The team investigate the death of a fourteen year old prostitute called Justine Painton (Caroline O’Hara) ….
We’re pitched straight into the action. It’s late at night and in a run down part of town, Justine’s body is discovered. With a plastic bag over her head and rope marks on her wrists it seems that natural causes can be ruled out.
The officers stand around cracking weak jokes in the time honoured fashion (anything to take their minds off the actuality of the present situation). A brief moment of levity is provided when Becky sets the record straght about her night of limited passion with Lew (she knows that he would have already spun them his version of events). The only problem is that he hasn’t said a word ….
Justine’s mother, Fran (Siobhan Finneran), maitains a shrine to her daughter at home. Numerous school photos and beauty pagent trophies act as reminders of the girl she was, not what she’d become. Wasted potential (Becky and Warren view the cleaned up girl on the mortuary slab and Warren mentions how beautiful she was) is a theme of the story.
Family-man Ron finds the case a little hard to deal with. It’s not dificult to understand why (girls the same age as his daughter leading a dissolute life). One of Justine’s friends, Kirsty (Sarah Jane-Potts), tells him and Marty that Justine embraced life on the streets wholeheartedly. Is this the truth or simply an obfuscation? And what precisely did her mother know about her daughter’s new life?
One very striking moment occurs when Kirsty is speaking about Justine. The scene is overlaid with photographs of a younger Caroline O’Hara, which serves as an effective counterpoint between the past and the present.
It’s a remarkable coincidence that Richard Shaw (Pip Donaghy), the father of Warren’s ex-girlfriend Lucy, knew Justine intimately (he took bondage photographs of her). He offers to share his information, provided the police can arrange a meeting with his estranged daughter. Warren knows precisely where she is, because he’s been keeping tabs on her (mmm, a touch obsessive).
Local celebrity, boxer Vinnie Harper (Adam Kotz), was involved with Fran. But was he also intimate with Justine? The big guns (DI Temple and Lew) are wheeled out for a pulsating interrogation as we see Vinnie hauled over the coals.
Although Caroline O’Hara (making her screen debut) has very limited screentime (after all, her character is dead when we first see her) Justine still permeates every part of the story. Her death means that she’s robbed of her own voice, so others have to ascribe her with motivations and fill in her character for us.
Although answers are provided, justice is harder to come by. This was one of the strengths of Out of the Blue, a series which never felt obligated to pretend that life was fair. One of the final scenes – in which a distraught Lew makes this point to a resigned Temple – could be seen as a setup for the third series which never came. Would series three have finally been the point where Lew went too far?
We’ll never know, but while Out of the Blue never became a mainstream success, twenty years on it stands up as a flawed – but fascinating – series.
Three homeless people (one of them played by the highly recognisable Andy Devine – who would later appear as Shadrach in Emmerdale) are poisoned after a seemingly good Samaritan offers them a drink of champagne laced with prescription tranquillisers.
Temple’s mildly curious, but doesn’t regard it as much more than a sick joke. It’s a sign of the times that the office only seems to have one computer and – as the victims use it to put together an identikit picture of their well-heeled poisoner – Temple gripes about the expense. “Have you any idea how much that computer takes out of my budget? It’d be cheaper to hire Walt Disney”.
Temple’s given some good lines in this one. A few minutes later he asks Becky and Warren exactly what they’re going to do. “Put out an All Points Alert for Burlington Bertie?” That’s a rather obscure reference which – back in the pre-internet nineties – would probably have perplexed a section of the audience.
Elsewhere, Bruce, Lew, Marty and Ron go in mob-handed to tackle Gibbs (Peter Jonfield), who appears to have a shop full of stolen goods – although annoyingly none of his stock appears to be on the stolen property register. By racially taunting Bruce, Gibbs successfully manages to get under his skin – making him all the keener to nail him, although it also might serve to make him more reckless.
This subplot somewhat moves into the background once it’s discovered that Jackson (Devine) has been attacked again, only this time he’s dead. Is it connected to the previous poisoning? The descriptions of the suspects indicate not and the fact that one of them had red hair gives Marty the chance for a droll comeback. “That’s handy, I’ve been looking for an excuse to arrest Mick Hucknall”.
They trawl the drug rehabilitation centres for clues, which sees Lew and Tony take diametrically opposing views on their usefulness. It’s no surprise that the humanitarian Tony believes they help to prevent crime as well as getting people back on the straight and narrow whilst the more cynical Lew begrudges the fact that his taxes are used on such people.
