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It's been a long time since I saw this four part mini series. Each
episode was around ninety minutes or so in length and the depth of
characterization in each episode from the cast to the excellent script
via the direction was superb. It went out on the best channel in
Britain at the time BBC2.
This was made in the days at the BBC before John Birt came along and spoiled everything.
Les Blair worked using the same directing techniques to create characters as Mike Leigh and Ken Loach; both of whom had worked with one of the best producers of the genre, Tony Garnet, who produced this series.
Peter Dean, who made a name for himself later in Eastenders, is dead right for the main villain Jack Lynn: sharply dressed, confident and the king of his domain. The philosophy of the police in the piece is that active villains have to take their turn in prison whether the police can prove a crime or not; they fit them up frame them - and lock them up.
Not long before this was made a real life criminal called George Davis was allegedly framed by the police and locked up. In some parts of London you can still see signs on the wall saying 'George Davis in innocent OK' and it was suggested at the time this series was broadcast that the character Jack Lynn was based on George Davis. His wife, incidentally, dug up the cricket field in Leeds as a protest during an International match that had to be abandoned because of her actions. This turned George Davis into a celebrity over night and he was, eventually, pardoned for the crime and jailed later for another one.
There is another Eastenders's actor in this; Derek Martin who plays Detective Inspector Fred Pyle, the cop that fits up Jack Lynn. The film looks at it from the point of view of Jack Lynn 'The Villain's Tale'; the point of view of the police 'The Copper's Tale'; the solicitor 'The Brief's tale; and the point of view from prison 'The Prisoner's Tale.' The titles sounding a bit like The Canterbury Tales.
The cops and robbers were the same class of people; they spoke the same language, the same dialect, supported the same football team, had the same kind of wives and could quite easily have ended up on the other side of the law. Part of the job of a crook was to go to jail it came with the territory. They didn't moan they just accepted it they were away on business. Maybe the writer, G.F. Newman, and Les Blair are asking if this is the way it should be.
There is probably six hours of superb drama here all shot on 35 mm film - which should be required viewing for all film students and maybe the cops and robbers too. Will we ever see a DVD?
This superb series now seems to be lost forever - at least, I have found no way of viewing it again. Shot it a style which appears convincingly to be a documentary, it tells the story of London blagger Jack Lynn from four different perspectives: the detective's tale, the villain's tale, the brief's tale and finally the prisoner's tale. The cops are bent and Lynn is 'well overdue' for a bit of porridge, so DI Fred Pyall fits him up for an armed robbery. Despite his protests of innocence, Lynn is duly convicted and gets, I think, a seven stretch. We see him at the end languishing in jail for a crime he had nothing to do with. At least that's my recollection of it - I saw it once (in 1978) and have been yearning to see it again ever since. (This was in the days before VCRs.)
This beautifully and cleverly researched series of three separate plays
touched a sensitivity at the time; and history has proved that it was
not too far from the mark. It was shown on BBC2 in 1978. THIS SHOULD BE
RELEASED ON VIDEO/DVD before this magnificent 'tour de force' is lost
Three stories; the Detective's Tale, The Villains Tale and the prisoner's Tale. Each character's situation, raison d'etre is explored ruthlessly by Newman and each character's flaws and mind sets contribute to a withering examination of the legal profession, the police and villainy in general.
The story was broadcast at the time of the notorious 'Countryman' country-wide police enquiry (mischevious timing perhaps) and made the whole country think again about the truth that some (very) few, police officers had become a law unto to themselves. Beautifully scripted with wry humour.
The actual story has three central characters Jack Lynn (villain), Alex Gladwell (lawyer) and the magnificent Inspector Pyle of the Met.Police, who produces the ultimate portrayal of a bent detective, a classic example of a good detective, gone wrong.
The background is an armed robbery that went wrong but had sufficient substance in it to enable Pyle to fit up Jack Lynn.
There are no heroes in this film.
This play will anger, frustrate, disturb and uncomfortably amuse.
Finally released on DVD in April 2009, well worth the long wait too.
Totally compelling TV, numerous short clips in many documentaries over the years gave a small indication of the superior nature of this drama, I can tell you those indication were entirely correct.
Extras include a 25 min film on the making on the series and the effects it had, on TV drama and on the body politic.
This is no mere 'bash the police' work, it's far more complex than that, more of a 'plague on all your houses' for the justice system, prison system and criminal classes too.
The tone, acting dialogue all ring true-the latter within the constraints of the watershed for swearing at the time (though it was still attacked for this and many who saw it thought it was far worse than it actually was).
For me, another stark element of Law And Order is just how Britain, London, looked in the late 1970's. Without the tedious and contrived shots of famous London landmarks-Big Ben, Tower Bridge etc, that are often inserted into shows in assuming an international audience is stupid, the drabness of the streets is so apparent.
I've noticed this too with The Sweeney (Euston Films tended to film outside scenes with as little 'dressing' as possible), the greyness of London suburban high streets, fewer cars-fewer people too, less advertising, drab shops. At night, in Law and Order, the streets look to us now, something like London in the blackout of world war 2, shops nearly all closed in the later afternoon, fewer places to eat out. One suspects that then, the only brightly lit parts of London were Piccadilly Circus and the clubs, sex shops and strip joints of Soho.
This adds to the general atmosphere of Law and Order, a lot is made of detectives, as a matter of routine, taking 'bungs' from recovered stolen money, insurance scams, payoffs from informants. Not to excuse this, but in 1977/8, when this series was made and shown, the police were poorly paid. (One of the first things the Thatcher government did was to change this, there may have been an element of anticipating using them later to bust mass strike action, however it's just as likely that trying to break the practices shown in this series was also a factor).
However, nothing is for nothing, from the early 80's, the laws and procedures concerning interviewing of suspects, evidence, public prosecutions, was radically changed. Whatever your political views, this was an overdue change, given that a few years before, Law and Order had provoked fury amongst many politicians and other parts of the establishment, which then settled into some soul searching, this superb piece of drama, made without excessive controls and constraints, maybe played a small part in this change.
In any case, if you want highly absorbing, gritty, realistic and now with a 30 year hindsight, fascinating historic drama, I cannot recommend G.F. Newman's Law and Order highly enough. Like the adverts for Coca Cola at the time - it's the real thing.
i have been looking for this series for a age and i am now totally
disappointed to find it is not out on DVD there must be a way to force
the hand of the great British institute which is the b.b.c for which we pay a massive sum to keep running to release this on DVD if there is a way please put a comment back so that i can follow it up
i have tried on the b.b.c web site to see if they would rerun the series but have still not received a reply so heres hoping but i will not be holding my breath but if anyone does receive any new news regarding this great 4 parter please post it on here as soon a s possible
I wonder whether the inexcusable omission of this series from the Video
and DVD catalogues has anything to do with potentially causing the same
sort of disquiet.I do hope not. Controversy is now the stuff of TV
drama. No subject is sacred.
The attention to detail as far as 'correct' police procedure is concerned was commendable. This happens rarely today. The poetic licence taken, makes one wonder why police advisers are employed. Actually I believe that it is only to give some insipid police drama some sort credibility.
Whatever, nothing must get in the way of the obligatory love story, sex scene, unbelievably stupid senior police officer and so on.
This magnificent mini-series should be seen as superlative drama, not as some sort of contemporary social comment.
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