❉ Foster Hitchman on a forgotten HTV drama starring Freddie Jones and Judy Matheson.
On 3 December, 1970, ITV aired a black and white 40-minute short film titled The Emergence of Anthony Purdy, Esq., Farmer’s Labourer. The movie was shot on location in Somerset, England, on a farm that belonged to the film’s director, Patrick Dromgoole (Arthur of the Britons, Sky, Children of the Stones, Robin of Sherwood). It starred BAFTA-nominated actor Freddie Jones and then rising starlet Judy Matheson, who was fresh off the success of her breakout role in The Exquisite Cadaver. Written by BAFTA-winning scenarist, Charles Wood, and produced by Bristol’s HTV West, the film aired once on television in the UK, and was ITV’s drama entry at the 1971 Monte Carlo TV festival. It has not been seen by the public for nearly fifty years. But in an exclusive private screening, I had the honour and privilege to see this diamond in the rough obscure television film.
Anthony Purdy (Freddie Jones, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, The Elephant Man) is a middle-aged man living on a dreary mud farm isolated from modern civilization. He lives with his elderly mother (Daphne Heard, To The Manor Born, Doctor Who: Image of the Fendahl) and spinster sister (June Barrie, Children of the Stones); both of whom dominate him, undermine his manhood, and possibly display some misandrist undertones towards him. Well past his prime with virtually no life outside of doing his farm chores, poor social development skills, and fantasies of expensive material things intertwined with sexual urges tugging at him, Anthony’s mind begins to snap. Breaking from his usual catatonic demeanour, he has his first outburst at the dinner table in the form of pulling apart and breaking his chair. When he eventually comes to his senses, his mother and sister order him to fix the chair in a contemptuous tone.
Later, his mother and sister take in a beautiful yet shy and melancholic young lady, Phillipa (Judy Matheson, Twins of Evil, The Flesh and Blood Show), from a group of Romani as a prospective match for Anthony. They clean her up, give her some food, and pass down one of their frocks to her. Upon seeing Phillipa, Anthony is instantly infatuated with her, and he incorporates her into his fantasies, in which the two are ballroom dancing around the wide monotonous countryside landscapes, with tea party set ups as a recurring motif.
Although he is interested in Phillipa, Anthony’s poor social skills and gauche demeanour make him appear aloof, and uninterested in her. Thinking Phillipa has failed in her mission to win Anthony’s desires, they tell her that she is to leave the following morning for she means nothing to them. The urge is too much for Anthony to control, and on a whim, he forces his mother and sister out of the house at gun point, so he can be alone with Phillipa. When they refuse to take him seriously, he fires at his sister leaving a bullet cut against her forehead, and the two women flee in fear.
Now alone in the house with Phillipa, Anthony sits on the floor and observes her domestic instincts unfold as she tries to put things away, clean up what is around her, and cook Anthony a meal. Soon the two confide and open up to each other, and it is not too long before they establish a connection. His desire for her increases, and he asks her to take her clothes off. Reluctantly, Phillipa strips down to her undergarments. Noticing her insecurities, Anthony offers to take off his clothes too, so she won’t feel alone. It is then that he goes off into another fantasy, in which he and Phillipa merrily skip across the farm bare naked hand in hand.
Meanwhile, Anthony’s sister and mother have recruited help from local acquaintances to talk some sense into Anthony. Approaching him, they speak to him in a condescending tone and attempt to sweet talk him by referring to him as “Tony”. When that does not work, his mother tries one last time to intervene directly to Anthony, but this proves ineffective, and Anthony chases everyone out of the house. The film ends with Phillipa on the staircase, dropping the blanket she wrapped herself in, showing her in her undergarments, as her hand embraces Anthony’s, and they glimpse at each other.
The film is a gritty, avant-garde, and noir type of film, but it is not your average noir. In many ways it defies the classic noir formula of not having a femme fatale (like Rita Hayworth in Gilda) or visual symbolism incorporated into the storyline (like the spiderweb background lighting in the office scene of Nightmare Alley with Tyrone Power and Helen Walker). But what does make it noir is the out of body fantasy sequences in the place of flashbacks, the leading characters not fitting into classic archetypes, and the idiosyncrasies that symbolise their personalities.
