Chris Kirk (Howard Knight) is a quiet, bespectacled boy of fifteen who finds himself corned by three toughs of his own age, led by the knife-wielding Mick (Roger Foss). Mick wants Chris’ rifle and after a struggle the gun goes off. Mick falls to the ground, apparently dead, whilst Chris flees the scene.
Chris isn’t the sort of boy you’d expect to be tangled up in a shooting case. His father, Dr Kirk (Anthony Bate) is the local police surgeon and a well respected man. The reaction of the local Inspector, after Dr Kirk tells him that his son was responsible, speaks volumes. He simply can’t believe it – after all, nice middle-class people don’t go around shooting other people.
Anthony Bate was an immaculate actor who I can never remember giving a bad performance. His credits are too numerous to mention, but I’ve previously written about his turns in the likes of An Englishman’s Castle and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (both series are undeniably enriched by his playing). He’s also first-rate in the classic Out of the Unknown episode Level Seven. Dr Kirk is another well crafted creation – a cold, cold man who is indirectly responsible for the mess young Chris finds himself in.
Dr Kirk is pained that Chris takes no interest in sports and would sooner bury his head in a book. He dismisses the boy as effeminate and then tells his wife Helen (Ruth Trouncer) that it’s mostly her fault anyway – she wanted a girl so (in his eyes) she’s stunted his development. Husband and wife have a blazing row, expertly performed by Bate and Trouncer (which is notable as it’s played at a more intense level than is normal for the series).
Helen concludes the argument by telling her husband that the reason he wants Chris to be a real man is because he isn’t one himself. It’s a wonderful piece of character development which lays the character of Dr Kirk bare. But this isn’t the whole story, as later Gideon remembers the time when Dr Kirk risked his life to save an injured policeman. Gideon’s story helps to demonstrate that whilst the man may have many less than admirable traits, he (like all of us) is a more complex character than might first be supposed.
Kirk gave his son the gun because he’s been trying to interest him in various manly pursuits – hunting, shooting, fishing. Of course, this doesn’t explain why Chris was carrying a loaded gun around the streets of London, which remains a slight weakness of the story. The point where Mick is shot is also worth looking at – did Chris shoot him deliberately or did the gun go off by accident? It’s possible to make a case for both, although it has to be said that anybody who walks around with an unbroken rifle is simply asking for trouble. It’s also odd that when Chris goes on the run he takes the gun with him, why would he do that?
Mick isn’t dead, although his condition is serious. His anxious parents, Tim (George Sewell) and Mary (Mary Quinn) wait anxiously at the hospital for news, as Tim vows vengeance on Chris. I’ve always loved George Sewell but since the character he’s playing is Irish, he’s operating a little out of his comfort zone, meaning that every time he opens his mouth I find it hard to take him seriously. Quite why Tim couldn’t have been played with Sewell’s authentic East-End tones is a bit of a mystery.
After Chris goes on the run he’s befriended by Vince Kelly (Michael Craze), a Borstal escapee. Chris’ mother tells Gideon that her son is a lonely child – shunned by the boys in his area – so he latches onto the friendly Vince with alacrity. Craze’s breezy naturalistic playing is a delight. He’s the diametric opposite of Chris – whilst Chris has had everything, Vince has had nothing – but there’s no resentment from the Borstal boy. He simply accepts Chris at face value, understands that he too is in trouble and makes an instant connection.
Mick’s father, Tim, is the one with the resentment. In a memorable scene, he confronts Gideon and tells him that he knows the police won’t try too hard to find Chris – after all, Dr Kirk is a member of the establishment and they always look after their own. “My boy never really had a father. For ten years I was sewing bags in Dartmoor for the Regent’s Street fur job. The Kirk boy’s had everything. Good school, clothes, family background the lot. And what happens? My boy’s walking along, minding his own business, doing no harm to nobody, and the Kirk kid blasts him with a shotgun.” Even allowing for Sewell’s interesting Irish accent this is good stuff, capped off when Gideon tells him that his son wasn’t quite the innocent party his father has made him out to be.
Vince is an irrestable dreamer, who’s sure that his elder brother Ches (Michael Standing) will be able to spirit them out of the country. As they hitch a ride to Ches’s flat, Vince continues to express his respect for the fact that Chris was able to shoot a man. It’s therefore fairly obvious that Vince isn’t the brightest, but Craze manages to make the boy both vunerable and appealing.
It slightly beggars belief that Chris eventually finds himself pretty much back where he begun, meaning that a local petty criminal (played by the wonderful Joe Gladwin) is able to pop round the corner and tell Tim that the boy who shot his son is hiding in the area. This is the excuse for Sewell to dial his Irish accent to eleven and it also shows Chris levelling his gun at the struggling Ches and Tim. So although Chris has been somewhat painted as a victim, this moment is another indication that his sense of morality is rather skewered.
The ending – as Gideon and the others confront Chris, who’s still armed – is very interesting. Dr Kirk is on the spot, and everything seems set up for him to be the one who talks the boy down. But this doesn’t happen and it’s Vince who’s finally able to bring the stand-off to a peaceful conclusion. Father and son do walk off together though, which suggests that maybe, over time, there’s a chance for them to rebuild their shattered relationship.
As ever, good playing from the guest cast helps to enrich an already strong screenplay by Iain MacCormick. MacCormick’s screen credits aren’t terribly extensive (he died, aged just 48, in 1965) but his contribution to Gideon’s Way was notable. Boy With Gun was his fifth and final script, whilst the others (especially The Nightlifers, The Alibi Man and The Thin Red Line) are amongst the best that the series had to offer.