Mr Palfrey of Westminster ran for two series in the mid-1980s, bringing a more intelligent than usual verve to espionage thrillers. The DVD set includes not only the full two series but also the initial pilot and a one-off sequel episode featuring one of the main characters a few years on.
The pilot is interesting for revealing the changes made before commissioning a full series of Mr Palfrey, moving the eponymous character – a mole hunter for British intelligence – from a swanky office with a large team to a pokey old office with minimal staff support. So minimal that it is implausible for one boss, one assistant and one part-time secretary to do the sort of research, staking out and tailing of suspects which the plots require them to. One person hardly makes for an effective 24×7 monitoring operation to follow a suspect, and it’s this sort of implausible detail which is at the heart of the show’s strengths and weaknesses.
The weakness is that the operational details are often simplistically implausible – such as, for example, with the remarkably quick and cursory look round a room which counts for sweeping it for bugging devices in one episode. Yet the wider plot lines are very plausible, mirroring the sort of events we know about from the public record and without any exaggerated implausibilities of the Hollywood movie type.
Despite the show’s age, it still looks good – the very crisp footage still looks good on modern screens – and the acting has also aged well. Even the cringey dialogue about a female boss is – sadly – a rather accurate reflection of what much of the 1980s were really like.
There is very little in the way of chases, violence or gadgetry – though the old fashioned computers and phones are quite fun to see once again – but rather clever plotting, variations in pace and structure which keep you guessing, and good acting all round. Not as good as The Sandbaggers, but still a pretty enjoyable watch.
No subtitles, unfortunately, nor any other extras beyond the pilot and one-off sequel.
If you like this, you might also be interested in The Sandbaggers.