Softly Softly: Task Force – Run For Your Money (1st November 1972)


And so we have to bid farewell to Charlie Barlow.  The first run of Barlow At Large had preceded series three of Softly Softly: Task Force, but the remainder (three seasons from 1973 onwards) aired after he’d left Thamesford for good.

Poached by the mysterious Fenton (Neil Stacey) from the Home Office, Barlow faces an unknown future.  Back then, the viewers wouldn’t have had long to wait to find out what he’d let himself in for (the first episode of the new series was broadcast in February 1973). Today I’ve a feeling we’re in for a far longer wait (Barlow At Large may eventually surface on DVD, but I’m not holding my breath).  Fenton would be a regular in the series and thanks to his brief appearance with Cullen here, it’s possible to imagine the sort of combative relationship he and Barlow would later enjoy ….

Run For Your Money is a low-key departure for such an important character. His meeting with Cullen (who buys him lunch at the swanky Stag At Bay restaurant) is delightfully awkward. Barlow then treats Watt and Hawkins to a meal at the same venue later on (if you’ve got the set in the studio then it’s sensible to make the most of it). After he’s broken the news, it’s fair to say there’s conflicted feelings – John Watt has his eye on Barlow’s seat but feels uneasy drinking a toast to celebrate his departure.

Hawkins, as befits his cheery, breezy persona, seems less concerned. It’s an interesting touch that Sara is more ambitious than he is, deciding that Barlow’s departure would mean promotion for everyone.

If the lunchtime meeting between Barlow and Cullen wasn’t awkward enough, the fact that Sara and Hawkins just happened to be noshing in there at the same time added an additional frisson of social embarrassment. Although Sara, as befits her upper-crust breeding, wasn’t at all perturbed. She treats Cullen with amused disrespect and decides that Barlow (out of his earshot) is something of a sad case.

Possibly the most notable thing about The Stag At Bay is that all the waitresses have very low cut tops. Since they’re always bending over the tables this is very noticeable ….

Run For Your Money does have a spot of crime too though. Austin (Ronald Radd) has embezzled twenty thousand pounds from the company he used to work for.  A well-spoken, intelligent, middle-aged man, he’s reluctant to reveal where the money is, much to Barlow’s frustration.

Radd’s second and final SS:TF appearance adds a touch of class to the episode.  He only appears in a few scenes, but they’re incredibly watchable. The first is a three-hander between Barlow, Evans and Austin.  Taking place in the interview room, the sense of claustrophobia is ramped up by the way that the camera keeps tight focus on each of the three in turn. To be honest, I wouldn’t have minded an entire episode just featuring Johns and Radd in the interview room ….

It’s a curious thing, but so many actors back in the sixties and seventies looked a good deal older than they actually were.  Radd, for example, was only forty three when he made this episode, but could easily have passed for a man in his late fifties (indeed, Austin states that he’s fifty seven).  It would have been interesting to see Barlow break Austin in the interview room, but the mystery of the missing money (there’s a connection to the Vietnam War, which was unexpected) is solved by a spot of good old detective work.

The final shot we have of Barlow is a slow and silent zoom in the interview room (he’d gone back to confront Austin).  It’s an unshowy exit for someone who has dominated the series. He’ll be missed.


Softly Softly: Task Force – The Witness (25th October 1972)


The Witness was one of two SS:TF directorial credits for David Maloney. Knowing his fondness for using a regular “rep” of actors, I had a quick skim through the cast list to see if I could spot any familiar names.

There’s Tony McEwan, for one. Maloney had already used him in one Doctor Who (The War Games) and would later cast him in another (Planet of Evil) in addition to Hawkeye, The Pathfinder. Given McEwan’s fairly limited list of credits, these performances constitute a fairly sizeable chunk of his television career.

Today he’s playing Carson, a lorry driver whose cargo (scotch whisky worth twenty grand) is hijacked by a gang of gun-toting masked men.  It’s not the best performance you’ll ever see (although there’s a even less convincing one later) but Carson’s interrogation is still highly entertaining, mainly because both Barlow and Watt are in the room.

The pair work well apart, but something special tends to happen whenever they team up. They’d begun the episode in Barlow’s office, enjoying a late-night drink. Barlow, still smarting that his promotion prospects have been dashed, was clearly in need of a shoulder to cry on and Watt fitted the bill nicely.  As for Watt, having done his duty he was looking forward to getting off home, but a last minute phone-call (about the robbery) dashed that.

For Barlow (fretting about his empty house) more work is just the ticket. Watt seems less enthused about rushing straight over to take charge, although the private smile he gave before they both left the office was a nice little moment, letting the audience know that he didn’t mind that much (presumably he’s just relieved that Barlow has something new to occupy him).

