Dick Turpin – The Champion (20th January 1979)

Turpin is looking for a place to lie low for a while, and the small village of Mudbury seems ideal. After arriving, he learns that the bible bashing preacher, Nightingale (John Grillo), is using his feared enforcer – Hogg (Robert Russell) – to extract regular payments from the villagers.

But the trouble really begins when the ever impulsive Swiftnick, after learning that Hogg has his heart set on becoming a prizefighter, rashly suggests that Turpin could easily defeat Hogg in a fight. Problem is, he hasn’t mentioned this to Dick yet ….

There’s no Glutton or Spiker in this episode, which is a plus. However good their characters are, if they keep reappearing week after week then the series would quickly become monotonous (for example, see the later series of Blakes 7 which suffered from a Servalan overkill).

In Glutton’s place, we’ve got the hell and damnation figure of Nightingale. John Grillo has an extensive list of television credits, so I really feel that I should know his work better than I do. After this though, I’ll be keeping an eye out for him as he’s very watchable as Nightingale.

A much more recognisable actor for me is Don Henderson, who plays Bracewell (a noted prizefighter). By one of the those remarkable coincidences which occur in these sort of series, Turpin rescues Bracewell from a highway attack just before reaching Mudbury. So after Turpin receives an early dose of punishment from Hogg, he rushes off to get Bracewell (who’s more than happy to challenge Hogg).

Once again, it’s no surprise that Swiftnick is to blame for Dick’s travails. Even before Turpin finds himself facing down Hogg, he bitterly tells his highway partner that “you’ll fall down your own mouth one of these days”.

If Grillo receives many of the best lines. leaving Henderson with the scraps, that means there’s not much left for the villagers. Still, Gerry Cowper briefly lights up the screen as Lucy, this week’s serving wench. And the always dependable Roy Evans (Fellowes) and Nicholas McArdle (Pollard) are plusses as well.

The comedy element is ramped up in this episode, which makes it an ideal vehicle for Richard O’Sullivan. He’s really in his element throughout – especially when (after Bracewell disappears) he finds he has to fight Hogg after all.

Hogg might be on the side of the baddies, but he seems to be an honest fighter. Not so Turpin, who uses every dirty trick in the book (or at least those permissible at Saturday tea-time) to gain an advantage. As the fight continues and Turpin barely manages to stay on his feet, Switnick frantically rushes about, looking for Bracewell.

Today’s plot niggles. Given that Bracewell is such an intimidating character, how did Nightingale and Hogg manage to spirit him away? No explanation is given, so you’ll have to make your own up. Oh, and out of all the places to hide Bracewell, the one chosen (the barn where the fight is taking place) has to be the worst.

Swiftnick and Lucy find Bracwell at the eleventh hour and he rushes over to take Turpin’s place – but (hurrah!) there’s no need as somehow Dick Turpin, in true David and Goliath style, has triumphed. Given this, you might wonder why Bracewell features in the story at all ….

Niggles apart, this is a fun romp – nothing more, nothing less.

Dick Turpin – The Capture (13th January 1979)

The Capture. Hmm, I wonder what this episode’s about then?

Turpin and Swiftnick aren’t getting on terribly well as Swiftnick’s rash and impulsive actions have almost led to disaster several times. As they ride up to the White Lion inn, the long suffering Turpin gives Swiftnick one last chance.

But he proves to be a less than effective lookout, instead spending most of his time chatting up a serving wench called Kate Doyle (Lesley Dunlop). Dunlop, who’d later co-star in a similar adventure series (Smuggler, with Oliver Tobias) is good value as Kate – all wide eyes and heaving bosoms.

When she makes conversation, Swiftnick (a pushover for a pretty face) just can’t help himself and he rashly reveals the identity of his friend. When, seconds later, Spiker and his goons crash through the door it seems to Turpin that Kate must have informed on them. She didn’t of course, and it seems bizarre that he could have thought so.

Turpin and Swiftnick escape by the skin of their teeth after another highly energetic fight sequence that slips into parody (after bamboozling Spiker again, Turpin makes time to stop and kiss a pretty girl before exiting) but is still entertaining.

Turpin decides that enough is enough and dumps the unwilling Swiftnick with a gunsmith called John Tanner (Harold Goodwin). Tanner’s reluctant to take on the boy as his apprentice, but changes his mind after Turpin gives him a handsome dowry! Goodwin sketches a nice cameo with limited screentime as does Annabelle Lee (as Jane Kelsey), the episode’s other notable guest actor.

