Our Mutual Friend on the BBC Store

Eric Tayler holding the 1979 Henry Lawson Festival Award

Since it launched last year the BBC Store has been making more and more of the broadcasters output available. You can stream and download the very latest shows as well as a wealth of classics which have languished unseen in the BBC vaults for decades. I am delighted that all twelve episodes of the 1958 series Our Mutual Friend have just been added to the service, the programme was directed by my late friend Eric Tayler.

Unseen since its original transmission 58 years ago, this top class production was adapted for television from the Charles Dickens novel by Freda Lingstrom. We meet John Harmon (Paul Daneman) who will only inherit his late father’s estate if he marries a girl he has never even met. What follows is an exploration of human greed, premeditated murder and an examination of how coming into great wealth can turn some people into absolute monsters. Will the supposedly murdered John return from the dead and claim what is rightfully his? All will be revealed in this spellbinding series featuring an impressive cast which includes Fay Compton, David McCallum, Rachel Roberts, Wilfrid Brambell (from Steptoe and Son), and Melvyn Hayes (from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum).

Eric Tayler was born in New Zealand but moved to England to train as an actor at RADA; it was here that he would meet his future wife Lyn James. After graduating in 1949 Eric and Lyn worked extensively in repertory theatre for both the West of England Theatre Company and The Rapier Players in Bristol. One critic saw Eric in a production of Twelfth Night and reported, “Eric Tayler confirmed the opinion that he is the company’s most versatile actor, with some irresistible clowning as Sir Andrew Aguecheek.”

After six years of treading the boards in everything from Little Lambs Eat Ivy, to Murder without Crime, Dial M for Murder and Blithe Spirit, Eric decided on a change of direction with his career. He would establish himself as a highly successful producer and director of television drama with the BBC. He directed episodes of hit series such as Maigret, Z Cars, Moonstrike, R.3, and Sherlock Holmes starring Douglas Wilmer which is available on DVD from the British Film Institute.

Eric also directed episodes of the First Night series, one of which was the outback comedy Day of the Drongo starring John Meillon and Ed Devereaux. Eric’s forte was producing high end television drama including unforgettable interpretations of September Tide by Daphne Du Maurier, Oliver Twist, Bleak House, Charles and Mary, and the Theatre 625 anthology series.

He found further success producing the Story Parade format which included versions of work as diverse as The Bender by Paul Scott, and the science fiction play Caves of Steel which had been adapted for television by Terry Nation and which starred Peter Cushing. Other major productions which he produced included The Little White God featuring twenty speaking roles headed by Denis Quilley, and The Harp in the South by Ruth Park which starred Ed Devereaux.

After ten happy years with the BBC, Eric was head-hunted by Sir Charles Moses, the General Manager of the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission, now known as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Eric accepted an initial two year contract as a producer and director of television drama in Australia. His first production for the ABC was Ronald Millar’s adaptation of the play The Affair by C P Snow. A critic for the Australian Women’s Weekly wrote, “A milestone in local drama. It was good, world class TV, not a production that can be tarnished by the tag, ‘good for an Australian one.’”

Given such praise it came as little surprise to many that Eric remained with the ABC for several decades, becoming a leading light at the organisation as a producer and director of outstanding television drama. His hits included The Far Country, Rush, Certain Women, Dead Men Running, the sitcom Nice ‘n Juicy, the telemovie Bit Part starring John Meillon and Judy Nunn, the science fiction series Timelapse, Learned Friends, the Australian Playhouse series and the acclaimed telemovie The Rock Pool starring Lyn James, Ed Devereaux and Bunney Brooke which was described by the Sydney Morning Herald as being, “a magnificently filmed production.”

Another of Eric’s hit ABC productions was Contrabandits, a series which followed the adventures of a group of Australian customs officers. In 1968 he made a brief return to acting in this series, under the stage name of Eric Archer, playing the role of Inspector Marlow.

After leaving the ABC, Eric joined the Grundy Organisation as a producer on the glitzy series Possession which revolved around the lives of a group of very wealthy backstabbers. By the end of his career his work had won five Logie Awards, three Penguin’s (including the 1968 Best Producer gong for Contrabandits), three Henry Lawson Festival Awards, and a Sammy.

We lost Eric in 1997 but his magnificent body of work lives on. I do hope that some more of his UK productions will appear on the BBC Store in due course, and that the ABC will release some of his Australian hits on DVD. You can purchase your copy of Our Mutual Friend exclusively from the BBC Store.

BBC Store

Pictured Top: Eric Tayler holding the 1979 Henry Lawson Festival Award, for Best Individual Australian Production, awarded to Bit Part which he produced and directed.
Copyright Australian Broadcasting Corporation Library Sales.
Pictured Bottom: Zena Walker in Our Mutual Friend.
Copyright BBC Television/BBC Store.
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