Thursday, December 28, 2023

Garry Halliday and the Disappearing Diamonds, by Justin Blake

This is a concise, 125-page novelisation of the first Garry Halliday serial. The children's TV series about the adventures of an airline pilot ran for a total of 50 half-hour episodes, broadcast on Saturday evenings between 28 February 1959 and 29 September 1962; 11 episodes were then repeated between 5 November 1962 and 27 July 1963. For more than three years, Garry Halliday was a fixture in the schedule but it was then largely eclipsed by the series of serials that replaced it in the same Saturday teatime slot: Doctor Who.

While I was researching the life of David Whitaker - who worked on two Garry Halliday serials before becoming first story editor of Doctor Who - I read some contradictory stuff about the earlier series. Despite what you may read elsewhere, it was not adapted from books by Justin Blake; instead, the five books published 1960-65 were novelisations of broadcast TV serials. Nor did the TV series comprise a single 'trailer' episode and then two serials of 16 and 33 episodes respectively; there were seven serials of either six or seven episodes, and then an eighth series of six one-off episodes.

Such misconceptions are common when discussing old TV that no longer exists (only one episode of Garry Halliday survives in the archive), based on decades-old memories. The novelisation is a record of what has been lost, its six chapters providing a useful precis of the six broadcast episodes, with details of plot, pace and tone, and even descriptions of some of the sets. It can also help correct other misconceptions.

For example, the villain of the series is known as The Voice because even his own hench-people never see him in person. Some sources say that in the first serial The Voice disguised himself by shining a powerful light in the faces of those who report to him. The novelisation makes clear he works from an office with a two-way mirror and his minions are only admitted to the so-called Mirror Room. It may be that the light shone in people's faces is from a later serial, or it may be that what a viewer remembers is the way the Mirror Room scenes were shot, with close-ups of anxious hench-people.

What's more, Halliday is here a pilot for the British Overseas Airways - surely a little too close to the real-life British Overseas Airways Corporation (1939-74). It's only after this first adventure that he sets up his own airline, Halliday Charter Company.

So, the plot. On several flights back from Amsterdam, keen-eyed Halliday (Terence Longdon) spots an unexpected sight: what look like weather balloons but smaller. Halliday's co-pilot Bill Dodds (Terence Alexander, later Charlie Hungerford in Bergerac) - who narrates the novelisation - and stewardess Jean Wills (credited in Radio Times as Ann Gudrun, but better known as Gudrun Ure aka Supergran) fail to spot the balloons, and the authorities don't believe him either.

When Dodds tells a friend in the pub about this, they are overheard by a trainee steward called George Bassett (Geoffrey Hibbert), who then reports this conversation to The Voice. It turns out that Halliday has stumbled on to a diamond-smuggling operation. On his next flight, Halliday diverts course so that Dodds and Wills finally see a balloon but Bassett convinces them not to report this without better evidence; they agree to bring a cine camera with them on their next flight.

But as that flight takes off, Bassett has planted a bomb among the luggage...

In the second episode / chapter, Halliday learns of the bomb and disposes of it in the nick of time. In Amsterdam, he and his friends then investigate where the balloons have been launched from. They deduce it must be somewhere near the coast and drive around asking local people what they might have seen. This leads them to a windmill, where they are apprehended by two gunmen...

And so it goes on, Halliday surviving a series of scrapes. The obvious comparison is to the adventures of Biggles, though it reminded me a lot of John Buchan's Hannay stories. The diamond-smuggling plot may owe something to James Bond - the first Bond film wasn't out until 1962, but the novel Diamonds are Forever was published in 1956 and Ian Fleming's non-fiction book The Diamond Smugglers the following year. To expose the villains, Bond pretends to be a diamond-smuggler called Peter Franks; Halliday also pretends to be a diamond smuggler, but is really working on behalf of police inspector Franks. (The film version of Diamonds are Forever (1971) features stuff set in Amsterdam but the original novel does not.)

