Sunday, March 03, 2024

The Drifter (STW-9 Perth, 1973-74) episode guide to the series created and written by David Whitaker

The Drifter
was created for STW-9 in Perth, Western Australia, by David Whitaker, a British writer probably best known as the first story editor of Doctor Who and the subject of my recent biography. The series ran for 21 episodes over 22 weeks 1973-74, and I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who can add to the following.


The series owed something to an outline for The Lover dated 4 April 1966 and submitted to the Writers' Guild eight days later. David proposed that this would be filmed in colour, presumably in the style of The Saint or The Baron made for ITV. It would have seen Richard Young travelling Europe and getting into various scrapes and adventures, with David describing the character as a modern-day Casanova (whose unexpurgated autobiography had just begun to be published). 

Richard Young’s itinerant lifestyle follows a fire that killed his parents and destroyed their Sussex home in 1961. This was probably inspired by a real-life fire that swept through the London home David shared with his parents sometime in 1960 or 1961.

The Lover
was not picked up but by 1970 David had reworked the idea in a full movie screenplay, Man on a Tightrope, for Armitage Films — the company that made the low budget science-fiction film Night Caller (1968) and horror Burke and Hare (1972). The main character is Richard Logan, an adventurer who has been living an itinerant life since the death of his wife five years previously in a fire. He’s recruited to expose a criminal gang by the enigmatic Nicholson — a name probably inspired by David’s mother, who was born Nellie Nicholas. The film was never made.

In February 1971, David was in Australia, discussing ideas for TV shows with David Aspinall, assistant production manager at STW-9 in Perth. According to a report in the Australian TV Times on 17 February, David was to write 12 ten-minute plays for the channel in different genres that would help to meet newly imposed quotas on locally produced programmes and could be used to train crews.

Then, in 1973, STW-9 recorded a pilot episode of The Drifter created and written by David, with Aspinall as executive producer. The network duly commissioned a 10-part series and later extended that to 26 - all to be written by David. But before completing this number, the series was cancelled at short notice. 

The Drifter
Regular cast: James Halloran (Alan Cassell), Owen Nicholas (Sydney Davis), Lucie Martin (Helen Naeme), Miss Zeigler (Valda Diamond).

Only the first two of 21 episodes are known to survive, and are currently on YouTube.

The title sequence shows, in a series of still captions, Halloran on his wedding day, then with his wife and two children, then a newspaper clipping tells us his family died in a fire. 

01. If You Can’t Join Them, Beat Them (tx Saturday 15 December 1973)
TV listing: “What do you do with a case full of money and the police breathing down your neck?”

A flight lands at Perth Airport and airline staff have to carry off a drunk, unconscious passenger, who carries a ticket in the name of “J Smith”. This is, in fact, James Halloran, some 18 months after the deaths of his wife and children. 

He wakes to find himself in bed at the home of air stewardess Lucie Martin — and wrongly assumes he picked her up the night before. After this embarrassment, Halloran is visited by Dr Lindeman, a passenger who helped him off the plane. In fact, Lindeman spiked Halloran’s drink and caused the whole distraction as part of an insurance scam.

Lindeman offers Halloran $10,000 to continue with the plot. It looks as though Halloran will agree but he then shops Lindeman to the authorities. Meanwhile, an enigmatic man called Owen Nicholas collects Halloran’s unclaimed suitcase from the airport and keeps hold of it to use as leverage.

02. Love On Tuesday At Three O’Clock Please (Saturday 22 December 1973)
TV listing: “Owen Nicholas persuades Halloran to answer a risqué advertisement.”

Recorded in studio on 7 November 1973

Guest cast: Lynn Canfield (Jenny McNae), Faith Royal (Adele Cohen), Len (Max Bartlett), Barry (David Lyon), Judith (Olwyn Summers)

Crew: Camera - Tony Graham, Ian Jobsz and Brett Wiley; Lighting - Brian Grosse; Audio - David Muir; Make-up - Pauline Dunstan; Settings - David Crosby; Properties - Noel Penn; Graphics - Victor Longbon; Videotape editors - Ivan De Souza, Jim McLoughlin and Ray Shaw; Floor manager - Mike Meade; Technical director - Kevin Mohen; Director’s assistant - Pat Green; Executive producer - David Aspinall; Director - Brian Green; Producer - John Hanson.

Lynn Canfield is drugged by two men who then undress and photograph her, and later send a blackmail demand. She goes to Owen Nicholas for help, and he uses his leverage to get James Halloran to investigate.

Faith Royal, who runs the escort agency used by Canfield and sent the demand, doesn’t want money; she wants Canfield to recruit further victims. Halloran takes a job with the agency while Nicholas’s secretary, Miss Zeigler, poses as a potential stooge, and together they put a stop to the scheme. Halloran, who is still staying with Lucie Martin, now seems bound to work with Nicholas — who is an associate of Halloran’s father-in-law, and keen to get the drifter back on his feet.

03. Heads I Win, Tails You Lose (Saturday 29 December 1973)
TV listing: “There is always one big winner at the weekly poker game. The Drifter doesn’t want to play, but must put up with the cards he has been dealt.”

04. Life And Death (Saturday 5 January 1974)
TV listing: “Halloran becomes deeply involved with Owen Nicholas — and finds himself investigating an ingenious murder attempt at the hospital.”

05. There’s Always An Angle (Saturday, 12 January 1974)
TV listing: “The Drifter breaks away — at last — and finds himself staying in a motel operating in an unusual way.”

06. Rogue’s Gallery (Saturday, 19 January 1974)
TV listing: “Halloran investigates when Ramon Salamander buys a stolen Renoir.”

