Friday 19 November 2010

Friday 20 August 2010


James Mitchell's creation, 'Callan', established one of television's most compelling anit-heroes and made a star of Edward Woodward. 

Although it ran for only for four series (1967-1972), it made a great impression with the viewing public and spawned a feature film and a sequel in 1981.

With it’s iconic title sequence - a bare, swinging light bulb which is then shot out – it depicted the grimier side of the intelligence services against a Cold War background of agent swaps and spirals of double agent treachery.

TP’s involvement with the series came in its final series when he was cast in the role of a maverick Russian agent, Richmond.

Over the course of three episodes entitled ‘The Richmond Files’, he and Callan are involved in an extremely tense battle of wits with Richmond initially defecting into Callan’s hands before then absconding, ultimately to be tracked down to a warehouse full of vodka and a bloody shootout.

This was TV drama of the finest order with taut, intelligent scripts (series creator James Mitchell was also responsible for the Geordie drama ‘When The Boat Comes In’) and largely studio based (shot at Thames's Teddington Studios) with multiple-camera shooting which allowed scenes to be played for their full, dramatic potential.

The opener for the trilogy, ‘Call Me Enemy’ (writer: George Markstein), is a virtual two-hander with TP and Edward Woodward holed up in a large country house, a ‘safe’ house, where neither of them feel remotely safe.

Over the course of fifty minutes they are locked in a verbal duel, snarling and spitting, like trapped wolves; both killers, both hunted.

"To forget and be forgotten"
It’s not entirely an exaggeration to say that this was television which was talked about for years to come and in 1994 it was screened by Channel Four as the centrepiece of a tribute night to series producer, Thames Television.

Callan - The Colour Years (Network DVD 7953307 - Region 2 - Released 10th May 2010 - Cert 15)

Tuesday 17 August 2010


The British Hero
was a dramatised documentary portrait of a selection of fictional British heroes written by Alan Coren for the Omnibus strand in 1973.

Recreating such plucky stalwarts as Bulldog Drummond, Richard Hannay, Beau Geste and James Bond, a handsome, young newcomer, Christopher Cazenove, is put through his paces in a series of spoof episodes, with TP taking the role of narrator come talking curator.

This was a very lavish production for a documentary with feature film values, multiple locations (including a sequence on the liner, Canberra) and a starry cast, however, critically, it fell very flat. Part of the problem may have been that it couldn’t quite decide where it fell between tribute and satire and ended up being neither one or the other.

A few years later Michael Palin and Terry Jones would trod the same ground with much greater success in their Ripping Yarns series.

'Spy Who Came In from the Cold' pastiche
TP too caught some of the flak with critics wondering what an Irish actor was doing in the middle of such a British mix and The Observer remarking that TP had delivered his lines as if presenting a county court case about the drains. Harsh words, but wittily put.

Nonetheless, it was a rewarding film to be part of and TP was completely charmed by the personality of Christopher Cazenove. As part of the publicity, he and TP appeared, in character, on the front cover of the Radio Times (see above).


"TP McKenna and the beautiful Mary Peach enliven our screens on Monday in Fixation, a tale of terror and obsesssion. McKenna whose name makes him sound rather like a cricketer, says that until this summer he had commuted for eight years between his family in Dublin and his work in England; and those 300 flights were as nothing to the two dasy he spent on a North sea ferry-boat trip between Immingham, Lincolnshire and Gothenburg in Sweden, on location for Fixation. Everyone brought their guts up, and one violent scene on deck had to be postponed until they reached port because the winds wwere so strong." (Excerpt from TV Times feature interview by Alix Coleman)

Production stills featuring TP in studio and on location with actors Mary Peach and Shane Briant


Saturday 14 August 2010


Producing the hugely successful thriller Sleuth for the Irish stage was the idea of TP’s close friend, actor Donal Donnelly. He had been intimately involved with the piece having played opposite Anthony Quayle on both the London and Broadway stages.

The plot revolves around a charged evening in the country house of a very successful mystery writer, Andrew Wyke. He’s invited his wife’s lover, Milo Tindle, to the house for a civilized gentlemen’s chat.

