MR. PALFREY OF WESTMINSTER “Once Your Card Is Marked.” Thames TV (UK), 18 April 1984 (series one, episode one). Alec McCowen (Mr Palfrey), Briony McRoberts, Clive Wood, Caroline Blakiston. Written by George Markstein. Directed by Christopher Hodson.  Currently streaming on Acorn TV.

   Mr. Palfrey is a mild-mannered civil servant whose specialty is catching spies, and he’s very good at it, even though over two seasons of televised adventures, I don’t think he ever carried a gun. He may be even more tenacious at his job, however, than even the more famous James Bond was. Different folks have different strokes, and to my mind, Mr. Palfrey’s way of uncovering the truth of matters is a lot more interesting.

   It’s not clear when he’s called back to service at the beginning of this episode how long it’s been that he was gone. A vacation? A sabbatical? Long enough, though, for the department he works for to be completely reorganized. This means a new office for him – a tiny little cubbyhole of one – a new secretary — part-time only — and a new boss – and a female one to boot.

   His first assignment is to finalize the case against a schlub of a man accused a sending secrets to the Russians while working in a British embassy in another country. The messages to Moscow started when he started there, and the stopped when he left.

   Mr. Palfrey does not think this is evidence enough, which from his boss’s point of view is a serious mistake, even more so when the man turns up dead. There are wheels within wheels in this case, and while Mr. Palfrey is right, it is still a blow for him to learn there is such a think as being too right. I won’t say more, but it was nice epiphany of a moment for me to realize I was a half a second ahead of him.

   The British do spy fiction right, and they always have. Here’s another obscure example of that, and one well worth your tracking down.

NOTE: Although this was the first episode of the two seasons of Mr. Palfrey stories, it wasn’t the pilot. That came as an episode of another series called Storyboard entitled “The Traitor” (23 August 1983).