Softly Softly: Task Force – Sprats and Mackerels

S01E11 (5th February 1970). Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Peter Cregeen

Illegal immigration was clearly a hot topic during the late sixties/early seventies, as it featured in a number of popular series (apart from this episode, other examples can be found in programmes such as Strange Report and Special Branch).

What marks this one out as unusual is the fact that we never see the immigrants – although I think that’s mainly because, despite the story’s dock-based setting, the series wasn’t able to mount a location shoot there. This meant that filming inside the ship’s tanker (where the illegals were hiding) wasn’t possible.

Rumours have reached John Watt that the docks are a likely place for illegal immigrants to come ashore. He sends a number of coppers down to investigate – including WDC Donald, who masquerades as a fairly mature juvenile delinquent. This is an odd bit of plotting – Donald (in her disguised persona as a stroppy little madam) does manage to tease a lead out of café owner Bateson (Tommy Godfrey) but she’s swiftly chased away by Snow, who then proceeds to question him more closely.

Given this, Donald’s presence was entirely superfluous since Snow could have got the info by himself. Was this an intentional comment on the way Donald is sometimes side lined? It’s very much a man’s force, as the paternalistic Sgt. Evans implies (he appears to regard her like a daughter and so hates to see her getting into potential danger).

For those who like to spot familiar faces, there’s plenty to choose from today – like Joe Gladwin, Kenneth Cranham, Sally Geeson and Christopher Benjamin. Cranham (who’d have a larger role in 3.17 – Anywhere in the Wide World) is entertainingly truculent whilst Geeson also essays a decent cameo as a young girl who’s old before her time. Gladwin’s lugubrious features are always a pleasure to see whilst an avuncular and bearded Benjamin doesn’t have a great deal to do except puff on his pipe and look interested.

Gay Hamilton makes her first SS:TF appearance as Jean Morrow (although the same character had appeared in SS). Jean’s stuttering relationship with John Watt (which progresses slightly in this episode) helps to lighten the tone somewhat.

The lack of dock-based location filming does rob the episode ending of a certain impact (instead of seeing what’s happened, we can only be told about it). But that apart, it’s an above average effort.

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