Philip Odell

Created by Lester Powell
(1912 -93)

Ad from the August 19, 1959 A.B.C. Weekly, an Australian radio and television guide.

Genial Irish private eye PHILIP ODELL (as played by Canadian Robert Beatty) was the star of a popular radio series that originated as part of BBC’s “Light Programme” back in the late forties, and ran right into the sixties, with various actors portraying the steadfast Heather McMara. The series was popular enough to spin-off not just a series of novels by Powell, but even a 1951 feature film. Its popularity apparently also spread to the Continet–about the only copies of the books yopu can find these days are French and German translations.

When we first meet Odell in the first radio series, Lady in a Fog, he’s in London on his way home to Ireland, when his flight is delayed by fog. So he decides to drop in his old pal Heather. But Heather’s brother has just been found drowned in the Thames, and Odell is reluctantly drawn into the investigation, much to the chagrin of Inspector Rigby, who considers Odell a viable suspect, especially when the murders continue.

Somehow, he never quite makes it back to Dublin–instead, he becomes a London-based private investigator. With Heather as his assistant, they stumbled, staggered and tripped over all sorts of strange cases, full of thrills and chills, such as when they’re hired by a famous detective story writer who is convinced that the character he created in his books has come to life and is sending him messages.

According to a 1959 article from The New Zealand Listener, Odell, at least as portrayed by Beatty, came across as an affable, down-to-earth type:

“… a humanitarian, interested and concerned in people (with) an instinctive understanding of their foibles and motives, and neither condemns nor approves. The opposition is tough, the men and women involved are hard, unprincipled, sophisticated and intelligent. It is small wonder, then, that Lester Powell admits, “Odell makes mistakes in a human way and puzzles out the solution of a problem much as you or I would.”

This may account for this perennial attraction for audiences: there are no hidden clues, no over-ripe red herrings, nothing kept for the denouement.”

Some of suggested Odell was a proto Jim Rockford, because he was “Not heroic, not tough, but smart, permanently broke and he used to charm his way out of difficult situations rather than fight,” and maybe they have somethiing there, although it’s a stretch. What interests me more (or at least the Canadian in me) is the final radio serial, Tea on an Island (1961), wherein Odell and Heather tangle with Montreal drug traffickers. One of the installments is tantalizingly entitled “Canada’s Cultural Conscience.” Let me assure you — my ears pricked up when I read that.

Alas, Professor Jeffrey Richards, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s series The Radio Detectives, stated in a 1999 article from The Sherlock Holmes Magazine that the BBC hadn’t preserved any episodes of the series, although since that article’s publication, there have been rumours that some episodes may have survived in private hands.

The feature film, Lady in a Fog (1952, Hammer) (known, inexplicably, as “Scotland Yard Inspector” in the States), had a young Cesar “Joker” Romero playing Odell as an American journalist (not an Irish private detective, and certainly NOT a Scotland Yard Inspector), whose flight is delayed, but in this one, he meets Heather for the first time in a club. Even cooler, the “bad girl” is played by Lois Mawell, the Canadian actor who went on to play Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond films.

Also inexplicable? Some people refer to this as a film noir. It’s about as noir as a pancake.

Meanwhile, actor Robert Beatty became quite well known in the U.K., and seemed to have had a long and successful career. He later starred as Det. Insp. Mike Maguire, a Canadian Mountie assigned to Scotland Yard, in the 1958-59 TV series Towers of London, and played Quentin Barnaby, an insurance investigator in Destination – Fire!, a series written by Philip Levene. He also played General Sternwood in the Afternoon Theatre adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep in 1977.

Canada, Montreal, Mounties, Chandler, Irish private eyes, Miss Moneypenny–I love the interconnectedness of it all!


Before becoming a writer for radio and television, Lester Powell was a draughtsman, poultry farmer, and journalist. He also created The Inch Man, a pretty much forgotten 1951-52 BBC television series about Stephen Inch, a house dick working in a busy London hotel, and The Hidden Motive, a 1952 BBC serial relating the efforts of “Doc” Job, an eccentric insurance investigator.



    (1947, BBC Radio)
    Written by Lester Powel
    Producer: Martyn C. Webster
    Starring Robert Beatty as PHILIP ODELL
    and Brenda Bruce as Heather McMara
    Also starring Marjorie Mars, Ralph Truman, John Byron, Ian Sadler

    • “Presenting Philip Odell” (October 6, 1947)
    • “O’Gorman of Islington” (October 13, 1947)
    • “The Mink Coat” (October 20, 1947)
    • “The Lady Isn’t Willing” (October 27, 1947)
    • “The Little Doctor” (November 3, 1947)
    • “A Psychological Matter” (November 11, 1947)
    • “Wanted… Kitty Stapleton” (November 17, 1947)
    • “Show Down” (November 24, 1947)
    (1947, BBC)
    Christmas special
    40 minutes, Broadcast 25th December 1947.
    Written by Lester Powell
    (1948, BBC)
    Written by Lester Powell
    Produced by Martyn C. Webster & Ayton Whitaker
    Starring Robert Beatty as PHILIP ODELL
    and Joy Shelton as Heather McMara

    • “Situation Vacant” (June 7, 1948)
    • “The Bay Nursing Home” (June 14, 1948)
    • “Death at Pentecost” (June 21, 1948)
    • “A Letter from the Dead” (June 28, 1948)
    • “The Montparnasse” (July 5, 1948)
    • “Concerto for Celia” (July 12, 1948)
    • “An Even Chance” (July 19, 1948)
    • “Simon Ode’s Last Appearance” (July 26, 1948)
    (1949, BBC)
    Written by Lester Powell
    Produced by Cleland Finn
    Starring Robert Beatty as PHILIP ODELL
    and Brenda Bruce as Heather McMara

