Public Eye – Divide and Conquer

divide and conquer

Divide and Conquer opens with two bikers, Harry (Terence Rigby) and Frank (Richard O’Callaghan), enjoying their breakfast at a Brighton cafe.  They manage to con the cafe owner (Ken Jones) out of five pounds before making a stealthy escape.

At the same time, Marker is enjoying his breakfast at Mrs Mortimers, prior to starting his new job.  As with his accommodation, it’s been provided by the probation service.  It might not be exactly what he wants to do (he starts off by repairing the sea-wall at a lonely stretch of beach) but as an ex-prisoner he can’t afford to be too choosy.

A visit to the local pub with Enright (Peter Cellier) sparks trouble.  Enright, like Marker, is an ex-con who’s also lodging with Mrs Mortimer.  Unlike Marker, he’s something of a gregarious chap, and he eventually manages to persuade the insular Marker to share a drink with him.  At the pub, Marker sees Harry try to con the publican (played by Norman Mitchell) with the same trick he pulled on the cafe owner.

There’s no reason for Marker to get involved, but he does and it forces Harry and Frank to beat a hasty retreat.  Professionals wouldn’t have attempted to use the same trick more than once in the same area and by the same token, professionals wouldn’t hang about.  But Harry and Frank aren’t professionals and Harry vows to get even with Frank Marker.

Divide and Conquer is another excellent character-driven story from Roger Marshall.  Harry and Frank, whilst occasionally faintly ridiculous, also manage to exude an air of menace.  Terence Rigby was always an idiosyncratic actor.  He could be excellent (for example, as Big Al in Alan Plater’s Beiderbecke stories) but he could also turn in fairly indifferent performances (such as a rather wooden Dr Watson opposite Tom Baker’s Sherlock Holmes in the BBC Classic Serial adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles).

This story showcases both his strengths and weaknesses.  At times, Harry is an intimidating figure (when he pulls a knife on Marker after the unsuccessful attempt to con the publican) but it’s fair to say that at times Rigby’s delivery and performance borders on the pantomimic.  O’Callaghan doesn’t speak too much, and therefore is more of a looming presence, but he’s key to the resolution of the story.

The last fifteen minutes are the heart of the episode.  It’s a single sequence, shot on film, which sees Harry and Frank confront Marker whilst he’s at work.  As I’ve said, it’s a lonely spot, so Marker wouldn’t be able to count on anybody coming to his aid.  We’ve previously seen that he can take a beating as well as give one out (for example, Nobody Kills Santa Claus) but the odds here are stacked against him.  If he’s going to walk away unscathed, then it’s words not actions that will save him.

That’s what the title of the story means, as Marker has to play Harry and Frank off against each other.  Harry is keen to attack Marker, Frank isn’t so sure – and Marker is able to slowly plant seeds of doubt in both of their minds.  He tells them what would happen if they carry out the attack.  “That would put you right in the big league.  Send you up for two years, soon as look at you.  If someone says to me, ‘two years inside’ I’d go like that.”  And Marker shakes his hand to indicate how frightened he is.  The more susceptible Frank agrees.

It’s a great three-handed scene and is yet another example of quality acting from Alfred Burke.  At the start there’s an imminent sense of violence, but Marker is able to chip away at their confidence bit by bit, targeting first one and then the other.  Once he’s managed to convince Frank, it makes Harry less of a threat – and eventually both of them decide to cut their losses and drive off.

Jim Goddard’s direction during this lengthy film sequence either favours very low angles, shooting up at the three actors, or tight close-ups.  Both help to keep the focus firmly on the characters and the dialogue, whereas wider shots would have dissipated some of the tension.  It’s a very well-shot section and it’s just a pity that the original film inserts no longer exist (this means that all the film sequences are a little blurry, they certainly aren’t as good as the remastered VT interiors).

Another very solid episode.

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