Espionage – The Weakling

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The Weakling opens in North Africa during WW2.  Ferno (Dennis Hopper) is a highly insubordinate American soldier (in his opening scene he shows his disregard for authority by getting tangled up in a barroom brawl) which makes him pretty much the last person you’d entrust with a mission vital to the war effort.

But Colonel Ballin (John Gregson), a British intelligence officer, believes that Ferno is exactly the right man for the job he has in mind.  Ferno is told the time, date and place where the Allied invasion of Europe is due to begin and is parachuted into France to deliver this information to the leader of the Free French underground.

After Ferno is captured by the Germans, he’s subjected to extreme torture in order to make him talk.  But Ferno proves hard to crack.  This should be good news, but it turns out to be exactly the opposite ……

There’s a wonderful clash of styles in the first act of The Weakling.  Not only between Ferno and Ballin but also between Dennis Hopper and John Gregson.  They could hardly have been more different as actors.  Hopper (1936 – 2010) was a devotee of the method school of acting and his off-screen life seemed to mirror Ferno’s.  It’s often been observed that Hopper tended to play himself so the anti-authoritarian, twitchy Ferno shouldn’t have been too much of a stretch for him.

Although his career had began promisingly in the 1950’s (appearing in several films with James Dean, a man he idolised) by the time he recorded this episode of Espionage he’d hit something of a brick wall.  His problems, like Ferno’s, were mostly self-inflicted as he proved to be an uncontrollable loose-cannon (more than one director told him he’d never work in Hollywood again).  But thanks to the intervention of John Wayne, Hopper slowly began to work his way back into favour, culminating in the sleeper hit Easy Rider (1969).

John Gregson (1919 – 1975) could hardly have been more different.  He’d forged a successful career playing supporting roles in many popular British films (Scott of the Antarctic, Whisky Galore!, The Lavender Hill Mob, Genevieve, Above Us The Waves, The Battle of the River plate, etc).  When the British film industry began to contract in the 1960’s he moved seamlessly in television, guest-starring in numerous series as well as starring as the avuncular George Gideon in Gideon’s Way.  Gregson always appeared to be the very model of stolid reliability, a trait which seems to be shared by Ballin.

Indeed, as Ferno rants and raves at Ballin, it’s instructive to watch the two actors at work.  Hopper has the showier material and he certainly goes for it – wringing everything he can from the script.  Gregson is still, silent and barely moves – but he still catches the eye, a clear demonstration that less is more.

When Ferno reaches France he makes contact with Jeanne (Patricia Neal), a doctor who agrees to set up his meeting with the resistance.  The year after The Weakling was broadcast Neal would win an Oscar for her role in Hud, so she was something of a catch for the series.  The scenes between Jeanne and Ferno are played at an intense emotional pitch – Jeanne tells him that she supplies the Nazis with narcotics and is unrepentant about it.  She appears to be just another victim of the war – a woman forced to sacrifice her principles – but the truth is much darker.  She’s an addict herself and is also revealed to be a collaborator, betraying him to the Nazis.  Ferno manages to make his escape and frantically radios to Ballin for help.  Ballin hears the message but doesn’t reply.  This is another quiet triumph for Gregson as Ballin says nothing – he simply buries his head in his hands.

The truth is revealed shortly afterwards by Ballin.  The information Ferno carries is false and the intention all along was that he would be captured, interrogated and finally be forced to give it up.  But since Ferno is the sort of man who can withstand a great deal of pain he won’t break easily, which means that the Germans should be convinced that what he tells them is genuine.

Jeanne is charged with getting him to speak, but despite all the drugs at her disposal it’s no easy task.  So Handler (Steve Plytas) decides to use more old-fashioned types of persuasion.  When we cut back to the room there’s a blow-torch in the background, which tells us all we need to know.

There’s an unspoken irony about The Weakling.  The very title seems to suggest that Ferno was chosen because he was supposed to crack under pressure reasonably quickly – but this is contradicted during the scene where Ferno, and three others, were put through rigorous tests to see which of them would fare best under interrogation.  Ferno seemed to be least affected, which surely wasn’t what was needed?

