Softly Softly: Task Force – Open and Shut

S01E10 (29th January 1970). Written by Allan Prior, directed by Frank Cox

The episode opens with a bang – as Tom Jarrett (Athol Coats) attempts to throttle the life out of Jerry Proctor (Douglas Rain). It’s just a slight pity that (as often happened with live or as live productions) the action cue wasn’t given slightly earlier as there’s a brief pause after the titles have rolled before they start acting …

Jarrett, Proctor and the blowsy Betty Brewer (Gillian Martell) have the first six minutes to themselves. This lengthy scene is somewhat indigestible, due to the overacting of both Coats and Martell (although Gillian Martell, unlike Coats, is given the opportunity to redeem herself later).

After this long scene of histrionics, it’s a blessed relief to switch over to Barlow who receives a report of murder. Jarrett is the victim, with Proctor and Betty insisting that the other did it. Both have clear motives – we’ve already seen the fight between the men and it’s also explained how the leech-like Betty has spent most of Jarrett’s money.

The episode title, as well as Hawkins’ blithe early assumption that Betty is guilty, will suggest to the informed viewer that things are not going to be as straightforward as they first appear. And so it turns out …

Post murder, Betty spends a large part of the episode apparently in a state of shock. We never learn if this is actually the case or if she’s simply shamming. The more affable Proctor begins to sweat when Barlow applies some pressure, but again we don’t know for certain whether he’s guilty or not – so it’s either impressive acting on his part or the squirming of an innocent man.

This open-ended conclusion (a disgusted Barlow stomps off to bed, after ordering that they both be charged with murder) is something in the episode’s favour. It’s good for once not to have everything neatly wrapped up just in time for the credits – after all, real life rarely works like that.

Although Open and Shut begins rather shakily, it gets into its stride with the performance of Douglas Rain a definite plus point.

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