Softly Softly: Task Force – Time Expired

S02E05 (14th October 1970). Written by Robert Barr, directed by David Sullivan Proudfoot

Sergeant Jackson spots a familiar face by the docks.  Ingram (Leon Eagles) has been out of prison for a month or so, but it’s what he was sent down for that interests Barlow.  Along with a man called Thomson (Jonathan Holt), Ingram stole a cargo of ingots worth fifty thousand pounds.

Ingram’s been asking about a man called Bruton.  It quickly transpires that he’s a link in the ingot chain, but Bruton’s death has complicated matters.  When Ingram goes to visit another person connected to the crime, Maitland (John G. Heller), there’s a gratuitous info-dump that’s simply breath-taking. Maitland asks Ingram to refresh his memory and tell him about how the robbery was committed (even though Maitland already knows all about it).  It’s an incredibly clumsy way of bringing the audience up to speed and not really necessary anyway, since at this point we’re only ten minutes in.

But clumsy though it is, it does make the plot crystal clear.  Ingram and Thomson entrusted their cargo to Bruton, who planned to ask his son Peter (John White) to take it over to Holland on his barge.  But Ingram and Thomson were arrested and unable to make their rendezvous with Bruton and Peter denies all knowledge of the ingots.

Sadly Time Expired is the first dud of series two.  Barlow doesn’t do a great deal and there’s no sign of Evans or Snow (who can both be guaranteed spice up a middling script).  Instead, Hawkins and Donald take centre-stage.  Norman Bowler and Susan Tebbs are both fine at what they do, but since Hawkins and Donald are rather conventional characters they tend to cancel each other out.

The story is given a little lift when Thomson is released from prison.  We’ve already been told that he’s not going to be pleased that the ingots have disappeared – and it’s true that he does seem a little miffed.  But the tension is still played at a very low key (a spot of gratuitous violence from Thomson might have spiced things up, but it wasn’t to be).

By now the viewer might be pondering one very obvious question. Ingram and Thomson have both been in prison for three years, so why have they made no attempt to find out what’s happened to the ingots until now?  Maybe they’re both very trusting fellows, but it all seems a bit odd.

The main problem with Robert Barr’s script is that we don’t feel invested in the hunt for the ingots, mainly because Ingram and Thomson are such pallidly drawn characters.  There’s some nice location filming, but that aside, this one is entirely forgettable.

Softly Softly: Task Force – Good Listener

S02E04 (7th October 1970). Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Leonard Lewis

PC Snow and Radar, patrolling in the park, meet a middle-aged lady called Miss Thomson (Sylvia Barter).  She’s clearly agitated and Snow, seeing this, suggests she tells her story to Radar.  As strange as this seems it does the trick and Miss Thomson explains that she’s worked as a bookkeeper at a local company for the last fifteen years.  It’s recently been taken over by a man called Overson (Jonathan Newth) and Miss Thomson is concerned that something fraudulent is going on.

The opening scene is another example of a film/VT mix which isn’t very effective.  Location filming always cost more than taping scenes on videotape in the studio, so it’s easy to see why SS:TF tried to limit the time they spent on location.  The problem comes when you mix film and videotape in the same scene.  Here, the establishing shots of the park are on film.  We them move to videotape for the dialogue, which is jarring enough, but there’s also a moment when Terence Rigby delivers several lines on videotape with a film background.  This looks very odd indeed.

PC Snow is a copper rather in the Dixon mould, shown by the way that he has time to stop and chat.  Possibly this might also have something to do with the fact that he spends most of his time alone apart from Radar.  He admits he does talk to his dog, but presumably the dog doesn’t answer back!

Sgt Jackson (David Allister) is a more complicated figure than Snow.  He tended to exist around the fringes of the action in series one and rarely initiated events.  Unlike the much more avuncular Sgt Evans, Jackson doesn’t seem to possess much of a sense of humour and is also deeply ambitious.  We see an example of this here – Hawkins is happy to shuffle off the job of investigating the potential fraud to the Commerce Division, but Jackson is keen to keep it in-house.  He argues that it’ll be good experience for them (and won’t look bad on their records if the right result is gained).

Jackson, clearly enjoying being in charge, sends Snow around to the company warehouse to sniff around.  He meets the manager, Bert Fowler (Douglas Livingstone) and the assistant bookkeeper Betty Adams (Marilyn Harrington).  Both are friendly enough to Snow’s face, but clearly have little time for the police.  Because they have something to hide?  For his part, Snow’s not impressed with Betty, later telling Hawkins that she’s “a little tartlet and tough with it.”

When Barlow finds out that Jackson is running his own enquiry without the authorisation of the Commerce Division, he entertains himself by making the Sergeant sweat for a few minutes.  There’s no finer sight than Barlow in full flight, although he’s prepared to wait and see what Hawkins and Snow (on photographic reconnaissance) turn up.

When Hawkins and Snow return, Barlow continues in pretty much the same vein, taking shots at all of them.  I also love Stratford Johns’ reaction when PC Snow admits that he talks to Radar.  Barlow succulently sums the situation up. “Barmy. I think this is a nut house, not a police office.”

The crime in this story is very much secondary to the interactions of the regulars.  I’ll probably end up sounding like a broken record as I make my way through the series, but Stratford Johns is always so amazingly watchable.  The story is ticking along nicely without him, but it’s only when Barlow appears and begins to terrorise his subordinates that things really begin to motor.

Jonathan Newth, an actor who’s appeared in a score of popular series from the 1960’s onwards (and who’s still going strong today) is perfect as the icy kingpin.  He considers himself to be fireproof (as the police aren’t interested in long frauds) but now that Barlow’s on the case all bets are off ….

Another good script from Elwyn Jones.

Softly Softly: Task Force – Safe in the Streets?

S02E03 (30th September 1970). Written by Allan Prior, directed by Paul Ciappessoni

Safe in the Streets? opens with an atmospheric piece of night-time filming.  A smartly-dressed Asian man, Ali Suleiman (Saad Ghazi), is being stalked through the streets by a gang of youths.  They corner him in an alleyway and, after relieving him of his money, give him a kicking.

Henry Mardsley (Leon Vitali) is the ringleader of the skinheads, although it’s noticeable that he’s spurred on to put the boot in by his girlfriend Reen (Vicki Michelle).  She seems to take pleasure in Ali’s pain and although the attack is brief it’s still brutal.  This is a well-directed and unsettling opening to the story.

