Softly Softly: Task Force – Escort

S01E16 (12th March 1970). Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Frank Cox

A controversial American senator is due to make a flying visit to Oldcote Parish Church. Since he’s received several death threats, the Task Force are charged with his protection ….

And so we reach the final episode of series one. Spoiler alert – a regular is shot and killed during the course of this episode.

You may think that issuing a spoiler alert for an episode broadcast 53 years ago is a tad extreme, but in the past I’ve been ticked off for revealing plot twists from similarly ancient programmes, so you never know.

Escort is an episode with an awful lot of chat. Senator Alderton (Alan Gifford) doesn’t make an appearance until we’re about thirty minutes in – before that the audience is made privy to the meticulous planning which (it is hoped) will see him arrive and depart in safety. Given how things play out, I think they’ll need to go back to the drawing board next time.

The episode resists several times to go down the obvious route. It wouldn’t have been surprising had the American liaison, O’Hara (Douglas Lambert), been a boorish character, keen to override the suggestions of his British counterparts. But instead O’Hara is softly spoken and conciliatory – impressed with the Task Force’s organisation and happy to let them take charge (although he seems mildly surprised that John Watt isn’t armed).

And although Senator Alderton’s intemperate views have stoked our anticipation – in person he’s wryly humorous and businesslike (possibly Allan Prior was making a point here).

Jack Shepherd offers a lovely character sketch as the Rev. George Rowley. Somewhat unworldly (although since he’s hopeful of a handsome donation from Alderton he’s not totally unworldly) he remains baffled as to why Watt has ringed such a tight security cordon around the church. Interestingly Watt pretends that it’s simply an exercise – I understand the need for discretion, but surely Rowley should have been told that the senator’s life was in peril?

Given how exhaustive (and indeed, exhausting) the preparations have been, Escort then briefly tips into farce. Donald identifies a suspect – Arnold Forrester (Glenn Beck) – and she and Barlow escort him out of the church.  He then manages to overpower both of them (by tapping Donald in the chest and stepping on Barlow’s foot!)

A black mark for the Task Force then and the fact there’s no police stationed outside the church allows Forrester to make a break for it (whilst Barlow hops around in pain). This is all a little eyebrow raising, but the drama ramps up again when two shots ring out and Snow comes into view holding Inky (“the bastard’s shot Inky!”). This sent mild shockwaves through the country – Valerie Singleton on Blue Peter had to ensure concerned younger viewers that Inky hadn’t really died. Like the rest of the cast, he was just a very good actor.

Snow gets his revenge by giving Forrester a good kicking. Despite the fact Forrester was armed, clearly nothing was going to stop Snow. A foolhardy move, but one that Barlow seems to tacitly approve of.

So there we go. One series down, seven to go.

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