The Man in Room 17 (1965-67)

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

***** (4 fedora tips out of 5)

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16 Responses to The Man in Room 17 (1965-67)

  1. What a great choice, Sergio! I like that idea of being able to solve a crime without leaving one’s room; Chiistie’s Poirot made that boast, as you know. Nice to have a show that focuses (at least sometimes) on the cerebral…

  2. Bill Ectric says:

    I don’t remember this, and I thought I knew ’em all!

  3. Anne H says:

    We used to enjoy that show and were sorry when it ended. If it ever gets released on region 4 DVD I might buy it, though it could take many years. The complete Avengers is finally available in Region 4 format and the early episodes are black and white. They’re no problem to watch, though definitely dated but still fun.

  4. Colin says:

    I just know I would love this show yet, somehow, I’ve not gotten round to picking up a copy. I do keep a kind of list for use in Network sales and I’ll keep my eyes open for this if/when there’s another one.

    • Annoyingly, this is one title that tends not to come down in price much on the Network site, don’t know why. I watched it several years ago and had a review copy of season 1 which is definitely in the loft (this review is in fact a bit on the “vintage” side you might say …)

  5. Sounds good – another one I didn’t know about (a bit too young for i I suspect).

  6. tracybham says:

    Haven’t heard of this at all but it definitely sounds worth trying. When I can find a copy.

  7. This sounds very much the kind of thing our family would have watched together at that time, though I don’t remember it. It sounds great. And I love this phrase from your review ‘shot in Granada’s trademark ‘Video Noir’ style’ – I know exactly what you mean, it summoned up quite the image.

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