S03E24 (15th March 1972). Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Geraint Morris
A house fire quickly becomes complicated after Barlow discovers that it was the headquarters for a political group called F-FOP (Freedom for Oppressed Peoples) …
As I make my way through the series again, I can’t help but continue to marvel at the number of stories which featured night filming. Due to the unsociable hours, it obviously would have been more expensive than filming during the day, so either SS:TF had a very decent budget or an ability to balance the books with cheaper, studio-bound stories.
It’s fair to assume that Set Us Alight – with night filming, a practical fire and several fire engines pressed into service – was one of the more expensive stories of this series. Although maybe the relatively small cast – four regulars and five speaking guest actors – helped to keep the costs down.
The story begins with PC Snow and Radar bumping into a breathless Leslie Wilson (Mark Griffith). Wilson tells Snow that there’s a fire blazing in a nearby street. Snow, with his trademark slowness, meticulously takes down all the details before checking the truth of Wilson’s statement. This is a good episode for Terence Rigby, who’s teamed up with Mark Griffith for most of it. As has happened before, there are some who disregard Snow, because of his stolid exterior, but it doesn’t pay to underestimate him (eventually he’s able to breach Wilson’s defences and discover the whole story).
Evans is more in the background, although he’s given the opportunity to politely bait Barlow several times (this is always good to see) and strikes up some sort of connection with the prickly Johnson. As for Barlow, he’s right in the thick of the action – running into Jake Johnson (Calvin Lockheart). one of F-FOP’s leaders. Johnson is a blazing radical (or so it appears on the surface) who’s always ready with a catchy slogan or a dismissive word for the police (who, of course, are “pigs”). It’s an extravagant performance, to put it mildly, but when Johnson calms down a little it’s possible to see there might be more to the man than meets the eye.
Also in the guest cast is the very familiar Leon Lissek as Aaron Brook. Brook operates – a little unwillingly – as Johnson’s solicitor.
We’re given the rare opportunity to see Cullen at home. It’s a fairly tight shot though (clearly the budget wasn’t there to dress a large room) so we can’t admire many of his fixtures and fittings. He turns up at the station to lecture Barlow, which is fine by me as there hasn’t been a good Cullen/Barlow confrontation for a while.
The identity of the arsonist takes rather a back seat since the story is more concerned with examining the characters of both Johnson and Wilson. Either might be the guilty party, although it turns out that both are innocent.
It’s Johnson’s ex girlfriend – the upper crust Dorothy Anderson (Sally Faulkner) – who’s revealed as the culprit. Given that she only appears right at the end, I was beginning to wonder if the question would go unanswered (or if maybe the perpetrator would remain off screen). Faulkner makes the most of her three minute scene, spitting venom at Barlow (plus we get to see an uncredited Bella Emberg as a most intimidating police woman).
Although Set Us Alight begins with a location shoot, the heart of the story takes place in the studio, with a fairly small group of actors. I never say no to an episode that foregrounds Barlow (especially when he’s riled) so this one held my interest throughout.