I just finished working my way through the boxed set of the 1967-68 ITC series Man in a Suitcase. It’s taken me longer than I expected it to, and it’s provoked some mixed feelings.
It’s a show that I was enormously impressed by, the first time around. And I still am, but in a qualified way. So much of it holds up. Both Ron Grainer’s theme and the credits sequence (designed by ITC regulars Chambers and Partners) are pretty well timeless. As is the simple but powerful premise of a scapegoated CIA man using his old skills as best he can to make a below-the-radar living in Europe.
Perhaps the most impressive element is a central performance of towering integrity and commitment by Richard Bradford; almost unknown before the series, almost forgotten after it until he resurfaced in a string of steady character roles for American TV.
Bradford prowls through the show with the grace and presence of a jungle animal, once wounded, twice shy, forever set on avoiding trouble, forever unsuccessful at staying out of it. My decades-old recall is of him getting the shit beaten out of him on a weekly basis, at the end of which he’d haul himself up off the ground and totter away with his trust often betrayed, but his dignity always intact.
All of which is what made the show stand out in my memory. What let it down this time around was just about everything else.
You can make allowances for the production values of the day; a good story will overcome that, no problem. But with a handful of exceptions, Man in a Suitcase didn’t get good stories. What it mostly seems to have got, if you believe the rumours, was rejected Saint scripts made-over for the character.
So by the middle of the set I was flagging and when I got to the end, I had to go back to the pilot episode (Man from the Dead) and watch it again to remind myself why I’ve always held the series in such high regard.
The whole “Yank in London” setup made brilliant sense in the context of the premise, whereas in shows like The Baron and The Adventurer it was an obvious matter of commercial calculation. McGill’s London felt real, with well-chosen locations and the sense of a genuine city rather than a tourists’ backdrop. There in the pilot were the grit, the texture and the coherence that would slowly leach out of the episodes that followed, leaving Bradford standing there like the one enduring feature in an eroding landscape.
He wasn’t popular with other cast and the crew, by all accounts. In his autobiography, Supervising Editor John Glen wrote, “Richard didn’t seem to believe that acting was essentially about pretending, and wanted to do everything for real.“
One can only imagine the eye-rolling and the after-hours bar chat that this must have provoked. But well done, Richard; time has proven you right.
There’s a wonderfully bonkers version of the theme arranged for two flamenco guitars here.