Hawkins later learns that such attacks are fairly common.  The doctor at the local hospital tells him non-whites are targeted in this way in order to force them to go back home.  But as he says, if that’s the case why is their money stolen as well?

Barlow and Watt are also in the area, taking a drink at a fairly down-at-heel bar.  Delightfully, Watt tells Barlow that “I think you brought me down here tonight because you’re feeling nostalgic. For the old times, you know, out in the streets, the docks, the pubs, like this one. Only then we were ten years younger and you were two stone lighter.” It’s a lovely nod back to their  Z Cars past and although Barlow demurs, there’s a sense that he’s enjoying being out on the streets again, rather than struggling with the pressures of command.

Barlow and Watt have come to talk to Nasim Khan (Marne Maitland).  The script is deliberately opaque for a while about Barlow’s interest in the man, although Watt suggests that if he wasn’t white he might not be so interested.  This raises the possibility that Barlow could be racist, although when Hawkins comes into the pub and tells them about the attack on Ali, Barlow reacts with fury (an innocent man going about his business who’s robbed and attacked clearly sticks in his craw).

Whilst Watt and Hawkins head off to speak to Nasim, Barlow goes looking for the youths.  His confrontation with Henry is a cracking scene, with both Stratford Johns and Leon Vitali on fine form.  Henry should be the one to dominate – after all, he’s got a coffee shop full of cronies to back him up.  Barlow has no-one on his side, yet the older man is slowly but surely able to dominate the younger.

Barlow gently probes him about his dislike of Pakistanis.  Henry responds that they shouldn’t be over here, taking all the jobs (a viewpoint which, sadly, makes this story just as relevant today – more than 50 years later). But there’s some doubt as to whether Henry actually believes the bigoted comments he comes out with. It’s just as likely that he simply enjoys causing aggro and the colour of his victim’s skin is immaterial. Apart from Reen, the rest of the gang are non-speaking extras, which although slightly limiting does work well in one way (their silence generating a continual air of menace).

When Barlow meets up again with Watt, the pair discuss the youth problem and it becomes clear they have very different opinions.  Watt is all for handing out a dose of swift, brutal retribution whilst Barlow is more resigned and laid-back (he indulgently muses that they’re a lost cause). This harks back to a previous episode (1.6 – The Aggro Boy) which had a similar theme – a teenage underclass, ignored by society, who dish out violence for want of anything better to do.

On a technical point, there’s some rather dodgy CSO at work in these scenes.  Their current base of operations (a laundrette) is on videotape, whilst the streets outside are on film.  Both are fine, but when the two are mixed together it looks rather odd …..

If Henry delights in making money out of the local immigrant community, then so does Khan, albeit in a different way.  Khan is a fixer, smoothing the passage of illegal immigrants and finding them homes and jobs (Ali is one of his many “clients”).  Khan has a veneer of culture – he enjoys taking a glass of sherry every evening – but he’s still profiting from the misery of others.

He turns out to be Henry’s latest victim, which closes the story in a slightly contrived way (Henry, after a brief chase, admits to Barlow and Watt that he was responsible for the attack).  Although this feels slightly unbelievable, it doesn’t detract from the quality of Allan Prior’s script. Seeing Barlow and Watt working the streets is highly entertaining (and it must have been an expensive episode, since most of it was shot on film at night) whilst the nihilism of Henry and Reen is quite disturbing (both Vitali and Michelle are very watchable).  A fascinating time capsule of the period.

Softly Softly: Task Force – Sunday, Sweet Sunday

S02E02 (20th September 1970). Written by Alan Plater, directed by Simon Langton

John Watt has sent the Task Force to the seaside.  Sunday is the day when the skinheads tend to turn up, creating havoc wherever they go.  But this week – possibly because of the strong police presence – they don’t appear.  So Watt sends his team out onto the streets to sniff out crime wherever they can find it ….

Sunday, Sweet Sunday has a nice, wrong-footing opening.  After Watt explains about the skinhead problem, the audience will have been primed for their arrival.  PC Snow is one of the officers waiting on the train platform for them and several shots of slowly approaching trains serves to ramp up the tension just a little more.

But since they never turn up, the story is able to veer off in unexpected scattershot directions as Plater sketches several different examples of crime (all fairly mild, it must be said).

PC Snow is less than impressed with Stephens (Windsor Davies), a bingo caller at the local amusement arcade.  Snow reminds him that he promised the players a prize if they completed a line – so why did he ask two ladies to play off for the prize when they both completed a line at the same time?  Terence Rigby is as delightfully deadpan as usual.

WDC Donald runs across a cheeky chappie photographer called Daley (Christopher Beeny).  Daley takes photographs of holiday makers and offers to post them several prints for the princely sum of five shillings.  Donald twigs that he hasn’t put any film in his camera all morning, realising that he just pockets the money and moves on.  Earlier, Sgt. Evans confessed to Donald that he finds the seaside to be a somewhat depressing place – it simply exists, he claims, to fleece holidaymakers of their money.

His comments are echoed by Daley who admits that he’s ripping people off, but attempts to justify himself by telling Donald that “people come to the seaside expecting to be taken for a ride. Well, most of them on the seaside are pretending that they’re giving you value. I mean, you’ve got fruit machines, you’ve got bingo, bags of chips. It’s all a big con. Really it is. So I don’t bother pretending.”  Beeny gives a nice comic turn (I especially like his reaction when Watt arrests him. “That’s not fair, you should wear a helmet”!)

Earlier, Watt agreed to meet Mr Hughes (Donald Morley) for a drink.  He’d never previously heard of him, but it’s noticeable that when Watt speaks to him on the phone he straightens up after learning he’s friendly with the Chief Constable!  Hughes is a local businessman who, along with several others, is concerned about an influx of hippies.  The hippies don’t actually do anything, but Hughes still wants them moved on.  Watt’s a stickler for the law and views Hughes with disfavour – if the hippies haven’t broken any laws then there’s nothing he can do.  Frank Windsor bristles with indignation during this nicely-played scene.

And with Evans chasing a Borstal escapee, Kennedy (Andrew Neil), through the fairground and onto the beach, as well as the conman Miller (Michael Hawkins) lurking about, there’s no shortage of incident in Alan Plater’s script.  Although Chief Constable Cullen isn’t terribly impressed after Watt discusses his haul, deadpanning that the home office is very worried about seaside photographers!

