Gideon’s Way – The Tin God

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Commander George Gideon was created by John Creasey (writing as J.J. Marric) and he featured in a series of novels published between the mid fifties and mid seventies.  Gideon appeared on the big screen in 1959 (Gideon’s Day, starring Jack Hawkins, directed by John Ford) and a few years later the character would transfer to the small screen – in this twenty-six episode ITC series starring John Gregson.

Although Gideon’s Way was filmed in the mid sixties and made use of extensive location filming in and around London, it’s notable that this is very much a pre “swinging” London.  The stark black and white camerawork helps with this, plus there’s also an occasional sense of decay and desolation – especially when locations still devastated from the war some twenty years earlier are used.  Location filming also gives the series something of a documentary feel and there’s an undoubted interest in seeing a very different London to the one that exists today.

John Gregson played Commander George Gideon.  A familiar face from both films and television, Gregson was perfect casting as the reassuring, dependable Gideon.  Gideon’s Way was very much a series like Dixon of Dock Green that took it for granted that the police were incorruptible and incapable of making mistakes.  Later programmes, such as The Sweeney, would cynically chip away at this reputation, which does mean that Gideon’s Way can seem rather old-fashioned.  But this is undoubtedly part of the series’ continuing appeal, as there’s something very comforting in watching a show where there’s clearly defined moral absolutes and crime is always shown not to pay.

Another joy of Gideon’s Way is the sheer quality of the guest casts.  The Tin God is a good example, as it features Derren Nesbitt (a familiar face from many an ITC series) as John “Benny” Benson and a young John Hurt as Freddy Tisdale,  They play escaped convicts and their first appearance provides us with some evocative location work – a high shot zooming into them as they run into a train yard.  Nesbitt specialised in playing unstable characters and Benny is no different – and within a matter of minutes it’s also clear he’s the dominant personality out of the two (even before he’s pulled out a knife).

The news that Benny was one of the two escapees instantly piques Gideon’s interest.  It’s slightly incredible that Gideon knows exactly how long Benny’s been inside, the name of his wife and how many children he has (but such feats of memory are par for the course in police fiction).

We’ve already had a demonstration of how ruthless Benny can be (he casually murders a car-park attendant called Taffy Jones) and because his wife Ruby (Jennifer Wilson) informed on him, revenge is now the only thing on his mind.  The news that he’s escaped fills her with dread, although her young son Syd (Michael Cashman) is ecstatic.  Syd doesn’t believe that his father is a vicious criminal and instead directs his anger towards his mother and Gideon (as he was the copper who put him inside).

Cashman would later become a familiar television face in series like The Sandbaggers and most famously Eastenders.   Syd becomes the lynchpin in Benny’s plan to exact his revenge on Ruby, although it’s only when he finally meets his father again that he realises his mother was right all along.

The type of story (escaped convict) means that Gideon and his number two, DCI David Kean (Alexander Davion), don’t have a great deal of interaction with many characters – there’s no suspects to interrogate, for example.  But this is only a minor quibble and there’s plenty of incidental pleasures – location filming around the London docks and the sight of a policeman using a Police Box (a reminder that personal radios weren’t common at the time) are just two.

Benny’s plan to revenge himself on his wife is more subtle than might have been expected from what we’ve seen of his character so far.  He plans to take his son abroad and leave Ruby in a constant state of anxiety about Syd’s whereabouts – even if he’s alive or dead.

Benny, Freddy and Syd are hiding out in a warehouse, but it’s not long before the police surround them.  This allows John Hurt a great final scene as he realises too late just how mad Benny has become (and therefore dies in a dramatic fashion).  It also gives Derren Nesbitt an opportunity to ramp up his own performance as Benny loses the last few shreds of his sanity.

Thanks to a cracking performance by Nesbitt, The Tin God is a memorable episode.

Gideon’s Way – The “V” Men

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Sir Arthur Vane (Ronald Culver) is the leader of the Victory Party, an extreme fascist political movement which creates controversy wherever it goes.  After Vane receives death threats, Gideon assigns (slightly against his better judgement) Chief Supt Bill Parsons (Allan Cuthbertson) to take charge of the case.  Shortly after, a bomb explodes outside Vane’s flat.  There’s a witness – but she disappears and Gideon finds it hard to track her down.

The “V” Men is a reminder that some things never seem to change.  Although this was made some fifty years ago it could just as easily been set in 2015.  The Victory Party has several aims (which appear to have been designed to alienate as many people as possible) – keep Britain white, kick out the financiers (especially the Jews) and also deal harshly with the pacifists.

Gideon’s superior, Commissioner Scott-Marle (Basil Dingham), recommends that Parsons takes charge of Vane’s security.  Gideon’s momentary hesitation, as well as Keen’s obvious dislike of the man, is a rarity in Gideon’s Way as generally we see the police work together in complete harmony.  Allan Cuthbertson made a career out of playing tightly-wound martinets, so his casting here is an obvious piece of shorthand.  Parsons doesn’t seem to be anything more than a humourless, unimaginative copper.

After Gideon overhears some of his aggressive questioning, he calls a halt to the interview and proceeds to gently try and set him on the right track.  He tells him there’s no law against being a fanatic, to which Parsons responds that there should be.  “I’m sick and tired of these people trying to push everyone around. Why don’t we shove the lot of them into jail?” This is the sort of statement that you know Gideon would object to, although it’s typical that Gregson plays the scene with a mild air of humour – helping to diffuse the tension.

Two plot-threads seem to be developing – the other concerns a young woman, Cathy Miller (Angela Douglas) who bumps into Vane as she’s making her way to a meeting with one of his neighbours, Peter Bennett (Dyson Lovell).  Bennett is shocked to be told by Cathy that she’s pregnant (Bennett is a married man).  Cathy was the woman seen running away from the flats following the explosion and is now being sought by the police.

Angela Douglas is winsomely attractive as Cathy and it’s the human drama of her personal situation that’s the most memorable part of the episode.  Parsons is convinced that Cathy is involved in the bombing, but Gideon isn’t.  Her questioning by both of them demonstrates the difference in approach they take.  Parsons attempts to browbeat and intimidate her, whilst Gideon favours a friendly and conversational approach (John Gregson is typically charming in these scenes).

The mystery of who planted the bomb isn’t solved until the last few minutes, as once Cathy is introduced it takes second place to her problems.  But when Gideon is able to reassure her that her pregnancy isn’t the end of the world, we can once again refocus on Vane.

The conclusion – as Vane comes face to face with his attacker – is certainly dramatic (although it does lurch over the top somewhat).  The identity of the bomber is unexpected, to say the least, and any remaining loopholes in the plot have to be explained away with the catch-all explanation that the man was quite mad.  So whilst the script doesn’t quite fulfill the potential it might have done, once again the guest cast (Culver, Douglas, Cuthbertson) help to cover most of the cracks.

 

Gideon’s Way – To Catch A Tiger

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When Gideon hears the name John Borgman (Walter Brown), he reacts instantly.  He always had a lingering suspicion that Borgman murdered his first wife, but nothing could be proved.  Now he has a confession from a dying woman (one of the nurses who attended Mrs Borgman) who alleges her patient was poisoned with an overdose of morphine.

As the nurse subsequently dies, Gideon doesn’t have a witness who will stand up to cross-examination, nor does he have any real evidence.  But his suspicion is more than enough for him to reopen the case.

Our first sight of John Borgman demonstrates that he’s a hard and ruthless man.  He’s discovered that one of his employees, Samuels (Meredith Edwards), has been stealing small amounts of money.  When he asks why, Samuels tells him that his wife is an invalid and he needed the money for her.

This is an interesting scene for several reasons.  Although Samuels has worked for the company for twenty years, and his crime does has extenuating circumstances, Borgman has no compunction in firing him on the spot and insisting that the police have to be called.  During this brief and unpleasant meeting, Borgman is attended by  his secretary, Clare Selby (Erica Rogers).  She was responsible for bringing Samuels’ falsifications to Borgman’s attention and takes a barely disguised pleasure in his downfall.

We meet the latest Mrs Borgman (Vanda Godsell) shortly afterwards and she succinctly sums Clare Selby up.  “That cool, cute Selby. She’s got eyes like a cat. They’re hard, like ice, and acquisitive.”  Mrs Borgman is convinced that Clare Selby is Borgman’s latest lover and by her general tone (and the drink in her hand) it’s clear that their marriage is in terminal decline.

Samuels poisons his wife before shooting himself.  With Borgman’s threat of the police hanging over his head he clearly couldn’t see any other way out.  It’s a tragic scene – nicely acted by both Meredith Edwards and Patsy Smart (as Mrs Samuels).

But it does give Gideon a way into Borgman’s office – as he suggests that Samuels’ fraud might be more widespread than it first appears.  He doesn’t care about the fraud of course, but any excuse to root about is welcome.

