TV on DVD: The Beiderbecke Affair (1985)

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If William Powell & Myrna Loy Had a Son
And Cary Grant & Katharine Hepburn Had a Daughter,
Chances Are They'd Be "Trevor & Jill"
From this Delightful '80s British Screwball Mystery

Now on DVD


Although he has been involved with fellow teacher Jill Swinburne (Barbara Flynn), whom he complains at times treats him "like a sex object" by flipping a coin with his ex-fiance to see who can call dibs, woodshop teacher Trevor Chaplin (James Bolam) mostly prefers to keep a low profile blaring jazz into both ear drums via classic studio headphones.

When an alluringly beguiling blonde shows up at his door under the pretense that she's a mail order catalog saleswoman raising money for a Cub Scout's football (er, soccer to us Yanks) team, he tries to give her the traditional Jehovah's Witness-like brush off but suddenly decides to order an extremely rare coveted collectible set of '20s jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke LPs, being that it's for the kids.

After the wrong records are delivered, he and Jill become novice sleuths, wisecracking in the same spirit of Hepburn and Grant and Powell and Loy as they discover the phone number given on his receipt leads them to a crematorium and the business headquarters doesn't exist but when the curious two take it a step further by trying to track down the scouts, the coppers get involved.

Dominic Jephcott is marvelous as the department's "token graduate policeman," a.k.a. a required police officer with a B.A. degree who annoys his colleagues and incessantly tapes his hypotheses in a tape recorder, referring to all parties and events involved as "subjects A, B, and C," as well as listing the goal of each as though it were all a scientific experiment.

When Trevor and Jill stumble into a much greater mystery involving black market swag kept in a church basement and possible government and/or police corruption, they align themselves with others involved as the situations get much quirkier and the jokes become faster. And soon enough-- as though we were in one of Raymond Chandler's novels that became far too complicated possibly from too much booze (in Chandler's case)-- we discover we're less intrigued by the mystery and much more fascinated in watching the characters interact with each other in this delightfully comedic spin on mysteries which originally was produced for British television in the '80s.

Followed by two sequels-- aptly named The Beiderbecke Tapes and The Beiderbecke Connection, luckily The Beiderbecke Affair makes its way to our shores in a nice box set from our friends at Acorn Media-- a.k.a. my consistent go-to company for the best alternatives to horrific American programming like The Biggest Loser.

Despite this and-- as in the recent superlative release of The Last Detective-- subtitles unfortunately weren't provided in the box set and admittedly Beiderbecke itself is very dated. Likewise, it looks as though the 4x3 aspect ratio of the video footage hasn't ever been retouched-- making its transfer to DVD quality a bit unimpressive as you have to turn the volume exceedingly loud to hear the dialogue which becomes annoying when the otherwise spirited and upbeat Beiderbecke inspired jazz soundtrack by Frank Ricotti blasts from the television speakers to punctuate the action like a Woody Allen film.

Despite the flaws in poor sound and less than crystal color, the quality of the finished product is unmatched in its intelligence, humor, and escapist approximately 300 minute running time that gives viewers the perfect way to unwind after a hard day's work. This is especially true considering that brainy creator Alan Plater (Oliver's Travels, The Last of the Blonde Bombshells, A Very British Coup, Dalziel and Pascoe) dealt humorously with issues that resonate now more than ever today including teachers getting in trouble for sharing political convictions, school budgetary constraints, tax problems and wasteful government spending, and Jill's then quite unpopular quest to save the planet and support conservation.

Additionally, although it falls under the category of mystery-- it's much more laugh-based than that with a delightful old fashioned tinge to its dialogue and refreshingly unglamorous and relatable, natural actors who manage to convince us that they are playing themselves.

A fun series with great Dixie styled jazz music and just one of many films by Plater that involve his love of jazz-- while The Beiderbecke Affair is released here in the states from Acorn on January 27, I can only hope that eventually its sequels will also find their way to DVD.

Or, to quote Jill's favorite film Casablanca as she does throughout, once you get in The Beirderbecke gang, you realize this is going to be "the beginning of a beautiful friendship" indeed.