Shot on film, 'Machinegunner' was an eighty-minute play made by H.T.V. West and broadcast ( only once that I know of ) late one Saturday night in the summer of 1976, following a screening of the first Bond film 'Dr.No'. As 'The T.V. Times' enthusiastically put it: 'Tough Trigger Action Explodes In Two High Speed Adventure Stories!'.
It begins with what sounds like machine-gun fire, but instead turns out to be a pneumatic drill. The late, great Leonard Rossiter is 'Cyril Dugdale', a Bristol-based debt collector ( 'machinegunner' is West Country slang for someone in the profession ) who also does private detective work. When a beautiful black woman named Felicity Mae Ingram ( Nina Baden-Semper ) hires him to obtain photographic evidence of an adulterous affair involving a property developer named Jack Bone ( Colin Welland ), he takes the job, partly because of the money ( £50 being a tidy sum in those days ), but mainly because he fancies Felicity.
He gets the pictures but then his problems really begin. Bone hires thugs to retrieve the negatives, and they aren't fussy about who they rough up, including one of Dugdale's friends. To complicate matters further, Bone is then found dead in some woods, and the body later moved to the flat of his lover Pat Livingston ( Kate O'Mara ). Bone had a secret arrangement with someone on the Council concerning the suitability of old properties for redevelopment.
The first thing to be said about 'Machinegunner' is that it is not a comedy. On the contrary, it is quite a dark tale of adultery, murder and corruption. There is a fair amount of blood on view and the odd glimpse of nudity ( including the sight of Rossiter taking a shower! ). 'Cyril Dugdale' shares some characteristics with 'Rigsby', most notably a distrust of black people, but is not really a comic character. Its hard not to smile though as he goes about his business in a 'Popeye Doyle'-style hat, bribing Indian families to move out of their hovels.
The film's major revelation is Nina Baden-Semper, cast as a very different character to 'Barbie Reynolds', the housewife she played in 'Love Thy Neighbour'. Mysterious, tough, independent, she makes a good foil for Rossiter.
Also in this are Tim ( credited as Timothy ) Preece, who was 'Tom' in 'The Fall & Rise Of Reginald Perrin', and Gay ( Gabrielle ) Rose, who wiggled her way through the second season of 'Rising Damp' as artist's model 'Brenda'.
'Machinegunner' was by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, best remembered for their work on 'Dr.Who' ( they created K9 ), as well as penning a number of other well-remembered series for H.T.V. West such as 'King Of The Castle' and 'Sky'. They appear here as a pair of 'scruffs'.
Watching this again recently, I was put in mind of 'Shoestring', the late '70's/early '80's B.B.C. private detective drama that starred Trevor Eve. The setting, story, and spurts of violence are all reminiscent of that later show. Baker wrote one episode, incidentally.
Had a 'Machinegunner' series been made, I am sure it would have been good, but Rossiter had Perrin lined up for later that year and was not yet finished with Rigsby.
'Machinegunner' is a must for both lovers of '70's I.T.V. crime drama and fans of the brilliant Mr.Rossiter.
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