One of the best-known characters in English fiction, created in 1899 by E(renest) W(illiam) Hornung, Raffles played cricket for England, had bachelor chambers in the Albany Hotel, was an all-round gentleman and burgled houses in Mayfair.
The original play, made by Yorkshire Television in 1975, proved a popular vehicle for the understated talents of Anthony Valentine and was set against a period backdrop of late Victorian England. The title for this pilot was taken from the title of Hornung's original Raffles tale, Raffles - The Amateur Cracksman and told of the thrill-seeking gentleman A J Raffles who moves freely among the social elite of London whilst remaining one step ahead of the law-robbing the rich to finance his lavish lifestyle. Aided and abetted by Bunny Manners (Christopher Strauli), his "fag" at university and now resident partner-in-crime in much the same way as Watson was to Sherlock Holmes, only in this case, on the other side of the law. The comparative 'flip-side' to the master detective and his able assistant was no doubt an intentional one - Hornung was married to Arthur Conan Doyle's sister!
This Yorkshire TV Production proved popular enough to be made into a lavish five-million-pound series in 1977 devised and created by Philip Mackie, although it was the original brainchild of series producer Jacky Stoller and then Head of Drama Serials Peter Willes (who had produced the original play). By the end of its 13-hour long episodes the series could boast a viewing audience of 6.5 million.
Each episode was based on Hornung's original scripts and adapted for television by Mackie. Raffles' nefarious nocturnal plans didn't always run true to course and on many occasions he had to rely on his wits and various costume and facial disguises in order to extricate himself from a difficult situation and escape the clutches of the law unscathed. To this end, his Moriarty, and in constant pursuit of Raffles was the diligent Inspector Mackenzie of Scotland Yard (portrayed by James Maxwell in the play and Victor Carin in the series), who was always determined to catch Raffles in the act.
Hornung wrote a number of crime stories, usually with a tendency to take the side of the criminal. His justification in Raffles case was that his victims are usually boorish, greedy or in some way deserving of being separated from their valuable possessions. But he was no Robin Hood-what he stole from the rich he didn't give to the poor.
The series may have proved popular with viewers but not so with the owners of the Albany Hotel who refused Yorkshire Television permission to film on their grounds. Instead the production team had to build their own exterior. Raffles took six months to film and was shot on a mixture of video and film leaving the overall 'feel' a little uneven at times. This was compensated by the excellent scripts, which attracted large overseas sales and a DVD release of all the episodes except, incomprehensibly, the play/pilot. A later adaptation entitled Gentleman Thief (2001) was made by BBC Television and starred Nigel Havers.
Published on January 24th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.