Bruce has been operating on a tight-fuse for a while. And after Warren makes an offhand remark (wondering if his obsessive nature is a family trait) Bruce takes it as a dig directed at his father and fisticuffs ensue. This creates a nice sense of tension which, together with Lew’s off-kilter personality, means that the team have never been more dysfunctional.
Another soap favourite, Maggie Jones (Blance Hunt from Coronation Street) makes a brief appearance as Joan Palmer. Bruce wants Joan to identify the property from Gibbs’ shop as hers, but when she’s unable to do so Bruce is once again frustrated. Emma Bird, who also would have been a familiar face at the time (she’d played Maxine during the 1992/93 run of Casualty) makes an impression as Nikki, another of the poisoned down and outs. She’s an actor who seems to have slipped off the radar, as her last screen credit (an episode of Liverpool 1) was all the way back in 1999. And the eagle-eyed might spot a young Benedict Wong making a brief appearance as a wages clerk.
The team arrest a suspect, Eamon Timmer (Simon Tyrell), for Jackson’s murder. He’s very talkative before the tape starts rolling (“I killed Jackson Hanley! I did it. And I’ll kill every tosser in this room”) but doesn’t say a word after the red light goes on.
Although none of the plots really engage, the interactions between the team (especially the continually wise-cracking Marty) helps to keep the interest levels up. The final scene is especially intriguing. After Becky’s attempt to console Warren (still smarting over the end of his relationship with Lucy) comes to nothing, she winds up in bed with Lew. Her post-coital expression makes it plain that she realises what a terrible mistake it was ….
Danny Caswell (David Prosho) makes a stand against local drug dealer Tommy Defty (Neil Stuke). But when Danny’s house is trashed and his car is torched he wonders if talking to the police was the best option. Meanwhile, Tommy continues to taunt the police, convinced that he’s untouchable.
This episode’s cold open is very effective. A typically bleak, run-down estate is the venue as Lew and Bruce rush over to Danny’s house. It’s not just the damage that’s disturbing as the imagery (stickmen hanging) is plainly designed to intimidate. But although Danny’s not scared off, the CPS, in the form of Barbara, decide that they haven’t good enough evidence to proceed.
Warren caustically refers to the CPS as “Couldn’t Prosecute Satan” whilst Marty has his own unique take on how they might deal with Tommy. “I could take me Black and Decker round his house and drill his arse”.
Danny and his wife, Diane (Kate Rutter), cooperated with the police and got nothing for their pains – except a burnt car, a trashed house and the enmity of Tommy’s crew. It’s not really a great advert for working with the police. A frustrated Danny later vandalizes Barbara’s house and when questioned by Temple angrily tells him why. “You’ve given up on us. You’ve pulled the ladder up after you”.
Lew’s off-kilter personality comes to the fore when he and Bruce question Tommy’s mother, Mrs Defty (Barbara Ewing). He fingers her drying underwear and lays a delicate hand on her shoulder. Later, he breaks into her bedroom for a chat ….
Lew’s mind games are effective, if unconventional (and no doubt illegal). He knows that Tommy’s mother, just like everybody else, lives in fear of him – so needling both her and him might be the way to chip away at his hard shell. Ewing (best known for Brass) is effective whilst Stuke (who has gone on to enjoy a considerable career) is excellent value as the cocky drug-lord.
The loose cannon that is Lew is the motor which drives this episode along. Mrs Defty sums it up well. “Tommy scares me right enough, but you scare me more”.
Warren’s relationship with Lucy seems to have hit an impasse after she starts chatting to Tommy at a nightclub (despite Warren telling her not to). This might be good news for Becky, who seemed a little perturbed that Lucy and Warren were becoming serious. It’s doubtful that Lucy and Becky will ever be friends though, especially after Lucy spits in her face.
When Lucy – an unstable person if ever there was one – declares that she’s heading off to be with Tommy it adds another complication to the story. Warren and Becky go riding to the rescue, which involves them planting drugs on Lucy so they can extract her without making Tommy suspicious.
Another strong story which features a victory of sorts, although the collateral damage also has to be taken into account.
Terry Forrest (Thomas Craig) is the victim of a male rape. Chris Mannings (Fine Time Fontayne), a gay man who lives on Terry’s estate, becomes a suspect ….
An unusual topic to cover, the episode isn’t graphic but the aftermath of the assault resonates throughout. Unsurprisingly there’s some unreconstructed views offered by the team, notably Marty. When Temple tells him and Ron to hit the gay clubs to look for leads, he mutters “better get that frock ironed Ron”. Ron seems to find the case particularly distasteful. Becky tells him to think of it as an assault, rather than a rape, but this doesn’t seem to help.