Flashbacks are a common narrative in noir films to help establish the plotline of the story and to build up the character to the audience. But in The Emergence of Anthony Purdy…, fantasy sequences are used to help us understand Anthony Purdy. What is particularly interesting about his fantasies is before he meets Phillipa, they are solely centred around materialism and carnal delight, but once he meets Phillipa they take on a more romantic and fairytale-like tone. While they do eventually shift to more erotic tones, it demonstrates a sort of character development that Anthony is capable of idealized romantic feelings for someone outside of sexual gratification. This is evident when he can engage in casual conversation and establish a connection with Phillipa before he advances on her.
By modern standards, Anthony might not be the most likeable or sympathetic character due to his objectification of women and his selfish tendencies, but he is a very interesting case for a psychological thesis or a sociological evaluation. It is also quite clear that the excessive and grandiose nature of his fantasies did more for him than reality. But as previously said, his one quality of redemption would arguably be that his interest in Phillipa was initially romantic, before it turned sexual. It also might be more comprehensible considering the background he came from, the lack of positive female figures in his life, and that he cannot be completely at fault due to his lack of social skills. Anthony is also not your typical leading man for a noir film. Unlike leading men his age, Anthony is rather unstylish and unkempt in comparison to someone like John “Scottie” Ferguson in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
Philippa is another unique figure in this film. Her character’s nature is unsophisticated, and her appearance is ethereal and beautiful. But she could hardly be classified as an ingenue, and she is most certainly not a femme fatale. For the most part, the essence of her character is an enigma, and her backstory is never really explored. None the less, there is something about her that is alluring and enticing, that it serves as a vital catalyst to the storyline.
One of the running motifs of the film is the infantilisation of the two principal characters, Anthony and Phillipa. Anthony’s symbolism is in the fact that in many scenes, he is seen sitting on the floor with his legs folded like a child, he doesn’t wear his shoes, and it’s implied that he unceremoniously leaves them laying around instead of putting them away when he is in the house. The symbolism of being bare foot is often intertwined with the childlike characteristics of uninhabited freedom and unfiltered ignorance to the codes of acting mature. Granted, Anthony is wearing socks and is not really barefoot, but given the environment he lives in (which is cold, nippy, and raw), it’s quite reasonable that he wouldn’t trot around in his bare feet. And if his environment were warmer, it is quite plausible to assume that he would be in his bare feet.
Before Phillipa is taken in by Anthony’s family, she displays a melancholic and passive personality that is consistent with someone who has suffered trauma in their early years, and has functioned on being submissive to avoid conflict that would put her in another traumatic situation. A pattern which has continued into her young womanhood, to the point where she is mentally much younger than her years and can hardly think for herself. This is emphasized when she is taken in by Anthony’s family, and they dress her up like a little girl, with a bow in her hair and a frock that Anthony’s sister previously wore as a child. In turn, they dress her as a reflection on her inner self. Hardly the ideal or appropriate get up for a young woman.
The short film falls into the category of lost telly treasures; a diamond in the rough. While some of the more controversial subject matter might not fly well with modern audiences, it has an audience none the less. With a running time of under 40 minutes, the film is not long enough to merit its own independent home video release. But it could thrive on streaming platforms, or perhaps as a special feature on a DVD release for one of Freddie Jones or Judy Matheson’s films (film restoration and distribution companies take note).
❉ ‘The Emergence of Anthony Purdy, Esq., Farmer’s Labourer’ (HTV, 1970). Director: Patrick Dromgoole.
❉ With credits including journalism writing, radio personality, lyric video producing, social media publishing, and graphic design, in 2019 Foster Hitchman released two independent film projects. The first was Lynne: The English Rose, which told the story and paid tribute to British actress, Lynne Frederick. The second was a three-part mini web series, Foster’s Features Interview with Julie Dawn Cole: All About Julie, where he interviewed British actress and star of the original Willy Wonka film, Julie Dawn Cole.