The always-reliable Ron Pember turns in another good performance as Wilf Taylor. He’s a member of the gang, albeit a somewhat sickly and insubstantial one.  The power behind the throne seems to be his wife, Betty (Mitzi Rogers).  SS:TF wasn’t renowned for having that many strong female guest roles (crime back in the seventies seemed very much to be a man’s world) so Betty is a notable character, even if she does end up as a victim by the end of the episode.

She runs a corner shop (which bears a passing resemblance to Awkright’s store) and right from the off is very combative.  Dominating the weak Wilf, she then steps up the intensity another couple of notches when the police come calling.

Most of her early ire is directed at DS Green (Heather Stoney). If the series didn’t specialise in decent female guest roles, then it also was struggling at this point with its female regulars.  Stoney, with her handful of appearances across the third and fourth series, always played what she was given very well, but Green was rarely placed in the centre of a story.

Mitzi Rogers has the best guest role of the episode (Betty’s heavy blue eye shadow and leopard skin coat helps to make her stand out) but James Mellor, as Albert Dirman, is also very watchable. Dirman is the Mr Big of the hijackers and reacts with cold fury when he mistakenly believes that Wilf’s talked to the police (he hasn’t, but Betty has).

Dirman’s promise to disfigure Betty with acid is a chilling one, although the threat is slightly negated when the instrument of his retribution – Stan (Gordon Bilboe) – lumbers into view.  Partly it’s because of the haircut, moustache and suit, but there’s no denying that Bilboe’s performance is rather stilted. True, he’s not gifted terribly good dialogue (mostly it’s of the “you got nothing on me, copper” variety) but Bilboe’s delivery doesn’t help ….

The late action scene (Hawkins purses a fleeing Stan) isn’t that convincing, but the main thrust of the episode – the way that Barlow manipulates both Wilf and Betty in order to nail Dirman – is very compelling.  And the final sting in the tail (even after Betty’s been attacked with an iron bar, Wilf is unwilling to talk) is a fascinating wrinkle.  Another strong series four entry.


Softly Softly: Task Force – On The Third Day (18th October 1972)


On The Third Day juggles two separate Barlow plotlines. In the first, he’s targeted by Timothy Redway (Anthony Heaton) a violent criminal with a grudge and in the second he undergoes a grilling at an intensive promotion board.

The former could easily have been the major theme, but instead it’s very much secondary – even though the resolution of this storyline provides the episode with its climax.  It does serve to place Barlow under pressure though (something which maybe later has a knock on effect at the board).

What’s especially interesting is that in the previous episode Mrs Barlow was killed off-screen in a road accident, so if a pretext had been required to explain why Barlow was even more prickly than usual, surely that would have sufficed.  As it is, the death of Mrs Barlow seems slightly puzzling in plot terms – it does allow us to see a brief softening of Barlow’s character, but that’s about all (although maybe its function was to highlight just how career driven Barlow is – the widowed man seems hardly different from the married one).

Still, we get to see Barlow at home, pottering about in the kitchen (it’s rather orange). Given that his kitchen décor is rather horrid in places, possibly Redway did him a favour by attempting to burn the house down ….

No surprises that the fire largely occurs off-screen. Big action set pieces were outside of the series’ budget.

By far the most interesting part of the episode occurs when Barlow travels down to Eastbourne. There, along with a group of brother officers, he undergoes a series of tests, exams and interviews. Three heavyweight actors – Richard Vernon, Patrick O’Connell and John Arnatt – are the ones in charge, which helps to make these scenes fly.

The three-hander between Barlow, Asst. Chief Constable Morton (O’Connell) and Chief Constable Daniels (Arnatt) is a cracking scene.  With Morton playing bad cop and Daniels good, Barlow’s character is slowly unpicked.  But Barlow more than holds his own, even if his distaste for the some parts of this procedure is made clear.

Barlow’s one-on-one meeting with Sir Ralph Townley (Vernon) looks set to develop along similarly entertaining lines, but alas it’s cut short by a gun-toting Redway. All those police around the place and Redway was still able to get close enough to the window in order to loose off a few shots. Somebody should be for the high jump.

Knowing that Barlow’s time with the series was drawing to a close, I wondered at first if On The Third Day was designed as an exit point. But no, Barlow’s promotion attempt is unsuccessful and so he seems fated to remain at Thamesford for the foreseeable future.  But that’s not the case, the clock is definitely ticking ….

A Barlow-heavy episode is always going to get a thumbs up from me (Stratford Johns doesn’t disappoint of course).  And with Vernon, O’Connell and Arnatt plus Donald Burton as one of Barlow’s fellow interviewees it’s plain this isn’t an episode short on decent guest stars. 

