Dixon of Dock Green – The Vagrant


A vagrant (John Carson) is knocked down by a car in the street.  An eye-witness, Fred Smethwick (Bill Treacher), is insistent that the car deliberately drove into him and his statement catches the interest of the Dock Green police.  The vagrant is later identified as Joseph Conway, a career criminal who turned Queen’s Evidence a few years previously.  He helped to put two criminals, Gerald Tate (Johnny Shannon) and Bert Flower (John Hartley), behind bars and since they’re both now back in circulation it seems likely one of them was the driver.  But the truth is rather more complicated …..

The Vagrant benefits from John Carson’s guest turn.  Whilst he’s rarely been a leading man, he’s a quality actor who enhances any production he appears in.  Still active (he popped up in an episode of Midsummer Murders a few years back) he’s enjoyed a lengthy career stretching back to the 1950’s.  The Doctor Who story Snakedance and the Out of the Unknown episode This Body Is Mine are two of his credits which have been covered previously in this blog (both of which are enriched by Carson).

He’s rather cast against type here as a down-and-out.  The part calls for him to adopt a hoarse and hesitant voice and a rather vague manner, but it’s obvious from fairly early on that there’s more to Conway that meets the eye.  He may appear now to be a broken wreck of a man but that wasn’t always the case (in fact he’s not even Joe Conway).

His real name is Francis Spurling and the reason for him changing his identity helps to spin the story off in another direction completely.  After Spurling and Joe Conway swapped identities, it allowed him to drop out of circulation (Conway’s dead body was mis-indentifed as Spurling).  His wife, Margaret (Suzan Farmer), has since remarried and naturally views his return with horror.  But Spurling hasn’t returned to make trouble – he simply wants to try and make amends with Margaret and also help his friend Percy (a lovely turn from Paddy Joyce).

The Dock Green boys take a back seat in this one as the bulk of the episode revolves around Conway/Spurling, although Clayton and Bruton do entertain themselves by questioning Tate and Flower (Johnny Shannon is wonderfully belligerent as Tate).  As I’ve said, Paddy Joyce is very entertaining as Conway/Spurling’s fellow vagrant Percy and whilst he adds little to the plot, he’s a colourful character who enriches the episode no end.

There’s little for George Dixon to do and the story does somewhat splutter to a conclusion, but as ever, the first-rate guest cast (John Carson, Paddy Joyce, Johnny Shannon, Suzan Farmer), helps to keep the interest bubbling along.

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