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Crown Court Curio
This was the pilot for Granada's long-running Crown Court series. It was not transmitted at the time although it eventually aired on satellite TV decades later. While it has many of the hallmarks of the series it has some interesting variations which make it well worth seeing.
The story is an unusual one. The regular series predominantly focused on criminal trials with a very occasional civil case, usually centred on libel. The issue here is one of alleged negligence with the Rudkin Hospital Board being sued by Mrs. Simpson, the widow of a man who died after being treated for a head injury sustained in a car accident. She alleges that the hospital failed to properly supervise her husband who then walked out of casualty before soon collapsing and ultimately dying. The case is an interesting if not captivating one, given a little extra spice by tension between the medical team of Dr. Warner and Nurse Dowling who had a difficult time on their duties, not helped by the recent end of their romantic relationship. The hospital's defence is that despite this they took all reasonable care of Mr. Simpson.
The most striking difference from the regular series is the inclusion of regular dialogue between the lawyers, with each other and with their clients. The discussions are not just about the case but include social discussions about their own relationships. Why these did not feature in the transmitted show is uncertain - it may be the producers felt it was better to stick purely to action within the courtroom. The theme tune is also different although its trumpet-led fanfare isn't too removed from the Janacek piece that was adopted. There was no jury and the verdict was delivered by the Judge although that was the nature of this sort of civil case rather than a production decision. The lack of a jury did take away some of the tension from the later stages and may be why subsequent trials involved juries.
It's also worth noting that although later characters such as Justice Waddington and Jonathan Fry QC appeared they were played by different actors - Ernest Hare and David Neal rather than Richard Warner and Bernard Gallagher. Whether the actors seen here were intended to continue with their roles and were unavailable or whether the casting hadn't been finalised at that stage isn't known. David Ashford, who later regularly appeared as Charles Lotterby, features here as a different barrister - Derek Jones. It's notable that Mr. Jones appears as a distinctly inexperienced and rather inexpert counsel, rather different to the later Mr. Lotterby. Given that this story was not transmitted these changes in casting and character passed by unnoticed at the time but strike the regular viewer of today.
All considered, one of the most distinctive Crown Court outings if not one of its best.
Drive Carefully, Darling (1975)
Inside the driver's mind...
This extended public information film (fifteen minutes) aims to encourage safer driving from male drivers in particular.It starts with an in-vision piece by Frank Bough, probably the best-known presenter of his day. Bough explains how we go about our lives but as soon as we get into our cars, "we are prepared to blow things sky-high".
The film then switches to an ingenious dramatised insight into the mind of an otherwise unseen male driver. It starts with his wife and son seeing him off to work with her telling him to, "Drive carefully darling". We then see our driver on his journey, observing his thought processes mapped-out in a futuristic computerised command centre in his head. This features the Brain (Colin Baker), Memory (Christopher Owen) and Ego (John Challis).
While Memory tries to inject a little caution into his driving, the reckless, impetuous Ego tends to take charge. We see this as the driver commits a number of potentially dangerous faults such as cutting the corner at junctions, driving too fast on country roads and motorways, driving too close to other vehicles and even racing other drivers. Driving is seen as an exercise in machismo as the male driver tries to show his skill and daring. At one point Memory stresses that as an experienced driver he should know better and Ego replies that, "Experience teaches you how to bend the rules and how to get out of trouble when you do". Memory points out how well he can drive with the family in the car but Ego and Brain are not swayed: alone in the car, driving simply becomes an adventure and trial of strength.
Given the nature of this kind of film the ending is certainly not a surprise but it remains supremely well done, splendidly inter-cut with images of his wife going about her shopping oblivious to her husband's progress. In one very telling sequence we see her bump trolleys with another shopper and the pair politely and cheerfully apologise to each other. The contrast with the aggressive behaviour of the male drivers, unwilling to offer each other any consideration at all, could not be more telling.
It is in no way surprising that such a gem should come from John Krish who was a master of this genre, especially on the subject of road safety. The messages on the screen are no less relevant almost forty years later to drivers of both sexes but it still tends to be males who drive in this manner. As the film suggests, the consequences of bad driving are visited not just on drivers but also on their families. Even leaving that aside it is a riveting piece of drama-documentary, thankfully now available on DVD.
The Motorway File (1975)
Death on the roads
This is an absolutely first class extended public information film about the risks of motorway driving. Although it was made in 1975 its messages remain just as valid today.
The film, lasting thirty two minutes, adopts an unconventional approach as it re-creates a fictional motorway crash, depicting it as if it were a police enquiry. In this respect the choice of Edgar Lustgarten as the narrator and sometimes in-vision presenter was ideal. The film opens with scenes of an eerily deserted motorway with a haunting electronic tune adding further to a disconcerting mood. Lustgarten then advises us of a fatal traffic accident that occurred one afternoon in excellent weather. We know that someone is going to die - but who? And how? He outlines the backgrounds of the four drivers at the centre of the story. John Gibson is a travelling salesman with a huge amount of driving experience. Tony Wilton drives a sports car and is generally a good and experienced driver but rather too fond of speed and taking chances. Mary Stafford is a business-woman who is a very safe and capable driver but her experience is predominantly on other roads. Finally Captain Henry Preston is an airline pilot with an excellent driving record who picks up a hire car after leaving the airport. None of these drivers has ever had an accident and only Wilton has any driving convictions, in his case for speeding.
