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The Dobermann Always Rings Twice

Cribb: Swing, Swing, Together.

Uncategorised Posted on Sat, December 19, 2020 21:28:29
Heather Moray, Alan Dobie, and Albert Welling

Swing, Swing, Together, the first episode of Granada TV’s Cribb was first broadcast on Sunday 20 April 1980. Adapted from Peter Lovesey’s novel by Brian Thompson, it was an engaging opening to the series (Granada had adapted the final Cribb novel, Waxwork, the previous year).

Directed by series producer June Wyndham-Davies and made all on film, the setting was based on the Victorian mania for Jerome K. Jerome’s novel Three Men In A Boat (to say nothing of the Dog). Published in August 1889, the humorous account of a boating holiday along the Thames sold in huge numbers. The following year, readers began to recreate the journey from Kingston-Upon-Thames to Oxford. During an illicit midnight bathing session in the Thames, student teacher Harriet Smith (Heather Moray) sees three men (and a dog) in a boat, close to the point in the river where a body is discovered. Cribb inducts her as a witness on a boat trip along the Thames. Together with his assistant, Constable Thackeray (William Simons) and PC Hardy (Albert Welling) , who had rescued Harriet from the river, they pretend to be recreating Three Men on a Boat so they unobtrusively catch up with the three suspects.

Thackeray (William Simons) questions Michael Ripper

The scale of their task is explained by a lock keeper (played beloved Hammer Films actor Michael Ripper) when Thackeray asks him if he’s seen three men in a boat (with a dog). “I’d like to have a bob for every joker with that hoary old tale – they get through the first night at Runnymede alright, fix at the Crown at Marlowe – then they come through here.mind you, only the real fanatics has a dog!”

When Cribb finally locates the three men in a boat, he tests them as to their knowledge of the book. Though somewhat suspicious, there is no obvious connection with the earlier murder. While trailing their suspects, the detectives encounter two further travellers – Brian Rawlinson (The Onedin Line) as the scripture-quoting Jim Hackett and the preening but improbably-bearded Ronald Lacey as Percy Bustard (“spelt with a U”). Rawlinson is cheerful and open while Lacey adopts a typically scene-stealing cavalier manner. Further up river the two companions pull another body from the Thames but Cribb is forced to let the local police constable take charge in order to conceal his true identity.

Alan Dobie is lightly amusing as Cribb, an educated working-class character, quick-witted and wily. Introduced ten-minutes into the action, he dominates the scene at the training college where he questions Harriet Smith. He tells her that PC Hardy was, “torn like a Christmas cracker” between his promise to keep her midnight swim secret and his duty when the body was discovered. Cribb also over-rules the fearsome college principal Sheila Keith (Frightmare, House of Whipcord) insisting that he needs to take Miss Smith away as a witness. We see a little more of the hierarchical structure of the Metropolitan Police as Cribb sits in the back of the skiff reading Three Men in a Boat, while Thackeray and Hardy row. When Hardy sarcastically suggests that Cribb reads to them, the Sergeant snaps back, “With three hundred pages ? You can read it yourself.”

As the journey progresses towards Oxford, the story becomes something like an ancestor of Inspector Morse. At one of the colleges, Cribb encounters John Fernandez (Mark Burns) who may be a potential victim or suspect, and Mrs Bonner-Hill, played in a deceptively winsome style reminiscent of Fenella Fielding by Jane How. The question for Cribb is how all the leads tie together.

As the lead episode in the series Swing, Swing, Together looks to have had a lot of money spent on it. The background details are convincing, although often played for humour – Cribb receives a call on a primitive telephone and barks his side of the conversation into the mouthpiece while Thackeray sits with his fingers in his ears. The underlying mystery from Lovesey’s novel is well-handled and the climax has a most outrageous revelation, handled with aplomb by the actors’ involved.

Paranoid Visions

Uncategorised Posted on Sat, December 19, 2020 07:27:02

Paranoid Visions: Spies, Conspiracies and The Secret State in British Television Drama by Joseph Oldham. The bibliography of Paranoid Visions, includes a 1970 Evening News article called Callan Lives credited to Harold Wilson. Could it really be the Prime Minister? Yes. During the broadcast of the third series of Callan, the Prime Minister had byelined an article to remind voters that actor Edward Woodward had joined him at Number 10 Downing Street, “showing distinguished statesmen from abroad what really makes life tick in Britain.” While this was not a unique event (Wilson had invited Patrick Wymark to Number 10 in 1968 to meet the Prime Minister of Luxembourg) , Joseph Oldman notes that this was a demonstration of , “Wilson’s populist touch,” , trading on the national popularity of Woodward and the TV spy who he played.

