It isn’t long after a mysterious television broadcast interrupts lessons for the Upper Sixth of Redlow school, warning them not to trust their teachers, that A-level student Martin Clifford (Spencer Banks) finds himself in a web of conspiracy involving NATO, the British Intelligence and the KGB. For this is Britain circa 1972 (when this children’s series was first aired) and the Cold War with its rusty paranoia and one-upmanship is still chugging along like an antique train.
Doctor Who writer Victor Permberton’s take on Britain’s relations with Russia is a light one – this is aimed at kids, after all – and is as much about life in a cosy English village as it is about intrigue and mystery. So he gives us such bastions of village life as the pub landlord, the village post-mistress and an array of schoolteachers, all of whom have their secrets. Then there is the enigmatic Mr. Forrester (a playful John Savident, who later became Corrie’s Fred Elliott), the upper-crust stranger in the bow-tie who appears in the village on the day the first transmission broadcasts and uses a mixture of persuasion and coercion to get Martin to spy on his fellow villagers.
Even with its reliance on secrets to give its characters the appearance of depth, Tightrope isn’t strong on character development over its 13 half-hour episodes. Through the machinations of the plot, its characters are either revealed to be good eggs or dastardly reds – or worse, traitors – though Martin and his heavy-drinking, widowed father acquire a certain depth through their relationship to each other. Nor does the plot want for loose-ends (you may even find yourself wondering why school children are the targets of so much conspiring in the first place).
However, the series is pacey with some engaging performances and imaginative settings – you could do worse than a murder in a dovecote when there are so many more obvious settings in which to do someone in. At the very least, Tightrope is a nostalgic reminder of the ‘70s, an era of abundant male hair when no country-dweller worth their salt ever locked their door – even if, like Martin’s hapless father, they happen to have been burgled three times in the space of a few days.
Released on DVD on Monday 14th March 2011 by Network.