Sunday, January 28, 2024

Garry Halliday and the Ray of Death, by Justin Blake

This is a novelisation of the second Garry Halliday serial, about the adventures of an airline pilot (see my post about the first one, Garry Halliday and the Disappearing Diamonds). The book was published in 1961, based on the six-episode serial broadcast on BBC Television on Saturday tea-times from 26 September to 31 October 1959. 

The first serial was considered enough of a success for two new Garry Halliday serials to be commissioned, apparently at once. This was mentioned in press previews ahead of the the second serial - in the Nottingham Evening Post, 10 September 1959, p. 15 and the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 18 September 1959, p. 9. But the third serial wasn't broadcast until January 1960.

Why the gap? One issue was the availability of the cast. The Radio Times listing for the first episode of this second run says that star Terence Longdon (who played Garry Halliday) was appearing in The Sound of Murder at London's Aldwych Theatre while Elwyn Brook-Jones (returning as the villainous Voice) was in The Crooked Mile at the Cambridge Theatre. Those commitments probably explain why - again, as per Radio Times - this was a "BBC recording" rather than broadcast live (as with the first serial).

(The stage productions must have given permission for the actors to appear in the TV serial at the same time as their stage commitments; the plugs in Radio Times were probably part of the agreement - I've seen evidence of that with other productions.)

Also returning was Terence Alexander as Halliday's co-pilot Bill Dodds, who narrates the novelisation. He's got a more distinctive, slightly Woosterish voice compared to the first novelisation.

“Hullo! Bill Dodds talking. Are you receiving me?

I expect you are. Loud and clear, as we say in radio communication - I've always had a good carrying voice.

If you've read a book called Garry Halliday and the Disappearing Diamonds, you'll know who I am, and who Garry is, and about Jean Wills, our stewardess, and about the Voice. If you haven't, then you'd better read it, because I'm not going to explain all over again. Life's too short, and anyway there are probably going to be more books after this one, and I can't keep doing it. I expect there'll be many more books as Garry has adventures, and Garry's an adventurous type.” (p. 10, opening Chapter 1)

Jean Wills was back, but with actress Ann Gudrun (better known as Gudrun Ure) replaced by Jennifer Wright - and still not having a great deal to do in the story. The cast was also expanded, with Bill's fiancee Sonia Delamare played by Juno Stevas and Garry's plucky nephew Tim Halliday played by David Langford.

The story opens with Garry, Bill and Jean having set up their own airline, the Halliday Charter Company, and flying a party of holiday-makers out to Paris. Tim sits next to a nervous man whose only luggage is a box containing a jigsaw puzzle. When Tim expresses interest in the puzzle, the man is rude - and when the jigsaw pieces fall out into the cabin, he calls stewardess Jean a "stupid, clumsy bitch" (p. 22), which is a bit of a shock in a TV serial/book aimed at children.

They gather up the jigsaw pieces but Tim, in revenge for the rudeness, keeps one piece. It then turns out that the back of the jigsaw puzzle is written on in invisible ink, and Tim now has a vital part of a message being delivered on behalf of the Voice.

Garry and his friends attempt to make sense of the message and trace how it is delivered, while at the same time the Voice instructs his minions to recover the missing piece of the jigsaw and kill those who get in the way. As in the first serial, this includes an attempt to destroy Garry's plane while in the air.

A preview in Junior Radio Times supplement (included in the Radio Times covering the first episode, via the link above) reveals that this was an ambitious production with location filming abroad:

“There have been film locations in Paris and also down at Ferry Field Airport at Lydd, Kent. Once more Silver City Airways have kindly afforded us every facility, and the Managing Director was recently mistaken for one of our actors playing the part of a high-pressure business executive!

There are more thrilling aerobatic film sequences and a number of specially staged fights, for The Voice’s men are out to get Garry this time, come what may, and their methods change from the use of poison gas to the use of plain fists.” (Junior Radio Times, p. 3)

I'm also struck by how often it veers on the edge of what's suitable for kids: one man compromised by the Voice discusses committing suicide; young Tim Halliday witnesses another man falling to his death; the police seem very relaxed about our heroes shooting a helicopter out of the sky (p. 125). There's fair bit of smoking and drinking, and Bill's views on women - he falls in love with Sonia after she "clonked me on the lug-hole with a kipper" (p. 11). At one point, Garry says of Bill's interest in the secrets hidden on the jigsaws:

“He's a bit kinky about invisible ink.” (p. 37)

At the same time, the plot races along and is full of daft jokes to lighten the mood - Bill gets confused by police sergeant George Eustace having two first names (p. 35), and there's later a police sergeant in Keswick with the surname Love. The local inspector presumably spoke to him with an accent:

“Wait, Love. Wait. Not so far. Instructions must be adhered to, Love, or where would the world be, I ask you.” (p. 121)

The plot hinges on the invention of a new kind of heating appliance.

“It was a cheap way of heating by doing without coal, or gas, or oil; his invention simply extracted heat from the atmosphere, and used that.” (p. 71)

That seems prescient - a kind of air-source heat pump offering green, renewable energy - but the application of the technology is very much of its time. The Voice sees the potential to focus the energy produced into a death ray, a weapon effectively like a cut-price nuclear bomb. 

Such a weapon is of interest to Dr Edmundo (Richard Warner), who our narrator describes as,

“one of these middle-aged South American chaps with mahogany faces and black moustaches, who are always having revolutions in countries with unlikely names.” (p. 38)

He's a stock villain, a racist cliche - and this is not the only time Bill Dodds shares disparaging remarks about foreigners. At one point, he uses a particular word - which I won't repeat here - which is even more shocking than "bitch" to see in a book written for children.

Edmundo employs "thugs" who aren't named in the book but on screen were "Sebastiano" and "Perfidio". The latter, appearing in the last two episodes of the serial, was played by Walter Randall, who later played similar, small villainous roles in Doctor Who. These were the only two episodes of Garry Halliday that Randall appeared in, which means we know someone else who had an uncredited role on the production - and went on to write for the series.

“Douglas [Camfield] was commissioned [to write] for the [Garry Halliday] serial because he had worked on it in 1959 as an AFM where he met actor Walter Randall for the first time, and who would become one of his closest friends, as well as the go-to man for playing middle eastern villains.” (Michael Seely, Directed by Douglas Camfield, p. 34.)

Camfield wrote an episode of the eighth and final Garry Halliday series, which was not a serial but comprised six standalone episodes. But we're getting ahead of ourselves...

The ending of this second story makes use of the fact that no one (except the viewer watching at home) knows what the Voice looks like. Throughout proceedings, he's communicated with his minions remotely, him seeing them on a TV screen, them only hearing his politely couched threats. But the final page of the book promises a rematch, with a closing line that reads to me like the promise of a conclusion to a trilogy:

“Whether it's my choice or the Voice's choice, at some time, in some place, we're going to finish things between us.” (p. 126)

Sadly, I've not yet tracked down a copy of the next novelisation, Garry Halliday and the Kidnapped Five (1962), but can trace something of the plot from listings - and the only surviving episode of Garry Halliday. More on that coming soon. 

Oh, and the cover art for this novelisation is by Ley Kenyon, who as a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft III forged passports and other documents in the lead up to the Great Escape, and then illustrated Paul Brickhill's book.

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