Softly Softly: Task Force – A Policeman’s Lot. Story One – The Row on the Stairs

S03E21 (23rd February 1972). Written by Alan Plater, directed by Peter Cregeen

A private detective’s office, belonging to a man called Jarman, is ransacked. It seems that Nicholson (Roy Sone) – a man who freelances for Jarman – is responsible. When the Task Force learn that Nicholson might be armed, they initiate an urgent search for him …

Multi episode stories were unusual for SS:TF (although we’ve seen one previously – a two-parter which aired during the second series). Because Alan Plater’s got three episodes to play with, there’s no need for him to rush through the plot (and indeed, we’ll see that during the next two episodes the story will take some twists and turns).

As you’d expect with Plater, there’s some sharp dialogue throughout and this means that The Row on the Stairs is chiefly memorable for a series of character vignettes. We kick off with Mrs Granger (Marjorie Rhodes) who owns a seedy bookshop immediately below Jarman’s office.

Everything about this episode has a rather grey feel (it always seems to be raining in the location shots, for example) and this is reflected in the rundown locations we visit – such as a billiard hall and Mrs Granger’s mucky bookshop. In another episode no doubt Rhodes could have played a comfortable, elderly shopkeeper – but here she’s called upon to be cynical and secretive (possibly she knows more about Jarman than she’s saying).

Plater elects to team Snow up with Drake as well as partnering Evans with Green. He’s not the first writer to see that the odd couple relationship between Snow and Drake has some mileage and he crafts some good banter for them (Terence Rigby especially). Evans and Green also click nicely – to date WDS Green hasn’t been gifted with a great many light hearted scenes (possibly due to the types of stories she’s been involved in) but here, forced to share a car with the irrepressible Bob Evans, we see her unbend a little.

As we wend our way through the episode, there are several more encounters that may lead the Task Force to Nicholson – beginning with his wife (an early television role for Sharon Duce). Duce’s cameo as the placid, but weary Mrs Nicholson is nicely played as are Stephen Hancock’s scenes as the far more slippery Meadows. Also excellent value is Arthur Cox as a genial publican who – attempting to be helpful – overloads the exasperated Drake with useless information.

That’s one of the plusses of this episode – spotting one familiar face after another. Phil McCall (possibly best known as Scotch Harry in Minder or maybe Jock in Bottle Boys, if you’re an aficionado of 1980’s ITV sitcoms) is another. McCall plays Roper, a contact of Evans who supplies some vital information (but still manages to rub Evans up the wrong way). All this and Barbara New too.

With all these different informers, some useful others not so, it’s not surprising that eventually Nicholson is cornered. Although Barlow is flitting around the perimeters of the episode, it’s Hawkins who takes charge of Nicholson’s interrogation. He’s pretty unyielding, even though in private he turns out to be more understanding (unlike Barlow, who’s content to see Nicholson punished heavily).

The Row on the Stairs is an effective tale in its own right, but it also feels like an extended prologue. When Jarman (James Grout) makes his first appearance next time, I suspect the story will really begin to motor.

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