Redcap – Nightwatch

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Mann returns an AWOL soldier to a regiment who are back in the UK following a stint of active service. When Mann’s prisoner is struck in his absence, he’s determined to find the culprit. This leads onto a strange tale of ghosts and the regiment’s final, disastrous mission in Borneo ….

Making his television debut as Brown (the AWOL soldier) was Hywel Bennett. It’s a very eye-catching turn, although it couldn’t have been that easy to play (Brown’s handful of scenes see him in a highly hysterical state, still heavily traumatised by their Borneo mission).

Brian Wilde was cast against type as Graham, a sergeant busted down to private due to his drinking and insubordinate nature. It seems odd that Graham is imprisoned in a cell inside the barracks room – this means not only can he see his former charges, but he’s also able to chivvy them along when they start to fall into slack habits.  And that’s certainly the case – the platoon is in complete disarray, lacking any clear direction or authority.  Corporal Scowler (nice performance by Tim Preece) is completely ineffectual on this score.

Mann wonders why the platoon is still intact – given the Borneo misadventure and the aftermath it would have been logical for them to have been split up. But the CO (Joseph O’Conor) has a different view – he can see there’s poison amongst the men, but has decided that keeping them together will bring matters to a head.  For once, Mann comes across a CO who isn’t totally obstructive, although he certainly knows his own mind.  Allan Cuthbertson was born to play the role of Major Stokely – he a!ways looked perfect in a uniform and Stokely’s character – dogmatic and not too imaginative – was the sort of part that played to Cuthbertson’s strengths.

The platoon are all deftly sketched in, especially Molt (Griffith Davies) and Metcalfe (Graham Rouse). Somebody seems to be spreading stories that the ghosts of their dead comrades are haunting the barracks (good of the spooks to have hopped back on the plane from Borneo with them) and bizarre as this may seem, more and more of the soldiers are beginning to believe it.

Given the lingering PTSD some must be suffering that’s understandable, although this doesn’t explain why several new recruits, only recently signed on, are also spooked (refusing to patrol the parts of the camp which appear to be favoured by the ghost).  Nightwatch has, unsurprisingly, a night-time setting, which allows for plenty of shadows and the possibility that something might be out there.  Bill Bain’s direction is pretty workmanlike, although there’s the odd interesting flourish along the way.

John Thaw continues to smoulder away to good effect.  After Brown is struck, you know that Mann will be implacable in his mission to find the culprit.  He – unlike Scowler – has no fear in facing down a barrack room of insubordinate soldiers.  Mann’s brief shouting match with Graham is another highlight.

Not the best episode of the run so far, but it does have an unsettling air, especially the final scene which sees Mann confronting the cackling, unrepentant trouble-maker.

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Redcap – The Orderly Officer

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It looks like an open and shut case. 2nd Lt. Harry Barr (Giles Block) confesses to Mann that in a drunken New Years Eve misadventure he knocked down a concrete bollard outside his barracks.  Although it’s a relatively trivial matter, it will still mean a court martial for Barr.  But things don’t quite go the way that Sergeant Mann planned ….

This is an interesting one. It’s a good ten minutes before the crime of the episode is revealed. Which means there’s plenty of time to get to know Barr – who’s young, inexperienced and totally out of his depth. The sergeants – notably Sgt. Greatorex (Barry Keegan) – delight in running rings around him. This is demonstrated by the contemptuous grin given by Greatorex during Barr’s inspection of the men.

But maybe Greatorex isn’t totally a bad sort, as he invites Barr to a New Years Eve drink in the Sergeant’s mess. A friendly gesture or is he simply seeking to embarrass the officer further? The real trouble begins when Greatorex suggests that he and Barr pop down the road for a quick drink with a nearby Highland regiment. It may be nearly the new year but they’re both on duty, so it would be something of a dereliction. But Barr, keen to prove that he’s one of the lads, agrees and he later pulls rank by insisting that he drives them back to barracks, despite being somewhat insensible.

So the blame is shared. Barr was responsible for the accident but had Greatorex not goaded him into making the trip in the first place then nothing would have happened.  But as the officer, Barr will be the one to shoulder most of the responsibility – unless the regiment closes ranks.