Although Ballin knew he was sending Ferno to suffer, he’s not portrayed as a cold-blooded monster.  As Ferno continues to struggle against his interrogators, Ballin (sitting alone in his office) seems to hear his screams and silently urges the man to talk.  Eventually, pushed beyond the limits of human endurance, Ferno does.  But the cost is great – the American ends up as a shell of the man he used to be.

The closing scene, as Ballin visits him and begs for his forgiveness, is another memorable one.  And for one last time we see their two styles at play – Hopper emotes freely, whilst Gregson, leaving the room with a tear trickling down his eye, is much more restrained.

If The Weakling has a flaw then it’s probably some of Dennis Hopper’s dialogue.  At times Ferno talks with 1960’s idioms, which sit uneasily with the wartime setting.  It’s possible that Hopper himself dropped these into the script and, given all we know about his personality, refused to compromise.  His full-throttle approach may not appeal to all, but it’s the difference between him and Gregson (as well as the moral complexities of the story) that make this such a fascinating watch.

Gideon’s Way – The Perfect Crime

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Todd (Patrick Allen) and Casey (Patrick Bedford) have formed a profitable criminal partnership.  The mysterious Todd is a well-connected man who always seems to know when wealthy marks will be away from home – but he needs the skills of Casey, a noted safebreaker.

They’re very different characters though.   On their latest job, Todd thinks nothing of clubbing down an au pair who unexpectedly returns to the flat they’re burgling (with an off-hand comment of “stupid cow”).  This perturbs Casey, who hates violence and recoils at the sight of blood.  Casey’s wife, Sandra (Jean Marsh), urges him to cut his ties with Todd, but as he’s earning good money he’s prepared to ignore his scruples.

When the au pair dies and Casey is arrested on another job, things look bleak for him.  But a wily lawyer sees a chance to blame Casey’s self-inflicted injury on police brutality – with Gideon in the frame …..

The incomparable Patrick Allen – possessor of the type of voice I could listen to all day – is in fine form as Todd.  By night he’s a violent criminal, but by day Todd’s a respectable stockbroker, moving in the best of circles with his cultured and beautiful girlfriend, Anne Beaumont (Ann Lynn).  Lynn’s one of those actresses who, if you love television of this era, you can’t help coming across.  Sergeant Cork, Public Eye and Minder are just three series graced with her presence.

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Elsewhere, Jean Marsh is a vivid screen presence as Sandra.  Following her husband’s arrest, Sandra attempts to extract the money he’s owed from Todd, with fatal results.  The moment of Sandra’s murder is nicely done.  As so often in GW, we don’t actually see the fatal blow struck (the camera is elsewhere at the time) but the quick cuts – and Todd’s expression afterwards – still make it a chilling moment.

It’s an amusing character touch that whenever Todd’s in criminal mode he wears a pair of dark glasses.  Even when indoors!  How can he see what’s going on?!   It’s also noticeable how he’s able to edit his personality – when spending time with his girlfriend and their wealthy friends he’s urbane and pleasant.  But when he’s discussing the next job with Casey he’s blunt and business-like, seemingly uncaring that the au pair is hovering close to death.  When confronted by Sandra he explains why he’s embarked on a life of crime.  “I do it because stocks and shares are pedestrian, dull, inanimate. When I’m on a job with Casey I’m alive, quick turning in my guts of fear, excitement, even sensuality. There’s no rational explanation.”

It’s jarring to see Gideon accused of hitting a suspect.  Jack Regan maybe, but not the avuncular George Gideon.  This feels like a theme drawn more from the books, which tended to paint Gideon’s world in shades of grey, as opposed to the resolutely black and white world of the television series.   In Creasey’s novels, Gideon had to traverse a more morally corrupt landscape, where even his own colleagues couldn’t always be counted upon.  But whilst the series caught the flavour of the books they also tended to rub off the sharp edges (although the ending of this episode is rather bleak).  However I’m glad they never carried over the practice of having Gideon referred to by his colleagues as “Gee Gee”.  It wouldn’t seem right to me for John Gregson to be referred to that way!