Paranoid Visions surveys the popularity of TV spy and conspiracy thrillers from Callan to Spooks, and compares the shows to the evolution (or degradation) of the broadcasters that commissioned them. Other chapters look at Special Branch and The Sandbaggers, – Tinker,Tailor, Soldier, SpyBird of Prey and Edge of Darkness -and A Very British Coup . The journey from Callan to Spooks is noted, not just in the kind of stories that are told, but the way in which they are told. Callan is taped in the theatrical tradition. “Different character and narrative beats are communicated by positioning the actors in different parts of the set at different moments, shifting their physical relationship to each other.” ABC’s telescopic lighting system allowed these scenes to be lit in a shadowy, expressive style. By contrast, Spooks was shot on Super 16mm single camera, with fast-cutting, expressive lighting and “ostentatious “ shots of the characters striding in slow motion.

However, it’s not just the externals that are different. Oldham notes that Spooks was commissioned by the BBC to engage with big issues, and the independent contractor Kudos, delivered this in the briefing scenes. Instead of a “single, paternalistic” handover of instructions by the spy chief, Spooks, had an exchange of information around a table, “different characters contributing information, expertise and opinions…This gives the briefing a more democratic atmosphere that in some ways mirrors the open management style of (Greg) Dyke’s BBC.” This brings in Oldham’s general theme that the perception of the spy on TV is inevitably a reflection of the institution which creates the TV.

Edward (Callan) Woodward

Both ITV and the BBC in the 1960’s and 1970’s were heavily regulated, contrasting arms of the establishment. When Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was in pre-production, John Le Carre was asked to suggest the visual design of George Smiley’s ‘Circus’ and he is reputed to have said that it should look like the inside of the BBC.

Tinker, Tailor, Teatime

In the 1980’s , the Thatcher government pursued its aims of deregulation, opening the gates for a wider, but more fragmented structure in which the ultimate aim was arguably the end of the license fee and a move to pay-per-view. Oldham notes that the BBC pursued a strategy for Spooks from 2003 to 2009 in which each episode except the first and last was broadcast on the BBC3 digital channel, “as part of a strategy to incentivise viewers towards digital take-up,” encouraging the shift from ‘water-cooler moments’ to individualised view-on-demand.

This sounds reminiscent of the former Civil Servants and the Department of Trade and Industry interviewed by Aeron Davis in Reckless Opportunists who found the best way to progress in the Thatcher era (and later the ‘New Labour’ era) was to espouse and exceed the ‘small state’ neoliberal ambitions of the Government. In cutting the DTI budget from £6 billion to £1.5 billion (cutting their own headcount) ,“It made the notion of a national industrial policy anathema. It also meant that UK industry suffered a faster decline than all its economic rivals over the same period.” (Davis page 34)

Oldham notes that the BBC mounted The Night Manager nearly 40 years after the success of Tinker,Tailor,Soldier,Spy. But the days of American partners handing over the money and shutting up were long gone. The trend is towards glossy drama aimed at international pay-per-view audiences with every line of scripted burdened by ‘notes’ from multiple ‘producers’. “It is perhaps an open question whether (such shows) will have anything to say for or about the nation.”

Callan survived cancellation in 1969 because the viewing figures were so high that management ordered the final episode to have new, more ambiguous ending filmed (so creating, Oldham points out, the concept of the end-of-season cliffhanger). The Sandbaggers was created because a planned production fell though and Yorkshire Television asked Ian MacIntosh if he had anything to fill the slot. Could today’s sub-contracted and overconsulted TV respond as quickly?

Paranoid Visions is an interesting survey of the spy and conspiracy genres. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Bird of Prey ( which made me wish it was out on DVD) and A Very British Coup which show how they reflect the times in which they were made, but also point to their contemporary relevance. Oldham also reminds us that The Sandbaggers stands out for its authenticity, as much as being in the tradition of The Power Game, with its focus “on Burnside’s bureacratic battles(demystifying) these structures of power.”

I’ve probably done Oldham a disservice here – by pulling several plums out of the pudding, I’ve not really given a good picture of the pudding as a whole. At 218 pages it’s a comfortable read, one that will interest anyone interested in the spy and conspiracy genre, and one that will repay careful re-reading.

Paranoid Visions: Spies, Conspiracies and the Secret State in British Television Drama. by Joseph Oldham. Manchester University Press £20.00 ISBN 978-1-5261-5253-4