A little more meat is put onto the bones of Mann’s character in this episode. He’s still working late into New Year’s Eve and is very resistant to popping down the pub for a quick drink, despite the entreaties of the Staff Sergeant (the ever-solid Bernard Kay in an all too brief role). Eventually he does agree, which proves that he’s human – but the dour, workaholic John Mann is certainly a world away from Jack Regan.

We’ve previously seen how Mann has faced hostility from certain quarters during his investigations, but not the complete obstruction that he runs into here.  On the surface they’re pleasant enough – Captain The Hon. Ian Loder (Mark Burns) is courtesy itself – but everybody has their stories and they’re sticking to them.

Can Mann force someone to confess? Greatorex is unlikely to crack and neither is the mess Sergeant (Jack Smethurst). Smethurst sketches a nice performance with his limited screentime – it appears that the Sergeant spends most of his time sampling the stock or worrying about a visit from the weights and measures man!

Mann eventually manages to break through the wall of silence when Barr admits all.  All well and good, but he then makes a fatal mistake when he allows Barr to confess his crime to the Colonel (Ronald Leigh-Hunt).  The upshot is that Mann is appalled to later find a new suspect – Trooper Kelly (Harry Littlewood) – has been put into the frame whilst Barr is nowhere to be found.  Mann attempts to interrogate Kelly, but he gets nowhere – the Trooper is a mixture of Irish charm and sorrowful remorse.

It’s previously been mentioned that Mann is somewhat inexperienced and this episode was possibly designed to reinforce that fact.  For all his implacable questioning earlier on, he’s been undone thanks to one simple request which now means that there’s no way back – this time the ranks have firmly closed and he’s forced to admit defeat.

For an ex-copper like Mann, it chafes to see a guilty man go free but the Colonel holds a different view.  In time, Barr might become a more than decent officer, so why squander that potential over such a trivial matter? Neither of them are wholly wrong but neither are wholly right either and this is what makes The Orderly Officer such a fascinating watch – for once it’s not a matter of life or death, but that makes the drama no less compelling.

This was Giles Block’s first television appearance. He’s probably best known for playing Teel in the Doctor Who story The Dominators, although his list of credits isn’t particularly lengthy.  His television inexperience probably helped here, as Barr is supposed to be something of a greenhorn. As I’ve said, it’s a shame that Bernard Kay’s part wasn’t larger, but the rest of the cast is peopled with the usual roster of strong supporting players.

Although there’s a spot of location filming, Redcap‘s studio-bound nature is still in evidence. This is most notable during a scene which attempts to suggest a country road (a few sad twigs in the background do their best, but it’s painfully obvious that we’re still in the studio).  This apart, there’s little to quibble about in this episode since it’s another strong instalment.

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Redcap – Corporal McCann’s Private War

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Mann is in Cyprus – his mission is to track down an AWOL soldier called Corporal McCann (Ian McNaughton). Given that Cyprus is a political powder keg, the news that McCann has disappeared with three sterling machine guns and a plentiful supply of ammo only complicates matters ….

One of the interesting things about Redcap is the way that it reflected real world events. As depicted here, Cyprus in the mid sixties was a highly unstable place – following independence in 1960, bitter in-fighting had led the UN to establish a peace-keeping force. As you might expect, this means that Mann has to tread very carefully – although he’s not averse to indulging in a spot of fisticuffs with a local soldier who has the termitary to steal his identification papers!

Mann, called in by Colonel Morris (John Ringham), is concerned for McCann’s safety – a soldier with a previously spotless record. This makes the suggestion that he could be involved in black-market gun-running all the harder to swallow.  Off-screen for most of the episode (and when he does appear he doesn’t have a great deal of dialogue) McCann is something of a plot MacGuffin – meaning that it’s difficult to feel that invested in his fate.

Ringham quickly sketches in the key points of Morris’s character – a friendly, relaxed type who genuinely seems to care for the men under his charge.  He’s a fairly minor character though as two other very familiar faces – Jerome Willis and Warren Mitchell – take the lion’s share of the screen-time.