There are some series which I’m glad to have, but don’t tend to get rewatched that often.  Gideon’s Way isn’t one of them.  Gregson and Davion form a solid partnership, the scripts are generally very strong, the guest casts can rarely be faulted and the extensive location filming in and around London is yet another reason why this is a programme to be cherished.  Possibly because it didn’t fit the usual template for ITC filmed series, it’s never had the profile of the likes of The Saint, but Gideon’s Way is an endlessly entertaining series that I can come back to time and time again.

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Gideon’s Way – Morna

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Everybody loved Morna Copthorne (Angela Douglas).  Or nearly everybody.  When she’s found shot dead, Gideon is tasked to investigate her murder – and he finds that a much more complex character emerges.

The opening scene is an interesting one – we see a fisherman discover Morna’s body and then we observe him rush off to inform the police.  But it’s all dialogue-free, instead the incidental music almost seems to be acting as a substitute.  It feels slightly odd, but it works.

We then cut to Gideon’s house as he, Kate and Matthew are planning a day out, although there’s no prizes for guessing that an important call will shortly force Gideon back on duty.  Kate looks far from happy (indeed, it’s pretty much the most disgruntled I can recall her looking throughout the whole series).

Morna was the daughter of an important man, Sir Robert Copthorne (Robert Adams), and some discrete strings have been pulled to ensure that Gideon heads the case.  During the early part of the episode we hear several fulsome tributes to the dead girl, starting with her father.  “What was Morna like? She was exquisite. She was like a rose, soft, fragile, lovely. Everything thing about her was beautiful.”  Poor Sir Robert seems a broken man.  Later he tells Gideon that since Morna was born late in his life, he now has nothing to look forward to.  The fact that he looks at his wife, Lady Copthorne (Shelagh Fraser), when he makes this statement is telling.

Gideon and Keen then travel to Morna’s exclusive public school, which is run by Harriet and Leonard Bright (Kay Walsh and John Justin) who continue the praise of the girl.  Harriet tells them that Morna was her favourite pupil (“she had all the qualities that make up a wonderful human being. She was so warm, so vital, so alive”).  Leonard is no less effusive. “She had a quality, you know. Same sort of quality a star has. She glowed.”

If all this sounds far too good to be true, then it’ll come as no surprise to learn that it is.  Everybody who praised Morna so fulsomely  had their own reasons and for many there’s an element of self deception.  For example, Lady Copthorne is the first to illuminate a chink in Morna’s armour – she drank.  Sir Robert seems disbelieving, but it’s more likely that he knew all along about her frailties, he just wouldn’t admit them.  Lady Copthorne then makes a damning statement about their child – by giving her every material gift they could, they ended up spoiling her.  She admits that they attempted to buy her affection, leaving the possibility open that Morna never cared for them at all.

Although Morna’s dead at the start of the episode, via flashbacks we do get to see her.  Because we’re effectively viewing her through the eyes of various people – her best friend Lydia Merritt (Alita Naughton), her fiancé Michael Usher (Norman Bowler) – there’s the possibility that the Morna we’re watching has been “edited” by them.  This doesn’t seem to be the case though.

Through various testimonies, we discover that Morna kept a flat in London, enjoyed gambling, marijuana and was pregnant.  She owed nightclub owner Chay (Johnny Sekka) eight hundred pounds and this seems at first to be the crisis she faced on the day of her death.  I’ve written elsewhere about how impressive Sekka was in the Z Cars episode A Place of Safety, and he’s equally good here.  Chay is someone with a chip on his shoulder – he’s a black man in a white man’s world – so below his charming exterior is a mass of resentment.  It bubbles to the surface after Gideon takes him in for questioning.  This interview is probably one of the most hostile seen in the series – compared to the likes of The Sweeney it’s tame stuff, but it pushed the series into an area that it didn’t often cover.

Angela Douglas (like Kay Walsh) was one of a select group of actors who played two different roles in Gideon’s Way.  Morna, like Cathy Miller in The “V” Men, is a vulnerable character.  Our perception of Morna certainly changes as the episode progresses, but she doesn’t suddenly turn into an “evil” person.  I think that Alun Falconer’s screenplay was attempting to make the point that she’s neither saint or sinner – just an ordinary person with human frailties.  And if she was painted by some as an untouchable goddess, then that was simply because they had agendas of their own.