Supt Fred Lee (Norman Bird) and Sgt Carmichael (Glyn Houston) are the officers assigned by Gideon to investigate Borgman’s books.  After being left alone in Borgman’s office late at night, they discover a secret draw with a hypodermic and a bottle of morphine tablets.  Gideon’s delighted and arranges a search-warrant for the following day, so it can be “found” in Borgman’s presence.  To Catch A Tiger shows us that Gideon isn’t above breaking the law when he believes it’s justified.

Raymond Huntley gives a typically strong performance as Borgman’s defending council Sir Percy Richmond, who rips the poor Supt Lee to shreds.  It’s interesting that the programme seems to be asking us to side with Lee as he withers under Sir Percy’s cross-examination, but most of Sir Percy’s objections are perfectly correct.  Lee did enter Borgman’s office and search his desk without a warrant (and with no witnesses present, any evidence found should be worthless and inadmissible in court).  That Gideon then decided to issue a search-warrant the next day to try and make it official doesn’t really make up for the laxity in procedure.

What’s even more confusing is that earlier in the episode they’d exhumed the first Mrs Borgman and found she was full of morphine but hadn’t bothered to mention this fact in court!

Somewhat lacking in logic, To Catch A Tiger isn’t a particularly enthralling episode.  As ever, there’s some decent guest stars (Norman Bird, Raymond Huntley) but sadly that’s about all.

Gideon’s Way – The Rhyme and the Reason

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The Rhyme and the Reason opens with Bill Rose (Alan Rothwell) and Winifred Norton (Carol White) enjoying the peace and quiet of a woodland glade.  But this serene scene is soon shattered by the arrival of a motorbike gang led by Rod (Clive Colin Bowler).

Gideon’s Way would sometimes reflect contemporary youth culture, although usually in an unintentionally amusing way.  The bike gang (sneeringly dismissed as Rockers by Bill) are a good case in point.  They don’t really exude an air of menace, although this may be due to viewing the episode in 2015 rather than 1964.  Possibly back then, when motorbike gangs were a hot topic of debate, simply the sight of them would have been sufficient to discomfort a section of the audience.

It quickly becomes clear that Bill, since he’s a Mod, isn’t fond of the bikers, but Winifred feels quite different.  The air of menace and danger she senses about Rod clearly excites her (as does the sound of his engine).  There’s a look of orgasmic pleasure on her face as she drinks in the powerful sound of the bikes – and Bill’s own inadequacy is clearly demonstrated when he fires up his much more modest moped.  Not only does it take several attempts to get going – as Winifred looks on with slight contempt – it also makes a much quieter noise, which obviously isn’t to her taste.

After fifteen minutes it’s still not clear what the crime is going to be – but shortly afterwards the camera tracks over Winifred’s lifeless body and the police investigation can begin.  Bill is the chief suspect – he’d argued with her shortly before her death and his knife is discovered at the scene of the crime.  But he maintains his innocence, and Gideon is inclined to believe him.

There’s no doubt that Carol White will always be best remembered for the role of Cathy Ward in Ken Loach’s groundbreaking Wednesday Play, Cathy Come Home.  The role of Winfield was less demanding but she still gives a vivid performance.  Although she only has a short amount of screen-time, White was able to imbibe the girl with a clear zest for life as well as a definite streak of burgeoning sexuality.  It’s unremarkable now, but as touched upon before, England 1964 was not really swinging – so overt displays of sexual desire were uncommon on mainstream British television.  White later pursued an acting career in America and would die aged just 48 in 1991.

Alan Rothwell has had a lengthy career with spells in several popular soap operas.  He was one of the original cast-members of Coronation Street, playing Ken Barlow’s brother David.  Several decades later he would enjoy a memorable stint on Brookside, although for a generation of children he’s probably best remembered as the host of the ITV Schools programme Picture Box.  And it’s good to know that he’s still going strong today – with recent appearances in The Musketeers, Casualty and Alan Partridge.

He’s perfect as the petulant Bill, who had both the motive and opportunity to kill his girlfriend.  But did he do it?  He maintains that he’s bound to be found guilty because of the way he looks and dresses.  “I’m a Mod, so automatically that makes me into a shiftless, no-good layabout killer.”  It’s interesting that this view is shared by some of Gideon’s team (“his type burns me up” says Keen) and the only policeman who seems convinced of the boy’s innocence is Gideon himself.

As ever, there’s an incredibly strong supporting cast.  Jo Rowbottom plays Bill’s sister Mary whilst the always dependable Duncan Lamont is Divisional Supt. Smedd, the man leading the investigation.  It does seem a little strange that an officer of Smedd’s seniority would be in charge, but then the series often showed the even more senior Gideon meddling in investigations (as he does here) so that’s fair enough.  Edward Evans (who’d previously played Bob Grove in the first British television soap, The Grove Family) has the key role of Winifred’s step-father Fred.

When Keen ventures into a club to talk to Rod, it’s a lovely time capsule of the period – complete with a happening beat-group on the stage and everybody gently twisting in time to the music.  Keen’s later confrontation with Rod outside is another delightful moment – the Rocker finds he’s no match for the wily police officer.

The episode concludes with a lengthy scene featuring Mary being pursued through the streets by the murderer.  It’s a typically well-shot sequence that uses the available locations to their best advantage – the final shot (with Battersea Power Station in the background) is especially striking.

Maybe not the most puzzling whodunnit ever, but The Rhyme and the Reason is a high-quality episode.

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Gideon’s Way – The White Rat

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The White Rat is one of a number of episodes which uses the American opening titles rather than the more familiar British ones.  The major difference is that there’s a lengthy voice-over by John Gregson, which spells out very clearly what the programme is about.

This is my city, London. Eight hundred square miles. Vast, sprawling, restless. Over eight million people live and work, love and play, hate and die. On the fringe, hidden in the shadows, those who prey on the innocent. Steal, destroy, attack and kill. When they do, it’s a job for me and the Criminal Investigation Department.

Once we get past the credits we open with a robbery taking place at a fur warehouse, which is led by Mickey Keston (Ray McAnally).  It’s not long before we have several examples of Mickey’s violent and unpredictable streak.  Firstly, when he notices the night-watchman attempting to reach the phone he viciously clubs him down (the man later dies in hospital).

He then reacts sharply when one of his underlings casually mentions a conversation he had with Mickey’s girlfriend Rose (Virginia Maskell).  Mickey’s jealousy at even the most innocuous comment is plain, but this isn’t the only character flaw he has.  Mickey is an albino and it’s given him a massive inferiority complex.  Maybe this isn’t surprising when you hear how Sergeant Syd Taylor (David Davies) describes his appearance.  “Makes him look almost like a cretin, but he’s not.  He’s tough, hard and ruthless.”

There’s several occasions when Mickey mentions how he loathes himself.  “Nobody could be in love with a freak and that’s what I am. Ever since I was five years old people have pointed at me.”

A visit to Mickey’s house by Taylor, Keen and Keen’s girlfriend Mary Henderson (Sue Lloyd) only serves to stoke up Mickey’s paranoia even more and it seems clear that he’s simply a powder-keg waiting to explode.

One possible flaw with The White Rat is that Mickey doesn’t really look too unusual.  Yes he has white hair, but that’s not very uncommon.  But a possible interpretation is that (Sergeant Taylor’s comment notwithstanding) very few people have ever looked twice at Mickey and his belief that the whole world is laughing at him is simply a delusion on his part.

As might be expected, Ray McAnally gives a nuanced performance.  This was pretty earlier on in his career – he’d appeared in a number of small-scale films but Gideon’s Way was his first major television part.  In the late 1960’s he’d appear in the memorable series Spindoe and towards the end of his life he’d play several roles for which he’ll probably be best remembered.  These include Rick Pym in John LeCarre’s A Perfect Spy (1987), Harry Perkins in A Very British Coup (1988) and Mr Brown in My Left Foot (1989).  Ray McAnally died in 1989, aged 63.

There’s a nice sense of tension between the veteran officer Syd Taylor and Gideon.  When Gideon joined the force it was Taylor who showed him the ropes, but now Gideon’s a commander and Taylor’s still a lowly sergeant.  Gideon is keen to re-establish their friendship, but there’s a reluctance on Taylor’s part (it seems the gulf in their rank is a major concern for him).  After Taylor is shot by Mickey, it gives Gideon a personal stake in the outcome of the manhunt and allows Gregson a few decent scenes, especially at the end when Gideon confronts Mickey (who’s armed with several sticks of dynamite).

Thanks to McAnally’s magnetic performance, The White Rat is another very decent episode.

Gideon’s Way – The State Visit

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Max Fischer (Alfie Bass) reacts angrily to the news that the President of West Germany is due to make a visit to London.  It may be nearly twenty years since the end of WW2 but Fischer, a Jewish survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, finds it impossible to forgive or forget.  Fischer works in a laboratory where he has access to explosives and he slowly begins to plan a way to gain revenge for all his years of hurt ….

