Redcap – A Town Called Love

After assaulting a German girl called Gerda, Private Pendlebury (Michael Robbins) crosses over into East Germany. He may not be prime defector material, but he’s still made welcome. Back in the West, Mann is confronted by Pendlebury’s distraught wife.  She pleads with Mann to retrieve her husband ….

There’s one really clever thing about A Town Called Love, although I have to confess that until the credits rolled I’d completely forgotten about it. Gwendolyn Watts plays two roles – Gerda (Pendlebury’s German girlfriend) and Vera (Pendlebury’s wife).

Gerda is blonde whilst Vera is a brunette. This simple act of changing hairstyles obviously helped to create the illusion that they were two different people. Or maybe I was just distracted by Gerda’s transparent negligee …..

There’s no particular reason why the two parts should have been played by the same actress, but it offered Watts a more than decent showcase for her talents. Gerda – who possibly is seeking to entrap the unwary Pendlebury into criminal activity – is the less well defined of the two, but Vera is gifted several strong scenes.  Alternating between vulnerability and calculation, she’s able to appeal to the kind-hearted Mann, who then risks his own safety by crossing over the wall in an attempt to bring Pendlebury back.

Once again, there’s so much quality in the cast.  Michael Robbins, best known for playing the long-suffering Arthur in On The Buses, is equally long-suffering here. Pendlebury is a straightforward sort of chap – after his altercation with Gerda (he says she slipped and hit her head) he hot-foots it over to the East. But he finds life to be no better there than it was in the West, so he’s easily persuaded by Mann to return and take his punishment. But there’s a nasty sting in the tale for him when he does come back.

Magda (Yootha Joyce) and Bob McGregor (Garfield Morgan) are both very welcoming to all new defectors, but only because it’s their job. Morgan’s plummy good-cheer and Joyce’s sultry seductiveness both have a very hollow feel, but then I doubt that either Pendlebury or Mann were taken in by them.

There’s a cold opening to this episode, as Mann’s now changed location and seems to have a permanent base, operating with Sergeant Coulter (Glynn Edwards) and Colonel Matherson (Peter Copley). Neither appear again though, so this posting presumably was only temporary. That’s a pity, as both characters had scope for future development – Coulter’s friendly opposition with Mann (they have very different opinions about Pendlebury) and Matherson’s avuncular but steely command style could easily have been examined in more depth across a series of episodes.

Not quite as gripping as the first episode, possibly because there’s the sense that Mann isn’t going to remain in the East for very long (it would have been a short series had he done so) there’s still enough character conflict to keep things ticking along nicely.

 

Crown Court – Regina v Bryant (November 1972)

I’ve recently been dipping in and out of some selected Crown Court cases. To date Network have released eight volumes on DVD, although this only scratches the surface of a series which ran for over a decade and racked up close to 900 episodes. Luckily, good quality copies of many editions not yet commercially available are on YouTube.

This one, Regina v Bryant, is available on DVD (it can be found on volume one). As with most of the cases, it’s not only of considerable interest due to the quality of the cast (most episodes contain line ups which would surely gladden the heart of any archive television fan) but the story still stands up today as a satisfying piece of drama. Crown Court may have been a low budget daytime series, but there’s evidence to suggest that it was crafted with some care.

Tony Hoare (1938 – 2008) was someone very much at home in the worlds of crime and detection (not least because he spent a lengthy spell in prison prior to becoming a writer). He penned many of Minder‘s best remembered episodes as well as contributing to series such as Villains, New Scotland Yard, The Sweeney, Target, Hazell, The Gentle Touch and Bergerac. So knowing his writing background, especially his work on Minder, it’s not unreasonable to assume that he was fully on the side of the defendant.

Harry Bryant (Mark McManus) claims to be innocent of the charges of armed robbery and assaulting a police officer. Bryant doesn’t attempt to hide his criminal past, instead he contends that this is precisely why he’s been fitted up by several corrupt officers, led by Inspector Collins (Glynn Edwards).

McManus dominates the three episodes. Even though (for some reason) he was forced to adopt a cockney accent, McManus is excellent value throughout – especially since Bryant elected to dispense with the services of his counsel, Helen Tate (Dorothy Vernon), at the outset of the trial (he decides to defend himself). Ms Tate seems to have taken exception to this, as her last action was to angrily slam the courtroom door on her way out!

The obvious plus point for the viewer is that McManus therefore takes centre stage, with Bryant’s articulate but unorthodox approach certainly differing from the rank and file barristers we normally see.

In 1972 British society was still at the point where the average man or woman in the street would tend to believe in the general honesty of the police. Had a similar Crown Court story been undertaken a decade later, the mood might have been somewhat different. But this is where the series is often so fascinating – no matter where the writer’s sympathies might lie, the question of guilt or innocence would always be decided by eleven ordinary members of the public, plus one actor playing the foreman (since they had to speak at the end, an Equity member was required).