Ron later explains his problems to Temple. “It’s just that if it’s a lass who’s been raped, then I can tell her that she’s safe, that I’m there to protect her. I looked at Terry Forrest today. What can I say to him. What can I offer him?”
When Mannings’ naked, battered body is dumped outside the police station, it’s obvious that the locals have dished out their own brand of summary justice. One of Forrest’s friends, Kevin Ryan (Karl Draper), seems to be implicated in the attack, but he denies it.
There are plenty of parallels to be found in real life with this sort of knee-jerk vigilante action, but the question here is whether Mannings is actually guilty. The wonderfully-named Fine Time Fontayne (unsurprisingly not the name he was christened with) impresses as Mannings as does Thomas Craig as Forrest.
As the story continues, there are varying degrees of empathy to be found. Lew, on hearing the news of Mannings’ beating, decides there’s little they can do to help the gay community ward off further attacks unless they “supply an armed guard for everybody on the estate with a Judy Garland album”.
It’s also an interesting wrinkle that Becky is the one who voices the opinion that Forrest might not have been raped after all – possibly it was consensual sex which then turned violent. It wouldn’t have been surprising, had this been a female rape, to hear the male officers express a similar viewpoint, so there’s an obvious irony at work here.
We eventually learn the identity of Forrest’s attacker. Given that the story had only given us a few possibilities it doesn’t come as a complete surprise, but the scene where the rapist offers his plea of self-justification is another nicely done moment.
Although the various personal traumas of the regulars – Marty’s marriage problems, Warren’s tense relationship with Lucy – are still bubbling away, for once they’re reduced to background noise as the policework dominates.
Zamwa Sidikki, owner of a minicab business, is discovered bludgeoned to death, a blood-covered baseball bat nearby. Racial or personal? That’s what Temple and the others have to discover.
Since Sadikki wasn’t the most popular of men there’s no shortage of suspects, such as his estranged son – Rafi (Raji James) – who had a falling out with his father several months ago. Gareth Chester (Neil Boorman), the only white driver employed by Sadikki, also seems to be a strong suspect. But possibly Sadikki’s daughter, Yasmin (Rina Mahoney), might hold the key.
Warren continues to let his lower regions rule his head as his relationship with Lucy continues. He thinks nothing of nipping away during the middle of the day for a moment of passion with his attractive, if flaky girlfriend. This flakiness is on show after she flashes him (and a delighted elderly passer-by) from her bedroom window.
It’s fair to say that his colleagues aren’t terribly sympathetic about Warren’s conquest. Bruce succinctly sums up their mood. “He’s been going off at us for years about respecting womankind. And then it turns out that kid Warren is just another copper who can’t keep his toolbox in his trousers”.
He’s not the only one with personal concerns though. Marty and his wife have decided to adopt (a storyline which bubbles away in the background for the remainder of the series) whilst Bruce’s father, Andy (Oscar James), suffers a paranoid attack.
James, instantly recognisable thanks to his three year stint on EastEnders, makes an immediate impact here. Andy, currently living with his daughter, comprehensively smashes up her kitchen, although it’s clear that he’s not responsible for his actions.
The tricky subject of mental health would have been a fruitful one to tackle over the course of the series, but it’s somewhat glossed over since this episode is the only time we meet Andy. But even given this, Lennie James has a couple of decent scenes as Bruce attempts to come to terms with his father’s illness.
Although Sidikki’s murder is never that engrossing a mystery, the script still clips along at a nice pace, helped no end by the dialogue. One of my favourite moments occurs when Marty, who can always be relied upon, loses his patience with a suspect. “I can always tell when you’re lying ‘cos your lips move. We are not being paid to stand around here listening to you feeding us your tripe and bollocks. Do we look like Richard and Judy?”
A baby is snatched from the bus station and a major incident is launched. But things turn out to be more complicated than they first appear ….
After a new title sequence we’re thrust straight into the action via a cold opening. The reason for all the rushing about quickly becomes obvious, but despite the best efforts of everybody there’s no sign of the child. It’s interesting that Jim ‘Lew’ Llewyn (David Morrissey) isn’t given a proper introduction (Lew has obviously been a member of the team for some time) but this probably works to the series’ benefit. Showing Lew finding his feet might have worked dramatically, but it also would have slowed the main story down.
But although Lew seems to have fitted in well, bantering easily with the likes of Marty, a slightly discordant note is struck by Temple. A brief throwaway comment from him makes it plain that he has little love for his latest recruit. The reason will become a little clearer as we work through the second series.
