Armchair Thriller Episode Guide: 1978-81 Anthology Series

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RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES introduces his Armchair Thriller Episode Guide, looking back at the classic and spine-tingling British anthology TV series…

Armchair Thriller Episode Guide: 1978-81 Anthology Series 1

The familiar sound of the Thames Television fanfare, a fondly remembered jingle from two decades of broadcasting in the UK. It signalled many of our favourite shows coming on: Rainbow, Danger Mouse, Chorlton And The Wheelies and The Sooty Show for the kids. The Sweeney, Man About The House, Minder and Van Der Valk in the evenings – the London skyline ident was usually a harbinger of quality television.

Then there was a darker, more sinister version of the ident, the bright daylight replaced by a dark, eerily moonlit view of the London landmarks. For most viewers in the UK it was only seen before one particular programme, heralding a title sequence which scared the wits out of a generation of children (myself included) who probably shouldn’t have been watching anyway.

As a mournful woodwind-led theme played, a shadow appeared to walk towards an armchair, resting itself down as the programme title appeared. The music swelled up, and the shadow appeared to be about to lunge out of the screen…

The programme was Armchair Thriller.

The end of Brian Clemens’ Thriller (1973-76) left a bit of a hole in the schedules for fans of the form, but its successor-of-sorts came not from that show’s home at ATV but from their ITV rivals over at Thames, where a producer named Andrew Brown devised a different take on the form, adapting work from a variety of writers (including a number of existing literary properties) into a serial format to be shown in two half-hour parts per week.

The new show carried quite a bit of the flavour of Clemens’ creation (notably, directors Robert Tronson and Robert D. Cardona worked on both series) but had the flexibility to pace the stories over 4 or 6 episodes as the source required. Another key difference was that the show was not a co-production with American partners, but purely produced in-house at Thames’ Teddington studios (with some location work in and around London, naturally).

The title quite deftly managed to evoke recollections of the ATV series whilst linking it to Thames’ earlier Armchair Cinema and Armchair Theatre strands and as far as UK ratings went, Armchair Thriller actually topped Clemens’ series. A much earlier primetime slot gave Thames a considerable advantage in that respect but, nevertheless an estimated 17 million viewers tuning in for the show’s fifth story (The Limbo Connection) was still an impressive achievement.

Like Thriller before it, Armchair Thriller could not be called a purely horror-based series, but it retained that overall feeling of menace through all its stories, where danger and unsavoury characters seemed to lurk around every corner and even a seemingly straightforward entry could be punctuated by moments of pure Brit-horror. In keeping with this site’s remit, my guide will focus more heavily on those entries that have a more macabre or horror-related flavour but in the name of completion the remainder will also be given a briefer overview.

Before I set off on my trip through the series, I want to give the biggest possible acknowledgement to Black Nun, whose fansite for Armchair Thriller (as well that as for Thriller) kept the torch burning for the show when it was unavailable, apparently unloved and looked in danger of being forgotten. I unreservedly point you towards the archived page at The Wayback Machine and if Black Nun is reading this: Thank you.

Now, let’s dim the lights, play that creepy Thames ident and settle into our armchairs…

Armchair Thriller Episode Guide

Links to reviews for each story will appear below over the coming months:

Series 1

Broadcast on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:30 pm.

1. “Rachel in Danger” (4 episodes, 21 February – 2 March 1978) Thames
2. “A Dog’s Ransom” (6 episodes, 9–23 March 1978) Thames
3. “The Girl Who Walked Quickly” (4 episodes, 28 March – 6 April 1978) Thames
4. “Quiet as a Nun” (6 episodes,18–27 April 1978) Thames
5. “The Limbo Connection” (6 episodes, 2–18 May 1978) Thames

Series 2

NOTE: Two stories for the second series were produced by Southern Television, to whom Andrew Brown had moved on from Thames by 1980.

Broadcast on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:00 pm.

1. “The Victim” (6 episodes, 8–24 January 1980) Thames
2. “Dead Man’s Kit” (4 episodes, 29 January – 7 February 1980) Southern
3. “Dying Day” (4 episodes, 12–21 February 1980) Thames
4. “Fear of God” (4 episodes, 26 February – 6 March 1980) Thames
5. “High Tide” (4 episodes, 11–20 March 1980) Southern
6. “The Circe Complex” (6 episodes, 25 March – 10 April 1980) Thames

Additional Story:

TV-Movie. “The Chelsea Murders” (originally 6 episodes, untransmitted) Thames

The Chelsea Murders was originally intended as an Armchair Thriller serial but was instead recut as a standalone feature-length story, broadcast in a 2-hour slot on 30 December 1981. More details in an individual review at the end of my guide.

FOOTNOTES: It’s worth noting that Thames’ predecessor on the ITV network, ABC had previously used the Armchair Thriller tag in TV listings for three Armchair Theatre productions broadcast over April and May of 1967: England My England, Depart In Terror and The Snares Of Death.

A DVD box set including all the Thames episodes was released by Network in 2008, additionally including both the unbroadcast, episodic version and broadcast TV-movie edit of The Chelsea Murders. Unfortunately, following Network’s closure in 2023 the set is currently out-of-print.

The two Southern stories were later released on DVD by Simply Home Entertainment but have also been out of print for some time, following that company’s demise.

Tell us your memories of Armchair Thriller in the comments section below!

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