Softly Softly: Task Force – Copper Wire

S03E09 (1st December 1971). Written by Keith Dewhurst, directed by Peter Cregeen

The district has recently been hit by a wave of metal thefts. When a lorry carrying copper wire is stopped and the passenger turns out to be Tiger Mulholland (Peter Kerrigan), an old adversary of Barlow from his Newtown days, he can’t resist stepping in to see if he can break him once more …

Copper Wire only features two regulars – Evans and Barlow – which means that there’s plenty of time to develop the character of Tiger. For example, an early scene where he’s enjoying breakfast in the company of Alice West (Barbara Keogh) and her daughters Marie (June Page) and Janice (Pauline Quirke).

The episode could have excised this scene and it wouldn’t have hurt the story that much, but I’m glad it was kept in as it reveals a great deal that Tiger later verbally confirms to Barlow. Tiger’s estranged from his wife and is living (uneasily) with Alice, but has his eye on her underage daughter, Marie. This is a tad unsettling, although it doesn’t become a major story beat – it’s just a detail that helps to flesh out Tiger’s character.

June Page gets a few lines, but Pauline Quirke doesn’t (although she did earn a credit). Given this, it’s surprising that Linda Regan went uncredited, as though she also didn’t have any lines, she was on the screen for about the same length of time as Quirke. Regan’s role wasn’t a taxing one – she played a dollybird in a very short skirt who is pawed by Tiger’s colleague, Jeff (James Marcus).

I wonder if Quirke had some dialogue which was later cut? There are certainly a few abrupt scene transitions early on which suggests that some material might have been trimmed in order to bring the episode down to its required length.

The episode veers from comic to dark. Touring yards where metal thefts might occur, Evans speaks to Cosway (Wally Thomas) about the need to tighten up security. But Cosway spends most of his time lecturing Evans about his excessive weight (the Sergeant then reveals the fascinating nugget that he’s learning ju-jitsu at evening classes!)

Barlow’s usual driver is unavailable, so Evans – in the early hours of the morning – is given the job of picking up his very refreshed superior and delivering him safely home. Of course, things don’t work out like that, after Barlow learns that Tiger is in custody …

Once at the station, Barlow begins by demanding plenty of coffee and then runs roughshod over the unfortunate Inspector Lipton (Victor Brooks). Later on he proceeds to criticise the nightwear of Osbaldeston (Allan Surtees) – the man dragged out of bed to examine Jeff’s lorry.

At this point it almost feels like the episode could descend into farce thanks to a tipsy Barlow, but then events take an abrupt about turn with a pulsating twelve minute scene between Barlow and Tiger. There’s so much to unpack during this lengthy scene, beginning with Barlow’s nostalgic reminisces about their Newtown days (a pity that Peter Kerrigan hadn’t actually appeared alongside Stratford Johns in an old Z Cars episode, but Copper Wire insists that he did, so I’m sure the audience would have been prepared to take it on trust).

It seems that Barlow’s unlikely to break a wily old-timer like Tiger, and indeed the tables begin to turn as Tiger wonders if Barlow – always an ambitious man – in happy now he’s achieved several promotions. There’s a sense that he’s personally unfulfilled (the oft-mentioned but never seen Mrs Barlow won’t be waiting up for him).

Tiger does eventually confess (because he’s afraid he’s dying). Barlow offers him a fraction of comfort (the gentlest of taps on the shoulder) before leaving. Was he really moved? His conversation immediately afterwards with the Inspector suggests not – so was their entire one-to-one discussion all an act from Barlow? Maybe, maybe not. Keith Dewhurst’s script (his first for the series) lets the viewer make their own minds up.

It’s getting a bit monotonous to keep on saying so, but the series is really going through a purple patch at the moment.

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