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Look into my eyes!

The original title sequence

Armchair Thriller

The familiar strains of the "Salute To Thames" ident waft forth from the tv speaker... but something is not right. Instead of the usual cheery daytime shot of St Paul's, the Thames river is steeped in eerie moonlight. As the image fades, a stuffed armchair of the type found parked in front of millions of television sets appears framed within a halo of darkness. And then, out of nowhere, a shadow encroaches across the room towards the chair - but its owner never arrives. Instead, the shadow turns and takes its place in the chair, as the ethereal music wells up and darkness engulfs the screen.

This is the memorable way in which Thames Television's suspense series Armchair Thriller made its debut on British tv screens in February 1978. Blessed with an inspired title sequence, and possibly the creepiest signature tune ever written (by, of all people, Andy Mackay of Roxy Music), it offered a tantalising array of specially commissioned scripts and serialised adaptions of novels by the likes of Antonia Fraser, Derry Quinn and Patricia Highsmith.

With fine writing, acting and direction, the series found extra strength in its tense portrayal of ordinary people trapped in a frightening web of events beyond their control. Many of the stories revolved around abductions and ransom demands - however there was usually some twist that took the situation out of the realms of the ordinary. The series kicked off in style with "Rachel In Danger", a gripping tale which told of a terrorist assassin who murders a man and takes his place, only to receive an unexpected complication when the dead man's 11 year old daughter turns up to spend the holidays with the father she has never met. This compelling piece of television derived much of its impact from the depiction of innocence amidst utter evil, a theme that would be revisited later in the series. A few weeks later "A Dog's Ransom" related the unlikely events surrounding the abduction of a poodle from its devoted owners. Told over six episodes, this riveting adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel relocated the action from Manhattan to an English setting, and succeeded in creating a disturbing thriller full of frightening images that linger in the memory long after, not the least of which being the shady over-coated villain beckoning in his thick Hungarian accent "Tiiii-na! Come herrrrre, Tiii-na!"

The series continued with "The Girl Who Walked Quickly", the story of a young man kidnapped by terrorists who "program" him through brainwashing to bomb various London targets without his conscious knowledge. However, it was with the next serial "Quiet As A Nun" that the series really hit its peak. Relating the investigations of a famous tv journalist/presenter, it sees Maria Aitken as 'Jemima Shore' return to her old school, The Convent Of The Blessed Eleanor.  There she surreptitiously looks into the apparent suicide of one of the nuns, who was in fact an heiress who was planning to donate the convent to an infamous left wing organisation. Miss Shore finds many things amiss at her old school, with rumours of murder and persistent tales of a menacing apparition dubbed by the girls 'The Black Nun'... whom Jemima soon has the misfortune to encounter (click here to relive this classic moment).

The first series ended with "The Limbo Connection", a super-tense story of a demoralised writer (played by James Bolam) searching for his missing wife. Her last port of call was the Meadowbank Clinic, an apparently respectable private hospital for elderly women. But, as in "Quiet as A Nun", disturbing local rumours that all is not right at the clinic lead him to believe that she has met with foul play at the hands of the staff. Fighting his own alcoholism and depression, he teams up with an old flame and together they embark in a race against time to expose the clinic and find his wife.

With the high standard set by the first series, it would have been difficult for the follow-up run to match it. The second series in 1980 was still very good, but lacked some of the vivid impact of the first. Two of the stories - "Dead Man's Kit" and "High Tide" - were in fact slightly out-of-place serials produced by Southern Television (although they still utilised the Armchair Thriller titles, now re-shot with the use of animation). "Fear Of God"  starred Bryan Marshall and dealt with fanatical religious sects and  sound weapons (a subject popular at the time and also tackled in an episode of the BBC's contemporary thriller The Omega Factor), while "The Circe Complex" was an adaptation of the Desmond Cory novel and told of a gaolbird manipulated for no good end by his scheming wife. Perhaps the best episode though was "Dying Day" with Ian McKellen, in which a lonely, isolated man comes into possession of a cassette tape which he is horrified to discover contains a conversation detailing his impending murder. Enlisting the help of the police, he finds to his bewilderment and embarrassment that the cryptic message has vanished from the tape. Nevertheless, he pursues the matter himself... with alarming consequences.