    • “The Golden Gate Of Samarkand” (April 25, 1949)
    • “Duet For Clarinet and Voice” (May 2, 1949)
    • “Crime and Old Brandy” (May 9, 1949)
    • “Nobody Gets Any Sleep” (May 16, 1949)
    • “The House In the Forest” (May 23, 1949)
    • “After You’ve Gone” (May 30, 1949)
    • “The Voice Of the Dead” (June 6, 1949)
    • “Re-forming the Square” June 13, 1949).
    (1949, BBC)
    Christmas special
    First broadcast: December 27, 1949 on the Light Programme
    Produced by Martyn C. Webster
    Written by Edward J. Mason
    Starring Robert Beatty as PHILIP ODELL
    Kim Peacock as PAUL TEMPLE
    Marjorie Westbury as STEVE TEMPLE
    Duncan Carse as DICK BARTON
    Brian Reece as PC 49
    Valentine Dyall as THE MAN IN BLACK
    Douglas Burbidge as DR. DALE
    Ellis Powell as MRS. DALE
    A real special, featuring the BBC’s most popular detectives in one big show, first broadcast as a Christmas special in 1949
    (1950, BBC)
    Written by Lester Powell
    Produced by Archie Campbell
    Starring Robert Beatty as PHILIP ODELL
    and Joyce Heron as Heather McMara

    • “Mother Is Worried!” (April 4, 1950)
    • “Room To Let” (April 11, 1950)
    • “Gone To the Dogs” (April 18, 1950)
    • “A Fine Old Family” (April 25, 1950)
    • “Metropolitan Sophistication” (May 2, 1950)
    • “You Can Win A Smashing Prize” (May 9, 1950)
    • “No Time To Stop and Stare” (May 16, 1950)
    • “A Nice Day In the Country” (May 23, 1950)
    (1952, BBC)
    Written by Lester Powell
    Produced by Archie Campbell
    Starring Robert Beatty as PHILIP ODELL
    and Joyce Heron as Heather McMara

    • “Perez” (February 16, 1952)
    • “The Silver Acorn” (February 23, 1952)
    • “Mr Jones Obliges” (March 1, 1952)
    • “A Change Of Scene” (March 8, 1952)
    • “The Full Treatment” (March 15, 1952)
    • A Patch Of Moonlight” (March 22, 1952)
    • “With the Brakes Off” (March 29, 1952)
    • “The Works” (April 5, 1952)
  • PHILIP ODELL: LADY IN A FOG Buy the audio
    (1958, BBC)
    Written by Lester Powell
    Produced by Martyn C. Webster
    Starring Robert Beatty as PHILIP ODELL
    and Sheila Manahan as Heather McMara
    and Edward Jewesbury as Inspector Rigby
    Also starring Mary Wimbush, James Thomason, John Bennett, Jeffrey Segal, June Tobin, David March, Trevor Martin and members of the BBC Drama Repertory Company.
    A remake of the original series that introduced Odell.

    • “Presenting Philip Odell” (April 29, 1958)
    • “O’Gorman of Islington” (May 6, 1958)
    • “The Mink Coat” (May 13, 1958)
    • “The Lady Isn’t Willing” (May 20, 1958)
    • “The Little Doctor” (May 27, 1958)
    • “A Psychological Matter” (June 3, 1958)
    • “Wanted – Kitty Stapleton” (June 10, 1958)
    • “Show Down” (June 17, 1958)
    (1958-59, BBC)
    Written by Lester Powell
    Produced by David H. Godfrey
    Starring Robert Beatty as PHILIP ODELL
    and Sheila Manahan as Heather McMara
    Also starring Hamilton Dyce, Rolf Lefebvre, Stella Textor, Edward Jewesbury, David Spenser, Jeffrey Segal, Frederick Treves, David March and members of the BBC Drama Repertory Company.

    • “Assault Course” (December 22, 1958)
    • “The Broken Ampoule” (December 29, 1958)
    • “The Man In the Grey Hat” (January 5, 1959)
    • “Interlude In Manchester” (January 12, 1959)
    • “A State Of Tension” (January 19, 1959)
    • “The Final Experiment” (January 26, 1959)
    (1961, BBC)
    Written by Lester Powell
    Produced by Archie Campbell
    Starring Robert Beatty as PHILIP ODELL
    and Diana Olsson as Heather McMara.

    • “Border Incident” (June 19, 1961)
    • “Canada’s Cultural Conscience” (June 26, 1961)
    • “The Up-Beat” (July 3, 1961)
    • “Bullets At Noon” (July 10, 1961)
    • “In Top Gear” (July 17, 1961)
    • “Heron’s Keep” (July 24, 1961)



     Buy the DVD Watch it now!
    (aka “Scotland Yard Inspector”)
    (1952, Hammer Films)
    82 minutes
    Black & white
    Based on the BBC serial by Lester Powell
    Screenplay by  Orville Hampton
    Directed by Sam Newfield
    Music composed by Ivor Slaney
    Starring Cesar Romero as PHILIP ODELL
    With Bernadette O’Farrell as Heather
    and Campbell Singer as Inspector Rigsby
    Also starring Lois Maxwell, Alastair Hunter, Mary Mackenzie, Frank Birch, Wensley Pithey, Geoffrey Keen, Reed de Rouen, Lloyd Lamble, Peter Swanwick, Bill Fraser, Lisa Lee, Lionel Harris, Betty Cooper
    Billed as a “comedy-thriller,” and inexplicably re-titled  “Scotland Yard Inspector” for the American market.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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