Review for The Hanged Man / Turtle's Progress: Two Complete Series
This release is a nice touch. Not one but two excellent series from the mid to late 1970’s related only by their writer and a single character, the laugh a minute scoundrel, the eponymous ‘Turtle’ played by John F. Landry.
Within a single-set you get both The Hanged Man and Turtle's Progress, both devised and scripted by The Power Game's Edmund Ward for Yorkshire Television and both excellent in completely different ways. In truth, both series couldn’t be more different with the first being a violent, earthy thriller and the latter being a ‘Minder’ style mix of humour and crime drama. Ward had also scripted episodes of crime and spy dramas like ‘Man in a Suitcase’ and you could easily see ‘The Hanged Man’ as a mix of that and ‘The Power Game’ – both excellent series of course.
THE HANGED MAN
His only means of staying alive... is to stay dead!
After three attempts to kill him, owner of an international construction company, Lew Burnett (Colin Blakely) owner of an international construction company, decides to stay 'dead' in order to stay alive.
The last attempt makes up the title sequence of every episode, lest we should forget – a gritty near death experience which sees Burnett’s Caterpillar brakes fail, sending him into the sea, hard-hat and machine in tow. But Burnett is a survivor and a fighter, and he’s had enough. His wife was also recently killed in a plane crash aboard a flight which he should have been on too.
The big problem for Burnett is that the world is full of people with cause to hate him. His rough, take-no-prisoners approach to business has seen to that. But who hates him enough to kill him? Or who might gain most from his death. Only by staying dead can he start to find out. So undercover, he sets off to draw his enemies out one by one.
Fortunately for him, he has at least one friend. Ex-military policemen, now a crack insurance detective, Alan Crowe (or ‘Crowe’) played magnificently by Michael Williams knows that Burnett is alive and decides to help him. After all, it’s more exciting than another day in the office. So, the scene is nicely set for a tough, almost ‘Professionals’ style team to track down the killer – whilst also avoiding being killed.
It’s a surprisingly high octane, eight-piece drama that sees the duo tackle suspects the world over and involving some hairy stunts. Blakely maintains his hard, cold man persona throughout and Williams is the perfect counter-point with his suave, lounge-lizard cool. It’s Crowe who is the real link for the two series, employing a shady character with a balding head, ‘Turtle’, to do some sub-legal deeds to help their cause. Played by John F. Landry, it was clearly felt that his semi-comic persona was good enough to inspire his own series, ‘Turtle's Progress’. The rest, as they say, is history.
‘The Hanged Man’ is packed with a top-notch cast too - Julian Glover, Barbara Shelley and Jane Seymour all put in impressive turns.
The plot gets a bit convoluted and the scenarios increasingly unlikely, but this doesn’t lessen the fun in any way. This is classic, crime drama and I found myself comfortable watching a couple of episodes a night for four nights in a row. I won’t spoil the plot here, suffice to say, you get to find out who the killer is in the final episode, though you may well have seen it coming before then.
Music for the show was written by the library-legend, Alan Tew, and the same theme can be heard on tons of other stuff, like in The Two Ronnies as the theme to their 'Piggy Malone/Charley Farley' serial as well as in ‘The People's Court’ and the 2009 film ‘Black Dynamite’ to name just a few.
Here is a list of the episodes included along with original air dates, courtesy of Wikipedia.
- "Wheel of Fortune" (15 February 1975)
- "Tower of Destruction" (22 February 1975)
- "Knave of Coins" (7 March 1975)
- "Chariot of Earth" (14 March 1975)
- "The Bridge Maker" (14 March 1975)
- "Grail and Platter" (21 March 1975)
- "Laws of Fortune" (28 March 1975)
- "Ring of Return" (5 April 1975)
This was released as a single series by Network in 2007. My review of that set (which is identical to the version contained in this one) can be seen here. This time around I could re-watch the series with ‘The Hanged Man’ in mind, so Crowe’s appearance had extra resonance for example, though it can be seen and enjoyed perfectly well without that context.
This is a much lighter series than ‘The Hanged Man’ – almost ‘Only Fools and Horses’ at times – though it still packs a gritty edge when it needs to, rather like ‘Minder’ which appeared on Thames Television within six months of this airing.
Turtle is a petty crook and, along with his formidable looking accomplice, Razor Eddie, they nick a van outside a bank which contains eighty safe deposit boxes – the proceeds of a bank job. They had no idea. Of course, the find doesn’t only bring them luck. Each episode is a self-contained story based around the contents of one of the boxes as they open them up. That might be a couple of million pounds’ worth of mafia drugs along with a gun used by a killer for hire (not so good as they would like them back) or a list of pubs that are a protection squeeze and can be collected from or maybe some secrets that someone would pay handsomely to get back.
It’s incredibly entertaining and has an excellent cast, with guest stars like Antony Sher, Joss Ackland and Peter Bowles all making an appearance. Late 70’s, early 80’s London looks at gritty as it did in The Sweeney too and the programme has the look and feel of a ‘Euston’ film, despite the fact that it’s clearly not.
There were 13 hour long episodes in total and by the end of the run you’ll feel ready for more – except the series only survived for two seasons (one of 7 episodes and then a further 5) despite the series’ popularity at the time.
Much of the humour and fun of the series comes out of Turtle’s endless invention and the fact that he and Razor Eddie usually come out on top. A running gag is the fact that Superintendent Rafferty knows full well that they stole the van, but can never quite pin anything on them.
Overall, I heartily recommend this two-series set. Although they are remarkably different in tone and texture, their unifying link (‘Turtle’) is more than enough to justify them as bedfellows here.