The second and final series came to an end on April 10th that year, although in late '80 and '81 many of the stories were repeated in an early afternoon slot (which did little to help the atmosphere, no doubt!) At a later point, the episodes found their way onto the fledgling "Superchannel" satellite service, which at that point was still run by ITV.  Unfortunately, the series has never been repeated or released in the UK since that time, although episodes are occasionally screened at Kaleidoscope events. The series was also shown complete in Australia (where it last aired in1985) and partially in the United States (where "Quiet As A Nun", "The Limbo Connection" and "Dying Day" aired in '82/'83 as part of the PBS Mystery! slot with Vincent Price introducing). Fortunately, many of the original novels are still in print or available second hand.

With its eerily-memorable opening titles and wealth of frightening and dramatic moments, Armchair Thriller remains a vivid - if disturbing - memory for many... especially a generation of young children whose parents were foolish enough to let them sit up and watch it!

Click here to watch the original Armchair Thriller title sequences

Thames also made an animated trailer for the overall series, which consisted of an armchair being soaked in blood as a distorted, screaming face appeared. This would be used to promote upcoming episodes. This horrific sequence is vividly recalled by many people and is often confused with the actual title sequence. Click here to watch the original trailer for "A Dog's Ransom"

The slide on the left was used for the "coming up" announcement before each episode, and was based on the trailer.

[Thanks to Martin Potter]

Transmission Dates

Series One (1978)
Series devised by Andrew Brown
Screened Tuesday and Thursday nights
at 8.30pm on ITV

"Rachel In Danger"
* With Della Low (Rachel), Stephen Grief (Juan), Eiko Nakamura (Aiyako), Neville Jason (Peter), Anna Fox (Monica), Marsha Fitzalan (Podge), Ahmed Osman (Arab), David Cook (Wormald), T-Bone Wilson (Bus conductor), George Waring (Police sergeant), Geoffrey Greenhill (Police constable), Struan Rodger (Hassel), Dafydd Hywel (Graves), Gwyneth Powell (Woman pc), Christian Burgess (Young pc), Harry Littlewood (Caretaker), Joan Henley (Lady at garden party), Roger Booth (CID superintendent), John Joyce (CID sergeant)

Written by John Bowen
* Directed by Waris Hussein
* Produced by Andrew Brown
* Designer Martyn Herbert
* Incidental music by Ron Grainer
* Script Editor Robert Banks-Stewart


Ten year old Rachel Warmington travels down from Scotland to London to stay with the father she has never seen. When he fails to materialise at the train station, the police take her under their wing and deliver her safely into his custody. Unfortunately, nobody realises that Rachel's real father has in fact been murdered, and is now being impersonated by the killer who plans an assassination at a Royal garden party. Eventually Rachel discovers the body, but can she believe her "father"s version of events? As the terrorists squabble amongst themselves over what to do with her, Rachel begins to make plans of her own.

PART ONE - 21st February
PART TWO - 23rd February
PART THREE - 28th February
PART FOUR - 2nd March


"A Dog's Ransom"
* With Benjamin Whitrow (Edward Reynolds), Zena Walker (Gina Reynolds), Leon Eagles (Kowajinski), Prentis Hancock (Desk sergeant), Brian Stirner (Clarence Duhamel), Paul Angelis (Tom Choley), Susie Blake (Marion Dowell), Maryann Turner (Landlady)

* Dramatised by John Bowen from the novel by Patricia Highsmith [Reprint ISBN: 0393323366 W.W. Norton & Company 2002]
* Directed by Donald McWhinnie
* Produced by Jacqueline Davis
* Designer Peter Elliot
* Script Editor Robert Banks-Stewart

"Tiiii-na...good dog...Tiiii-na...come heeeerrre..."