Possibly because of the faded film sequences, the seaside footage has a rather seedy glamour.  These scenes are a lovely time capsule of the period though, especially the rather run-down fairground.  A typically dense story from Plater which is a rather good vehicle for Susan Tebbs (Donald’s encounter with Daley being the pick of the vignettes).

Softly Softly: Task Force – Baptism

S02E01 (16th Septembder 1970). Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Frank Cox

Tommy Abbott (Ian Hogg) has broken out of prison and returns home to a less than warm welcome from his wife Sal (Diana Bishop).  John Watt is concerned to learn that Abbott’s on the loose.  Reports have reached him that Abbott could be developing schizoid tendencies, which may make him a danger either to himself or others ….

When Abbott first appears he has two fellow escapees, Michaelson (Louis Mahoney) and Jewkes (John Garrie), with him.  Let’s be kind and say that their performances are somewhat on the broad side – especially Mahoney – but things pick up when Abbott is left alone with his wife.

This was a fairly early credit for Hogg, probably best known for the 1980’s police series Rockliffe’s Babies.  Abbott may be the focus of the Task Force’s attention, but until the last fifteen minutes or so he doesn’t have a great deal of screentime.

He winds up at the chemical plant where he used to work.  Sal is convinced that he plans to kill himself and also hints that she was raped by him earlier (which might confirm Watt’s theory about Abbott’s devolving personality).  Barlow, never the most tactful of people, labels Abbott as a nutter and doesn’t seem at all concerned to learn that he might be contemplating suicide.

Other programmes might have discussed whether the penal system had created Abbott’s problems, but SS:TF only lightly skirts around this issue. A psychologist is brought in, but he doesn’t have too much to contribute. Although there’s a grudging comment that if Abbott is captured then he’ll receive treatment (had he stayed locked up, the inference is that he wouldn’t) that’s about as far as the debate goes.

PC Snow and his new police-dog Radar (who replaces Inky, shot down in the line of duty in the final episode of series one) believe they’ve located Abbott, but if he’s inside the chemical plant then they’ll have to tread very carefully (Abbott is carrying a box of matches and one spark could cause an inferno).

All of the series one regulars return for the debut episode of series two. Inconsequential musings – I’m not yet sure about Donald’s new hairdo (but maybe it’ll grow on me) and Cullen (togged up for an evening at the hunt ball) looked very smart …

Baptism is a static, talky episode but things pick up towards the end when Abbott makes his reappearance and we see Barlow entertain himself by browbeating Michaelson.  Mahoney has some decent material to work with here and the battle of wits between Barlow and Michaelson is a good one.

Softly Softly: Task Force – Escort

S01E16 (12th March 1970). Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Frank Cox

A controversial American senator is due to make a flying visit to Oldcote Parish Church. Since he’s received several death threats, the Task Force are charged with his protection ….

And so we reach the final episode of series one. Spoiler alert – a regular is shot and killed during the course of this episode.

You may think that issuing a spoiler alert for an episode broadcast 53 years ago is a tad extreme, but in the past I’ve been ticked off for revealing plot twists from similarly ancient programmes, so you never know.

Escort is an episode with an awful lot of chat. Senator Alderton (Alan Gifford) doesn’t make an appearance until we’re about thirty minutes in – before that the audience is made privy to the meticulous planning which (it is hoped) will see him arrive and depart in safety. Given how things play out, I think they’ll need to go back to the drawing board next time.

The episode resists several times to go down the obvious route. It wouldn’t have been surprising had the American liaison, O’Hara (Douglas Lambert), been a boorish character, keen to override the suggestions of his British counterparts. But instead O’Hara is softly spoken and conciliatory – impressed with the Task Force’s organisation and happy to let them take charge (although he seems mildly surprised that John Watt isn’t armed).

And although Senator Alderton’s intemperate views have stoked our anticipation – in person he’s wryly humorous and businesslike (possibly Allan Prior was making a point here).

Jack Shepherd offers a lovely character sketch as the Rev. George Rowley. Somewhat unworldly (although since he’s hopeful of a handsome donation from Alderton he’s not totally unworldly) he remains baffled as to why Watt has ringed such a tight security cordon around the church. Interestingly Watt pretends that it’s simply an exercise – I understand the need for discretion, but surely Rowley should have been told that the senator’s life was in peril?

Given how exhaustive (and indeed, exhausting) the preparations have been, Escort then briefly tips into farce. Donald identifies a suspect – Arnold Forrester (Glenn Beck) – and she and Barlow escort him out of the church.  He then manages to overpower both of them (by tapping Donald in the chest and stepping on Barlow’s foot!)

A black mark for the Task Force then and the fact there’s no police stationed outside the church allows Forrester to make a break for it (whilst Barlow hops around in pain). This is all a little eyebrow raising, but the drama ramps up again when two shots ring out and Snow comes into view holding Inky (“the bastard’s shot Inky!”). This sent mild shockwaves through the country – Valerie Singleton on Blue Peter had to ensure concerned younger viewers that Inky hadn’t really died. Like the rest of the cast, he was just a very good actor.

Snow gets his revenge by giving Forrester a good kicking. Despite the fact Forrester was armed, clearly nothing was going to stop Snow. A foolhardy move, but one that Barlow seems to tacitly approve of.

So there we go. One series down, seven to go.

Softly Softly: Task Force – The Hermit

S01E15 (5th March 1970). Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Michael Simpson

A group of confidence tricksters are preying on the elderly. John Watt dearly wants to catch them, but that seems unlikely – until a golden opportunity falls into their laps …

Two future Rentaghost alumni (Anthony Jackson, Jeffrey Segal) are members of the gang, along with Harry Landis. Parrish (Segal) is the smooth-talking front man – complete with clipboard he’s a very convincing gas board official. Knocker (Landis) is the sneak thief who rifles through the unfortunate victim’s belongings while Parrish keeps them talking with Corry (Jackson) remaining outside in the car, always ready to make a quick getaway at the first sign of any trouble.

There’s something more than a little disturbing at the thought of the vulnerable being tricked in this way. Several elderly extras are used to illustrate just how prolific the gang are, with the story concentrating on two victims – Miss Dobson (Joan Cooper) and Mr Partland (Andreas Malandrinos).

Joan Cooper (the wife of Arthur Lowe) was only 47 at the time of recording. So either she’d had a very hard life or some skillful old-age make up was applied. In material terms, the amount stolen from Miss Dobson isn’t too great but it’s the sentimental value (her mother’s rings, an Ormolu clock that belonged to her father) that makes the crime so hurtful. Cooper only had a handful of film and television credits to her name, which – based on the evidence of her cameo here – is a little surprising as she gives a powerful performance during her key scene.

