Charlie Barnet (Sam Kydd) is an old time villain, newly released from prison. In his prime he could scale any building – but a bad fall on his last job put paid to that and now he’s reduced to walking with a stick. On the way back to his welcome home party he notices a man (played by Robin Ford) being mugged and intervenes.
He leaves his name and address with Sgt Wills and promises to pop into the station later to make a statement. But when Dixon learns his identity, he realises that it’s unlikely that he’d make an appearance under his own steam, so he decides to gently gatecrash his party.
The relationship between Dixon and Charlie is a familiar one from the series (and in fact you can date it right back to the original film The Blue Lamp). Charlie may be a criminal, but he’s an honourable one and there’s something of a grudging respect shown by Dixon towards him – one professional to another. When Dixon crashes the party, there’s an awkward silence from most of the guests (mistrust of the police is obviously ingrained) but Charlie’s polite and hospitable, offering him a drink. Dixon accepts (compare this to Harry’s Back where we see Dixon look askance at a drink bought for him by Harry). George then offers to find Charlie some work.
At the start of The Blue Lamp, a voice-over contrasts the type of decent old-school criminal (like Charlie) with the younger, wilder criminal element who use violence without thinking. It’s an interesting dichotomy – which is also expressed in this story as on the one hand we have Charlie and on the other we see his son Ray (Terry Cowling).
By a remarkable coincidence, Ray was one of the muggers who attacked the man in the street (Ray later gave Charlie the mugged man’s gold wristwatch as a present). Charlie tells his son he’s ashamed of him, but doesn’t want him to go straight. “I’m talking about you learning a proper trade. I don’t want no son of mine to turn out to be a small-time mugger. A proper trade. Like I had.” He offers to have a word with one of his friends, but he’s told that “the young-un’s today, they’re too wild.” which reiterates the chasm between old-school career criminals and the younger ones.
The rest of the family are doing nicely – Charlie’s wife Olive (Margery Mason) and their daughter Diana (Gwyneth Powell) run a thriving business, offering virtually anything for sale at reasonable weekly installments. Naturally, all of their stock is stolen – they’re prolific shoplifters.
Sam Kydd delivers a nice turn as the head of a thoroughly criminal household and Gwyneth Powell (previously seen in Eye Witness), Margery Mason and Terry Cowling offer very solid support. And the opening party scene is great fun, with the sort of bad-taste visuals that clearly mark this as the mid seventies!
Gerald Kelsey was a prolific writer for Dixon (forty three episodes between 1963 and 1976) although the majority no longer exist. But on the evidence of this one he had a good grasp of what made the series tick – namely the conflict between the police and their prey.