Willis is Lovelock, a political liaison officer who views Mann with extreme disfavour to begin with. He’s not in the least concerned with McCann’s fate, he only cares about the political fall-out McCann’s disappearance could generate (especially how it might be twisted and spun by their opponents).

Since Mann operates most of the time as a solitary figure, there’s something novel about the way that he and Lovelock eventually join forces. Both strong and single-minded characters, they eventually form a bond which drives the action in the second part of the episode.  Willis, as you’d probably expect, is top notch.  Warren Mitchell, as a world-weary local inspector, is equally as watchable. Rarely without a cigarette dangling from his lip, he flits in and out of the narrative – both helping and hindering.

Although there’s a brief spot of location filming, once again the bulk of the episode is studio bound.  The use of a car on the studio street (and plentiful sound effects) helps to sell the illusion of space though. Mid-way through the episode, John Thaw stumbles over his lines, although he plows on regardless and eventually gets back on track. This wasn’t unusual for this era of television (where retakes tended only to happen if there had been a catastrophic technical issue) but since Thaw was usually so secure, it does stand out.

A notable aspect of Corporal McCann’s Private War is the fact that Mann spends very little time questioning McCann’s fellow soldiers – indeed, he only quizzes the quartermaster (Windsor Davies). This is a lovely scene from both Davies and Thaw. The quartermaster is able to shed a little light on McCann’s character (he’s a keen photographer, or as the quartermaster puts it, he’s “nutty about women’s chests”).

One of these women – Ariane (Maria Andipa) – has her part to play in untangling the mystery. It’s pleasing to see that some key roles were filled by non-UK actors. Given the paucity of available players in the 1960’s this wasn’t always possible – but it always added a touch of authenticity to proceedings whenever it did happen.

Corporal McCann’s Private War starts – intentionally – in a rather disconcerting, jerky way. This feeling of being buffeted along by events, rather than controlling them, continues throughout and although Troy Kennedy Martin’s script gets a little bogged down, the performances of Thaw, Willis and Mitchell does help to keep the interest level up.

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Redcap – Misfire

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Private Brian Staples (Gary Bond) has confessed to an act of robbery with violence. Mann is convinced he didn’t commit the crime, but when the man who was attacked dies, the charge beomes murder ….

It’s clear from the opening few minutes, as a hesitant Staples calls the police, that there’s something off-kilter here. The presence of Iris Pearson (Diana Coupland) reinforces this.  It takes a little time before we learn that she and Staples are an item, but when this news is revealed it becomes the focus of Roger Marshall’s script.  She’s an older woman (although not that old – Coupland was in her mid thirties at the time) and everybody seems convinced that she’s nothing more than a gold-digger, preying on a young and inexperienced man.

Barrack-room gossip paints her as either a prostitute or simply somebody who’s more than generous with her favours.  And yet …. it emerges that there’s a genuine bond of love between the pair and this was the reason why Staples confessed to a crime he didn’t commit (in order that he wouldn’t have to transfer out with the rest of the regiment – thereby saving him from being away from Britain for several years).

Coupland pitches things just right, making Iris seem – at different times – to both be vulnerable and implacable. It’s one of a number of very decent performances in the episode – the next comes from Arthur Lovegrove as RSM Staples, the boy’s father.

Now retired, he still dotes on the regiment as a father would on his son (indeed, it’s made painfully obviously that he loves the regiment much more than he does his own flesh and blood). Right from the opening few seconds of his first scene we know exactly what sort of character he is. We see Staples holding court in the mess bar where he’s surrounded by a group of dutiful, but obviously bored, officers.  You can well imagine that Staples’ rambling anecdote is one that he’s told countless times before.

The revelation that his son is in trouble pains him, but mainly because it’s something that will bring disgrace on the regiment. Lovegrove especially shines in two key scenes – firstly when Staples attempts to buy Iris off and secondly when he has a short, but not very sweet, interview with Mann.  What’s notable about this second scene is the way that Raymond Menmuir frames it – every time we cut to Staples the camera is uncomfortably close to him, but Mann is framed a little further back. A simple move, but it does tell a story. The use of rain (the studio rain machine was working overtime in this episode) is another directorial touch which creates a little atmosphere.

