Juliet Bravo – Shot Gun

Juliet Bravo carried on in a similar tradition to previous BBC police series such as Dixon of Dock Green, Z Cars and Softly Softly. What links them all is their low-key feel (murders and armed robberies were the exception rather than the rule).

It’s an interesting fact that series creator Ian Kennedy-Martin had also created The Sweeney (penning the original Armchair Cinema pilot, Regan). The Sweeney has long been regarded by many critics as a breath of fresh air – destroying the few remaining shreds of credibility of tired old warhorses such as Dixon and Z Cars.

The truth is a little different though. The surviving colour episodes of Dixon (most of which are now available on DVD) reveal a much more interesting programme than the “tired old dinosaur” of legend. And whilst The Sweeney blazed brightly for a while (with The Professionals and Dempsey and Makepeace following in its wake) there’s no reason why every subsequent police show had to follow this format.

Possibly due to its countryside setting, JB has come to be seen by some as a cosy Saturday night programme, a forerunner to Heartbeat. This is far from the mark though – Hartley may be an isolated town, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Social and economic deprevation (the series debuted in 1980) is the background to many of the stories. Quiet desperation might be said to be one of the series’ recurring themes.

The major selling point of JB, of course, was the fact that a female inspector, Jean Darblay (Stephanie Turner), has been placed in charge of a station full of men. Today this wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, but the novelty of a female Inspector (or indeed a female leading a police series) would still have been strong back in 1980.

The forces of conservatism are represented by the two middle-aged sergeants, Joe Beck (David Ellison) and George Parrish (Noel Collins) with Joe being the most opposed to Jean’s appointment (his calculated insolence runs throughout this opening episode). Eventually she tells him outright not to call her “boss”. “Ma’am” will do instead.

The opening few seconds of the episode – a car gingerly traverses up a steep, deeply rutted road whilst an old woman with a trolly trudges down (with a factory chimney billowing out smoke in the distance) is a wonderful piece of visual shorthand. We’re instantly aware of exactly what sort of town Hartley is (a run-down environment which has seen better days).

The car driver – Rodney Maskell (Tony Melody) – is just as quickly established as a deeply unstable man. With camera angles shooting from low on the ground and from his POV, it helps to create a sense of queasy uneasiness. He’s arrived, at gunpoint, to take his teenage daughter, Maureen (Joanne Whalley) away with him.

After this drama, we switch over to the more humdrum world of Hartley nick. Jean’s already been resident for a short while, but it’s still clearly not something that Joe and George have come to terms with. Joe’s gleefully sorrowful comment that a parade at 9:30 will be difficult is just one round in their battle of wills.

Jean’s encounter with local informer Ted Watson (John Moore) is another. Joe and George have clearly indulged this elderly chap for years, but Jean is far from impressed when she learns that he expects to receive five pounds for his statement (he claims to have witnessed a rape on the moor). This subplot is notable for establishing the bleak tone of the series – Jean attempts to question the mother of the alleged rape victim, but doesn’t get very far. The father isn’t a great deal of help either (telling Jean that if her daughter becomes pregnant they’ll “summon the bastard”. If she’s not, then they won’t).

Jackie Shin (as Mr Porter) enjoys a vivid cameo here, as Porter explains to Jean that dragging his young daughter through the indignity of a court case is something he’s keen to avoid. His parting shot (“if you weren’t a bloody woman, I’d belt you one”) is nicely delivered too.

Mrs Maskell (Margaret Stallard) tells Jean that her husband has been on a downward turn ever since he lost his job (his old place of work – a now derilict mill – could be taken as a visual metaphor for the economic decline of the North). Of course, this is where he and Maureen are holed up (Jean decides to pop into the mill all by herself and is marched out at gunpoint by Maskell for her pains).

It’s hard to see this as anything other than a massive miscalculation on her part (although to be fair, Jean wasn’t aware that Maskell had a shotgun).

