Softly Softly: Task Force – Power of the Press

S01E13 (19th February 1970). Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Brian Parker

Smooth-talking London journalist Derek Watson (Gary Waldhorn) is in the Thamesford area, ostensibly to write a piece about the force. In reality he’s targeting a corrupt local councillor called Whitaker (Ronald Radd). What makes the story especially juicy for Watson is Whitaker’s close ties to Barlow …

There’s a lot to enjoy in this episode. Firstly, it’s one where Cullen runs the show. From his initial politely combative interview with Watson to his spiky interaction with Barlow, Walter Gotell is very well served today. I like the fact that Cullen decided to secretly tape his interview with Watson – clearly President Nixon later took a leaf out of his book ….

We don’t often see Barlow discomforted or on the back foot, but until the last fifteen minutes or so (when he confronts and dominates both Whitaker and Watson) he’s pretty subdued. Although there’s no suggestion that he took a bribe from Whitaker, it seems that Barlow did partly cultivate their friendship because he’d hoped that Whitaker would be a useful ally (helping with career advancement, etc).

If Watson oozes oily charm, then his local counterpart – James Potter (Kenneth Waller) – just gives the air of being a grubby little man in a raincoat. Waller specalised in roles of this kind and he doesn’t disappoint.

Highlights of the episode include an awkward round of golf between Barlow and Whitaker, which takes place on the most cheerless course you could possibly imagine (maybe it would have looked a little better had the sun been out). I also enjoyed Evans’ remarkable ability to down a pint in a single gulp (god bless those fake pint glasses).

That the denouement of the story takes place in a genteel tea shop seems fitting for the sometimes rural nature of SS:TF. Whitaker is recorded accepting a £50 bribe to wave through planning permission on the shop – a fairly small spot of corruption it must be said, although Whitaker hints that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Ronald Radd never gave a bad performance and he’s typically polished and quietly menacing today. Due to his lived-in face he sometimes played older than he actually was (Radd was in his early forties at this time, whereas Whitaker was some ten years older). Whitaker faces the wrath of Barlow with equanimity, seemingly confident that he’ll be able to wriggle out of this spot of trouble. It’s only when Barlow begins to bellow alarmingly that he seems slightly taken aback.

A good one, especially once Barlow casts off his shackles and begins to intimidate all and sundry.

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