Dixon of Dock Green – Sounds

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 – Firearms Were Issued

firearms

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 – Target

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 – Seven for a Secret – Never to be Told

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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 – Baubles, Bangles and Beads

baubles

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 – Looters Ltd.

looters

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.

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.