The evening commences with convivial bonhemie, then progresses to some light games playing (the house is crammed with all manner of theatrical props and magic devices), but ultimately escalates into a sinister and pungent battle of one-up-manship in which, pyshcologically, tables are turned, roles are reversed and banter becomes barter as the audience realises they are watching a complex and deadly duel.

It’s an extremely clever piece of theatrical intrigue by Anthony Shaffer but productions of it live or die by the casting and performances of the two central characters. Although TP and Donal were very close age wise, 42 and 44 respectively at this time, TP’s playing age was some way above that. There was an important physical contrast also. Andrew Wyke is well suited in tweeds and somewhat plump in his success while Milo Tindle is decidedly younger and trimmer and, to Wyke’s disdain, fashionably attired in smart blazer and slacks.

Between TP and Donal there was exactly this dynamic and for three months in record breaking performances at the Opera House in Cork
and the Olympia Theatre in Dublin they played out this fiendish game.

The run was enormously successful and was cheered for the return, not just of two home grown talents, but of two established and highly talented actors playing at the top of their game.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

TV: CROWN COURT - 1973/1982

Barrister Patrick Canty
A recurring date in TP's television career during the 70s was his appearances on the Granada lunch-time drama, Crown Court, as barrister, Patrick Canty.

'A Genuine Verdict'

This was a very popular series presenting as it did a dramatised court case across three afternoons in the fictional Fulchester Crown Court, the episodes dividing into the prosecution, the defence, and finally, the verdict.  The storylines covered the full gamut of perceived transgressions of the law whether it was a case of fraud, arson, or perhaps a crime of passion,  and each was played out before a 'jury' made up of real members of the public who would pass a genuine verdict.

'Crown Court' may have been a TV drama but every effort was made to accurately depict the court process  while
the writing, casting and direction were of the best.  In the listings below you'll see the names of the likes of Richard Wilson, Peter Jeffrey, Alison Steadman, Mitzi Rogers,David Ryall, James Grout, Colin Jeavons, Bernard Hill, Ray McAnally and director Roland Joffe.
'Hit and Miss', TP's first Crown Court

'TP in the Dock'

Before donning his wig and gown as Patrick Canty, TP made two early  court appearances from the dock when he was the week's accused.  Firstly, as Dr Paul Napier who was accused of letting his premises out for purposes of immoral earnings, and then, as businessman Henry Burnett on trial for causing death by dangerous driving in a 'hit and run' case.

As Dr Paul Napier
He was found not guilty as Dr Paul Napier but in the latter case he was declared guilty.  As TP would recall, it was hard not to take the verdicts personally.  Indeed,  this twist of realism could have some humorous outcomes such as the episode ‘Scard’ when TP was defending Ray McAnally as an unscrupulous businessman being prosecuted by another ‘Court’ regular, Richard Wilson. The jury found for the Crown, but McAnally had so convinced himself of his innocence that after recording he berated the jury for their decision and urged them to reconsider.

John Barron
Similarly, TP once appeared before John Barron as Justice Mitchenor and during a brief pause in recording when discussing a point in the script, he addressed the actor by his real name. Barron shot him back a glance so sharp that TP was quickly correcting himself … “I beg your pardon … er, m’Lud! If I might draw your attention to the bottom of page sixteen …”.

Editor's Note - Recording 'Crown Court':  While the three weekly instalments of 'Crown Court' made for ninety minutes of television, due to the static court setting, the episodes could be rehearsed, teched and recorded within a week.

Typically, TP would travel up by train to Manchester (home of Granada Television) on the Sunday evening and be ready for two days rehearsal on the Monday & Tuesday, then technical run-throughs on the Wednesday, leading into the start of recording across the Thursday and Friday.  All being well, he was often heading back to London on the Friday afternoon.

'authority figure'
In total, TP made ten appearances at the 'Crown Court', eight of them as Patrick Canty. 

The role was also probably influential in fixing the public perception of TP McKenna as the acerbic, authority figure, though it's worth pointing out that he always appeared for the defence, his brief actually being to put the establishment on the ropes.  Typical anti-hero behaviour from this always questioning actor."  SM