Christmas Night with the Stars 1958


Running every year from 1958 to 1972 (with the exception of 1961, 1965 and 1966) Christmas Night with the Stars brought together some of the BBC’s top light entertainment and sitcom performers for a specially recorded program of seasonal highjinks.  Only three complete editions – 1958, 1964 and 1972 – now exist and whilst the complete shows are not commercially available (although a cut-down version of the 1972 show was included on the Two Ronnies Christmas DVD) thanks to YouTube they are viewable at present.

Magician David Nixon is your host for the 1958 Stars, with Charlie Chester, the Beverley Sisters, Charlie Drake, Perry Como, Ted Ray, Tony Hancock, Vera Lynn, Jimmy Edwards, Billy Cotton & his Band and Jack Warner providing the entertainment.

If Charlie Chester’s remembered today it’s probably due to his later radio career (he had a Sunday R2 programme which ran until 1996).  Possibly it’s a little unfair that Chester was labelled a cut-price Max Miller, but there’s a certain similarity in style – although Miller was undoubtedly better.  Chester’s spot is amiable enough though, even if he was already looking like a relic from another age back then.

After a rather jolly song (if you don’t listen to the lyrics) from the Beverley Sisters, Charlie Drake makes his appearance.  Drake plays a tuneless carol singer who gets short-shrift from his potential customers.  Hmm, Charlie Drake.  The studio audience clearly love him, collapsing into hysterics at the drop of a hat, but I have to confess that his shtick has always left me cold and this sketch didn’t change my opinion.  Thanks, but no thanks.

Perry Como warbles away for a few minutes before Ted Ray and Kenneth Connor enjoy a nice two-handed sketch – Ray is a patient, convinced he’s swallowed something nasty and Connor is the doctor.  Connor had worked with Ray both on radio and television and they clearly had a good working relationship which shows in the way they interact with each other.  The material is a little thin (a view which seems to be shared by the studio audience – listen how the laughs tail off towards the end) but anything’s an improvement after Charlie Drake!

Next, David Nixon plucks the fairy off the top of the Christmas tree, which then proceeds to dance in front of his eyes.  Today, this may look a little crude but considering how limited the technology was at the time, you have to admit that it’s very nicely done (CSO/Chromakey from a decade or more later sometimes didn’t look as good as this).

Up next is a real Christmas treat, Tony Hancock.  Rather than the East Cheam skit we might have expected, Tony’s contribution is very different – he’s a budgie in a cage, less than impressed with the treatment he’s receiving from his owner.  Because it’s such an unlikely scenario, this is possibly why it works – or maybe it’s just that Hancock was so good he could deadpan his way through a scene no matter how ridiculous he looked.  With his familiar mixture of weary resignation, Hancock is on fine form.  “Not good enough, stuck here all day with nothing to eat. Haven’t had a decent piece of millet since last Thursday.”  Hancock, with just a shrug and a glance (even when dressed as a budgie) can express so much and is a delight.

David Nixon shows Vera Lynn a quick magic trick before she pops off to sing a few songs.  Then we have Jimmy Edwards in Whack-O!  It’s a series that’s been in the news as three previously missing episodes have recently been found, meaning that there’s now seven in existence.  The premise of the series is something of an eye-opener (Edwards plays a headmaster who delights in caning the boys in his charge).  A Muir/Norden vehicle that’s historically interesting rather than amusing, if it succeeds at all then it’s thanks to Edwards’ performance.

Billy Cotton and his Band are on hand for a good old singalong and knees-up, he certainly seems to get the studio audience animated.  C’mon Simply/Network, etc – let’s get the remaining Billy Cotton shows on DVD, you know it makes sense!

It might seem a little odd to end in Dock Green as George Dixon (Jack Warner) toasts his family and friends around the dinner table, but Warner’s background was very much in LE – so much so that Dixon of  Dock Green was for many years made by the Light Entertainment Department rather than the Drama Department.  Warner delivers a lovely monologue and given that so little of Dixon exists, every little scrap is precious.  Maybe one day someone will scoop up all the existing B&W Dixon material to compliment the (mostly) complete colour stories released by Acorn.  C’mon again Simply/Network, etc – this makes sense too!

Christmas Night with the Stars 1958 has peaks and troughs, but overall it’s not a bad way to spend seventy minutes.

Dixon of Dock Green – Reunion


Twenty years ago a number of officers, including George Dixon, were involved in a major operation at the Docks.  Information received suggested that a well-known villain called Trunky Small was planning to steal half a million pounds in silver from a ship called the Galveston Bay.  Trunky and his gang were caught, but the operation wasn’t without incident as one of the officers lost his life that night.

Cope (Glynn Edwards), now a detective sergeant, has organised a reunion dinner.  It appears at first to simply be a chance for old colleagues to meet up and compare notes, but Cope clearly harbours animosity against Ashe (Jack Watson).  At the time Ashe was the DI in charge, today he’s risen to the rank of Commander.  As the evening wears on it seems obvious that revelations will be made.

The final episode of Dixon of Dock Green, Reunion doesn’t acknowledge this, even obliquely, so when Dixon bades us good night at the end there’s no sense that it’s a final goodbye.  But when you consider that the last episode of the previous series, Conspiracy, was very obviously crafted as a farewell episode (Dixon’s final monologue about his life in the police, the shot of the blue lamp as the credits rolled) it’s understandable they didn’t decide to play the same trick twice.

It does place Dixon more in the centre of things though, which was reasonable enough, although even here he’s still in his familiar role as an observer – watching proceedings, occasionally asking the odd question, but never directing events.  It’s Cope who’s in charge.  He set up the dinner and also arranged for an extra place to be set (in honour of their dead colleague).  Like the rest of the evening this is for Ashe’s benefit – as is the fact that the waitress, Joyce (Jo Rowbottom), was the dead officers wife.

Glynn Edwards might be best known as the long-suffering Dave in Minder, but his CV is a long and impressive one.  He guest-starred in many popular series during the 1960’s and 1970’s, such as The Baron, The Saint, The Avengers, Public Eye, Out of the Unknown, Callan,Target and many others.  He also had a regular role in the later series of The Main Chance and appeared in films such as The Ipcress File and Get Carter.

And like many other actors he also racked up a number of credits in Dixon, playing several different characters.  He appeared as Jackie Silver in two 1963 episodes and would later play Chief Inspector Jameson in several stories during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s (one of these, Jig-Saw, still survives).  The fact that he then turned up several years later playing a different copper shouldn’t come as a surprise, as it was a very common occurrence.

Alan Tilvern is another example of this.  In Reunion he plays Morrie Finn, now an ex-policeman and someone doing very nicely indeed on civvy street.  This was Tilvern’s seventh Dixon appearance, each time playing somebody different.  His previous role had only been the year before – in the wiped episode It’s a Gift (although an infamous outtake still exists, showing Tilvern sharing a scene with Victor Maddern who finds it impossible to say the words “Dock Green Nick”).

I’ve mentioned it several times before, but the guest-casts of this final series have been very strong.  Apart from Edwards and Tilvern, there’s also Jack Watson as Ashe.  Another very familiar face from both films and television, Watson pitches his performance perfectly – showing an increasing unease as the evening wears on.

The resolution of the story is quite understated and low-key.  It later becomes clear that Ashe was made aware that one of his officers had fallen into the dock.  He could have stopped and rescued him, but that would have meant Trunky Small would have escaped.  So he chose to ignore this and press on.

It’s a mystery why nobody has ever brought this up during the last twenty years, but even after it’s made public here that’s as far as it goes.  Joyce has the chance to finally confront Ashe, but there’s no anger as she tells him that “I feel sorry for you. It can’t have been easy. Not then, nor since.”  And that seems to be that, as there’s no suggestion that any proceedings will follow.  As Joyce makes clear, the burden Ashe himself carries is punishment enough.

Another piece of the puzzle is supplied by Sam Platte, a man rescued from drowning by Harry Dunne.  For most of the episode this appears to be just a secondary story, but at the end Platte’s connection to the events of twenty years are uncovered.  He’s Joyce’s father and was the man who tipped off the police that Trunky Small was planning to rob the Galveston Bay.

It’s an outrageous coincidence that Platte should turn up on the same night as the reunion dinner and it can’t help but feel like rather clumsy plotting, but Bill Dean is excellent as a merchant seaman reflecting on a lifetime of toil with little to show for it.  It also allowed Stephen Marsh (as Dunne) a chance to shine.  For the majority of this series he’s had the fairly unenviable task of operating as the junior collator (largely existing to feed Dixon lines).

Low-key it might be, but Reunion is also a satisfying fifty minutes of drama.  With one exception, it’s very pleasing to have all the colour episodes of Dixon of Dock Green available on DVD and hopefully the black and white ones will follow soon.

