By Craig Stephen
The Main Chance
The Main Chance is one of those series where the title incorporates the name of the protagonist: which in this case is ambitious but caring solicitor David Main.
The Main Chance ran in Britain on the ITV network between 1969 and 1975 with a total of 45 episodes, all lasting around 45 to 50 minutes (ensuring plenty of time for commercials on ITV, which unlike the BBC wasn’t subject to the same level of advertising restrictions).
A series can never stand still, things have changed. Even the law itself, we make sure we keep up with that. The new divorce laws, for instance, are now making their impact in the courts. David Main himself has changed too.
The first series contained only six episodes – all in black and white – but as it was clear it was becoming popular with viewers it was permitted to expand to 13 episodes – in colour – for the subsequent three series, which is a lot of stories and dialogue to write in anyone’s book.
Main, played by National Theatre actor John Stride in his first major TV role, is a determined and capable young solicitor who, having gained valuable experience in London, returns to his native Leeds to establish his own practice. He’s a lawyer because it’s a way of making money, but as TV can’t be seen to be worshipping the greedy, Main has a conscience and does legal aid for the vulnerable. While his occasionally impetuous approach can take him into difficult legal waters – to the distaste of his more cautious partner Henry Castleton – Main’s acumen and resourcefulness tend to get him through.
David Main was the son of a former Army lawyer – a scholarship boy who escaped, “faded middle class gentility.” He was portrayed as a multi-faceted character, fiery and often difficult with his friends and colleagues, but also empathic with the down-trodden.
Edmund Ward contributed five of the scripts for the second series and said that he had to keep on his toes to keep up with developments at the time.
“A series can never stand still, things have changed. Even the law itself, we make sure we keep up with that. The new divorce laws, for instance, are now making their impact in the courts. David Main himself has changed too,” he told the TV Times magazine.
“He has a deep respect for the law, he’s hard, an individual, but he’s able to relax more now. He’s matured.”
Another key writer was John Batt who used his experience as a solicitor for the series, which was made by ITV’s Yorkshire wing.
As well as having more episodes, the second series was aired during the British autumn, when the nights are drawing in, and working people are more likely to retire in front of the family goggle box after dinner time. It also benefitted from more high-profile guest stars, such as Peter Bowles, Joan Greenwood and George Baker.
As with most legal television series, the protagonist’s personal life is under the spotlight, sometimes as commonly as his career pursuits. By the beginning of the second series he has divorced his wife Julia, and a battle begins over custody of their children.
Main has relationships with his secretaries but eventually remarries. However, that ends in tragedy when his new wife and her son die at the hands of a drunk driver. Main’s crude attempts to bring to trial those responsible lead eventually to his being struck off.
A boxset has been released with all the episodes and is even available from New Zealand outlets.
The show won a Hollywood International Festival of Drama prize, which whatever it was, certainly sounds impressive.