John Collin, as the weary and irritable Inspector Paish, offers another strong performance. His cross-examination of Staples Jnr is a highlight as is the way he tangles with Mann. We learn a little more about Mann during these scenes (for example, he used to be a member of the police force).

Lt Colonel Hilden seemed very familiar, but it wasn’t until the credits rolled that I was able to make the connection. Arthur Pentelow, alias Mr Wilks from Emmerdale Farm.

Roger Marshall rarely disappointed and Misfire is a typically well-crafted effort.

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Redcap – Epitaph for a Sweat

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Sergeant Mann has travelled to Aden in order to question Sergeant Rolfe (Leonard Rossiter).  Rolfe, an unbending soldier of the old school, is admired for his fighting qualities but has few friends amongst the men. Accused of beating up a local, he denies the charge – but the matter becomes much more complex after Rolfe dies on manoeuvres.

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, but Redcap featured some excellent guest casts. In today’s episode we have Rossiter, Kenneth Farringdon, John Horsley, Ian McShane, John Noakes and Mike Pratt. That’s not too shabby a line-up.

Rossiter catches the eye early on. Rolfe and Mann, as you might expect, clash quite strongly.  It’s restated in this episode that Mann is young and inexperienced and this naturally irritates an old sweat like Rolfe.  Although Rolfe denies any wrongdoing, there seems little doubt that he did viciously beat up the local – purely because he felt the “wog”  (a term which is used several times) needed to be taught a lesson.

Sergeant Rolfe may, we’re told, sometimes overstep the mark but the British army needs soldiers like that. That’s certainly the opinion of Major Coulter (John Horsley) who attempts to guide Mann into accepting this point of view. Mann doesn’t acquiesce immediately, which is another source of friction.

The Aden setting (achieved with a spot of stock footage and liberal application of fake sweat) is an interesting one. By the mid sixties it was one of the few remaining outposts of the British Empire and the pros and cons of occupation are discussed here.  Each side is allowed their viewpoint – chiefly Coulter and Asst. Sup. Yacoub (Norman Florrence) – but Richard Harris’ script isn’t a polemical one. The viewer is left to make their own mind up, although the historical distance of fifty years or more has no doubt changed the perspective somewhat.

Whilst Mann is investigating Rolfe, there’s a secondary plot bubbling away. Two young sappers, Russell (Ian McShane) and Baker (Kenneth Farringdon), are clashing time and time again. Baker is cocky and aggressive whilst Russell is passive and disinclined to respond to Baker’s taunts and jibes.  Whilst – at first – this doesn’t seem to connect to the main plot, it’s still very intriguing. Why is Russell so self-contained?

Both have little love for Rolfe, so when the pair of them – along with Morse (Roger Heathcott) and Evans (John Noakes) – head out into the desert with him, there’s an obvious question to be answered – was Rolfe’s death an accident or murder?  Having earlier questioned Rolfe, Mann now has four fresh subjects to quiz – indeed, this episode is an excellent one for showcasing Mann’s methodical approach.

Morse seems like a bit of a non-entity (he’s easily the one allocated the least lines) so can probably be discounted. And since Evans has been painted throughout as the comic relief, that leaves us with Russell and Baker as the more likely suspects.

Unlike the opening episode, there’s a satisfying conclusion to this investigation – Mann is able to extract a confession which isn’t under duress this time (even if he does play a slight trick).  The final few scenes with both McShane and Farringdon crackle very nicely – three episodes in and no duds so far.  And if this one hadn’t been an episode of Redcap then it could have slotted quite comfortably into an anthology series like Armchair Theatre.

Apart from those already mentioned, Mike Pratt has a couple of key scenes as Sergeant Bailey – possibly Rolfe’s only friend.  As you’d expect from Pratt, it’s a self-contained performance with just the odd flash of panic (at the point when Mann’s questioning becomes too probing). Much more exuberant is John Noakes’ turn as Evans. Evans is Welsh. Very, very Welsh.

During this era of television, it’s never a surprise to see British actors browning up to play ethnic roles (it upsets some today, but due to the small pool of actors available there wasn’t any alternative).  However, it’s slightly more surprising to see a Yorkshireman cast in this role.  Noakes isn’t bad (and it’s nice to see one of his handful of acting performances) but goodness, he ladles the accent on rather thickly ….

