The Aphrodite Inheritance
Alexandra Bastedo as Helene

The Aphrodite Inheritance

If The Lotus Eaters confirmed Michael J Bird as a leading television writer, Who Pays The Ferryman? made him a very hot property indeed. There was enormous demand for a third series and he began work almost immediately. For The Aphrodite Inheritance Bird switched his attention to Cyprus and, after the success of Ferryman, the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) was more than happy to co-operate.

The Aphrodite Inheritance was more of a thriller than Bird's previous creations, with the emphasis on action and mystery rather than relationships.

Hero David Collier arrives on Cyprus following the death of his brother in what Collier believes was an accident. He meets the beautiful Helene and her mysterious companions, Basileos and Charalambous, who appear to know a great deal more about his brother's death than anyone is admitting. Slowly Collier is drawn deep into a complex conspiracy until neither he, nor the viewer, know who he can trust, particularly when it becomes apparent that someone is trying to kill him. The police, in the form of Inspector Dimas, don't believe a word Collier says, since every time he finds something, or someone, that could substantiate his story they inexplicably vanish.

In many ways the series was reminiscent of the BBC's Paul Temple,which had starred Francis Matthews in the early 70s. Bird had written for Paul Temple, and Aphrodite's inexplicable appearances and disappearances would not have been out of place in a Francis Durbridge thriller.

Location work, important as ever, was well handled and on the whole the production was very polished, although scenes of nocturnal action conducted around a sleeping David Collier did stretch credibility a little. One scene in particular, in which Collier awakens to use the bathroom, oblivious to another character carrying an unconscious adversary around the bedroom, would not have been out of place in a Whitehall farce.

Bird had something of a reputation as a 'spooky guy' and the showman in him undoubtedly liked to play it up. He told Radio Times that when he first contacted the CBC he had no idea what the story was going to be about. It was on the plane heading for Cyprus, and a potentially embarrassing meeting with CBC executives, that a story began to form in his mind. Bird said that by the time the plane landed he knew how it would go virtually scene by scene. It was an almost supernatural experience, but one further surprise awaited him. Bird's story was based on the discovery on Cyprus of the secret tomb of the goddess Aphrodite. What he didn't know was that there is a popular legend on Cyprus that a tomb does exist - buried somewhere on the island!

So what was it all about ….?
(Don't read this if you have yet to watch the series.)

Apollo? Hermes? The identity of three of the main protagonists becomes clear in the final episode, when Inspector Dimas takes David Collier on a 'slight detour' to see the statues at Paphos (the mythical birth place of Aphrodite). Website visitor Natalia Tzenou (herself Greek) drew my attention to the other two heads, which I confess I had not paid much attention to - Apollo looking not unlike our handsome leading man, David Collier, and Hermes the messenger delivering messages from Olympus to the mortal world, resembling Inspector Dimas? (Go and watch it again and see if you agree.) Natalia says it is a while since she visited the place but she doesn't recall any 'heads' so they were probably BBC props ....

Michael Bird told an interviewer at the time that he had packed a lot more into the story than most viewers picked up on, though he never elaborated, saying simply "I thought I was very clever. For instance, although you never saw the character Pan, there was ivy everywhere, which is associated with Pan. Then there were doves, Aphrodite's bird. She could turn herself into a dove if she wanted to. Some people got it and said 'That's very clever', but others said, 'What was it with all the birds?'"

Website visitor Brian Coughlin tells me that the song Basileos sings and whistles is called the "Dithyramb" - it is the ancient "Hymn to Wine" which in Greek mythology was always sung by Dionysus.

Kore Wealthy antiquities collector Eugene Hellman was a complex character: ruthless and undoubtedly shady but with integrity and a sense of honour. He is also something of a mystery. He is the first to realise the truth about Helene and her companions. In the final episode we get a close up on the name of his yacht - the Kore.

Persephone? In ancient Greek, Kore means "maiden" or "daughter" and is the name given to Persephone, daughter of the earth goddess Demeter. And of course there was that mystery woman in the photograph on Hellman's desk. The clues are all there, but it took a long time, and another prod from Natalia Tzenou, before the penny finally dropped with me. How does the saying go "the clue is in the name?"

Hellman …

Hell X man …

as in Hades, Lord of the Underworld.

In his final scene Hellman shivers suggesting the onset of cooler weather. He tells Travis "Soon she'll be coming back to me again and I wouldn't want to keep her waiting." In Greek mythology, Persephone was abducted by Hades who tricked her into eating pomegranate seeds, which forced her to return to the underworld for a period each year. The seeds correspond to the dry summer months when Persephone is absent. When Persephone returned to the underworld, the earth once again became a barren realm.

Paul Cavendish referred me to the dialogue in Episode 7 where Hellman tells Preece that he is not an executioner but a receiver and that he deals with killers all the time.

Hellman's yacht disappears

the arches at Courion Website visitor Phil Clarke pointed out that at one point Hellman refers to his two henchmen as his "hounds". The hounds of Hell? Phil also supplied the photograph (left) of the (Godless) arches at Courion .

And as Hellman's yacht finally sets sail it spookily disappears into the mist ....

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