Softly Softly: Task Force – The Amateur

S03E16 (19th January 1972). Written by Robert Barr, directed by Frank Cox

The district has been hit with a series of break-ins targeting opulent houses (the likes of silver and precious paintings have been stolen). Several victims had used a car hire firm run by an ex-criminal called Joe Maitland (John Stratton) so it’s no surprise when Harry Hawkins pays him a visit ….

It’s always slightly difficult to reconcile the image I have of Stratton circa Quatermass and the Pit (1958/59) with his more familiar seventies/eighties television persona. Back in the Quatermass days Stratton was a dashing heroic type, but later (as here) he’s usually called upon to play balding, slightly gone-to-seed underachievers.

He’s jolly good in The Amateur though, and is the main reason why the story held my interest throughout. Hawkins begins by leaning heavily on Joe (leading him to declare that he’s harder than Barlow). The question as to whether Joe is complicit in the robberies isn’t settled until relatively late on – it turns out he’s not (and indeed, he points Barlow and Hawkins in the right direction).

Having received a later verbal assault from Barlow (which causes Joe to change his opinion about who’s worse – Hawkins or Barlow!) the episode ends with a grateful Barlow offering Joe a cash payment for his information. This he angrily refuses (Barlow is more amused than offended by his rebuttal). Joe’s journey through the episode and his interaction with Hawkins and Barlow is the clear highlight of The Amateur.

It’s fascinating that the real baddy – Julian Brent (Stephen Chase) – remains on the outskirts of the story. We see him skulking around a telephone box several times, but he’s always a peripheral figure.

Guest-cast wise, the other person of interest is Lennard Pearce as Mr Pearson. Best known, of course, for playing Grandad in Only Fools & Horses, the upper crust Pearson bears no relation to his signature role.

As for the regulars, today we have to bid farewell to WDC Forest (Julie Hallam). Sadly she doesn’t get a great deal to do and there’s no acknowledgment that she’s leaving (so either her departure was somewhat last minute or it wasn’t felt worth acknowledging. Hopefully it was the former rather than the latter).

DC Drake’s hero-worship of Barlow is touched upon again. After dropping off a sheaf of reports, Drake is delighted to receive a crumb of praise from Barlow (and as Drake exits his office, Barlow gives him an indulgent smile – rather like a father would to an overachieving child). It’s only a small story beat, but it’s nice to see a previous thread developed.

The Amateur doesn’t place too much stress on the robberies, the items stolen or the victims. Instead, the script is more concerned about Joe Maitland and his involvement (or not) in the criminal events. This works well overall, and although I’ve had my issues with some of Robert Barr’s previous scripts, there’s not too much to complain about in this one.

One thought on “Softly Softly: Task Force – The Amateur

  1. Stratton gives an excellent performance here, but it must have been uncomfortable for him. You can see the sweat on his face so he was either acting very intensely, or the make-up people didn’t give him the same “dab down” attention they gave to Johns and Bowler. That would presumably be for verisimilitude, given the character’s obvious anxiety.

    Julie Hallam’s departure – well, its true that departing characters in long-running series then didn’t get the fanfare they’d get now on leaving. A lot of SS:TF’s regular simply vanished when either the actors became unavailable or the production team wanted to make a change. What makes Hallam unusual is that she vanished mid-season. If this was, say, Doctor Who we’d know the full story by now as it’ll be somewhere in the production paperwork archives and someone would have mentioned it in DVD commentaries (though SS:TF cast and crew commentaries would be a bit difficult now). SS:TF, even though more watched it at the time, doesn’t have the rabid, fact-hungry fanbase Who has, unfortunately. There’s a story there, but we’re unlikely ever to know it.

    Liked by 1 person

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