The featured regulars are also gifted some good scenes – Walter Gotell never has that much to do, but he always maximises every line (even when he’s being pleasant, there’s something rather unsettling about Chief Constable Cullen).  Meanwhile, Evans and Knowles are turning into a very decent double-act.


Softly Softly: Task Force – Surveillance (27th September 1972)


Surveillance begins slowly (which is hardly unusual for SS:TF) although things hot up when Frank Martin (Frank Wylie), one of three safecrackers, is pursued from the scene of the crime by Snow.

Since Martin’s already loosed off one shot whilst making his escape, it seems a little unwise for Snow to slowly step towards him, especially since he’s still brandishing the gun. This moment seems to be a homage to that scene from The Blue Lamp, but Snow proves to be much more agile than poor old George Dixon (he dodges the bullet).

Martin gets away and later holes up with William Chalmers (Jon Laurimore).  Martin might be physically slighter than Chalmers, but he finds himself in a position of authority (mainly because Martin’s arrest would also implicate Chalmers). Laurimore could play this sort of dodgy role in his sleep, but he’s still more than watchable – especially later on when Chalmers and Barlow come face to face.

Wylie has the best defined guest role though. Martin’s unpredictability and simmering violence is teased out during the episode, even if it’s hard to ever believe in him as a real threat. Possibly this has something to do with the fact that SS:TF generally had a very sedate pace – violence rarely reared its head.

If Barlow loses his rag when briefly questioning another of the gang, Terry Condon (Nigel Humphreys) then he’s sweetness and light when Chalmers is wheeled in later. I’m not sure which is the most dangerous – impulsive Barlow or cold and calculating Barlow ….

Surveillance has a nice spot of night-time location filming at the beginning and the end of the episode. This helps to open up what would otherwise be a fairly static story. Overall it’s not a top-tier instalment, but Wylie and Laurimore help to keep the interest levels up.


Softly Softly: Task Force – Spit and Polish (13th September 1972)


There’s a lot to process during the opening few minutes of Spit and Polish. A new theme tune, Hawkins in uniform, Evans in plain clothes and PC Snow’s faithful canine friend, Radar, seems to have died ….

Entirely shot on film, it’s certainly in much better nick than the last available all-film episode (Lessons from series two).  The Task Force are on the hunt for an attacker of women. At present he hasn’t done anything worse than tear their clothes, which Barlow – to Evans’ disgust – is disappointed about. A rape or serious assault would provide them with some decent forensic evidence.

Early on the women are just passive victims (mentioned, but not seen). The next target – Sara Jamieson (Jenny Hanley) – is quite different. An upwardly-mobile horsey type, she’s able to beat her assailant off with a riding crop and seems undisturbed by the attack. Later she wonders why the man didn’t target one of the many women who are begging to be raped (a moment which helps to date the story firmly in another era).

Sara is certainly something of a hit with the Task Force. She and Watt have a brief moment of banter (Watt’s a bit of a flirt on the sly) and later Sara has a lengthy chat with Snow (a good character moment for Rigby).  But it’s Harry Hawkins whom she’s got the hots for – they pop out for a spot of dinner and dancing.

Hanley’s excellent value as the pampered (but not unlikeable) rich girl. The always dependable Peter Copley pops up as Brigadier Jamieson, Sara’s father and a local big-wig (hence Barlow’s desire to keep him sweet).

Spit and Polish certainly has an expansive feel, quite different from some of the more enclosed, studio-bound episodes (it concludes with an impressive stunt featuring the attacker jumping off a ship). Whilst the rape comment (especially coming from Sara’s mouth) is very jolting, at least the episode doesn’t present her as a victim (indeed, she’s the key to running the assailant to ground) which is certainly something in its favour.


Softly Softly: Task Force – Conclusion (29th March 1972)


Having skirted around the periphery of several stories (although it’s possible that he featured more heavily in some of the episodes not currently available on DVD) Conclusion sees PC Drake (Brian Hall) move centre stage.

SS:TF was often content not to rush, but the opening five minutes of this one – Sergeant Evans considers Drake’s solid gold pencil from all angles – takes some beating. This expensive trinket is enough to set alarm bells ringing with Evans (as is the revelation that Drake lends his colleagues money).

One such recipient is PC Snow. It’s hard to imagine two more different characters – the confident and fly Drake lined up against the methodical and painfully honest Snow. Given this, it’s slightly difficult to see them forming much of a friendship.

Drake’s convivial relationship with his local publican (compared to Snow’s refusal to accept a drink from the same landlord) helps to differentiate their characters even more. It suggests that Drake is taking bribes, although it all seems a bit too obvious. As does the fact he flashes a gold pencil about. Surely a corrupt policeman would be a little more subtle?