Watt – present when Miss Dobson dissolves into tears – is incapable of offering any comfort (he leaves that job to Donald) but it’s obvious how much he wants the thieves caught. At first, Barlow seems less interested, but gradually he’s drawn in (and it’s his actions which ensure the episode ends with a nasty sting in the tale).

Although Cooper was acting elderly, Andreas Malandrinos was the real thing (he was 81). Mr Partland is certainly very doddery, although before I knew Malandrinos’ age I was almost convinced he was putting it on (perhaps he wasn’t quite as infirm as Mr Partland though).

Mr Partland is the owner of a great deal of silver, and the crooks plan to return and pinch the lot. When he tells his story to Barlow and Watt, Barlow’s eyes light up – if they allow Parrish and Knocker to carry out the robbery then they can follow them and catch the big fish. Watt’s understandably hesitant to put the old man through such an ordeal but Barlow ruthlessly overrules him (and easily manages to convince the vague and pliant Mr Partland).

Everything seems to go off fine, but the Task Force are only able to round up the minnows after all – plus Mr Partland suffers an attack after Parrish and Knocker leave. The episode therefore closes on Barlow’s unreadable face as he stoops down towards the prone and barely conscious figure of Mr Partland. We never know if he recovers or not – and it’s up to the viewer to decide whether Barlow feels any remorse …

Due to the subject matter, this is a grim story with only intermittent relief. One bright spot occurs when Donald meets Watt in the post office. He tells her not to call him ‘sir’ whilst she’s working undercover – and she takes this advice to heart by kissing him on the cheek and holding out her cheek for a reciprocal kiss! Later, posing as a mother with a pram, she attempts to use the perambulator as a weapon in order to stop one of the fleeing crooks (it runs an impressive way down a hill before crashing to a halt).

Softly Softly: Task Force – Trust a Woman

S01E14 (26th February 1970). Written by Robert Barr, directed by Ben Rea

In the course of another enquiry, WDC Donald learns that Chris Conner (Sean Caffrey) and his associates are planning a serious crime. But can Donald’s informant – Conner’s girlfriend Molly Carson (Imogen Hassall) – be trusted?

It’s always a slightly melancholy experience watching a performance by Imogen Hassall. Whilst it’s true that most of the actors in series of this age will no longer be with us, Hassall’s tragically early death (she took her own life in 1980 at the age of just 38) hits just that little bit harder.

Her film and television credits began to dry up in the early seventies, but at least her role as Molly is a substantial one. And apart from an Irish accent which comes and goes a little, it’s a fine one and held my attention throughout.

Donald, searching for a missing Swedish au pair girl, strikes up a friendship with Molly. John Watt (who despises female informers in general and Molly in particular) seems initially reluctant to accept her word on anything (at one point referring to her as a “bitch”). It’s just as well that he eventually comes round though, as everything she passes onto Donald proves to be true.

As for Donald herself, she literally has to be pushed into Hawkins’ office to share this lead. That she seems so hesitant could be partly due to her inexperience or partly because of her sex (Watt’s unbelieving comment of “and she came to you?” can be taken either way).

Sean Caffrey has the less flashy role of Chris Conner. Although we’ve been told that Conner is a violent criminal, at first (and especially round Molly) there’s little evidence of this. But Caffrey’s performance is a subtle one and prior to his arrest (where he puts up plenty of resistance – courtesy of a Peter Diamond arranged fight sequence) he manages to tease out the darkness that lies underneath Conner’s affable exterior.

Stephen Rea (as Conner’s brother Philip) has a handful of scenes whilst the other main guest performers are a gaggle of young British actresses who attempt to convince (well, they don’t convince that much) as foreign au pair girls. Their sing-song accents are a little too close to parody for my tastes.

It’s easy to tell this is a Robert Barr script (Conner explains how they’ll tackle the safe robbery in extreme detail – complete with maps and little model cars) but at least it’s one of his better ones. If there’s no particular twist in the tale – apart from the fact that Molly may not have been quite the victim she claimed to be – then it’s still competent enough.

Softly Softly: Task Force – Power of the Press

S01E13 (19th February 1970). Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Brian Parker

Smooth-talking London journalist Derek Watson (Gary Waldhorn) is in the Thamesford area, ostensibly to write a piece about the force. In reality he’s targeting a corrupt local councillor called Whitaker (Ronald Radd). What makes the story especially juicy for Watson is Whitaker’s close ties to Barlow …

There’s a lot to enjoy in this episode. Firstly, it’s one where Cullen runs the show. From his initial politely combative interview with Watson to his spiky interaction with Barlow, Walter Gotell is very well served today. I like the fact that Cullen decided to secretly tape his interview with Watson – clearly President Nixon later took a leaf out of his book ….

We don’t often see Barlow discomforted or on the back foot, but until the last fifteen minutes or so (when he confronts and dominates both Whitaker and Watson) he’s pretty subdued. Although there’s no suggestion that he took a bribe from Whitaker, it seems that Barlow did partly cultivate their friendship because he’d hoped that Whitaker would be a useful ally (helping with career advancement, etc).

If Watson oozes oily charm, then his local counterpart – James Potter (Kenneth Waller) – just gives the air of being a grubby little man in a raincoat. Waller specalised in roles of this kind and he doesn’t disappoint.

Highlights of the episode include an awkward round of golf between Barlow and Whitaker, which takes place on the most cheerless course you could possibly imagine (maybe it would have looked a little better had the sun been out). I also enjoyed Evans’ remarkable ability to down a pint in a single gulp (god bless those fake pint glasses).

That the denouement of the story takes place in a genteel tea shop seems fitting for the sometimes rural nature of SS:TF. Whitaker is recorded accepting a £50 bribe to wave through planning permission on the shop – a fairly small spot of corruption it must be said, although Whitaker hints that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Ronald Radd never gave a bad performance and he’s typically polished and quietly menacing today. Due to his lived-in face he sometimes played older than he actually was (Radd was in his early forties at this time, whereas Whitaker was some ten years older). Whitaker faces the wrath of Barlow with equanimity, seemingly confident that he’ll be able to wriggle out of this spot of trouble. It’s only when Barlow begins to bellow alarmingly that he seems slightly taken aback.