Joanne Player (Keeley Forsyth) and Matt Pearson (Paul Nicholls) play the young couple who may not be telling the whole truth. Both Forsyth and Nicholls were at the start of their careers with only a handful of credits prior to this (both of them had appeared in The Biz, for example).
When a witness later suggests that when they saw Joanne and Matt the baby wasn’t with them, the story veers off into a different direction. Temple orders the floorboards at their flat to be lifted up, although Marty comments that if they were organised enough to concoct a fake story of abduction, it’s unlikely they’d be stupid enough to shove the child under their floorboards.
Love is in the air. Tony is going out with a widow, a fellow member at his local church. Since Bruce has decided that Tony may be a little out of practice with women, he decides to give him the benefit of his advice – although it seems that Bruce is more concerned with winding the anxious Tony up.
Meanwhile, Warren meets Lucy Shaw (Nicola Stephenson) for the first time. To begin with it doesn’t appear that a relationship is on the cards, since she’s simply a witness in an investigation. Her father, Richard Shaw (Pip Donaghy), is accused of taking bondage photographs. Although he strenuously denies it, as time goes on his true colours are revealed.
Donaghy gives a chilling performance as a seemingly innocent family man. But his one-on-one interview with Becky provides us with clear evidence that there’s more to him than meets the eye (although since he’s done nothing illegal he can’t be charged). Shaw will return in the final episode, whilst his daughter features throughout. When Warren learns that a distraught Lucy doesn’t want to return home, he takes her under his wing. I have to say that the sight of Darrell D’Silva’s naked backside, as Warren and Lucy become intimately acquainted, was something of a surprise.
Even this early on it seems obvious that their relationship is doomed. She seems to be vulnerable and unstable, which suggests that Warren’s simply taking advantage of her. The sensible thing would be for both of them to walk away, but since both are flawed characters it’s not that simple.
Marty remains in fine form. On spying a teenager defacing a Missing Persons poster with a marker-pen, he gives the young lad a taste of his own medicine by drawing a pair of glasses and a beard on his face! Quite how Marty manages to get away with these sort of things is anybody’s guess, but I daresay a certain section of the audience would have approved of his brand of rough justice.
Although the main story is pretty bleak, there’s the odd moment of levity. Lew stops a man, Phil Draper (Jim Millea), who’s acting suspiciously. After Lew asks him to open the boot of his car, he reacts in horror as a sheep jumps out and beats a hasty retreat down the road. Phil coolly suggests that the sheep must have already been there when he bought the car.
The ending might not come as too much of a surprise, but Nicholls and Forsyth are both effective. Overall, another strong episode and it provides a more than decent opening to the second series.
There’s a certain amount of dramatic licence at play here, since it seems more than a little unlikely that the close colleagues of a dead officer would be the ones leading the investigation to find his killer. Surely the fact they’d be emotionally involved would have ruled them out?
The opening plays as you’d expect – the team are shellshocked (Bruce is the one we follow into the station as – disorientated – he reels from the buzz and bustle of the crime scene) whilst Franky’s widow, Lorraine (Denise Stephenson), blames Temple and just about any other copper she can find for Franky’s death.
Although Temple later warns the others not to cut any corners, Marty – when questioning a suspect – spells out precisely what Franky’s death signifies. “Do you know what a dead copper means? It means the sky falls in on every little arsewipe who might know anything”.
Assistant Chief Constable Friel (Trevor Cooper) makes a small, but telling, contribtion. He informs Temple that he doesn’t want any of Franky’s dirty linen washed in public. They have to tell the truth about Franky’s activities, but anything unsavoury needs to be hidden from public consumption. The conflict between the need for truth (the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth) and police politics is clearly delineated here.
It’s hard not to feel that the unstable Victor was pushed into a corner by Franky. Temple later makes that point to the team, although most of them – especially Marty – don’t really want to hear. Even though Temple then goes on to say that he’s making the potential case of Victor’s defence laywers, there’s more than a kernel of truth in his statement.
Apart from a voice on the phone, we don’t see Victor until we’re well into the episode. The stake-out nature of the middle part of the story, as the team wait for him to surface, enables there’s a little time for various personal problems to be given an airing. Warren still hasn’t given up hope that he and Becky might become an item whilst Ron gives Marty some sage advice about children (Marty and his wife have been unable to conceive).
The tension that hangs over the episode, indeed the whole series, concerning Franky continues here. His colleagues have always been loyal and – toasting his memory in the pub – they continue to be. All except the newcomer Tony. “When everything else comes second best to your ambition. Your mates, your wife, your kids …”
Victor confesses but there’s little sense of celebration. The mood is best summed up by Marty in a short speech which could easily serve as the series’ raison d’etre. “Where’s the blame? I’ve been searching in me head for where the blame is. All day. Thinking and looking. Asking and asking. No, it’s kids going mad, but its not. Who teaches you to be stupid? Where does greedy start from? You know what I’ve decided? I can’t find it”.