Although The State Visit was set twenty years after the Second World War, this was still recent enough to make it a fertile area for drama.  Whilst it’s made clear very early on that the German President is personally blameless (Fischer’s wife tells him that the man was a staunch anti-Nazi) this cuts no ice with Max.  He retorts that nowadays every German claims they didn’t support Hitler, but if that were true where did the millions who joined the Nazi party come from?  Max’s view taps into real life opinions – for many, especially those who had fought, it was impossible not to regard any German as an ex-Nazi by default.  A decade later, the Fawlty Towers episode The Germans would make this very point.

Max is initially presented as a sympathetic man and we’re asked to emphasise with his suffering.  But it becomes clear that he’s also blinkered, obsessed  and incapable of adjusting to modern life.  It’s a tricky character to play, so casting Alfie Bass would no doubt have helped to engage the audience’s affections.  Already a very familiar face on both the big and small screens by the mid sixties, Bass is able to give Max a certain dignity.  And since Bass was forced to flee his native Russia with his parents when he was a child, it could be that he was able to tap some of his own memories when approaching the part.

Gideon’s been assigned to handle the security for the visit, much to the chagrin of Deputy Commissioner Rae Cox (Gerald Harper).  Cox’s youth and inexperience are the reasons why he isn’t placed in overall charge and although Gideon does his best to pour oil on troubled waters by involving him every step of the way, there’s a clear lingering resentment on Cox’s part.  His character is made plain very early on: after receiving the unwelcome news from Gideon, he returns home to berate his wife.  All of his actions – such as chastising her for not replacing the soda siphon – show him to be a man keen to find fault in others but incapable of taking criticism himself.

Max plans to explode a bomb made of nitro glycerine during the President’s parade.  His wife Sarah (Catherine Lacey) reacts in horror, such a bomb will kill dozens of people but by now Max seems to be incapable of rational thought.  His increasing detachment from reality is shown as he rides on the bus, clutching the bomb in a vacuum flask.  He begins to hear the voices of his Nazi persecutors in his head and answers them aloud, to the bemusement of his fellow passengers.

It’s no surprise that it’s Gideon himself who talks Max down.  “You’ve got it wrong Max, you’ve got it terribly wrong. You don’t want to kill all these women and children do you, Max? Because that’s what you’ll do if you throw that thing. What harm have these people done to you, Max? You throw that bomb you’ll be as bad as any Nazi.”

If the ending is predicable, then at least it’s another good showcase for John Gregson.  And apart from a few dodgy projection shots, The State Visit is decent enough fare, helped by a number of familiar faces popping up in small roles.  David Lodge and Julian Holloway appear as Max’s colleagues and Desmond Llewelyn has an uncredited role as a senior police officer.  Interestingly, he plays it with a broad Welsh accent, which is how Terence Young initially wanted Llewelyn to play Q in the second James Bond film.  But after the reluctant Llewelyn did so, Young agreed that Q would sound much better as an Englishman!

 

Gideon’s Way – The Firebug

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Tom Bishop (George Cole) is a man with a secret.  Outwardly he appears to be just another normal member of society, but he’s responsible for starting a number of fires in abandoned buildings.  After his wife and daughter were killed in a recent fire, Bishop has found himself driven to become an arsonist – in this way he hopes to demonstrate just how deadly and dangerous fire can be.  But events take a tragic turn when his latest arson attack kills fours squatters and badly injures a police officer.  But after the initial shock of learning of the fatalities, Bishop only becomes more and more obsessed to carry on  ….

Before finding his niche as Arthur Daley, George Cole seemed to spend a lot of his time playing flawed characters – people who seemed to be normal on the surface but were disturbed or homicidal underneath.  Other examples include the UFO episode Flight Path and Return of the Saint‘s The Armageddon Alternative.  Bishop fits into this pattern perfectly – his landlady regards him as a nice, quiet man but there’s clearly something slightly off-kilter about him.

The way he clutches his daughter’s doll (and the fact that it shows obvious fire damage) is a sign that something’s not quite right.  It’s the only tangible thing he has of hers – which makes it precious – but it’s also an indicator that he remains tied to the past and unable to proceed with his life.  In this way he’s not too dissimilar from Max Fischer (The State Visit) although Bishop is a much darker character.  Max had murder on his mind, but he didn’t carry it out: whereas Bishop finds himself caught in a spiral of destruction.  Although he never intended to kill anybody at first – he only set fires in buildings that he thought were empty – once his arson addiction has taken hold he finds it impossible to stop.  Whilst his shock at discovering the latest fire killed four people is evident, he’s quickly able to rationalise what’s happened and decides the innocent will have to continue to die, as only in that way will action be taken by the authorities.

George Cole is excellent throughout the episode, especially during the scene where he tells his landlady how his family died.  “There was all these people in the street. I didn’t realise at first it was my house, then I saw the fire engine. It was all over by then, the fire was out. The fireman were very nice, very kind. We looked, looked all through the ashes. All we ever found was Carrie’s doll.”

There’s obviously a sombre tone to this one, but there are a few touches of levity – centring around Gideon’s second in command, David Keen.  His eye for the ladies, something of a running gag throughout the series, is mentioned yet again and there’s also a nice comic moment when Gideon insists he finds a bike in order to examine the area of the latest fire in more detail.  He commanders one from a child (who rather reluctantly gives it up) and later makes his report to Gideon, who then looks askance at the fact he’s standing in his office still wearing bicycle clips!

Gideon decides that Bishop has to be the guilty party, since his house was the first to be destroyed in the recent wave of fires.  The audience knows that he’s right of course, but this is rather thin evidence – not that it stops the police plastering Bishop’s photograph on the front cover of the newspapers (“have you seen this man?”).  Just as well they had the right man then.

It’s slightly hard to accept that Bishop’s character devolves so quickly that by the end of the episode he’s driving around London on a scooter, lobbing sticks of dynamite about.  But the chase around the streets does give us the chance to yet again marvel about how few cars were about.  Truly it was a different age.

 

Gideon’s Way – The Lady-Killer

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The Lady-Killer opens with an off-duty policeman finding a woman’s body washed up on the beach.  Our first sight of the woman’s husband Roger Clayton (Ray Barrett) is at her inquest.  Although he doesn’t speak a word, it seems obvious that he’s a wrong ‘un – Clayton remains unemotional throughout, except after the verdict of misadventure is given.  Then we see Barrett raise his eyes, look into the camera and give the ghost of a smile.

His feigned surprise at learning that his wife was a wealthy woman and then his palpable disappointment when he realises he’s only been left a few thousand pounds is a clear indication her death was no accident.  And when Keen’s latest girlfriend Ria (Justine Lord) introduces Clayton (although he’s now’s changed his name to Robert Carne) to the lonely and wealthy Marion Grove (Rosemary Leach) he wastes no time in sweeping her off her feet and he asks her to marry him.  She gladly accepts.

There’s a slight logical loophole in this story.  Ria invites the man she knows as Robert Carne to a party where he meets and romances Marion.  But since he’s only recently started using this new alias it’s strange that Ria greets him with a certain amount of familiarity – as they must be new acquaintances.

It’s easy to see that Carne’s downfall comes from his decision to use an alias.  If he hadn’t, there would have been nothing suspicious to pique Keen’s interest.  So if he’d told Marion that his previous wife had died in a tragic accident that would have made him untouchable.

But he now faces two problems – Keen is perturbed by Carne’s change of identity and decides to reinvestigate the drowning, plus Carne is also targeted by Bert Macey (John Tate).  Macey was a witness at the inquest and threatens to tell Marion the truth unless he’s handsomely paid off.  In desperation Carne throws a rock at the departing Macey, which knocks him out (and apparently kills him).  This is a little difficult to believe – partly because the rock was quite small and not thrown very hard, but also because it hit Macey on his shoulder (had it been a violent blow to the head it would have been more credible).

The two main plot-threads – Carne’s plan to murder his latest wife and Keen’s increasing suspicions – run parallel for most of the story.  It’s not until well into the final third of the episode that Keen starts to actively investigate and at the same time it becomes clear that Carne is planning to imminently strike.  It does stretch credibility that he doesn’t wait a little longer before murdering again (he’s only been married for a week or so!).  And the way he decides to kill Marion – leaving her drugged in their cottage with a fuse-box rigged to explode – also necessitates him having to speak out loud to explain what’s happening (which feels a little clumsy).

A number of coincidences have to come into play to enable Keen to rescue Marion.  But after she is found safe and well, Carne folds like a pack of cards and attempts to make a run for it.  Luckily Sergeant Fowler (Howard Lang) is on hand – firstly to grab him and then to knock him out!  Keen looks on approvingly at this example of the strong arm of the law.

