PC Snow and WDC Donald go undercover. For Donald, posing as a prostitute, it means putting herself at considerable personal risk ….
Never Hit A Lady has an effective cold opening – the setting is a greasy spoon transport café. Our initial sight of Donald – plastered in makeup – makes it obvious that she’s working undercover. When Mick Harrigan (Neil McCallum) enters, we see her keen to strike up a conversation.
Harrigan drives lorries full of whisky from Scotland to London. He’s been robbed in the past and there’s a suspicion it might happen again soon. But is Harrigan a victim or part of the criminal conspiracy? If Donald can persuade him to take her to London, there’s a chance she’ll be able to find out. But Harrigan refuses – he doesn’t travel with anybody that he doesn’t know.
Donald makes a friend – Peg (Margaret Brady). Peg has plied her trade up and down the lorry routes for a while and now cuts a somewhat tragic figure. But there’s still a spark of defiance and bite there (which she obviously needs, otherwise the life she leads would have worn her down a long time ago). Peg is the sort of person that Donald, if she really was a prostitute, might eventually become – Peg knows that she’s doomed, but can’t see any way out. Brady essays a confident performance.
Barlow, Hawkins and especially Snow (who’s been detailed to watch her every step of the way) are concerned about Donald. At this point there’s no evidence that Harrigan is particularly violent, so it’s hard not to interpret their concern in a sexist light. The unspoken inference is that Donald, since she’s a woman, will be unable to cope if things turn ugly.
But then it turns out that Harrigan might be dangerous after all, as it seems he brutally beat up Peg after giving her a lift. After hearing the news, Donald rushes to the hospital to speak to her (which is a little bit of a story loophole – just how did the Task Force learn so quickly that Peg had been hospitalised?) Still posing as a fellow prostitute, Donald gives her some money to tide her over – a gift which Peg gratefully (and somewhat pathetically) accepts.
It’s third time lucky, as Harrigan agrees to give Donald a lift to London and also suggests they might have a meal later on. He’s something of an old smoothie, telling her that – unlike most of the girls who work this route – she doesn’t smell. I have to confess that it’s slightly hard to see what Donald’s undercover operation is now supposed to achieve. A confession from Harrigan that he hit Peg? Even if he did so, it wouldn’t be admissible as evidence.
It’s a pity there wasn’t a closer guard on his parked lorry, as whilst Snow and Hawkins were tailing Donald and Harrigan, a group of armed men drove it away from the lorry park. Since the whisky thefts were supposed to be the object of the exercise, why didn’t the Task Force have somebody on a constant watch?
Now that Donald’s gone back to Harrigan’s room it’s painfully obvious what he expects to happen next, and he’s not going to take no for an answer. Given there’s a suspicion he could be violent, Donald seems to have been placed in danger for no good reason. He does attack her, but she’s able to signal to Snow and Hawkins (waiting anxiously outside).
The sight of an unconscious Donald – blood on her face – incenses Snow. He proceeds to choke the life out of Harrigan before Hawkins pulls him off. Terence Rigby was good at playing affable, but – as here – could do implacable just as well. Feelings are running high as Barlow (after Harrigan dismisses Donald as “a bloody teaser”) also looks as if he’d like to choke Harrigan. But luckily Hawkins is there once again to keep the peace.
Never Hit A Lady is a cracking showcase for Susan Tebbs. What’s especially interesting about Allan Prior’s script is how it doesn’t shy away from showing just how inept and flawed the operation was right from the start. There’s not a great deal of Stratford Johns, but the final five minutes or so are centered around Barlow’s questioning of Harrigan, which is electrifying.