Guest cast: Ramon Salamander (Neville Teede), Salamander’s mistress (Vynka Lee-Steere)

A photo of David Whitaker and Vynka Lee-Steere was published in the edition of TV Week for 8 December 1973 (p. 13), suggesting the episode was recorded around this time. The accompanying piece says that Lee-Steere plays the, “mistress of a millionaire armaments manufacturer who is selling illegal arms to subversive organisations”. 

A preview in the Western Australian on 19 January (p. 33) says that Salamander, “is suspected of stealing a Renoir painted in 1874 [and]James Halloran, the drifter played by Alan Cassells is assigned to find out where the Renoir has gone”.

Salamander is also the name of a villain in a Doctor Who story written by David, The Enemy of the World, which ends with Salamander being ejected from the TARDIS just after it leaves Australia… so perhaps this is the same character.

07. Things That Go Bump in the Night (Saturday, 26 January 1974)
TV listing: “Is there a plot afoot to ruin Harry Starr or has a ghost really invaded his new block of flats?”

A photograph in what may be the 15 or 22 December issue of TV Week shows star Alan Cassell with guest star Perth actress Sally Sander, who was presumably a guest star in this or the following episode.

08. The Strong Shall Inherit the Earth (Saturday, 2 February 1974)
TV listing: “Murderer Manny Rossiter escapes while on his way to gaol and plans to kill Owen Nicholas.”

A photograph in the TV Week published the day of broadcast shows Robert Foggetter (presumably as Rossiter) with a gun, leaning over the top of car to take a shot, while behind him there's a man with stocking over his head. The caption says that, “a realistic fight scene, car chase and ambush will be seen in this week’s episode of The Drifter.”

09. With A Little Help From My Enemies (Saturday, 9 February 1974)
TV listing: “Halloran helps a schoolteacher who discovers that one of her pupils possesses dangerous drugs.”

10. Death In The Garden (Saturday, 16 February 1974)
TV listing: “Mary Auben is a nice old lady who lives on a valuable property coveted by a nearby factory.”

The listings magazine also quotes a line of dialogue from the episode, spoken by an unnamed lawyer: “It’s astonishing what an oral life we lead — eating, drinking, talking, smoking, tasting, singing, biting, kissing and some habitual drug users inject themselves under the tongue.”

11. The Body of a Girl (Saturday, 23 February 1974)
TV listing: “Shirley, a 25-year-old prostitute, is in danger when she causes trouble."

12. The Beginning of the End (Friday, 1 March 1974)
TV listing: “Owen Nicholas puts Halloran in the centre of a fierce quarrel between scientific research and conservation.”

A news report in TV Week on 2 March revealed that actress Helen Neeme, playing series regular Lucie Martin, was pregnant — so she may have left the series before the end.

13. A Legal Way to Steal (Friday, 8 March 1974)
TV listing: “Halloran learns of a way to part people from their fortunes. But Owen Nicholas is much too fascinated with the attractive Myra to show interest.”

14. The Death of Janet Halloran (Friday, 15 March 1974)
TV listing: "Halloran receives a phone call from his wife Janet — who was burnt to death in a fire one year ago."

15. The Death of Janet Halloran (part 2) (Friday, 22 March 1974)
TV listing: “What is the organisation FSD and what was its connection with Janet Halloran? What was the secret she could not tell her husband?”

16. Breakdown (part 1) (Friday 29 March 1974)
No listing given.

17. Breakdown (part 2) (Friday, 5 April 1974)
TV listing: “An attractive girl and half-a-million dollars — the Drifter can have both for the price of a bullet.”

Cast: final listing to credit Helen Neene.

[12 April, no episode shown as it was Good Friday; a movie was broadcast instead]

18. Black, White and Red (part 1) (Friday. 19 April 1974)
TV listing: “Someone turned Rod Taylor into a living vegetable because of his fight for a principle and nobody wants Halloran to find the truth.”

19. Black, White and Red (part 2) (Friday, 26 April 1974)
No listing given.

Guest cast: James Setches, Andrew Carter, Frank McKallister.

20. The Valley of the Shadow (part 1) (Friday, 3 May 1974)
TV listing: “When Captain Keith Colby is invalided out of the army he asks the Drifter to help him find the man who tried to kill him.”

The 4 May edition of TV Week (p. 61) includes a photograph with the caption that, “Scriptwriter David Whitaker created a role for himself in a recent episode of The Drifter. He appeared as a businessman (right) with actors Laurence Hodge (left) and Norman Macleod.” The caption doesn’t say which episode this is from. David Whitaker kept a copy of this photograph and one of him being made-up for the part, presumably by Pauline Dunstan (credited at the end of episode 2).

21. The Valley of the Shadow (part 2) (Friday, 9 May 1974)
TV listing: “The Drifter is involved in a bizarre case of revenge against Keith Colby.”

Star Alan Cassell, quoted in TV Week on 25 May, said that,“Ironically, the episode I enjoyed most was the last one [as] I finally got myself into bed with a bird and there was a realistic fight scene that worked very well. … The fight was in fact so dynamic, a fellow actor ended up with two stitches in his lip.”

But he’d also had no warning of the cancellation. A total of 21 episodes had been broadcast over 22 weeks. The press referred to tentative plans to make further episodes at a later date, in colour. This doesn’t seem to have come anything.

On 3 October 1979, David wrote a synopsis for a novelisation of his Doctor Who story The Enemy of the World, adding the first name “Ramon” to the villainous Salamander, underlining the link between him and the character of the same name in The Drifter.

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