Dick Turpin – The Champion (20th January 1979)

Turpin is looking for a place to lie low for a while, and the small village of Mudbury seems ideal. After arriving, he learns that the bible bashing preacher, Nightingale (John Grillo), is using his feared enforcer – Hogg (Robert Russell) – to extract regular payments from the villagers.

But the trouble really begins when the ever impulsive Swiftnick, after learning that Hogg has his heart set on becoming a prizefighter, rashly suggests that Turpin could easily defeat Hogg in a fight. Problem is, he hasn’t mentioned this to Dick yet ….

There’s no Glutton or Spiker in this episode, which is a plus. However good their characters are, if they keep reappearing week after week then the series would quickly become monotonous (for example, see the later series of Blakes 7 which suffered from a Servalan overkill).

In Glutton’s place, we’ve got the hell and damnation figure of Nightingale. John Grillo has an extensive list of television credits, so I really feel that I should know his work better than I do. After this though, I’ll be keeping an eye out for him as he’s very watchable as Nightingale.

A much more recognisable actor for me is Don Henderson, who plays Bracewell (a noted prizefighter). By one of the those remarkable coincidences which occur in these sort of series, Turpin rescues Bracewell from a highway attack just before reaching Mudbury. So after Turpin receives an early dose of punishment from Hogg, he rushes off to get Bracewell (who’s more than happy to challenge Hogg).

Once again, it’s no surprise that Swiftnick is to blame for Dick’s travails. Even before Turpin finds himself facing down Hogg, he bitterly tells his highway partner that “you’ll fall down your own mouth one of these days”.

If Grillo receives many of the best lines. leaving Henderson with the scraps, that means there’s not much left for the villagers. Still, Gerry Cowper briefly lights up the screen as Lucy, this week’s serving wench. And the always dependable Roy Evans (Fellowes) and Nicholas McArdle (Pollard) are plusses as well.

The comedy element is ramped up in this episode, which makes it an ideal vehicle for Richard O’Sullivan. He’s really in his element throughout – especially when (after Bracewell disappears) he finds he has to fight Hogg after all.

Hogg might be on the side of the baddies, but he seems to be an honest fighter. Not so Turpin, who uses every dirty trick in the book (or at least those permissible at Saturday tea-time) to gain an advantage. As the fight continues and Turpin barely manages to stay on his feet, Switnick frantically rushes about, looking for Bracewell.

Today’s plot niggles. Given that Bracewell is such an intimidating character, how did Nightingale and Hogg manage to spirit him away? No explanation is given, so you’ll have to make your own up. Oh, and out of all the places to hide Bracewell, the one chosen (the barn where the fight is taking place) has to be the worst.

Swiftnick and Lucy find Bracwell at the eleventh hour and he rushes over to take Turpin’s place – but (hurrah!) there’s no need as somehow Dick Turpin, in true David and Goliath style, has triumphed. Given this, you might wonder why Bracewell features in the story at all ….

Niggles apart, this is a fun romp – nothing more, nothing less.

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