As a big fan of Moonbase 3, my heart was warmed to see Barry Lowe in the small role of a forensics officer.  He clearly wasn’t a terribly good one though, as his examination of the boat house, close to where Morna’s body was found, failed to spot a bullet hole in the wall!

Kay Walsh had been the central figure in The Housekeeper, so the role of Harriet Bright appears, at first, to be much less interesting.  It’s certainly a smaller part, but it turns out to be a vital one.  John Justin is terribly good as her husband, a man who seems to have rather an inflated opinion of his teaching abilities.  Alita Naughton only had a handful of credits and there’s something a little distancing about her performance, which I think is down to the dubbing.  Her character, Lydia, was American, so possibly Alita’s American accent wasn’t terribly good and she was later redubbed?

Another good story, enlivened by some decent performances (most notably Johnny Sekka).

Gideon’s Way – Boy with Gun

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Chris Kirk (Howard Knight) is a quiet, bespectacled boy of fifteen who finds himself corned by three toughs of his own age, led by the knife-wielding Mick (Roger Foss).  Mick wants Chris’ rifle and after a struggle the gun goes off.  Mick falls to the ground, apparently dead, whilst Chris flees the scene.

Chris isn’t the sort of boy you’d expect to be tangled up in a shooting case.  His father, Dr Kirk (Anthony Bate) is the local police surgeon and a well respected man.  The reaction of the local Inspector, after Dr Kirk tells him that his son was responsible, speaks volumes.  He simply can’t believe it – after all, nice middle-class people don’t go around shooting other people.

Anthony Bate was an immaculate actor who I can never remember giving a bad performance.  His credits are too numerous to mention, but I’ve previously written about his turns in the likes of An Englishman’s Castle and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (both series are undeniably enriched by his playing).  He’s also first-rate in the classic Out of the Unknown episode Level Seven.  Dr Kirk is another well crafted creation – a cold, cold man who is indirectly responsible for the mess young Chris finds himself in.

Dr Kirk is pained that Chris takes no interest in sports and would sooner bury his head in a book.  He dismisses the boy as effeminate and then tells his wife Helen (Ruth Trouncer) that it’s mostly her fault anyway – she wanted a girl so (in his eyes) she’s stunted his development. Husband and wife have a blazing row, expertly performed by Bate and Trouncer (which is notable as it’s played at a more intense level than is normal for the series).

Helen concludes the argument by telling her husband that the reason he wants Chris to be a real man is because he isn’t one himself.  It’s a wonderful piece of character development which lays the character of Dr Kirk bare.  But this isn’t the whole story, as later Gideon remembers the time when Dr Kirk risked his life to save an injured policeman.  Gideon’s story helps to demonstrate that whilst the man may have many less than admirable traits, he (like all of us) is a more complex character than might first be supposed.

Kirk gave his son the gun because he’s been trying to interest him in various manly pursuits – hunting, shooting, fishing.  Of course, this doesn’t explain why Chris was carrying a loaded gun around the streets of London, which remains a slight weakness of the story.  The point where Mick is shot is also worth looking at – did Chris shoot him deliberately or did the gun go off by accident?  It’s possible to make a case for both, although it has to be said that anybody who walks around with an unbroken rifle is simply asking for trouble.  It’s also odd that when Chris goes on the run he takes the gun with him, why would he do that?

Mick isn’t dead, although his condition is serious.  His anxious parents, Tim (George Sewell) and Mary (Mary Quinn) wait anxiously at the hospital for news, as Tim vows vengeance on Chris.  I’ve always loved George Sewell but since the character he’s playing is Irish, he’s operating a little out of his comfort zone, meaning that every time he opens his mouth I find it hard to take him seriously.  Quite why Tim couldn’t have been played with Sewell’s authentic East-End tones is a bit of a mystery.