Dixon of Dock Green – Legacy


After a couple of years in Wormwood Scrubs, Jack Montelbetti (Tom Adams) has an unusual homecoming after he discovers a dead body in his flat.  The dead man, Bruno Pacelli, was an old-time criminal, specialising in jewel robberies.

Jack knew Bruno well (he was engaged to his daughter Julia at one time) and though he died from natural causes that’s only the starting point of the case.  After years out of the game it appears that Bruno went back to his old tricks and pulled a diamond heist in North London and was then keen to use Jack’s skills as a fence.  The jewels were stolen from Van Heerden (John Savident) who issues Jack with a stark choice – the jewels or his life.

This was Tom Adams’ second appearance as Jack Montelbetti (the first, Jack the Lad was broadcast in 1974 and like most episodes of Dixon it sadly no longer exists).  Adams gives Jack a cool, laconic presence – he’s a man who’s rarely perturbed, even when he stumbles over a corpse.  And though he’s a convicted criminal the old-timers at Dock Green (especially Dixon) seem to have a grudging respect for him.

But a newcomer to the manor, Len Clayton, doesn’t share their views.  He knows that Jack’s a newly-released prisoner and is extremely aggressive when questioning him.  This might have been another slight attempt to toughen up the series – at one point Clayton asks him if he’d like a slap in the mouth – but equally it might have been designed to show that rough-and-tumble tactics don’t always work.

Jack doesn’t take to Len Clayton at all and doesn’t waste any time in telling him exactly what he thinks of him.  “I spent two years banged up with a pair of incontinent morons. I worked six hours a day in a laundry for ten fags and a jar of jam. I said yes sir, no sir to the biggest shower of illiterate screws you ever met in your life and then when I come home I get you. Oh brother, life can be hard.”  He goes on to say that he’s not prepared to answer any of his questions, due to Len’s attitude, so he’ll wait for Bruton to turn up instead.

Jack and Julia were estranged several years ago (at the start of the episode Julia flinches when she hears his name) but it doesn’t take too long before they re-establish their old love.  With several different plot-threads running at once there’s not a great deal of time spent on their relationship, but Adams and Gigi Gatti do their best with the limited time available .  Gatti’s film and television CV is quite small (several appearances in Survivors as Daniella later in 1976 are possibly the highlight) and her lack of credits is quite surprising as she’s an appealing presence.

John Savident makes the most of his role, affecting a Dutch accent and waving a gun around.  There’s not a great deal of menace with his character though, possibly due to Dixon‘s status as a pre-watershed series.  The Sweeney would have been able to get away with displays of violence from Van Heerden (to prove that he could follow through on his claim he would do Jack serious harm) but that would never happen in Dixon.

The ending is another example that crime sometimes does pay.  Van Heerden is arrested but Jack gets away (and it’s implied he’s pocketed the jewels).  Dixon, in his end of episode summing-up, doesn’t sound at all aggrieved about this – another sign that Dixon of Dock Green operated on a different level from most police series.

For Dixon a conviction isn’t everything – sometimes villains will walk free (especially if they’re seen as basically decent people) and there’s a tacit acknowledgment that although the strict letter of the law hasn’t been followed maybe it’s for the best.  This certainly sets the series apart from many cop shows where the “result” is all that matters.

Dixon of Dock Green – Jackpot


Harold Tovey (Kenneth Cope) is a bookish, mild-mannered man who continually finds himself hen-pecked by his wife Margaret (Pat Ashton).  When she tells him to take a relaxing holiday abroad by himself, he’s suspicious – as he’s certain she’s involved with the smooth-talking Mickey Walker (Tim Pearce).

But if there was any fight in him, it appears to have long gone and he dutifully plods off to the airport.  However, when his flight is cancelled he heads home to see his wife and Mickey heading out together.  This is the catalyst for a series of unlikely adventures, which start when he appropriates a large sum of money previously stolen by his brother-in-law Tony Kinsley (Paul Darrow).

Jackpot is a comic treat with Kenneth Cope (Coronation Street, TW3, Randall and Hopkirk) on fine form as the bookworm who turns.  The first fifteen minutes or so constantly reinforce the notion that Harold is a complete and utter nonentity – his wife says so, Tony Kinsley says so, even the boys at Dock Green nick say so!  But even the mildest-mannered man can only take so much and his eventual revolt is a delight.

He turns up at a posh hotel, complete with chauffeur, and proceeds to take the grandest suite.  He’s also acquired a nice new suit and, best of all, a full head of hair (thanks to a very impressive wig).  Outrageously tipping the hotel porter (Eric Mason) ensures that he gets the very best service – including some female company to help him relax.  His encounter with the escort Sybil (Pamela Moiseiwitsch), is another highlight of the episode as he does everything he can to impress her.  “Do you have a bucket of caviar for dinner every night?” she asks him

The performance style of the guest-cast is best defined as “broad”.  The likes of Pat Ashton tended to play comedy anyway whilst Paul Darrow’s broad cockney accent also raises a smile, although that probably wasn’t the intention.  Darrow’s very entertaining though, even if it’s hard to accept he’s a hard-bitten villain.

The comedic antics of Harold do contrast somewhat with the more serious scenes at Dock Green nick.  The two different environments don’t really connect very well – probably because the Dock Green officers aren’t integrated into Harold’s story (in fact, we could have concentrated solely on Harold and we probably wouldn’t have missed the input of Dixon and the others).

Quite a short episode, clocking in at just over forty-six minutes, it’s another one that succeeds thanks to the guest cast, especially Kenneth Cope.

Dixon of Dock Green – Alice


Mohinder Singh (Renu Senta) is involved in the trafficking of illegal immigrants.  Forty individuals are currently in Ostend, awaiting shipment to Britain – but they won’t be going anywhere until the captain of Dutch vessel is paid in cash.

Singh contacts a dodgy import/exporter called William Keeley (Harry Landis).  Keeley is unwilling to make the trip himself, but a likely candidate presents herself at just the right moment.  Alice Benfield (Angela Pleasence) is a gifted music student who rents a room above Keeley’s office.  She appears to be vague and lacking in any social skills, which encourages Keeley to use her as an unwitting courier.

But Alice isn’t quite as innocent as she appears and is more than willing to undertake the job, provided the price is right.  And this isn’t the only surprise that Alice springs …..

Alice takes a while to get going (the first twenty minutes or so drag somewhat) but once we get into the heart of the story things pick up nicely.  Angela Pleasence, daughter of Donald Pleasence, gives an intriguing performance as the titular Alice.  When we first meet her she’s incredibly vague and hardly seems able to string two words together.  Is this an act?  By the end of the episode (after she’s pocked the money from Singh and taunted him that he’s powerless to do anything) she’s transformed completely.

Keeley ends up as her partner in crime (Dixon’s closing piece to camera states that they later went into business together).  Harry Landis is hardly pushed, but is good anyway, as the sharp Jewish businessman not averse to accepting a crooked deal.

The one discordant note comes from Tania Rogers as Keeley’s secretary Samantha Jones.  Her jive talking (referring to white people who annoy her as “honky”) hasn’t aged well and her acting in general is rather brittle and forced.  A sample of some of her other performances during this period, such as Zilda in the Doctor Who story The Robots of Death, shows that she did tend to overact.

Renu Setna is much better value as Singh – a man who professes he only wants to help his fellows, but isn’t averse to making a healthy profit out of them.  Refugees and migrants remain a hot topic today – although they’re not not really the focus of the episode.  As we never see them, the migrants are only used a plot device to put the sum of money into Alice’s hands and it could have equally been drugs or pornography Singh and Keeley were dealing in.

This is an episode where it seems that crime does pay, as Alice uses the money she’s stolen from Singh to give a recital at the Wigmore Hall.  All Dixon can offer any viewers concerned to hear she’d got away scot-free is the news that the critical response was poor!

Although the opening is dull and Alice’s character transforms rather too completely over the course of the episode for my tastes, this is decent enough fare.

Dixon of Dock Green – Everybody’s Business


Mrs Hooker (Queenie Watts) is a familiar presence at Dock Green nick.  She might be motivated by a strong sense of public duty (or could simply an officious busybody).  Her suspicious nature is a running joke with her tenants, such as Dave Palmer (Rod Culbertson) and Rita Batty (Cheryl Hall).

When Dave tells an incredulous Rita that Mrs Hooker examines their rubbish (in the hope of finding something incriminating) they decide to play a joke on her by drawing a plan of a fictitious robbery and popping it in the next bag of rubbish.  Naturally enough she finds it and goes rushing off to the station to report her latest find.

But whilst Dave and Rita are planning make-believe crimes, a real one is happening right next door.  Mrs Collins (Sylvia Coleridge) has become quite the local celebrity, following a piece in the local paper about how she discovered one of her paintings was worth forty thousand pounds.  This makes her a target and Walker (George Sweeney) and Ron Fielding (Roger Lloyd-Pack) plan to relieve her of this precious work of art.