Whalley might have been eighteen at the time, but she’s easily able to play a diminutive fourteen year old. She doesn’t have many lines, but no doubt due to her later career she always catches the eye.

Tony Melody is compelling as a man on a verge of a nervous breakdown. His desire to shoot his wife (or indeed the police) is contrasted by his obvious love for his daughter. That she’s the only person he won’t shoot is later used by her as she timidly tells him that she’s prepared to walk out of the door. Melody and Whalley play these later scenes very well.

This looks like it was David Reynold’s only JB episode as director, a pity as there’s some lovely filmic moments peppered throughout (Shot Gun is a major location shoot, other episodes would be more studio based). Later moving to ITV, Reynolds would become a producer, working on many of the network’s top dramas and comedies.

Shot Gun establishes the series with a bang, informing us right from the start that we shouldn’t always expect a happy ending.



Juliet Bravo – Fraudulently Uttered

jb 03.jpg

Doris Latham (Patricia Hayes) works part time as a tea lady at Doe Electrics. Elderly, Irish and genial, she would appear to be the most unlikely criminal you could ever hope to meet. But over the last four years she’s embezzled the company out of more than thirty thousand pounds ….

Although Patricia Hayes might be best known as a comedic actress (appearing alongside the likes of Tony Hancock, Arthur Askey and Benny Hill, amongst many others) she proved to be no slouch when she moved over to drama – winning a BAFTA for the 1971 Play For Today, Edna the Inebriate Woman, for example.

She continued acting well into the 1990’s, racking up credits on popular series such as Heartbeat and Lovejoy whilst her film career included such diverse roles as Daisy in the classic Ealing wartime propaganda film Went The Day Well? (1942) and Mrs Coady in A Fish Called Wanda (1988).

Fraudulently Uttered is, of course, enhanced no end by her performance (although the Irish accent took a few moments to get used to). As Doris is a female prisoner, Jean finds herself (as the only female officer at Hartley) cast in the role of her jailor (and also interrogator). A curious mixture of innocence and steel, Doris proves to be a tough nut to crack.

The sight of a little old lady locked in a cell at Hartley nick is a powerful one, but Doris’ belief in the righteousness of her actions – she admits stealing the money, but never kept any for herself – gives her a curiously detached air. Even when she asks Jean what her sentence will be, it doesn’t seem to concern her too much. As she says, with only a pension and a cat to go home to, what does it really matter?

The innocent Doris has been manipulated by the far from innocent Jimmy Harker (Ray Smith). Harker, a second hand car salesman, caught Doris’ sympathy after he fed her several sob stories. So as a result, she was quite prepared to steal huge sums of money for him …..

With my accountancy hat on, I have to say that I’m amazed the fraud was undetected for so long. Despite only being the tea lady, Doris was entrusted with taking the cheques at Doe for signing each week. This is just about credible, but it’s the next part which is difficult to swallow. Somehow Doris had stolen a company cheque book and from time to time would slip in one from this book. Fine so far, but when these dodgy cheques were cashed they’d show up on the bank statement with all the others – so surely then somebody would have realised that something was wrong (they wouldn’t have been able to tie them back to an invoice, the cheque numbers wouldn’t have matched the others, etc). Reconciling your bank statement back to your ledger is pretty basic stuff.

Taking my accountancy hat off, there’s still plenty to enjoy in this episode. Ray Smith is wonderful as Jimmy Harker. Harker purrs with silky villainy, taunting DCI Jim Logan (Tony Caunter) that he has nothing on him. But things start to unravel dramatically after Harker tells his associate, Edward Bass (Dicken Ashworth), to take Arthur Hill (Arthur Kelly) out to the quarry and persuade him (with a hammer) that he should keep quiet.

Hill might have been an unwitting part of the fraud, but his testimony could prove fatal for Harker. That Bass and Harker are an inept pair of villains is made clear after a frantic Bass phones Harker to tell him that although he only tapped Hill a few times (!), he thinks that he’s killed him. This is the signal for Harker to make a break for it ….