Just as with the adventures of Bond and Hannay, some elements mentioned in passing are a shock to the modern reader. The most glaring example is the racist joke when Dodds and his friends are in the cockpit scanning the air for balloons,

"and looking like a lot of daft coons watching a whole in the road or something" (pp. 20-21)

This comes from Dodds, who is a otherwise presented as a well-meaning bungler - we're told on the first page that his nickname is "Hopeless". He's largely there for comic relief; there's a fun sequence when he tries to pretend that the fugitive Halliday is not hiding in his house, and a more suspenseful bit towards the end of the story when, not privy to what's really going on and only trying to help, he leads the police to the wrong house, leaving Halliday in a fix with the enemy. In fact, there are some very effective moments of suspense and some genuine threat, such as the prospect of a whole plane-load of innocent people being murdered just to cover The Voice's tracks. I can see why the series hooked viewers.

The cover of the book may also tell us something about the popular appeal of the series. The artwork is by Lee Kenyon, based - we're told in the inside flap - on photographs supplied by the BBC. The top half of the cover is dominated by a close-up portrait of Elwyn Brook-Jones as The Voice, moodily lit and photo-realistic. Beneath him, in medium shot, is a more comic-strip portrayal of Halliday and Dodds in the cockpit, neither a particularly good likeness of the actors and Dodds looking off to one side at two balloons in the sky. The emphasis is surely on the villain, suggesting that he was the chief appeal.

I'm also struck by how little Jean Wills has to do, for all she insists on not being left out of things. She may have had more dialogue in the TV version but says very little in the book, and the only other female character is the unseen airport announcer. We can compare that to the first year of Doctor Who where Susan Foreman and Barbara Wright have so much to say and do, alongside a number of notable female guest characters.

It's also odd to read a story made for children that includes a visit to the pub and people smoking, or that includes the discomforts of a strip search. Oddest of all given that this is narrated by a co-pilot is the lack of any details about flying a plane, what's involved in navigation or changing course, or even the protocols of communication with the ground. The nearest we get is on page 68 when Halliday spells his name out in a joke-version of the NATO phonetic alphabet.

"Garry said: 'H for Holland. A for Amsterdam. L for Latitude. Another L for Longitude. I for Interesting. D for Diamonds. A for Altitude. Y for Yours Truly.'"

But while Dodds tells us a little about his own past - service in the RAF, where he was teased for being "Hopeless" - we get very little sense of Garry Halliday as a person, beyond his dogged determination and usefulness in a fight. Perhaps most revealing is when Dodds lists the contents of Halliday's overnight bag: 

"Pyjamas, a couple of handkerchiefs, spare socks, a tie, slippers, a flashy silk dressing-gown one of his girls gave him for Christmas, a Penguin book by Raymond Chandler and another by Jane Austen, sponge-bag with toothpaste, toothbrush, razor and shaving soap." (p. 90)

This determined adventure hero reads Austen but doesn't pack a change of underpants. And does "one of his girls" mean he's a womaniser or a dad? We're not told - because the series entitled Garry Halliday isn't really about him.


Steven Flanagan said...

Very interesting. I'd suggest only that the novelisation might not be a perfect guide to details of the story, such as how The Voice conceals himself. Consider all the changes David Whittaker made in his two Doctor Who novelisations, for example. Curious that if he was famously unseen, his picture should be such a major element of the cover!
Thanks for teh account, and for digging this out.

0tralala said...

Hello. Good point, though Elwyn Brooks-Jones was clearly seen on screen by the viewer, if not by the other characters - hence why he's on the cover as a recognisable selling point. His picture also appeared in contemporary press reports, so he was someone viewers knew by sight. The Mirror Room is important to the finale of the book and The Voice escaping, and was an easy enough thing to realise in a set, so I'd be very surprised if this wasn't what happened on screen.

0tralala said...

Further to this, there's a piece in Junior Radio Times introducing the second Garry Halliday serial that again suggests viewers saw The Voice in his Mirror Room:

"Since Garry and the police have discovered his [The Voice's] technique of using the Mirror Room he has gone one better and now interviews his victims and accomplices through the medium of closed-circuit television. He can therefore be hundreds of miles away, absolutely untraceable ... Elwyn Brook-Jones will be seen once more as the ubiquitous Voice." NB the "seen once more"

Source: Richard West, "More Adventures of Garry Halliday", Junior Radio Times (20-26 Sept 1959), p. 3