A childless but affluent couple are distressed to find that their beloved white poodle Tina has been 'dognapped' by a sinister figure who demands a £200 ransom. They pay the sum, but soon things start to go wrong when a young police constable interferes and the abductor decides to teach them a lesson. As a succession of unpleasant events befall the owners, the inexperienced PC Duhamel becomes obsessed with protecting them... but is soon in over his head.

PART ONE - 7th March
PART TWO - 9th March
PART THREE - 14th March
PART FOUR - 16th March
PART FIVE - 21st March
PART SIX - 23rd March



"The Girl Who Walked Quickly"
* With Denis Lawson (David Cooper), Phyllinda Nash(Liz), Clive Merrison (Godolt), Barry Stanton (Swift), John Gregg (Everly), Oliver Smith (First helper), Luke Hanson (Second helper), Margery Mason (Mrs Cooper), Derek Benfield (Mr Cooper), Anna Nichols (The Girl), Rowena Cooper (Ruth Connors), Colin McCormack (Det-Sgt Bowen), Martin Fisk (Explosives officer)

* Written by Ray Jenkins
* Directed by Brian Farnham
* Produced by Jacqueline Davis

* Designer Robin Parker
* Script Editor Robert Banks-Stewart

"He's a genius..."

A brilliant but shy man who is terrified of elevators is kidnapped by anarchists who use sensory deprivation to brainwash him into bombing the London underground. Despite the protests of his girlfriend and his tutor, the police believe him to be a terrorist and a manhunt begins. In the meantime the man, David Cooper, escapes from his captors and begins to emerge from his programming. One of the anarchists, a girl, locates him and the two become caught in a siege situation in a suburban house.

PART ONE - 28th March
PART TWO - 30th March
PART THREE - 4th April
PART FOUR - 6th April


"Quiet As A Nun"
* With
Maria Aitken (Jemima Shore), Renée Asherson (Mother Ancilla), Brenda Bruce (Sister Elizabeth), David Burke (Tony Amyas, MP), James Laurenson (Alexander Sharbeck), Doran Goodwin (Sister Lucy), Margaret D'arcy (Sister Clare), Kate Binchy (Sister Edward), Linda Slater (Dodo), Sarah Webb (Margaret), Michelle Winstanley (Blanche), Patsy Kensit (Tessa), Catrina Hylton (Mandy), Mary Healey (Beatrice O'Dowd), James Appleby (Joe), Susan Engel (Sister Agnes), Sylvia Coleridge (Sister Boniface)

* Dramatised by Julia Jones from the novel by Antonia Fraser
[Reprint ISBN: 0393318222 W.W. Norton & Company 1998]
* Directed by Moira Armstrong
* Produced by Jacqueline Davis

* Designer Bill Palmer
* Incidental music by Roger Webb
* Script Editor Robert Banks-Stewart

"Oh's the rocking chair..."

TV investigative journalist and presenter Jemima Shore reads of the death of her childhood school friend Rosabelle, a nun at the Convent Of The Blessed Eleanor, who apparently starved herself to death in the "Tower Of Ivory". Despite the protests of her lover, she returns to her old school at the request of the Mother Ancilla. Upon arrival at the convent, she learns that Rosabelle (or 'Sister Miriam') had in fact been the heiress to the land on which the convent stands, and had become intent on donating it to an infamous left wing politician - Alexander Sharbeck - whom she had seen on Jemima's own programme. As Jemima probes deeper, mysterious deaths and strange goings-on at the convent lead her to uncover the legend of "The Black Nun", who it seems has decided to make an untimely re-appearance.