All Harker’s scenes so far have had a faint comic edge and his attempted getaway carries this theme on. The sight of Harker speeding away on a moped whilst two officers crawl behind in a commandeered car driven by a vicar (played by Hugh Latimer) makes this plain.

This part of the story also gets us back on film after the largely studio-bound nature of the rest of the episode. I like the moment when we see Harker jogging for freedom down the high street. Given the number of passers-by who stop and stare at him, it’s plain that the street wasn’t closed for filming. Therefore these ordinary members of public unexpectedly found themselves television stars for a few seconds.

Another strong script from Ian Kennedy-Martin, Fraudulently Uttered has a lighter tone than Shot Gun and is a highlight from the early run of the series, thanks to Patricia Hayes and Ray Smith.

jb 07.jpg

Juliet Bravo – The Draughtsman

dm 02.jpg

DS Cole (Del Henney) arrives from London. An informant of his, Arthur Roberts, was discovered murdered on the moors and Cole has come to identify the body. His role should then be at an end, but the dogged Cole is determined to work out what happened and Jean is keen to assist ….

The first of three different Juliet Bravo roles for Del Henney, Cole is initially presented as a dour, humourless man. He’s less than impressed that the body’s been moved to the mortuary (he would have preferred to have viewed it in situ), seems incredulous that the scenes of crime officers haven’t found anything and is disgusted that so many people have trampled over the site.

The fact he’s been given PC Roland Bentley (Mark Drewry) as a driver seems to be yet another irritation for him. The garrulous Roland and the taciturn Cole seem like a match made in hell. But when Cole wryly grins after overhearing Roland on the radio, telling the station that Cole is a “right one”, it suggests that he might not be quite as dour as he initially appeared.

Roland is the first of a series of PCs who appear throughout the six series. Some are more gormless than others it has to be said, with Roland being somewhat high on the gormless scale. He’s long-suffering (tutting when Cole drags him on a trek across the moors), petulant (when Jean and Cole leave him alone on observation) and ever so slightly sickly (but as he tells Jean, he doesn’t often get car sick now and rarely when he’s driving ….)

Cole is received politely, if condescendingly, by Detective Superintendent Brunskill (John Rowe). Jean later confides to the Sergeant that Brunskill was hardly going to welcome him with open arms – a murder in this area is something of a rarity, so the thought of a London copper stealing their glory wouldn’t be appreciated. Cole solving the case doesn’t concern Jean, but she is bothered about the way that Brunskill’s men have commandeered her nick.

Henney’s greatest strength in this episode is his stillness. As befits Cole’s solitary nature, he’s much more of an observer than a talker (although he can be articulate when he wishes). The best example of Cole’s ability not to react can be seen when he finds himself on the end of a boozy diatribe from Joe Beck. Joe is celebrating twenty two years on the force (confusingly, he refers to this as his “silver handcuffs” which surely would be twenty five) and everybody – including Cole – has convened to the local pub for drinks.

But Joe, a man who’s had dealings with Flying Squad officers like Cole before, is keen to vent his spleen about those flash London coppers. Henney’s the picture of control during this scene – allowing a range of expressions (from amusement to irritation) – to play across Cole’s face. That Cole doesn’t confront Joe in public but does so instead in private (in the toilet shortly afterwards) is an interesting choice. Sparing Joe a public humiliation?

The rift between Jean and Joe now seems to have been healed (although they don’t exchange more than a few words during this episode). But after being rather stroppy in Shot Gun and now drunkenly boorish here, it’s fair to say that Joe hasn’t made a good early impression.

The relationship between Cole and Roberts is teased out as the episode continues. Cole respected his skill as a blag draughtsman and regrets his death. But the main reason why he carries this regret is that he was hoping to pin a really big crime on him one day. For Cole, everything – including relationships – comes back to the job eventually.

