S02E13 (9th December 1970). Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Ronald Wilson
A prostitute called Vera (Maggy Maxwell) is beaten up. This irritates Hawkins, in charge of the Task Force during Watt’s absence, as Snow was keeping her under surveillance at the time ….
Sweet Are the Uses of Adversity is a story that allows Hawkins to demonstrate his skills as a leader. He’s clearly somewhat hesitant about taking command which is demonstrated by his reluctance to use Watt’s office. This was suggested by Sergeant Jackson, a man who’s plainly very ambitious (much more ambitious than the easy-going Hawkins that’s for sure). An interesting character-beat is developed when Jackson admits that he’s always fancied being either a butler or a valet and we see him put those skills in operation later in the episode.
Hawkins, the worse for wear after a night’s surveillance, is greeted the next morning by a chirpy Jackson who presents him with a fresh shirt and a razor. Hawkins is irritated. “Look, valet, am I going on parade or something?” But Jackson’s response that Cullen wants to see him in half an hour is more than enough to make him spring into action!
In previous episodes we’ve seen Watt and Barlow gently (and not so gently) restrain some of Jackson’s impulses. He’s a man who wants to get on in the force and is happy to ally himself to anybody – such as Hawkins – who might smooth his passage. But it’s undeniable that Jackson makes a good point with his suggestion that Hawkins uses Watt’s office. Hawkins must be seen to be in charge if he’s to command the respect of those below him. Which raises the concept that command is – in part – little more than an acting job (this is confirmed to Hawkins later by Cullen).
As the episode continues, Jackson operates as the power behind the throne by providing various avenues for Hawkins to investigate. Whether Hawkins would have achieved so much without Jackson’s input is debatable – we’ve seen the Sergeant provide Watt with invaluable advice previously, but today he seems even more proactive.
Snow is mildly roasted by Hawkins after his early slip-up, but argues he was detailed to keep a watch on the house (and so wouldn’t have been able to observe what was happening inside). Evans, who’d taken over from Snow on watch, is first on the scene following the arrival of the ambulance for Vera. This is a much more harder-edged Evans, sharply removed from his more relaxed and jovial persona.
A woman’s touch is required, so Donald interviews Vera in the hospital. She can’t tell the detective a great deal – names are not used in her business – but does reveal that the man was probably a geordie. The sight of Vera, middle-aged and careworn even without the bruises, makes a change from the more usual depiction of prostitutes as young and attractive. Jennifer (Irene Bradshaw), the other prostitute in the house, fits the more stereotypical profile of the young and glamorous working girl.
Geordie (credited as such on the end titles, since we never learn his name) seems to be responsible for a number of other break-ins and assaults in the area, although the speed at which the Task Force jump to this conclusion feels a little contrived. At one house, Evans radios in to say that he’s found some fingerprints which look very similar to the ones they’d taken from other recent crime scenes. That Evans could zero in to suspect fingerprints is impressive enough, but to be able to match them in the middle of the night with his naked eye to previously taken dabs has to be a step too far!
We then start to follow Geordie (Alan Tucker). He’s very much a loner, and this lack of interaction with others allows Tucker the chance to show the character’s instability in a variety of non-verbal ways. Using a knife to deface a table in one of the houses which he’s burgled is an obvious example. Later he buys a bottle of milk from a milkman and then proceeds to smash it over the unfortunate milkman’s head.
This flash of violence – albeit mostly achieved offscreen – is unsettling. Alan Tucker, as Geordie, doesn’t utter a word until very late on. This lack of speech works very well as it maintains an aura of menace and unpredictability around the character. His motivations remain a mystery though. We discover he has a job, so he’s not stealing money for need – presumably he just enjoys robbery with violence.
Hawkins’ inexperience sees him make decisions which possibly aren’t the best. He later rallies the troops with a pep talk, although it’s slightly frustrating that it happens off-screen (we only hear about it from Donald and Evans). Evans is impressed, calling it a beautiful speech. Donald is slightly more cautious, for her it was a shrewd but cagey talk.
Today’s episode is another of those to have a major night shoot – which wouldn’t have come cheap (so whenever you see another story that’s entirely studio bound you can assume a spot of book balancing has gone on). As has happened before, some scenes switch from film, to tape and then back to film (most notably when Geordie is finally appended – it’s mostly a film scene, but a few lines are clearly recorded on videotape). It’s hard to imagine this would have been a production choice, so presumably they ran out of time on location and had to pick up some fluffed lines later on in the studio.
Sweet Are the Uses of Adversity is an archetypical slice of SS:TF, with Elwyn Jones’ script concentrating on the character interactions of the regulars. Norman Bowler and David Allister, as Hawkins and Jackson, get the lion’s share of the action, but Snow, Evans, Donald and Cullen all have a chance to shine as well. It’s notable for being the first SS:TF to feature neither Barlow or Watt – with Harry Hawkins taking his first stumbling steps as a temporary Task Force chief.