When Ron Fielding turns up at Mrs Hooker’s house, looking for a room, it’s pretty clear from the outset that something’s not quite right.  Although he’s offered a nice, quiet room at the back he prefers the smaller one at the front.  Problem is that Rita has the front room and doesn’t want to move.  Ron spins Mrs Hooker a yarn about how his wife has moved in over the street with another man, which gives Queenie Watts a lovely moment as she purses her lips and declares that spying on people isn’t nice at all.

Of course, he’s simply interested in the room because of its location to next door and the painting.  But though he doesn’t get the room he still plans to use it – as soon as Rita leaves to work at the pub that evening.  Alas, she comes back too soon and finds herself bound and gagged by Ron and Walker.

Everybody’s Business is another good character-based story.  Roger Lloyd-Pack and George Sweeney (both to later find fame in John Sullivan sitcoms – Lloyd-Pack in Only Fools and Horses and Sweeney in Citizen Smith) exude a certain menace.  Their initial meeting, in a bleak and rubbish-filled street, is another snapshot of how grim many areas of London were back in the 1970’s.

Cheryl Hall (who would also later appear in Sullivan’s Citizen Smith, alongside her then husband Robert Lindsey) is rather appealing as Rita.  She has a mischievous streak, brought on by Mrs Hooker’s snooping, but also finds herself tramautised after spending the night tied up.  Sylvia Coleridge, who had a lengthy career largely playing eccentric old women, plays somewhat to type as Mrs Collins.

Bruton is very brusque with both Rita and Dave (it appears that he doesn’t believe her story to begin with) and this causes Dave to call him a pig, once he’s out of earshot of course.  It’s quite rare for the police in Dixon to behave quite so off-hand to witnesses, so this is possibly a sign that the series was gently trying to toughen up a little.  There’s also a very brief, Sweeney-like, bit of action at the end as we see police cars racing through the urban wasteland to nab the criminals.

With the crime only taking up a small part of the running time, Everybody’s Business is much more about character interactions and because the story is so well-cast this makes it one of the stronger episodes from this final run.

Dixon of Dock Green – The Vagrant


A vagrant (John Carson) is knocked down by a car in the street.  An eye-witness, Fred Smethwick (Bill Treacher), is insistent that the car deliberately drove into him and his statement catches the interest of the Dock Green police.  The vagrant is later identified as Joseph Conway, a career criminal who turned Queen’s Evidence a few years previously.  He helped to put two criminals, Gerald Tate (Johnny Shannon) and Bert Flower (John Hartley), behind bars and since they’re both now back in circulation it seems likely one of them was the driver.  But the truth is rather more complicated …..

The Vagrant benefits from John Carson’s guest turn.  Whilst he’s rarely been a leading man, he’s a quality actor who enhances any production he appears in.  Still active (he popped up in an episode of Midsummer Murders a few years back) he’s enjoyed a lengthy career stretching back to the 1950’s.  The Doctor Who story Snakedance and the Out of the Unknown episode This Body Is Mine are two of his credits which have been covered previously in this blog (both of which are enriched by Carson).

He’s rather cast against type here as a down-and-out.  The part calls for him to adopt a hoarse and hesitant voice and a rather vague manner, but it’s obvious from fairly early on that there’s more to Conway that meets the eye.  He may appear now to be a broken wreck of a man but that wasn’t always the case (in fact he’s not even Joe Conway).

His real name is Francis Spurling and the reason for him changing his identity helps to spin the story off in another direction completely.  After Spurling and Joe Conway swapped identities, it allowed him to drop out of circulation (Conway’s dead body was mis-indentifed as Spurling).  His wife, Margaret (Suzan Farmer), has since remarried and naturally views his return with horror.  But Spurling hasn’t returned to make trouble – he simply wants to try and make amends with Margaret and also help his friend Percy (a lovely turn from Paddy Joyce).

The Dock Green boys take a back seat in this one as the bulk of the episode revolves around Conway/Spurling, although Clayton and Bruton do entertain themselves by questioning Tate and Flower (Johnny Shannon is wonderfully belligerent as Tate).  As I’ve said, Paddy Joyce is very entertaining as Conway/Spurling’s fellow vagrant Percy and whilst he adds little to the plot, he’s a colourful character who enriches the episode no end.

There’s little for George Dixon to do and the story does somewhat splutter to a conclusion, but as ever, the first-rate guest cast (John Carson, Paddy Joyce, Johnny Shannon, Suzan Farmer), helps to keep the interest bubbling along.

Dixon of Dock Green – The Job


Sgt Wills fishes a barely conscious petty criminal called Phil Harvey (George Innes) out of the river.  It wasn’t suicide though – as Harvey was bound and gagged.  After he’s taken to the hospital Wills in unable to get any useful information from him.  DC Clayton is equally unsuccessful with Harvey’s wife, Jessie (Mela White).

The first breakthrough comes when Harvey’s car is found – close to the office of Stephen Gilles (David Lodge).  Gilles is a target criminal and therefore of special interest to the Serious Crimes Squad.  Dixon contacts DCI Bassett (Stephen Greif) who’s been keeping Gilles under observation and suggests they pool their resources.

There’s some effective film-work at the start of The Job as we see Wills rescue Harvey.  It once again shows that one of Dixon‘s strengths during this period was the dock-based location filming (which helps to break up the generally studio-bound, static feel of the series).  There’s not a lot of location work in this one but every little helps to open out the show a little.

The opening of the story also brings Sgt Johnny Wills a little more into the centre of the action.  Between 1960 and 1976 Nicholas Donnelly chalked up over two hundred appearances and was therefore as much a fixture at Dock Green as Jack Warner or Peter Byrne were.  Donnelly was able to give Wills a likeable, friendly air which fitted in well with the general tone of the series.

Here, he spends most of the story at the hospital – cadging endless cups of tea from a friendly young nurse (played by Glynis Brooks).  She only appears to have eyes for the dashing young DS Bruton though and later views Wills’ habit of listening at doors with a little disfavour.  Wills is unabashed though – if it means gaining information then it’s a legitimate tactic.

As ever, there’s a very decent guest cast.  George Innes (Upstairs Downstairs, Danger UXB) gamely opened the episode by being caked in mud and submerged in the river (kudos to him, considering the early hour the scene was shot and how cold it looked).  Mela White (best known as Diamante Lil from Bergerac) is gloriously vacant as his wife.  But is she really that slow on the uptake or is it just a way of concealing what she knows?

It’s possibly not a surprise that it’s Dixon (rather than Bruton or Clayton) who realises that Serious Crimes have been keeping tabs on Gilles which is confirmed after he arranges a meeting with DCI Bassett.  It’s another subtle demonstration that whilst he may be getting on, Dixon’s knowledge still remains formidable.  Greif’s scenes are rather distracting, thanks to his false-looking moustache, but his meet with Dixon is a good excuse to get Jack Warner out of the studio and onto film.

David Lodge, an actor with an impressive list of comedy credits (appearing alongside the likes of Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan), has a fairly small role but casting a name actor helps to make it a memorable appearance.

As so often with television of this era, it’s the period feel which makes it an interesting watch.  The Harvey’s house (especially the wallpaper) screams out that it’s the 1970’s and some of the film-work – as Bruton and Clayton tail Gilles down the local high-street – is also rather evocative.  This filming also highlights the somewhat ad-hoc way these programmes were made.  Often it appears that they’d just turn up and start filming, without attempting to close off the street.  Meaning that you’ll often see members of the public unable to resist the temptation of staring straight down the lens!

The second of Derek Ingrey’s five scripts for series twenty-two, it’s another effective, character-based story.

Dixon of Dock Green – Domino


When Annabelle Sturmer (Sally Faulkner) moors her impressive-looking yacht at Dock Green she instantly catches the eye of dock-worker Ron Mason (Alan Lake).  Annabelle and Ron share a drink and everything seems friendly enough – but in an instant her mood changes and there’s a struggle.  She returns with a gun and then a shot is heard.

Ron is seen leaving the boat, pausing to throw something in the water.  When Annabelle’s disappearance is noted, the boys at Dock Green investigate.  All the evidence suggests that Ron murdered her – but things aren’t quite as straightforward as they first appear …..

Domino was the first episode of Dixon of Dock Green‘s twenty first and final season.  This series saw several changes to Dixon‘s tried and tested format.  Firstly, we’re told that Andy Crawford (Peter Byrne) had transferred to another area, so there’s several new faces in CID – DS Alan Bruton (Richard Heffer) and DC Len Clayton (Ben Howard).

As for Dixon himself, he’s moved from being the desk sergeant to taking up the post of collator.  In some ways this wasn’t too drastic a change – as per the previous few series George stays in the station and provides the others with nuggets of information that enable them to run the criminals down.

