Juliet Bravo carried on in a similar tradition to previous BBC police series such as Dixon of Dock Green, Z Cars and Softly Softly. What links them all is their low-key feel (murders and armed robberies were the exception rather than the rule).
It’s an interesting fact that series creator Ian Kennedy-Martin had also created The Sweeney (penning the original Armchair Cinema pilot, Regan). The Sweeney has long been regarded by many critics as a breath of fresh air – destroying the few remaining shreds of credibility of tired old warhorses such as Dixon and Z Cars.
The truth is a little different though. The surviving colour episodes of Dixon (most of which are now available on DVD) reveal a much more interesting programme than the “tired old dinosaur” of legend. And whilst The Sweeney blazed brightly for a while (with The Professionals and Dempsey and Makepeace following in its wake) there’s no reason why every subsequent police show had to follow this format.
Possibly due to its countryside setting, JB has come to be seen by some as a cosy Saturday night programme, a forerunner to Heartbeat. This is far from the mark though – Hartley may be an isolated town, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Social and economic deprevation (the series debuted in 1980) is the background to many of the stories. Quiet desperation might be said to be one of the series’ recurring themes.
The major selling point of JB, of course, was the fact that a female inspector, Jean Darblay (Stephanie Turner), has been placed in charge of a station full of men. Today this wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, but the novelty of a female Inspector (or indeed a female leading a police series) would still have been strong back in 1980.
The forces of conservatism are represented by the two middle-aged sergeants, Joe Beck (David Ellison) and George Parrish (Noel Collins) with Joe being the most opposed to Jean’s appointment (his calculated insolence runs throughout this opening episode). Eventually she tells him outright not to call her “boss”. “Ma’am” will do instead.
The opening few seconds of the episode – a car gingerly traverses up a steep, deeply rutted road whilst an old woman with a trolly trudges down (with a factory chimney billowing out smoke in the distance) is a wonderful piece of visual shorthand. We’re instantly aware of exactly what sort of town Hartley is (a run-down environment which has seen better days).
The car driver – Rodney Maskell (Tony Melody) – is just as quickly established as a deeply unstable man. With camera angles shooting from low on the ground and from his POV, it helps to create a sense of queasy uneasiness. He’s arrived, at gunpoint, to take his teenage daughter, Maureen (Joanne Whalley) away with him.
After this drama, we switch over to the more humdrum world of Hartley nick. Jean’s already been resident for a short while, but it’s still clearly not something that Joe and George have come to terms with. Joe’s gleefully sorrowful comment that a parade at 9:30 will be difficult is just one round in their battle of wills.
Jean’s encounter with local informer Ted Watson (John Moore) is another. Joe and George have clearly indulged this elderly chap for years, but Jean is far from impressed when she learns that he expects to receive five pounds for his statement (he claims to have witnessed a rape on the moor). This subplot is notable for establishing the bleak tone of the series – Jean attempts to question the mother of the alleged rape victim, but doesn’t get very far. The father isn’t a great deal of help either (telling Jean that if her daughter becomes pregnant they’ll “summon the bastard”. If she’s not, then they won’t).
Jackie Shin (as Mr Porter) enjoys a vivid cameo here, as Porter explains to Jean that dragging his young daughter through the indignity of a court case is something he’s keen to avoid. His parting shot (“if you weren’t a bloody woman, I’d belt you one”) is nicely delivered too.
Mrs Maskell (Margaret Stallard) tells Jean that her husband has been on a downward turn ever since he lost his job (his old place of work – a now derilict mill – could be taken as a visual metaphor for the economic decline of the North). Of course, this is where he and Maureen are holed up (Jean decides to pop into the mill all by herself and is marched out at gunpoint by Maskell for her pains).
It’s hard to see this as anything other than a massive miscalculation on her part (although to be fair, Jean wasn’t aware that Maskell had a shotgun).
Whalley might have been eighteen at the time, but she’s easily able to play a diminutive fourteen year old. She doesn’t have many lines, but no doubt due to her later career she always catches the eye.
Tony Melody is compelling as a man on a verge of a nervous breakdown. His desire to shoot his wife (or indeed the police) is contrasted by his obvious love for his daughter. That she’s the only person he won’t shoot is later used by her as she timidly tells him that she’s prepared to walk out of the door. Melody and Whalley play these later scenes very well.
This looks like it was David Reynold’s only JB episode as director, a pity as there’s some lovely filmic moments peppered throughout (Shot Gun is a major location shoot, other episodes would be more studio based). Later moving to ITV, Reynolds would become a producer, working on many of the network’s top dramas and comedies.
Shot Gun establishes the series with a bang, informing us right from the start that we shouldn’t always expect a happy ending.