PART ONE "The Tower" - 11th April
PART TWO "The Chapel" - 13th April
PART THREE "The Black Nun" - 18th April
PART FOUR "Witness And Wills" - 20th April
PART FIVE "Powers Of Darkness" - 25th April
PART SIX "Death And Decision" - 27th April


An Interview with Julia Jones

"The Limbo Connection"
* With
James Bolam (Mark Omney), Rosalind Ayres (Annabella Fraser), Micheal Culver (Dr Walcott Brown), Beatrix Leahmann (Blanche Terraine), Suzanne Bertish (Clare Omney), James Berwick (Colonel Forde), Georgine Anderson (Mrs Forde), Patricia Lawrence (Mrs Carson Clark), Graham Rowe (Mr Carson Clark), Tricia George (Melissa Carson Clark), Isabelle Amyes (Julie Villiers), Tony Mathews (George Beatty), Vass Anderson (Soames), Alan Ford (Bill), Yvonne Edgell (Margaret), Anton Phillips (Barman), William Moore (Landlord), Christopher Benjamin (Det. Inspector Tarrant), Sam Sewell (Det. Constable Barnes), Peter Welch (Mechanic), Aimée Delamain (Mrs Franklyn), Arthur Blake (Mr Dyer)

* Dramatised by Philip Mackie from the novel by Derry Quinn
[Hardcover ISBN: 0245529276 Harrap 1976; Paperback ISBN: 0417018703 Magnum Books 1977]
* Directed by Robert Tronson
* Produced by Jacqueline Davis

* Designer David Marshall
* Incidental music by Denis King
* Script Editor Robert Banks-Stewart

"Not dead...not alive either. Limbo..."

Clare Omney, a successful newspaper journalist, goes missing after being taken to a private clinic for treatment for food poisoning. Her drunken husband Mark believes her to have met with foul play and tries to expose the owner of the clinic, however both the police and Clare's friends believe that it was he who murdered her in one of his drunken bouts. Fortunately, Mark finds two allies in the shape of an ex-girlfriend and a an old lady who describes the clinic as "limbo land", and together the three of them attempt to collect evidence against the owner of the clinic whom they believe is systematically murdering the elderly patients.

PART ONE - 2nd May
PART TWO - 4th May
PART THREE - 9th May
PART FOUR - 11th May
PART FIVE - 16th May
PART SIX - 18th May


Series Two (1980)
Series devised by Andrew Brown
Screened Tuesday and Thursday nights at 8pm on ITV

"The Victim"
* With
David Beckett (Frankie Martin), Lorna Yabsley (Sue Craig), Steve Morley (Len Trace), John Shrapnel (Vincent Craig), Paul Jerricho (Harry Turner), Godfrey James (Chief Supt.Lewis), Gerald Sim (Francis Durrant), Alan Downer (Rodney Marsh), Priscilla Morgan (Zena Heathrop), Meg Ritchie (Ellen Craig), Alan Benion (Praed), Leon Sinden (Governor Gregory), Raymond Witch (Bates), Richard McNeff (Chief prison officer), Catherine Owen (Policewoman), Edward Burnham (Professor Manson), Bernard Kay (Neecham), Ken Kitson (Cole), Michael Maynard (Police sergeant), Dominic Letts (Betting shop assistant)

* Written by Michael Ashe
* Directed by Gareth Davies
* Produced by Brenda Ennis
* Designer Bill Palmer
* Script Editor Robert Holmes

14 year old schoolgirl Sue Craig has been kidnapped by two psychotics. Her father Vincent, a business executive, waits for the phone call...but when the telephone rings, his reaction shocks everyone. Instead of paying the ransom demand, he embarks on a hunt for the two abductors. The matter is further complicated when Sue begins to form an emotional attachment to one of her captors...

PART ONE - 8th January
PART TWO - 10th January
PART THREE - 15th January
PART FOUR - 17th January
PART FIVE - 22nd January
PART SIX - 24th January

"Dead Man's Kit" (Produced by SOUTHERN TELEVISION)
* With Larry Lamb (CPO Chalkey White), Philip Locke (Cmdr. Lloyd), Maurice Colbourne (Lt-Cmdr. Kobahl), Clive Merrison (Cmdr. Maybury),  Robert Oates (Dave), Paul Kember (Peters), Freddie Fletcher (MAA Toberman), Nell Campbell (Zoe Summers), Mick Ford (Drunken Duncan), Jamie Foreman (First operator), Julian Littman (Mouth organist), David Toguri (Chinese laundry man), Cheri Lunghi (Stephanie), Victoria Fairbrother (Jean Toberman), Richard Kane (Winterman), William Russel (Senior officer), Angela Morant (Mrs Kobahl), Timothy Block (Second operator), Barry Woolgar (Dockyard pc), David Ellison (Naval patrolman)

* Written by Tom Clenaghan
* Directed by Colin Bucksey
* Produced by Andrew Brown
* Incidental Music by Andy Roberts

"Kobahl's gone to ground..."

