S02E11 (25 November 1970). Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by David Sullivan Proudfoot
Sergeant Jackson has been studying a number of recent high-profile burglaries and has found a curious pattern. Every night that a major break-in occurred, in roughly the same area there were several smaller ones. These were trivial affairs though – a bottle of wine in one house, a lighter taken from a corner shop, etc. It’s a curious state of affairs – why go to all that bother just to steal trinkets? But John Watt doesn’t have a great deal of time to ponder, as his wife Jean (Gay Hamilton) is unable to find her watch and then discovers that their home-made pâté has vanished from the fridge. The evidence is unmistakable, Watt is the latest victim ….
At the start of the story, Evans (after hearing about the lighter stolen from the corner shop) tells the proprietor that whilst it appears to be a trivial matter, it’ll be stored away and collated for future reference. And it doesn’t take long before we see his words come true – on its own the theft of a lighter is meaningless, but when it’s plotted with the other robberies it becomes of great significance.
The burglary at Watt’s house is an interesting development. Because this is a story centred around the police investigation (we don’t see the criminals until we’re well into the episode) it poses several questions. Is it simply a coincidence that Watt was targeted or does our burglar have a sense of humour? The drip, drip of information continues when it’s revealed that several witnesses reported seeing a police officer outside various properties, including Watt’s house, in the early hours of the morning. Barlow reacts with a spasm of anger at the thought that one of their own might be responsible.
He’s also angry – although it’s done slightly tongue in cheek – when he learns that the Watt’s pâté has been stolen. They had been planning to dish it up for Barlow that evening! Their dinner party goes ahead, although Watt grumbles that the shop-bought pâté just isn’t the same. The sight of Jean Watt, as well as their slightly awkward dinner party, gives us a few nice off-duty moments of colour. All of the Task Force officers, but especially Barlow and Watt, are so focused and driven that it’s often hard to imagine they have any home life at all.
One of the witnesses who saw what appeared to be a police officer acting suspiciously is young Timothy (David Arnold). Arnold gives an extraordinary performance. Timothy (he doesn’t like being called Tim and tells Evans and Barlow so on different occasions) might be the son of a greengrocer, but he’s remarkably well-spoken, polite and logical. It’s hard to imagine children like him ever existed and it’s a little curious why a more naturalistic performance wasn’t sought, but the dialogue suggests Arnold was playing the role the way it was written.
His interview with Evans is a bit of a treat and Evans also has a memorable encounter with one of Watt’s neighbours. She was burgled six months ago and cynically tells him that she never had all this fuss made (but since John Watt is a policeman he has the red-carpet treatment). Evans protests that that’s not the case, but she’s not in a listening mood. She proves to be of value though, as she’s the first to link a policeman to the crimes. When Evans presses her to describe the man, she tactlessly states that the man wasn’t as stout as Evans! Timothy’s evidence also comes up trumps when he begins to have second thoughts about whether it was a policeman he saw after all.
The Task Force manage to track down a suspect suspiciously easy, which begs a rather obvious question – why haven’t they done so before? It surely can’t be just because John Watt has now become a victim? And the reveal that the villains were only pretending to be police officers is maybe not too great a shock – bent coppers existed at the time, but they didn’t turn up very often in SS:TF.
One story weakness is that it’s never explained why they carried out the small burglaries which netted nothing of value. It seems an unnecessary risk for no gain, unless they were simply doing it for kicks. But they were hardly kids, so that suggestion is slightly difficult to swallow.
Collation is decent rather than outstanding, but there are several areas of interest, not least John Watt’s undercover work (complete with a rather clumsy looking instamatic camera). David Lloyd Meredith is on good form throughout – whether it’s tangling with young Timothy or sharing an observation car with Barlow. For example, Evans can’t resist a chuckle when he learns that the codeword for the operation is pâté! And when Timothy’s attacked by the fake copper, watch the way that Barlow deals with him. It’s certainly not gentle ….