David Jason starred as the hapless and equally hopeless espionage agent Edgar Briggs, who is transferred to the Secret Intelligence Service as result of an administrative error. The first episode set the tone for what was to follow with Briggs falling over furniture and getting soaked whilst fully clothed in a Turkish bath.
What set the series apart was the weekly dose of stunts, many of which Jason insisted on doing himself, including taking a dive from several storeys up to the ground. The series was specially written for Jason by Bernard McKenna and Richard Laing at the behest of producer Humphrey Barclay, who had 'discovered' David performing in a theatre on Bournemouth pier and introduced him to the British public via Do Not Adjust Your Set.
With a little luck, a lot of patriotism and the love of his wife, Jennifer, Edgar Briggs, assistant to the Commander, bumbled his way through 13 episodes. It led the Daily Mirror's then TV critic Stan Sayer to declare, "David is a modern Buster Keaton with most of that great silent film actor's gift of timing, rhythm and skill."
The series was not, as often stated, inspired by the US sitcom Get Smart, as Bernard McKenna told Television Heaven: "We'd never seen Get Smart. However I had written a TV play for Ronnie Barker and David Jason called The Odd Job. "I was dying to write for DJ again and was encouraged to come up with an idea. What I came up with was a silly version of The Three Musketeers lots of stuff for DJ to do with swords and hats etc. Humphrey Barclay said it would be too expensive to make, we then thought of an inept Security Service man as the D'Artagnan character who always won his case. We gave him a boss (King Louis) and three assistants (musketeers) including a fat one (Porthos). "We only made one series of The Top Secret Life of Edgar Briggs and Get Smart was always mentioned, it was only years later I saw it and didn't think they were similar at all!"
Published on February 8th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus with special thanks to Bernard McKenna for Television Heaven.