* Synopsis Radio Times 20-26 June 1964
A best-selling author and a name studded cast, directed by Rudolph Cartier, The Midnight Men was a 30-minute six-part drama that began at 9.55pm on BBC2 on 21 June 1964.
A thriller in the classic tradition, the story is set in the Balkans in 1913, in a tyrannical police state where the leaders of an underground movement are working out the last details of an intricate plot, for which a single key-man remains to be recruited.
They find him at a fairground. His name: Mayo Khunz. Age: thirty. Background: farmer's son. A cheerful opportunist, wise in the ways of the city and none too fastidious about means of making a living. A man with a good reason to hate the regime. And the most important qualification - a crack shot.
Two strangers approach Mayo with a mysterious proposition: if he will tackle a certain job, they will provide a hotel room, clothes, and a large sum of money when the work has been done. Being broke, he agrees, with no idea of what is involved. He can hardly guess that he will soon hold in his hands, quite literally, the fate of the country.
For Victor Canning, screenwriter and best-selling novelist (most recently, The Limbo Line and The Scorpio Letters) this is his first association with BBC-tv and his first television serial. For Eva Bartok, too, an actress with an international reputation, the serial marks here first BBC-tv appearance, and follows a number of successful films made on the continent.
Rudolph Cartier is already well known to viewers for such productions as Carmen and Stalingrad. He has commissioned Larry Adler to compose and play a unique musical score for The Midnight Men - reproducing with harmonicas the sounds of various instruments, recorded on separate tracks and joined together to give the effect of an entire orchestra.
The cast is headed by Eva Bartok as Veronique, mistress of a Balkan king. Andrew Keir, who was Matt Burke in Rudolph Cartier's production of Anna Christie, plays Mayo Khunz. As Plaski, Chief of Police, Bernard Archard has a role not unlike the one he took in the Spycatcher series.
Joseph Furst, who was also in Anna Christie as the Captain, appears as the king whose safety is Plaski's concern and who is, as he says, 'completely armoured. But there is one chink in the armour, isn't there? One weekly chink, when I pay a visit to a certain apartment.*
Also in the cast are Alan Wheatley (The Adventures of Robin Hood), Patrick Troughton (Doctor Who), Laurence Payne (Sexton Blake), and John Bennett (Doctor Who - The Talons of Weng-Chiang among his 176 screen credits).
Victor Canning, born in Plymouth, Devon, in 1931, was a prolific writer of novels and thrillers who started selling short stories to boys' magazines and in 1934. His most productive period was during the 1950s and 1960s - a writer of sixty-one books altogether, including eighteen novels both comic and serious, four historical novels, three children's books, two short story collections and thirty-three thrillers, the best of which are considered some of the finest ever written in this genre. He wrote his many books under the pseudonyms Julian Forest and Alan Gould. Among his immediate contemporaries were Eric Ambler, Alistair Maclean and Hammond Innes. In 1976 his thriller The Rainbird Pattern was transformed by Alfred Hitchcock into the comic film The Family Plot, which was to be Hitchcock’s last film. As well as his own stories he also wrote scripts for Man in a Suitcase, The Ratcatchers and Paul Temple.
Reviewing the first episode in The Stage on 25 June 1964, critic Bill Edmund wrote: 'It began with a gay fairground scene, full of movement, with Andrew Keir as Mayo bubbling with life, laughter and lust. The sinister side of the plot was introduced with the right amount of shock when soldiers of the regime made an arrest. Being soldiers of a police state they were sullen and brutal. Later we (and they, one hopes) received a lesson in the art of real menace when General Plaski began to cross-examine the arrested man and spoke in the soft dangerous tones of Bernard Archard.
The underground movement, apparently led by Patrick Troughton and John Bennett are determined to kill the king. Laurence Payne and Bernard Archard are apparently determined to foil them. Alan Wheatley seems to be a loyal follower of the king but he isn't. The king, played by Joseph Furst, seems a very likeable monarch who wishes nothing better than to spend his waking and sleeping moments with his mistress Veronique (overplayed by Eva Bartok). At this stage it is hard to know whose side we are meant to be on, and thrillers call for taking sides.
A confusing but exciting start - this should be a serial worth following.'
Only parts 1 and 5 are believed to have survived in a BBC archives.
Published on March 4th, 2022. Written by Malcolm Alexander for Television Heaven.