The last scene – Franky entertains the others from beyond the grave via the power of VHS – proves to be something of a cathartic experience. If some questions about his character will remain unanswered for ever, at least this provides them with the opportunity of remembering his better side. The truth then, but not the whole truth ….
A woman called Anna Cornish is shot. Who did it and why was her body moved across town?
Although Mrs Cornish is a respected member of the local community (a black lawyer and a noted anti-drugs campaigner) the team can’t expect to receive much in the way of cooperation. Temple sums the mood up when he mentions that the community despises the police only slightly more than they hate each other.
The bleakness and hopelessness of mid nineties inner-city Britain is a running theme of Out of the Blue and gets developed in this episode. Mr Megson (Tony Barton) was the publican who wheeled Anna from away from his pub and he doesn’t waste any time in explaining why. Anna was “a colonial cousin” and, according to him, a member of a race that doesn’t have a great respect for human life.
Megson believes that all of the estate’s problems can be dated to the arrival of the black community, which leaves us with the strong impression that he regarded Anna as little more than a piece of rubbish to be removed. It’s striking that Megson doesn’t seem to understand that he’s done anything wrong although when Bruce tells him that he may end up charged with manslaughter he starts to take attention.
A tip-offf leads them to three suspects, Shaun Hayley (Tim Evans), Bunny (John Muir) and Daniel Gelder (Taurean Mulholland). They’re only fifteen though. Could a group of fifteen year-olds really be responsible for this shooting? It’s a telling moment that nobody dismisses this out of hand. It clearly wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened.
On the plus side, the episode doesn’t feature Franky whining about his epilepsy. Instead we see just how far he’ll go in order to get a result. Convinced that the shooting has a drug connection, he infiltrates a gang of low-lifes. First he shares their drugs and then he asks to buy a gun (because, he says, he wants to shoot a copper). By acting alone and without backup he’s taking an incredible risk – this seems to demonstrate he’s got something of a death-wish. He’s remarkably convincing as an unstable psychopath ….
Nobody wins in this one since the shooters can be said to have been just as much victims as Anna was. Moments of levity are therefore few, although the spat between Marty and Ron is good fun (Ron’s aggrieved that Marty let slip about his philandering ways to the others).
The episode ends with Franky being confronted by Victor (Gary Sefton). Victor’s a drug dealer as well as Franky’s informant. Although Victor seems upset and a little unstable, Franky’s the sort of person you always imagine will win through, so when he’s stabbed and collapses in a large pool of his own blood on the office floor it’s a considerable jolt.
That the action then switches to the pub, where we see the others unwinding after another long day. We’ve seen during the course of the first series how Franky has isolated himself from the others – declining to join them in the pub or for bowling nights on previous occasions – so the fact he dies alone whilst the others are together is clearly an intentional bitter irony.
A women is found dead in a bus shelter located just outside her house. It looks as if she was sleeping there, but why? A baker, Mr Flood (Kenneth Cope), is once again sweeping up broken glass from his shattered shop windows. Convinced that no-one is taking him seriously he resorts to drastic action to make himself heard. Meanwhile, Franky has disappeared. He had been working unofficially on a cold case, so the team follow it up ….
Dave Norman, playing Ray Chaplin, has an easy time of it. Ray, a pimp, previously had his tongue cut out, so Norman didn’t have to go to the trouble of learning any lines. All he had to do was look moody and scribble down his answers to Becky and Warren.
This was the cold case Franky was working on, so it serves a dual purpose in the narrative – not only is there a mystery to be solved, but finding the answer might allow the team to discover Franky’s location.
Ron’s dalliances with his ex-wife become public knowledge around the office (although his curent wife remains in the dark). He’s yet to discover that Marty let this secret slip though, but I’ve a feeling he’s going to find out soon …
Bruce and Tony visit Mr Flood. Their different reactions speak volumes about their characters. Bruce wants to be out looking for Franky, so dealing with a case of broken windows seems completely trivial (he caustically refers to Mr Flood as Mr Pastry). But Tony instantly emphasises with the victim – he can see that Mr Flood is living a life of quiet desperation (his life made a misery due to abuse and vandalism) and wants to help. So Tony is idealistic, Bruce realistic.
Tony later confides that as a uniformed officer he felt part of the community, but now he’s in plain clothes there’s more of a sense of isolation. The fact that we never actually see any of the tearaways who abuse Mr Flood is an interesting touch – as making the threat abstract means it becomes more problematic and insoluble.