Jane is a down on her luck actress, sentenced to three years imprisonment by Glutton for stealing two apples (a good example of Glutton’s draconian application of the law). She’s promised her freedom if she agrees to ensnare Turpin by posing as a wealthy aristocrat.

This part of the story doesn’t quite hold water. How does Turpin know the precise time and road that this faux lady will be travelling down? Still ignoring that plot niggle, there’s amusement to be gained from Jane’s over-enthusiastic acting as she plays the wilting heroine (quailing against the rough, tough Turpin). Given that some performances in the series can be just as florid (and they weren’t acting, if you see what I mean) this is possibly a little in-joke from Carpenter.

Jane wasn’t riding alone, as Spiker was hiding in her carriage. Easily overpowering Turpin, it looks like curtains for the highwayman ….

In a neat reversal of the first episode, in this one Swiftnick (with a little help from Kate) rescues Turpin. As expected, that redeems the boy in Turpin’s eyes and the pair ride off together in unity as the credits roll.

A good enough episode, but fairly predictable (had Kate actually turned out to be an informer that would have been a decent twist). On the plus side, the swordplay’s once again well staged and the Glutton/Spiker double act raises several laughs (the running gag of Spiker’s failure to knock before entering Glutton’s room, for example).

Dick Turpin – Swiftnick (6th January 1979)

Richard Carpenter, co-creator and writer of the majority of Dick Turpin, made no bones about the fact that the Turpin of this series bore no resemblance to his real-life counterpart. That’s understandable of course – the genuine Dick Turpin was a squalid thief and murderer with no redeeming features (hardly the ideal person to star in a Saturday evening tea-time series).

Carpenter’s Dick Turpin drew on the already established folklore which surrounded the character in order to create an idealistic outlaw, always ready with a wry quip to dispense justice in an England where the authorities were either lax or corrupt.

Given that Richard Carpenter would later tackle the legend of Robin Hood in Robin of Sherwood, it’s easy to imagine that he was having something a dry run in this series (thankfully though, RoS was allowed time to breathe with 50 minute episodes rather than Turpin‘s 25).

Like the Robin Hood of popular myth, the fictionalised Turpin (Richard O’Sullivan) returns home after fighting for king and country to discover his property has been seized. He then finds himself opposing Sir John Glutton (Christopher Benjamin) and Captain Nathan Spiker (David Daker) who are very close analogues to the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisbourne.

Turpin doesn’t assemble a band of merry men, but he does (reluctantly) recruit one helper – the boyishly ingenuous Nick Smith (Michael Deeks) who is rechristened Switnick by Turpin.

Dick Turpin was the latest in a line of ITV series which stretched right back to the founding of the network in 1955 (The Adventures of Robin Hood, with Richard Greene, debuted just a few days after ITV’s launch). It’s easy to see why these sort of shows kept coming back and indeed why they remain so watchable today.

With only 25 minutes to play with, there’s no time for intricate plots or deep characterisation – you just need a few good guest actors, a simple storyline and a bit of action. This repeating formula does mean they can feel a little insubstantial at times, but they’re also great fun to dip into every so often.

Swiftnick is intriguingly set just after Turpin’s apparent hanging in York with a dogged Spiker insistant that the man who swung wasn’t in fact Turpin ….

That might explain why the episode opens with Turpin in disguise, as a doddery clerk, although it’s harder to understand why Turpin so gratuitously splashes his cash in The Black Swan (an inn run by Mrs Smith and her young son Nick).

Possibly he’s looking to unmask pretenders to his throne as Nick, posing as Turpin, later attempts a highway robbery on the apparently harmless clerk (the real Dick Turpin seems to be somewhat peeved that so many imposters are trading on his name).

Some of the redubbing on this episode is a little clumsy but the worst bit occurs when Nick faces down the ‘clerk’. Before Turpin reveals himself, the cringing clerk begs for mercy (but O’Sullivan doesn’t voice him). By now, most viewers would have twigged that the clerk was Turpin in disguise, so why O’Sullivan couldn’t have put on an accent is beyond me.

I’m also slightly confused by this part of the story. Nick is desperate for twenty guineas – unless this sun is paid immediately, Glutton will throw him and his mother out of the inn. Turpin seems sympathetic but sends the boy away with nothing. And yet in the next scene, Mrs Smith hands over this sum to Spiker (has Turpin somehow given the money to her?)