The crime of the week – local churches are being robbed of their valuables – takes second place to proving Drake’s guilt or innocence, but it does provide an excellent character moment for Terence Rigby. PC Snow returns to the church where his previous police dog was shot and killed.  Rarely placed in the forefront of the action, Rigby is nevertheless always excellent value – there’s something very reassuring about the implacable Snow.

The denouement probably won’t come as too much of a surprise. Brian Hall was often cast on the wrong side of the law, as he was again here when Drake’s true nature is finally brought into the light by Barlow. Once again, Stratford Johns doesn’t disappoint.


Softly Softly: Task Force – Woman’s World (16th February 1972)


Woman’s World is another bleak episode. It opens with the news that a ten-year old boy called Norman Gordon has been stabbed to death.  We never actually see the body (when his mother is called to identify him, the camera lingers on Sergeant Evans instead) but this doesn’t lessen the impact.

As the episode title suggests, female characters play central roles. Two – both very different – feature. The first is Carol James (Lois Hantz). A cub reporter who gets wind of the murder, she’s desperate for a scoop. Initially treated with indulgence by Evans, his good-natured feeling doesn’t last long ….

Indeed, Carol doesn’t make many friends amongst the rest of the Task Force either. Both Hawkins and Barlow separately wonder if her parents know that she’s out so late (Hawkins also calls her a chit of a girl, whilst Barlow’s comment of “jailbait” is even less complimentary). It’s true that she oversteps the bounds on several occasions, but does this display of male ire have something to do with the fact she’s a young woman?

This was the first of only a handful of credits for Hantz. She’s very impressive, which makes it all the more surprising that her career in television wasn’t longer.

Cherry Morris plays Anthea Gordon, the mother of the murdered boy.  She’s outwardly harsh and domineering (she has to be, she says, as her husband is so weak). As with Hanz, it’s a very well judged performance.  Clifford Rose, as the weak husband in question, is his usual immaculate self.

Stratford Johns once again mesmerises.  Barlow’s confrontation with Carol and the way he can switch between cold fury and geniality with his subordinates are two examples why there’s never a dull moment when Johns is on screen.

The last ten minutes, when the truth is revealed, grips like a vice. A top-tier episode.


Brond – Simply Media DVD Review

Out for an early morning jog, Robert (John Hannah) witnesses a shocking murder. A man later identified as Brond (Stratford Johns) casually pushes a young boy over a bridge. But this sudden act of violence is only the beginning as Robert finds himself embroiled in Brond’s scheme to trap an IRA killer ….

Adapted by Frederic Lindsay from his own novel and broadcast in 1987, Brond is one of those 1980’s thriller serials (along with the likes of Edge of Darkness and Dead Head) which eschew narrative clarity in favour of something much more non-linear. But given that Lindsay’s novel was rather baffling in places, it’s no surprise that his television adaptation was also opaque.

Brond’s first appearance is ridiculously memorable. Pushing the boy over the bridge without a second thought, Brond then casually winks at Robert as he passes by.  What’s especially interesting about this scene is that until the incident is revisited towards the end of the serial it’s possible to believe that Robert was hallucinating and that there actually was no murder.

Brond might have been John Hannah’s television debut (a major role for such a newcomer) but Alan Stratford Johns was an old hand. He’ll always be best remembered for playing Charles Barlow in a string of BBC police series (Z Cars, Softly Softly, Softly Softly: Task Force, Barlow) but he also had a rich and diverse career before and after his time with the police force.

Brond was one of his later signature roles though – it certainly made a considerable impact at the time and it’s not difficult to see why. Brond is a peach of a part and it offers Johns a number of wonderfully constructed monologues and set piece scenes. The first occurs at a university party, where an increasingly disconnected Robert views Brond in a mirror. The framing is so non-naturalistic that the exact reality of the situation seems to be in doubt (as with the boy’s murder).

Satan must be defeated. But never is quite. So we owe red roses and sunsets to Satan’s joy in being master.

Brond’s materialisation by Robert’s hospital bed is another peculiar and jolting moment. Why the whole ward is suddenly bathed in an unearthly red light is a mystery which is never explained. And yet again Brond’s elliptical, gnomic utterances don’t help to make the situation any clearer.

I remember Paris, young men, far from home. The story was written to make a little money, concerning a lady and her victim who was quite willing – eager to suffer and obey. She did terrible things to him, she might have killed him. But it was all innocent daydreams, some wonder drug of science fiction. So when it was over, no blood, no regrets, just a man and woman and a warm summer evening. Wasn’t that a better world to live in?

