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.