The Master At Arms of a British warship discovers a foreign exchange officer losing heavily in a Portugese casino. The following day the Master is knocked unconscious and thrown overboard. Chief Petty Officer  Chalkey White believes that the officer Kobahl committed the murder, but when he attempts to collect evidence he is ordered by his superiors to drop the matter. Convinced that there is a conspiracy going on, White presses on regardless, but is soon caught in the crossfire between his own people and the sinister Kobahl.

PART ONE - 29th January
PART TWO - 31st January
PART THREE - 5th February
PART FOUR - 7th February

"Dying Day"
* With
Ian McKellen (Antony Skipling), Maurice Kaufman (1st Interrogator), Prentiss Hancock (2nd Interrogator), David Howey (Foster), David Ryall (Lane), Patrick Malahide (Police Sergeant), Michael Troughton (Police Constable), Anton Phillips (Roger), Joan Scott (Senior Samaritan), Kathleen Worth (Cleaning Lady)

* Written by John Bowen
* Directed by Robert Tronson
* Produced by
Brenda Ennis
* Designer Norman Garwood
* Script Editor Robert Holmes

"I shall be leaving for Inverness on the 28th..."

Antony Skipling - a lonely, meticulous man - encounters a strange character on an evening train, who plays him various recordings of "badgers farting" and insects pupating. When the recordist accidentally leaves one of his tapes behind, Skipling plays the cassette and overhears a plot detailing his own murder. When the man on the train is subsequently killed, Skipling teams up with his old counsellor to try and locate the voice on the tape...but as everyone points out, who on earth would want to kill Antony Skipling? Convinced of his own impending death however, he seemingly uncovers a sinister plot involving a strange, Howard Hughes-like recluse.

PART ONE "Mr Skipling Is Sentenced To Death" - 12th February
PART TWO "Mr Skipling Finds A Friend" - 14th February
PART THREE "Mr Skipling Fights Back" - 19th February
PART FOUR "Mr Skipling's Day Of Reckoning" - 21st February


"Fear Of God"
* With Bryan Marshall (Paul Marriot), Peter Cellier (Maitland), Helen Cooper (Erica), Madeline Church (Nicola Clay), Peter Settelen (John Aubrey), Garrick Hagon (Walters), Michael Sheard (Colonel Morgan), Chris Jenkinson (Larke), Dave Cooper (PT instructor), Steve Kelley (Electronic man), Susan Sheridan (Rosamund's voice), Robert Austin (Stapleton), Anne Godley (Lady Diana), Madeline Hinde (Francesca Thornton), Lynn Clayton, Michael Watkins (Cyril) and Alun Armstrong (Trakearne)

* Dramatised by Troy Kennedy Martin from the novel by Derry Quinn (ISBN: 0312285175 Magnum Books 1978)
* Directed by Robert Tronson
* Produced by Brenda Ennis
* Designer Martyn Herbert
* Incidental music by Kenyon Emrys-Roberts
* Script Editor Robert Holmes

"She was a soldier of The Regiment Of God..."

Journalist Paul Marriot is appalled when a woman falls past the window of his flat while he is on the phone one day. The girl - Rosemund Clay - turns out to have been a member of the "Regiment Of God" religious sect. Marriot obtains Rosemund's diary and proceeds to investigate the matter, but soon finds his apartment bugged and his nights disturbed by fiery intruders and a glass-shattering noise. When he attempts to publish the articles, he finds the Ministry Of Defence on his back. Undeterred, he allies himself with Rosemund's younger sister Nicola and together they boldly take on The Regiment Of God...but soon wish that they hadn't.

