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MR. PALFREY OF WESTMINSTER

palfrey_mr_tv_mpow
 
Full Name: Mr. Palfrey
Nationality: British
Organization: British Intelligence
Occupation Spymaster

Creator: George Markstein
Time Span: 1984 - 1985

ABOUT THE SERIES

     Mr. Palfrey is a British spymaster.
     As a couple other in this compendium who have that job description, Palfrey occupies his time hunting down those who spy on and against the British Government. This can and does mean he goes up against, as the common American parlance puts it, "all enemies foreign and domestic".
     It is his patch to seek out enemy agents seeking to seduce via money or sex members of the ruling party or bureaucrats to work for them.
     It is part of his job to sniff out those at and around Whitehall who have already been turned or who, for greed or spite or just for a lark, turned themselves.
     And it is his task to help prove a negative at times when evidence might accidentally or deliberately implicate a truly honest person, threatening to destroy a reputation or eliminate an obstacle. This last job is particularly difficult at times because "proving a negative" is always a challenge.


     Mr. Palfrey does all this while, as he puts it a couple of times, working for the Home Office. He, or his associate, will be asked at times if he is MI5 and MI6 and he will honestly affirm that he is connected to neither.
     This makes for a wonderfully mysterious aspect to Palfrey because he speaks the truth here when he says he is not with those organizations but being with the Home Office leaves much unsaid.
     Who or what he works for does, though, have considerable authority and connections. Palfrey answers to a person known only as the Coordinator but that person speaks on a very regular basis directly with the Prime Minister (unnamed but certainly Margaret Thatcher considering the time frame and the frequent references to her being female). This Coordinator, who for most of the time we know Palfrey, is herself an interesting woman, wielding a considerable amount of authority and yet prone to be concerned with pinching pennies.


     When we first meet Palfrey, he enjoys a quite spacious and nicely furnished office which seems to lack for nothing a person might want, except for windows which Palfrey does not seem to mind. But just because he, and those visiting him, cannot look out, others can and do look in for we find that his meetings are constantly being monitored and recorded by a spooky fellow in a basement office. We assume (dangerous for this line of work) that Palfrey is not only aware of the surveillance but is the one who set it up. [Note: this was presented in the first 'pilot' episode known as The Traitor.]
     However that all changes drastically when he returns from an enjoyable extended fishing vacation [i.e, when the actual series begins] and he finds that his then Coordinator has been shuffled out and a new one brought in and Mr. Palfrey is moved to totally different digs.
     Palfrey is not a fan of change and the change is rather drastic. He goes from his windowless office to a rather drab one room office in an old building immediately adjacent to what seems to be either a boys high school or a prep school. The office is unfurnished when he first sees it and lacks any working heater, though he is assured it will be attended to. [I got the impression, though I could be wrong, that this austerity was more a sign of the frugality of the new Coordinator than any indication of displeasure at Palfrey whom she had not yet met.
     Palfrey will also find that no one he has worked with before has made the transition so the little spooky monitor watching fellow in the basement has gone.  He will be joined soon after he moves into the new digs by a very young, quite pretty, female secretary named Caroline who will prove to be more than capable of handling her duties and his comings and goings, all while enjoying a life outside the office with her share of friends and male suitors (no one particularly serious nor long lasting).
     He will also have pushed on him a very sinister looking ginger-haired muscle- and leg-man named Blair. Palfrey does not seem very pleased to have to associate with Blair at first but this soon changes and before too long the two (or three since we should count Caroline) will make an impressive team.
     Blair is himself a fascinating mad, rather similar in lethality and intimidation to David Callan but without the guilt and angst. Blair will stake out places or break into places as such a normal part of his job that he never blinks when given an order. Nor will he show any particular hesitation or remorse if told to get physical with someone. And when asked if he knows how to get rid of a body (just in case, you know) he admits he does and has. Blair is a deadly man but he does have a surprising knowledge of and appreciation of good wines.