Redcap – A Town Called Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Redcap – It’s What Comes After

Sergeant Mann’s investigation into a soldier who went AWOL is an open and shut case. But it indirectly leads onto a more puzzling affair – why has a previously upstanding officer, Captain Lynne (Keith Barron), suddenly started to act in a very erratic manner? Maybe it’s connected to his wife’s recent breakdown ….

Airing between 1964 and 1966, Redcap offered John Thaw his first starring role. Sergeant Mann, a member of the army investigative unit, has free reign to travel the globe, unearthing crime, corruption and disorderly conduct wherever British soldiers might be stationed. This gives Mann the air of a permanent outsider who’s always faced with an uphill battle to bring any perpetrators to justice. In retrospect, this sort of character fits Thaw like a glove – it’s easy to see echoes of Jack Regan in Mann (both, at times, are no respecter of authority).

Although Mann visited a fair few countries, the series never left the UK (and indeed rarely ventured outside of the studio). Some might view this as a weakness but if you love 1960’s studio-based VT drama, then Redcap will be just your cup of tea.

There was plenty of quality on the technical side – it was produced by John Bryce (who helmed The Avengers during 1963/64) and script-edited by Ian Kennedy-Martin (later to write Reganthe Armchair Cinema pilot which spawned The Sweeney). Plenty of familiar names pop up on the writing front such as William Emms on this opening episode.

The mystery as to why Lynne has gone to pieces is eventually revealed – his wife (played by Miranda Connell) was raped after leaving a mess party. With the crime having taken place inside the army compound, this makes it more than likely that a soldier was responsible. But even after this revelation there’s still an air of mystery – why is Lynne so reluctant to admit what happened?

Barron plays Lynne as an upper-crust type and manages to nicely suggest the conflict and turmoil that lies behind his apparent passivity.  He eventually does come clean, and to Lynne’s credit he wasn’t acting purely out of self-interest (although he does admit that public knowledge about his wife’s rape would damage both his career and reputation).

Emms’ script briefly attempts to tease out the puzzle concerning the guilty party by offering us several possibilities. But since we only focus on one – Private Bolt (Kenneth Colley) – this mystery soon dissipates.  There are still several different ways the story might play out though – Bolt is guilty and confesses, Bolt is guilty but doesn’t confess, Bolt is innocent.

In the end, everything is wrapped up slightly too neatly. Mann has very little evidence, but contrives a situation where Bolt and Lynne are left alone. Lynne, having already been told by Mann that Bolt is the most likely suspect, snaps and viciously beats Bolt up. And having been pulped by Lynne, Bolt then helpfully confesses his crime to Mann.

Hmm, given this confession was extracted under duress it’s possible that it might not stand up in court. Mind you, it’s the kind of stroke you could imagine Jack Regan pulling.  Indeed, Thaw does glower throughout with the same sort of barely supressed fury that he’d later display in The Sweeney, so maybe even this early on Kennedy-Martin was taking notes ….

As with each episode, It’s What Comes After is immaculately cast. Keith Barron is good value as Lynne, whilst Colley slips in enough off-kilter gestures to suggest that Bolt is indeed the man we’re looking for.  Derek Newark, as the long-suffering Mess Sergeant (who has to deal with the insubordinate Bolt on a daily basis) also catches the eye.

It may not impress as a great example of detective work, but It’s What Comes After is certainly a strong opening episode.

Inspector Morse – The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn

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The first few minutes of The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn give us something of a guest star overload.  Michael Gough, Barbara Flynn, Clive Swift, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Frederick Treves and Elspet Gray all appear – which bodes well for the remainder of the episode.

But the star of the opening scene is the eponymous Nicholas Quinn (Phil Nice).  Quinn is a relatively new member of the Overseas Examination Board, an Oxford syndicate dedicated to producing quality examinations for overseas students.  He, along with the other members of the Board, are attending a sedate party organised by their boss, Dr Bartlett (Clive Swift).  There’s a disorientating feel about this scene – Quinn is deaf and the audience is allowed to hear only what he can hear.  This is muffled and indistinct (and at times completely inaudible).  What Quinn can (or can’t) hear will become important later on, but for now he’s convinced that Bartlett is selling the Examination Board’s secrets – and tells Philip Ogleby (Michael Gough) so.