As is probably well known, Jack Warner had some trouble moving about, so Dixon tends to remain either seated or standing upright.  He does walk about a bit, but not very far (his days of pounding the beat were long, long over).  But the job of collator was an inspired one, as it allowed him to still have a decent input into the stories as well as giving him a chance to mentor a younger officer, PC Harry Dunne (Stephen Marsh), who we’re told will take over from him in due course (was there thought given to continuing the series following Warner’s retirement?).

Whilst Peter Byrne’s departure was a loss, Richard Heffer is a very welcome addition to the cast.  A familiar television face already (Captain Tim Dowling in Colditz and JImmy Garland in Survivors were amongst his numerous roles) he brings a touch of class and charm to Dock Green nick.  Ben Howard, as Len Clayton, provides a nice contrast, since he seems to have an ironic sense of humour as well as possessing a harder streak.

Derek Ingrey’s script sets up a mystery which isn’t resolved until the closing minutes.  Sally Faulkner doesn’t have a great deal of time to make an impression, but still manages to do so.  Annabelle Sturmer appears to be a spoiled little rich girl, who took her father’s yacht without permission and sailed it back to Britain.  The implication is that she’s an alcoholic, which would explain her fondness for drinking early in the morning as well as her violent mood swings.

Alan Lake, who died at the very early age of forty three in 1984, might be best remembered as Diana Dors’ husband, but he also had an impressive list of acting credits (including eight appearances in Dixon, playing eight different characters).  He didn’t tend to do subtle very often, but that works perfectly well here. Ron Mason needs to be a twitchy, unpredictable character, that way it makes the question as to whether he’s harmed the girl harder to answer

Lake is one of the episode’s chief attractions and he enjoys a generous amount of screen-time.  Also worth watching are Gwyneth Powell (in her fifth and final Dixon appearance) as Mason’s long suffering wife and Simon Lack (later to star with Richard Heffer in LWT’s Enemy at the Door) as Annabelle’s father.

The down-beat ending might have been easy to guess, but it still has a certain impact.  A solid, if not spectacular, series opener.

Dixon of Dock Green – Conspiracy


No police series could ever hope to avoid the thorny topic of corruption within the force, but it’s fair to say that it was always a difficult one for Dixon of Dock Green to face.  This is due to the overwhelmingly positive picture of the police force always painted by the series (which by the mid 1970’s made it clearly something of an anachronism).

Z Cars’ first episode (Four of a Kind, tx 2/1/62) showed us coppers who made bets on duty and would think nothing of giving their wife a black eye.  So for all of Dixon’s strengths, Z Cars (and other later series including The Sweeney) did tend to be streets ahead when it came to showing the police’s weaknesses as well as their strengths.

But Dixon did occasionally tackle police corruption.  The most famous example is The Rotten Apple (1956), largely because it’s one of only a handful of episodes from the 1950’s and 1960’s to survive.  And the fact that the bent copper was a very young Paul Eddington also helped to keep it in the public consciousness (via clips in documentaries, for example).

A more recent episode, Eye Witness, also had an interesting throwaway moment – when the villain told his henchmen that they’d be able to track down the witness currently held in police protection since they had a pipeline into most police stations up and down the country.  Nothing actually comes of this in story terms (the witness is found another way) but it’s an subtle acknowledgment that corruption was rife in the 1970’s.

N.J. Crisp’s Conspiracy (originally transmitted on the 10th of May 1975) is essentially a three-hander – shared between Dixon, Crawford and PC Len Warren (Andrew Burt).  Dixon receives an anonymous letter claiming that Warren was seen drinking with a criminal out on probation, Ben Randall (Jon Laurimore).  Warren is the chief prosecution witness in Randall’s upcoming case, which makes the allegations even more damaging.

Dixon regretfully tells Andy that ten years ago they could have simply thrown this letter in the bin, but now it has to be investigated.  Andy’s keen to call in A10 (the department created to investigate matters like this) but Dixon wants to keep it in-house for now (which causes friction between them).

Warren is portrayed as an ambitious man, keen for promotion.  His over-zealous nature and his strict adherence to the law means that he has few friends (either within or outside the force).  He’s a loner, who likes to bend the rules occasionally, and Dixon tells Andy that he sees much of the young PC Crawford in him (although Andy doesn’t take this as a compliment!).

Although the circumstantial evidence of Warren’s guilt is strong (and the story does throw in a few scenes that seem deliberately designed to show him in a bad light, which is something of a cheat) eventually it’s proved that he didn’t accept a bribe from Randall.  But he’s already decided to resign, since he found the investigations into his private affairs (such as questions about how he could afford to buy a new car) to be incredibly intrusive.  Dixon tells him that it’s part of the price he has to pay for being a police officer, but for Randall it’s clearly unacceptable.

Conspiracy was originally planned to be the final Dixon episode (another series was only given the go-ahead very late in the day).  When you know this, it’s easy to see how it was crafted in order to conclude the series.  For one thing, Dixon is much much centre-stage than normal (by this time he’s usually relegated to giving sage advice from behind the station desk).  There’s also several key speeches from Dixon which make specific points.  The first is directed at Andy.

I remember, a long time ago now, a young copper on the beat pressing hard to get into CID. I remember that same young copper as a detective constable, always convinced that he knew best. And later as a detective sergeant who wasn’t above ignoring the book when it suited him. You, Andy. You’ve crossed your fingers and taken a few shortcuts in your time. Mostly they worked out but sometimes they didn’t. Do you know why it took you so long to become a detective-inspector? You got the reputation for bending the rules. But you’re a good copper. And so is Warren.

The second occurs a few minutes later and is directed at Warren.  It’s a signature moment for Jack Warner and it’s very clear that he feels every word.  As the camera slowly closes in on Dixon’s face, Warner seems to be struggling to hold his emotions together – as presumably he believed this would be the last time he’d play the role.  It’s a beautifully delivered monologue.

All the years I’ve spent as a copper, I think every minute’s been worth it. Oh, the police force isn’t perfect. It can’t be. It’s manned by ordinary men. I know we talk about red tape and frustration when a villain goes free and the harm done by the occasional bent copper. But, for all the criticism, the police are there to protect the public, and that’s what we do. We curb violence. We do our best to deal with villains who want to prey on society. I’ve been proud to have been a part of that. Even a small part. It’s been my life for a long time now and I don’t regret any of it.

Dixon and Andy then exit the station as the camera tracks up to show the blue lamp above the door, which is followed by the end credits.  This is a subtle nod to the original film and had the series ended there then it would have been a very decent conclusion.

Instead, we’ve one more series to look forward to, although Conspiracy is still the end of an era as Peter Byrne decided not to return.  As a regular since the very first episode in 1955 (which was titled PC Crawford’s First Pinch) Crawford was as much a part of the fabric of the series as Dixon himself and his presence will certainly be missed.

blue lamp

Dixon of Dock Green – A Slight Case of Love


A Slight Case of Love opens in a non-linear fashion, but the reason why quickly becomes clear.  We see a woman telling her fiance that their marriage is impossible, since she has to care for her invalid mother.  This is repeated twice more – with different men but the same woman (although her appearance changes each time).  We then see each of the men hand over a cheque for one thousand pounds.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg as the woman, Kate Harris (Moira Redmond), has also conned at least four other men.  Crawford and Brewer have little to go on – apart from the irate responses of her victims.  One of them, George Bunning (Alec Wallis), can probably be taken as typical, as he’s incredibly angry and demands immediate action from Crawford – warning him that if there’s not a satisfactory conclusion he’ll make Crawford suffer.  Needless to say, Andy’s neither impressed or cowed by this.

This makes the response of Harris’ eighth victim, Lewis Naylor (Julian Glover), even more extraordinary.  He’s also keen to find her, but he doesn’t want her to go to prison – he still wants to marry her and so wouldn’t want his wife to have received a prison sentence.

Naylor is a powerful man (a merchant banker) and it’s hard at first to know if his motives are quite what he claims them to be.  This is due to Julian Glover’s icily efficient and clipped performance.  It’s one we’ve seen from him many times before (his career has often consisted of him playing villains and rogues) so there’s a certain ambiguity in his playing.  But it soon becomes clear that he’s completely sincere and, though he knows he’s not the first she’s conned, to him it doesn’t matter.

Later, we see why Kate has carried out these deceptions – together with her sister Fleur (Isla Blair) she owns a pottery business that is suffering from considerable financial difficulties.  If they don’t find eight thousand pounds then the bank will foreclose on their loan.  It explains why, although when the law catches up with her it’ll hardly be a defence.

