Reviewing archive television programmes, it is hard to avoid using the phrase "this could not possibly be made now".
'Second Verdict', shown on B.B.C.-1 in the summer of 1976 ( phew! what a scorcher that was! ) is a fine example of a programme that 'could not possibly be made now'. Though screened in peak-time, it basically consisted of a pair of middle-aged men talking a lot while confined to one room. Can you imagine it being commissioned now? Anyone foolish enough to entertain the notion would be told to go and have a lie down.
The trick was that the men in question were Frank Windsor and the late Stratford Johns, reprising their roles as 'Det.Chief.Supt. Charlie Barlow' and 'Det.Chief.Supt. John Watt' from the crime dramas 'Softly, Softly' and 'Z-Cars'. Over six weeks, they re-opened the files of some of the world's most baffling criminal cases, such as the Lindbergh kidnappings and the murders of the Princes in the Tower by King Richard 111.
The 'pilot' was a 1973 programme about Jack The Ripper. Though Barlow and Watt failed to work out just who did do it, it was fascinating watching them at work. They would state all the known facts, attempt to work out how the crimes were committed, usually with the help of specially staged reconstructions, and bring their not inconsiderable detective skills to bear by challenging the verdicts.
It was like a television version of 'Sleuth'. Johns and Windsor were a great team, and watching the duo spar was a treat.
Sadly, the show had one major flaw. With the exception of the final episode - 'Who Burned Down The Reichstag?' - no actual second verdicts were forthcoming. The evidence was just not there. Johns said in an interview at the time: "I did not like the title. It was too limiting. I would have preferred 'Second Opinion'.".
Another problem was that I.T.V. had a similar show on air at that time. 'Killers' featured detailed reconstructions of notorious crime trials, with much of the dialogue based on transcripts. According to Brian Lawrence, television critic of The News Of The World: "'Killers' makes 'Second Verdict' look sick!".
Whatever its faults, the B.B.C. show worked as both history and entertainment. It still exists, and a D.V.D. release - though highly unlikely - would not go amiss. To leave it gathering dust on a shelf for all time would itself be a crime.
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