After Chris goes on the run he’s befriended by Vince Kelly (Michael Craze), a Borstal escapee.  Chris’ mother tells Gideon that her son is a lonely child – shunned by the boys in his area – so he latches onto the friendly Vince with alacrity.  Craze’s breezy naturalistic playing is a delight.  He’s the diametric opposite of Chris – whilst Chris has had everything, Vince has had nothing – but there’s no resentment from the Borstal boy.  He simply accepts Chris at face value, understands that he too is in trouble and makes an instant connection.

Mick’s father, Tim, is the one with the resentment.  In a memorable scene, he confronts Gideon and tells him that he knows the police won’t try too hard to find Chris – after all, Dr Kirk is a member of the establishment and they always look after their own.  “My boy never really had a father. For ten years I was sewing bags in Dartmoor for the Regent’s Street fur job. The Kirk boy’s had everything. Good school, clothes, family background the lot. And what happens? My boy’s walking along, minding his own business, doing no harm to nobody, and the Kirk kid blasts him with a shotgun.”  Even allowing for Sewell’s interesting Irish accent this is good stuff, capped off when Gideon tells him that his son wasn’t quite the innocent party his father has made him out to be.

Vince is an irrestable dreamer, who’s sure that his elder brother Ches (Michael Standing) will be able to spirit them out of the country. As they hitch a ride to Ches’s flat, Vince continues to express his respect for the fact that Chris was able to shoot a man. It’s therefore fairly obvious that Vince isn’t the brightest, but Craze manages to make the boy both vunerable and appealing.

It slightly beggars belief that Chris eventually finds himself pretty much back where he begun, meaning that a local petty criminal (played by the wonderful Joe Gladwin) is able to pop round the corner and tell Tim that the boy who shot his son is hiding in the area. This is the excuse for Sewell to dial his Irish accent to eleven and it also shows Chris levelling his gun at the struggling Ches and Tim. So although Chris has been somewhat painted as a victim, this moment is another indication that his sense of morality is rather skewered.

The ending – as Gideon and the others confront Chris, who’s still armed – is very interesting. Dr Kirk is on the spot, and everything seems set up for him to be the one who talks the boy down. But this doesn’t happen and it’s Vince who’s finally able to bring the stand-off to a peaceful conclusion. Father and son do walk off together though, which suggests that maybe, over time, there’s a chance for them to rebuild their shattered relationship.

As ever, good playing from the guest cast helps to enrich an already strong screenplay by Iain MacCormick.  MacCormick’s screen credits aren’t terribly extensive (he died, aged just 48, in 1965) but his contribution to Gideon’s Way was notable.  Boy With Gun was his fifth and final script, whilst the others (especially The Nightlifers, The Alibi Man and The Thin Red Line) are amongst the best that the series had to offer.

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Gideon’s Way – The Millionaire’s Daughter

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Alan Blake (Don Borisenko) is a handsome, smooth-talking conman who’s well known to Gideon.  So when the Commander learns that Blake has begun a relationship with Nina Henderson (Lans Traverse), the daughter of millionaire businessman Elliot Henderson (David Bauer), he’s very interested.  And following Nina’s kidnapping, Gideon’s interest only grows …..

The Millionaire’s Daughter opens with Blake and the Hendersons disembarking from the cruise liner which has carried them from New York to London.  During that time Nina has become totally besotted with Blake and it appears that her parents are equally impressed.  Elliot, supposedly a hard-headed businessman, later tells his wife Felissa (Lois Maxwell) that he prides himself on being a good judge of character and that Blake is a fine young man.  Uh, oh, he got that a bit wrong!

Gideon’s Way was a slightly atypical ITC film series as most of the others (The Saint, Danger Man, Man in a Suitcase, The Champions, The Baron, etc) appeared to have been crafted very much with foreign sales in mind.  Lew Grade, the boss of ITC, had clear views about what sort of shows would sell in the foreign (especially American) market.  Globe-trotting action (even if it was all filmed on the back-lot at Borehamwood with the help of a palm tree or two!) and an American star, or co-star, usually didn’t go amiss.

But Gideon’s Way, with its very British (and London feel) didn’t fit this pattern at all.  Having said that though, it’s possible that it did find a receptive overseas audience, as there were many who rejected Grade’s formula and believed that series which made a point of their Britishness tended to do well.