Although the plotting is a little suspect, Ray Barrett is in fine form as the eponymous lady-killer.  Barrett would become a familiar voice-artist on various Gerry Anderson productions during the 1960’s (Stingray, Thunderbirds) and had, earlier in 1964, played a memorable villain in the Doctor Who story The Rescue.  Although Rosemary Leach might as well have had “victim” tattooed on her forehead, she was still able to make Marion something more than the cardboard character she could have been.  And it’s always a pleasure to see Justine Lord (who graced various cult 1960’s series like Out of the Unknown, The Saint, Man in a Suitcase and The Prisoner) although given David Keen’s ever-roving eye, it’s probably no surprise that this was her only Gideon’s Way appearance.

Gideon’s Way- The Big Fix

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Jimmy Watson (Griffith Davies) is a stable lad who’s been bribed to ensure one of his horses doesn’t win the big race.  But security was too tight for Watson to get to the horse and he goes on to win easily.  Later, Watson is beaten up in revenge and dies of his injuries.  Asked to investigate the continuing doping problem by the chief security officer of the Jockey Club, Bill Campbell (Robert Brown), Gideon counters that he’s more interested in Watson’s murder.  But as Campbell says, if they solve the doping mystery then the identity of the murderer should also be revealed.  So Gideon agrees to look into it.

Gideon’s rather proactive, as he sets off immediately for a meeting with the wonderfully named Bookie Thompson (Max Bacon).  Bookie is able to info-dump a great deal of information very quickly (how horses are drugged, etc) which is very useful for the plot, but Bacon’s comic timing gives the scene a little extra depth.

Following Watson’s death, the gang need another inside man, so they select Jo Short (Michael Ripper) who works for the prestigious stables run by Colonel Alec Middleton (Maurice Hedley).  Jo has worked for Middleton for twenty years and seems totally incorruptible, but it soon becomes clear that he’s heavily and debt and so reluctantly agrees to dope Port Arthur, a well-backed favourite in a forthcoming race.

Ripper, a very dependable film and television face (well known for appearing in a score of Hammer films), is perfect as the conflicted Jo.  When we see his homelife – a young child, an unruly teenage daughter and a tearaway teenage son who’s been fined fifty pounds for criminal damage – it’s obvious that he’s under great strain and is therefore ripe for the picking.  Apart from the general day-to-day problem of feeding his family, there’s the more pressing issue of his son’s pending fine.  So he agrees to dope the horse, although it’s clear from the misery on his face that it’s far from an easy decision.  But once he’s in, he finds it impossible to get out, as the gang then ask him to dope another one –  if he doesn’t, they tell him that his daughter will never look the same again.

This is a dream assignment for Keen.  Gideon suggests he goes undercover at Middleton’s stables and the first thing he does when he arrives is to passionately kiss Middleton’s gorgeous daughter Janet (Penelope Horner).  Keen insists this is because they’re being observed by Jo, and he wants to keep the pretence up that he’s nothing more than an interested visitor, but you know that he would have done it sooner or later!  He also seems quite comfortable when he and Janet stake out the next horse to be doped, as they lie together snugly in the hay.

The seedy world of the on-track bookmakers is captured quite well, although cutting between the film shot specially for the episode and stock footage of real race days never quite convinces.  And there does seem to be slightly more of a studio-bound feel to this one, for example there’s no filming in the streets of London.  We do see several establishing shots, but it’s only stock footage used to set the scene for studio locations.

Gideon’s plan is to fool the gang into thinking they’ve doped another favourite, when the real horse is actually somewhere else and well protected.  This works well, but neither Gideon or Keen seem to have realised that the gang will then decide to extract retribution from the hapless (and innocent) Jo.  The police do turn up, just about in the nick of time, although not before Jo’s been kicked unconscious.  This also enables them to make some arrests, but you’d have assumed that Gideon would have ensured that Jo would have been under strict surveillance the whole time.  Although I guess that the last minute dash to save his life has a dramatic feel to it.

Michael Ripper is always worth watching, Penelope Horner is very easy on the eye and it’s also nice to see Robert Brown (later to become a regular in the James Bond films) in a small role.  This isn’t the best the series can offer, but it’s amiable enough.

 

Gideon’s Way – Big Fish, Little Fish

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Mark “Frisky” Lee (Peter Maxwell) is a notorious fence who arrogantly believes he’s above the law. But he’s long been on the radar of Supt. Bill Hemmingway (Wensley Pithey) and Frisky also comes to Gideon’s attention thanks to a young pick-pocket called Peter Wray (Alan Baulch).  Peter lifts a woman’s purse from the local market and then makes a run for it – straight into the path of Gideon’s car. The boy’s not hurt, but he drops the purse and runs off.  Gideon asks Hemmingway to find the boy, as he could just be the lever they need to bring Frisky’s empire crashing down.

Big Fish, Little Fish has a memorable few opening minutes, as we follow young Peter in his frantic flight from the market.  For extra realism, director Cyril Frankel chose to shoot on a genuine market day and this certainly makes the boy’s escape much more impressive, as he struggles through dozens of (presumably) ordinary members of the public.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Peter, especially after you’ve met his hard-faced mother (played by Carmel McSharry).  Mrs Wray has been training Peter to become an expert pick-pocket and she has her own special form of punishment whenever she’s upset with him (locking him in a windowless cupboard under the stairs).

There’s a very unexpected twist fifteen minutes in, when Frisky Lee is found murdered.  Based on what we’d seen so far it looked likely the story would proceed in a similar way to The White Rat (Gideon and the police versus an arrogant criminal).

Maxwell Shaw is gloriously demented as Frisky and it’s a pity that he exits from the story so quickly.  But there’s plenty of other good actors also guest-starring in this one.  Sydney Tafler plays Frisky’s lawyer Gabriel Lyon and Harry Towb is Tod Cowan.  Tod is a local fence and therefore is a link in the chain to Frisky’s operation.

There was something rather familiar about the actress playing Mrs Clark, but it didn’t click straight away.  She was played by Angela Baddeley, best known for her turn as the autocratic cook Mrs Bridges in Upstairs Downstairs.  During her time on UpDown she was heavily padded (giving her a much more rotund figure).  Here she doesn’t have the padding, which is why I didn’t recognise her at first.

Prime suspect in Frisky’s murder is “Happy” Roden (Jack MacGowran).  MacGowran had an eclectic career, to say the least.  He was acclaimed for his stage-work, especially the plays of Samuel Beckett, but also built up an impressive list of film and television credits – ranging from Doctor Zhivago to The Champions (so he was equally at home in heavyweight and escapist drama).

Big Fish, Little Fish, which largely takes place in and around the markets on Petticoat Lane, has a rather grimy feel.  But although there’s a “kitchen sink” tone, it doesn’t offer any particular insights into why juvenile crime is thriving or what can be done to combat it.  There’s a very clear contrast between Gideon’s contented home-life (with his wife and three children) and Peter’s wretched existence with his mother, although this goes unspoken.

Peter’s ultimate fate is never touched upon, although it seems likely he’ll be taken into care as his mother looks set for a jail term.  Therefore there’s no happy ending for the boy and the possibility must be that he’ll simply grow up to be even more of a criminal than he is now.  But whilst it’s a disturbing thought, it’s also a realistic one, and is preferable to offering a false or sugar-coated ending.

Gideon’s Way – The Housekeeper

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When electrician Ralph Maricut (Harry Fowler) pops over to Mr Henderson’s house to do some work he gets the shock of his life – he finds Henderson’s dead body in the bath.  The news seems to hit Henderson’s housekeeper Martha Smallwood (Kay Walsh) hard, but as we’ll see, appearances can be deceptive.

At first it seems like a simple heart attack, but a few unexplained bruises are enough for Det. Supt. Warr (John Dearth) to investigate further.  The police take an interest in Maricut, especially when they learn he’s got form for breaking and entering.  But it’s the perfect housekeeper Mrs Smallwood who’s the villain of the piece.   Aided by a number of disguises and aliases she preys on vulnerable older men – and now she’s disposed of Henderson she’s got her hooks into Percy Whitehead (Oliver Johnson).  He’s blind and lives by himself, so he appears to be ripe for the picking ……

Kay Walsh had been a notable face of British cinema, thanks to appearances in a series of classic pictures.  She starred in three films directed by David Lean (Walsh married Lean in 1940, they divorced in 1947).  The pick of these was probably Oliver Twist in which she played Nancy.  Later key credits include Stage Fright (1950, directed by Alfred Hitchcock) and Tunes of Glory (1960, directed by Ronald Neame).

She’s excellent as the housekeeper who makes a habit of killing off her charges.  Mrs Smallwood’s relationship with Whitehead is central to the episode – he trusts her completely, although the audience is privy to the numerous evil thoughts that flit across her face.  And the final few moments (when she reveals her true colours) are riveting – and a fine showcase for her.

Apart from Walsh’s villainous turn, there’s plenty to enjoy in this one.  We see the police identikit officer in action and although it’s a primitive way of doing things it does work very effectively.  There’s also the lovely moment when lothario David Keen passes on a sliver of his knowledge and experience concerning women to Gideon’s son Matthew.  His advice?  Play hard to get.  Matthew takes his advice, but needless to say doesn’t quite get the result he expected!