Shortly afterwards Quinn is found dead – it looks like suicide, but Morse is convinced it’s murder.  There’s no shortage of suspects as virtually every member of the Board is seen to behave in a suspicious manner.  Donald Martin (Roger Lloyd-Pack) and Monica Height (Barbara Flynn) are conducting an affair and decided to lie about their movements on the day that Quinn was last seen.  Both Ogleby and Roope (Anthony Smee) are interested in the contents of Dr Barlett’s office (whilst Bartlett’s not there, naturally) and we’ve already heard that Dr Bartlett has been accused of corruption.

Barbara Flynn gives a memorable performance as Monica Height.  She’s a character who’s put through the emotional wringer and seems to make something of a connection with Morse.  Michael Gough has a smaller role, but does share a key scene with Thaw.  Morse is delighted to learn that Ogleby sets crossword puzzles and admits that he’s been wrestling with his puzzles for years.  Roger Lloyd-Pack is somewhat off-key as Martin – this might have been as scripted, or simply Lloyd-Pack’s acting choice (he did make something of a habit of playing people who were somewhat disconnected from reality).

The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn offers more opportunity to see Morse’s unique brand of detective work in action.  He admits that he makes intuitive leaps which sometimes prove to be incorrect, or as Morse memorably puts it.  “The trouble with my method Lewis is that its inspirational and as a result I sometimes, sometimes, get things arse about face.”  It’s only a chance remark that puts him on the right track (and by then he’s already arrested the wrong man).  The “fake” ending had long been a popular staple of detective fiction and it’s used effectively here.  Just when you think the story’s over, a last minute revelation forces us to reassess everything we’ve learnt to date.

There’s a few nice moments of humour.  Morse and the murderer have something of a battle towards the end of the episode.  Lewis discovers the pair of them locked in combat and coolly enquires if Morse needs any help!  Dr Bartlett’s interest in visiting the cinema to see Last Tango in Paris becomes something of a plot-point (with the tone of the conversations suggesting that the only reason anybody would see a film like that would be for the sex scenes).  Morse and Lewis are offered free tickets, but Morse declines – declaring that Lewis is too young.  Later Morse changes his mind and is furious to find that the film has now changed – it’s 101 Dalmatians.  Lewis is delighted and sets off home to fetch the wife and kids, leaving Morse to walk off to the pub alone.

A typically convoluted Dexter plot, The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn does suffer from having too many suspects – and the fact they all have similar possible motives doesn’t help.  But the exemplary guest cast is more than adequate compensation for the sometimes confusing plotting.

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Inspector Morse – The Dead of Jericho

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When Inspector Morse debuted in 1987 it was seen as something of a risky venture.  The most common format for drama was the hour long slot, but every episode of Morse ran for two hours (or approximately 105 minutes once the adverts were removed).  It was generally believed that holding an audience’s attention over two hours would be a difficult task – especially with a series like Morse, which eschewed action to concentrate on intricate mysteries with, at times, an unashamed elitist air.  But the series’ many strengths – the Thaw/Whately partnership, the Oxford settings, first-rate guest casts, etc – all helped to make Morse an instant success and many other series would copy the two hour format.  Some, like the revived Van Der Valk, didn’t endure but others (A Touch of Frost, Midsummer Murders) clearly benefited from Morse’s lead.

Inspector Morse made his debut in the novel Last Bus to Woodstock, written by Colin Dexter, which was published in 1975.  Dexter would pen another twelve Morse novels between 1976 and 1999.  When the television series went into production they had seven novels to chose from and elected to launch with Dexter’s fifth, The Dead of Jericho, published in 1981.

It’s easy to understand one of the reasons why Jericho was chosen  – the personal angle helps to flesh out Morse’s character straightaway.  Anne Staveley (Gemma Jones) and Morse belong to the same choir and a friendship between them blossoms.  It becomes clear very quickly that Morse is hopeful this will lead a deeper relationship, but Anne (whilst she doesn’t explain why) gently tells him that it can’t happen.  “It’s complicated” she says.  Shortly after, Anne is found dead at her house in Jericho, a suburb of Oxford.  It appears to be suicide, but Morse isn’t convinced.