Naylor does visit Dock Green but it becomes clear to him that whilst they also want to find the woman, when they do she’ll suffer the full penalties of the law.  So he leaves to hire a private detective to track her down whilst Brewer ponders on the two mugshot pictures he’s picked out.  No other victims were able to identify anybody from the photos held by the police, which strikes Brewer as a little odd.  Dixon surmises that it may be because although Naylor knows they’re not the ones, he wants to question them to see if they know Kate’s true identity.

This is a reasonable assumption, but it’s never followed through and the true reason seems to be that it allows the Dock Green boys to visit the two suspects, add them both to the identity parades, and also bulk out the running time of the episode.  But both encounters are good fun, especially Andy’s run-in with Heather (Mela White).  Andy and Heather are old acquaintances, although she insists that she’s now going straight and tells him she’s writing a memoir of her colourful career entitled Horizontal Confessions.  Andy caustically responds that it should be titled A Hard Time Was Had By All (!).

A Slight Case of Love is an interesting tale of morality.  Both Kate and Fleur are unrepentant – they needed eight thousand pounds and they took it from people who wouldn’t miss a thousand each (Kate considers they would be able to write it off as petty cash).  As a hard-headed, rational businessman, Naylor’s desire to marry her (even though he knows that she’s a serial con-artist) seems inexplicable – and can only be explained away by the fact that he’s in love.

Naylor’s private detective manages to find Kate, which allows the Dock Green coppers to take her into custody.  Five of her victims are lined up to pick her out of an identity parade – four do so and one doesn’t (the one who doesn’t is, naturally, Naylor).  Dixon’s outro tells us that Kate was convicted but also that on her release Naylor was waiting and he closes by saying that it’s “not every discharged prisoner who comes out to spend her honeymoon in the Bahamas.”

Julian Glover gives an excellent performance and he’s the main reason why this episode works as well as it does.  A lesser actor might have struggled with the apparant contridications of his character, but Glover is never less than totally assured.  Moira Redmond (a familar face from both films and television) has a hard role to play – does she love Naylor or is she simply marrying him for his money?  But this ambiguity is something that Redmond can play with and it helps to provide a little spark to the story.  Glover’s real-life wife, Isla Blair, played Fleur.  It’s the less rewarding, more passive role, but it’s always a pleasure to see her.

This is one where the detection is pretty minimal (and it’s the private detective that does most of the work anyway, although Crawford is happy with that).  Instead, the focus is on the rather mismatched pairing of Kate Harris and Lewis Naylor.

Timeshift – Live on the Night: The Story of Live TV Drama

I’ve uploaded some bits and bobs to my YouTube channel over the last few days and one of them is this Timeshift documentary from 2004.

It tells the story of live British television drama – from the early days and then right up to date.  Covering programmes like the original Quatermass serials, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars and featuring interviews with Nigel Kneale, Peter Byrne and Brian Blessed amongst others, it ties neatly into some of the shows that I’ve written about in recent months.

Dixon of Dock Green – Looters Ltd.


Charlie Barnet (Sam Kydd) is an old time villain, newly released from prison.  In his prime he could scale any building – but a bad fall on his last job put paid to that and now he’s reduced to walking with a stick.  On the way back to his welcome home party he notices a man (played by Robin Ford) being mugged and intervenes.

He leaves his name and address with Sgt Wills and promises to pop into the station later to make a statement.  But when Dixon learns his identity, he realises that it’s unlikely that he’d make an appearance under his own steam, so he decides to gently gatecrash his party.

The relationship between Dixon and Charlie is a familiar one from the series (and in fact you can date it right back to the original film The Blue Lamp).  Charlie may be a criminal, but he’s an honourable one and there’s something of a grudging respect shown by Dixon towards him – one professional to another.  When Dixon crashes the party, there’s an awkward silence from most of the guests (mistrust of the police is obviously ingrained) but Charlie’s polite and hospitable, offering him a drink.  Dixon accepts (compare this to Harry’s Back where we see Dixon look askance at a drink bought for him by Harry).  George then offers to find Charlie some work.

At the start of The Blue Lamp, a voice-over contrasts the type of decent old-school criminal (like Charlie) with the younger, wilder criminal element who use violence without thinking.  It’s an interesting dichotomy –  which is also expressed in this story as on the one hand we have Charlie and on the other we see his son Ray (Terry Cowling).

By a remarkable coincidence, Ray was one of the muggers who attacked the man in the street (Ray later gave Charlie the mugged man’s gold wristwatch as a present).  Charlie tells his son he’s ashamed of him, but doesn’t want him to go straight.  “I’m talking about you learning a proper trade. I don’t want no son of mine to turn out to be a small-time mugger. A proper trade. Like I had.”  He offers to have a word with one of his friends, but he’s told that “the young-un’s today, they’re too wild.”  which reiterates the chasm between old-school career criminals and the younger ones.

The rest of the family are doing nicely – Charlie’s wife Olive (Margery Mason) and their daughter Diana (Gwyneth Powell) run a thriving business, offering virtually anything for sale at reasonable weekly installments.  Naturally, all of their stock is stolen – they’re prolific shoplifters.

Sam Kydd delivers a nice turn as the head of a thoroughly criminal household and Gwyneth Powell (previously seen in Eye Witness), Margery Mason and Terry Cowling offer very solid support.  And the opening party scene is great fun, with the sort of bad-taste visuals that clearly mark this as the mid seventies!

Gerald Kelsey was a prolific writer for Dixon (forty three episodes between 1963 and 1976) although the majority no longer exist.  But on the evidence of this one he had a good grasp of what made the series tick – namely the conflict between the police and their prey.

Dixon of Dock Green – Baubles, Bangles and Beads


Baubles, Bangles and Beads opens with a scene that could have come from The Sweeney.  A police car is in hot pursuit of another car which contains three dangerous-looking characters (played by Brian Glover, Johnny Shannon and Frank Jarvis).  They’re desperately looking for a place to stash a bag of stolen jewellery, but the police car is too close behind.  In desperation they fling it out of the window and it lands in somebody’s back garden.  Unfortunately for them, it doesn’t remain there for long …..

Given how much of Dixon is lost (only thirty two episodes exist from over four hundred made) it’s hard to get a feel for the variety of stories that the series might have tackled.  And one thing we haven’t seen so far with the colour episodes is one played for laughs, until Baubles, Bangles and Beads.

It’s an interesting culture clash as we see three old school villains – Chuck (Brian Glover), Bert (Jonnny Shannon) and Syd (Frank Jarvis) – confronted with the bewildering world of alternative religion.  The bag of jewellery was found by Eric (Leon Vitali) who has been squatting with Phil (Peter Denyer).  Both are seeking enlightenment – although Phil seems to be further down this road than Eric (which is something he takes great pleasure in pointing out to his unfortunate friend several times).

Eric’s a simple trusting soul whilst Phil is rather humourless and dogmatic.  When Eric expresses dismay over Phil’s purchase of tomatoes (Eric can’t eat them as they make him sick) Phil has no sympathy.  “That’s what I call giving in to your lower centres. Don’t you realise the body is always trying to subvert your higher consciousness?”

They move from the squat to another location and in the room opposite is Marion (Kitty Stevenson) and several of her friends.  Like Eric and Phil, Marion and the others are also seeking enlightenment, although they do so in ways that shock Eric.  When he pops over to ask for a match, he rushes back to Phil to tell him that they’re meditating – but with no clothes on.  Phil takes the news quite calmly.  “That’s nothing. That’s your trouble, that is. You’re carnal oriented. I’ll go see ’em.”  Marion later explains that “to deny the body, one must first see it as it is, in all its gross intransigence.”

She’s learnt this from Guru Rhum Rhaji.  His Temple – the Temple of Godly Effulgence – is close to their flat and Eric, iimpressed with what he’s learnt about him, joins Marion to pay homage.  Eric’s delighted to hear that Rhaji doesn’t charge people to enter his Temple (unlike Phil’s guru, Shashti Ap Davies, who requires 10% of all his disciples earnings).  Rhaji is pleased to accept gifts though – although he refuses the one offered by Eric (a rather indifferent picture).  So the next time he goes along, Eric takes something that he’s sure will be acceptable – the bag of jewellery.  And unsurprisingly, Rhaji accepts this offering.

Rhaji bears some similarity to the likes of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  By the mid seventies, he would have been best known by many people for his brief association with The Beatles (and also for their later denunciation of him as a fake).  Baubles, Bangles and Beads also takes this line – that some religions are nothing more than a con.  As Sgt Wills says, the people who believe (like Eric, Phil and Marion) are decent enough, but the inference is they’re nothing more than fools being misled by tricksters.

This is made plain when Rhaji and his sidekick are exposed as two very English con-men – Ernie Bishop and Gus Todd.  This is a funny scene (although the fact they’re browned up and affecting cod Indian accents probably means that not everybody will see the joke).  Once they’ve been rumbled by Dixon, they remove their false beards and turbans (with Gus changing from an Indian accent to a Cockney one, telling Dixon that it’s “nice to get this clobber off. Don’t half make you sweat, you know.”)  Ernie’s unrepentant, telling Dixon and Wills that “we’ve all got to earn a crust haven’t we?”  He then admits that there’s “more money in religion, pays quite well.”