With Roberts represented on screen only by an unseen body under a mortuary covering, the script has to work to build up a picture of him. And his criminal associates are also – until the last few minutes – equally shadowy characters (spoken about, but only briefly seen). When they do appear, it’s the cue for a mild action scene as villains and police have a bit of a bundle. The Sweeney it isn’t (director Paul Ciappessoni wasn’t really an action director like, say, Douglas Camfield).

The dichotomy of Cole – he delights in roughing up the villains but also digs into his own pocket to buy a headstone for Roberts’ grave – means that by the end we still don’t really know what makes this enigmatic man tick. Henney would return but Cole wouldn’t, which is a bit of a shame as it would have been interesting to return to the character at a later date.

dm 03.jpg

Juliet Bravo – Coins

jb 01.jpg

Major Adams (George A. Cooper), convinced that the Russians will attack sooner rather than later, has prepared for this eventuality by stockpiling an impressive array of food and other provisions. This proves to be an irresistible temptation for two young teenagers – Carol (Diana Walker) and Kenny (Mark Price) ….

The first of two episodes written by Ray Jenkins (a writer with an impressive track record across many popular series) Coins is a pretty low-key story which focusses more on the characters involved than it does the crime. The pilfering is pretty petty – some tins of food, a primus stove, etc – and is mainly of interest since it suggests that the perpetrator is somebody living rough.

Cooper’s role in the story is quite small (once Carol and Kenny are identified, Adams fades away) but as might be expected he’s terribly good value with what he is given to do. Adams (rather like Cooper’s most famous creation, Grange Hill’s Mr Griffiths) is somewhat pompous and self-important, but scratch a little below the surface and there’s hidden depths.

Adams’ war service and the things he saw might very well explain why he continues to run his life along such strict lines. His bachelor status and his self-professed pride in doing everything for himself is both admirable and slightly tragic.

There’s something of a jump (almost as if there was a missing scene) after Adams suggests that the young female thief might have been a papergirl who used to work the area. The long-suffering Roland is sent off to check this – but in the next scene we’re at the local care home, where Jean has arrived to speak to Carol. A spot of bridging dialogue, explaining that the ex paper girl was Carol, would have made this part of the story flow a little better.

Diana Walker’s acting career only encompassed this episode of Juliet Bravo and a limited run in Brookside a few years later. Her lack of acting experience helps to give Carol a natural, unforced air – with her mother in hospital (and unlikely to ever come out) she faces a bleak and uncertain future, with Kenny being the one bright light in her life.

Kenny’s disappearance drives the later part of the story, but it’s never suggested that he’s in any danger (or indeed is dangerous himself). His eventual discovery is more the solution to a puzzle, whilst his continuing absence allows the spotlight to be shone on his estranged parents – Bob (David Boyce) and Pat (Deidre Costello).

Joe Beck doesn’t take to Bob at all. Granted custody of his son, Bob seems to be a pretty decent sort of chap – true, he doesn’t often get to see his son (but that’s mainly because he’s working night shifts and sleeping during the day). As he tells Joe, he has to earn money to put food on the table. There’s something in Joe’s expression which suggests this is something of a feeble excuse and the way Boyce plays the scene does suggest that Bob is an inherently weak man.

But he must have seemed a better bet than Pat, since the court decided not to grant her custody. If Bob’s pallid and faded then Pat’s bold and brassy. But her confident public image proves to be decidedly brittle ….

Roland continues to provide a dollop of comic relief. Once again he demonstrates that he’s lacking in a sixth sense (referring to Jean as Wonder Woman, whilst unaware that she’s standing right behind him). But she keeps on giving him chances and decides to take him along to Pat’s house in order to discover whether Kenny is hiding out there. He’s told to dress in plain clothes – well, what he arrives in certainly isn’t a police uniform, but it couldn’t really be classed as plain clothes either.

It’s a slight frustration that this episode introduces us to the very capable WPC Gilbert (Helen Duvall) as sadly this would be her one and only appearance. Possibly it was felt that one female regular was sufficient, but these early episodes would have been stronger if there had been at least one female amongst the rank and file officers.