In the wrong hands this sort of florid material could easily fall flat, but it’s testimony to Johns’ skill that he makes moments such as these utterly compelling.

Aside from Johns and Hannah, there’s a strong supporting cast. James Cosmo, as Primo, looms menacingly throughout. Although connected to Brond, he also latches himself onto Robert. Louise Beatty (Margaret) also impresses whilst it’s always a pleasure to see Christopher Ellison. A number of other familiar faces, such as Russell Hunter, pop up in minor roles.

As we proceed to the second episode, the plot only becomes more labyrinth. Robert’s mysterious landlord, Kennedy (Ian McElhinney), casts a menacing shadow whilst the murder of a fellow lodger, Kilpatrick (Laurie Ventry), and Robert’s discovery of a gun wrapped in a blood-soaked cloth are further pieces of the disorienting puzzle. Robert’s later police cell conversation with a gardner (Phil McCall) is another of those strange Brand moments.

Charged with the murder of Kilpatrick, Robert is interrogated by Frew (Christopher Ellison) a character who could be a close cousin of Frank Burnside. But the murder of Kilpatrick is clearly only a sideshow – the assassination of Sir Colin Fraser seems to be much more key ….

The final episode sees Robert released into Brond’s care. Stratford Johns is on fine form, especially when in interrogation mode. Things then go very strange after the pair pay a visit to high class brothel. Brond has some peculiar ideas about entertainment (and isn’t fussy about who might be looking in). There’s also an intriguing callback to the murder of the boy from episode one and some of the loose ends are tied up. Other aspects of the story (notably why Brond latched onto Robert) remain open to interpretation.

Critical reaction at the time was pretty positive.  The Stage (14th May 1987) reviewing the first episode, declared it to be “a jigsaw thriller, in which you are not expected to see the picture until most of the pieces have slotted into place”.  Johns’ performance (“Brond isn’t the sort of man you would want as a babysitter. He speaks in a calm, measured voice, at once chilling and reassuring”) drew praise as did John Hannah (“a likeable dupe, whose jokes always seemed to fall on deaf ears”).

The three episodes (each approx. 50 minutes) are contained on a single DVD.  The all-film production is unrestored, but for a thirty year old serial is in pretty good shape with no major picture issues.  There’s no special features and, as per Simply’s other recent C4 releases, no subtitles (it appears that Channel 4, unlike the BBC, don’t require subtitles to be added).

Featuring a haunting title theme by Bill Nelson and Daryl Brunswick, Brond lingers long in the memory. The lack of a clear narrative means it won’t appeal to all, but since there’s so much of interest – notably the performances of John Hannah and Stratford Johns – it’s hard not to be drawn into this dark, twisted world.

Brond is released by Simply Media on the 30th of July 2018, RRP £14.99. It can be ordered from Simply here, quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount.

Blakes 7 – Games

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Avon’s hot on the trail of Feldon crystals, one of the most precious minerals in the galaxy, but it’ll come as no surprise to learn that so is Servalan.  Both the Scorpio crew and Servalan end up on the mining planet Mercol 2, which is run by the duplicitous Belkov (Stratford Johns).  Suspiciously low production yields and a tendency for members of the survey team to die in strange and unexplained ways are two reasons why Servalan is interested in Belkov, but he attempts to broker a deal – promising to deliver up the Scorpio crew in exchange for his life.

Games is another B7 tale which boasts a heavyweight guest star – in this case Stratford Johns.  Elsewhere on this blog I’ve waxed lyrical about how good Johns always is in Softly Softly: Task Force and indeed he’s such a fine actor that he even convinces as a frog with a funny hairdo in the Doctor Who story Four To Doomsday.  But he’s got his work cut out here as Belkov isn’t a character of great depth.

The basic concept of the story is sound enough though.  Belkov enjoys a good double or triple cross and he’s also an expert games player, so with the aid of his computer Gambit (voiced by Rosalind Bailey) he’s able to set multiple traps for the unwary.  There’s a similar vibe with Belkov/Gambit as there was between Ensor/Orac, only not as well defined.  Gambit seems to lack Orac’s free will and argumentative nature, but the ending suggests that Gambit was more than the logical machine she appeared to be, although this isn’t something that’s really developed.

Servalan once again does little of note.  Had Jacqueline Pearce been held back for three or four significant appearances per year then I think it would have benefited the character enormously.   There’s still the odd writer – such as Tanith Lee in the upcoming Sand – who are able to do something interesting with her, but that one’s pretty much the exception now rather than the rule. Having said that, Servalan’s first appearance is memorable – striking a pose whilst masked Federation troopers (who we haven’t seen very often recently) mass behind her.  But it’s odd that she never meets Avon or the others, meaning that her role could have been played by any Federation officer.

