Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Marking the End of Marker

Squeezegut Alley’s Nicolas Pillai has alerted me to the recent death, at age 92, of Alfred Burke, who played Frank Marker, the lonely, unglamorous star of Public Eye, a 1965-1975 British TV series. To my recollection, I’ve never seen a single episode of Public Eye--which is a shame, because Pillai calls Marker “as important to the story of British TV detectives as Jim Rockford is to the U.S.” He writes:
The series was conceived as a reaction against the flashy and violent American TV detectives dominating the airwaves at the time. What distinguished Frank Marker from his peers was an old-fashioned professionalism and his pride as a small businessman. He always insisted on the term “enquiry agent” rather than “private detective” when dealing with clients. Frank rarely encountered death--his meat and drink was the small-time case, which called upon his discretion and knowledge of human nature.

Over seven series, the tone remained consistently downbeat, as Frank struggled to pay his bills and keep faith with the often cynical world he encountered. Burke’s engrossing performance was central to the programme; friendly but distant, Frank was a quiet, almost scholarly man, driven by a sense of fairness. Courtly but cautious, polite yet often steely, Marker pounded the mean streets of Chertsey, Brighton and Windsor with nothing but his thoughts for company.
Burke also starred during his long career in the long-running series The Bill, the excellent teleflick Longitude, episodes of The Saint and The Avengers, the TV mini-series The Borgias and Treasure Island, and the 2002 big-screen feature Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.


Martin Edwards said...

Public Eye was, at its best - about half way through the run - quite superb. Burke made Marker wonderfully believable. There was also a great theme tune.

Paul D. Brazill said...

I loved Public Eye as kid. It is always connected with Callan in my mind.

Ray said...

Absolutely loved PUBLIC EYE and it still stands up today, I think. For me, Marker's the quintessential British PI. And of course you can only get that with an actor like Burke.

squeezegutalley said...

I'm so pleased to see that 'Public Eye' is still remembered and appreciated. I think the 1969 Brighton season will always be my favourite - Marker struggling to readjust to life on the outside, as his privacy is threatened by parole officers, policemen, landladies etc.!

Yesterday I watched an episode called 'The Man Who Said Sorry', which is 50 minutes of Marker interviewing a client in his office. Compulsive viewing thanks to the brilliance of Alfred Burke's performance.

Anonymous said...

Nicholas Pillai is spot on in summing up the importance of the Public Eye TV series in the developement of British television crime. Alfred Burke was completely compelling as PI Frank Marker. He inhabited the character like another skin. Interesting that as the first 2 or 3 (now mostly lost) series left London and big-time crime, Marker set up office in smaller and smaller towns, taking on ever more mundane and petty-crime cases, the bigger the character grew. Alfred Burke invested Marker with a keenly intelligent detachment, wedded to his small tea-making routines in bare, down-at heel offices. Always his lank framed presence and spare acting filled the screen. Burke caught the man's morality in conveying, however small the job, Marker's 100% commitment to the task in hand.

A fine classical stage actor in his later years. RIP. Alfred Burke.

Winifred said...

He was a great actor. I especially loved his voice.

He was one of those actors you always remember appearing in lots of roles over the years. Sad to lose him.

squeezegutalley said...

He was great as Long John Silver too!

Anonymous said...

In Enemy at the Door, Burke played a contrasting character, Major Richter, Commandant of the German occupying forces on the Island of Guernsey during WW11. Absolutely masterful in portraying a humane, very grave character in that role, trying to keep some kind of a balance between his ferocious Natzi juinior (Simon Callow) and the Islanders. Burke's range was stupendous, he was a superb Patrick in the Brontes of Howarth. (Yippee, just checked, series is out now on DVD in the UK).