It seems likely, as Turpin and Mrs Smith (Jo Rowbottom) do have a history. Indeed, some of the dialogue seems to hint that she and Turpin fathered Nick (which would explain why Turpin agrees to look after the now outlawed Nick).

Dick Turpin: I’m going to ruin Glutton and everyone round him. I shall wear them down like water dripping on a stone and I’ll make my own justice.

Mrs Smith: Then make some for Nick. For you, and me and what we once … you know, the past.

If this part of the plot seems somewhat opaque, then the conclusion (Turpin masquerades as a Scottish doctor to bamboozle Glutton and rescue Nick) is great fun. Under the expert eye of stunt arranger Peter Diamond, both O’Sullivan and Daker demonstrate some quality swordplay moves. Their duel includes one of my favourite exchanges in the episode –

Captain Nathan Spiker: The sword is a gentleman’s weapon, Turpin.

Dick Turpin: Then why are you using it?

An effective opener then, but even this early on it’s possible to wonder how the triangle of conflict between Turpin/Spiker/Glutton can develop. Because all three seem to be such archetypes, it’s easy to imagine they’ll simply repeat today’s form of conflict (with Glutton apoplectic, Spiker defeated and Turpin riding off into the sunset) again and again. Or will Carpenter be able to throw a few surprises into the mix? Time will tell.

On this day (6th January)

The first episode of Dick Barton was broadcast on ITV in 1979.

Tony Vogel is the square-jawed Barton, doing his best to deal with some beastly villains (foreigners naturally) whilst also rescuing the odd damsel in distress. Played entertainingly straight, Dick Barton has to be an oddity – offhand I can’t think of many UK drama series made in 15 minute episodes.

Swiftnick, the first episode of Dick Turpin was broadcast on ITV in 1979.

Two Dicks making their debut on the same day …

Richard O’Sullivan is good value as the dashing highwayman in Richard Carpenter’s extremely loose retelling of Turpin’s life and crimes. It’s easy to see this as something of a training ground for Carpenter’s next outlaw based series (Robin of Sherwood) although the fact each episode only runs for 25 minutes does mean that there’s not much time to develop characters and stories.

Michael Deeks no doubt got some teenage hearts fluttering as Swiftnick whilst Christopher Benjamin (Sir John Glutton) and David Daker (Spiker) both seem to be enjoying themselves as the villains.

A pity that the film prints are so mucky, but – notwithstanding the series’ brisk running time – Dick Turpin still entertains today.

What I Don’t Understand Is This …, the first episode of The Beiderbecke Affair, was broadcast on ITV in 1985.

Alan Plater’s serial is one that I’ve rewatched a fair few times over the years and it still shows no sign of losing its sparkle. Which no doubt has something to do with the combination of that cast (James Bolam, Barbara Flynn, Terence Rigby, Dudley Sutton, etc) and that script.

The two sequels are also watchable, but never quite hit the heights of Affair.

The Dead of Jericho, the first episode of Inspector Morse, was broadcast on ITV in 1987.

I’ve always been rather fond of the opening sequence in which Morse (very briefly) seems to be channeling Jack Regan. Was this done deliberately in order to wrong foot the viewers about the type of series this was?

The format of Morse would point the way ahead for the next generation of television policeman, many of whom were also given a generous two hours to solve each crime. This wasn’t always a good move though (indeed, some of Morse’s later adventures would have been twice as good had they been half as long).

The early episodes, based on Dexter’s books, are all pretty strong though. Mind you, a fair amount of retooling has been done – the less charming aspects of Dexter’s Morse (such as his lechery) were excised, so anyone who reads the books after watching the series tends to have something of a shock.

The Dead of Jericho is a convoluted tale, which makes it surprising that it was chosen as the lead-off story. But Anthony Minghella’s adaptation captures the essence of the original and the guest cast (including James Laurenson, Gemma Jones and Patrick Troughton) all impress.

Today’s a busy day for television debuts – as there’s also the likes of Mr Aitch (the wiped and forgotten Harry H. Corbett sitcom written by, amongst others, Galton & Simpson and Clement & La Frenais), Rentaghost, The Shadow of the Tower, Alice In Wonderland (1986, Barry Letts overdosing on CSO), The Shillingbury Tales and Hannay.