     Back on Palfrey, it is fun to watch him tackle the various assignments handed to him by the Coordinator and to observe him having to dance around her particular idiosyncrasies. She is a relative novice to her position but it is clear she is not a newcomer to how to play the power game. She is not perfect by any means and she will have to be schooled, respectfully, of course, by Palfrey more than once. But she is extremely sharp and can deal with those above her as well as the other sister and cousin agencies far better than Palfrey likely could or would ever want to. Palfrey may chafe at times under her direction but it seems a very good thing she can be his buffer.
     Palfrey is a man who likes to do things his own way and in his own time. He will take orders and he will do what he is told to do but he maintains a wonderfully enjoyable ability to interpret those orders rather loosely at times. This could easily get him sacked or demoted were it not for the fact that Palfrey inevitably is proven correct. It is hard to argue with success.


     I have switched back and forth during this discussion on the man between calling him Palfrey, as a lot of people did when talking both about and to him, and referring to him as Mr. Palfrey, which is also quite commonly done especially by those a tad frightened by his reputation. At no time have I mentioned a first name because in all the stories we are shown about him, neither he nor anyone else ever once mentions one. That in itself says quite a bit about the man and his station.

TELEVISION


Number of Episodes:10
First Appearance:1984
Last Appearance:1985
Network:ITV

REGULAR CAST
Alec McCowenMr. Palfrey [ 1-2 ]
Caroline BlakistonCo-Ordinatgor [ 1-2 ]
Clive WoodBlair [ 1-2 ]
Briony McRobertsCaroline [ 1-2 ]

       The character of Mr. Palfrey was created by George Markstein and presented to the viewing audience of an anthology program created by ATV for the British ITV network, Storyboard. Whether it was intended to be a pilot for a possible series is unknown but that is what it turned out to be. It was aired in the Summer of 1983 and in the Spring of the next year, the new series based on the character started.
       The first season was a short one, not unusual for British television, being but 4 episodes long.
       The next year, 1985, the second season was shown, this one lasting 6 episodes.
       Sadly there would not be a third season for Mr. Palfrey.
       There would be a one-adventure return for a major character of Palfrey's, however. The same anthology show that gave birth to Palfrey in 1983 was resurrected, sort of, and a one-shot story about Palfrey's quiet, earnest, and deadly assistant, Blair, would aired. Again, this might have been a pilot try for that fellow but alas it did not take.


0 The Traitor
Episode S1-5, first aired 08/23/1983
Director: Christopher Hodson
Writer: George Markstein

Storyboard, Season 1 Episode 5
"A seemingly standard interview turns into something very confusing." An agent working under Mr. Palfrey, Fawkes, is asked to his office to report on the movements of the man Fawkes has been monitoring for some time. Things to do not as Fawkes might have thought when Mr. Palfrey begins to ask interesting questions and make some odd observations.

1 Once Your Card Is Marked
Episode 1-1, first aired 04/18/1984
Director: Christopher Hodson
Writer: George Markstein

Given a new Coordinator and promised autonomy, Mr. Palfrey is annoyed when immediately thereafter he is handed a file on a diplomat and told to find something wrong with the man to nail him. Palfrey is certain the man is being made a scapegoat and wants to know by whom and why.

2 The Honeypot and the Bees
Episode 1-2, first aired 04/25/1984
Director: Peter Cregeen
Writer: Michael Chapman

The affair that a senior Defence Ministry official is having with a young woman from Czechoslovakia is growing worrisome to the Intelligence section. Then the couple disappear.

3 The Defector
Episode 1-3, first aired 05/01/1984
Director: Christopher Hodson
Writer: Philip Broadley

The Coordinator is all a-tizzy about the chance to hold a press conference and announce the defection of a famous Russian author. Mr. Palfrey, however, is strongly advising caution even as the KGB demands more and more the writer's return.

4 A Present from Leipzig
Episode 1-4, first aired 05/08/1984
Director: Peter Cregeen
Writer: Anthony Skene

Mr. Palfrey is asked to look into a stolen Russian icon that has made its way to the UK and the hands of a wealthy industrialist. 

5 Freedom from Longing
Episode 2-1, first aired 05/07/1985
Director: Christopher Hodson
Writer: Philip Broadley

As Mr. Palfrey learns his assistant, Blair, has been grabbed by a different department to look into a Czech-born woman that Blair once had a relationship with and who was now suspected of being a Soviet spy, Palfrey has to wonder if there was yet another reason for the temporary assignment.