A good one, especially once Barlow casts off his shackles and begins to intimidate all and sundry.

Softly Softly: Task Force – Like Any Other Friday …

S01E12 (12th February 1970). Written by Robert Barr, directed by Vere Lorrimer

It’s another Robert Barr script, so you can expect a story rich in procedural detail but possibly low in excitement.

There’s been a robbery at the palatial home of Major Hartley. Hartley is currently out of the country, but his devotedly waspish Scottish housekeeper Miss Mathieson (Dorothy Smith) is on hand to give Evans all the details. I wonder why so many housekeepers are Scottish? Possibly it’s just a dramatic convention.

She tells Evans several times exactly how she maintains the house (when she opens the windows to air the rooms, etc). This stultifying detail is an early reminder that Barr’s hand is on the tiller today.

The story begins to pick up momentum when Watkins (Peter Madden) returns to the house. Watkins is Hartley’s manservant and clearly has something to hide. Madden’s on good form as the shifty Watkins, although it takes him an age to admit that four guns (army souvenirs) were stolen during the break-in.

This revelation leads the Task Force, in the shape of Hawkins and Evans, to an ex-con called Alec Patterson (William Marlowe). Marlowe would later join the police force (as a series regular on The Gentle Touch) but during the early seventies he tended to operate on the wrong side of the law.

He’s excellent value as the cool and cocky Patterson. One observation – Patterson offers Hawkins and Evans a cigar each. Evans accepts, which is fair enough, but it seems slightly odd that he should light up as Hawkins continues his questioning!

Another familiar face – Tom Baker – makes a very brief appearance as a site foreman (possibly the first, but by no means the last, time he’d be on a building site). Although Baker could steal even the smallest of scenes (his earlier appearance on George and the Dragon is a good example of this) sadly the handful of lines he has today gives him nothing to work with. So he appears and disappears in a flash.

The story rather stutters to a conclusion. Given that Patterson and his criminal colleagues seem so well organised, it slightly beggars belief that they would be panicked into retrieving the guns (which is precisely what the Task Force have been waiting for). As they knew the police were watching them, why not wait for a few weeks until the heat had died down?

One another observation – John Watt gets married but it’s handled in an off-hand way (he simply mentions it in passing at the end – which explains his unexplained disappearance earlier in the story). Clearly SS:TF was a series with little interest in the private lives of its regulars …

Softly Softly: Task Force – Sprats and Mackerels

S01E11 (5th February 1970). Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Peter Cregeen

Illegal immigration was clearly a hot topic during the late sixties/early seventies, as it featured in a number of popular series (apart from this episode, other examples can be found in programmes such as Strange Report and Special Branch).

What marks this one out as unusual is the fact that we never see the immigrants – although I think that’s mainly because, despite the story’s dock-based setting, the series wasn’t able to mount a location shoot there. This meant that filming inside the ship’s tanker (where the illegals were hiding) wasn’t possible.

Rumours have reached John Watt that the docks are a likely place for illegal immigrants to come ashore. He sends a number of coppers down to investigate – including WDC Donald, who masquerades as a fairly mature juvenile delinquent. This is an odd bit of plotting – Donald (in her disguised persona as a stroppy little madam) does manage to tease a lead out of café owner Bateson (Tommy Godfrey) but she’s swiftly chased away by Snow, who then proceeds to question him more closely.

Given this, Donald’s presence was entirely superfluous since Snow could have got the info by himself. Was this an intentional comment on the way Donald is sometimes side lined? It’s very much a man’s force, as the paternalistic Sgt. Evans implies (he appears to regard her like a daughter and so hates to see her getting into potential danger).

For those who like to spot familiar faces, there’s plenty to choose from today – like Joe Gladwin, Kenneth Cranham, Sally Geeson and Christopher Benjamin. Cranham (who’d have a larger role in 3.17 – Anywhere in the Wide World) is entertainingly truculent whilst Geeson also essays a decent cameo as a young girl who’s old before her time. Gladwin’s lugubrious features are always a pleasure to see whilst an avuncular and bearded Benjamin doesn’t have a great deal to do except puff on his pipe and look interested.

Gay Hamilton makes her first SS:TF appearance as Jean Morrow (although the same character had appeared in SS). Jean’s stuttering relationship with John Watt (which progresses slightly in this episode) helps to lighten the tone somewhat.

The lack of dock-based location filming does rob the episode ending of a certain impact (instead of seeing what’s happened, we can only be told about it). But that apart, it’s an above average effort.

Softly Softly: Task Force – Open and Shut

S01E10 (29th January 1970). Written by Allan Prior, directed by Frank Cox

The episode opens with a bang – as Tom Jarrett (Athol Coats) attempts to throttle the life out of Jerry Proctor (Douglas Rain). It’s just a slight pity that (as often happened with live or as live productions) the action cue wasn’t given slightly earlier as there’s a brief pause after the titles have rolled before they start acting …

Jarrett, Proctor and the blowsy Betty Brewer (Gillian Martell) have the first six minutes to themselves. This lengthy scene is somewhat indigestible, due to the overacting of both Coats and Martell (although Gillian Martell, unlike Coats, is given the opportunity to redeem herself later).

After this long scene of histrionics, it’s a blessed relief to switch over to Barlow who receives a report of murder. Jarrett is the victim, with Proctor and Betty insisting that the other did it. Both have clear motives – we’ve already seen the fight between the men and it’s also explained how the leech-like Betty has spent most of Jarrett’s money.

The episode title, as well as Hawkins’ blithe early assumption that Betty is guilty, will suggest to the informed viewer that things are not going to be as straightforward as they first appear. And so it turns out …

Post murder, Betty spends a large part of the episode apparently in a state of shock. We never learn if this is actually the case or if she’s simply shamming. The more affable Proctor begins to sweat when Barlow applies some pressure, but again we don’t know for certain whether he’s guilty or not – so it’s either impressive acting on his part or the squirming of an innocent man.

This open-ended conclusion (a disgusted Barlow stomps off to bed, after ordering that they both be charged with murder) is something in the episode’s favour. It’s good for once not to have everything neatly wrapped up just in time for the credits – after all, real life rarely works like that.

Although Open and Shut begins rather shakily, it gets into its stride with the performance of Douglas Rain a definite plus point.

Softly Softly: Task Force – Series One (Episodes 7 to 9)

S01E06 – The Aggro Boy. Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Vere Lorrimer

Football hooliganism is the topic of today’s story. It’s viewed largely through the eyes of a teenage tearaway – Dixie Dickson (Barry McCarthy) – who ends up beaten to a bloody pulp after a revenge attack.

