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Charmer, The (ITV 1987, Nigel Havers, Fiona Fullerton)

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Period drama serial The Charmer gave Nigel Havers one of his best roles ever as the suave 1930’s conman Ralph Ernest Gorse – a man with with an eye for the ladies and the main chance lets his schemes get more involved and even deadly but eventually gets his comeuppance.

When The Charmer begins it’s the late 1930’s and Ralph (or Rafe as he prefers) is busy working his way into the heart of the wealthy and much older Joan Plumleigh-Bruce (Rosemary Leach), he’s only interested in what he can get out of her (namely money of course), his real target is the very sexy Clarice Manners (Fiona Fullerton) she is from a well to do family and Rafe knows that unless he has cash he can never persuade her to be with him; Joan doesn’t know any of this of course and is more than delighted to have a young suitor paying her attention. Joan’s bank manager Donald Stimpson (the excellent Bernard Hepton) also has designs on her and is more than put out when Joan goes ‘the whole hog’ with Gorse. When Rafe then does a runner taking much of Joan’s money with him Stimpson is determined to track him down and get revenge.

Rafe tries to stay one step ahead of Stimpson and at one point even ends up married (with truly murderous consequences) whilst the onset of World War II sees him posing as an RAF pilot. We won’t reveal the ending here as that would spoil it somewhat if you’ve never seen this excellent production.

The Charmer Rosemary Leach

Rosemary Leach as Joan Plumleigh-Bruce.

Shot on videotape and featuring very good production design The Charmer is based on a trilogy of books by Patrick ‘Gaslight’ Hamilton. This is quality viewing that comes complete with a Cole Porter theme tune (You’re the Top) sung by Paul Jones of Manfred Mann fame.

Wonderfully atmospheric, excellently cast. Bernard Hepton in particular is a delight as the cuckolded real estate agent Donald Stimpson who will not give up in making sure Gorse gets his just desserts after making a fool of the woman Stimpson is in love with. Fiona Fullerton is also something of revelation, very sexy and probably the only character able to play Gorse at his own game.

The serial stays remarkable true to Patrick Hamiltons source novels, which are easily up there with the likes of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock.

Cast: NIGEL HAVERS as Ralph Ernest Gorse; FIONA FULLERTON as Clarice Manners; BERNARD HEPTON as Donald Stimpson; ROSEMARY LEACH as Joan Plumleigh-Bruce; JUDY PARFITT as Alison Warren; ABIGAIL McKERN as Pamela Bennett

Writer: Allan Prior / Novels: Patrick Hamilton / Theme Music: You’re The Top by Cole Porter Sung by Paul Jones / Producer: Philip Hinchcliffe

UK / ITV – London Weekend Television / 6×50 minute episodes / 18 October – 22 November 1987

THE EPISODES
1. GORSE, THE TEMPTER
After agreeing to house sit for friend Ronnie Shooter, Ralph Gorse meets solicitor Donald Stimpson for the first time, Stimpson makes the mistake of introducing him to middle-aged Joan Plumleigh-Bruce (with whom Stimpson has ‘expectations’). Plumleigh-Bruce is immediately smitten, Ralph meanwhile spots the chance to talk Joan into investing in a business opportunity. Gorse also falls for posh Clarice Manners whom he meets at a ‘den of iniquity’ with Stimpson.

guest cast
DAVID McKAIL as Ronnie Shooter / NAOMI BUCH as Odette / GRACE KINIRONS as Mary / MATTHEW DEVITT as Albert / MIKE SAVAGE as Car Dealer / JENNY DONNISON as Maid / PADDY JOYCE as Stable Lad / LARRY MARTYN as Taxi Driver

2. GORSE, THE INVESTOR
Gorse is pursuing Clarice Manners with a passion but she lets him know his money (or lack of it) is a problem. Ralph is already plotting to relieve Plumleigh-Bruce of her savings. Stimpson, meanwhile, is starting to have his doubts about Ralph.

