So, in conclusion, I don’t think the order really matters. Do you?

“Oh, she’s still got the dog in this one”.  “Ah, but this must come later as he’s part of the team now.” “Where’s the bloke on the screen gone?” “Oh – he’s got the old car back!” All sentences of the sort uttered when my wife and I are watching a series and playing a game of ‘What Order Do We Think These Shows Were Made In.’

And Virtual Murder’s not alone in switching series title for episode title. Another ATV film series Man in a Suitcase (1967-1968) concerns McGill, a discredited American Intelligence agent working in Europe as an unlicensed inquiry agent. His most prized possession is his suitcase – packed and ready to go wherever a client needs him across the world (or the Pinewood backlot). He is the man in a suitcase. But – no! The show was initially called McGill, and the first episode which established McGill’s situation and why he had been set up by his own people was originally entitled Man in a Suitcase – referring to his former colleague who had been presumed dead and whose photograph McGill now carried in his suitcase.

Fig 2: This probably isn’t even the right caption

Fig 2: This probably isn’t even the right caption

Man in a Suitcase became Man from the Dead and McGill became Man in a Suitcase. But then Man from the Dead didn’t even begin Man in a Suitcase in most ITV regions. The action-packed psychedelia of the episode Brainwash pitched viewers directly into the imprisonment of McGill… even although they didn’t know who McGill was yet. Man from the Dead would follow a few weeks later…

But it’s even more fun when a show starts off as one thing and ends up as something else. The Baron (1966-1967) is an interesting one. It was an ATV film series which entered production in July 1965 and was derived from the literary adventures of former jewel thief turned antiques dealer John Mannering who had featured in numerous novels written by John Creasey (under his nom-de-plume Anthony Morton). The style of the TV version was solid adventure hokum produced by the same team that had made The Saint (1962-1969). The two characters were Mannering and his sidekick, David Marlowe – the assistant at Mannering’s London store.

However, a few episodes in, the format underwent a revamp. In the fourth episode to be made, Diplomatic Immunity, Mannering was co-opted on an overseas mission by John Alexander Templeton-Green of Special Branch Diplomatic Intelligence and assigned a contact in the form of Cordelia Winfield. Then after four more episodes, production came to a temporary halt. When it resumed, David Marlowe had gone… and in the ninth episode – Something for a Rainy Day – Cordelia returned to work regularly alongside Mannering, with intermittent appearances from Templeton-Green. In other words – James Bond was very big and we’d rather have espionage-style narratives as opposed to an old Simon Templar script with a vase inserted.

Fig 3: This is the right caption, but the wrong image

Fig 3: This is the right caption, but the wrong image

When it came to transmission of The Baron, the series kicked off on ATV Midlands with Diplomatic Immunity, immediately establishing its credentials in the global security arena. Something for a Rainy Day ran third to establish Cordelia, whereafter the remaining Marlowe episodes were hidden in slots four, eight, ten, thirteen, fifteen and thirty (the final one), buried amongst the revised format favoured by the production company.

Format changes are fascinating to study – they’re often knee-jerk reactions to audience fads. Look at Wonder Woman (1976-77) and its revamp The New Adventures of Wonder Woman (1977-1979). Utterly enthralling mutations every few weeks. Try a sidekick. Dump the sidekick! Change the time period. Add a boss and mission scene. Add a robot! Put Steve behind a desk. Get rid of the mission scene. Add some more robots! Move her to LA. Add a streetwise kid! It’s a lot of frustrating fun watching Diana Prince and other characters in search of a format and hence ratings.

The other example that sticks in my mind is Virtual Murder (1992). Never heard of it? No, you probably wouldn’t have done. BBC1 did their very best to make sure that nobody ever did. It was a wonderful, slightly surreal, brilliantly colourful attempt to evoke the comic-strip caper feel of The Avengers (1961-1969) for the 1990s, but by the time it came to transmission, the schedulers had developed cold feet. Bumped across the months, it was finally dumped at 9.30pm on a Friday evening during July and August when all right-minded citizens are out enjoying the nocturnal summer delights on offer at the start of the weekend.

And to make doubly sure that Virtual Murder wouldn’t get an audience, the introductory episode was placed at the end of the six week run. In fact, the title of the series made no sense. The series was originally made under the title Nimrod and its opening instalment was entitled Virtual Murder because it concerned murders committed in a virtual reality landscape. However, this was later adopted as the nomenclature for the run as a whole… despite the other cases spanning maniacal destroyers of artwork, judicial slaughters connected with a model railway club, an ageing Spanish whoremonger turned arsonist, a decidedly dodgy plastic surgeon and a series of vampire attacks. Not a whiff of virtuality.

Fig 1: But it doesn’t really matter does it? You still get the gist

Fig 1: But it doesn’t really matter does it? You still get the gist

Trimmed of all the dialogue in which some of the characters clearly meet each other for the first time and form working relationships to span the five subsequent tales, Virtual Murder (the episode) was retitled Dreams Imagic and shunted to the back of the queue for Virtual Murder (the series). As such, when viewers tuned in for the debut instalment – Meltdown to Murder – they were given no real background to criminal psychologist John Cornelius and even less to his partner Samantha Valentine as Mr Dada began his scheme to convert priceless paintings into vertical oil slicks.

Going back to Virtual Murder, regardless of order – I still loved it. I was hooked. And I was still there at the end when Dreams Imagic finally went out. So, maybe the order doesn’t matter?

So, let’s start at the beginning by attempting to define my argument for the following article. Although a series of programmes may be made in one specific order which shows strands of development and format change, having the episodes screened in a different order does not necessarily preclude enjoyment of the series itself.


30 a about almost and And Andrew anything by data developer. do For has he he’s him hopes if into is last lives minutes nobody occasionally of particularly pay people Pixley pointless rearranging retired television that the their these they this to vital wasted when will with won’t. words written years



[o] There are no footnotes. Therefore, there’s no way that you’ll ever be able access this bit.