Although the message of the story may strike some as a little narrow-minded, the comedic performances of Peter Denyer, Leon Vitali and Kitty Stevenson make up for it.  Denyer (who died far too young, at just 62 in 2009) had two signature roles – Dennis Dunstable in Please Sir! and Ralph in Dear John.  Both of those characters were rather dim, as is Phil here, but the difference with Phil is that he doesn’t realise it.  Denyer perfectly captures Phil’s parrot-like nature (it’s clear that everything he says has been learnt by rote from Shashti Ap Davies and he has no original thoughts of his own).

Leon Vitali also appeared in Please Sir! (although just one episode) and later was a regular in the spin-off series The Fenn Street Gang.  He also seems to have been a favourite of Stanley Kubrick (appearing in both Barry Lyndon and Eyes Wide Shut).  Although Eric seems somewhat naive, he ends up in a much better position than Phil – since he elects to stay with Marion (who’s going to teach him mediation and maybe other things).  One delightful scene later in the story occurs when Marion decides that the only way for Eric to conquer his carnal thoughts is to confront them head on – and as the camera tastefully pans away, the audience can guess the rest.

This was Kitty Stevenson’s sole television credit, which is a little surprising since she gives a deft comic performance.  Elsewhere, Brian Glover, Johnny Shannon and Frank Jarvis are three very familiar television faces who help to enliven proceedings.

This is one of two episodes from series twenty one that only exists as an off-air recording (presumably made at the BBC, although domestic video recorders were available at the time).  There’s some picture interference, but for a recording of this age it’s not too bad.  It’s obviously several rungs down from the original VT, but it’s better to have it than not.

An unexpected comic episode, it may not be to everyone’s tastes but I found plenty to enjoy.

Dixon of Dock Green – Seven for a Secret – Never to be Told


Seven for a Secret – Never to be Told has an eye-catching opening.  A man enters a house, cigarette in mouth.  Once inside he strikes a light and there’s a deafening explosion.  Gas is the culprit, but it wasn’t a leak – all the gas points had been deliberately turned on.  The discovery of a woman’s body points to suicide, but there’s a few things (such as an open window) which strike Dixon as odd.

The dead woman was called Mrs Pengelley.  Her neighbour paints a less than flattering picture of her – an alcoholic who also enjoyed the company of many male friends.  She did have a husband, Alf (Forbes Collins), but he claims not to have seen her for several years.  One of her recent liaisons, Ralph Harding (Andrew Bradford), has disappeared – and what concerns the Dock Green officers is that he has the Pengelley’s sixteen-year old daughter Chrissie (June Page) with him.

Dixon’s pieces to camera, which traditionally top and tail the programme, can often set the mood of the episode as well as informing the viewer about the type of story they can expect.  Here, Dixon’s quite upfront in telling us that there wasn’t actually a Pengelly case at all – which leads the viewer to suppose that no crime was committed.  That’s a nice piece of misdirection and it keeps the story ticking along until all the pieces of the puzzle are put into place right at the end.

It’s clear from the start that there’s a bond of secrecy between Ralph and Chrissie (hence the title).  The obvious inference is that he’s killed Mrs Pengelly and taken the girl away for reasons of his own.  There’s certainly several indications that this might be so and Bradford gives a nicely off-kilter performance.  Later, we learn that Ralph suffered as a boy at the hands of his abusive father and was institutionalised for several years.  As for Chrissie, her father told Crawford and Brewer that she was “a bit backward, like.”  June Page captures this well – giving her a child-like naivety and a blankness that marks her out as a potential victim.

This was another all-film episode and moving into the countryside in the second half (as Crawford and Brewer pursue Ralph and Chrissie) allows for a sharp change from the normal visuals.  The Dock Green environs are rather grimy and rundown, so the beauty of the open countryside is very different.  It’s just a pity that, as with all the film inserts we’ve seen, it now looks so poor (a decent restoration would have made a considerable difference).

Jack Warner has a few nice scenes, as he questions several witnesses, although his lack of mobility is pretty obvious.  He’s either very static or if he has to walk, we only see him take a few steps before the camera cuts away.  The most obvious example of this is at the fairground, where the brief shot of him walking makes it painfully obvious just how slow he now is.

Seven for a Secret – Never to be Told was the second story of the twenty first series (originally broadcast on the 22nd of February 1975).  It’s odd that it followed the series opener, Target, since that was another all-film production (you would have assumed they’d want to spread the few film stories out a bit).  It’s undeniably a slow, character piece but June Page and Andrew Bradford are both worth watching – as they’re a strangely mis-matched couple whose bond with each other only becomes clear right at the end.

Also good value is Denis Goacher as Sgt. Dawes, the country copper who assists Crawford and Brewer in tracking down Ralph and Chrissie.  His performance has a delightful slowness to it and this clashes with the urgency of the London officers.  But he’s no fool – he spots a clue that Crawford and Brewer miss and his knowledge of the area proves to be invaluable.

Not the most memorable Dixon episode to have survived, but Derek Ingrey’s script is not without merit.  He was quite a prolific writer for the series – penning nineteen episodes between 1972 and 1976.  Two more of his scripts from this series (Baubles, Bangles and Beads and A Slight Case of Love) exist as do all of the five stories he contributed to the final series in 1976.

Dixon of Dock Green – Target


Target was the opening story of Dixon’s twenty first series (originally broadcast on the 15th of February 1975).  It’s a slow burner of an episode, as it takes a long while to establish who the target is, but there’s plenty of interest before the plot really kicks into action.

We open in a supermarket and the camera follows a man we later learn is called Smith (Anthony Steel).  He’s clearly not a well man as he staggers outside in a barely conscious state.  Vere Lorrimer’s camerawork in the early part of the episode quite effectively illustrates Smith’s distressed state (the cameras of this era are too bulky to be used hand-held, but there’s more fluidity in some shots than you’d normally expect).

When Smith exits the supermarket, the sounds of drilling trigger a flashback – and for a split-second Smith believes he hears gunfire and that the young black man, Winston Dallas (Willie Jonah), who’s concerned for his well-being is an enemy.  Winston manages to get Smith back to his flat, but Smith then pulls a gun and Winston flees.  This is enough to involve the coppers at Dock Green, but when they arrive they find complications – as Smith’s flat is already being watched.

There’s some nice humourous touches in Ben Bassett’s script.  When Crawford realises that three Special Branch officers have been staking out the flat (complete with a tent, pretending to be workman) he takes great pleasure in telling them that every criminal worth his salt knows about that particular dodge.  Wills later remarks that they tried to catch Jack the Ripper with a tent!  Mike Brewer then waylays a French onion seller and offers him a tidy sum of money so he can borrow his bike, onions and beret.  Did French onion sellers, especially such cliched ones ever exist?  Well they do here.

The Special Branch officers tell Crawford that they’re waiting for the arrival of a man called Kumal (Yashaw Adem), who was responsible for a particularly brutal massacre in Central Africa.  Smith is a friend and colleague, so they’re confident he’ll show up.

Once Smith recovers from his bout of malaria, his character’s drawn out thanks to several conversations with the owner of the flat, Joyce Baird (Freda Knorr).  Anthony Steel is excellent in these scenes – Smith is a man who’s unrepentant that his profession is killing, but he’s not a mindless thug.  Mercenaries like him regularly featured in the news back in the seventies (and in films such as The Wild Geese) and whilst such a character has less resonance today, thanks to Steel’s performance it’s still compelling.

As for Dixon himself, he has little to do, which is rather surprising for a series opener – instead Crawford and Brewer handle most of the action.  Although there’s a little gunplay along the way, it’s still far removed from action-orientated series such as The Sweeney.   Instead, Target is a decent character piece and a solid start to this series.

Dixon of Dock Green – Firearms Were Issued


Crawford leads a raid on a suspected gang of armed robbers.  Due to the possibility that they may still be armed, the Dock Green officers are also issued with firearms.  Dixon, in his role as desk sergeant, is precise in ensuring that all the correct procedures are carried out before a single gun is issued.  But events go seriously wrong and an unarmed man is shot and later dies, which means that Crawford and the others find themselves under investigation.

Apart from Crawford, Det. Con Cox (Peter Tilbury), Sgt. Wills (Nicholas Donnelly) and PC Dewar (David Masterman) are the other officers issued with firearms.  Before the operation, we’re given some indication about how two of them may react. Wills is an experienced firearms officer and so it can be assumed he will be cool under fire.  Cox is much less experienced (he’s only ever fired a gun on the training ground) whilst Dewar is an unknown factor.

