Attempts to be at the cutting edge of technology in fiction can age horribly quickly, especially where computing and networking is involved. Yet despite computer hacking over networks being central to Bird of Prey, the early 1980s BBC drama starring Richard Griffiths (who later found international fame in the Harry Potter movies), it has aged very well. That is because the basic ideas are still with us, especially police corruption, security being circumvented by sweet talking, criminals hacking into computer systems to assist their misdeeds and trojan horse programs being hidden on systems.
There is the occasional opportunity to chuckle at the technology, such as when a computer is purchased with a whole 64k of memory or when the main character searches for a flat to rent, insisting that it has to have its own landline rather than a shared one so that he can use it for a modem. There is also the chance for a bit of geek nostalgia, including spotting the old Apple advertising posters on the wall. But overall it’s a drama that still works really well now as it did then.
It centres on a mediocre, desk bound, suburban living civil servant, Henry Jay, who stumbled in the first series into an investigation into a major criminal gang.
Series 1 of Bird of Prey is fabulously done, with a high pace, plenty of twists and frequent uncertainty about what direction the story is headed in.
Bird of Prey‘s second and final series is rather less good, trying too hard to be modern and funky with the dialogue, and with multi-screen displays reminiscent of a low-budget version of 24. Series 2 also is much more about the relationship between Henry Jay and his wife, but she never quite gets rounded out enough as a character to be sympathetic in the struggles she faces. Too often she ends up as an annoying plot distraction rather than as a poignant counterpoint to the main plot.
Moreover, whilst in Series 1 there’s an impressive set of bad guys, and you’re often not sure who is good and who is bad, in Series 2 there is much less uncertainty and the main bad guy is so inept as to be hard to take seriously. It’s still a pretty good Series 2 but if watched soon after Series 1 it really shows its weaknesses.
Both have a lovely little title sequence with an addictive tune accompanying computer graphics showing a computer game relevant to the series:
Trivia spot: one episode features Mandy Rice-Davies, famous from the political scandal, the Profumo Affair.
If you like this, you may well also enjoy King’s Game.
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