6 Return to Sender
Episode 2-2, first aired 05/14/1985
Director: Gerald Blake
Writer: Philip Broadley

After being told that a British agent who had defected to the Soviets years before has returned to the UK and is threatening to reveal intel to embarrass both countries, Mr. Palfrey is told to find a way to silence him but Mr. Palfrey decides on a different path.

7 Music of a Dead Prophet
Episode 2-3, first aired 05/21/1985
Director: John Davies
Writer: Michael Chapman

A soon-to-be release tell-all book claims that the UK government took out an Iranian general back in the 50s and helped bring down the current government there. When Mr. Palfrey is ordered to keep the book from seeing the presses, he wonders who in the government was trying to hide what.

8 Official Secret
Episode 2-4, first aired 05/28/1985
Director: Christopher Hodson
Writer: George Markstein

A very unhappy former government official wants something done about the double agents he claims are still causing damage inside the Intelligence community and he vows to alert the press unless action is taken.

9 Spygame
Episode 2-5, first aired 06/04/1985
Director: Gerald Blake
Writer: Barry Appleton

The CIA informs Mr. Palfrey that an American aerospace engineer working in the UK on a joint defense program is passing classified data to the Soviets. Mr. Palfrey agrees to investigate but there is more than a little suspicion on his part about the Agency.

10 The Baited Trap
Episode 2-6, first aired 06/11/1985
Director: John Davies
Writer: Philip Broadley

The Coordinator is informed by a contact in the Soviet embassy that one of her agents is really a double. She tells Mr. Palfrey to look into it but Palfrey has to wonder how he is likely ending up the patsy.

11 A Question of Commitment
Episode S4-3, first aired 05/23/1989
Director: Gareth Davies
Writer: Philip Broadley

Storyboard, Season 4 Episode 3
"The trouble with being a spy, is sometimes you come to wonder who's doing the spying and who is the spied upon." When MI5 officer Blair comes home from his holiday, he finds that he is now the man under investigation and suspicion and he does not know why.
Note: this sequel of sorts to the Mr. Palfrey of Westminster series was produced in the same anthology that the original Palfrey program was in, albeit a half-decade after the regular Palfrey series left the air. Palfrey is not in this; Blair had been the chief leg-man for Palfrey.

MY COMMENTS

     I heard of this series long before I bothered to watch it. I had heard of it but not very much about it so I did not know hardly more than that it existed. It was not until I heard the opening comments on sister spy site Spybrary two fellows whose opinions I respect. They seemed to have good things to say about it and I was intrigued. When they got to a part where they felt a spoiler alert was in order, I decided to put them on hold and watch an 'episode or two'.
     I watched the pilot that had been on Storyboard and enjoyed it a good deal. I liked it enough to move on to the regular series but I admit here that had I been asked to grade it on that pilot episode, I would have given it an A-. I liked it and it was quite good but ...
     I am so very glad I went on to watch the regular show. The change from the pilot to the first series episode was jarring and I would warn viewers of that. But once I was into that first series episode for just a few minutes, I was hooked!
     There are, sadly, only ten episodes of this regular series. I watched with considerable pleasure all ten, usually two a day. When I finished the last, I was a tad melancholy because, alas, there were no more and since the series had run more than three decades ago and I knew the lead actor has since passed away, there would be no more. But I am grateful for having had the pleasure of those ten.
     This is, in fair warning and honesty, a British drama in which we have very, very little action. No car chases, nor martial arts duels, nor underwater scuba fights, nor daring airplane leaping or cliff diving. We see no gun battles or explosions. We enjoy no titillating's bedroom escapades (okay, once or twice we see some interesting scenes but never, I mean never, with Mr. Palfrey or even with Blair. And sadly never with the lovely Caroline.
     This show is mostly talk but oh, such good talk.


     Possibly my absolute favorite spy television series was The Sandbaggers, not counting the mini-series about George Smiley. The shows with Mr. Palfrey come a very, very close second to that fine program. They both enjoy an A+ grade. I would put Neil Burnside just a tad ahead of Mr. Palfrey but they would be so close they could whisper secrets back and forth. Not that either would, of course.

GRADE

My Grade: A+

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