Somewhere in London, a hotel room is being ransacked by a mysterious man known as Uncle Gerry (Murray Melvin); he trashes the place until he finds what he is looking for, then trashes it some more, and has the cheek to place the "Clean this room" notice on the door handle for the benefit of the chambermaid. Meanwhile, not too far away a group of three teenagers - Peter (Kim Fortune), his friend Bill (Edward McMurray) and Bill's sister Charlotte (Candace Glendenning) - known as Charlie for short - are relaxing in Bill's home when they begin to wonder about the empty house across the way. Supposedly a little old lady lives there, but is it worth investigating?
The Tyrant King was notable as the first production from London's Thames Television, a company which set up Euston films, responsible for some of the most iconic ITV programmes for the next three decades or so until they lost their franchise to some controversy. But here was where it all started for their drama department, a six part serial for older children which showcased the landmarks in the British capital thanks to the assistance of London Transport, which illustrated how easy it was to travel around the city and visit the attractions there, as well as presumably hoping the audience would be caught up in the excitement of the thriller plotline which ran through every episode.
Why it's recalled now, if at all, was a couple of reasons, but chief among them was the soundtrack which accompanied the tearing around the streets the three heroes got up to. Producer and director Mike Hodges, whose eclectic filmography would range from Get Carter to Flash Gordon, managed to secure a bunch of frequently trippy pop tunes from the fashionable bands of the late sixties, and if nothing else they helped to evoke the feelings of Swinging London right at its swingingest, with the strains of The Moody Blues, Cream and Pink Floyd included among the highlights. Opening with a track from The Nice, when you hear a pursuit scored to Astronomy Domine or White Room, or a traipse around yet another museum enlivened by She Comes in Colours by the Rolling Stones, it undeniably makes the dramatics that touch more interesting.
Every episode even ends with the percussive freakout of the Floyd's then-very fresh Saucerful of Secrets, and this apparent disparity between the wholesome, go-getting, problem-solving trio at the heart of the programme and the psychedelia blaring on the soundtrack does create an engaging tension, especially if you were cognisant of the sort of behaviour the bands in question were getting up to at the time. Nothing so mindblowing occurs in the actual plot, though it might have been amusing to see Bill placed in Harry Palmer's Ipcress machine ordeal since if there's anything that will put you off sticking with this for the full six episodes it will be him. The young Simon McCorkindale-alike is tactless to say the least, brashly disparaging all and sundry, giving them the shortest of shrift and this while decked out in a pink suit and turquoise shoes and shirt ensemble.
Another reason The Tyrant King was recalled was down to its leading lady, Candace Glendenning (billed as Candy), who enjoyed a minor following mostly thanks to the horror output she made later in her career, and there are still fans of cheapo Britflicks who carry a torch for her. In this instance, she's the sensible girl to offset the more adventurous boys, though she's still keen to be involved and refuses to stay on the sidelines. Peter, in no way irritatingly renamed Einstein by Bill, is slightly dull, but let's call him pragmatic, or he is until his big scene in the Chiselhurst Caves where he does indeed freak out, though that's down to claustrophobia rather than LSD or magic mushrooms. In the main, the educational nature of this serial tended to drag on the excitement as our heroes try to track down the Tyrant King of the title they overhear Gerry talking about on the phone, and even a saturnine Philip Madoc hot on their heels comes across more as hackneyed device than actual menace. Mostly it will be the slightly incongruous tunes and sightseeing providing the appeal, but it was functional enough otherwise.
British director, from television, with an interesting take on crime movies. His first film was the gritty, gangster cult Get Carter, but the offbeat follow-up Pulp was not as successful. The Terminal Man was a Hollywood science fiction thriller, and Flash Gordon a gloriously over-the-top comic book epic which showed Hodges' good humour to its best effect.