The Beiderbecke Affair – DVD Review


When I read the description of this show, I thought it would be fun and charming. Two teachers in London accidentally stumble upon crime and political corruption after a mistake was made in an order of Bix Beiderbecke records. It sounded like a clever, tongue-in-cheek take on the kind of mysteries that Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett wrote, but unfortunately it ended up relying far too much on the charm of the characters and the situations at the sake of the plot.

Like any good hard-boiled mystery, it starts with a blonde. Except instead of her being a troubled heiress or self-destructive starlet, shes a door-to-door salesman peddling, among other things, jazz records. This is almost too good to be true for Trevor, whose passion for jazz knows no bounds. Unfortunately, the set of Bix Beiderbecke records he ordered never came; instead he received a hodgepodge of music ranging from rock and roll to classical. With the help of his girlfriend and fellow teacher, Jill, Trevor goes off in search of the mysterious blonde and inadvertently uncovers a black market ring and gets the two of them involved in matters way over their heads.

The strength of the show lies in the performances of James Bolam and Barbara Flynn as Trevor and Jill. They talk with the kind of rapid-fire ironic banter of the Tracey and Hepburn movies from the forties, and listening to them is almost like listening to jazz. Theyre incredibly charming in their roles, but its not enough to keep a persons interest for the series six episodes.

Sometimes the strength of a concept or performances can be enough to make up for a shows shortcomings, but in this case the plodding plot simply drags too much and it becomes hard to pay attention to whats going on. Its almost like the pacing is inversely proportionate to the speed of the characters wit.

Theres a definite sense of playfulness that goes beyond the witty banter, and I would almost hazard to say that The Beiderbecke Affair is a farce making fun of the mystery genre, but if it is then its a victim of its subtlety because I just cant tell. The performances are entertaining, the jazz-inspired music is full of fun and whimsy, and the idea behind it all possesses a certain raw charm, but none of these elements are quite enough to come together to make an engaging show. After the first two episodes I found myself wanting something more than ironic observations and jazz, but that seemed to be all that the series had to offer.

The show is presented in Fullscreen 4:3 aspect ratio with the audio done in Dolby Digital. It originally aired in 1985, and because of that and the fact that its British, it doesnt look exactly great. The colors are muted and the entire show has a certain grainy, washed-out quality. The sound fares a little better, but obviously there is no directionality or other audio tweaks weve become accustomed to with contemporary television shows. Not exactly bad, but certainly not great, either.

Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke – This is an interesting three-page (or screen, however you want to put it) biography of the man whose records started the whole affair. As a jazz fan I enjoyed it, but really its only tangentially connected to the show, so its one of those extras that you can either take or leave.

Nick and Nora Charles should feel quite safe in that their place as the preeminent fast-talking crime-solving couple. The Beiderbecke Affair admirably tries to give us an updated version with Trevor and Jill, but it falls flat in too many places. As much as I love the genre the show is playing with, I just couldnt get into it. Not recommended.


Acorn Media presents The Beiderbecke Affair. Directed by Paul W. Smith and David Reynolds. Starring James Bolam, Barbara Flynn, and Colin Blakely. Written by Alan Plater. Running time: 300 minutes. Rated NR. Released on DVD: January 27, 2009. Available at Amazon.