"The Beiderbecke Affair," a box set of a light-hearted British television mystery series, was made by Yorkshire Television for Britain's Independent Television stations (ITV). The six-episode series was broadcast on PBS in this country in the 1990's, along with its sequels, Beiderbecke Tapes, and The Beiderbecke Connection. It was created by the award-winning Alan Plater, one of Britain's more prolific, entertaining writers, and centers on a pair of wisecracking schoolteachers caught up in some amateur sleuthing.
The series is set, and filmed in the city of Leeds, in Yorkshire, a place we don't hardly ever see over here. (Though, warning to the wise, we don't hardly ever hear Yorkshire accents over here, either, and that's what the cast is using. And there are no subtitles). Anyway, Trevor Chaplin, our protagonist, is also actually a transplanted Geordie, from further North, up Newcastle, Hadrian's Wall way, (upon which friends and acquaintances comment), with his own accent. As played by James Bolam ("New Tricks," "The End of the Affair"), he's a jazz-loving, kind of befuddled, but witty everyman woodworking teacher. And apparently he hasn't reflected upon the fact that beautiful, well-dressed platinum blonds seldom go selling door to door, until he buys a bunch of Beiderbecke records - that's vinyl records, and there are also no cell phones, only phone boxes - from one. The Beiderbecke records fail to turn up (Beiderbecke was an early American jazz great of the 1920's), and Trevor goes looking into things with his girlfriend and fellow teacher, who's running on the green line for town council, Jill Swinburne (Barbara Flynn, Mrs. Cracker, from the long-running mystery series Cracker: The Complete Collection).
The mystery's kind of light-weight, not exactly watertight, and moves along in a leisurely British fashion, but it will get round to gray-market goods hidden in a church basement, secret meetings on level 4 of a multi-story car park, and corruption at the highest local levels. The banter's consistently witty, and so is the sound track, inspired by Beiderbecke's work, by the award-winning musician Frank Ricotti. Co-stars include Dominic Jephcott ("The Scarlet Pimpernel.") There's also a substantial number of those sturdy British supporting players: Colin Blakely, Dudley Sutton, Terence Rigby, and James Grout, among others.
The award-winning writer Alan Plater's credits include Last of Blonde Bombshells,and A Very British Coup.
The episodes in this series are:
1. "What I don't understand is this...?" Where are the records?
2. "Can anybody join in?" A newly-minted, university graduate cop (Jephcott), has his suspicions.
3. "We call it the white economy." The plot thickens.
4. "Um...I know what you're thinking." And gets thicker still, as Helen McAllister, a wealthy, well-connected former girlfriend of Trevor's, suddenly shows up.
5. "That was a very funny evening." Helen and Jill go out to dinner together and put away a lot of champagne. They toss a coin for Trevor, and Helen wins...
6. "We are on the brink of a new era. If only...."City council elections, and dirty tricks.
It's all offbeat fun, and might just remind you of those charming Nick and Nora mysteries of the 1940s, but things do get a bit whimsical and/or farcical at times. Those who have a taste for such entertainments -- like me--will appreciate it best.