Kenneth Cope nicely underplays as a man driven to the edge by antisocial behaviour. The way he finally gets a little attention is a wrong-footing moment (although due to the way the camera coyly doesn’t focus on the action, it’s possibly not as impactful as it could have been). No matter though, Cope still deftly sketches the character of Mr Flood – a man who doesn’t want to be labelled a victim, but urgently needs help.
The dead woman at the bus stop, Angela Grainger, was also a victim of antisocial behaviour. In her case, she was driven to distraction by pounding music played at all hours by her next door neighbours. But did one of them attack her in the days before she died of a heart attack?
It can’t be a coincidence that Kenneth Cope’s daughter, Martha, appears as Marilyn Jowett, Angela Grainger’s neighbour. Another familiar face, Sheila Ruskin, pops up as Margot Gillespie, the doctor who tells Franky that his epilepsy isn’t operable.
Alternating between these two storylines as well as the search for Ray’s attacker and Franky’s continuing tantrums, it’s a packed episode. At one point, Ron confides that there’s no justice and by the time the credits roll it’s hard to disagree with him.
When Ron’s daughter is discovered with a computer disc containing violent pornography, the team spring into action to track the perpetrator down …
This episode is of particular interest due to the computer porn angle. Given it was the mid nineties when computers – and the internet – were just beginning to establish themselves, it has to be a pretty early example of this type of storyline.
Bruce is puzzled by this brave new computer world (no doubt a section of the audience would have been just as perplexed as he was) but luckily there’s a young schoolboy on hand to explain the world of networks, notice boards, DOS and floppy discs. We must be pretty much pre-internet for most people, since the images were distributed on 3.5″ discs, which helps to date the programme.
John Hannah’s been boiling away nicely for the last few episodes but now Franky’s been suspended Hannah takes the opportunity to ramp up the intensity level several notches. Franky blames Bruce for shopping him, but he’s blameless (it was Franky’s wife, Lorraine, who informed DI Temple). When Franky later learns the truth, does he apologise to Bruce? Nope. Which provides more evidence that Franky’s a charmless, self-centered, self-pitying sort of chap. Possibly he’s a good thief-taker, but his social skills need more than a spot of work.
Poor Warren’s lack of success with the opposite sex leads the others, notably Ron and Marty, to offer him some well-meaning words of advice. Bruce is more caustic, he opines that Warren’s problem is due to the fact he dresses off the peg (at the Salvation Army!)
There’s a nice mid-episode change of pace as Ron, Marty and Becky attempt to track down a suspect in the computer porn case, Gary Lowell. They encounter Craig Page (Andrew Dunn) at Lowell’s house, who looks more than a little shifty. The fact that Lowell’s dead body is stuffed in a cardboard box might have something to do with that ….
The episode also features a back-street strip club which employs disabled performers. Warren, at the club in surveillance mode, is appalled. The camera coyly doesn’t show us the stripper, but we get a good insight into Warren’s distressed state of mind by the way the camera starts to weave and lose focus.
The mystery of who killed Gary isn’t much of a mystery after all, but it’s still a strong enough episode with a pre-dinnerladies Andrew Dunn making the most of his limited screentime.
Ron and Marty are pursuing Neil Chettle (Matthew Wait). They’re convinced that he’s responsible for robbing a series of pensioners of their life savings, but there’s no solid evidence. Chettle’s clever, as by selecting only the elderly and infirm, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to pick him out of an identity parade ….
This second episode continues to put more meat on the bones of the regular characters. Becky’s fledgling relationship with PC Alex Holder (Stephen Billington) seems to have put Warren’s nose slightly out of joint whilst Tony’s casual statement that he believes in God somewhat nonplusses Marty (who then can’t resist questioning him on his beliefs).
This is a strong episode for Neil Dudgeon. Although the story isn’t doing anything we haven’t seen countless times before in other shows – Marty doggedly pursusing a cocky suspect who believes he’s untouchable – Dudgeon and Wait are still on top form. When the tables are turned and Chettle begins to target Marty’s wife, the pressure gets ramped up a notch, although this part of the plot is never really developed as much as it could have been.
Bruce continues to glower at Franky. Franky claims that he’s now perfectly fine but Bruce – he is a detective after all – doesn’t believe a word of it. This is confirmed later on by Franky’s retching and pained staring into the toilet mirror.
There’s a later oblique conversation between Bruce and DI Temple in which the senior officer seems to be warning Bruce against doing anything about Franky. Although this is contradicted towards the end when Temple spells out Franky’s options to him – none of which seem to appeal.
