Another chance to see… The Tyrant King 

9 December 2021 tbs.pm/73639


Thames

Thames, 1968

For six weeks on Thursday afternoons in the Autumn of 1968 I was glued to this.

It had loads of buses and trains in it and the music was something else. The storyline went over my head somehow, but who cared? There was plenty of eye-candy and after the final episode that October it vanished, never to be seen again, not even on a repeat run. Television was disposable back in the day, videotape was expensive and reusable and thus many shows were wiped with the tapes being used for newer programmes.

This one, however, was made entirely on film and as such has re-appeared on a DVD release. The DVD sleeve notes tell us that it was the first production from the then new Thames Television although I’m not convinced about that, more likely it was their first all-film production. It was certainly the testing ground for the viability of a subsidiary film company which eventually came about as Euston Films, makers of The Sweeney and Minder. Viewing it fifty years on it’s well worth the look but be warned: the storyline is cringeworthy to the point of being terminally embarrassing; no wonder it went over my head back in 1968. You may also come to loathe the lead characters, three upper-middle class wannabes who really make the Famous Five look like Peaky Blinders.

The plot, or what there is of one, is basically this: three teenagers wander into what seems to be an abandoned empty large house somewhere in suburban south-west London, where they eavesdrop on a sinister phone call with someone calling himself ‘Uncle Gerry’ plotting some kind of skullduggery to take place by ‘The Tyrant King’. The kids take it upon themselves to discover the what- and whereabouts of the Tyrant King and in doing so start a massive search across the landmarks of London, during which they find themselves pursued by a dodgy looking character they refer to as ‘Scarface’. That’s pretty much it, over six episodes (or six Thursdays of TV scheduling in 1968)… NOTHING actually happens until all is revealed in the final scenes. However, it’s when they set out on their search that the series takes on a secondary guise, one that transforms it into pure gold on two counts.

 

 

Firstly, with not much of a plot to focus on, we are treated to long lingering shots of London street scenes, real street scenes and not just the ‘big’ touristy landmarks. There’s some serious people watching to do here, in the parks, by the river and in the suburbs. There’s also plenty of shots involving buses and underground trains presumably because the serial was based on a book of the same name, published by London Transport in an effort to encourage older children to discover London by using their services. Ironically, several of these shots include buses carrying posters advertising the book! Amazingly all of this is filmed in colour, despite the fact that in 1968 it could only be shown in black and white. Presumably this was with a potential repeat showing in mind after colour had come to ITV in late 1969, but this never came about. True, several filmed series of the time such as The Saint, The Prisoner and The Avengers were being made in colour but this was for overseas sales which were unlikely for The Tyrant King.

Its second saving grace lies in the soundtrack, a more than generous helping of the prog rock of the day. The Nice provide the opening and closing title music with Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack while several tracks from the Moody Blues’ In Search Of The Lost Chord feature heavily. Also present are album tracks from Cream, Pink Floyd and even one from The Rolling Stones. This was the music that had stuck in my mind as a nine-year old even though I didn’t really know – or appreciate – what I was hearing. The first few minutes of the final episode watching London come to life early one summer morning set to Dawn by The Nice are absolutely priceless.

If you can just try to ignore the flimsy storyline you will be rewarded with the most wonderful working colour portrait of London in the summer of ’68 accompanied by a most stunning soundtrack, enough to encourage you to stay with it for the full run.

▶︎ Buy The Tyrant King on DVD at Amazon

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