Commander George Gideon was created by John Creasey (writing as J.J. Marric) and he featured in a series of novels published between the mid fifties and mid seventies. Gideon appeared on the big screen in 1959 (Gideon’s Day, starring Jack Hawkins, directed by John Ford) and a few years later the character would transfer to the small screen – in this twenty-six episode ITC series starring John Gregson.
Although Gideon’s Way was filmed in the mid sixties and made use of extensive location filming in and around London, it’s notable that this is very much a pre “swinging” London. The stark black and white camerawork helps with this, plus there’s also an occasional sense of decay and desolation – especially when locations still devastated from the war some twenty years earlier are used. Location filming also gives the series something of a documentary feel and there’s an undoubted interest in seeing a very different London to the one that exists today.
John Gregson played Commander George Gideon. A familiar face from both films and television, Gregson was perfect casting as the reassuring, dependable Gideon. Gideon’s Way was very much a series like Dixon of Dock Green that took it for granted that the police were incorruptible and incapable of making mistakes. Later programmes, such as The Sweeney, would cynically chip away at this reputation, which does mean that Gideon’s Way can seem rather old-fashioned. But this is undoubtedly part of the series’ continuing appeal, as there’s something very comforting in watching a show where there’s clearly defined moral absolutes and crime is always shown not to pay.
Another joy of Gideon’s Way is the sheer quality of the guest casts. The Tin God is a good example, as it features Derren Nesbitt (a familiar face from many an ITC series) as John “Benny” Benson and a young John Hurt as Freddy Tisdale, They play escaped convicts and their first appearance provides us with some evocative location work – a high shot zooming into them as they run into a train yard. Nesbitt specialised in playing unstable characters and Benny is no different – and within a matter of minutes it’s also clear he’s the dominant personality out of the two (even before he’s pulled out a knife).
The news that Benny was one of the two escapees instantly piques Gideon’s interest. It’s slightly incredible that Gideon knows exactly how long Benny’s been inside, the name of his wife and how many children he has (but such feats of memory are par for the course in police fiction).
We’ve already had a demonstration of how ruthless Benny can be (he casually murders a car-park attendant called Taffy Jones) and because his wife Ruby (Jennifer Wilson) informed on him, revenge is now the only thing on his mind. The news that he’s escaped fills her with dread, although her young son Syd (Michael Cashman) is ecstatic. Syd doesn’t believe that his father is a vicious criminal and instead directs his anger towards his mother and Gideon (as he was the copper who put him inside).
Cashman would later become a familiar television face in series like The Sandbaggers and most famously Eastenders. Syd becomes the lynchpin in Benny’s plan to exact his revenge on Ruby, although it’s only when he finally meets his father again that he realises his mother was right all along.
The type of story (escaped convict) means that Gideon and his number two, DCI David Kean (Alexander Davion), don’t have a great deal of interaction with many characters – there’s no suspects to interrogate, for example. But this is only a minor quibble and there’s plenty of incidental pleasures – location filming around the London docks and the sight of a policeman using a Police Box (a reminder that personal radios weren’t common at the time) are just two.
Benny’s plan to revenge himself on his wife is more subtle than might have been expected from what we’ve seen of his character so far. He plans to take his son abroad and leave Ruby in a constant state of anxiety about Syd’s whereabouts – even if he’s alive or dead.
Benny, Freddy and Syd are hiding out in a warehouse, but it’s not long before the police surround them. This allows John Hurt a great final scene as he realises too late just how mad Benny has become (and therefore dies in a dramatic fashion). It also gives Derren Nesbitt an opportunity to ramp up his own performance as Benny loses the last few shreds of his sanity.
Thanks to a cracking performance by Nesbitt, The Tin God is a memorable episode.