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.