guest cast
GRACE KINIRONS as Mary / MATTHEW DEVITT as Albert / PATRICK GODFREY as Mr Norris / ANDREW BICKNELL as Archie / GRAHAM ROWE as Mr Saxby / PAUL BACON as Receptionist / JONATHAN LACEY as Bert / GILES OLDERSHAW as Porter

3. GORSE, THE DECEIVER
Having swindled Joan Plumleigh-Bruce out of £1,000 Ralph has quickly spent it and is now cashing dud cheques. Once more down on his luck Ralph takes back an old car selling job with Harold Bennett, later he is tracked down by Stimpson and Plumleigh-Bruce but having got Bennett’s daughter Pamela pregnant manages to wangle his way out of his problems.

guest cast
GEORGE BAKER as Harold Bennett / GILLIAN RAINE as Phyllis Bennett / ABIGAIL McKERN as Pamela / TONY STEEDMAN as Sir Robert Simms / CHFRISSIE COTTERILL as Bunty / GRACE KINIRONS as Mary / BRIAN POYSER as Vinson / TERENCE LODGE as Photographer / NICHOLAS AMER as Hotel Receptionist / HOWARD LEW LEWIS (with dubbed voice) as Gardener / STEPHEN GORDON as Press Man / ROSAMOND FREEMAN-ATTWOOD as Press Woman / PHILIP READER as Press Photographer / JASON JAMES as Albert / GRAHAM CULL as Bob / JONATHAN LACEY as Bert

4. GORSE IN THE MIDDLE
Ralph, having married Pamela as a way out of his financial difficulties is now feeling more trapped than ever, after having their new house, paid for by Bennett, signed over to him, Ralph plans to get his wife out of the way and tries a spot of arson for the insurance money, his wife however has stayed at home after rowing with her parents. Following Pamela’s death the insurance company are none too happy about the circumstances and refuse to pay out.

guest cast
GEORGE BAKER as Harold Bennett / GILLIAN RAINE as Phyllis Bennett / ABIGAIL McKERN as Pamela / TERENCE HARDIMAN as Sawyer / ANDREW GREENHALGH as Smith / ANDREW BICKNELL as Archie / JOHN BOTT as Vicar / GORDON SALKILLD as Photographer / ROBERT HARTLEY as Receptionist / PAMELA LYNE as Milly / JASON JAMES as Albert / GRAHAM CULL as Bob / MATTHEW DEVITT as Albert

5. GORSE, THE IMPOSTER
With war having been declared Gorse is now in the army, however whilst on a 48 hour pass he deserts to Brighton, he also resorts to murder, an RAF officer whose uniform he pinches, soon he has another wealthy middle aged woman, Alison Warren, in his sights.

guest cast
JUDY PARFITT as Alison Warren / CHRISTOPHER BRAMWELL as Pilot Officer Stokes / LINAL HAFT as Henry / LEONARD KAVANAGH as George / LLOYD McGUIRE as Sgt Major / IAN COLLIER as Captain / GRACE KINIRONS as Mary / JULIAN FOX as Detective / MICHAEL FLEMING as Receptionist / NEVILLE PHILLIPS as Tailor / PAMELA WARDEL as Waitress / RICHARD MORGAN as Birdwatcher / SAM HARDING as Pianist

6. GORSE AT THE END
The body of the man Ralph took the RAF uniform from is washed up on the beach, its reported that the body is Ralph. Stimpson and Plumleigh-Bruce head down to Brighton and it looks like the net is closing in on Ralph. Alison has also realised the truth about Gorse leaving Ralph once again resorting to murder. Gorse then tries to run but doesn’t get far before the hangman’s noose tightens.

guest cast
JUDY PARFITT as Alison Warren / DAVYD HARRIES as Det Sgt Hammond / LINAL HAFT as Henry / GRACE KINIRONS as Mary / JOHN BARCROFT as Defence Counsel / BERNARD BROWN as Prosecuting Counsel / FRANK DUNCAN as Judge / LEONARD KAVANAGH as George / MICHAEL FLEMING as Receptionist / JULIAN FOX as Detective / FRANK TREGEAR as Barman / BRENDA COWLING as Chambermaid / PETER BEVERLY as Porter