McCarthy (still acting today – his latest credit was a 2023 episode of Call The Midwife) gives a fine, brittle performance. We never really delve that deeply into Dixie’s character (he claims to enjoy a good punch up and that’s about it) but then Allan Prior’s script doesn’t demand any more of him.

Elwyn Jones offers an explanation for the explosion of violence on the terraces – young men with no Army or National Service experience, locked into dead end jobs …

Of course that can’t be the full story but it seems to satisfy Barlow who spends a large part of the episode trying to understand why. At one point he questions the truculent Dixie but can’t break him.

Those nostalgic for early 1970’s football will no doubt find the match footage appealing, although to me it all looks rather grim. Still, the amount of authentic location work is a definite plus point in the episode’s favour.

Winsdor Davies and Bernadette Milnes play Dixie’s parents. They’re not large roles but are still quite key. His parents know that he likes to dress up as a bovver boy, but seem to regard it as nothing more than a childish indulgence. Indeed, their indifference (they take it in turns to tease and mock him) might be one of the reasons why he’s turned into something of a yob.

S01E07 – Standing Orders. Written by Alan Plater, directed by Brian Parker

With Alan Plater on scripting duties, my expectations were pretty high for this one – and he didn’t let me down. Industrial unrest is the theme of Standing Orders with the Task Force – Harry Hawkins especially – caught in the middle and attempting to show favour to neither the strikers or the management.

Although there’s a little bit of bother from the strikers (cars are blocked from entering the factory, the odd brick is thrown) that’s not really developed by Plater. Indeed, the script seems at pains (just like Hawkins) to show no bias towards either side. Although Hawkins (and Plater) is less kindly disposed towards Bellamy (Christopher Matthews), a university student who – along with his long-haired friends – is parachuted in to wave some placards in solidarity with the workers.

Most of the regulars are present (with WDC Donald making a welcome return for the first time since 1.4) but it’s Hawkins who’s front and centre today (no mean feat with scene stealers like Barlow and Watt present). Hawkins’ refusal to back down when confronted by the irate Fleming (Stuart Saunders), a man convinced that Hawkins should have provided his lorries with police protection, is central to the latter part of the episode.

This incident allows Hawkins (and Plater) to make their feelings plain, which are applauded by Barlow and Watt. Katy Manning (billed as Katie) makes her television debut in a role that calls for little more than the ability to look cute and make terrible coffee. Robert Hartley (forever Grange Hill’s Mr Keating) is good value as a management type very eager to assist the police whilst Robert Flynn (Elliott) has a faintly pantomimic turn as an off-kilter striker who looks like he could turn nasty at the drop of a hat.

S01E08 – Private Mischief. Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Ben Rea

This is very much an episode of two halves. It begins rather quietly with the Task Force tracking a group of unscrupulous private detectives who masquerade as police officers in order to get the information they require. My engagement level here was low, although there are a few points of interest such as Jeremy Young’s guest turn as the aggrieved Charleston (he’s one of the unfortunates targeted by the private detectives).

The story only kicks into gear when Scotland (Vincent Ball) and Fowler (Michael Beint) attack Sergeant Jackson in the mistaken belief that he’s working for a rival detective agency. Elwyn Jones’ script offers Jackson some nice character development – up until now he’s been pretty straitlaced (although still capable of the odd deadpan comment).

Taking him away from his desk and involving him in a spot of rough and tumble was unexpected, but it’s the motor that drives the remainder of the story. One interesting point occurs when Scotland and Fowler confront Jackson in the back of his car. The scene begins on location (shot on film at night) but quickly moves into the studio. That’s more than a little disconcerting, and I can only assume that they ran out of time on location (hard to imagine it would have been intentional – but given that so many car scenes in the series are on VT you can never be sure).

Everything’s now bubbling away nicely, but the tension’s ratcheted up further when Scotland (following his release from the police station) receives a vicious beating. Was this a revenge attack by Jackson? We sort of know that’s not the case, but it’s still dramatically satisfying to see him put through the mill a little (as well as noting the reactions of Barlow, Watt and Evans to the possibility that their colleague might be guilty).

It felt odd to me that Jackson was so quick to offer his resignation – purely because he was asked to account for his movements. As a police officer, surely he would have realised that it was just a matter of routine? But perhaps this was designed to show just how rattled the normally cool Jackson was (or maybe, as Barlow and Watt surmise, underneath his calm exterior there might be a vicious streak lurking).

The reveal of the actual attacker shouldn’t come as too much of a shock, but apart from my earlier grumble about the episode’s slow start there’s not too much I can find fault with. Aside from those mentioned, John Rolfe has a good cameo as a forthright lawyer who crumbles under Barlow’s withering attack and there’s also the familiar face of Reginald Barratt who plays an unflappable uniformed inspector.

Softly Softly: Task Force – Series One (Episodes 4-6)

S01 E04 – The Spoilt Ones. Written by Allan Prior, directed by Brian Parker

We’re on the wrong side of town today – where the streets are full of rubbish, the slum buildings are crumbling and everyone (including the children) seem to have fags permanently drooping from their mouths.

Old con Sid Stannnish (John Bennett) and his wife Jennie (Sally Sanders) exist in extreme squalor (you can almost feel the grime seeping out of the television screen). Their scenes of marital disharmony (violent squabbles followed by interludes of detente) carry something of a punch, although it’s true that they also feel a little artificial.

Maybe it’s because Bennett’s such a well known actor, but he doesn’t quite convince as the feckless Sid (a small time crook living off the money his wife makes). The less familiar Sally Sanders (Jennie is a horrific creation – thinking nothing of smacking her children about when they demand food) fares a little better.

Jennie is befriended by an undercover WDC Donald (pop her in a headscarf and she fits right in). It’s another nice role for Susan Tebbs with the episode ringing the changes by  mostly staying away from the police station (the main focus of the previous three episodes).

Neither Karen Williams or Stephen Proctor (as the two Stannish children) had lengthy acting careers but both impress as a pair maybe doomed to repeat the mistakes of their parents. That they hold the key to solving the mystery of the numerous petty thefts which have blighted the neighbourhood is a nice plot twist.

