Adventure stories are traditionally concerned with familiar hero figures lost in outlandish countries. In Stranger On The Shore, which debuted on BBC television at 4.45pm on 21 September, 1961, the country was familiar enough to the watching audience, but the heroine was not.
Marie-Helene (Jeanne le Bars) came from a small boarding-house in Normandy: she could speak a little English, mainly what she had picked up from tourists; but this was her first visit to England and she found it a very foreign land indeed. From the moment she arrived at Victoria Station-a tired bewildered figure clutching her sole possessions in a small suitcase-life was full of extraordinary surprises. What would appear to us as normal and common-place behaviour was a constant wonder to Marie-Helene. She gradually adjusts to the culture shock of being an au-pair with a pleasant enough family in the seaside town of Brighton in Sussex.
Head of the family is David Gough (Richard Vernon) and his wife (Beatrix Mackey) who have two children of their own; Penelope (Amanda Grinling) who is around the same age as Marie-Helene, and a younger son, Paul- nicknamed 'Podger' (Denis Gilmore). The whole arrangement seems very suitable. But it represents a problem for Marie-Helene that at times becomes nothing short of an ordeal. For Marie-Helene is shy. She has come to England to improve her English and finds there is much more to be learnt than just the language. Her hosts are anxious to help her, she is anxious to settle down: and yet with the best will in the world things begin to go wrong. She meets other foreign girls but they turn out to be not the type of people she would normally associate with at home. But home is very far away and in this alien land of England, anything may happen. It is a real adventure for Marie- Helene, and calls for an enormous amount of courage.
Stranger On The Shore appears to be a sadly forgotten BBC drama, which held a captive tea-time audience and was considered strong enough for a sequel, Stranger in the City, starring the same cast. What is best remembered is Acker Bilk's atmospheric theme tune which was the first UK recording of the 1960s to reach Number One in the US charts.
Published on February 4th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus - adapted from the original Radio Times review by Sheila Hodgson for Television Heaven.