Thursday, 27 September 2018

Reflections on aspects of existentialism in “Public Eye” (TV series 1965 – 1975)

Reflections on aspects of existentialism in “Public Eye” (TV series 1965 – 1975)

Created by Roger Marshall and Anthony Marriott

Starring Alfred Burke as Frank Marker

A video presentation of this material is available here.

“Public Eye” was a TV drama which ran for seven series from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies. It revolved around the investigations of Frank Marker, a slightly down-at-heel but highly principled inquiry agent, usually into low-key, familiar and “realistic” problems and situations.

Produced during the same period as shows such as “The Avengers”, “The Saint”, “Department S” and American shows such as “Kojak”, “Cannon” and “Hawaii five-0”, “Public Eye” represented a significant and deliberate departure from these flashy, highly dramatic and exciting shows. It focused on more human, recognisable and identifiable characters and situations that were nonetheless intriguing and involving, and allowed the viewer to engage with others’ lives and see possible outcomes, problems and complications arising from those lives.

Marker’s inquiries touch upon human relationships, social attitudes, legal and moral challenges and above all the choices people make in their lives and the consequences of these choices. His tales accentuate the fact our lives are interwoven and actions and decisions we take will impact on others.

We all experience problems in our lives and for the most part we turn to friends, family or the authorities for help. Frank Marker is there if these avenues are not readily open. He offers his services to look in to situations and at the same time enables the viewer to do so as well. He is a sort of impartial observer with a voice of reason and objectivity who seeks truth and clarity where emotion, anxiety or anger may cloud judgement.

He walks a dangerous and difficult path as his genuine willingness and desire to help his clients mean that he will become embroiled in their situations. Faced with this existential conundrum, he behaves like a human being – he cannot stand back and allow circumstances to develop if he has some insight or thinks he can offer some positive input. We all muddle through life impacting on one another’s lives but Marker seems willing to recognise and accept responsibility for his actions, sometimes paying a heavy price for his “interference”.

Marker is not driven by ambition or a desire for money but rather a wish to help his clients while seeking truth and clarity. Of course, he doesn’t do it out of the goodness of his heart – he is paid for his services as, like all of us, he has to make a living, but his primary concern is to do his best for his client. His fee is simply a fair recompense for his time and effort. Ultimately, Marker seems to value the help he can offer his clients above personal financial gain, highlighting the importance of personal input and support in society as opposed to mere commercial interaction.

In terms of social interaction, he is fiercely independent, sure of his own ethics and is not at all keen on personal or romantic involvement. His strength of conviction and clarity of thought and perception make the compromise required for a close relationship or friendship very difficult for him.

The show offers insight into the human condition and, generally speaking, the problems and situations of clients are the centre of attention while Marker’s character is cleverly drawn through his reaction to events and interaction with other characters. Marker and, at times, his friend Detective Inspector Percy Firbank, uncover truth which may have consequences but these consequences are always down to choices made by those involved, though Frank and Percy occasionally have trouble living with the influence they exercise as a result of their inquiries.

This show may be the purest exploration of the principles of existentialism yet seen on TV. It examines closely the interwoven nature of our lives, the impact we have on one another and the responsibility we may (or may not) feel for this.

It is beautifully written and produced (given its age), focusing on the ordinary and characters, problems and choices we may all encounter, one way or another. The acting is of a high standard throughout but Alfred Burke and Ray Smith deserve particular praise for their portrayals of Marker and Firbank. Both bring authenticity, sincerity and vulnerability to their roles and Alfred Burke manages to impart, seemingly effortlessly, humanity and genuine soul-searching in his portrayal of the relatively impoverished but highly principled and dedicated Frank Marker.

My thanks for taking the time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.

Stuart Fernie

I can be contacted at

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Existentialism in society today

Existentialism in society today

It seems to me that in the wake of the two World Wars there was a general upsurge in the principles of equality, justice, democracy and fraternity. Naturally, changes were far from instantaneous, but the old order (based primarily on class superiority, assumed authority and position) was challenged and largely overhauled due principally to a spirit of entitlement, openness and impartiality in recognition of the fact that members from across the spectrum of society had defended its fundamental values and then participated in its post-war reconstruction.