Fairly forgettable crime-wise then, but Coins is a decent character study.

jb 03.jpg

Juliet Bravo – Trouble at T’Mill

jb 01.jpg

Issy Smethurst (John Barrett) is an elderly, set in his ways, lollipop man. Many passing motorists catch his ire, but none more so than Ted Galway (Alan Lake). Galway, a flashy self made man, represents everything that Issy despises. And when Galway buys the factory where Issy works part time (tending the engines) it only serves to deepen their feud ….

The character conflict between Galway and Issy is at the heart of the episode. Issy stands for tradition and continuity – although the engines he so lovingly tends (when he’s not harassing passing motorists) are contained within an eerily quiet factory. Once it was a thriving hub of activity, but now it stands idle. The current owner explains that it’s simply not cost effective to keep it running. When a smaller plant space, with newer equipment, can turn out more textiles at a cheaper cost and with far less manpower, the economic argument for its closure is strong.

The facts don’t concern Issy though. For him, it represents a lifetime of toil (he recalls how he first arrived at the factory, as a seventeen year old). To see those engines broken up – which seems likely after Galway (via proxy) buys the place – is heart-breaking for him.

Ted Galway is Issy’s complete opposite. Having disappeared to London for a few years, he returned as a self made man of considerable means. Now he owns the flashiest house in the neighbourhood (complete with a swimming pool and a snooker room), runs with the local hunt and numbers several high-ranking police officers – such as DCI Logan – amongst his friends.

Logan gently suggests to Jean that Issy needs to be warned against bothering Galway in the future. That Logan’s never even considered the possibility that Galway might be crooked seems barely credible (Logan seems to have swallowed Galway’s story that he made his fortune in a London casino hook line and sinker). Issy might be motivated (in part) by spite, but he’s plainly right when he claims that Galway’s crooked.

Although it might be expected that Issy would be the audience identification figure, there’s also something about Galway which incites a certain sympathy. This is no doubt down to Alan Lake, who manages to make Galway a curiously vulnerable figure.

There’s something ever so slightly pathetic about Galway’s delight in the trappings of his success. From his Rolls Royce (complete with an eight track cartridge system!) to the fact that he now hob nobs with all the local worthies, he leads a comfortable and law-abiding existence. So the arrival of Walter Hancock (Antony Carrick) who’s come up from the smoke is an unwelcome one – since Hancock forces him back into a life of crime.

Galway would like nothing more than to be left alone, but he owes some powerful people some favours, so has no alternative but to get involved in a furs robbery. Which happens to be observed by Issy – who by this point is keeping Galway under constant surveillance!

There are some fascinating incidental details in this story – one which stood out for me is Jean’s assertion that Hancock may very well be a criminal since he has tattooed arms. Today, tattoos are commonplace, but rewind nearly forty years and it’s plain that they were far less socially acceptable. The way we observe how Galway has moved upwards (he likes to indulge in dinner parties with jugged hare, after dinner mints and cigars) is another lovely touch.

Trouble At T’Mill possibly doesn’t show Hartley’s police force at their finest, since it’s Issy who does all the work for them. This is something that annoys Joe immensely – if Issy was a nuisance before, imagine what he’s going to be like now he’s been proved right ….

John Barrett’s a little shaky on his lines from time to time, but considering that he’s got the largest role in the episode that’s possibly not too surprising. Issy’s gifted several nice monologues and shares some decent two-handed scenes with Jean. Knowing about Alan Lake’s untimely death, it can’t help but make his later television appearances (such as this one) seem very bittersweet. Ted Galway is a fine creation – with Lake deftly shading in the nuances of his fluctuating character very well.

Lake would go on to appear in another two Juliet Bravo episodes playing different characters as would Christine Hargreaves who in this one plays Galway’s wife, Vera. You might have expected that Galway would have found himself a young, trophy wife, but not so – Vera is middle-aged and running a little to seed (and whilst Galway has assimilated himself amongst the upper echelons, Vera has remained resolutely working-class). With a cigarette never far from her lips, she seems somewhat out of place in their palatial home. Hargreaves who, like Lake, would pass away in the mid eighties, is probably best known for being one of the original cast members of Coronation Street.