Vivienne Cozens’ direction is very sure-footed – there’s some nice film work and the odd gruesome death (one of the Federation troopers is reduced to pink dust after falling down a mine-shaft).

Vila gets to be a little more proactive than usual – rescuing Tarrant, Dayna and Gerren (David Neal).  Gerren’s been brought along for the ride by Avon, who’s blackmailing him into helping them (nice chap, Avon). It’s characteristic of Avon that he secretly made contact with Gerren, meaning that the others were none the wiser until he deigned to tell them what was going on. Neal’s a good actor, although he’s hamstrung with a painfully obvious fake beard. But it’s a nothing role, since Gerren doesn’t really bring any knowledge to the table that Avon didn’t already possess.

Games is a bit of a runaround but things pick up towards the end when Avon, Vila, Tarrant and Soolin play Belkov’s endgame.  The prize – should they live – will be the Feldon crystals, but first they all have to win their various challenges.  Conveniently, each game is suited to one of them (Soolin excels at the sharp-shooting challenge whilst Tarrant tackles a flight simulator with ease).  This section of the story reveals that the episode title has something of a double-meaning as eventually Avon realises that there won’t be any crystals at the end of their quest.  “There aren’t any damned crystals. There never were any damned crystals. They’re like everything else on this ship: a game.”

With no crystals and Belkov dead after Gambit initiates a self-destruct sequence, Games is a typically downbeat S4 yarn where everybody loses.  It should be a better story than it actually is, but some parts feel a little perfunctory (especially the games section at the end) which is a problem. And even Stratford Johns’ freewheeling performance can’t hide the fact that the plot is fairly pedestrian (the Scorpio crew get captured, escape, get captured again, etc).

But there are compensations – the location may be a quarry, but it’s a very nice one. And there’s a number of rather impressive explosions which are certainly more substantial than the standard BBC bangs of the time. It’s this sort of visual sheen which helps to make Games an above average S4 entry.

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Softly Softly: Task Force – Series Two. Simply Media DVD Review

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Series two of Softly Softly: Task Force was broadcast between September 1970 and March 1971.  Whereas series one (discussed here) had sixteen episodes, series two ran for twenty six episodes (an obvious sign that series one had been a success).

Below is a brief episode guide –

Baptism – 16th September 1970
Written by Elwyn Jones. Featuring Ian Hogg

Sunday, Sweet Sunday – 23rd September 1970
Written by Alan Plater. Featuring Christopher Beeney, Windsor Davies and Michael Hawkins

Safe in the Streets? – 30th September 1970
Written by Allan Prior. Featuring Leon Vitali, Vicki Michelle and George Tovey

Good Listener – 7th October 1970
Written by Elwyn Jones. Featuring Jonathan Newth

Time Expired – 14th October 1970
Written by Robert Barr

Lessons – 21st October 1970
Written by Arnold Yarrow. Featuring John Ringham, Glynn Edwards and Sally Thomsett

Without Favour – 28th October 1970
Written by Alan Plater. Featuring Collette O’Neil

Never Hit a Lady – 4th November 1970
Written by Allan Prior.  Featuring Neil McCallum and Richard Beale

Its Ugly Head – 11th November 1970
Written by Elwyn Jones.  Featuring Michael Goodliffe

Who Wants Pride…? – 18th November 1970
Written by Robert Barr. Featuring Jess Conrad and Ray Lonnen

Collation – 25th November 1970
Written by Elwyn Jones

Do Me a Favour – 2nd December 1970
Written by Robert Barr. Featuring Chloe Ashcroft, Victor Maddern and Jon Rollason

Sweet Are the Uses of Adversity – 9th December 1970
Written by Elwyn Jones. Featuring Del Henney

Bearings – 16th December 1970
Written by James Doran

A World Full of Rooms – 23rd December 1970
Written by Allan Prior. Featuring Milton Johns

The Lie Direct – 30th December 1970
Written by Elwyn Jones. Featuring Tony Calvin and Geoffrey Palmer

Ground Level – 6th January 1971
Written by Alan Plater. Featuring Glyn Owen

Company Business – 13th January 1971
Written by John Elliot. Featuring Wendy Gifford

Kick Off – 20th January 1971
Written by Elwyn Jones. Featuring Roddy McMillan and George Pravda

Final Score – 27th January 1971
Written by Elwyn Jones. Featuring Roddy McMillan and George Pravda

Something Big – 3rd February 1971
Written by Robert Barr. Featuring Desmond Llewellyn, John Woodvine and Jeremy Wilkin

Games – 10th February 1971
Written by Arnold Yarrow. Featuring Jean Boht

In the Public Gaze – 17 February 1971
Written by Elwyn Jones. Featuring Gawn Grainger and Reginald Marsh

