It looks like an open and shut case. 2nd Lt. Harry Barr (Giles Block) confesses to Mann that in a drunken New Years Eve misadventure he knocked down a concrete bollard outside his barracks. Although it’s a relatively trivial matter, it will still mean a court martial for Barr. But things don’t quite go the way that Sergeant Mann planned ….
This is an interesting one. It’s a good ten minutes before the crime of the episode is revealed. Which means there’s plenty of time to get to know Barr – who’s young, inexperienced and totally out of his depth. The sergeants – notably Sgt. Greatorex (Barry Keegan) – delight in running rings around him. This is demonstrated by the contemptuous grin given by Greatorex during Barr’s inspection of the men.
But maybe Greatorex isn’t totally a bad sort, as he invites Barr to a New Years Eve drink in the Sergeant’s mess. A friendly gesture or is he simply seeking to embarrass the officer further? The real trouble begins when Greatorex suggests that he and Barr pop down the road for a quick drink with a nearby Highland regiment. It may be nearly the new year but they’re both on duty, so it would be something of a dereliction. But Barr, keen to prove that he’s one of the lads, agrees and he later pulls rank by insisting that he drives them back to barracks, despite being somewhat insensible.
So the blame is shared. Barr was responsible for the accident but had Greatorex not goaded him into making the trip in the first place then nothing would have happened. But as the officer, Barr will be the one to shoulder most of the responsibility – unless the regiment closes ranks.
A little more meat is put onto the bones of Mann’s character in this episode. He’s still working late into New Year’s Eve and is very resistant to popping down the pub for a quick drink, despite the entreaties of the Staff Sergeant (the ever-solid Bernard Kay in an all too brief role). Eventually he does agree, which proves that he’s human – but the dour, workaholic John Mann is certainly a world away from Jack Regan.
We’ve previously seen how Mann has faced hostility from certain quarters during his investigations, but not the complete obstruction that he runs into here. On the surface they’re pleasant enough – Captain The Hon. Ian Loder (Mark Burns) is courtesy itself – but everybody has their stories and they’re sticking to them.
Can Mann force someone to confess? Greatorex is unlikely to crack and neither is the mess Sergeant (Jack Smethurst). Smethurst sketches a nice performance with his limited screentime – it appears that the Sergeant spends most of his time sampling the stock or worrying about a visit from the weights and measures man!
Mann eventually manages to break through the wall of silence when Barr admits all. All well and good, but he then makes a fatal mistake when he allows Barr to confess his crime to the Colonel (Ronald Leigh-Hunt). The upshot is that Mann is appalled to later find a new suspect – Trooper Kelly (Harry Littlewood) – has been put into the frame whilst Barr is nowhere to be found. Mann attempts to interrogate Kelly, but he gets nowhere – the Trooper is a mixture of Irish charm and sorrowful remorse.
It’s previously been mentioned that Mann is somewhat inexperienced and this episode was possibly designed to reinforce that fact. For all his implacable questioning earlier on, he’s been undone thanks to one simple request which now means that there’s no way back – this time the ranks have firmly closed and he’s forced to admit defeat.
For an ex-copper like Mann, it chafes to see a guilty man go free but the Colonel holds a different view. In time, Barr might become a more than decent officer, so why squander that potential over such a trivial matter? Neither of them are wholly wrong but neither are wholly right either and this is what makes The Orderly Officer such a fascinating watch – for once it’s not a matter of life or death, but that makes the drama no less compelling.
This was Giles Block’s first television appearance. He’s probably best known for playing Teel in the Doctor Who story The Dominators, although his list of credits isn’t particularly lengthy. His television inexperience probably helped here, as Barr is supposed to be something of a greenhorn. As I’ve said, it’s a shame that Bernard Kay’s part wasn’t larger, but the rest of the cast is peopled with the usual roster of strong supporting players.
Although there’s a spot of location filming, Redcap‘s studio-bound nature is still in evidence. This is most notable during a scene which attempts to suggest a country road (a few sad twigs in the background do their best, but it’s painfully obvious that we’re still in the studio). This apart, there’s little to quibble about in this episode since it’s another strong instalment.