Trouble At T’Mill is low on crime, but high on character conflict and is yet another strong episode from the early part of the first series.

jb 04.jpg

Juliet Bravo – The Runner

jb 01

Johnny Duffield (Julian Briercliffe) is a nine year old tearaway who’s been in and out of trouble ever since he was six. Currently in care, he delights in absconding and sleeping rough. He comes to Jean’s attention after stealing an invalid car – she’s determined to get him back on the straight and narrow, but he proves to be a tough nut to crack ….

Regarded with weary resignation by Joe and George, Johnny immediately piques Jean’s interest. She finds it impossible to believe that the system is incapable of keeping him under control, but it quickly becomes clear that there are no easy answers. Jean’s husband, Tom (David Hargreaves), has recently taken up a job at social services and this provides the plot with a little dollop of friction. Jean and Tom could be said to be on different sides, although it turns out that they want the same thing (although Tom’s colleagues aren’t averse to using him in order to neuter Jean’s sting!)

This was Julian Briercliffe’s sole acting credit. He certainly makes an impression as the bold, but vulnerable Johnny. We’re told that Johnny’s constructed a wall between himself and the rest of the world – with his mother dead and a father (played by John Rees) who’s been unable to control him, his immediate horizons seem rather bleak.

Mr Duffield might be initially presented as an unsympathetic type, but his character is given some dashes of light and shade as the episode progresses. Due to his busted legs, he’s forced to take in any work he can get – at present he’s button carding (“women’s work” he bitterly tells Jean). When he later confesses that Johnny never loved him, it’s possible to wonder whether he’s telling the truth or if he’s simply hardened his heart to save himself from further pain.

The title suggests one of the main features of the episode. Police walls can’t hold Johnny, as he’s apt to make a dash for freedom at the drop of hat. The first time it happens – outfoxing Joe at Hartley nick – is somewhat embarrassing for all concerned. And the sight of Joe and George (puffing down the high street after him) is a little embarrassing too. Jean’s obviously not too pleased, but when he absconds later, she’s the one who was closest to him. This is something that Joe can’t help but mention ….

If the story has a slight weakness then it’s the fact that mid-way through Johnny suddenly gains a friend from nowhere. In plot terms this makes perfect sense – as it allows Johnny to unburden himself (talking about his mother and his future plans) – but it can’t help but feel a little clunky.

This slight niggle apart, we see some nice performances throughout the episode. David Ashton plays Mr MacRae, the social worker at Johnny’s care home. Like everybody else he’s concerned about him – but he’s also confident that if anybody can fend for themselves out on the moors, then it’s this boy. It’s not really an uncaring attitude, since MacRae has attempted – and failed – to get through to him. A few years later Ashton would be a regular in Brass, playing Doctor MacDuff.

Another familiar face making an appearance is Robert Vahey (later to be the long suffering Bill Sayers from Howards’ Way). Vahey is Tom Collinson, a local reporter who’s convinced that Hartley is the location of a major IRA arms dump. His obsession has nothing at all to do with the main story, but his regular appearances help to sprinkle the episode with a dash of comic relief.

Martin Matthews is very solid as Jim Naylor. Naylor, along with his wife Cynthia (Eileen Helsby), is interested in fostering Johnny. His wayward streak doesn’t bother them and Naylor, as a former orphan, knows better than most how Johnny’s mind works. It’s interesting that he seems to be the first person to get through to the boy – this is despite the fact that everybody else (both the police and social workers) have been equally as patient. Fair to say that this is a story which isn’t criticising the system (Johnny is shown to be something of an anomaly). Since everybody’s done their best to help him, the finger of blame isn’t pointed at any specific person or organisation.

