Hustle series 8 PREVIEW

Smooth operators – the Hustle crew. Pics: BBC

Rating ★★★

BBC1 from Friday, 6 January, 9pm

Story: Mickey and the gang of con artists target a gold dealer who rips off elderly customers.

Only six more elaborate scams for Mickey Bricks and his flimflam operators before Hustle‘s loyal fans feel like the ones who’ve lost something they treasure when they weren’t looking. After seven years, writer Tony Jordan is calling time on the show.

There are treats in store in this last series, in particular the return of original cast member Jaime Murray as Stacie Monroe in the final episode for what was the actress calls ‘the con to end all cons’. Of the finale, Adrian Lester (Mickey) adds, ‘The opening 30 seconds of the last episode… it’s ace. You won’t forget it!’

Dodgy geezer – Paterson Joseph with Kelly Adams

Peterson Joseph as the mark
Not that episode one is too shabby. Paterson Joseph turns up as the target, Dexter Gold – real name, Ash reveals, is Dexter Pratt. This 24-carat villain gets by fencing gold stolen by armed gangs and by fiddling pensioners out of their precious golden mementoes.

So the team, eager as ever to bring down the corrupt and greedy, masquerade as a renegade army unit seeking to offload a hooky consignment of looted Libyan gold. A nice sub plot sees the gang barred from Eddie’s drinking establishment after one of them defaces his wall photo of hero Ian Rush. Cue cameo from the former Liverpool star himself…

It’s an episode that’s as slick and frothy as ever, the hallmark of Hustle being the way it resurrected that old spirit of entertaining and cool rogues not seen since Sixties classics such as Ocean’s Eleven, The Thomas Crown Affair and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Marc Warren and Trafalgar Square
It’s heyday was undoubtedly the Marc Warren era, when he played Danny Blue and there were classic episodes such as Danny losing to Stacie at strip poker in series one, and the second episode of series three when Danny and Mickey had to run naked through Trafalgar Square.

Even Adrian Lester cites the Trafalgar Square episode as a highlight. ‘As Marc Warren said, how many people can say I’ve run through Trafalgar Square naked!’ he says. ‘And I did it eight times! It’s right up there with playing Hamlet. It could only work in a show like this because it was tongue in cheek, entertaining and silly but also poignant.’

Tony Jordan has worked out some fun plots. The cons have been great, and the pros terrific – so good  to see Robert Vaughn again in such charming form. Enjoy it while you can, before Adrian Lester moves onto Othello at the National and Robert Vaughn turns up in Corrie. Talk about masters of disguise…

Cast: Adrian Lester Michael ‘Mickey Bricks’ Stone, Robert Glenister Ash ‘Three Socks’ Morgan, Robert Vaughn Albert Stroller, Kelly Adams Emma, Matt di Angelo Sea, Rob Jarvis Eddie, Paterson Joseph Dexter Gold

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Kelly Adams, Robert Vaughn, Adrian Lester, Robert Glenister and Matt Di Angelo (pics: BBC)

Rating ★★★½

BBC1, Friday, 7 January, 9pm

With child murder and serial killers now a staple on many cop shows, it’s hard to begrudge the return of this light-hearted – as well as light-fingered – conman-caper series.

Like the grandaddy of con-man films, The Sting, this series from writer Tony Jordan relies on the wit and charm of its grifters, along with beautifully played-out cons that relieve the corrupt and nasty of their ill-gotten lucre.

Anna Chancellor, right, as crooked Wendy Stanton

While the cast still misses original member Marc Warren as Danny Blue (series one can be seen online at SeeSaw), the current players are a watchable bunch. For series seven there are no changes, so Adrian Lester returns as Mickey Stone, the gang’s leader, with Robert Glenister (‘fixer’ Ash Morgan), the ever-suave Robert Vaughn (‘roper’ Albert Stroller), Kelly Adams (Emma Kennedy) and Matt Di Angelo (Emma’s brother, Sean).

Anna Chancellor is the mark
The opening episode is the usual impossibly convoluted affair in which the scamsters pull off four intricate cons at the same time (Tony Jordan must have fun working out these plots).

But before an arrogant viscount, a shady judge and a bent MP get their comeuppance, Mickey and the gang decide to help the niece of their favourite barman, Eddie (Rob Jarvis), who’s been ripped off by the owner of a modelling agency.

Anna Chancellor plays the Cruella De Vil-like Wendy Stanton, who routinely fleeces young wannabe models. Can the gang get the tight-fisted Wendy, who twitches whenever large sums are mentioned, to invest a huge amount of cash in their bogus fashion line?

Robert Vaughn’s still having fun
With its cool jazzy music, slick locations and witty grifters, Hustle makes it seem plausible and fun. Like a pickpocket’s diversionary tactic, it’s all an illusion and can leave us feeling short-changed if we unpick the story.

The formula will need to move on if the new series is to avoid becoming routine and dull, and so we will be meeting Albert’s daughter from the US soon. But perhaps the ante could be upped for the characters if a little more danger and risk were introduced at the expense of all the larkiness.

But Hollywood legend Robert Vaughn (The Magnificent Seven,The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) and his co-stars seem to enjoy showing us the tricks of the trade. And for a shallow bit of old-fashioned entertainment, the series usually provides a few good laughs and is a cheerful break from watching corpses being sawn open on Silent Witness.

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