Harry Fowler, like Walsh, had enjoyed some substantial British film credits (including Ealing classics like Went the Day Well? and Hue and Cry).  Although Maricut was completely innocent, since he had a record it was obvious that the police would give him the once over.  Whilst Keen’s questioning wasn’t at all combative, at the end of the episode (when Gideon learns that Maricut has returned to breaking and entering) he does stop to wonder whether they were partly to blame for driving him back to crime.  A rare moment of introspection for Gideon.

It’s also nice to see John Dearth, albeit in a fairly small role.  He would later play a memorable villain in the Doctor Who story Planet of the Spiders and earlier in his career had been a hard-working utility player on the Richard Greene series The Adventures of Robin Hood.  Dearth appeared in numerous episodes, playing a different character each time, although occasionally he’d go one better and play two different characters in the same episode!

Gideon’s Way – The Nightlifers

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Peter Sloane (Anton Rodgers) is the leader of a group of rich and bored young people who turn to crime in order to relieve their ennui.  Sloane becomes addicted to random acts of violence, but whilst he appears to have no conscience, others like Tim Coles (Derek Fowlds), aren’t so cold-blooded.  And as they begin to squabble amongst themselves, Gideon and the others start to close in ….

Whilst it’s true that the first sight we have of Sloane is likely to elicit more of a smile than terror (due to his Beatle wig and dark glasses) his instability is quickly demonstrated after he and Sue Young (Annette Andre) rob a greasy spoon cafe.  The owners are a friendly-looking couple in their fifties, which gives Sloane’s attack on them even more of an impact.

It’s no surprise that we don’t see the blows delivered to the woman, but director John Llewellyn Moxey still ensures the scene carries a punch by cutting away to Sue’s face.  She watches Sloane’s attack with a degree of amusement, which also serves as shorthand to indicate she’s on a similar wavelength to him.

The subsequent scene, as Sloane and Sue make their getaway in a car with Coles and Tony King (James Hunter), sets up the character dynamics between the four very clearly.  Coles finds Sloane’s violence both repugnant and unnecessary, whilst King says nothing.

Later, Sloane explains his philosophy to them.  “This nation is soft, flabby. A mass of gutless wonders led by a handful of little grey people in power. The only time Britain accomplishes anything is when we’re at war. War brings out the best in people, they develop virility of spirit.”

When Keen looks in on the crime scene on his way home (with, naturally, a beautiful young woman in tow) he reacts with a degree of bitter humour after Det. Insp. Caldwell (Roddy McMillan) suggests that the attack could be the work of teenagers, doing it for kicks.   If it is, then Keen indicates that even if they’re caught they’ll face no particular punishment.

Caldwell agrees as he ironically tells Keen to “remember, teenage crime is an environmental problem.”  It’s a rare example of cynicism in the series, since it suggests that sometimes crime does pay.

Anton Rodgers might have been pushing it a bit by attempting to play a young tearaway (he was in his early thirties at the time) but although he’s a tad long in the tooth Rodgers is still very compelling.  Sloane’s arrogance and unswerving belief in his own invulnerability are captured well by Rodgers and this makes his eventual downfall even more satisfying.

Derek Fowlds has a good role as Coles, the only member of the gang with a conscience, whilst James Hunter (star of an excellent episode of Out of the UnknownThirteen to Centaurus) has less to do but still has a few key scenes, especially when Sloane suggests they rob King’s aunt and uncle.

The generation gap (“kids these days” mutters Gideon) is debated.  Gideon regards the youth of today with a jaundiced eye, whilst his wife Kate is more forgiving as she sees many parallels with her own youth.  “In our day it was fast sports cars, parties on the river, Duke Ellington, chianti out of those wicker-basketed bottles.”

When Gideon counters that nowadays kids go around beating people up she responds that only a few do, but it’s not enough to convince him.  “Kate, they’re violent, restless. Sometimes I think they’re even half crazy.”

The long arm of coincidence sees Keen’s latest girlfriend Elspeth McRae (Jean Marsh) invited by Sue to the next party aboard Sloane’s houseboat (both are models).  When Keen learns about it he also goes along, as by now the police have an interest in Sloane.  Keen and Elspeth share a similar discussion about young people as George and Kate Gideon did  – and with similar results, Keen is pessimistic whilst Elspeth is optimistic.

Gideon’s Way was never a social-realism series, so the theme of youth crime (violence, drink, drugs) does end up being handled a little uneasily.  But whilst no-one could mistake this for an episode of an 1970’s crime drama like The Sweeney or Target, it does possess an undeniable period charm, helped by the first-rate guest cast.  And thanks to the likes of Rodgers and Fowlds this is one of the strongest episodes out of the twenty six made.

Gideon’s Way – Fall High, Fall Hard

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Tony Erickson (Donald Houston) and Charles Randle (Victor Maddern) are co-owners of a building company who are facing a potentially damaging court case.  Randle has fought his way up from nothing and has no qualms about using every underhand trick in the book to achieve his ends.  His street-fighting ways are confirmed by Thompson (Gordon Gostelow), one of Randle’s more unsavoury contacts.  “You’re very thin-skinned these days, Charlie boy. A proper little social climber. Underneath that fancy suit you’re still an East End slum kid, like me.”

On Randle’s instructions, Thompson bribes Smith (Michael Robbins) to perjure himself on oath and thanks to his testimony the case is decided in Erickson/Randle’s favour.  When Erickson learns of Randle’s corrupt practices he’s appalled, but what can he do?

Donald Houston was never the most subtle of actors and this is demonstrated very clearly in Fall High, Fall Hard.  When he learns that Smith (and others) have been paid off, he reacts like a bull in a china shop.  He rushes into Randle’s office and proceeds to give him a good battering and then storms out to get very drunk.  His drunk acting is hardly a model of restraint either – although the moment when he returns to his palatial home and crashes into his teenage son’s birthday party (to the boy’s disgust and his friends’ amusement) is a memorable one.

Whilst Houston’s unrestrained hysterics are a little distracting there’s plenty of compensation elsewhere.  Victor Maddern is, thankfully, much calmer as Randle – he’s someone who views corruption as nothing more than normal business practice.  Gordon Gostelow (along with a young Mike Pratt as Jenson) are a menacing double-act who successfully bribe Smith with both money and threats (water from a boiling kettle is poured over his hand to reinforce the point that he’d be well advised to take the money and keep quiet).  And Michael Robbins, as Smith, is perfectly cast as a little man easily manipulated.

Making his second appearance as Det. Sgt. Carmichael is Donald Houston’s younger brother Glyn.  Unlike Donald, Glyn never felt the need to soar way over the top and gives a characterically subtle performance.

This was Malcolm Hulke’s sole contribution to the series.  Hulke’s later Doctor Who scripts were notable for their political messages, so it’s interesting to ponder whether he added any subtexts to his Gideon script.  Although he was adapting an existing Creasy story, it seems likely that the concept of corrupt big-businesses would have been something that the left-leaning Hulke would have been very much in sympathy with.

Donald Houston’s overplaying does detract from the effectiveness of the story a little, but it’s still a decent tale of corruption and murder.

Gideon’s Way – How To Retire Without Really Working

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Robert and Margaret Gresham (Eric Baker and Joyce Grant) might appear to be a perfectly respectable middle-class couple, but they’re also successful career criminals.  Robert’s pulled off one job a month for the last twenty years – each crime nets him some two hundred pounds, which is enough for him and Margaret to live quite comfortably.

But, as he confesses to Margaret, he’s beginning to lose his nerve – which is exacerbated when Gideon comes sniffing around.  He decides to retire, but since neither of them have ever held down an honest job, how will they survive?  So they decide to do just one more job – and this will be a major crime, one which Gideon will never think of connecting to them …..

Eric Barker first made his name as a radio comedian during WW2 and later moved over to both films and television.  He had his own television series – The Eric Barker Half Hour – as early as 1951 and he also featured in several of the early Carry On films.  Those films were scripted by Norman Hudis, who also penned this episode (one of three Gideon’s he was responsible for).

From his opening scene there’s an obvious comic feel about Robert Gresham.  His smash-and-grab is rather bungled (he drops the brick) and he’s also spotted by the shop owner.  Since, by his own admission, he’s carried out some 240 crimes (and only been caught once) this seems rather sloppy.  Although as he says, it could just be a symptom of middle age and a loss of nerve.

Unlike some of the other criminals in Gideon’s Way, we’re invited to identify with Robert and Margaret.  They may be lawbreakers, but they’re the old-fashioned, old-school type of criminal.  They also command Gideon’s respect – he’ll catch them if he can, but it’s plain he’s also got a sneaking admiration for them.