Broken marriages are a common sight in police series and Marty helps to explain why. He may still be married, but the job has plainly had a toxic effect. “I went home to Judy one time and I had to tell her that I’d been tying labels onto the toes of a kiddie who’d been strangled, and you know what she said to me? Do you know what my own wife said to me? Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me”.
Although the episode juggles several other plotlines – the mystery of how a man, dead for several months, has continued to open his mail and a potential robbery at a pub – it’s the feud between Marty and Chettle which dominates. Marty may be satisfied with the eventual outcome, but Ron isn’t. “Racing around like the caped crusader, you’ve turned this into a schoolroom brawl between you and him”.
Whilst the others enjoy an evening’s bowling, Franky – as befits a flawed hero – broods alone in the office, with only a cigarette for company.
Hugh Evans was sixty seven years old and dying of cancer. So why would somebody shoot him four times as he lay in his hospital bed? Meanwhile, as the only female detective, DS Rebecca Bennett is called upon to interview a traumatised rape victim.
Out of the Blue hits in ground runnng. In the opening few minutes as – somewhat oddly – all the detectives hot-foot it over to the hospital, the regulars’ characters are deftly sketched.
DC Marty Brazil (Neil Dudgeon) and DC Ron Ludlow (Peter Wight) make for an entertaining double-act. Marty is clearly the iconoclast of the team (thinking nothing of giving a man who spat in the street a hard time). Also making an early impression is Orla Brady as DS Rebecca ‘Becky’ Bennett (partly because she’s the only female detective in an all-male enclave).
DS Franky Drinkall (John Hannah) and DC Bruce Hannaford (Lennie James) chase down a suspect in the shooting case, but it’s what happens afterwards which will haunt the remainder of the first series. Franky suffers an epileptic fit in the pub and refuses to report it to the medical officer. This not only puts his own career in jeopardy but swearing Bruce to secrecy only serves to complicate matters even further (as well as creating a simmering sense of tension).
Becky and DC Warren Allen (Darrell D’Silva) make up the third team and putting them together on the rape case helps to generate a certain amount of debate between them which defines both their characters, although at this point Becky is the one who’s received the most screentime.
DC Tony Bromley (Andy Rashleigh) has been newly transferred to the team and, as an outsider, serves as the audience identification figure. As he begins to understand how his new colleagues tick, so do we. Rounding off the squad is DI Temple (John Duttine). By far the most familiar television face, Duttine doesn’t have a great deal to do here (the harrased boss is a long-standing police series cliche) but having a quality actor in the role gives Temple the gravitas he needs.
Juggling two strong storylines, this opening episode is a solid one. The visual style (shaky camerawork and the occasional loss of focus as the camera – effectively acting as an unseen member of the team – moves from person to person) helps to give the story a little impetus.
Running for two series and twelve episodes between 1995 and 1996, Out of the Blue is a somewhat overlooked police series. Filmed in Sheffield, it’s a bleak and unsettling show which doesn’t attempt to wrap each episode up with a happy ending (or at times a definite conclusion). The frenetic hand-held camerawork gives the series a fly-on-the-wall atmosphere at times (seemingly inspired by the likes of Hill Street Blues and Homicide: Life on the Street).
If Out of the Blue has a flaw then it’s probably that there’s few surprises – many of the regulars are character types we’ve seen many times before in other police series (the unorthodox maverick, the woman making her way in a man’s world, etc).
But the fact that Out of the Blue didn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel shouldn’t count too strongly against it. One plus point is the fact that all twelve episodes were scripted by Peter Bowker and Bill Gallagher (often together, sometimes apart) – this gives the series a feeling of unity whilst the strong cast (a mixture of experienced hands and younger talent) is also something to be counted in its favour.
With a large cast of regulars and only six episodes to play with, the first episode of series one has to hit the ground running. Several cases (the murder of a man already dying of cancer, the rape of a middle-aged woman) help to bring the motely group of detectives into sharp focus.
DI Eric Temple (John Duttine) has the job of keeping them in order. He generally isn’t called on to do a great deal except bark some gruff orders, but having a familiar television face (and a good actor, of course) like Duttine helps to bring Temple to life.
DS Becky Bennett (Orla Brady) is the lone female detective, meaning that she’s a source of fascination for her unreconstructed male colleagues. Her decision during series one to conduct a clandestine affair with PC Alex Holder (Stephen Billington) will no doubt set tongues wagging …
DC Warren Allen (Darrell D’Silva) carries something of a torch for Becky, but his general persona – the nice guy who never gets the girl – suggests that he’s going to end up disappointed.