Held for Questioning – 24th February 1971
Written by Robert Barr. Featuring Denis Quilly and Norman Jones

Black Equals White – 3rd March 1971
Written by Allan Prior. Featuring Angus MacKay

Cash and Carry – 10th March 1971
Written by Elwyn Jones. Featuring Gertan Klauber and Peter Sallis

The regular cast is pretty much unchanged since series one. Stratford Johns continues to dominate as Chief Supt. Barlow, whilst Frank Windsor returns as the straight-talking Det. Sup. Watt.  Norman Bowler (Det. Insp. Hawkins) doesn’t have such a sharply-defined character as either Barlow or Watt, but he’s still a very solid presence.  Walter Gotell, probably best known playing Gogol in the James Bond films, makes the occasional appearance as Chief Constable Arthur Cullen.

David Lloyd Meredith provides a dash of humour as the rather Welsh Sgt. Evans whilst Terence Rigby (always a rather idiosyncratic actor) is, as PC Snow, another actor who’s always worth watching.  PC Snow was distraught at the end of series one after his police-dog Inky was shot and killed, so series two sees him develop his working relationship with Inky’s replacement.  Susan Tebbs, as Det. Con. Donald, remains the show’s sole female regular.  Terrence Hardiman is a new recruit, turning up towards the end of the season as Inspector Armstrong.

As listed in the episode guide above, a host of familiar faces pop up during the course of the twenty six episodes and there’s also some very sharply written scripts, especially those provided by Alan Plater (a Z Cars veteran).  Elwyn Jones (who had created the Softly Softly: Task Force format) was another writer who had racked up numerous credits on Z Cars and Softly Softly and would be just as prolific on Softly Softly: Task Force and the later spin-off, Barlow.  Like Plater, he really understood how the series worked and his episodes, including the series opener and closer, are some of the strongest.

It’s interesting that both SS:TF and Dixon of Dock Green started to produce several all-film episodes at the same. It’s just a pity that these ones – Lessons and Do Me A Favour – look pretty poor (very faded colours on both throughout). Given the age of the material that’s not a surprise, but generally what we have across the seven discs is quite watchable. There’s no particular issues with the VT sequences (apart from the occassional bit of tape damage) but the film inserts on certain stories are rather grubby.

With so many episodes, it’s inevitable that the quality dips from time to time, but generally the level remains pretty consistent throughout the run.  During the next month or so I’ll be posting reviews of every episode, which will enable me to examine them in a little more detail.

Softly: Softly Series Two is released by Simply Media on the 26th of September 2016.  RRP £44.99.

Z Cars – A Place of Safety


Tx 24th June 1964

A Place of Safety has something of an abstract opening.  We see a man climbing up several flights of stairs, but then the camera seems to lose interest in him as it tracks away – firstly to record some children going down the stairs and then to observe a woman slowly walking upwards.

But we can still hear his voice.  He’s banging on a door, demanding entry – promising that things will be worse if he has to come back.  The relative peace is then shattered as the man falls down the stairs.  We cut to the inside of a room to reveal a man holding a bloody axe.

If parts of Newtown (Z Cars‘ fictional location) were indeed new, then others most certainly were not.  The building where the man (who we later learn is a bailiff called Wallace) lies injured is a crumbling wreck, mostly populated by those on the poverty line (and who also happen to be black).  This doesn’t seem to please Fancy Smith (Brian Blessed) who is visibly exasperated when he’s unable to get any of the other residents to utter a word.  He ironically comments that they’re deaf, but the inference seems to be that they can’t, rather than won’t, speak English.

To begin with, it’s possible that the same could be said for the man with the axe – Adignu Sadik (Johnny Sekka).  Barricading the door, he’s depicted as a mute, irresolute figure.  He’s not alone, as his wife Nana (Alaknanda Samart) and his two young children are also present.  Bathed in sweat, Sadik doesn’t utter a word during these early scenes – not even when he’s tempted out of the room by Detective Chief Inspector Barlow (Stratford Johns).

Indeed it’s not until about twenty minutes in, when he’s being questioned at the police station by Detective Sergeant Watt (Frank Windsor), that Sadik utters his first words.  And he’s revealed to be an articulate, softly spoken man, unable to explain why he should have exploded in a sudden burst of anger against Wallace.

That Sadik is not an unthinking, violent creature is surely an intentional piece of scripting – as several characters have already expressed negative opinions about Sadik and the black community in general.  Wallace’s boss, Lowther (Norman Bird) regards them as savages whilst Fancy makes the unoriginal observation that they all look alike.

