Hunter’s Walk was a police drama created by Ted Willis (Dixon of Dock Green, Sergeant Cork) which aired on ITV during 1973 – 1976. It bears some similarities to Dixon in both tone and pacing – you certainly could never mistake it for The Sweeney – and although the location was different (Dixon was set in London, Hunter’s Walk in a fictional Midlands town) the type of cases we see – from the mundane to the serious – could easily have also turned up in Dixon.
The series’ archive status is rather patchy. Out of thirty nine episodes made, only ten exist and half of those are black and white telerecordings. Given this, and approaching the first episode on disc one – Disturbance – with no foreknowledge, you might have been forgiven for assuming it was a mid season installment. But no, it was the series’ debut (tx 4th June 1973) so it’s interesting to observe how Richard Harris’ script drops us into the setting pretty cold, using the trauma between Dennis Kenwright (Doug Fisher) and his estranged wife Janet (Helen Fraser) to illuminate the personalities of the regulars.
The chain of command is established fairly rapidly. From Det. Sgt. Smith (Ewan Hooper) at the top, Sgt. Ridgeway (Davyd Harries) in the middle and PC Pooley (Duncan Preston) at the bottom. Smith is shown to be an old hand, unflappable and methodical. Ridgeway is not without compassion, but also has clear views about what is and isn’t police business. Pooley is initially presented as something of an aggressive hothead, but we see another side to him later on.
All three interact individually with Kenwright and it’s worth taking a moment to consider their differing approaches. Smith was called to a robbery at Kenwright’s place of work. He tells Kenwright’s employer that he knows him – but this doesn’t seem to be in the police sense, simply that he’s familiar with Kenwright’s family. Smith briefly questions him and Kenwright replies in a slightly touchy way.
Next, Kenwright ventures to the station to speak to Ridgeway. This is an intriguing part of the episode – Kenwright wants to return home to speak to his wife and retrieve some of his possessions, but because Janet is now seeing someone else Kenwright would like a police presence. The inference is that Kenwright is afraid of physical violence from Janet’s lover, although when we meet him that’s neatly inverted as Kenwright is the abusive one. Was this more to do with the fact that Kenwright was aware he might lose his temper and wanted the police to protect his wife?
Whilst this part of the story could be said to lack a little logic, it’s not too much of a problem since it highlights Kenwright’s off-key and mildly disturbed nature (which increases as the episode progresses). Ridgeway is slightly condescending, telling Kenwright that the police can’t get involved in domestic disputes, although they can have a man in the area.
Luckily they did, as Kenwright’s decision to take the record player sparks a row between him and his wife. This scene also highlights Kenwright’s confused state of mind as he earlier told Ridgeway that he needed to pick up certain items urgently, but a record player doesn’t really seem to fall into this category. He disturbs Janet’s new man, Ted Peters (John Ringham), who’s sitting in the living room, having his tea.
Ringham has little to do here, but he instantly catches the eye as Peters springs up out of his chair, knife and fork still in hand. The way he holds onto the cutlery and his instinctive steps backwards are both non-verbal signifiers that Peters is not someone who will offer violence (borne out during the remainder of the episode – he’s a married man who wants the minimum of scandal). Pooley turns up on the scene and forcibly brings peace to the house, although since he offers Ridgeway a lift home it’s plain that his bark is worse than his bite.
As Disturbance progresses, Kenwright starts to devolve. He obtains a rifle, takes a potshot at Peters and then later holes up at a lonely spot, pinning down Smith, Ridgeway and Pooley.
This may seem to indicate that Disturbance is something of an action piece, but that’s really not the case. Character is key here, both with the regulars and the guest cast. We may have seen numerous Dennis Kenwrights before – men and women pushed over the edge – but Doug Fisher gives him a pleasing vulnerability. Janet Kenwright is less sharply drawn, remaining more of a catalyst for the unfolding events rather than an active participant, although Helen Fraser is a vivid presence throughout. It’s more than a little tragic that Janet’s affair is with a married man (and especially one as cowardly as Peters – lovely turn by Ringham). Both husband and wife are the victims here.
The regulars might take a little more time to bed in, as none of them are particularly striking here. Hooper is affable as Smith, although rather characterless. Harries is an actor I’ve always found to be somewhat affected and mannered (the way he pronounces “off” as “orf” here is a slight indication of this). But this may have something to do with the performances of his that I’ve seen, so it’ll be interesting to see if Ridgeway develops into more of a “real” character in later episodes. It’s hard to disassociate Preston from his later comic roles, but he does nothing wrong as the young, and presumably inexperienced, constable.
Robert Tronson’s direction, especially the film sequences, are notable. The first few minutes see Kenwright pounding the streets, past – I assume – real members of the public rather than extras. Some unusual camerawork, low angles and partially obscured shots, help to make these moments stand out, as does the lack of music. Silence can be powerful, especially when used to illuminate an isolated character like Kenwright. I do wonder how moody some of these scenes would be if they weren’t in black and white though.
Disturbance is pretty slowly paced, so maybe wasn’t the most obvious series opener. But even given the rather poor survival rate (six from series one, one from series two, three from series three) by the time I’ve reached the end of the set it may be more clear exactly how indicative it is of the series as a whole.