable line of business amongst Europe’s privileged elite. He spent most of his time in the most fashionable places – Monte Carlo, Cannes, Paris – hobnobbing with the best people and living an apparently idyllic life of endless dinner-parties and other social occasions. Filmed in glorious Technicolor, To Catch a Thief captured a long-forgotten era, when people drove fast cars round glorious scenic locations, and the idea of mass tourism was practically unheard of.

Sara Davies' radio production played on the listeners’ sense of collective nostalgia to create an entertaining caper, in which the scenic locations were replaced by sound-effects – the endless chatter of party-guests, the piano tinkling unmemorable ditties in the background, the whoosh of fast cars braking along winding roads. Harding gave an understated performance as the Cat, someone proud of his reputation as a master-criminal, with a purely personal interest in finding out who his imitator was. He did not care whether the jewels were returned; he simply wanted to protect his reputation by preventing anyone from plagiarizing his methods. The world of To Catch a Thief was an old-fashioned one, where women were expected to adorn the lush scenery of France, or Monaco, and not do anything in particular (which helps to explain why everyone was so surprised when they discovered that the new Cat was a woman). In Davies' production, however, it remained an entertaining world.