A Place of Safety doesn’t offer any glib answers or pat solutions and nor does it shie away from suggesting that the police are capable of prejudice just like anybody else.  Barlow gently probes Lowther to try and find out what Wallace was like as a person – did he enjoy his job too much?  Lowther reacts angrily.  Wallace was an ex-copper, doing a dirty job, he says, but he didn’t deserve to be the victim of an unprovoked assault.  After he leaves, Watt tells Barlow that Wallace does have a reputation as a troublemaker, but nothing ever comes of this (we never see Wallace after his tumble down the stairs, so he’s not a defined character).

Lowther bitterly believes that Barlow’s attempting to find excuses to excuse Sadik’s attack.  But when Barlow and Watt are alone, Barlow admits quite the reverse – he suffers from prejudice as well, so he’s doubly keen to ensure that he treats Sadik fairly.

Johnny Sekka is excellent as Sadik, a man with no previous history of violence who finds events has spiraled out of his control.  But the script also poses the question  about exactly how much sympathy we should have for him.  Another very strong performance comes from Alakanda Samarth as his wife, Nana.  She has several key scenes, but possibly the most notable one is right at the end.

With her husband locked up, she and her children have been thrown out onto the streets.  Watt arranges a temporary place for them to stay, but the children can’t remain with their mother.  Fancy and Jock drop her off and there’s an intriguing moment of tension between her and Fancy.  We’ve already seen that the bluff Fancy has an undisguised raft of prejudices and Nana is prepared to meet him head on – she’s proud and independent and can clearly pick up the negative signals from Fancy (and isn’t prepared to ignore them)

An excellent episode by John Hopkins, which also works as a fascinating slice of social history.

Return of the Saint – Collision Course: The Brave Goose


brave 01

Simon is indulging in one of his favourite pastimes, powerboat racing.   He has a strong competitor though – the boorish Oscar West (Edward Brayshaw).  Soon, Simon and West are way out in front and it seems inevitable that one of them will win.  But then Simon sees the other boat veer out of control and through his binoculars observes West struggling with his co-pilot.  Moments later, West’s boat explodes and both men die.

West’s widow, Annabel (Gayle Hunnicutt), is staggered to learn that West died apparently penniless.  This isn’t the case though – he was a rich man (thanks to a bullion robbery some eight years ago).  The problem is that his associates have recently been released from prison and are keen to collect their share – but they don’t believe that Annabel doesn’t know where the money is hidden …..

The first episode of a two-parter, The Brave Goose opens with a confrontation between Simon and West.  Edward Brayshaw only has a very limited amount of screen time, but it’s made very clear that he’s a wrong-un – he’s swigging from a bottle of champagne (before he’s won the race!) and is rather curt to the lovely Annabel.

As for the race itself, it’s a mix of real footage, stock footage and painfully obvious studio shots.  But even the James Bond films of the time used back projection of a similar quality, so ROTS is in good company.

When Annabel learns that the only thing she possesses of value, a yacht called the Brave Goose, is moored in the South of France, she heads off to find it.  It’s a remarkable coincidence that along the way she stops for a meal and runs into George Duchamp  (Stratford Johns).  Duchamp was one of West’s former partners.

He’s also a expert backgammon player and when Simon learns from Annabel’s housekeeper that her mistress has left the country and is playing backgammon with a fat Frenchmen he’s clearly worried.  Just as it’s something of a stretch to believe that Annabel would stop for a meal at the same place where Duchamp was eating, it’s equally implausible that Simon is rather perturbed to learn that Annabel was playing backgammon (even if he knew that one of the bullion robbers played the game).  Surely there’s more than one Frenchman who does so?

Johns exudes a sort of menace, but it is hard to shake the impression that it’s just Chief Inspector Barlow with a funny accent.  John Hallam (as one of the other gang members, Bernadotti) does have a certain presence, although he’s much more menacing once he loses his hat and guitar.  Bernadotti punches Annabel – a rare instance where a female character is attacked – and even though it’s edited, the moment is still unusual for ROTS, which had a very low violence count.

Gayle Hunnicutt was very game in this episode – she dodges a bull (although doubled for the most dangerous parts, she still had to do a great deal of running around) and she then becomes thoroughly disheveled after trudging through the swampland to escape Duchamp and Bernadotti.  But when she’s not covered in dirt, Hunnicutt is rather gorgeous and forms a strong partnership with Ogilvy.

The Brave Goose ends on a cliffhanger as Inspector Lebec (the ever-dependable Derren Nesbitt) arrests Simon and Annabel for murder.  We know they didn’t do it – and also that it won’t be long before they’re released – but it’s a strong hook to end on and it helps to give the episode a solid three and a half halos out of five.

brave 02

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


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.