Softly Softly: Task Force – Time Expired

time

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.  So Hawkins is sent to investigate.

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 very 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 contact Bruton and now 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).

And by now the viewer will 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 just rather 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 rather forgettable.

Softly Softly: Task Force – Sunday, Sweet Sunday

sunday

John Watt has deployed the Task Force to the seaside.  Sunday is the day when the skinheads turn up, creating havoc wherever they go.  But this week – possibly because of the strong police presence – there’s no sign of them.  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 has explained about the skinhead problem, the audience is 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.

So after they don’t turn up, the Task Force hits the streets looking for miscreants wherever they can find them.  PC Snow is less than impressed with Stephens (Windsor Davies), the 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 the cheeky chappie photographer Daley (Christopher Beeney).  Daley takes photographs of holiday makers and then offers them several prints for the princely sum of five shillings.  Donald twigs that he hasn’t put any film in his camera all morning, meaning 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 to fleece holidaymakers of their money.

His comments are echoed by Daley.  He admits that he’s ripping people off, but attempts to justify his actions 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.”  Beeney essays a nice comic turn (I especially like his reaction when Watt arrests him.  “That’s not fair, you should wear a helmet”!)

Watt agrees to meet Mr Hughes (Donald Morley) for a drink.  He’s never heard of him, but it’s noticeable that when Watt speaks to him on the phone he straightens up when he discovers he’s friendly with the Chief Constable!  Hughes is a local businessman who, along with others, is concerned about an influx of hippies.  The hippies don’t actually do anything, but Hughes 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 when Watt discusses his haul, deadpanning that the home office is very worried about seaside photographers!

Possibly because of the faded film sequences, the seaside sequences have a certain seedy glamour.  They’re 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.