It’s maybe just a little pat that Johnny lands on his feet with a warm and loving couple who are so keen to look after him. But although we end on an optimistic note, there’s still the possibility that things might not work out in the future ….

Not a story that has too many surprises, but the major location shoot (we see plenty of Hartley and the surrounding moors) keeps the interest ticking along.

jb 02.jpg

Juliet Bravo – Coming Back

jb 03.jpg

Having served a ten year sentence for armed robbery, Mick Grainger (Ron Bain) is heading home. He has a wife, Judy (Rachel Davies), waiting for him, but his reintegration into society isn’t straightforward. Especially since some people, such as Joe Beck, aren’t prepared to forgive or forget ….

There’s not a great deal of film in one, but what we do have is used very effectively. The episode opens with a panning shot, moving from a group of industrial chimneys to a bleak block of flats which are carved unappealingly out of concrete. The eerie silence is a signifier that it’s early in the morning and as the camera closes into one specific flat, we see that Chris Evans (Kevin Whately) is preparing to take his leave of Judy.

It’s plain that they’re in a relationship – which is a complicating factor since her husband is due home any day. The fact that Evans is a constable at Hartley nick adds another layer of complexity to the problem.

An early screen credit for Kevin Whately, his role in the story isn’t terribly large (although it’s an important one – especially the closing scene). Many series tended to feature one-off characters, like Evans, who have clearly been around for some time but were never actually seen by the viewers either before or after their single appearance. This always feels less than satisfactory and since Evans is a fairly peripheral character for most of the story there seemed to be little value in making him a policeman. Given that he hardly interacts with any of the regulars during the bulk of the story – apart from one scene where he asks Jean for a transfer – he could have worked anywhere.

One of the striking things about Coming Back is that it’s not afraid to use silence. Mick’s eventual return home to Judy is a halting affair – punctuated by awkward gaps in their conversation. As we progress through the episode, various people have their say about him – Judy’s employer Mr Lawrenson (Bernard Gallagher) considers Mick to be a dangerous man whilst Joe Beck can’t forgive him for attacking one of his best friends on the force (Mick’s assault meant that the officer was forced to retire due to ill health).

And yet Mick now hardly seems to pose a threat to anyone. True, he’s capable of getting drunk and riled, but his health issues (a major operation in prison has hit him hard) seems to have curtailed his previous wild spirit. Of course, we have no way of knowing just what sort of a character he really was before this current prison spell. Joe fills Jean in with Mick’s career highlights – but given Joe’s obvious bias it’s possibly not surprising that he delights in painting as black a picture as possible.

Crime is not central to Coming Back. Joe might be convinced that Mick is already planning another job, but that’s not the case. In fact, the only crime occurs in the last minute or so (and doesn’t concern Mick). Instead we have a character based drama which just as easily could have been a Play for Today or an Armchair Theatre. Ron Bain and Rachel Davies make for an intriguing pair – the dynamic between their two characters shifts somewhat during the course of the fifty minutes – and they’re the ones who really drive the episode along.

The Hartley regulars have no interaction at all with either Mick or Judy – only Mr Lawrenson bridges the gap (a nice performance by Bernard Gallagher as a rather pompous and self-important type). There’s some decent character building moments at Hartley nick though – we see Jean relaxing with the others in the kitchen, mock annoyed at George because he had the temerity to call her a Liberal! George also has a lovely line after he turns his nose up at the news that a new wine bar’s opened in town. He sorrowfully shakes his head and declares that Hartley’s becoming more like Morecambe every day ….

The aforementioned wine bar is where Jean and Tom head off for lunch, although it’s something of a stormy meal. Their argument – mainly about whether they should take Jean’s (unseen) mother on holiday with them – continues when they get home. So far Tom’s been a rather placid character, so it’s not a bad thing to see a bit more spark from him.

Those who enjoy the rough and tumble, cops and robbers, aspect of police series won’t find much of interest here (this one couldn’t be further removed from The Sweeney). But as a piece of kitchen sink drama, Coming Back stands up very well.

jb 06.jpg