Softly Softly: Task Force – Marksman

S03E08 (24th November 1971). Written by Allan Prior, directed by Brian Parker

After a bungled armed robbery at a betting shop, which leaves a young constable blinded in both eyes, the hunt is on for three men …

Marksman opens with Hawkins and Watt both taking a weapons refresher course. Hawkins throws himself into everything with extreme gusto (and kudos to Norman Bowler, who clearly didn’t mind getting rather muddy). Afterwards, Hawkins is remarkably blasé – declaring that when the time comes, he’ll have no more trouble shooting a live target than the paper ones he’s been blasting away at today. Watt, older and more cynical, isn’t so sure.

From these opening scenes it’s not hard to guess how the story will develop, but although the ending is predictable (based on what’s been established right here) the story still carries a punch. That’s because gunplay in SS:TF was pretty rare – yes, we’ve seen armed robbers before (in Hostage, for example) but guns tend to be waved around, rather than actually fired.

In that respect, SS:TF has little in common with later, more action-based, police series like The Sweeney. That’s not a criticism though – the fact guns are used sparingly gives them much more of an impact whenever they are central to a story (plus, as seen in this episode, weapons aren’t portrayed in a glamourous light).

The unfortunate PC Harris wanders into a rather crowded betting shop. But by the time Watt and Hawkins turn up, many of the customers have mysteriously vanished. In production terms this is easy to understand (most of the actors were non-speaking extras and so couldn’t have contributed anything). Mrs Goldsmith (Dot Temple), one of those left, is able to provide Watt with several important nuggets of information. Most crucially, a lead to one of the robbers – Joey (Oscar James).

That they’re not the most organised of villains is made plain by the fact that, under stress, they shouted out each others names (overheard by the calm in a crisis Mrs Goldsmith). The fact that the shooter – Blakey (William Corderoy) – used his own vehicle as the getaway car is another black mark against them.

Blakey is a loathsome individual – a loud-mouthed, cocky type with no redeeming features at all. The way he treats his poor downtrodden wife, Marion (Sarah Golding), hammers this point home. When the pair first meet on screen he calls her a “silly bitch” and he ends the episode by punching her in the face.

Compared to him, Murray (Tony Caunter), is a knight in shining armour. As an experienced criminal, he knows that Blakey’s exuberance with the shotgun spells disaster for them all. Quite why Murray remains holed up with Blakey and Marion in their farmhouse is a little hard to fathom – yes, it’s isolated but surely Murray would have been sensible enough to put some distance between them?

I can understand in story terms why it didn’t happen – Blakey and Murray need to remain together so they can talk through the implications of their situation – but it does slightly jar.

Cullen has a few brief, but very telling scenes. Firstly, bristling with anger at the thought of PC Harris’ condition and then electing to lead from the front as he tells Mrs Harris (Julie Neubert) the bad news about her husband. We’re not privy to that conversation, but it’s easy to imagine just how painful and awkward it must have been.

Joey, who decided not to remain with the others, is swiftly tracked down by Watt, Hawkins, Snow and Forest. His rooms are given a violent once-over and Watt is pretty rough (verbally, not physically) when questioning him. Excellent work from both Frank Windsor and Oscar James here.

Thanks to Joey, the Task Force now know where the others are hiding and Hawkins, Snow and Watt arm themselves in preparation. Again, the difference between Hawkins and the others is marked – he receives his gun and ammo casually, whilst Snow and Watt are far more sober. In this scene Snow seems to suggest that Radar won’t be present during the operation (for him, as for the audience, the death of his previous dog – Inky – still resonates).

That moment is somewhat negated later though, as Snow sets Radar on the fleeing Murray. For one terrible moment it looks like another police dog might bite the dust – but good old Radar was more than a match for Murray (played in this scene by a stuntman – Murray’s sudden increase of hair is a bit of a giveaway).

That just leaves Blakey, who’s shot (dead, I assume) by Hawkins. And of course, after Hawkins has seen the reality of his actions, all his earlier self assurance rather crumbles away …

There’s little to fault in Marksman. Frank Windsor leads from the front, with Norman Bowler providing solid support (which suggests how the series will feel once Stratford Johns has departed for his own series).

One thought on “Softly Softly: Task Force – Marksman

  1. Though Blakey is an unmitigated scumbag, his demise is gut-wrenching. Quite literally for poor old Harry Hawkins. The look on his face as he walks away from the scene says it all.


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