Softly Softly: Task Force – Series One (Episodes 4-6)

S01 E04 – The Spoilt Ones. Written by Allan Prior, directed by Brian Parker

We’re on the wrong side of town today – where the streets are full of rubbish, the slum buildings are crumbling and everyone (including the children) seem to have fags permanently drooping from their mouths.

Old con Sid Stannnish (John Bennett) and his wife Jennie (Sally Sanders) exist in extreme squalor (you can almost feel the grime seeping out of the television screen). Their scenes of marital disharmony (violent squabbles followed by interludes of detente) carry something of a punch, although it’s true that they also feel a little artificial.

Maybe it’s because Bennett’s such a well known actor, but he doesn’t quite convince as the feckless Sid (a small time crook living off the money his wife makes). The less familiar Sally Sanders (Jennie is a horrific creation – thinking nothing of smacking her children about when they demand food) fares a little better.

Jennie is befriended by an undercover WDC Donald (pop her in a headscarf and she fits right in). It’s another nice role for Susan Tebbs with the episode ringing the changes by  mostly staying away from the police station (the main focus of the previous three episodes).

Neither Karen Williams or Stephen Proctor (as the two Stannish children) had lengthy acting careers but both impress as a pair maybe doomed to repeat the mistakes of their parents. That they hold the key to solving the mystery of the numerous petty thefts which have blighted the neighbourhood is a nice plot twist.

S01E05 – To Protect the Innocent … Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Frank Cox

Cullen is unable to attend an important civic function, so deputises Barlow to stand in for him. Watt is tickled when he discovers that it’s a carol service down at the local nick. This is the cue for Watt and Sgt. Jackson to break into a spot of impromptu carol singing. Of course, it was pretty obvious that Barlow would then come into the room …

It’s a pretty light-hearted way to open proceedings and this tone continues when Sgt. Evans (maintaining his character of the cliché Welshman) sorrowfully regrets that he hasn’t been asked to attend. After all, everyone knows that singing is in the Welsh blood.

Slowly through, the mood darkens. This begins when an inmate, Jack Gregory (John Normington), spies Barlow in the crowd and asks to speak to him. Rather like John Bennett last time, Normington doesn’t quite convince as a hardened criminal, but overall Gregory is a well drawn character who isn’t easy to read (is he villain or victim?)

I like the way the story ebbs and flows – with the main plot thread (child abuse) only coming into focus fairly late on. Gregory claims that he’s concerned for the welfare of his young son, especially since the boy’s mother – Mary Lester (Nerys Hughes) – has disappeared.

Hughes only has two scenes, but both are key and despite her lack of screentime Mary Is pivotal to the story. Although Barlow and Watt both have plenty to do, it’s Barlow who’s gifted most of the best lines. Concerned for the safety of the child, he confronts Dr Raymond (John Bryans) in a scene that’s the undoubted highlight.

Donald Burton, Edward Jewesbury and David Neal also appear in an episode which poses tough questions – such as the dichotomy between punishment and rehabilitation – but doesn’t offer any pat answers.

S01 E06 – Any Other Night. Written by Robert Barr, directed by Peter Cregeen

It’s New Years Eve, but that doesn’t mean that crime takes a holiday. And since tonight’s crime (the theft of £800 worth of tyres) occurs at police headquarters, it’s both personal and embarrassing …

SS:TF was rarely a fast paced series, but Any Other Night is especially glacial. It’s not totally without interest though – the lengthy opening scene between Cullen and Barlow is all good character stuff (Cullen’s plan to get his senior officers working closer together seems to involve plying them with copious amounts of alcohol!)

Victor Maddern and Douglas Livingstone play the two tyre thieves. Maddern (possessor of a well lived-in face that always seemed to exude an air of defeat) was no stranger to tackling criminal roles of this type. Although his moment of fame in Dixon of Dock Green (“Dick Green Dock. Dock Green Dick”) was still a few years in the future.

Livingstone (who I’m sorry to note passed away in 2021) was coming to the end of his acting career, but his secondary career as a writer would continue for decades to come. He had plenty of fine writing credits to his name, such as the 1981 adaptation of The Day of the Triffids.

Basil Dignam as Chief Supt. Marshall is seemingly on hand to spar with Barlow – but in the end they end up the best of friends. Kenton Moore also makes a brief appearance. It’s hard not to think of The Ark in Space and Noah when he pops up – especially as he seems to pull rather Noah-ish faces at times (although in this episode he’s supposed to be happy and not in agony).

A couple of random observations. There’s a fair chunk of night filming, so clearly the episode had a healthy budget. At one point Evans is sitting in a police car with a colleague who turns out to be a non-speaking extra. This becomes clear when Evans continues to talk and his friend can only nod, raise his eyebrows, shrug his shoulders, etc, in response. Finally, the over-enthusiastic way a bunch of extras see in the New Year during a pub scene is quite the thing.

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