John Thaw had been a television regular since the mid sixties.  His first starring role, Redcap (1964 – 1966) had seen him play a military policeman, Sergeant John Mann, whilst The Sweeney (1975 – 1978) had been his most high profile role prior to Morse.  Detective Inspector Jack Regan was a rough, tough Flying Squad officer and it had taken Thaw a while to dissociate himself from the part.  So the thought of playing another copper might have palled, although it quickly became clear that Morse was no Regan.

This is amusingly demonstrated in the opening scene as we see Morse take part in a raid on a car chopshop.  There’s fisticuffs and the sort of action that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in The Sweeney (although it’s very atypical in Morse).  But director Alastair Reid chooses to intercut this with choir practice scenes – and the bizarre juxtaposition (together with the sweet choral soundtrack) is an odd, but effective, choice.

Thaw was only forty-four when The Dead of Jericho was shot, but he looked at least a decade older.  Thaw’s Morse is instantly a more vulnerable character than the literary Morse – his relationship with Anne is a good example of this, as he pursues her with an almost pathetic eagerness.  And when he makes Lewis’ acquiescence later in the story he’s keen at every opportunity to invite him for a beer.  Is this because he wants to discuss the case or is Morse simply a very lonely man?

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Reid’s directorial style very much favours close ups – it’s an effective way of establishing a sense of claustrophobia and tension – although he does occasionally pull the camera back.  The most striking example of this comes after Morse and Anne leave the pub, early in the story.  As Morse walks Anne home, Reid takes every opportunity to showcase Oxford’s impressive architecture (in a way that will become a signature hallmark of the series).

Gemma Jones is appealingly vulnerable as Anne, whilst Spencer Leigh has just the right amount of obnoxiousness as Ned Murdoch, a student who’s latched onto Anne as something of a surrogate mother.  Patrick Troughton, in one of his last roles, is delightfully seedy as Anne’s next door neighbour – an odd job man who gets his kicks as a peeping-tom whilst James Laurenson is perfect casting as Tony Richards.  Richards was Anne’s former employer and all the evidence points to the fact that he and Anne had enjoyed a lengthy affair – something confirmed by Richards’ disgruntled wife Adele (Annie Lambert).  Laurenson is one of those actors whose face is instantly recognisable, even if his name is less so, and it’s nice to know that he’s still going strong today.

If the television Morse differed somewhat from his literary counterpart then the same certainly goes for Lewis.  Dexter’s Lewis was a contemporary of Morse and tended to always be several steps behind.  By casting a younger actor, Kevin Whately, the whole dynamic changes (for the better it must be said).  Indeed, The Dead of Jericho doesn’t really start to really work until Morse and Lewis are teamed up.  To begin with Lewis is partnered with the acerbic Chief Inspector Bell (Norman Jones).  Bell, in charge of the case, distrusts Morse, because he’s clever, but Lewis has a more open mind.  It does appear that Morse and Lewis have never met face to face before – which makes more sense in the book as it’s explained that Bell works at another station.

That Morse sees himself as a free-wheeling maverick is made obvious when he fails to tell Bell that he knew Anne, or that he visited her house on the afternoon she died.  His disregard for the law can also be seen when he decides to clandestinely visit her house in the dead of night to search for clues.  Lewis, lying in wait, nabs the villainous-looking character in a back leather jacket climbing over the wall, only to be shocked when it turns out to be Morse!  It’s a nice comic moment, although it only reinforces that Morse shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the case.  But when Bell is promoted, Chief Superintendent Strange (the always wonderful James Grout) does indeed give Morse the case (and gives him Lewis as well).

Anthony Minghella’s adaptation changes most of the names as well as removing a few characters (or changing them somewhat).  Whether this helps to make the screenplay better of worse than the novel is open to debate, but it’s undeniable that around the seventy minute mark it’s impossible not to find your attention drifting.  This would always be a problem with the two hour format (more so once the series had exhausted Dexter’s novels) but it’s worth sticking with it until the end.