Rewatching Crown Court I often find myself shaking my head at the decisions of the Fulchester juries. Defendants I was convinced were innocent are found guilty whilst those I’ve decided were obvious wrong ‘uns are allowed to walk free. This can sometimes be infuriating, but it’s also instructive – the 21st century viewer is gifted a brief snapshot into the attitudes and morals of a different age.

Bryant was happy, despite being a career criminal, to have his numerous previous convictions read out in court. Indeed, it was his criminal experience which formed the crux of his defence. Would he really have been so naive as to keep hold of an incriminating balaclava, which Collins alleges he found in Bryant’s house? (Bryant maintains it was planted). And although a bottle of ammonia was also discovered (a similar substance was used in the attack) there was nothing to suggest it hadn’t been bought for normal household duties, as claimed by Mrs Bryant.

The eyewitness identification was also open to comment, with Collins (either by accident or design) allowing a witness to see a photograph of Bryant before he was picked out of the identification parade.

With such thin evidence my own personal decision would have been to aquit. Bryant may very well have been guilty, but for me the evidence simply wasn’t there. However, would Bryant’s decision to attack the integrity of the police at every opportunity have gone down well with the jury? I won’t spoil the verdict ….

As touched upon, McManus is very good and he’s matched by Glynn Edwards, who enjoys (if that’s the right word) a lengthy spell in the witness box. Another familar face, Diane Keen (as Mrs Bryant), has less screentime but still makes quite a telling contribution. Richard Warner, as the Hon. Mr Justice Waddington, stumbles over his lines during the early stages of the trial but eventually settles down. Like most editions, it’s directed solidly enough (at least there were no Mandrels in court to distract Alan Bromly) although the final few minutes of the third episode does feature some very audible talkback from the studio gallery.

Many editions of Crown Court still have considerable replay value today, but the central theme of Regina v Bryant (should the police automatically be trusted?) and the way that Bryant very effectively handles his own defence easily makes this one of the standouts from the earliest crop of cases.

Seven of One – One Man’s Meat

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Alan Joyce (Barker) has been put on a strict diet by his wife Marion (Prunella Scales) and is told that he has to last the entire day without any food.  When she leaves he naturally heads straight off to the kitchen, but is appalled to find she’s taken every last scrap of food away.  And heading out to the shops is going to be a problem, because she’s removed all his pairs of trousers too …..

Written by Barker, under the penname of Jack Goetz, it’s not a surprise that One Man’s Meat gives him the (ahem) plum role.  Despite the heavyweight supporting cast – Scales, Sam Kelly, Glynn Edwards, Barbara New and Joan Sims – Barker is by himself for a large part of the episode’s duration.

Scales tops and tails the episode.  It’s nothing to do with the story, but Marion mentions that they’ve recently seen a blue movie at Bill and Nora’s house – this shines a light into the ways that the respectable middle-classes entertained themselves during the 1970’s.  Did they then indulge in a spot of wife swapping?  That would have made an interesting story, but possibly a post watershed one.

There’s more touchstones to the 1970’s as Alan mentions that he plans to fight the flab with Terry Wogan.  He’s too late to catch him though, so has to put up with Jimmy Young instead.  And since JY is delivering his latest recipe it’s all too much (he dunks the radio in the sink).

Although Alan attempts to order a takeaway from a Chinese restaurant (cue slanty-eyed acting from Barker, another moment which helps to date the story) he appears to be unsuccessful.  Presumably there were no other takeaways in the area?  This is something of a story weakness.

His desire for food then causes him to pretend he’s been burgled.  Two policemen (Edwards & Kelly) turn up, with Alan eyeing their trousers enviously.  It’s nice to see Sam Kelly and Glynn Edwards, even if they’ve not got a great deal to do.  I wonder if this small role led to Kelly being cast as Bunny Warren in Porridge?

The inimitable Joan Sims fairs a little better as the Joyce’s housekeeper, Mrs Dawkins.  Barker gives her some good lines which allows Sims to deadpan with her usual skill, ensuring that her scenes with Barker are the undoubted highlight of the whole thirty minutes.  Alas, she don’t appear for very long as Alan decides to steal Mrs Dawkins’ clothes, dress up as a woman and head out to the shops.  When in doubt, drag up, I guess.

One Man’s Meat has a sparkling cast and is a lovely time capsule of the seventies, but, like Alan’s stomach for most of the day, is a rather empty affair.  However if the story doesn’t appeal then you always entertain yourself by counting how many times microphone shadows appear (director Harold Snoad must have been having an off day).

