Red Carter (Mike Pratt) and his brother Syd (David Gregory) run a successful stolen car ring. Their success sticks in the craw of Tiny Bray (Frederick Piesley) though. Tiny spent four years inside for a crime he didn’t commit, thanks to Red, and the thought of revenge has obsessed him ever since his release.
Tiny is one of Gideon’s top informers – but Syd caches up with him before he can spill the beans to the Commander. The younger Carter brother dishes out a savage beating and Tiny later dies from his injuries. There was an eye-witness – Rachel Gulley (Audrey Nicholson) – but she’s a quiet, shy girl who’s reluctant to speak out. However, the local beat copper, PC John Moss (Trevor Bannister), has a plan …..
The Reluctant Witness is packed full of incident and interest. Like a number of actors, Mike Pratt made two appearances in Gideon’s Way, playing different characters. Red was the more substantial role and Pratt certainly holds the viewers attention. Red’s the elder brother and it’s plain that the younger Syd idolises him. But Red’s not only older, he’s also wiser (at least during the early part of the story) since it seems more than likely he’d have never lost his temper with Tiny, as Syd did.
In contrast, Syd is portrayed as violent and reckless. An insight into his personality is given during a party thrown by the two brothers. Syd is slightly rough with his female companion, but is unrepentant – with the clear implication given that his treatment of the opposite sex is often far from chivalrous.
The party scene also has one of my favourite Gideon/Keen moments, as the officers gatecrash the swinging hop to sow a little discord. They tell the brothers a fairy story – all about a stolen car ring – although there’s no happy ending (they drop the bombshell that Tiny’s dead). Gregson and Davion work really well here.
You might wonder why Tiny was Gideon’s informant or indeed why the Commander is involved in such a low-key murder. It’s a fair question, but for once there’s a good reason – Tiny was the only man convicted by Gideon who he later discovered was innocent. If Gideon’s never been responsible for convicting anyone else who wasn’t guilty, then that’s a remarkable (if slightly unbelievable) strike-rate. So Gideon feels obligated to get involved (not that he usually needs an excuse, he just tends to pitch in!). But with Rachel hesitant to speak up, how will they obtain a confession from Syd?
This is a fairly unusual episode of GW, since a generous amount of screentime is given over to a uniformed copper. Trevor Bannister, forever Mr Lucas in Are You Being Served?, is the fresh-faced man on the beat. He gives a lovely performance as the friendly beat bobby who’s been carrying a torch for Rachel for some time. Their relationship hasn’t got past the “good morning” stage, although there’s no doubt that he’s smitten. The way that he stops the traffic to allow her to cross the road is a good example of this.
The only criticism I have of Audrey Nicholson’s performance as Rachel Gulley is that several times the script tells us that she’s plain and mousy. Eh? She’s a lovely looking girl! But it’s true she’s something of a downtrodden waif, thanks to her domineering mother (played to great comic effect by Patricia Burke).
Mrs Gulley is a man-eater, plain and simple. She tells Rachel to pretend to be her younger sister, as she doesn’t want her latest date to know that she’s old enough to have a grown-up daughter. Later, when the relationship between Rachel and John deepens, Mrs Gulley is invited to tea with Rachel, John and John’s mother. The tone is set when she asks for something a little stronger than tea – both John and Mrs Moss look a little askance at this, but politeness dictates that they don’t comment directly. Alas, things go downhill from there, but John isn’t bothered – he tells Rachel that he wants to marry her, not her mother.
John’s plan to catch Syd is a decent one. Gideon, Keen and John lie in wait at Rachel’s house and when Syd calls round – threating her to keep quiet or else – they’re in a position to overhear everything. But Rachel will still need to testify and this is the point in the story where Red starts to become a little unhinged. When he sent Syd round to threaten the girl, he was quite clear – no excessive violence. But once Syd’s been arrested he changes his tune – now he wants the girl dead. As he says himself, Syd’s all he’s got in the world, so he’ll do anything – including murder – to protect him.
However, Rachel escapes his clutches (quite why he didn’t send more men after her is something of a mystery). This means that he has to make an even more desperate gamble – attempting to hijack the prison van. He must clearly love his brother, although it might have been a good idea for at least one of his gang to tentatively ask if this was altogether wise. No matter, it concludes the story in an exciting way and there’s a nice twist which totally knocks the wind out of Red’s sails.
Mike Pratt, Trevor Bannister and Audrey Nicholson are three reasons why this episode is a favourite of mine. The supporting players are far from shabby though and there’s familiar faces to spot, such as Gretchen Franklin (playing Tiny’s wife). The eagle-eyed may also spy an uncredited Peter Purves as one of Red’s gang.
It’s getting a little predictable to keep on saying how good this series is, but it’s true nonetheless and The Reluctant Witness maintains the high standard.