Region 0 (UK, PAL) Edition reviewed by Matt West

Director:   Alan Grint

Featuring:  Clive Owen, Leslie Phillips, Susannah Harker, Sean Pertwee

Clive Owen

The Viper


"Crane’s Law Number 1 – buy this boxed set”.

Things were different back in the eighties. I shun kids of today, who were mostly born in the 90s. They have no idea what it was like for us. So many people were trying so many things. A Jan Hammer score was something these kids can only read about in history books. But it did happen.

This review will seem unashamedly biased since I absolutely adore Chancer. Before I get into the rum-tickle and the boo-ha-twiddlies … allow me to introduce Stephen Crane…

Stephen Crane (Clive Owen) is in his early 20s, he seemingly has everything; looks, charm, money, an incredible girlfriend, Jo (Ultraviolet's Susannah Harker) and a great job. He even has a nice car. But it’s just not enough. Crane gets bored easily and seems to thrive on being on-the-edge. So one thing leads to another with some dodgy insider trading on the stock market and he’s out of a job.

So, where to next? Through a series of events he winds up acting as an advisor to Douglas Motors and its manager Robert (Benjamin Whitrow).

The trouble is, Stephen’s former employer, James Blake (Leslie Phillips, giving the performance of a lifetime, Poppet), is looking at swallowing up Douglas Motors for his own dastardly gain. But the chap who Stephen diddled on the stock market, Thomas Franklyn, is after him, and Franklyn (played by Peter Vaughan) is a complete psycho… and also Jo’s father. Oh, and Stephen implicated her in the whole insider trading fiasco.

Amazingly I’ve not given anything away telling you all that, as that’s barely the first two episodes. The series has a sort of smirk-factor whereby you find yourself breaking out in a big cheesy smirk as Stephen foils another dastardly effort on the part of Blake or Franklyn.

I don’t want to spoil the series for anyone, but, by the end of the first series, things are turned on their head, and the second series is a very different kettle of fish. Blake's cunning, puppydog manservant Piers plays a much more central role to the second series, with his mother Olivia (Women in Love's Jennie Linden) having some terrific scenes with Blake. Piers' development is actually the highlight of this series, while Owen's character's massive revelation at the end of the previous series is suddenly not as dramatic as it first appeared. And a new female lead arrives in the form of Anna (The House of Eliot's Louise Lombard – whatever happened to her?)

All of this is so tightly directed that each episode feels like a film all of its own. The scripting in the first series is tighter than a really high-pitched drum and the cast get every last drop out of it.

Some nods here to Clive Owen especially, who carries the entire series. It must have been very daunting for him at the time, and he exudes confidence and arrogance by the bucket-load. He IS the man – and if he isn’t the next Bond then they might as well kiss their franchise goodbye.

I’ve already mentioned Leslie Phillips, but I’ll do it again, and again and again because he is a legend. And in this role he plays a snide, weasel-faced, upper class cad – and doesn’t he play it well! Nobody else could’ve played this role, which I understand it was written with him in mind – how could it not have been? He calls everyone “Poppet” and “Darling” and he quaffs his wine was grace and style. Phillips is the last of the old guard now and deserved this return to the spotlight to prove that, although he really is a one-trick pony, it’s a bloody good trick.

The series features a remarkable array of acting talent, including Shelley's Caroline Langrishe, Matthew Marsh, Simon Shepherd, Tom Bell, Lynsey Baxter, Stephen Tompkinson, Michael Kitchen and a small role for Christopher Eccleston.

Then there’s Jan Hammer’s score. Not my cup of tea usually but the theme to Chancer is used throughout the series in various styles. A light piano version for tragedy, a bouncy comedy version, a full blown happy version for triumph – and the joy with these discs is that the episodes are presented with all their opening and closing titles intact so you’ll find yourself really getting into the main theme right up to the Central Television logo at the end of each episode.

Susannah Harker


So, the discs! What do we think of those? Well they’re the same discs which were released singly over the last couple of years by Network. Oddly enough they chose to release the second series first, which probably confused a lot of people.

Given that the series was shot on film it would’ve been nice to see crisp new prints, instead the prints we have are quite old and dirty. But this isn’t such a bad thing. If the transfer was crisp and sharp then the whole thing would stink of the eighties – instead we have a nice gritty look to the episodes, which mirrors the story. Also, I doubt original film prints exist anyway. Certainly some of the few picture problems all originate from videotape. Something to watch out for in series one, disc three is a rather splendid original countdown clock right in the middle of an episode!

Ad-caps are all in place which is a good thing. Chancer is very much played out in acts and, as such, a good, hefty pause is required between them. Opening and closing titles are also present on all episodes.

A surprise bonus is that some of the episodes even have their recaps at the beginning. This is a sequence of around six stills and a narration explaining the story so far. I’m not sure why they’re not on every episode, if I’d known at the time I could’ve offered Network my videotape copies.

Apart from a stills gallery on series one, there are no bonus features on these discs at all. The stills gallery is not worth much - who can’t press pause on their DVD player?

Another odd thing with series one is the audio. Typically all episodes are Dolby 2.0 at 192kbps … but on four of them they’re PCM. It doesn’t make a big difference but it is jarring, which again leads me to question the sources. Surely if some episodes could be encoded to Dolby then they all could?

The bitrate on each disc over both seasons averages around 5.60 – 6.40Mb/s, depending on the disc. Given the state of the transfers it’s no big deal, and the picture is more than acceptable. Aspect ratio is classic TV 4:3. Menus are rather standard fair, but, as with most Network releases, you do feel like you’re trapped in a maze sometimes. Also, if you select an episode it takes you to the chapter screen straight away, which gives away some major plot points. Silly sausages.

Series one is split over four discs. Now this is where it gets silly. Disc one has four episodes, disc two has four episodes, disc three has three episodes and disc four has two episodes. Surely there was a more logical way of doing this? The much shorter Series Two is on just two discs, and there are four episodes on the first, and three on the second. All the discs are region 0, so you pesky foreigners have no excuses for not ordering these!

Lynsey Baxter

Tom Bell

Leslie Phillips


In spite of the audio issues listed above and the lack of fresh transfers I can’t recommend this series enough. It’s lucky to have one release, it won’t get another. Buy it now and I promise you’ll enjoy a thousand minutes of Oweny goodness. All hail Network for giving this series a chance.

Incidentally – if anyone enjoys the series enough I have the original Chancer board-game sitting here and have never had anyone to play it with.

Clive Owen










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