The Millionaire’s Daughter certainly seems to be designed to push some of those buttons as early on we see Blake and Nina enjoy a whistle-stop tour of many of London’s top tourist attractions (they feed the pigeons at Trafalgar Square, walk past Buckingham Palace and view the Houses of Parliament).  Alas, Nina’s happiness is short-lived after she’s chloroformed by Blake.

Erica Townsend (Georgina Ward) and Philip Guest (Donald Sutherland) are the other members of Blake’s gang.  Erica swaps clothes with the unconscious Nina, so that she and Blake can create the illusion that Nina returned to her hotel later in the day.  Erica seems to have a few qualms about this, leading Philip to drawl that “you’ve got to baby.  I look awful in high-heel shoes.”

Given Donald Sutherland’s later career, it’s hard not to be drawn to his performance – but even if he’d faded from view a few years later, I think his turn as Philip would still be regarded as one of the best things about the episode.  Sutherland gives Philip an edgy intensity that is totally mesmerising – he’s so obviously a loose cannon, teetering on the edge of sanity.  Philip spends most of the episode advocating that they kill Nina (Blake and Erica take the opposite view) and it’s possible to believe that he’s capable of carrying out his threats.  But when Nina later attacks him in an abortive escape attempt, it’s telling that Philip just crumbles and has to be led away by Erica.  So given how unstable Philip appears, it’s a little surprising that he’s the one left to guard Nina – but his non verbal actions (such as the way he gives her an extra dose of chloroform) certainly help to ramp the tension up.

Georgina Ward has a less showy role but still catches the eye.  Although at times she seems vulnerable, she’s also often shown to be in command (she – not Philip – makes the ransom demands, for example).  But in many ways she’s just as much a victim of Blake as Nina is.  Gideon explains that the only reason he sought her out was for her resemablance to Nina.  And the fact that Blake’s run out on them (taking Fellisa’s diamonds) proves his point.

Lans Traverse has a slightly thankless role, since Nina isn’t really allowed to be much more than a easily duped mark, but David Bauer and Lois Maxwell fair a little better.  Bauer was an American actor who moved to Britain and became a familiar television face.  Authentic sounding American actors were quite rare in Britain during the 1960’s so it’s no surprise that Bauer prospered.  Canadian born Lois Maxwell will forever be known as the original (and best) big-screen Miss Moneypenny, but like many other actors – including Bauer – she was no stranger to the numerous ITC series that were flourishing at this time.

The relationship between Elliott and Felissa is put under great strain following the kidnapping.  Elliott is happy to leave matters to Gideon but Felissa is haunted by the kidnapper’s threats that they’d kill her if the police were involved.  All ends well, but not before both characters have been put through the wringer a little.

Gideon’s his usual efficient self.  There’s not really too much memorable material for John Gregson in this one – so possibly his best scene comes early on, as he’s seen relaxing at home.  His older son, Matthew (Richard James), is reluctant to speak to his (girlfriend?) on the phone, because his parents are in the room.  “I can’t talk now, older generation you know?”  John Gregson’s expression is pricless, as is Daphne Henderson’s (she makes it plain that Kate knows just how much this statement will irriate her husband).  Lovely stuff!

David Keen gets to tangle with Erica later on and his method of restraint – putting an arm around her waist – is an unusal one.  And after everything’s sorted he seems to have an eye for young Nina too.

Had it not been for Donald Sutherland this episde may have fallen a little flat, but his twitchy, edgy performance certainly helps to keep the interest up.

Gideon’s Way – The Reluctant Witness

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Red Carter (Mike Pratt) and his brother Syd (David Gregory) run a successful stolen car ring.  Their success sticks in the craw of Tiny Bray (Frederick Piesley) though.  Tiny spent four years inside for a crime he didn’t commit, thanks to Red, and the thought of revenge has obsessed him ever since his release.

Tiny is one of Gideon’s top informers – but Syd caches up with him before he can spill the beans to the Commander.  The younger Carter brother dishes out a savage beating and Tiny later dies from his injuries.  There was an eye-witness – Rachel Gulley (Audrey Nicholson) – but she’s a quiet, shy girl who’s reluctant to speak out.  However, the local beat copper, PC John Moss (Trevor Bannister), has a plan …..

