Saturday, September 19, 2009


Occasionally, the Obituaries in the newspapers trigger me off – most of the people who are rewarded with a half page or so tend tomake an interesting read, but once in a while I’m brought up with a bit of a start, when someone who’s made a real impact on me throws off this mortal coil.

A day or so ago, there were two – Keith Floyd and Patrick Swayze – who hit the headlines, for all the wrong reasons. Floyd was definitely one of my favourites, but hidden behind the two full pages on each of these two guys was another full page about someone much less well known, but someone whose output had left its indelible mark on me – Troy Kennedy Martin.

Keith Floyd was one of those people who you always expected would not make his “three score and ten” – alcohol and tobacco playing a very central role in his life. He was a “bit of a lad” before the idea of a “bit of a lad” had been coined, but, at the same time, this was balanced by his fabulous incompetence with money, which proved his undoing all too frequently.

Via his cookery programmes, he single-handedly turned me into someone who looks on cooking as one of the real pleasures in life. His series “Floyd on France” hit all the right spots with me – the location, the food, and his exciting, irreverent, chaotic and witty style of delivery masking a wide and deep knowledge of his subject. Yes, there were others before him, Delia, the Craddocks, the Galloping Gourmet (Graham Kerr), but Floyd resonated with me like no others.


I suspect he was a bit of a bugger to live with – he got through four wives, one to whom he proposed within a few hours of meeting her. Definitely his own man, how can you not like someone who irritated masses of Scandinavians when he was doing a series on their cuisine, by whipping up a meal of Flambéed Puffins, a protected species in Norway.

And the clincher for me was his lifestyle in Kinsale, Ireland. Most of us make do with a dog or two. He apparently had four dogs, five cats, 58 rare Breed chickens, 12 geese, a pair of swans, two Jacob Sheep. one pony, six beehives, 77 goldfish (why 77?) and 12 Vietmanese potbellied piglets.

A real Maverick.

Now, Troy Kennedy Martin – who he?

Another maverick, I’m afraid. A scriptwriter for film and TV who in 1962 started the police series “Z-Cars”, which singlehandedly destroyed the cosy mould of the “Dixon of Dock Green” style of cop show we had been watching up until then. He introduced the policeman as a fallible individual, one who did not always behave impeccably towards his family, and who often broke the rules on the job. He wrote the screenplay for the Michael Caine film “The Italian Job”, and as the author of that perfect line “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off”, then he could go to heaven on those few words alone.

But the reason he’s getting a send off and a doff of the cap from me is a TV series he wrote in 1986 – “Edge of Darkness” – a 6 part thriller about the messy mix of government, the politics of Plutonium and the nuclear waste industry, and faceless multinational corporations. I’ve waxed lyrical about it here before, but suffice to say it’s dark, dense, atmospheric, enigmatic and very, very imaginative. Even the music, written and played searingly by Eric Clapton still haunts me.


One of the best TV series I’ve ever seen. After “Edge of Darkness” his life descended into family and financial chaos. And after it, he hardly wrote anything of note again, although apparently, just before he died he had just finished a 6 part series for my favourite American channel, HBO, on Global Warning and called “Broken Light”. Let’s hope.

For anyone interested, I’ve just noticed that early in 2010, there’s a film of the series coming out. Mel Gibson and Ray Winstone starring. Mmmm.

“Edge of Darkness”, “Tutti Frutti”, “This Life”, “The West Wing”, “The Wire”, and coming up on the rails “The Sopranos”. Forty years of fitful viewing throws that lot up as my “Best Ever” list. The order moves around a bit, and the odd new one arrives, but none of them disappear.

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