The raid takes place at night-time and is effectively filmed.  The darkness makes it harder to understand what happened when the fatal shot was fired (which was obviously the intention).

Part of the conflict in Firearms Were Issued is driven by the different policing styles of Crawford and Dixon.  The younger man has a willingness to bend or break the rules in order to achieve the right result – something which is anathema to Dixon.  This is highlighted when Crawford attempts to leave the station to try and contact the informant who phoned in the original tip off.  Dixon’s quite firm – if he leaves the station then he’ll have to let the appropriate people know.  It’s a nice character moment for both, especially Peter Byrne.

Dixon is an old school, by-the-book copper – and a major part of the character’s appeal has to be Jack Warner himself.  Since he’d been playing the part so long, he’d become a virtual embodiment of “the good old days”.  But this nostalgia for better, simpler times gone by isn’t always a good thing.  It may have provided reassurance for a section of the audience at the time, but in the decades to come it was probably a key factor in the less than flattering readings we’ve seen the series receive.

But though the episodes on the first DVD have been more diverse than the reactionary Dixon of legend, it’s fair to say that the resolution of Firearms Were Issued will give critics of the series some ammunition.  It’s a much less progressive message than, say, Sounds, but although it’s an eyebrow raising conclusion it’s far from the norm (based on the small sample available anyway).

The investigation is quite intense and it leads to some decent character conflict between the Dock Green officers and Det. Chief Supt. Donovan (Percy Herbert).  The officers are insistent that the gang were armed but an intensive search fails to locate any weapons.  Did one of them shoot an unarmed man?  And if so, why?

Percy Herbert’s an intimidating presence as Donovan (he had a long career, including notable appearances in films such as Bridge on the River Kwai and The Guns of Navarone).  The versatile actor/writer Peter Tilbury made the second of his two appearances as Cox whilst the ever reliable Cyril Shaps played the somewhat shifty Green.

Whether Kendrick was armed or not, when the fatal shot was fired he was running away.  But Dixon sums it up as follows.

The four men who went out that night had every reason to believe that they were going to deal with armed and dangerous men. Later, the report for ballistics confirmed that Sgt. Wills had shot Kendrick. An inquest was held and the jury returned a verdict of justifiable homicide.  I think I’d have done the same as Dewar and Wills in those circumstances.

Dixon of Dock Green – Sounds


A few mysterious sounds of the end of the phone are enough to spark major activity at Dock Green nick.  The story opens with Anne Turner (Marion Lines) and her daughter Janey (Lyn Doyle) returning home.  “Home” at present appears to be a rather dingy flat in a very run-down area.  Anne notices the door is unlocked, which concerns her.  She sends Janey downstairs to play and calls Dock Green police station.

But after only a few words, WPC Hawkins (Jacqueline Stanbury) hears a choking noise as if she’s being strangled.  Dixon takes over the call and a few moments later Janey picks up the receiver, telling Dixon that her mother’s asleep.  Then either Janey replaces the receiver or somebody does it for her.  It’s little enough to go on, but Crawford, Brewer and Dixon put their heads together to try and work out what they can establish from the few sounds recorded from the call.

Sounds (the sixteenth episode of series twenty, originally broadcast on the 13th of April 1974) is very much an episode of two halves.  The first is concerned with the hunt for Anne and Janey and the second (which is the more dramatically interesting) details what happens once they’ve been found.

To begin with, they scour the tape for clues – they can hear the sound of machinery and also the hooter of a tug on the river.  Officers at Dock Green obviously have an affinity with the river, as Crawford’s able to ascertain that two hoots means the tug is turning to starboard.  He then asks for the name of every ship on the river that sounded its hooter at the time the call was made.  This should help to narrow down the search field.

An expert, Dave (David Wood), is called in to examine the tape.  He’s the antithesis of Dixon – since he sports long hair and colourful clothes – but since he’s an expert in his field, there’s grudging respect.  Dave is able to isolate the machinery noises much more clearly.  Neither Dave or Dixon can quite put their finger on what the machinery could be, but WPC Hawkins is able to smugly tell them that it’s a Heidelberg Superspeed Platen printing press.

This impressive feat of deduction is explained when she tells them that the recording could be heard in the station office and at at exactly the time it was being played, a stationary delivery was made and the printer’s apprentice recognised the sound!  This is a little difficult to believe, but it’s necessary in terms of moving the plot forward, as by now we’re half-way through the episode.

This information allows Crawford and Brewer to locate the flat, but there’s no sign of anybody and all personal belongings have been removed.  One clue is that there’s two telephone numbers – one is the Dock Green nick and the other is a local security firm.

Whilst the search for the missing woman and child has been interesting, we now enter the dramatic heart of the episode.  One of the guards from the security firm, Davis (Michael Graham Cox), pays Dixon a visit.  He’s keen to help – frankly he’s too keen and it’s clear right from the start that he has his own agenda.  It doesn’t take too long for the story to emerge.  Anne is his wife (at present she’s reverted to using her maiden name) and whilst their marriage has obviously been punctuated with bouts of domestic violence, he considers himself to be untouchable.  He knows that there’s no case without Anne’s testimony and he also knows that she’ll say that her present injuries are due to her slipping on one of Janey’s toys.

This is what she tells Dixon, but he obviously doesn’t believe it.  When he asks her if he’s beaten her up before she tells him that “it’s just between him and me, isn’t it? A private matter, nothing to do with the police.”  Dixon counters by telling her to “stop repeating everything he tells you. There’s no need to be afraid of him.”  But it’s clear that Anne won’t change her story.  Although she may be frightened of him, there’s also a sense that she genuinely loves him and believes that things will change.  The unspoken inference is that things won’t get better, but without Anne’s testimony, the police are powerless.

Davis is presented as a loathsome character – an arrogant man who’s sure he’s beyond the law’s reach.  And indeed he is – all Dixon can do is to tell him to leave the station before he gets thrown out.  It’s a small victory, but it’s all they have.

Sounds is a bleak little tale.  It gives us a glimpse inside an abusive marriage and we’re left to wonder what will happen in the future.  In his closing speech, Dixon hopes that Anne will someday pluck up the courage to make a statement (for Janey’s sake if for no one else’s) but that’s the only sliver of hope we’re left with.

This isn’t the first time that Dixon has touched upon the area of domestic abuse.  And due to the fragmentary nature of Dixon’s archive holdings, it’s difficult to know for sure when the series shifted from the viewpoint presented in the 1956 episode, Pound of Flesh.

There, Dixon observed that “if I arrested every bloke in Dock Green who clocked his wife, I’d be working overtime”.   Since Pound of Flesh is one of the rare episodes to exist from the early run, it’s hardly surprising that this quote and clip has been used on more than one occasion as a club to beat the series with.

It could be argued that Dixon’s comment was an accurate representation of the attitudes of mid fifties Britain.  In Sounds, which was made nearly twenty years later, it’s obvious that times have changed and spousal abuse is now taken more seriously.  But it’s still seen as a crime which is unlikely to result in a conviction, for the reasons that we’ve seen.

The lack of any positive solution might come a surprise to those who regard Dixon as a twee, predictable series – but as we’ve seen so far, the truth is somewhat different from the legend.

Dixon of Dock Green – Harry’s Back

harry's back

Harry’s Back (the third story of series twenty, broadcast on the 12th of January 1974) features a familiar plot which many police series have used from time to time.  An untouchable villain, who rarely makes a mistake, is doggedly pursued by a lone officer (even though he’s warned off by his superiors).

In Harry’s Back, Andy Crawford is the officer and Harry Simpson (Lee Montague) is his prey.  Harry’s a beloved figure in his local community (“one of the best”) and his early scenes help to establish his character.  To begin with, we see him return home after some months spent abroad with his new fiance Marion Croft (Susan Tebbs).  He’s greeted by an old man, who offers to carry his suitcases up to his flat – Harry agrees, even though he can see the man is struggling with the weight of the cases.  Harry slips him a few notes and tells him to take his time.  Andy later bitterly reflects that Harry’s a past-master in “buying admiration” and this is an early example.

Harry then runs into Sgt. Wills and although Wills is polite, he’s obviously not delighted to see that Harry’s back.  His disdain would seem to be shared by most of the Dock Green coppers, although Andy’s the only one who actively targets him.  This brings him into something of a conflict with Dixon – although the confrontation, if one can call it that, is very mild.

Dixon’s is an old-school copper.  He’d be happy to pursue Harry if there was clear evidence of wrongdoing, but there isn’t – so he’s content to let him lie.  The inference is that eventually Harry, like all criminals, will trip himself up and that’s the time when Dixon will pounce.  Andy takes the opposite view.  He has no hard evidence but his suspicions are enough to make him want to keep a very close eye on him.  Although this makes it easy for Harry to claim that he’s being harassed.