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Softly Softly: Task Force – Lessons

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Lessons opens with Barlow teaching a group of cadets how to work a murder scene.  The training officer, Chief Inspector Fox (John Ringham), expresses his surprise to Watt that Barlow agreed so readily to play teacher, but Watt knows that Barlow is never more in his element than when he has an attentive audience.  He covers all the essentials – don’t contaminate the crime scene, ensure that life really is extinct, etc – and thanks to his convivial, easy-going nature he seems to have got the message across.

In story terms, it’s no surprise that a real-life murder is discovered shortly afterwards – now we’ll have the chance to see how well Barlow’s theories work in practice.  The presence of Fox is also interesting.  He’d been seconded to training for the last two years, but has just returned to active service.  Fox has long desired to be back at the sharp end and now has his wish – but how will he shape up after such a long spell in the classroom?

The discovery of the body – a girl’s naked corpse on the beach – is tightly filmed.  We observe events from the viewpoint of the man who finds her.  He spies a trail of clothes, leading to a fence partitioning two sides of the beach.  After seeing an arm lolling out, he rushes over (at this point we don’t see the body) but by his expression it’s evident that something bad has happened.  He rushes off for help, but the seafront is eerily deserted, so he hurries over to the nearest phone box.

The picture then cuts to a quick reveal of the dead girl, before showing a grim-faced Barlow approaching the scene.  This rapid cutting is an interesting choice – it’s a little jarring to jump ahead quite so quickly, but it helps to keep the story moving along.

The girl is soon identified – Myra Vernon, aged fourteen.  “A dangerous age” mutters Barlow.  Her father (played by Glynn Edwards) looks very distraught after identifying the body, leading Barlow to offer him a drop of something.  The lack of incidental music (the series never featured any) and the stark, sea-front setting makes the moment seem quite brutal.

There’s some good character work in this story.  Early on, Jackson and Evans are discussing the first murder case Barlow investigated in the area.  Evans still feels sorrow for the murderer, considering him to be as much of a victim as the murdered child,  something which Jackson doesn’t understand.  And later at the murder scene there’s a brief scene between Jackson and Hawkins which serves to illuminate the Sergeant’s character a little more.

After discussing whether Mr Vernon is the sort of person likely to go to pieces after learning that his daughter is dead, Jackson is easily able to banish this thought from his mind and go about his business.  Hawkins calls him a hard case, whilst Jackson counters that he’s simply objective.  Barlow’s irritation with Jackson is also made evident – the senior man is vaguely contemptuous that the Sergeant has little practical knowledge of the nitty-gritty of policework (he’s never worked directly on a murder enquiry, for example).   Jackson may be a decent administrator, but he’s not a thief-catcher, which explains Barlow’s regular baiting of him.

Cadet Wellbeloved (Crispin Gillbard) had earlier played the body in Barlow’s training exercise, but now he’s of even more use.  As a local man, he knows that the tide on this part of the beach will be coming in very soon (and not in two hours time, as the tide books report).  This means there’s something of a scramble to document all the evidence before it’s washed away.  Fox is perturbed that they’re not following the correct procedure, but Barlow tells him that it’s the “difference between textbook and the real thing, Mr Fox. Tides wait for no man”.

Susan (Sally Thomsett), a schoolfriend of Myra’s, has some information.  Presumably Susan was supposed to have been the same age as Myra, although Thomsett was twenty when this was recorded.  Susan reveals that Myra was seen chatting to a window-cleaner, shortly before she disappeared, which gives the police a suspect to pursue.  The window-cleaner, Dave (Graham Berown), is quickly run to ground and seems to be rather shifty.  The truth emerges shortly afterwards, and although it gives Jackson the chance to experience the sharp end of policing, Barlow’s still less than impressed with him …

Lessons was the first episode of SS:TF to be shot entirety on film.  Dixon of Dock Green had also begun to do the same thing at around this time (the first all-film Dixon, Waste Land, aired a month after this).  It helps to give the story a very different feel, although this effectiveness is somewhat blunted by the rather poor picture quality.  The above screen-shot shows just how faded the colours are.  It’s a slight pity, but considering that many other series from around this time (especially Dixon) are poorly represented in the archives, the fact that every episode of SS:TF still exists is rather amazing (so if some are rather dog-eared, that’s better than them not being around at all).

Arnold Yarrow was something of a renaissance man.   He penned several episodes of SS:TF whilst working as the story editor at the same time.  And when he wasn’t wearing those two hats, he also pursued a successful acting career.  For me he’ll forever be plucky Bellal from the Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story Death to the Daleks.

With a very limited cast of suspects, Lessons isn’t a whodunnit.  Yarrow’s script focuses on the procedural nature of a murder enquiry and also serves as a good vehicle for the regulars (Yarrow’s familiarity with the characters, due to his work as the show’s story editor, no doubt had something to do with this).