Dixon of Dock Green – Harry’s Back

harry's back

Harry’s Back (the third story of series twenty, broadcast on the 12th of January 1974) features a familiar plot which many police series have used from time to time.  An untouchable villain, who rarely makes a mistake, is doggedly pursued by a lone officer (even though he’s warned off by his superiors).

In Harry’s Back, Andy Crawford is the officer and Harry Simpson (Lee Montague) is his prey.  Harry’s a beloved figure in his local community (“one of the best”) and his early scenes help to establish his character.  To begin with, we see him return home after some months spent abroad with his new fiance Marion Croft (Susan Tebbs).  He’s greeted by an old man, who offers to carry his suitcases up to his flat – Harry agrees, even though he can see the man is struggling with the weight of the cases.  Harry slips him a few notes and tells him to take his time.  Andy later bitterly reflects that Harry’s a past-master in “buying admiration” and this is an early example.

Harry then runs into Sgt. Wills and although Wills is polite, he’s obviously not delighted to see that Harry’s back.  His disdain would seem to be shared by most of the Dock Green coppers, although Andy’s the only one who actively targets him.  This brings him into something of a conflict with Dixon – although the confrontation, if one can call it that, is very mild.

Dixon’s is an old-school copper.  He’d be happy to pursue Harry if there was clear evidence of wrongdoing, but there isn’t – so he’s content to let him lie.  The inference is that eventually Harry, like all criminals, will trip himself up and that’s the time when Dixon will pounce.  Andy takes the opposite view.  He has no hard evidence but his suspicions are enough to make him want to keep a very close eye on him.  Although this makes it easy for Harry to claim that he’s being harassed.

Throughout the story we see several more examples of Harry’s largesse.  He visits the wife of one of his old friends, Lenny Lane, and gives her a considerable sum of money.  This, he tells her, is simply what she’s owed (he says Lenny couldn’t give it to her himself because he’s lying low).  Later, he visits his local and buys everyone a round.  This is a scene that doesn’t quite work, mainly because everybody seems just a little too delighted to see him.  It just doesn’t ring true.

He also bumps into Dixon and Det. Sgt. Mike Brewer (Gregory de Polnay).  This is another interesting scene, more for what remains unsaid than what is actually said.  We’ve already had several examples of Harry’s generosity and been offered several different opinions about it.  Is he just a warm-hearted man or is he attempting to buy respect and favours?

His encounters with the various Dock Green officers are noteworthy in this respect.  He offers to send Brewer’s wife some perfume and later he tells Andy that he has a nice little house he can let him have, which will save him some money (the clear inference is that he’s offering him a bribe to lay off).

It also seems obvious why he doesn’t offer to buy Dixon and Brewer a drink – you know that Dixon would politely decline.  Harry returns to his friends and a few moments later two large whiskies are sent over to Dixon and Brewer – courtesy of Harry.  A simple generous gesture or his way of offering them a small bribe?  It’s down to the viewer to decide.

Another scene that’s open to interpretation occurs when Harry meets his prospective in-laws.  He’s only known Marion for a few weeks and this, together with the fact that he’s much older than her, makes Mr and Mrs Croft concerned that the pair of them are rushing into marriage.  Mr Croft (Peter Hughes) works in insurance and when Harry tells him it’s about time he took out some life insurance (say fifty thousand) the atmosphere changes instantly.

Is Mr Croft happy because he spies a rich commission or is he reassured that Harry’s demonstrated how responsible he is?  The tone of the story may suggest the former (Harry’s offering another bribe) but the scene can be taken either way.

N.J. Crisp was an incredibly experienced writer – penning 66 episodes of Dixon between 1964 and 1975 as well as contributing to numerous other popular series, such as Dr Finlay’s Casebook, Colditz and Secret Army.  It’s therefore a slight shame that Harry’s downfall occurs via two rather clumsy plot points.

The first concerns Harry’s unsmiling number two Bernard Moss (Michael Sheard).  Moss needs a clean driving licence and he buys one from Freddie Barnet (Esmond Knight) for fifty pounds.  Freddie suspects that there’s going to be trouble but when he knows that Harry needs it, he’s reassured.  Moss uses the driving licence to hire a car which is later used to rob a cosmetics van.

Freddie is presented right from the start as a weak link and therefore needs little persuading to tell the police that it was Moss who borrowed the licence.  Moss and Harry are known associates, so it clearly puts Harry in the frame.  Why didn’t they simply steal a car?  That way there would have been no link to Harry at all.

The second feels even more contrived.  Andy has a warrant to search Harry’s flat for evidence relating to the robbery, but the news that Lenny Lane’s body has been found (with a bullet hole in his head) makes him also keen to pin the murder on him.  But Harry’s flat appears to be spotless and it looks as if he’s going to walk away empty-handed – until (somehow) Andy realises that a safe deposit key is concealed inside a footstool.  When opened, the safety deposit box contains, amongst other items, a gun which ballistics confirm was the weapon used to murder Lane.

The way that Andy found the key is a little hard to swallow anyway, but the notion that Harry would keep such an incriminating piece of evidence beggars belief!  We’ve already seen that Dixon doesn’t always have to give us neat, happy endings, so there were several ways this one could have gone.

Harry gets convicted (as happened).

Harry walks away free, but Andy vows to get him next time.

Harry goes free, but divine intervention punishes him anyway (see Eye Witness for a good example of this.  Mr Colly isn’t convicted of the murder but shortly after is killed in a hit-and-run incident.  An accident or not?  Dixon leaves it for us to decide).

The second option may have been the best choice here, as finding the key and the gun occurs so late in the day that it can’t help but feel like something of an afterthought.

This apart, Harry’s Back has plenty to commend it, not least Lee Montague’s performance as Harry.  For most of the story he’s a relentlessly cheerful chap, but just occasionally his mask slips (such as when he suggests to Moss that the hapless Freddie needs to be persuaded not to talk to the police any more).  Michael Sheard is hardly stretched with the role of the taciturn Moss, but it’s always a pleasure to see him.

Susan Tebbs’ longest-running role was as Det. Con. Donald in the first few series of Softly Softly: Task Force.  Marion Croft is a fairly anonymous part, but since I enjoyed her appearances in SS:TF, it was nice to see her here.

Harry’s Back was one of Gregory de Polnay’s earliest appearances as Mike Brewer (and the first that exists).  He remained a regular until 1975, so as we move into a period where the archive survival rate is a little more healthy, we’ll be seeing more of him.  As a Doctor Who fan, I know him best for playing robot detective D84 in the 1977 story The Robots of Death.  But it’s only now, when I realised that he’d formally been a regular in Dixon, that it’s possible to surmise that his casting in Doctor Who was something of an in-joke!

Although the ending slightly lets it down, this is still a strong episode and it’s also notable for a late example of Dixon pounding the beat.  Soon, he’d be forced to mostly remain rooted behind the station desk.

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