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Series / The Beiderbecke Affair

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The Beiderbecke Trilogy is the title used to refer to three television serials written by Alan Plater, and produced by Yorkshire Television for ITV between 1985-1988. Each serial centres on Jill Swimburne (Barbara Flynn) and Trevor Chaplin (James Bolam), who are both teachers at San Quentin High, a rundown comprehensive school in Leeds, Yorkshire. Jill teaches English, and is a keen conservationist, interested in the environment as well as social issues. Trevor teaches woodwork, and is more interested in jazz music, football and snooker. In each of the three serials, Trevor and Jill find themselves inadvertantly becoming embroiled in a series of unlikely adventures, involving such things as political corruption, nuclear waste dumping, and fraud.


The serials are noted for the rambling nature of their plots, which move from one seemingly-unrelated event to another, all of which are ultimately shown to be interconnected. However, it is the clever interplay between the characters that hold the serials together. Yorkshire (and general northern English) culture and attitudes are also just as integral themes: the writer, Alan Plater, was a Northumbrian who had lived in Yorkshire for many years.

The three series were as follows: the original six-part The Beiderbecke Affair, the two-part The Beiderbecke Tapes, and the four-part The Beiderbecke Connection.

  • The Beiderbecke Affair (1985, 6x50 minutes): When a "dazzingly beautiful platinum blonde" calls on Trevor one night, raising funds for the local Cubs' football team, he decides to buy some jazz records - namely, Bix Beiderbecke, his favourite. When the wrong records are delivered, Trevor sets off on a mission to get his money back, much to the chagrin of Jill, who gets dragged away from a local election she intends to run in. Their quest leads them to Big Al and Little Norm, who run the mail-order business the "platinum blonde" works for. Unfortunately, they also attract the attention of graduate police officer Sergeant Hobson, who is convinced the four are up to something, and will go to great lengths to find out what that something is...
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  • The Beiderbecke Tapes (1987, 2x80 minutes): Trevor's love of jazz gets the better of him once again when, while visiting a local pub with Jill, he finds a kindred spirit in John, the bartender, who lends him some jazz tapes. However, one of the tapes contains a recording of men plotting to dump nuclear waste in the Yorkshire Dales. When word gets out that Trevor and Jill have heard this recording, they find themselves being harrassed by security forces, their home being invaded, and their private lives being used to discredit them at San Quentin High. They end up travelling to Amsterdam, and then Edinburgh, but they find trouble there as well. Back home in Leeds, the secret recording turns out not to be all it appears to be...
  • The Beiderbecke Connection (1988, 4x50 minutes): Following the events of Tapes, Trevor and Jill have had a baby, who they've nicknamed "Firstborn". Big Al returns with the gift of a baby monitor for the couple - along with a Polish refugee called "Ivan", who supposedly speaks no English, but thinks that "Bix is cool!" Trevor and Jill suspect that something's not quite right about Ivan, and leaving "Firstborn" in the care of one of Jill's students, they set off to solve the mystery. As always, the truth turns out to be more complicated than it first appears, and things only get worse when Jill's ex-husband Peter, the couple's elderly neighbour, and a returning Sergeant Hobson get involved...

The title of each serial, and the series as a whole, comes from Trevor's love of jazz - especially Bix Beiderbecke - and indeed, the usual McGuffin for the plot was him trying to get hold of Bix Beiderbecke music. The soundtrack, which is often said to be the most memorable part of the show, was a mixture of real jazz excerpts and original music similar in style.