The Reluctant Witness is packed full of incident and interest.  Like a number of actors, Mike Pratt made two appearances in Gideon’s Way, playing different characters.   Red was the more substantial role and Pratt certainly holds the viewers attention.  Red’s the elder brother and it’s plain that the younger Syd idolises him.  But Red’s not only older, he’s also wiser (at least during the early part of the story) since it seems more than likely he’d have never lost his temper with Tiny, as Syd did.

In contrast, Syd is portrayed as violent and reckless.  An insight into his personality is given during a party thrown by the two brothers.  Syd is slightly rough with his female companion, but is unrepentant – with the clear implication given that his treatment of the opposite sex is often far from chivalrous.

The party scene also has one of my favourite Gideon/Keen moments, as the officers gatecrash the swinging hop to sow a little discord.  They tell the brothers a fairy story – all about a stolen car ring – although there’s no happy ending (they drop the bombshell that Tiny’s dead).  Gregson and Davion work really well here.

You might wonder why Tiny was Gideon’s informant or indeed why the Commander is involved in such a low-key murder.  It’s a fair question, but for once there’s a good reason – Tiny was the only man convicted by Gideon who he later discovered was innocent.  If Gideon’s never been responsible for convicting anyone else who wasn’t guilty, then that’s a remarkable (if slightly unbelievable) strike-rate.  So Gideon feels obligated to get involved (not that he usually needs an excuse, he just tends to pitch in!).  But with Rachel hesitant to speak up, how will they obtain a confession from Syd?

This is a fairly unusual episode of GW, since a generous amount of screentime is given over to a uniformed copper.  Trevor Bannister, forever Mr Lucas in Are You Being Served?, is the fresh-faced man on the beat.  He gives a lovely performance as the friendly beat bobby who’s been carrying a torch for Rachel for some time.  Their relationship hasn’t got past the “good morning” stage, although there’s no doubt that he’s smitten.  The way that he stops the traffic to allow her to cross the road is a good example of this.

The only criticism I have of Audrey Nicholson’s performance as Rachel Gulley is that several times the script tells us that she’s plain and mousy.  Eh?  She’s a lovely looking girl!  But it’s true she’s something of a downtrodden waif, thanks to her domineering mother (played to great comic effect by Patricia Burke).

Mrs Gulley is a man-eater, plain and simple.  She tells Rachel to pretend to be her younger sister, as she doesn’t want her latest date to know that she’s old enough to have a grown-up daughter.  Later, when the relationship between Rachel and John deepens, Mrs Gulley is invited to tea with Rachel, John and John’s mother.  The tone is set when she asks for something a little stronger than tea – both John and Mrs Moss look a little askance at this, but politeness dictates that they don’t comment directly.  Alas, things go downhill from there, but John isn’t bothered – he tells Rachel that he wants to marry her, not her mother.

John’s plan to catch Syd is a decent one.  Gideon, Keen and John lie in wait at Rachel’s house and when Syd calls round – threating her to keep quiet or else – they’re in a position to overhear everything. But Rachel will still need to testify and this is the point in the story where Red starts to become a little unhinged.  When he sent Syd round to threaten the girl, he was quite clear – no excessive violence.  But once Syd’s been arrested he changes his tune – now he wants the girl dead.  As he says himself, Syd’s all he’s got in the world, so he’ll do anything – including murder – to protect him.

However, Rachel escapes his clutches (quite why he didn’t send more men after her is something of a mystery).  This means that he has to make an even more desperate gamble – attempting to hijack the prison van.  He must clearly love his brother, although it might have been a good idea for at least one of his gang to tentatively ask if this was altogether wise.  No matter, it concludes the story in an exciting way and there’s a nice twist which totally knocks the wind out of Red’s sails.

Mike Pratt, Trevor Bannister and Audrey Nicholson are three reasons why this episode is a favourite of mine.  The supporting players are far from shabby though and there’s familiar faces to spot, such as Gretchen Franklin (playing Tiny’s wife).  The eagle-eyed may also spy an uncredited Peter Purves as one of Red’s gang.

