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 stuartfernie@yahoo.co.uk

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