DC Marty Brazil (Neil Dudgeon) and DC Ron Ludlow (Peter Wight) make for a classic team. Marty is a wisecracking, unpredictable loose cannon (Dudgeon making the strongest impression during these early episodes) whilst Ron is the more dependable, solid type. Ron’s a devoted family man, although the fact that he’s still involved with his divorced ex-wife suggests he’s been taking his family duties rather too far (especially since his current wife has been kept totally in the dark).
DS Franky Drinkall (John Hannah) is a high-flier, tipped for the top – although his epilepsy looks set to put paid to that. His long-suffering partner, DC Bruce Hannaford (Lennie James), has to take the brunt of his moody outbursts.
Although Hannah had been acting since the late eighties, Out of the Blue was his first regular television role. Almost immediately afterwards he would star as the unorthodox McCallum, which was just a slight change from playing the unorthodox Franky. Since Franky is such a monumentally unlikeable character it’s to Hannah’s credit that he never attempts to soften his playing, instead he allows us to plainly see just what a monster DS Drinkall is.
Franky’s epilepsy and the fall-out from it, would be a running thread throughout the first series. It’s just a pity that, due to the fact there were only six episodes, it isn’t a plotline that has too much room to breathe (we learn about it in episode one, everyone else does in episode two, etc). A longer episode count would have enabled it to be spread out a little more, which would have worked to the series’ benefit.
Rounding off the team is DC Tony Bromley (Andy Rashleigh). Newly transferred, he spends much of the first episode as a silent observer, but he later makes his presence felt. A former teacher (and a devout believer in God) he makes for an unlikely copper, but his character – a patient, non-judgemental listener – will prove to be useful on occasions.
Most of the episodes tend to juggle several storylines, with many of the crimes having clear consequences for both the victims and perpetrators. One of the most striking things about the series is how the lines are blurred between the law-breakers and the law-makers. Not, for once, in the area of police corruption – instead we see that a number of serious crimes weren’t triggered by evil intent, instead the criminals were motivated by fear or boredom. This is more disturbing than plain malice and although Peter Bowker and Bill Gallagher don’t hammer the point home, it seems to be suggested that both the system and the environment has its part to play in shaping the actions of those who operate on the wrong side of the law.
Following a dramatic conclusion to the first series, Out of the Blue returned for a second and final run of six episodes in late 1996. The cast pretty much remained the same, although Becky’s love interest had departed. The major change saw David Morrissey fill the gap left by the departed John Hannah. Morrissey played DS Jim “Lew” Lewyn, a maverick copper with secrets. Mmm, not at all like Franky then ….
Although Lew’s not a terribly original character, he helps to shake up the established team. Temple might have been aware of some of Franky’s less admirable traits, but there was no doubt that he respected him. But Lew arrives with considerable baggage and Temple isn’t prepared to cut him the same sort of slack.
Whilst Lew is treating suspects to his own unique brand of policing, the others have various personal problems to overcome. Warren’s run of bad luck on the emotional front seems to be over after he snags a new girlfriend – Lucy Shaw (Nicola Stephenson). But she turns out to be somewhat unstable, so Warren’s soon back to square one and not even the solicitous Becky can cheer him up (he decides he doesn’t want her pity).
Bruce is also feeling the pressure. He’s always been tightly wound, but there are times when even an innocent remark can set him off – on one notable occasion he and Warren come to blows at the pub.
The storylines continue to be as uncompromising as ever. Episode three, which concerns a male rape, attracted a certain amount of attention at the time whilst the fourth – featuring Neil Stuke as Tommy Defty, a seemingly untouchable drug-dealer – is a particular highlight. The final episode (revolving around the death of a fourteen-year old prostitute) is yet another strongly-scripted and well-played story.
Out of the Blue failed to be renewed for a third series. Possibly this was because, as previously touched upon, it wasn’t doing anything we hadn’t seen before. This was a pity because there was potential there – maybe an increased episode count would have helped to strengthen and broaden both the format and the characters.
Shot on 16mm film, Out of the Blue looks somewhat gritty and grainy. This no doubt chimes with the series’ aesthetic – bright colours and sunshine wouldn’t have been the correct tone – but the picture quality probably also reflects the age of the masters (although what we have is perfectly watchable).
Although it never made a great deal of impact at the time, Out of the Blue is still of considerable interest. Not only for the strong cast, but also for the way that it generates a snapshot of the seedier end of mid nineties Britain. Warmly recommended.
Out of the Blue is released by Simply Media on the 10th of July 2017. RRP £34.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here.