Gideon becomes aware of Robert’s latest crime in a rather roundabout way.  Gideon and Keen are called to a house where the gloriously named Shorty Fleming (Jack Rodney) is holed up.  Shorty is another minor-league villain who’s jumped up into the big-time and, armed with a gun, he attempts to take Gideon hostage.  John Gregson is at his commanding best here, as we see Gideon inexorably approach the quaking Shorty and coolly disarm him.  He’s lucky that Shorty didn’t blow a hole in him (the scene is quite reminiscent of George Dixon’s demise from The Blue Lamp) so either Gideon’s a good judge of character or he took an incredible risk.

Gideon is startled to see Robert Gresham pass by in a Rolls Royce as he stands outside Shorty’s house.  Shorty’s subplot is designed to show what happens when you attempt to punch above your weight – a lengthy jail term awaits.  It doesn’t take a mind-reader to work out that this is exactly the fate that awaits the Greshams, and since they’re obviously devoted to each other it will break their hearts to be separated.  This pains Gideon, which surprises Keen – to him they’re only criminals.

William Mervyn is his usual excellent self as Mr Pater, a major league villain who is able to exploit the Greshams, whilst David Keen is, for once, unlucky in love.  He tells Gideon that he had the means and the motive, but not the opportunity!

How To Retire Without Really Working boasts fine performances from Eric Baker and Joyce Grant but there’s something of a lack of tension.  In other series they might have got away, but since the criminals in Gideon’s Way almost always get run to ground, the episode concludes in a predictable way.

Gideon’s Way – The Wall

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Netta and Michael Penn (Ann Bell and Richard Carpenter) are a young couple very much in love.  At present they’re forced to live in a single room but dream of owning a house of their own.  So when Michael wins seven hundred pounds on the football pools, it seems their dream will come true.

But Michael makes the mistake of mentioning his win to his landlord, Will Rikker (John Barrie).  Rikker, a violent and unpleasant man, asks Michael for a loan of one hundred pounds and when Michael refuses he attempts to steal the money anyway.  Michael discovers him and a fight breaks out – brought to a conclusion when Michael hits his head on the fireplace and is instantly killed.  Rikker’s now got the money, but he also has several problems – he has to dispose of the body, pacify his wife Liz (Megs Jenkins) who learns of his crime and deal with the suspicions of Netta, who can’t understand why her husband suddenly seems to have left her …..

John Barrie would spend a great deal of the 1960’s playing two very different policemen.  Firstly, he was the Victorian Sergeant Cork (between 1963 and 1968, although some of the later episodes had been recorded some years prior to their eventual transmission) and then he moved into the modern age to play DI/DCI Hudson in Z Cars (during 1967 and 1968).  Because of this, it’s a nice change to see him on the other side of the law for a change, and Will Rikker is a splendidly villainous creation.

From the first moment we see him it’s plain that he’s simmering over with resentment and anger.  He snaps at his wife, takes a drink (even though it’s fairly early in the morning) and threatens the Penns dog with violence.  Liz reminds him that the Penns pay them to look after the dog whilst they’re at work, but this cuts no ice with Rikker.  Leslie Norman’s direction favours close ups – especially during the aftermath of the fight – and this works very well as Rikker’s sweaty, anxious face tells its own story.  And with a large part of the episode taking place inside the house, the close-ups also help to add a degree of claustrophobia.

If we have many verbal examples of Rikker’s character, there are also non-visual clues too.  The rooms he shares with Liz are shabby in the extreme, whilst Netta and Michael’s room is spotless.  So whilst the young couple have clearly taken the trouble to ensure that their living environment is as pleasant as possible, Rikker simply doesn’t care about his.  Presumably if he’s got enough money for drink then he’s not too bothered about outward appearances (which is also reflected in his unkempt dress sense).

Richard Carpenter would later be better known as a writer, penning the likes of Catweazle, Dick Turpin and Robin of Sherwood, but during the 1960’s he pursued a successful acting career with a string of appearances in many popular series of the day.  Michael isn’t too much of a part – not really requiring a great deal from Carpenter – but even with his limited screen-time he manages to make Michael seem a likeable and decent chap, which gives his death a certain impact.

It’s Ann Bell who has to carry the second half of the episode, as she continues to puzzle over her husband’s absence.  She reports his disappearance to the police but they don’t seem too interested to begin with, not really surprising since there’s nothing to go on.

Given the sort of storyline this is, where no crime – at least initially – seems to have occurred, Gideon and the others exist very much on the periphery.  So there’s the opportunity to dwell a little on Gideon’s home life (he’s forgotten his wife’s birthday) whilst at work he berates his subordinates for errors in other cases.  None of this impacts on the main plotline, but something had to be found for him to do, otherwise it would have been a thin week for John Gregson.  Gideon does get involved later on, after Netta pleads with him to investigate the case, although Netta herself (and her dog, Skipper) are really the ones who first work out that Rikker is the guilty party.

Thanks to John Barrie’s monstrous performance and Ann Bell’s equally good counter-performance as the innocent ensnared by Rikker’s machinations, The Wall is one of the best of the series.

Gideon’s Way – Subway to Revenge

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James Lane (Donald Churchill) is a mild-mannered accountant who’s spent the last few months attempting to pluck up the courage to speak to his attractive colleague Ellen Winters (Anne Lawson).  He finally gets his chance when a mysterious stranger (Brian Pringle) attempts to shove him under a subway train.  Ellen is convinced he was pushed deliberately, whilst James insists he slipped.  Although he’s delighted that he’s finally broken the ice with Ellen he’s also highly embarrassed that she’s making such a fuss.  She won’t give up though and goes all the way to the top – right to Commander Gideon ….

The first notable thing about the subway scenes is how unconvincing the stock shots of trains and crowds are – they have a very different feel, meaning it’s hard not to mentally shout “stock” every time they appear.  The second notable thing is that the mysterious stranger (who we later learn is called John Stewart) only gives James a very feeble push.  If he’d have given him a proper shove then it would have been curtains for James.  Stewart is a well-built chap, so this makes the sequence a little unconvincing.

Brian Pringle doesn’t utter a word as Stewart, but he looms very menacingly and remains a foreboding presence throughout the episode.  An early clue that he may not quite be the full shilling is given when we see him smooth down one side of his hair – a nervous gesture that seems to have become a ritual.

To be honest, James is such a feeble specimen that it’s remarkable a lovely young lady like Ellen takes any interest in him.  He’s disinclined to speak to the police himself and is angry (or at least as angry as he ever gets) after Ellen does.  At one point he threatens to put her over his knee, to which Ellen only smiles – which opens up a whole other avenue that we’ll not go into here!

Ellen’s not the first to catch Gideon’s attention with a case that appears trivial but turns out to be more important than it first seemed.  She’s more proactive than most though, as she turns up unannounced at his home and pretty much barges into his living room as he’s relaxing.  Gideon, thanks to John Gregson’s affable playing, doesn’t seem terribly put out though and he soon learns that there’s more to this case than meets the eye.

James and Ellen both work for Chinnery Chemicals and Keen, after a little digging, discovers that three other employees (Martha Robson, Alec Harvey and William Venables) have all died in tube accidents during the last few months. Nobody seems to have even considered that their deaths may have been connected, something which stretches credibility to breaking point.

Martha Robson committed suicide after she was discovered to have embezzled five thousand pounds from Chinnerys.  Harvey and Venables (along with James) were responsible for discovering this, so it doesn’t take the greatest detective to work out that somebody’s out for revenge.  Gideon pays a visit to Robson’s father (played by Esmond Knight).  Knight (a man with an incredibly impressive list of film and television credits) gives a powerful cameo as a man who lived his life through his daughter.  It becomes clear that his intense controlling nature (he attempted to forbid her any contact with the outside world) was, in part, responsible for her death.

Had he been a more reasonable man, maybe Martha would have been comfortable to ask him for a loan so that she and Stewart (revealed to be her fiancé) could have set up house.  But Robson wanted to keep her all to himself and so presumably she felt compelled to steal.  Director Roy Ward Baker maintains tight close-ups on Knight and Gregson during this scene, which – especially with Knight – helps to ramp up the pressure and tension as we see Robson somewhat crumble before our eyes.

One interesting production quirk occurs about twenty minutes in as Gideon questions James and Ellen.  Several pick-up shots must have been done some time after the main filming as Donald Churchill’s haircut is so different that it’s initially very jarring.

Although James is so irritating that I can’t confess to being that concerned about his fate, Ellen is much more appealing as the damsel in distress and stars in the closing scene as Stewart wraps his fingers around her throat.  Anne Lawson doesn’t have that many screen credits, but thanks to appearances in series like The Saint and Espionage (both available on DVD) she’s probably quite familiar to the archive television fan.  Another Anne Lawson performance worth checking out is in the Out of the Unknown episode The Midas Plague.

Gideon’s Way – Gang War

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Jerry Blake (Ronald Lacey) and his gang plan to muscle in on the territory of Frank Romano (Ray Brooks).  Romano runs a protection racket, collecting tributes from local shopkeepers, although his wife Lollo (Jane Merrow) wonders if it’s really worth the trouble.  As she tells him, after he’s split the proceeds amongst the members of his gang there’s hardly anything left.