S01E05 – To Protect the Innocent … Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Frank Cox

Cullen is unable to attend an important civic function, so deputises Barlow to stand in for him. Watt is tickled when he discovers that it’s a carol service down at the local nick. This is the cue for Watt and Sgt. Jackson to break into a spot of impromptu carol singing. Of course, it was pretty obvious that Barlow would then come into the room …

It’s a pretty light-hearted way to open proceedings and this tone continues when Sgt. Evans (maintaining his character of the cliché Welshman) sorrowfully regrets that he hasn’t been asked to attend. After all, everyone knows that singing is in the Welsh blood.

Slowly through, the mood darkens. This begins when an inmate, Jack Gregory (John Normington), spies Barlow in the crowd and asks to speak to him. Rather like John Bennett last time, Normington doesn’t quite convince as a hardened criminal, but overall Gregory is a well drawn character who isn’t easy to read (is he villain or victim?)

I like the way the story ebbs and flows – with the main plot thread (child abuse) only coming into focus fairly late on. Gregory claims that he’s concerned for the welfare of his young son, especially since the boy’s mother – Mary Lester (Nerys Hughes) – has disappeared.

Hughes only has two scenes, but both are key and despite her lack of screentime Mary Is pivotal to the story. Although Barlow and Watt both have plenty to do, it’s Barlow who’s gifted most of the best lines. Concerned for the safety of the child, he confronts Dr Raymond (John Bryans) in a scene that’s the undoubted highlight.

Donald Burton, Edward Jewesbury and David Neal also appear in an episode which poses tough questions – such as the dichotomy between punishment and rehabilitation – but doesn’t offer any pat answers.

S01 E06 – Any Other Night. Written by Robert Barr, directed by Peter Cregeen

It’s New Years Eve, but that doesn’t mean that crime takes a holiday. And since tonight’s crime (the theft of £800 worth of tyres) occurs at police headquarters, it’s both personal and embarrassing …

SS:TF was rarely a fast paced series, but Any Other Night is especially glacial. It’s not totally without interest though – the lengthy opening scene between Cullen and Barlow is all good character stuff (Cullen’s plan to get his senior officers working closer together seems to involve plying them with copious amounts of alcohol!)

Victor Maddern and Douglas Livingstone play the two tyre thieves. Maddern (possessor of a well lived-in face that always seemed to exude an air of defeat) was no stranger to tackling criminal roles of this type. Although his moment of fame in Dixon of Dock Green (“Dick Green Dock. Dock Green Dick”) was still a few years in the future.

Livingstone (who I’m sorry to note passed away in 2021) was coming to the end of his acting career, but his secondary career as a writer would continue for decades to come. He had plenty of fine writing credits to his name, such as the 1981 adaptation of The Day of the Triffids.

Basil Dignam as Chief Supt. Marshall is seemingly on hand to spar with Barlow – but in the end they end up the best of friends. Kenton Moore also makes a brief appearance. It’s hard not to think of The Ark in Space and Noah when he pops up – especially as he seems to pull rather Noah-ish faces at times (although in this episode he’s supposed to be happy and not in agony).

A couple of random observations. There’s a fair chunk of night filming, so clearly the episode had a healthy budget. At one point Evans is sitting in a police car with a colleague who turns out to be a non-speaking extra. This becomes clear when Evans continues to talk and his friend can only nod, raise his eyebrows, shrug his shoulders, etc, in response. Finally, the over-enthusiastic way a bunch of extras see in the New Year during a pub scene is quite the thing.

Softly Softly: Task Force – Series One (Episodes 1-3)

My New Year’s resolution is to rewatch all 149 episodes of Softly Softly: Task Force (I like a challenge). Hopefully I’ve got them all (and I’ll also have the stamina to stay the course). On both counts, time will tell ….

I won’t be able to jot down detailed reviews, but every so often I’ll put up brief capsule reviews of a handful of recently watched episodes, noting a few areas of interest.

S01E01 – Arrival. Written by Elywn Jones, directed by Peter Creegen

Strictly speaking (given the series title and music) this is actually the final episode of Softly Softly, but since it introduces all the new characters it’s easy to see why it’s been lumped under the Task Force banner.

DCS Barlow, now transferred to the Thameford division, is less than impressed with the level of efficiency he finds in his new force. There’s some good fun to be had with Barlow’s exasperation at their slack habits, although this quickly dissipates when everyone urgently begins the search for a missing child.

Professional Welshman Sgt. Evans (David Lloyd Meredith), by-the-book administrator Sgt. Jackson (David Allister), phlegmatic PC Snow (Terence Rigby) and his dog Inky, token female WDC Donald (Susan Tebbs) and chillingly friendly Chief Constable Cullen (Walter Gotell) are the new faces with Barlow, Harry Hawkins and (from episode two) John Watt providing links to the old series.

All of the newcomers’ characters are quickly delineated, and it’s good to see that WDC Donald gets a fair amount to do during these early episodes (although Barlow can’t resist a few “she’s only a woman” comments about her).

Like the second episode, in the end the crime turns out to be murder and (as with episode two) we never actually see the victim. The ending is grim indeed, but well handled – as always, Stratford Johns is excellent value.

S01E02 – Exercise. Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Ben Rea

After a brief spasm of reluctance, John Watt agrees to take over the running of Task Force One. A move to Thamesford means promotion, but it also means working under Barlow again – which both men view with mixed emotions. It doesn’t take long before they click into harmonious gear, but I did like the flickers of friction before this happens (Cullen referring to them as a “pair of pansies”!  helps to date the episode).

As with episode one, it’s another where the crime feels a little distanced as we never see the victim (a Mrs Outwood, who dies in hospital following a violent attack). Patsy Smart (as a nosy neighbour) and Barry Jackson (Mr Outwood) are the familiar faces in a story that has a twist in the tale which I have to confess I didn’t see coming (although in retrospect, perhaps I should have done).

S01E03 – Diversion. Written by Robert Barr, directed by Vere Lorrimer

Barr wrote a good chunk of Task Force (25 episodes). His work is usually strong on procedure (as with today’s episode) but low on excitement. Diversion begins with a lengthy briefing concerning an operation to target a persistent housebreaker (you can’t help feeling a little cheated though – for now, this turns out to be a red herring as the story moves in another direction completely).

