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Daytime television in the U.K. didn't used to be about make over shows, 'Loose Women', and confrontational programmes of the 'Jeremy Kyle' variety. Back in the '70's, we had 'Crown Court', a series of intelligently written courtroom dramas, starring the cream of Britain's acting talent. The secret of the show's success lay in its simplicity; we rarely saw what was going on in the outside world, all we knew of the respective cases was what we heard from the witnesses, and that was enough. The jury was chosen from members of the public, who'd then deliver a verdict based on the evidence. Perhaps the most disturbing case was 'Destruct, Destruct' in which a sci-fi obsessed juvenile suffocates a boy with a plastic bag. Every time the camera focused on the accused, we'd be privy to his thought processes, which consisted of weird electronic noises. In 1976, Granada revamped 'Crown Court', putting it out on Saturday nights in hour-long shows. It didn't work, however, and soon returned to its natural habitat.
This long running series was of course set in and around a London court.
Over three episodes which were transmitted during the week, viewers could
follow the progression of a case, and marvel at the cross-examination of
witnesses and defendants. It featured many actors who were unknown at the
time, and have become household names, such as Ben Kingsley.
I remember one case in particular, called 'Sugar and Spice', which involved two friends, a posh public school girl and a spiky-haired punk girl, who were both accused of mugging a builder in the street. As in a real-life courtroom, the defendants' backgrounds and upbringing were brought before the jury. Viewers automatically assumed that the punk was the initiator of the attack, and had coerced her apparently meek friend into the crime. But it turned out that the meek shy posh girl was an absolute shrew (Hah!), after one lawyer successfully made her get angry and incriminate herself, and had been the instigator of the mugging.
'Crown Court' was superior daytime television throughout the 1970s,
which is when I first saw it as a child, fascinated by the whole
process and mesmerised by the cases and the acting.
Now rediscovering it thirty years on, it still feels relevant, and although some stories are contrived and rather simplistic, there are excellent cast appearances from the likes of Richard Wilson, John Barron, William Mervyn, Maureen Lipman, Mervyn Johns, TP McKenna, Ronald Lewis, Graham Crowden, and many more. The cases, running over three half-hour episodes, with a verdict 'from members of the public serving as a jury', keep the tension running as well as being easy enough to drop in and out of.
Quality drama then, sometimes with a touch of humour, especially from the actors playing the judges and prosecuting and defence counsels, bickering over points of court protocol. Entertainment without being dumbed down, and well worth watching even after all these years.
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