Softly Softly: Task Force Series Two to be released by Simply Media – 26th September 2016

6832.JPG

Series two of Softly Softly: Task Force will be released by Simply Media in late September, featuring twenty six episodes across seven discs.  Review here.

The second series of Softly Softly Task Force, the classic long running hit BBC police drama, is coming to DVD for the very first time in the UK on 26 September 2016. A revamp of Softly, Softly, itself an offshoot from Z-Cars, it has become one of the BBC’s most successful spin-offs.

Stratford Johns (Z-Cars) stars as the no-nonsense DCS Charlie Barlow, a superior officer not averse to thrashing his suspects into submission, and Frank Windsor (Z Cars) as his mellower sidekick DS John Watt. Together with their special squad, they tackle the toughest cases Thamesford has to offer.

 

Advertisements

Softly Softly: Task Force – Series Two. Simply Media DVD Review

164454- Chief Crazy Horse Sleeve.indd

Series two of Softly Softly: Task Force was broadcast between September 1970 and March 1971.  Whereas series one (discussed here) had sixteen episodes, series two ran for twenty six episodes (an obvious sign that series one had been a success).

Below is a brief episode guide –

Baptism – 16th September 1970
Written by Elwyn Jones. Featuring Ian Hogg

Sunday, Sweet Sunday – 23rd September 1970
Written by Alan Plater. Featuring Christopher Beeney, Windsor Davies and Michael Hawkins

Safe in the Streets? – 30th September 1970
Written by Allan Prior. Featuring Leon Vitali, Vicki Michelle and George Tovey

Good Listener – 7th October 1970
Written by Elwyn Jones. Featuring Jonathan Newth

Time Expired – 14th October 1970
Written by Robert Barr

Lessons – 21st October 1970
Written by Arnold Yarrow. Featuring John Ringham, Glynn Edwards and Sally Thomsett

Without Favour – 28th October 1970
Written by Alan Plater. Featuring Collette O’Neil

Never Hit a Lady – 4th November 1970
Written by Allan Prior.  Featuring Neil McCallum and Richard Beale

Its Ugly Head – 11th November 1970
Written by Elwyn Jones.  Featuring Michael Goodliffe

Who Wants Pride…? – 18th November 1970
Written by Robert Barr. Featuring Jess Conrad and Ray Lonnen

Collation – 25th November 1970
Written by Elwyn Jones

Do Me a Favour – 2nd December 1970
Written by Robert Barr. Featuring Chloe Ashcroft, Victor Maddern and Jon Rollason

Sweet Are the Uses of Adversity – 9th December 1970
Written by Elwyn Jones. Featuring Del Henney

Bearings – 16th December 1970
Written by James Doran

A World Full of Rooms – 23rd December 1970
Written by Allan Prior. Featuring Milton Johns

The Lie Direct – 30th December 1970
Written by Elwyn Jones. Featuring Tony Calvin and Geoffrey Palmer

Ground Level – 6th January 1971
Written by Alan Plater. Featuring Glyn Owen

Company Business – 13th January 1971
Written by John Elliot. Featuring Wendy Gifford

Kick Off – 20th January 1971
Written by Elwyn Jones. Featuring Roddy McMillan and George Pravda

Final Score – 27th January 1971
Written by Elwyn Jones. Featuring Roddy McMillan and George Pravda

Something Big – 3rd February 1971
Written by Robert Barr. Featuring Desmond Llewellyn, John Woodvine and Jeremy Wilkin

Games – 10th February 1971
Written by Arnold Yarrow. Featuring Jean Boht

In the Public Gaze – 17 February 1971
Written by Elwyn Jones. Featuring Gawn Grainger and Reginald Marsh

Held for Questioning – 24th February 1971
Written by Robert Barr. Featuring Denis Quilly and Norman Jones

Black Equals White – 3rd March 1971
Written by Allan Prior. Featuring Angus MacKay

Cash and Carry – 10th March 1971
Written by Elwyn Jones. Featuring Gertan Klauber and Peter Sallis

The regular cast is pretty much unchanged since series one. Stratford Johns continues to dominate as Chief Supt. Barlow, whilst Frank Windsor returns as the straight-talking Det. Sup. Watt.  Norman Bowler (Det. Insp. Hawkins) doesn’t have such a sharply-defined character as either Barlow or Watt, but he’s still a very solid presence.  Walter Gotell, probably best known playing Gogol in the James Bond films, makes the occasional appearance as Chief Constable Arthur Cullen.

