Softly Softly: Task Force – Series One (Episodes 7 to 9)

S01E06 – The Aggro Boy. Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Vere Lorrimer

Football hooliganism is the topic of today’s story. It’s viewed largely through the eyes of a teenage tearaway – Dixie Dickson (Barry McCarthy) – who ends up beaten to a bloody pulp after a revenge attack.

McCarthy (still acting today – his latest credit was a 2023 episode of Call The Midwife) gives a fine, brittle performance. We never really delve that deeply into Dixie’s character (he claims to enjoy a good punch up and that’s about it) but then Allan Prior’s script doesn’t demand any more of him.

Elwyn Jones offers an explanation for the explosion of violence on the terraces – young men with no Army or National Service experience, locked into dead end jobs …

Of course that can’t be the full story but it seems to satisfy Barlow who spends a large part of the episode trying to understand why. At one point he questions the truculent Dixie but can’t break him.

Those nostalgic for early 1970’s football will no doubt find the match footage appealing, although to me it all looks rather grim. Still, the amount of authentic location work is a definite plus point in the episode’s favour.

Winsdor Davies and Bernadette Milnes play Dixie’s parents. They’re not large roles but are still quite key. His parents know that he likes to dress up as a bovver boy, but seem to regard it as nothing more than a childish indulgence. Indeed, their indifference (they take it in turns to tease and mock him) might be one of the reasons why he’s turned into something of a yob.

S01E07 – Standing Orders. Written by Alan Plater, directed by Brian Parker

With Alan Plater on scripting duties, my expectations were pretty high for this one – and he didn’t let me down. Industrial unrest is the theme of Standing Orders with the Task Force – Harry Hawkins especially – caught in the middle and attempting to show favour to neither the strikers or the management.

Although there’s a little bit of bother from the strikers (cars are blocked from entering the factory, the odd brick is thrown) that’s not really developed by Plater. Indeed, the script seems at pains (just like Hawkins) to show no bias towards either side. Although Hawkins (and Plater) is less kindly disposed towards Bellamy (Christopher Matthews), a university student who – along with his long-haired friends – is parachuted in to wave some placards in solidarity with the workers.

Most of the regulars are present (with WDC Donald making a welcome return for the first time since 1.4) but it’s Hawkins who’s front and centre today (no mean feat with scene stealers like Barlow and Watt present). Hawkins’ refusal to back down when confronted by the irate Fleming (Stuart Saunders), a man convinced that Hawkins should have provided his lorries with police protection, is central to the latter part of the episode.

This incident allows Hawkins (and Plater) to make their feelings plain, which are applauded by Barlow and Watt. Katy Manning (billed as Katie) makes her television debut in a role that calls for little more than the ability to look cute and make terrible coffee. Robert Hartley (forever Grange Hill’s Mr Keating) is good value as a management type very eager to assist the police whilst Robert Flynn (Elliott) has a faintly pantomimic turn as an off-kilter striker who looks like he could turn nasty at the drop of a hat.

S01E08 – Private Mischief. Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Ben Rea

This is very much an episode of two halves. It begins rather quietly with the Task Force tracking a group of unscrupulous private detectives who masquerade as police officers in order to get the information they require. My engagement level here was low, although there are a few points of interest such as Jeremy Young’s guest turn as the aggrieved Charleston (he’s one of the unfortunates targeted by the private detectives).

The story only kicks into gear when Scotland (Vincent Ball) and Fowler (Michael Beint) attack Sergeant Jackson in the mistaken belief that he’s working for a rival detective agency. Elwyn Jones’ script offers Jackson some nice character development – up until now he’s been pretty straitlaced (although still capable of the odd deadpan comment).

Taking him away from his desk and involving him in a spot of rough and tumble was unexpected, but it’s the motor that drives the remainder of the story. One interesting point occurs when Scotland and Fowler confront Jackson in the back of his car. The scene begins on location (shot on film at night) but quickly moves into the studio. That’s more than a little disconcerting, and I can only assume that they ran out of time on location (hard to imagine it would have been intentional – but given that so many car scenes in the series are on VT you can never be sure).

Everything’s now bubbling away nicely, but the tension’s ratcheted up further when Scotland (following his release from the police station) receives a vicious beating. Was this a revenge attack by Jackson? We sort of know that’s not the case, but it’s still dramatically satisfying to see him put through the mill a little (as well as noting the reactions of Barlow, Watt and Evans to the possibility that their colleague might be guilty).

It felt odd to me that Jackson was so quick to offer his resignation – purely because he was asked to account for his movements. As a police officer, surely he would have realised that it was just a matter of routine? But perhaps this was designed to show just how rattled the normally cool Jackson was (or maybe, as Barlow and Watt surmise, underneath his calm exterior there might be a vicious streak lurking).

The reveal of the actual attacker shouldn’t come as too much of a shock, but apart from my earlier grumble about the episode’s slow start there’s not too much I can find fault with. Aside from those mentioned, John Rolfe has a good cameo as a forthright lawyer who crumbles under Barlow’s withering attack and there’s also the familiar face of Reginald Barratt who plays an unflappable uniformed inspector.

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