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 ….

The Galton and Simpson Playhouse – I Tell You It’s Burt Reynolds

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I Tell You It’s Burt Reynolds takes place in the living room of a typical family home.  The arrival of Jim (Leonard Rossiter) is enough to send the kids to their room (“he never stops talking”) although the adults are less fortunate.  They’re just about to watch McMillan and Wife and although Jim tries to tempt them with the football on the other side, he settles down to watch it as well.

Jim is an insuffrable know-it-all.  This starts when he tells Joyce (Gillian Rayne) about the deficiencies of her television set.  “You know your colour’s all wrong? There’s too much red. You can’t watch it like that, it looks like he’s been boiled.”  Granny (the peerless Patricia Haynes) is old enough to speak her mind.  “What’s he want to keep coming round here for?”

After they manage to prevent Jim taking the television set apart with a screwdriver, he keeps quiet for a moment.  But it doesn’t last long, as he spies a familiar face just behind Rock Hudson.  What, he wonders, is Burt Reynolds doing in an episode of McMillan and Wife?  Everybody else tells him that it’s not Burt Reynolds and indeed that it looks nothing like him, but Jim is convinced.  “Course it is.  Don’t tell me I don’t know Burt Reynolds when I see him.”

Thanks to Leonard Rossiter, this is the best episode of The Galton and Simpson Playhouse and it’s fair to say that few comic actors would have been able to deliver such a tremendous performance of ever-increasing hysteria.

Although Burt isn’t listed in the TV Times or on the end credits, Jim isn’t going to give up, despite the fact that nobody else cares.  Calls to Yorkshire Television and the Daily Telegraph (Jim disgustedly tells them he’ll be buying the Daily Express from now on) are fruitless – so he decides the only way to settle this is to call Burt Reynolds in Hollywood.  Incredibly he gets through, but when Burt doesn’t give him the answer he wants, is Jim finally going to admit defeat?  Of course not!

Twenty years later, this was remade with Paul Merton in the main role.  The two series of Paul Merton in Galton and Simpson’s … are interesting.  Merton was always on something of a hiding to nothing, since many of the episodes were television classics (such as the various Hancock episodes selected, including The Radio Ham and Twelve Angry Men).  The Paul Merton I Tell You It’s Burt Reynolds is fine, but it really doesn’t work without the full-throttle attack of a top comedy performer like Rossiter.  The Galton and Simpson Playhouse was very fortunate to get a performer at the top of his game, as he was able to wring every last comic drop out of the scenario.