I was sorry to learn recently of the death of Hywel Bennett. I've mentioned him several times on this blog, and I always felt that he was a first-class actor, perhaps under-rated simply because in youth he was very good-looking. But he had tremendous range, and was equally good in Twisted Nerve and in Agatha Christie's Endless Night. He was also successful in comedy. But my favourite performance as his was his portrayal of Dr Bickleigh in Malice Aforethought.
I first watched that four-parter when it was screened originally in 1979. I was impressed then, and watching it again, in a grainy version on Youtube (there doesn't seem to be a DVD) I was equally impressed. Of course, it's a very fine story, which made the name of Francis Iles famous, even though nobody knew he was really Anthony Berkeley Cox, already a leading detective novelist. But Philip Mackie deserves much credit for an excellent screenplay which captures the essence of the book.
Mackie was an excellent television writer, whose other credits included The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes and Praying Mantis. I've often wished I could see the latter again; it's a gripping psychological chiller, - what a shame that it, too, isn't available on DVD. Mackie also wrote successful crime plays, but I've not seen them. His writing gave Bennett the chance to present Bickleigh ia a three-dimensional way. He's not a likeable man, the doctor, but his capacity for self-deception is quite fascinating.
The cast is excellent. Judy Parfitt plays the disagreeable Mrs Bickleigh, while Cheryl Campbell is the woman the doctor becomes obsessed with, and Harold Innocent is the vicar. I'd forgotten that the inspector was played by James Grout, who went on to become Superintendent Strange, John Thaw's boss in Inspector Morse; this role was almost a rehearsal for the later part. Overall, an excellent show, and a reminder of Bennett's charisma, even when playing someone unattractive.