So whilst it’s not the most involving of whodunnits, Thaw and Whately hit the ground running and this ensured that Inspector Morse had a solid future.

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The Rivals of Shelock Holmes – The Sensible Action of Lieutenant Holst

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John Thaw as Lieutenant Holst in The Sensible Action of Lieutenant Holst by Palle Rosenkrantz
Adapted by Michael Meyer. Directed by Jonathan Alwyn

Copenhagen, 1905.  A Russian countess, Maria Wolkinski (Catherine Schell), claims that her brother-in-law has travelled to Copenhagen to kill her.  Dimitri Wolkinski (Philip Madoc) is a hunted man in Russia, due to his revolutionary views (which were shared by his late brother, Maria’s husband).

Maria is placed in the care of Lt Holst (John Thaw) and after he leaves her with his wife Ulla (Virgninia Stride) he interviews Dimitri.  But although Maria seemed convincing, so does Dimitri (who tells Holst that his sister-in-law is hysterical).  Who is telling the truth and who is lying?  And will the mild-mannered Holst be able to negotiate the tricky tangle of political intrigue without losing his job?

Baron Palle Adam Vilhelm Rosenkrantz was a Danish writer who wrote several crime stories.  The majority of his works don’t appear to have been translated into English and there doesn’t appear to be an online version of this story.

John Thaw would spend a large part of his career playing policeman, although his two most famous roles (Jack Regan and Morse) were still in the future when this was made.  At first glance, Holst seems to be a world away from the rough-and-tumble Regan – he has a settled home-life and gives every impression of being someone who doesn’t plan to rock the boat.  He reminds his wife that those who do tend to find their careers cut short (something he claims he has no desire to do).

But as the case wears on he finds himself coming under great pressure from various quarters.  After listening to Maria’s story, his wife is convinced that she’s telling the truth and angrily wonders why Holst doesn’t either arrest or kill Dimitri.  Holst replies that Dimitri hasn’t committed any crime and therefore there’s nothing he can do.

When Dimitri is later in Holst’s custody (arrested on a technicality) the Russian embassy make it plain they want him back (Dimitri has told them that if he returns to Russia he’ll be executed).  Holst refuses to let a representative from the embassy visit Dimitri in his cell since he’s made it clear that he doesn’t want any visitors and Holst respects his wishes.

This brings him into direct conflict with his superior who tells him that “in this job one has to be a diplomat, not a saint.”  Dimitri’s eventual fate doesn’t come as a surprise and nor does Holst’s reaction – although it’s an excellent scene for John Thaw.  One of the joys of The Sensible Action of Lieutenant Holst is watching Thaw’s performance over the course of the episode – from the conformist dutiful officer he is at the start, to the wiser and cynical individual he becomes by the end.

Philip Madoc and Catherine Schell both help to enhance this production.  Madoc invests Dimitri with the sort of brooding presence he always did so well and Schell is also in her element – Maria is an icy, remote figure who may, or may not, be in fear of her life, a role Schell plays to perfection.

In the end, the question of whether Dimitri did plan to kill Maria is never resolved for certain.  If it was true there would appear to have been just case – Dimitri claimed she was a Tsarist agent responsible for many deaths (including, presumably her own husband).  Holst challenges her about this at the end and whilst she doesn’t confirm it, her silence implies that it’s true.

Whilst Ulla’s sympathies remain with the countess, Holst isn’t so sure.  It’s a suitably intriguing point to close on as Thaw is once again able to give us an insight into the conflicted psyche of Holst.  Dimitri might have been an anarchist but Holst admits that if he had to choose, he’s not sure which side he’d be on.

With strong performances from Thaw, Madoc and Schell, this is one of the most dramatically satisfying episodes from series two.  It’s low on crime and mystery as it’s much more of a character piece.  And whilst The Rivals was never a series – thanks to being mostly studio-bound – that had a great deal of directorial flair, there was one moment that did make me smile.  After the credits we see a picture of Copenhagen, complete with a caption.  A few seconds later the camera pans out to reveal that this was merely a postcard in the hotel lobby.  Considering that similar pictures have been used, with no such irony, in previous episodes this is a sly wink to the series’ low-budget!