This may be viewed as a practical embodiment of the philosophy and values upheld by the Enlightenment Movement wherein the principles of equality, reason and accountability are held paramount.

However, as time passed and the direct threat of injustice and subjugation for all mostly subsided, the intense flames of the fight for freedom and integrity calmed to mere embers and a large swathe of people have come to adopt an almost existential acceptance of political, social and commercial chicanery (perpetrated by those unfettered by a sense of rectitude and responsibility for impacting on others’ lives), provided the quality of their own lives remains intact or is even improved.

Schemes and conspiracies have been conducted behind the scenes, often involving hardship and injustice for many who oil the machinery of such commercial enterprises and political machinations, while maintaining a façade of political and commercial correctness and legitimacy which most are more than willing to accept.

As one-time military and political conquests and subjugations have been insidiously replaced by commercial acquisition and financial control, values and principles once considered worth defending are in danger of being invisibly but steadily eradicated, swallowed by an existential fog of self-centred apathy and abandonment. Careerism and hedonism appear to be steadily replacing professionalism and purpose, yet apparent impassivity, lack of direction and lack of positive action are being recognised and rejected by some and this is evidenced by a trend toward independence and self-determination. This is born of frustration and discontent in the face of apparent inability or unwillingness on the part of governing bodies to tackle ongoing urgent social, political and economic issues, exacerbated by the perception that an influential minority seems to actually gain through their protraction.

In the past, when people faced common external issues and threats (crushing social injustice leading to the French Revolution, industrialisation and its attendant social pressures and reforms, and attempted subjugation leading to two World Wars), they united to fight for a cause, for values and for a common purpose, reflecting the spirit of the Enlightenment Movement.

However, after the immediate post-war period there followed a turbulent period in the sixties and seventies, characterised by confrontation over workers’ rights, conditions and wages, social and political upheaval, huge economic pressures and rising unemployment. As a result, there was a return to more conservative policies in the eighties, involving the re-establishment of traditional working practices and an emphasis on market freedom, and the suggestion that the individual should act in his/her own best interests, with the view that this would strengthen society overall. This philosophy was reflected in the famous line “Greed is good” in the film Wall Street (1987).

Today, it might be said the problems we face are increasingly internal as we encounter political, administrative, financial and socially divisive issues. We appear to have lost the perspective of “the bigger picture” and focus instead on individual satisfaction, maintaining our own standard of living or making our way in the society we have built. We appear to be losing sight of values, purpose and the common good, opting instead for a self-centred path toward “success”. This may be said to reflect the spirit of existentialism wherein the existence of God, morality and principles are refuted and we are invited to think only of ourselves and the place we can make for ourselves in society.

This attitude has led to inward-looking and defensive governance, administration and law-making which conceal inaction, indifference and lack of comprehension and empathy and this has, in turn, led to frustration and discontent, causing some to want to break away from traditional and accepted government.

However, as I have suggested previously, existentialism is not the same as nihilism. If we accept responsibility for one another and our impact on one another, we can achieve far more together than if we limit ourselves to what is best for individuals or small groups with shared interests.

Careerism, self-gratification and a blinkered outlook have insidiously crept in to our political and administrative systems and this has led to many sections of society feeling disenfranchised and willing to pursue change, any change, as an alternative to a system they feel has failed them. That is not, however, a reason to reject the structure itself. Structures and systems can be re-invigorated and re-imagined with fresh, practical and positive ideas put into practice by constructive and conscientious personnel resulting in tangible change and improvement for all instead of apparently incessant discussion and pompous focus on procedure and position resulting in inaction and indolence.

Threat and danger have previously united people in a common cause. Today need be no different, but now the threat lies within our society and the loss of perspective we have developed by encouraging members of society to focus on individual success. We need to develop an awareness of and a sense of responsibility toward others if we are to evolve as a society.

Even if principle, morality and values have no celestial authority, the concept exists and therefore we can create, adopt and enforce values when dealing with fellow human beings. Success does not necessarily mean self-serving. While a degree of selfishness may be required to inspire or stimulate action, that action should ultimately serve others if it is to have any lasting value, and that precept may be seen as one of the corner-stones of a healthy and enduring society.

My thanks for taking the time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.

Stuart Fernie

I can be contacted at .