Created by Robin Chapman, this glorious 1960s TV show was big in its day and deserves to be rediscovered. The eponymous room is the secret centre of operations for the Department of Special Research. And the man is Edwin Oldenshaw (Richard Vernon) who, assisted by Ian Dimmock (Michael Aldridge) in season 1 and later Imlac Defraits (Denholm Elliot), is set to solve the cases that nobody else can even understand. And do it without ever leaving their special room …
The following review is offered as part of Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog.
Despite its contemporary Swinging Sixties setting and being shot in Granada’s trademark ‘Video Noir’ style, this engrossing show is a real throwback to the era of the Victorian and Edwardian stories of mastermind detectives.
Richard Vernon’s donnish Oldenshaw is the eponymous cloistered man, solving crimes without ever leaving his room with only Michael Aldridge for company as his verbal sparring partner. These scenes were scripted and directed independently of the main storyline taking place outside of the room and the concept is a winning one, incorporating viewer’s own landlocked ‘armchair detective’ status within the fabric of its conceit.
The ingenious cases of murder and espionage solved by the ‘Special Research Department’ are redolent of such literary antecedents as GK Chesterton’s The Club of Queer Trades, John Dickson’s Carr’s Department of Queer Complaints and Roy Vickers’ Department of Dead Ends as well as Jacques Futrelle’s The Problem of Cell 13, in which his ‘Thinking Machine’ detective proved that he could break out of jail simply through brainpower. Effectively two shows in one, the rarefied intellectual investigations nicely complement the more standard thriller plots. It later led to various spin-offs including The Fellows (1967) in which Oldenshaw and Dimmock are reunited and relocated to Cambridge University; and then, slightly more tangentially, but still from the pen of Robin Chapman, Spindoe (1968) and Big Breadwinner Hog (1969).
DVD Availability: Network has released all the various series on terrific DVDs in the UK.
Director: David Boisseau, Peter Plummer, Claude Whatham, David Cunliffe
Producer: Richard Everitt
Screenplay: Robin Chapman, Ian Stuart Black,
Art Direction: Denis Parkin
Music: Derek Hilton
Cast: Dinsdale Landen, Michael Gover, Amber Kammer, Zena Walker, Michael Gough, Carol Cleveland, Brian Wilde, Johnny Sekka, Mike Pratt, Peter Wyngarde, Judy Parfitt