It’s getting a little predictable to keep on saying how good this series is, but it’s true nonetheless and The Reluctant Witness maintains the high standard.

Gideon’s Way – The Great Plane Robbery

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Terence Bailey (George Baker) has organised what seems to be the perfect crime – a million pounds in gold bullion, hijacked from a Russian plane.  Bailey remains confident that he’s covered all the angles, but then cracks begin to show amongst his gang …..

The Great Plane Robbery is something of a pun title, which would have been obvious to most of the audience at the time (The Great Train Robbery had occurred the previous year, 1963).

What’s remarkable about the plane robbery is just how straightforward it is.  There seems to be no security at all, either on the plane or at the airport.  They were carrying a million pounds in gold, for goodness sake!  You’d have assumed there would have been the odd guard lounging around, but no.  So Bailey’s right-hand man, Frank Dobson (Edwin Richfield) and the others are pretty much able to scoop it out of the plane at their leisure.  And even when the people in the airport control tower spot there’s a robbery taking place, all they can do is stare through their binoculars and sound the alarm.  The police are obviously a long way away, because Dobson and the others are easily able to make their escape before anybody turns up.

Edwin Richfield graced many a series with his presence (UFO, Doctor Who, The Avengers, Z Cars, Dixon of Dock Green, Adam Adamant Lives!).  He’s perfect as Bailey’s trusted second-in-command, who becomes rather disenchanted when a newcomer, Harold (Jeremy Burnham), turns up.  Harold is somewhat fey and camp and this doesn’t seem to go down well with Dobson (after Harold rests his hand on Dobson’s arm, he angrily tells Harold that he doesn’t like people touching him).  But that doesn’t seem to be the only reason why Harold irritates him – Dobson has enjoyed his time as Bailey’s closest confidant, but now there’s a newcomer who knows more than he does.  Their simmering discontent will later have serious consequences for Dobson ….

Jeremy Burham’s something of a renaissance man, not only an actor (including The Saint, The Avengers, Randall and Hopkirk and The Persuaders!) but a writer as well (Bergerac, Inspector Morse, The Gentle Touch, Minder, The Professionals, When the Boat Comes In, to mention but a few).  He helps to liven up the middle part of the episode, which otherwise might have sagged a little.

For me, this is one of the less essential GW episodes, and it only really succeeds because of the quality of the cast (as well as a few entertaining sequences which we’ll come to in a minute).  George Baker is certainly one of the reasons why it works as well as it does.  Much later he’d become very well known for playing a detective, but in the early part of his career he did a nice line in criminals, as he does here.  Bailey is a confident, cultured man.  He treats everybody around him with a casual air of indifference – he’s top dog and he knows it.  Of course, it’s his air of superiority which makes his eventual comeuppance all the more satisfying.

Memorable moments include young Malcolm and Gideon clashing over the best way to deal with the malfunctioning television.  Gideon is convinced he knows best, but Malcolm does know best and manages to restore the picture.  As with most of Giles Watling’s scenes throughout the series, this has no impact on the plot – it’s simply a nice character moment that helps to humanise Gideon.  Police officers, especially senior ones, with stable home lives are a rarity on television and whilst there’s an undeniable sense that their family set-up is simply too idealised to be true, it works nonetheless.

A quite different sort of family can be seen when we visit one of the gang, Kautsky (George Murcell).  His wife (played by Freda Bamford) is a remarkable creation, with big hair and a fag dangling from her lip.  And their son, Sid (John Hall), is remarkable too.  Although Hall was only in his early twenties when this episode was made, he looks a good deal older – meaning that it’s hard to take him seriously as the rebellious teen he’s written as.  His long hair is a bit of an eye-opener too.  Long hair for men isn’t really something that we’ve seen too often on GW – as touched upon before, the series has more of a fifties sensibility than a sixties one.  However, it’s not really the hair that’s an issue, more of the fact that it just looks so false (it surely must have been a wig).  If you can watch Hall’s performance and not think of Peter Sellers in What’s New Pussycat then you have more self control than me.

Not the best that the series can offer then, but it still has its moments.

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.

Gideon’s Way – The Prowler

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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 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.

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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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 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 – 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.