PART ONE "A Question of Gravity" - 26th February
PART TWO "The Noise" - 28th February
PART THREE "The Music Room" - 4th March
PART FOUR "Bang!" - 6th March


"High Tide" (Produced by SOUTHERN TELEVISION)
* With Ian McShane (Peter Curtis), Wendy Morgan (Celia), Terence Rigby (Matthews), John Bird (Cyril), Malcom Terris (Maxwell), Mike McKevitt (Fenton), Toby Salaman (Smith) and Kika Markham (Helen)

Dramatised by Andrew Brown from the novel by PM Hubbard (Hardcover ISBN: 0333120744 1970 Atheneum (US); 1971 (UK) Macmillan Softcover, ISBN: 0060805714 1982 HarperCollins)
* Directed by Colin Bucksey
* Produced by Andrew Brown

Peter Curtis has just been released from prison after serving a sentence for manslaughter. Before he died, his victim uttered a coded message which made no sense to Curtis.  Investigating the mystery, Curtis travels to the coastal village of Leremouth, where despite warnings about the danger of the tidal rivers he proceeds to explore and finds an isolated, empty house which can only be reached at high tide. But why is the house guarded by an armed man?

PART ONE - 11th March
PART TWO - 13th March
PART THREE - 18th March
PART FOUR - 20th March

"The Circe Complex"
* With
Beth Morris (Val Foreman), Trevor Martin (Tom Foreman), Alan David (Ollie Milton), Michael Deeks (Cat Devlin), James Hazeldine (Dave), Derek Ware (O'Brady), Geoffrey Colvile (Prison governor), Maggie Wilkinson (Miss Davis), Eric Francis (Mr Evans), Marc Boyle (First policeman), Gareth Forwood (Dr Crampton), Jestyn Phillips (Second policeman) and Tony Scannell (Connally)

* Dramatised by David Hopkins from the novel by Desmond Cory (ISBN: 0385097352 Doubleday 1975)
* Directed by Robert D Cardona
* Produced by Brenda Ennis
* Designer David Richens
* Script Editor Robert Holmes

Val Foreman is "Circe", a manipulating vixen with a deadly, compelling power over men. When she discovers that her imprisoned husband Tom knows the location of £500,000 pounds worth of stolen jewels, she enlists the help of psychiatrist Ollie Milton and ex-convict Cat Devlin to break Tom out of gaol and discover the whereabouts of the booty.

PART ONE - 25th March
PART TWO - 27th March
PART THREE - 1st April
PART FOUR - 3rd April
PART FIVE - 8th April
PART SIX - 10th April


UK Repeat Dates

1979 repeat season Wed & Thu 1.30 - 2.00 pm ITV networked slot

"Rachel in Danger" ... October 31st/November 1st/7th/8th
"Quiet as a Nun" .... November 14th/15th/21st/22nd/28th/29th
"Limbo Connection" ... December 5th/6th/12th/13th/19th/20th

1980 repeat season Thu & Fri 1.30 - 2.00 pm ITV networked slot

"The Girl Who Walked Quickly" .... November  27th/28th/December 4th/5th
"Fear of God" ... December 11th/12th/18th/19th

1981 repeat season Tue & Wed 1.30 - 2.00 pm ITV networked slot

"The Victim" .... September 22nd/23rd/29th/30th/October 6th/7th
"Dying Day" .... October 13th/14th/20th/21st
"Circe Complex" ... October 27th/28th/November 3rd/4th/10th/11th
"Dead Man's Kit" ... November 17th/18th/24th/25th
"High Tide" .... December 1st/2nd/8th/9th


If you have ANY information at all about Armchair Thriller - be it magazine
clippings, tapes, interviews or just recollections - then please drop me a line at

Who created the title sequences and trailer? If it was you, let us know!

I am also searching for a high quality copy of "The Girl Who Walked Quickly" as aired on Superchannel. Please contact me if you can help and I will swap you something.

Martin Marshall (for loads of credits, scans, tx and repeat info), Mark M (for the logo!), Simon Farquhar (for interviewing Julia Jones), Julia Jones (for her comments!), Martin Potter [for info on the trailer]

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