Gideon is under pressure (thanks to negative newspaper reports) to catch a mysterious masked prowler who’s been terrorising London. So far he hasn’t hurt any of his female victims – he’s simply cut off locks of their hair – but Gideon is concerned that violence and murder might be the next items on his agenda.
The prowler, Alan Campbell-Gore (David Collings), is a troubled young man. He may come from a wealthy and titled family, with a mother – Lady Campbell-Gore (Fanny Rowe) – who dotes on him, but it’s obvious that the balance of his mind is disturbed. He still pines for Wendy, his dead girlfriend, and it’s his inability to come to terms with her death that proves to be his downfall …..
Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman had already successfully brought the Saint to the small screen, thanks in no small part to the talents of Roger Moore, and with Gideon’s Way they were once again tasked with the problems inherent in transferring a literary creation to the small screen. Because ITC liked to sell their products worldwide, this meant that excessive violence, for example, would be frowned upon. It’s well known that the Saint had to be rather watered down from the amoral, anti-hero of the original books – emerging in the television series as the affable globe-trotter familiar from Leslie Charteris’ later novels (which tended not to be as highly regarded as the earlier books).
Revisiting John Creasey’s Gideon novels, it’s easy to see that a similar retooling took place. The Prowler was adapted from Gideon’s Night, published in 1957, and it offers a subtly different story experience. To begin with, Gideon opens by musing on how his marriage went through a rocky patch a few years ago (in contrast, the television couple never seem to have a single argument). Lemaitre is also suffering from domestic strife, as his “bitch” of a wife is blatantly conducting affairs with numerous men. A little character development like this would have been good for the television Lemaitre as Reginald Jessup, despite being a regular, has a fairly thankless role – mainly existing to line feed both Gideon and Keen. As for the prowler, he’s instantly made much more sinister after it’s revealed that he strangles his victims (as opposed to the television prowler who simply clips off a lock of their hair). Other themes in the novel – such as a murderer of young children – were unsurprisingly never adapted for the series.
Returning to this adaptation, the opening few minutes – as Alan pursues his latest victim through a foggy London street – are highly evocative, although there may be some (especially if you equate fog with the stories of Sherlock Holmes) who might regard this scene as something of an anachronism. Not so. Fog and smog continued to be a problem in London well into the 1960’s. The worse case was the great London smog of 1952 which killed thousands and although the problem declined during the 1960’s, it was still there.
The Prowler makes no effort to keep Alan’s identity a mystery. We know very early on that he’s the guilty man and Harry Junkin’s screenplay makes short work of explaining why this is so.
His continuing love for his dead girlfriend, a recent stay in a clinic (following a breakdown) and the suffocating love of his mother are all factors. Although Lady Campbell-Gore no doubt feels she’s acting in his best interests, her domineering personality is precisely what he doesn’t need. After one of the attacks, he pleads with somebody to help him – but since he’s alone in his bedroom, help is not forthcoming.
Clearly he’s reluctant to speak to her about his mental problems and although her actions – telling him he’s not fit to work yet, ripping up a picture of Wendy – are, in her mind, meant for his own good it doesn’t work out that way. And when he does later pluck up the courage to try and explain, she dismisses him with short shrift. No member of their family, she tells him, has ever suffered from insanity. It’s therefore clear that the reputation and standing of their family name matters more to her than the anguish of her son.
Director Robert Tronson was an experienced hand, active in television between the 1960’s and 1990’s. A partial list of his credits – The Saint, Man in a Suitcase, Public Eye, Callan, The Power Game, Manhunt, Father Brown, Juliet Bravo, Bergerac, All Creatures Great and Small, Rumpole of the Bailey – reads like a list of some of the best series that British television has ever had to offer. The Prowler was his sole GW credit, but thanks to the source material he was able to make his mark.
Tronson uses a number of tricks to illustrate Alan’s disturbed state. The incidental music, whilst verging on the over melodramatic at times, is slightly unusual (thanks to the instruments used) which gives this episode a unique feel. He also elects to shoot scenes from Alan’s POV – which allows us to see the world from inside his head. Some of these moments – for example, Alan witnesses the torn photograph of Wendy reassemble itself – clearly can’t have happened, so this is an obvious sign that the way he observes the world is filtered through his own grip on reality.
This was only David Collings’ second television credit (following an edition of The Wednesday Play earlier that same year, 1965) but he’s very watchable as the troubled Alan. Collings would later find something of a niche playing disturbed and damaged individuals, of which Alan is an early example. Although the script seems to tell us that Alan isn’t responsible for his actions, it also poses the question as to whether the system is set up to give him the help he needs.
Alan staggers his way over to Wendy’s old flat, but naturally doesn’t find her. Marjorie Hayling (Gillian Lewis) now lives there and treats the strange man who barges into her rooms with kindness and compassion. He explains that he was Wendy’s fiancée – she knows that Wendy killed herself and gently asks him if he knows why. He doesn’t and this may be one of the reasons why he tortures himself. Marjorie agrees to go out with him, although she’s aware that he’s deeply troubled. During this scene Alan shows himself to be personable, articulate and lonely. It’s not an act – he’s all of these things – which makes his other compulsions even more of a tragedy.
The climatic part of the story – Alan is hunted through the dark streets by the police and eventually turns up at Marjorie’s flat – ramps up the tension, as he holds her hostage with a knife. But had he not felt cornered, would this have happened? It’s a question to ponder (since his later slapping of Marjorie is the first intended violent act we’ve seen him carry out). The siege comes to an end, but Alan’s ultimate fate is not disclosed.
An unusual, but impressive, episode – thanks to David Collings.