Lollo has something much more ambitious in mind.  Henry Waldo (Frederick Bartman) is a middle-aged bank worker who’s crazy for her and doesn’t know that she’s married.  He’s responsible for the transportation and destruction of surplus bank notes and she finds it very easy to persuade him to tell her when and where the next delivery will be.  So Frank and Jerry team up – with the prize being some four hundred thousand pounds …..

Gang War is such a wonderful time capsule of the period that I find it impossible to watch without a big grin on my face.  The scene is set right from the start – as we see Jerry and two of his compatriots swagger down the street.  As they walk along the pavement they knock into innocent passers by and this action (together with the brassy incidental music) immediately brings to mind the later Monty Python sketch Hells Grannies.  Was the Python sketch directly influenced by this episode?  I don’t know for sure, but it seems likely.

Roland Lacey had a good career (sadly curtailed by his early death) playing misfits and Jerry – who sports a wicked looking scar – is another notable addition to this hall of fame.  Jerry begins his reign of terror by wrecking the shop of an inoffensive Italian barber (who’s played in such a “whatsa matter you?” way as to be very unbelievable) and later moves up a gear by knifing Sammy, one of Frank’s key men.

Frank, like Jerry, has a club as his base of operations.  This means there’s opportunities for oh-so mid sixties incidental library tracks to be played on the jukebox, which ramps up the atmosphere as both men call their gangs together for periodic meetings.  One of Frank’s gang is Weasel (played by Louis Mansi).  Mansi, later to be a regular in Allo Allo, is very recognisable (one of the joys of this era of television is that so many faces, even the bit-part actors, are instantly familiar).

Ray Brooks was something of a sixties icon and he’s another major plus point in the episode’s favour.  Frank starts off as the man in charge, but it doesn’t take long before Lollo makes him realise just how small and petty his ambitions are.  As Frank lounges around their flat in a rather natty dressing gown he slowly begins to see the possibilities of Lollo’s manipulation of Henry – although he doesn’t like the thought of his wife making eyes at another man.

Alas, Henry is a bit of a wimp, and indeed the move away from the gang war to focus on the robbery is something of a misstep, although Frank and Jerry do end up settling their differences in a very permanent way (via a lovely piece of noirish night-time filming).

On-screen violence is kept to a minimum.  Frank whacks one of his men in a face with a billiard ball and there’s the knifing, but apart from that it’s a fairly bloodless gang war (at least until the climatic shoot out).  The stabbing of Sammy (Keith Bell) is a nicely crafted moment though – the camera is placed low on the pavement which then creates an interesting angle after he slumps to the ground.

A generous helping of location filming helps to keep this one clicking along at a very decent pace.  Incredibly enjoyable.

Gideon’s Way – The Alibi Man

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Bruce Carroway (Jack Hedley) might be England’s greatest motor racing driver, but he’s a rotten businessman.  Jeff Grant (Geoffrey Palmer) co-owns a garage with him and is shocked, after checking the books, to find there’s a substantial sum of money missing.

Grant confronts Carroway, but gets nowhere so he decides to head for the police station.  A fight breaks out and Grant is clubbed to death.  Along with his trusty mechanic Eric Little (James Culliford), Carroway creates an alibi which places him far from the scene at the apparent time of the murder.  But Gideon smells a rat …..

The episode opens with some vintage (or at the time, current) motor racing action.  Hedley, via rather unconvincing back-projection, is shown winning yet another race.  Possibly the most noteworthy aspect of the sequence is how relaxed Jack Hedley looks as he drives his car around the circuit.  From the casual expression on his face you’d have assumed he was simply out for a Sunday drive!  I’m sure that steering a racing car of this era took just a little more concentration.

Hedley, probably best known for his later portrayal of the Senior British Officer in Colditz, is excellent as the amoral Carroway.  He may be a fine driver, but as a man he’s severely deficient.  We see him treat his wife with contempt (telling her she’s as much fun as a broken hip) and isn’t too kinder to his mistress, Marjorie Bellman (Jennifer Daniel).  Marjorie is a bought woman – she lives in a beautiful flat, paid for by Carroway – but it’s plain she’s not a gold-digger.  She really loves him, although it’s doubtful whether he’s capable of responding in kind.

It’s nice to see a young Geoffrey Palmer, although we don’t see him for long, as after a fairly brutal fight (for Gideon’s Way anyway) he gets clobbered.  If Carroway’s shown to be a poor businessman, then he’s not much better as a murderer.  He tells Eric to smash one of the windows in the office in order to give the impression of a break-in, but neither thinks of actually entering through it – meaning that the police (thanks to the undisturbed dust on the ledge) quickly work out that no-one came through that way.

Carroway also tries the old clock trick, which I’m sure never works outside of detective novels.  He turns the clock to just after 9.00 pm and then smashes it – so anybody finding it will automatically think that was when the crime must have been committed.  And since he and Eric plan to be somewhere else at that time, they therefore have a cast-iron alibi.  Except that it’s obvious to Gideon and the others that the clock has been deliberately destroyed in order to create such an alibi.

In some ways, this works as a proto-Columbo.  Gideon strongly suspects that Carroway is guilty, and the audience knows he is, but he lacks any evidence.  So the Commander has to keep chipping away at Carroway, trying to push him into revealing his true nature.  But the ending of this one is most atypical for Gideon.  Normally we see the Commander always get his man (or woman) but here there’s a much more open-ended feel – which is unusual for the series, but more accurately reflects real life.

As I’ve said, Hedley is perfect as Carroway and Jennifer Daniel is also strong casting as Marjorie, the woman who loves him but also (since she knows he went to meet Grant) proves to be something of a problem.  A young Nicola Pagett also pops up, as Marjorie’s younger sister Cathy.

The relationship between Carroway and Eric is an intriguing one.  Eric’s badly scarred thanks to a bad motor racing accident some years previously, but he’s indebted to Carroway as he was responsible for pulling him from his burning car.  It’s therefore understandable that Eric will do almost anything for Carroway including murder (he disposes of Marjorie).  But Eric’s comment, just as he’s dispatching the unfortunate Marjorie, is quite telling.  He says that the old days (just the two of them – Carroway and Eric) are now back.  It’s only a throwaway moment, but the possibility that Eric wants a deeper relationship seems quite plain.  Quite what the womanising Carroway would make of Eric’s feelings is anyone’s guess.

Another strong story with a first-rate guest cast.

alibi 02

Gideon’s Way – The Prowler

prowler

Gideon is under pressure (thanks to negative newspaper reports) to catch a mysterious masked prowler who’s been terrorising London.  So far he hasn’t hurt any of his female victims – he’s simply cut off locks of their hair – but Gideon is concerned that violence and murder might be the next items on his agenda.

The prowler, Alan Campbell-Gore (David Collings), is a troubled young man.  He may come from a wealthy and titled family, with a mother – Lady Campbell-Gore (Fanny Rowe) – who dotes on him, but it’s obvious that the balance of his mind is disturbed.  He still pines for Wendy, his dead girlfriend, and it’s his inability to come to terms with her death that proves to be his downfall  …..

Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman had already successfully brought the Saint to the small screen, thanks in no small part to the talents of Roger Moore, and with Gideon’s Way they were once again tasked with the problems inherent in transferring a literary creation to the small screen.  Because ITC liked to sell their products worldwide, this meant that excessive violence, for example, would be frowned upon.  It’s well known that the Saint had to be rather watered down from the amoral, anti-hero of the original books – emerging in the television series as the affable globe-trotter familiar from Leslie Charteris’ later novels (which tended not to be as highly regarded as the earlier books).

Revisiting John Creasey’s Gideon novels, it’s easy to see that a similar retooling took place.  The Prowler was adapted from Gideon’s Night, published in 1957, and it offers a subtly different story experience.  To begin with, Gideon opens by musing on how his marriage went through a rocky patch a few years ago (in contrast, the television couple never seem to have a single argument).  Lemaitre is also suffering from domestic strife, as his “bitch” of a wife is blatantly conducting affairs with numerous men.  A little character development like this would have been good for the television Lemaitre as Reginald Jessup, despite being a regular, has a fairly thankless role – mainly existing to line feed both Gideon and Keen.  As for the prowler, he’s instantly made much more sinister after it’s revealed that he strangles his victims (as opposed to the television prowler who simply clips off a lock of their hair).   Other themes in the novel – such as a murderer of young children – were unsurprisingly never adapted for the series.

Returning to this adaptation, the opening few minutes – as Alan pursues his latest victim through a foggy London street – are highly evocative, although there may be some (especially if you equate fog with the stories of Sherlock Holmes) who might regard this scene as something of an anachronism.  Not so.  Fog and smog continued to be a problem in London well into the 1960’s.  The worse case was the great London smog of 1952 which killed thousands and although the problem declined during the 1960’s, it was still there.

