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The Prior Commitment (BBC Thriller, William Lucas, Claire Nielson)



Late 1960’s BBC thriller serial The Prior Commitment followed a TV reporter who was investigating his wife’s death on a small island in the firth of Clyde.

The Coventry Evening Telegraph on Wednesday 30 April 1969 previewed the start of the series: It is called “The Prior Commitment” and is written by Bill Craig, creator of BBC2’s “The Borderers.” Eddie Prior, a television reporter, returns from Bangkok to get an anonymous letter telling him his wife is unfaithful. At an island in the Firth of Clyde where she is on holiday he is told that she was drowned the previous night. Prior, played by William Lucas, is plunged into a fast-developing sequence of incidents from then on.

There was a brief mention, by E.T., also in The Coventry Evening Telegraph on Wednesday 30 April 1969: The thriller serial “The Prior Commitment,” from BBC Scotland, is developing into a real heart-thumper after only two episodes. And to think I watched the first only for that fantastic introductory music.

Angela Morton reviewed the third episode in the series in The Stage on Thursday 15 May 1969: Once again, a serial from Scotland with a refreshing change of locale. This time, it is set against the spacious background of the Western Isles. You can almost breathe the damp air and feel the salt spray, so natural and free of artificiality is Pharic McLarens direction of Billl Craig’s story. This might be described as Scots vintage Durbridge, with the islands playing a similar role to that of the Thames valley, but with an invigorating absence of Home Counties chi-chi. It’s shaping up nicely. William Lucas, that accomplished and all too rarely seen actor, playing Eddie Prior, the hero, with his ally, Liz (Claire Nielson) and a strange ecologist, Mr. Cadwaller, none other than that master of the sinister, Peter Copley, are laying all sorts of trails for our mystification. The suspense is building up and is being well maintained. One scene excelled itself in this week’s episode. Liz, searching Cadwaller’s hotel bedroom, was trapped as he returned unexpectedly. She hid in the shower cubicle and their followed several minutes of real, old-fashioned cliff-hanging as Cadwaller almost, but not quite, discovered her. It did occur to me that Eddie did not seem too much of a heart-broken widower considering that the day before his wife was supposed to have been lost by drowning. But maybe this is all part of the play. It also illustrates one of the main drawbacks of serials, which is that life cannot always be arranged so that one is there on the dot each week to watch the story unfold. A more adequate resume at the start of each episode might be an answer.

The final episode was reviewed in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle on Wednesday 28 May 1969: An absorbing, exciting, surprising and satisfying end was provided in the last episode of the thriller serial “The Prior Commitment” (BBC1) with all loose ends nicely tied up. All the characters soon showed their sides in the struggle between Russian and British Naval intelligence services to raise a sunken Soviet submarine from the sea bed. Helen Prior (Libby Glenn) who was first thought to be dead and then appeared to be with British intelligence turned out to be a double agent for the Russians. Her husband Eddie (William Lucas) allowed Helen to escape rather than be jailed as a spy but she was shot by Sergt Forbes (Callum Mill) and her sister Liz (Claire Nielson) was left again to comfort Eddie. Although not as clever as some Francis Durbridge serials we have seen recently it provided compelling viewing and we could do with more programmes of this quality.

JICTAR ratings for the week of 22 May 1969 saw the show getting into the lower reaches of the top 20 at number 16.

Cast: William Lucas (Eddie Prior), Claire Nielson (Liz Elliot), Aubrey Morris (Spinner), John Grieve (Shaw), Callum Mill (Sergeant Forbes), Peter Copley (Cadwaller), Bill Henderson (Tom Dewar), Daniel Aitken (The Man), Eileen McCallum (Kate Dewar)

Writer: Bill Craig / Music: Andy Park / Production Design: David McKenzie / Producer and Director: Pharic Maclaren

UK / BBC One / 6×50 minute episodes / 22 April – 27 May 1969