Softly Softly: Task Force – The Easy Job

S03E25 (22nd March 1972). Written by Robert Barr, directed by Keith Williams

A three man team – Johnny Hicks (Edward Petherbridge), Frank Mason (Barry Jackson) and Eddie Smith (Ron Pember) – carry out a safeblowing. The robbery is successful, but their evening goes sour after Mason is attacked and seriously injured by a security guard …

The interlocking relationships between Hicks, Mason and Smith are intriguing (as well as being the glue that binds the episode together). At the top of the tree is Hicks – he lives in a luxurious flat (check out his plush sofa and mini tv) and is clearly used to being obeyed. Mason operates as his loyal number two, although his home surroundings (he lodges in a fairly rundown house) are a non-verbal signifier confirming his lower status (Hicks hands out orders, Mason obeys them).

Smith – a friend of Mason’s – is a specialist. As a safe-breaker, he’s someone that Hicks can’t do without but (fatally) Hicks is somewhat dismissive towards him – not deigning to speak to Smith directly means that their relationship begins awkwardly and only goes downhill from there.

A series of house break-ins are an episode sub plot. Hicks – despite apparently now being on the straight and narrow – is visited by Hawkins who wonders if he has any information about them. The pair indulge in a game of bluff and double bluff which is done nicely enough but when Hicks (virtually as soon as Hawkins leaves) starts planning his next crime it’s difficult not to feel that this part of the episode has been rather clumsily plotted. We have to see Hicks of course, but having Hawkins decide (seemingly on a whim) to visit him and then for Hicks to turn out to be the villain of the episode is a little hard to take.

Last time, I pondered about how the series possibly balanced its budget by offsetting episodes with major location shoots against ones which were mainly studio bound. The Easy Job does have the feel of a cheapie. I felt this most notably after the house-breaking gang – led by Jimmy Davies (John J. Carney) – were arrested. We’re told that the police pursued the gang in a hectic car chase but this isn’t seen, only described. A cost cutting exercise? Maybe. There are a few brief location shots (showing Hicks, Mason and Smith exiting the factory) but most of the episode remains in the studio.

And with only one major set required from scratch – the factory (which contains a staircase for Mason to fall down) – presumably not too much money had to be expended there.

While Hicks and Smith work on the safe, Mason – holding a gun (albeit unloaded) – deals with the security guard, Morris (Maurice O’Connell). But Morris overpowers him and after a couple of blows, Mason tumbles down the stairs. No stuntman is credited, so maybe Barry Jackson took the fall himself (during the early part of his career he worked as a stuntman under the name Jack Barry). It’s an impressive stunt, although right at the end there’s a rather obvious forward roll to get him off the foot of the stairs.

Still in nit-picking mode, it’s rare for an episode to go by without someone coughing off camera. But rather like microphone booms wobbling into shot, you just have to accept that sort of thing.

Morris isn’t hailed by either Hawkins or Watt as a have-a-go-hero. Hawkins is dismissive because the gun wasn’t loaded (although Morris couldn’t have known that) and when Mason later dies of his injuries, Watt is even harsher – telling a shaken Morris that he could face a charge of manslaughter. After frightening him for a few minutes, Watt does unbend a little and tells him that he’ll probably be okay ….

This brutal treatment of Morris seems all the odder since in every respect he’s a model witness – for example, giving a very accurate description of the clothes Mason was wearing. This eye for detail suggests that Morris is either an ex-copper or wishes to be one. It’s never mentioned openly, but the unspoken inference seems plain.

When Hicks and Smith are caught, it’s slightly surprising that we focus on Smith (no hardship though, as Ron Pember was always a very watchable actor). Presumably this is because he’s the easier nut to crack – bitter at the way Hicks promised to get medical help for Morris, but instead left him to die, it doesn’t take much prompting from Watt to get a full statement out of him.

Given that my heart still sinks whenever Robert Barr’s name appears, it’s pleasing to note that this is another strong episode from him. There’s less focus on the regulars for once, but the characters played by Petherbridge, Jackson and Pember are all delineated so well that the 50 minutes click by very agreeably.

One thought on “Softly Softly: Task Force – The Easy Job

  1. You should give yourself a break from Taskforce now.Two seasons reviewed is quite a lot of viewing in one go would imagine.As good as most editions are.


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