All four therefore are good and experienced drivers - but all four exhibit faults that, in the wrong circumstances, could be disastrous. Gibson hogs the outside lane and continues to drive in spite of tiredness. Wilton continually takes chances, weaving in and out of traffic, relying on the power of his vehicle and his quick reactions. Mary Stafford sits in the middle lane and seems less than aware of when she needs to change lane. Finally Captain Preston has neglected to familiarise himself with the controls of his hire car. All this is overseen by roadside recovery driver Eddie Johnson.
Almost every motorway driver will recognise these faults, certainly in other drivers and - in most cases if they are honest - themselves. As Lustgarten describes, most drivers only regard death on the roads as a vague possibility but every day it happens to drivers like the ones shown on the film - essentially good, safe experienced drivers but ones with faults as well.
The ending is certainly a shocking one and the credits roll over the final scene of the aftermath of the accident, again backed by the haunting electronic tune. Ferdinand Fairfax deserves immense credit for excellent writing and direction while cameraman Ronnie Maasz, who worked extensively with John Krish, a master of this type of film, also does a splendid job. The film is thankfully now available on DVD and even to this day is a salutary lesson to drivers as well as a gripping piece of drama for all.
The Office (2005)
It's very difficult for any show based on another to be accepted and that problem afflicts this US version. That is a great shame because to me this is a great show. I love the British original and did wonder whether this US version would just copy the scripts and plot-lines or depart radically from it in style.
I haven't seen the first episode which apparently is almost identical to the British opener. The ones I have seen I found extremely funny. The direction and editing are very faithful to the excellent UK style. Where the show could have fallen down is its use of new material and situations but I feel it has very successfully dealt with new content while staying true to the tone and character of the original.
I do hope this show is successful in the US and that we see more of it. It is a clever and perceptive adaptation. The bottom line with any show is: did it work for you? It certainly has for me and I hope it does with others.
Who Killed Lamb? (1974)
Not "Thriller" but still worthwhile
At the time of its broadcast in 1974 this one-off drama was erroneously billed as an episode of the excellent Thriller anthology that had just finished its second series. That association has stuck but this is a quite different production, made by the then Yorkshire Television.
Although this show had the same unusual 65 minute time span (designed to aid US sales) and was shot on video-tape it is very different in style to the suspense and fear of Thriller. This is essentially a detective-drama, not unlike more recent productions like Morse. Indeed like the latter it is set in Oxford. The detective in question here is the commanding Inspector Jamieson. He has been sent from New Scotland Yard to investigate the murder of local businessman Octavius Lamb. Lamb's murder seems inexplicable, as everyone seems to speak so fondly of him. However as Jamieson searches he finds that maybe Lamb was not such a benevolent figure - but who exactly would want to target him?
Like most detective dramas this is a whodunit. Such dramas are often star vehicles and this is certainly no exception with renowned film actor Stanley Baker making a rare and very strong appearance on TV. His character is an interesting one, efficient and forceful without being notably intellectual or eccentric like many other TV 'tecs. It might have been interesting to see how the character would have developed within a series but Baker would probably not have been available for a longer-running production. His presence will certainly be the chief focus for most viewers even if it had been considered. The cast generally is very strong, additionally featuring Peter Sallis, David Swift and John Challis alongside other familiar TV faces.
Flashbacks help to flesh out this story. There is some neat humour but this is fairly conventional entertainment, without any great highs and lows, although on the whole interesting enough. It has now emerged on DVD as an extra on the release of "Thriller" and is worth seeing as comparison with the series "proper" as well as on its own merits.
Thriller: Dial a Deadly Number (1976)
A Dangerous Call
Dave Adams is an American actor living in England. His career is going nowhere, he is broke and it looks like it might be time for him to return home. Then a telephone call changes matters dramatically. A distraught woman, Helen Curry, has misdialled, believing that she has got through to a psychiatrist. At first Dave tries to explain her mistake but she is too upset to listen. He then hits upon the illegal, immoral - but potentially very lucrative plan - of impersonating the psychiatrist.
Dave goes through with this con, to the disgust of his flatmate Tim. He goes to see Helen and even gives her sweeteners claiming that they are tranquilisers. Helen explains that she has terrible nightmares involving her killing a man. Dave thinks these are just neurotic ramblings and can't believe his luck. Meanwhile he starts an affair with Helen's attractive and far more confident and composed sister, Ann.
However maybe things are not as simple as they seem. Dave discovers that a man sent to the Curry's house has been missing although his hat is still there. Matters may be rather more dangerous than they seem.
This is one of the final installments of "Thriller" and it is very popular among fans. However it has never been one of my favourites. Undoubtedly it is very professionally done. For me though it doesn't seize the imagination and seems somewhat low-key. The acting performances are very sound. Gary Collins, making his third guest appearance as Dave, is excellent,. He is given very good support by Cavan Kendall as his principled flatmate Tim. However there is something missing.
This is demonstrated by the ending. The conclusion involves a very clever twist. In other circumstances it would be very powerful but here it doesn't make the same impact. However I would stress that other viewers have been very impressed and would recommend watching the episode to make up your own mind.