A professor thinks he has a perfect plan to get rid of his wife. He just needs the right tape recording of her voice, in the Thriller episode Once The Killing Starts. RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES takes a look.

TITLE: Thriller – Once The Killing Starts
BROADCAST: 2 February 1974
STARRING: Patrick O’Neal, Angharad Rees, Michael Kitchen, Gerald Sim, Gary Watson, Patricia Donahue
WRITER: Brian Clemens
DIRECTOR: John Scholz-Conway

College professor Michael Lane (O’Neal) enjoys a blissful relationship with student Stella Mason (Rees), but there is something in the way, namely his unsuspecting wife Elizabeth (Donahue).

When Lane decides to get rid of the missus, all seems to be going exactly to plan with the help of a carefully manipulated tape recording of her voice, and a perfectly choreographed telephone call. Lane is satisfied with a job well done, until he receives an anonymous note reading “I know what you did, Murderer!”

Professor Michael Lane (Patrick O'Neal) plots a perfect murder plan in the Thriller episode Once The Killing Starts (1974).
Professor Michael Lane (Patrick O’Neal) plots a perfect murder plan in the Thriller episode Once The Killing Starts (1974).

The professor faces the challenge of appearing cooperative with the police investigation, whilst trying to work out who has rumbled his scheme, not to mention their blackmail motive. As his own list of suspects begins to take shape, Lane becomes more and more desperate to find his blackmailer, and stop them…

Another generally enjoyable instalment, albeit one which does seem to have been stretched a tad to fill the timeslot – Lane’s dastardly deed itself takes up the entire first act. In a tighter episode, this would be over and done with before the opening credits.

Still, once the killing starts in earnest, things really get going in part three. O’Neal made a fine villain whenever given the opportunity (see Chamber Of Horrors (1966) or The Stuff (1985) for further evidence), and he makes the most of the material in portraying Lane’s descent into deeper madness. As more mysterious notes reach him, as more murders occur, his pathetic clutching-at-straws approach to investigation can’t help but elicit some audience sympathy of the don’t-you-hate-it-when-that-happens variety.

After this, the final denouement is perhaps a little hard to swallow, but it’s to O’Neal’s credit that it just about manages not to collapse into farce. Once The Killing Starts is no series classic, but nor does it let the side down.

TRIVIA NOTES: The first of four Thriller credits for John Scholz-Conway, a prolific TV director whose eclectic assignments ran the gamut through two comedy series with Norman Wisdom, the period drama The Cedar Tree (1976-78) and soap stints on General Hospital and Crossroads, where he ended his directing career.

The later US TV-movie version manages to misspell Angharad Rees’ name as Anharad, and give away three murders by showing them in the tacked-on opening sequence. It also shows the killer handling a two-pin electrical plug. We use three-pin plugs in the UK…

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