The Prowler makes no effort to keep Alan’s identity a mystery.  We know very early on that he’s the guilty man and Harry Junkin’s screenplay makes short work of explaining why this is so.

His continuing love for his dead girlfriend, a recent stay in a clinic (following a breakdown) and the suffocating love of his mother are all factors.  Although Lady Campbell-Gore no doubt feels she’s acting in his best interests, her domineering personality is precisely what he doesn’t need.  After one of the attacks, he pleads with somebody to help him – but since he’s alone in his bedroom, help is not forthcoming.

Clearly he’s reluctant to speak to her about his mental problems and although her actions  – telling him he’s not fit to work yet, ripping up a picture of Wendy – are, in her mind, meant for his own good it doesn’t work out that way.  And when he does later pluck up the courage to try and explain, she dismisses him with short shrift.  No member of their family, she tells him, has ever suffered from insanity.  It’s therefore clear that the reputation and standing of their family name matters more to her than the anguish of her son.

Director Robert Tronson was an experienced hand, active in television between the 1960’s and 1990’s.  A partial list of his credits – The Saint, Man in a Suitcase, Public Eye, Callan, The Power Game, Manhunt, Father Brown, Juliet Bravo, Bergerac, All Creatures Great and Small, Rumpole of the Bailey – reads like a list of some of the best series that British television has ever had to offer.  The Prowler was his sole GW credit, but thanks to the source material he was able to make his mark.

Tronson uses a number of tricks to illustrate Alan’s disturbed state.  The incidental music, whilst verging on the over melodramatic at times, is slightly unusual (thanks to the instruments used) which gives this episode a unique feel.  He also elects to shoot scenes from Alan’s POV – which allows us to see the world from inside his head.  Some of these moments – for example, Alan witnesses the torn photograph of Wendy reassemble itself – clearly can’t have happened, so this is an obvious sign that the way he observes the world is filtered through his own grip on reality.

This was only David Collings’ second television credit (following an edition of The Wednesday Play earlier that same year, 1965) but he’s very watchable as the troubled Alan.  Collings would later find something of a niche playing disturbed and damaged individuals, of which Alan is an early example.  Although the script seems to tell us that Alan isn’t responsible for his actions, it also poses the question as to whether the system is set up to give him the help he needs.

Alan staggers his way over to Wendy’s old flat, but naturally doesn’t find her.  Marjorie Hayling (Gillian Lewis) now lives there and treats the strange man who barges into her rooms with kindness and compassion.  He explains that he was Wendy’s fiancée – she knows that Wendy killed herself and gently asks him if he knows why.  He doesn’t and this may be one of the reasons why he tortures himself.  Marjorie agrees to go out with him, although she’s aware that he’s deeply troubled.  During this scene Alan shows himself to be personable, articulate and lonely.  It’s not an act – he’s all of these things – which makes his other compulsions even more of a tragedy.

The climatic part of the story – Alan is hunted through the dark streets by the police and eventually turns up at Marjorie’s flat – ramps up the tension, as he holds her hostage with a knife.  But had he not felt cornered, would this have happened?  It’s a question to ponder (since his later slapping of Marjorie is the first intended violent act we’ve seen him carry out).  The siege comes to an end, but Alan’s ultimate fate is not disclosed.

An unusual, but impressive, episode – thanks to David Collings.

Gideon’s Way – The Thin Red Line

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Commissioner Scott-Marle (Basil Dingham) and Gideon have a meeting with General Sir Hector McGregor (Finlay Curie).  Sir Hector still commands the Commissioner’s old Regiment and Scott-Marle regards the old man with barely concealed awe.  Even Gideon is impressed (“old hell-fire Mac” as he calls him).

Sir Hector is a worried man.  The Regiment’s pride and joy – the Balaclava Silver – is being stolen piece by piece and replaced with good quality fakes.  Sir Hector wants the culprit caught, but the honour of the Regiment is uppermost in his mind.  So Gideon has to work unofficially to bring the culprit to book – and the burning question for him is whether one of the upstanding officers and gentleman could be responsible.

It’s possibly coincidental, but The Thin Red Line has something of the feel of Redcap (ABC, 1964-1966).  Like Gideon, Sergeant Mann (John Thaw) was an outsider who frequently had to battle against the superior nature of the officers under investigation.

Gideon’s lack of enthusiasm for this job is very plain.  He’s too polite to tell Sir Hector so (and his respect for authority means that he’s not going to be openly critical to his superior) but the thought of giving the Regiment preferential treatment is something that obviously rankles a little.

Sir Hector is presented as something of a man out of time – he believes in the honour of his officers, simply because they are officers and gentlemen.  But Gideon is not prepared to take anything on trust and tells them that they, like everybody else, will be investigated.  This leads to one of the most entertaining scenes in the episode, as the superior Major Donald Ross (Allan Cuthbertson) leads the others in pouring icily polite scorn on the Commander.  Although Gideon mentions to Ross that he commanded a Regiment during the war, that doesn’t impress the Major at all.  “Oh, in war lots of very strange people become officers.”  The arrogance of the professional soldier (who no doubt viewed the influx of new officers during WW2 with horror) is beautifully expressed here.

There’s not enough time to examine the characters of many of the officers in detail – so the focus is mainly on Ross.  Allan Cuthbertson was a very familiar face on British film and television screens between the 1950’s and the 1980’s.  Equally at home in drama or comedy (a memorable appearance in Fawlty Towers and a stint as Tommy Cooper’s straight man, for example) he gives his usual assured performance as the rather shifty Ross.

It’s quickly revealed that Ross owes a substantial sum of money to the well-heeled bookmaker ‘Bookie’ Barton Smith (Donald Pickering) and he has to face the humiliation of his wife’s public affair with a brother officer, Captain James Murray (Michael Meacham).  But the pain of being cuckolded quickly fades when he realises that he can threaten to divorce his wife, thereby destroying Murray’s career in the Regiment when he names him as the guilty party or he can force Murray to pay off his gambling debts.  Murray plumps for the latter, although the revelation that Ross is broke does tend to rule him out as a suspect.

To be honest, the culprit’s identity is probably not the most taxing mystery in the world.  Sir Hector’s grandson, Captain Robbie McGregor (John Cairney) dotes on the old man and has been selling off the silver in order to make Sir Hector’s last years a little more comfortable (Sir Hector gambled away his fortune and Scottish estates many years ago).

We’re invited to look kindly on Robbie’s motives, but although it’s true that he didn’t steal the silver for himself, it’s all still a little odd.  Robbie bemoans the fact that a brave old man like his grandfather is broke, but then nobody knew the truth about Sir Hector’s finances.  It seems inconceivable that the Regiment wouldn’t have looked after him, so Robbie’s theft could be less about his grandfather and more about making a statement.  He tells Gideon that he regards the Balaclava silver with loathing.  To him, the silver is a dead reminder of the Regiment’s past.  With it, the Regiment remains backward looking, always concentrating on their great victories from previous centuries.

The end of the episode is nicely underplayed, as Gideon leads Robbie away.  Although not explicitly stated, it seems obvious that Robbie will face the full force of the law – exactly what Sir Hector didn’t want to happen.  But although Gideon did seem to agree with Sir Hector that his investigation would be unofficial, this ending tells us that Gideon’s duty to the law overrides all other considerations.  In this way, we can compare Gideon’s sense of duty and honour to that of Sir Hector – just as the old man has his own set of values, so the Commander has his.

We never find out Sir Hector’s response to the revelation that his grandson was responsible for stealing the Balaclava Silver, but it’s not difficult to guess.  To the General, honour is everything – so this might very well be a blow from which he finds it impossible to recover.  It’s an uncomfortable thought that Robbie’s love for his grandfather will, in the end, be the cause of a great deal of pain.

This episode isn’t one that’s adapted from John Creasey’s novels, which may explain why the plotting feels slightly loose.  For example, late on, suspicion briefly falls on Sir Hector after Gideon discovers that he’s penniless.  This makes no sense at all – if Sir Hector was responsible, why would he have asked Scott-Marle and Gideon to investigate?  It’s also slightly hard to swallow that nobody (apart from Robbie) is aware of the perilous state of the old man’s finances.  By his own admission, at one time Sir Hector was a major landowner – so how was he able to sell off his land, properties and other possessions without anybody realising?

The Thin Red Line is one of the best-cast episodes of GW.  Finlay Currie, already in his mid eighties at the time, gives a nicely judged performance as the General.  Allan Cuthbertson is, as previously mentioned, first-rate and Donald Pickering oozes upper-class disdain in his trademark fashion.  Mary Yeomans only has a small role as Ross’ philandering wife, but she still manages to make quite an impression.  And if a Scottish Regiment of this era didn’t feature Gordon Jackson then I’d feel somewhat cheated.  As Sgt McKinnon he’s only in a couple of scenes, but his presence is a reassuring one.

If you want to read more about the episode, then I can recommend this wonderfully detailed post on a new blog called You Have Just Been Watching.