S03E02 (13th October 1971). Written by Robert Barr, directed by Brian Parker
Hostage opens with the most sedate bank robbery I’ve ever seen. It’s true that the villains are vaguely dressed as guards (so from a distance they look official) but even when the truth becomes known (they’re taking money out of the bank with guns rather than delivering it) none of the bystanders – ladies with prams, etc – seem terribly concerned. The Sweeney this isn’t.
With six hundred banks in the area, Watt is faced with a nightmare (especially since the firm doesn’t appear to be local). And since the Task Force can’t identify them, how on earth will they be able to predict where they’ll strike next? It’s therefore something of a cop-out that in the very next scene Watt, Hawkins and co just happen to stumble across them. Not the tightest bit of plotting I’ve ever seen.
With the four villains – Frank (Leslie Schofield), Eddie (George Sweeney), Dick (Derek Martin) and Steve (John Hartley) – now holed up inside a bank with multiple hostages, another staggering plot development occurs. Sgt. Evans and PC Drake (Brian Hall) wander into the bank via the back entrance and offer themselves up as hostages. Since they have no idea just how dangerous the men are, this rather beggars belief.
Leslie Schofield is the sort of actor who plays unstable types very well but it’s a pity that the other three villains don’t get to do much (George Sweeney was a very dependable criminal sort, but he remains largely mute throughout). The bank-based stand off in the second part of the episode is the definite highlight of this one, as Evans – his usual stolid self – faces off against the cocky Frank.
Whenever I see the name Robert Barr on the credits I confess to slightly shuddering, but Hostage is a pretty decent story – albeit not without its odd moments. I’ve already touched upon the way the Task Force just happen to turn up mob handed when the latest raid was in progress, but also hard to swallow is the way that Frank and the others make their escape.
They offer Watt a deal – if they’re provided with a car, then they’ll let all the hostages go and leave their guns behind, as long as Watt promises to give them a one hour head start. Really? Watt agrees to this, which is even odder.
Those expecting an all guns blazing finale will probably be disappointed, but the sting in the tail orchestrated by wily old Cullen is quite neat.
In series terms, this episode is notable for being the first to feature Brian Hall as PC Drake. Probably best known for playing Terry in Fawlty Towers, Hall tended to get typecast as criminal types. Which, as we’ll see, turned out to be useful …
Like WDC Forest in the previous episode, Drake isn’t given a big introduction – by the way the others treat him, it seems that he’s been in place for a little while. Drake has taken over the administrator’s role (previously held by Sergeant Jackson and Inspector Armstrong) albeit with a different style. Jackson and Armstrong were bookish, non-operational types – whereas Drake, a more flippant and down to earth character, is happy to get right into the thick of the action.
3 thoughts on “Softly Softly: Task Force – Hostage”
Six hundred banks within one police district? Don’t think you could write that into a show these days, it would be a lot easier to find the felons though
The unbelievable bit for me is why the robbers (depicted throughout as intensely suspicious and paranoid) ditched their guns and accepted a car from the police when surely they must have realised that the cops would have the description and plate number of the car and alerted all forces within a 20 mile (at least) radius.
I suspect Robert Barr plotted himself into a corner and couldn’t find a completely plausible denouement for this. Usually these things are picked up at script editor level, but I know Gerry Davis let through worse on Doctor Who. Guess when you have 26 50min shows to turn out a year, some thing are more solvable than others.
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Possibly they planned to ditch the car before the hour was up and switch to a new one – but it’s still hard to believe that the police would have been happy to give them an hour’s head start. Hey ho, at least the story was a little more involving than most of Barr’s previous SS:TF scripts.