Contains examples of:
  • Aluminium Christmas Trees: Bix Beiderbecke was a real jazz cornetist, but many viewers assume he was made up to avoid copyright issues.
  • America Saves the Day: Used hilariously in Tapes, when Trevor and Jill are saved from government agents by a busload of retired American Marines touring Europe, who proceed to lay into the enemy while yelling "Japs!" and "Commies!" at them.
  • Amusing Injuries: Mr Carter after he plugs in a dodgy hedge trimmer, resulting in a series of small explosions.
  • Arc Words: "We stand on the brink of a new era, if only..." This partial sentence appears several times in the episode of the same name but is never continued. The episode ends with Trevor and Jill announcing the phrase over their car megaphone and fades out after the given words.
  • Bland-Name Product : Jill is a council candidate standing on an ecological platform, but is referred to as 'the Conservation candidate'. In real life she would have been a member of the Green Party. Her posters and car stickers are dominated by the legend 'Vote Conservation'. She would not have used this slogan in real life, because of its close resemblance to 'Vote Conservative'.
  • Captain Obvious: Big Al's "We keep the basement downstairs".
  • Catchphrase: Big Al's "He's my brother!"
    • Trevor's Geordie exclamations, "Howay the lads!" and "Why you bugger man!"
  • Cool Teacher: Both Trevor (woodwork) and Jill (English) are regarded as this by their pupils.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Everyone, but especially Mr Carter.
  • The Government: Part of the general northern cultural theme is that the government is treated as malevolent, distant, shadowy and all-powerful (remember, this was made in the Thatcher years). Notably in Tapes, where it is presented as being ultra-paranoid and authoritarian towards dissent.
    • Affair also strongly implies that the three main political parties at the time are all practically identical and it doesn't matter who is in power. It's debatable how much this was true at the time, although this viewpoint is held by many members and supporters of the Green Party, on which Jill's council election platform is modelled.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Every episode of Affair and Connection is named after the first line of dialogue spoken in it. For instance, "What I don't understand is this..." is the title of Affair's first episode.
    • Averted with the two episodes of Tapes, which Alan Plater did not officially name; if he had, they would have been named, "Hell's teeth...!" and "Mr Chaplin, isn't it?" respectively.
  • Insistent Terminology: It's not a shed, it's an office. It's not a church, it's a warehouse.
    • Sergeant Hobson persistently refers to Trevor, Jill, Big Al and Little Norm as Subjects A, B, C and D respectively during the course of his investigations in Affair.
  • Inspector Javert: At first, it seems as though Sergeant Hobson fits this trope, and his friendly, slapdash boss is a good guy. Then there's a plot twist...
  • Ironic Echo Cut: Before the Cubs' football match, we cut from Big Al telling his team that it's only a game and the real reason they're there is to have fun, to Little Norm telling them the opposite.
  • Lost Him in a Card Game: Jill Swinburne loses her boyfriend, Trevor Chaplain, to his former fiancee, Helen of Tadcaster, in a coin-toss after a night of heavy drinking. Mrs Swinburne honours her agreement with Helen, but Mr Chaplain goes back to her anyway because "nobody wins me at the toss of a coin." It is strongly suggested that this is a new development in Trevor's persona since the time when he and Helen were engaged.
  • McGuffin: The Beiderbecke tapes/records/whatever in each storyline.
  • No Name Given: Trevor and Jill cannot agree on a name for their child (he prefers "Edward", after Duke Ellington; she prefers "Karl", after Karl Marx), and they eventually compromise by simply skirting the issue altogether, by referring to him as "Firstborn". UK law requires children to be named and registered at no older than 42 days, so they would have had to settle on a name for him by the time the series ends, but none is mentioned.
  • Oop North: Oh, yes.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Mr Wheeler .
  • Sunglasses at Night: Councillor Macallister (lampshaded).
  • Take It to the Bridge: The Cold War is parodied in The Beiderbecke Connection, in which Jill and Trevor try to smuggle "dissident" Ivan out of Yorkshire and over the Lincolnshire border via the Humber Bridge. At the time, the part of Yorkshire and the part of Lincolnshire that are joined by the Humber Bridge were legally both part of the same administrative county, Humberside.
  • Train Escape: Type 1 is Invoked, and then Parodied in Affair. In a bid to shake off Sergeant Hobson, Big Al has Trevor and Jill drop him off at a level crossing, whereupon he convinces the signalman (who, as always, he claims is his brother) to shut the gates in Hobson's path as they come back the other way. Then Hobson finds out the hard way that he's been had:
    Hobson: (shouting up at the signalbox) Excuse me? Police!
    Signalman: (leans out of the window) What's up?
    Hobson: Where's the train?
    Signalman: ...Train?
    Hobson: This is a level crossing, you've shut the gates, so there should be a train! Where is the train?!
    Signalman: Yes, you're dead right. Hang on. I'll just check, see what's happened... (disappears inside for a moment, but then returns) Sorry! Clerical error - I thought it was Monday!
  • Unintentional Period Piece: It defines Leeds in the mid-eighties, including the terraced houses being demolished and the character of a school before the coming of the National Curriculum.
  • Write Who You Know: Writer Alan Plater was a Northumbrian who had lived in Yorkshire for many years—just like protagonist Trevor Chaplin.