Softly Softly: Task Force – Woman’s World

S03E20 (16th February 1972). Written by Allan Prior, directed by Frank Cox

Woman’s World is another bleak episode. It opens with the news that a ten-year old boy called Norman Gordon has been stabbed to death.  We never actually see the body (when his mother is called to identify him, the camera lingers on Sergeant Evans instead) but this doesn’t lessen the impact.

As the episode title suggests, female characters play central roles. Two – both very different – feature. The first is Carol James (Lois Hantz). A cub reporter who gets wind of the murder, she’s desperate for a scoop. Initially treated with indulgence by Evans, his good-natured feeling doesn’t last long ….

Indeed, Carol doesn’t make many friends amongst the rest of the Task Force either. Both Hawkins and Barlow separately wonder if her parents know that she’s out so late (Hawkins calls her a chit of a girl, whilst Barlow’s comment of “jailbait” is even less complimentary).

This was the first of only a handful of credits for Hantz. She’s very impressive, which makes it all the more surprising that her career in television wasn’t longer.

Cherry Morris plays Anthea Gordon, the mother of the murdered boy.  She’s outwardly harsh and domineering (she has to be, she says, because her husband is so weak). As with Hanz, it’s a very well judged performance.  Clifford Rose, playing the weak husband in question, is his usual immaculate self.

Stratford Johns once again mesmerises.  Barlow’s confrontation with Carol and the way he can switch between cold fury and geniality when interacting with his subordinates are two examples as to why there’s never a dull moment when Johns is on screen.

If Barlow’s scene with Carol (she’s sneaked into the police station in the middle of the night, still desperate for a scoop) is an episode highlight, then so is an earlier Barlow scene – this one played opposite Dr Pusey (Sam Dastor). Pusey, the young pathologist who’s carried out the post-mortem on the murdered boy, is reluctant to be too specific about his findings (but eventually Barlow – alternating between hectoring and sympathetic – eventually gets the answers he needs).

After this is done, Barlow displays an air of patient understanding (having identified that the inexperienced Pusey is suffering from shock). Later, when speaking to Carol, his character remains on a similar knife-edge – at one moment he can be insightful, the next he’ll switch to cold, business-like fury.

These two standout scenes suggest that Barlow will have a key role in solving the mystery. But that’s not the case, as it’s John Watt who gently forces the murderer to confess. Given that Watt’s mostly been in the background today, that’s a good wrong-footing move (as if the fact that the episode leads us to believe that a great deal of dogged, procedural work will be required – which doesn’t happen).

The revelations, which come tumbling out during the last ten minutes, are very well played. This is a top-tier episode.

2 thoughts on “Softly Softly: Task Force – Woman’s World

  1. I often tell people who think all pre-Sweeney police shows were tame and cosy (a la Dixon in the 1950s), and all the ‘crims’ depicted were thieves or thugs who got their comeuppance by the time 50 minutes was up, that isn’t quite right.

    Of course, there’s a limit to what they could show onscreen in 1972 but the crimes depicted back then were pretty similar to what you’d see in cop shows today. The production styles are vastly different, but that’s the result of 50+ years of technological advances.

    Though, as we’ll see when we get to season 7-8 of SS:TF, sometimes they pushed too far into subjects and issues that can’t really be given justice to at the Wednesday 8:10pm slot.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Didn’t Clifford Rose shoot his first wife in the first episode of Van Der Valk in about that same time frame?


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