An armed robbery, led by Whitley (Brian Croucher), means that the Task Force are on high alert – organising road blocks and eagerly following up clues. A large part of the episode seems to take place in the information room, where the dogged Inspector Reid (Philip Ross) meticulously logs every scrap of information that comes his way (those who enjoy drinking games could try taking a slug of something every time he says “timed at …”)

Croucher’s rather wasted. Along with his accomplices, Whitley is riding a bus to freedom but little happens along the way (and even the moment when he’s disarmed is all over in a flash). Positive points – David Jackson (with a permanent grin on his face) plays a uniformed PC, Geoffrey Hayes (later, like Jackson, a Z Cars regular) makes a brief appearance and Reg Lye (as a newsagent with a memory that comes and goes) is another familiar face to spot.

Softly Softly: Task Force – Selected series three episodes now released on DVD in Germany

task force

The German company Pidax have just released Task Force Police – Volume One.  This contains eight episodes from series three, as below –

1. Bissige Hunde (Once Bitten)
2. Banküberfall (Hostage)
3. Die Flussratte (The Floater)
4. Erpressung (Aberration)
5. Safeschlüssel (An Inside Job)
6. Ein Ehrenmann (Man Of Peace)
7. Die Möbelpacker (The Removal)
8. Irgendein Platz (Anywhere in the Wide World)

  • There’s a little more information (although it’s naturally in German) on Pidax’s website here. Using IMDB as a guide, these episodes were broadcast 1-4, 6, 10, 13 and 17th (in total, twenty-six episodes were made for the third series).

The reason why some episodes have been omitted could be because German language tracks aren’t available.  But the good news is that unlike Pidax’s Maigret DVDs, all the episodes here do feature English language tracks.

I’ve heard that Simply plan to release series two next year, so they may get round to these episodes in due course.  But if you don’t want to wait, then the Pidax release is there.

Thanks to Berthold Deutschmann for bringing this to my attention as well as providing the screencaps below. Copyright in these images remains with the BBC.

Softly Softly: Task Force – Series 1 (BBC 1969-1970)

packshot

Softly Softly:Task Force was a spin-off from Softly Softly (which in turn was a spin-off from Z Cars) and was launched on BBC1 in late 1969. Although branded as a new series, Task Force was, in production terms, a continuation of Softly Softly.

Stratford Johns (Barlow), Frank Windsor (Watt) and Norman Bowler (Hawkins) were the three characters from Softly Softly who crossed over into the new series. They were joined by a host of new faces, including Walter Gotell as Chief Constable Cullen, Terence Rigby as PC Snow, David Lloyd Meredith as Sgt Bob Evans and Susan Tebbs as DC Donald.

Walter Gotell as Chief Constable Cullen and Stratford Johns as DCS Barlow
Walter Gotell as Chief Constable Cullen and Stratford Johns as DCS Barlow

The first series ran for sixteen episodes and generally the quality is very high. Quick capsule reviews  –

Arrival sees Charlie Barlow take up his new position as DCS of the newly formed Task Force based in Thamesford. Whilst most of the running time is taken up with Barlow investigating his surroundings there is a secondary story about a missing child with a bleak conclusion.

Next up is Exercise which sees John Watt arrive to lead Task Force 1. Shortly after his arrival the squad are deployed to investigate a stabbing. There’s a nice guest turn from Barry Jackson in this one and some needle between Barlow and Watt.

There’s a good role for Susan Tebbs, as DC Donald, in Diversion.  Brian Croucher guest stars.

The first few episodes are concerned with the Task Force team and the crimes are very much secondary. The Spoilt Ones is a change of pace as the miscreants are the focus (lovely, grimy, performance by John Bennett).

Stratford Johns is outstanding in To Protect the Innocent. Given the large cast, no one character dominates each episode, but each one where Barlow is centre-stage are highlights for me.

Any Other Night. The theft of a number of tyres from the police depot is an embarrassment. The fact it happens on New Years Eve is another irritation. A routine episode, but it has some good character moments.

The spectre of football hooliganism is tackled inThe Aggro Boy. A fascinating look at the run down state of British football in the late 60’s/early 70’s. Interesting time capsule.

Frank Windsor as Det Sup John Watt and Stratford Johns as DCS Barlow
Frank Windsor as Det Sup John Watt and Stratford Johns as DCS Barlow

Another hot topic of the time, union unrest, is tackled in the episode Standing Orders. Fairly routine stuff, enlivened by an early appearance from Katy Manning.

Another good turn from Stratford Johns in Private Mischief. A straightforward tale, but not without interest.

Open and Shut. It seems like a simple case, but first appearances can be deceptive. A station-based, procedural episode, this is a good character piece.

An undercover operation at the docks leads to the uncovering of an illegal immigrant ring in Sprats and Mackerels. Plenty of familiar faces in roles of varying sizes (Kenneth Cranham, Sally Geeson, Joe Gladwin, Christopher Benjamin).

Like Any Other Friday is one of the lesser episodes on this release. A blink-and-you’ll-miss-him appearance from Tom Baker is one of the few items of interest here.

Things immediately pick up with Power of the Press though. It’s another Barlow-centric episode with Stratford Johns once again on great form. And here he has an opponent of equal weight – Ronald Radd as the corrupt Councillor Whitaker. The original Hunter, opposite Edward Woodward in Callan, Radd was a quality actor and it’s a pleasure to see him in opposition to Johns. Probably the best episode of the first series.

Susan Tebbs as DC Donald
Susan Tebbs as DC Donald

Trust a Woman. Another good, but not spectacular, episode. A nice guest turn from Imogen Hassall is the highlight here.

The Hermit. A straightforward, but engaging, story about a gang of fraudsters preying on the elderly and vulnerable. Another very watchable episode.

The final episode of series 1 is Escort. Whilst it’s a bit of a runaround, it’s worth it for the last ten minutes or so.

Overall, this is a very good collection of episodes. There are a few lesser ones, but generally the hit rate is very high and the quality of the guest and regular casts make this a very enjoyable watch.

Sadly, the initial release from Simply was somewhat flawed as all the episodes had an unintentional “filmising” effect. There was a repress, but the “filmising” effect was still present on three episodes. There was then a second repress in February 2014 which finally sorted things out.

Whilst I would unreservedly recommend this series, there may still be uncorrected copies out there, so purchasers may wish to be wait until they have gone out of circulation. Simply did have an exchange program and if you do have a faulty release it might be worthwhile to contact them to see if it’s still running.

For the record, the address for returns was – Simply HE, FREEPOST RSYX-ERKC-CJJH, Ringwood, BH24 1HD.

Encoding issues apart, for anybody who enjoys British police drama from this era, SS:TF is well worth a look.