Throughout the story we see several more examples of Harry’s largesse.  He visits the wife of one of his old friends, Lenny Lane, and gives her a considerable sum of money.  This, he tells her, is simply what she’s owed (he says Lenny couldn’t give it to her himself because he’s lying low).  Later, he visits his local and buys everyone a round.  This is a scene that doesn’t quite work, mainly because everybody seems just a little too delighted to see him.  It just doesn’t ring true.

He also bumps into Dixon and Det. Sgt. Mike Brewer (Gregory de Polnay).  This is another interesting scene, more for what remains unsaid than what is actually said.  We’ve already had several examples of Harry’s generosity and been offered several different opinions about it.  Is he just a warm-hearted man or is he attempting to buy respect and favours?

His encounters with the various Dock Green officers are noteworthy in this respect.  He offers to send Brewer’s wife some perfume and later he tells Andy that he has a nice little house he can let him have, which will save him some money (the clear inference is that he’s offering him a bribe to lay off).

It also seems obvious why he doesn’t offer to buy Dixon and Brewer a drink – you know that Dixon would politely decline.  Harry returns to his friends and a few moments later two large whiskies are sent over to Dixon and Brewer – courtesy of Harry.  A simple generous gesture or his way of offering them a small bribe?  It’s down to the viewer to decide.

Another scene that’s open to interpretation occurs when Harry meets his prospective in-laws.  He’s only known Marion for a few weeks and this, together with the fact that he’s much older than her, makes Mr and Mrs Croft concerned that the pair of them are rushing into marriage.  Mr Croft (Peter Hughes) works in insurance and when Harry tells him it’s about time he took out some life insurance (say fifty thousand) the atmosphere changes instantly.

Is Mr Croft happy because he spies a rich commission or is he reassured that Harry’s demonstrated how responsible he is?  The tone of the story may suggest the former (Harry’s offering another bribe) but the scene can be taken either way.

N.J. Crisp was an incredibly experienced writer – penning 66 episodes of Dixon between 1964 and 1975 as well as contributing to numerous other popular series, such as Dr Finlay’s Casebook, Colditz and Secret Army.  It’s therefore a slight shame that Harry’s downfall occurs via two rather clumsy plot points.

The first concerns Harry’s unsmiling number two Bernard Moss (Michael Sheard).  Moss needs a clean driving licence and he buys one from Freddie Barnet (Esmond Knight) for fifty pounds.  Freddie suspects that there’s going to be trouble but when he knows that Harry needs it, he’s reassured.  Moss uses the driving licence to hire a car which is later used to rob a cosmetics van.

Freddie is presented right from the start as a weak link and therefore needs little persuading to tell the police that it was Moss who borrowed the licence.  Moss and Harry are known associates, so it clearly puts Harry in the frame.  Why didn’t they simply steal a car?  That way there would have been no link to Harry at all.

The second feels even more contrived.  Andy has a warrant to search Harry’s flat for evidence relating to the robbery, but the news that Lenny Lane’s body has been found (with a bullet hole in his head) makes him also keen to pin the murder on him.  But Harry’s flat appears to be spotless and it looks as if he’s going to walk away empty-handed – until (somehow) Andy realises that a safe deposit key is concealed inside a footstool.  When opened, the safety deposit box contains, amongst other items, a gun which ballistics confirm was the weapon used to murder Lane.

The way that Andy found the key is a little hard to swallow anyway, but the notion that Harry would keep such an incriminating piece of evidence beggars belief!  We’ve already seen that Dixon doesn’t always have to give us neat, happy endings, so there were several ways this one could have gone.

Harry gets convicted (as happened).

Harry walks away free, but Andy vows to get him next time.

Harry goes free, but divine intervention punishes him anyway (see Eye Witness for a good example of this.  Mr Colly isn’t convicted of the murder but shortly after is killed in a hit-and-run incident.  An accident or not?  Dixon leaves it for us to decide).

The second option may have been the best choice here, as finding the key and the gun occurs so late in the day that it can’t help but feel like something of an afterthought.

This apart, Harry’s Back has plenty to commend it, not least Lee Montague’s performance as Harry.  For most of the story he’s a relentlessly cheerful chap, but just occasionally his mask slips (such as when he suggests to Moss that the hapless Freddie needs to be persuaded not to talk to the police any more).  Michael Sheard is hardly stretched with the role of the taciturn Moss, but it’s always a pleasure to see him.

Susan Tebbs’ longest-running role was as Det. Con. Donald in the first few series of Softly Softly: Task Force.  Marion Croft is a fairly anonymous part, but since I enjoyed her appearances in SS:TF, it was nice to see her here.

Harry’s Back was one of Gregory de Polnay’s earliest appearances as Mike Brewer (and the first that exists).  He remained a regular until 1975, so as we move into a period where the archive survival rate is a little more healthy, we’ll be seeing more of him.  As a Doctor Who fan, I know him best for playing robot detective D84 in the 1977 story The Robots of Death.  But it’s only now, when I realised that he’d formally been a regular in Dixon, that it’s possible to surmise that his casting in Doctor Who was something of an in-joke!

Although the ending slightly lets it down, this is still a strong episode and it’s also notable for a late example of Dixon pounding the beat.  Soon, he’d be forced to mostly remain rooted behind the station desk.

Dixon of Dock Green – Eye Witness

eye witness

Until quite recently, critical analysis of the 1970’s runs of both Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars tended to be rather limited.  Usually they were lazily painted as out-of-date dinosaurs – made completely irrelevant by the rise of brash new upstarts like The Sweeney.

Now, thanks to Acorn’s DVD releases, we can begin to get a picture of both BBC series which has enabled a small, but concerted, reassessment.  The Sweeney has long been seen as the anti-Dixon – but I’m not entirely sure that direct comparisons between the two are particularly valid, mainly because they operated in such different areas of the television schedules.

Dixon was a pre-watershed, family show and The Sweeney was a post-watershed, adult show.  Therefore it’s hardly surprising that the tone of each series was very different (although Dixon could throw in a darker, harder-edged story from time to time and The Sweeney was no stranger to lighter, more off-beat stories).

What’s certain is that the television schedules could easily accommodate both programmes (there’s no reason why all police series have to follow the same template).  Having said all this, whenever Dixon tackled a story that revolved around topics that The Sweeney could also have covered, comparisons are inevitable.

We’ve now moved ahead to series twenty.  There is another surviving episode from series eighteen (Molenzicht) but it remains unreleased due to unspecified rights issues and all of series nineteen was wiped.  Derek Ingrey’s Eye Witness kicked off series twenty and was originally broadcast on the 29th of December 1973.

Anne Hastings (Gwyneth Powell) witnesses a gangland murder and is immediately taken into police custody for her own protection.  As the only eye witness, she’s a vital part of the police’s case – without her testimony there’d be no hope of a conviction.  So it’s clear that her silence (by whatever means necessary) would be welcomed by a number of people, not least the intimidating Mr Colly (Steve Plytas).  But Anne Hastings is no innocent – she’s antogonistic and headstrong, which makes minding her something of a problem.

Although Gwyneth Powell would become a household name to a later generation (thanks to her decade or more running Grange Hill) she also enjoyed a very active career during the seventies in a variety of different series.  In Dixon alone she appeared five times, playing five different characters.  Her first two appearances, both in 1972 (The Bad Debt Men and The Fingerman) have been wiped, but her later two turns in Looters Ltd (1975) and Domino (1976) do exist.  Outside of Dixon, she gave memorable performances in The Guardians and Villains, amongst others.

On the wrong side of the law, Steve Plytas (possibly best remembered as Kurt, the Manuel-obsessed chef in the Fawlty Towers classic Gourmet Night) is intimidating as the gang’s Mr Big.  Stephen Greif has enjoyed a long career, often playing villains, so his role here as Tony isn’t too much of a stretch, but even when he’s got little to do he’s still watchable.

It’s difficult to avoid it, but the major flaw in this story is the fact that Dixon is assigned to mind Anne Hastings.  Yes, he does have the assistance of a female police officer (and the three of them travel out of town to a location that hopefully isn’t known to the gang) but this really stretches credibility to breaking point.  Jack Warner was seventy eight when this was made and he does look his age.  When selecting an officer to guard a vital witness against dangerous gun-toting criminals, who in their right mind would choose Dixon?!

If you can ignore this (fairly major) lapse in credibility, then Eye Witness is a decent enough story.  The location work is especially nice since it’s a break from the streets around Dock Green.  But it’s undenialble that the clash between an old-school copper like Dixon and a gang of violent armed criminals is jarring.  They would have worked perfectly well in The Sweeney, but they seem a little out of place here.  Dixon could do stories like this, but the series was always better when it played to its own strengths and concentrated on character-driven drama.

It’s a watchable yarn but it’s easily the weakest of these early surviving episodes.