David Lloyd Meredith provides a dash of humour as the rather Welsh Sgt. Evans whilst Terence Rigby (always a rather idiosyncratic actor) is, as PC Snow, another actor who’s always worth watching.  PC Snow was distraught at the end of series one after his police-dog Inky was shot and killed, so series two sees him develop his working relationship with Inky’s replacement.  Susan Tebbs, as Det. Con. Donald, remains the show’s sole female regular.  Terrence Hardiman is a new recruit, turning up towards the end of the season as Inspector Armstrong.

As listed in the episode guide above, a host of familiar faces pop up during the course of the twenty six episodes and there’s also some very sharply written scripts, especially those provided by Alan Plater (a Z Cars veteran).  Elwyn Jones (who had created the Softly Softly: Task Force format) was another writer who had racked up numerous credits on Z Cars and Softly Softly and would be just as prolific on Softly Softly: Task Force and the later spin-off, Barlow.  Like Plater, he really understood how the series worked and his episodes, including the series opener and closer, are some of the strongest.

It’s interesting that both SS:TF and Dixon of Dock Green started to produce several all-film episodes at the same. It’s just a pity that these ones – Lessons and Do Me A Favour – look pretty poor (very faded colours on both throughout). Given the age of the material that’s not a surprise, but generally what we have across the seven discs is quite watchable. There’s no particular issues with the VT sequences (apart from the occassional bit of tape damage) but the film inserts on certain stories are rather grubby.

With so many episodes, it’s inevitable that the quality dips from time to time, but generally the level remains pretty consistent throughout the run.  During the next month or so I’ll be posting reviews of every episode, which will enable me to examine them in a little more detail.

Softly: Softly Series Two is released by Simply Media on the 26th of September 2016.  RRP £44.99.

Softly Softly: Task Force – Baptism

baptism

Tommy Abbott (Ian Hogg) has broken out of prison and returns home to a less than warm welcome from his wife Sal (Diana Bishop).  John Watt is concerned to learn that Abbott’s on the loose.  Reports have reached him that Abbott could be developing schizoid tendencies, which might make him a danger either to himself or others ….

When Abbott first appears he has two fellow escapees, Michaelson (Louis Mahoney) and Jewkes (John Garrie), with him.  Let’s be kind and say that their performances are on the broad side – especially Mahoney – but things pick up when Abbott is left alone with his wife.

This was a fairly early credit for Hogg, probably best known for the eighties police series, Rockliffe’s Babies (which is long, long overdue for a DVD release).  Abbott may be the focus of the Task Force’s attention, but until the last fifteen minutes or so he doesn’t have a great deal of screentime.

He winds up at the chemical plant where he used to work.  Sal is convinced that he plans to kill himself and also hints that she was raped by him earlier (which might confirm Watt’s theory about Abbott’s devolving personality).  Barlow, never the most tactful of people, labels Abbott as a nutter and doesn’t seem at all concerned to learn that he might be contemplating suicide.

Other programmes might have discussed whether the penal system had created Abbott’s problems, but SS:TF only lightly skirts around this issue. A psychologist is brought in, but he contributes little of value. There is a grudging comment that if Abbott is captured then he’ll receive treatment (had he stayed locked up, the inference is that he wouldn’t) but that’s as far as the debate goes.

We see several examples of Watt’s protective (or sexist, depending on your point of view) treatment of WDC Donald.  It’s slightly eye-opening but no doubt reflected the attitudes of the time.

PC Snow and his new police-dog Radar (who replaced Inky, shot down in the line of duty in the final episode of series one) believe they’ve located Abbott, but if he’s inside the chemical plant then they’ll have to tread very carefully (Abbott is carrying a box of matches and one spark could cause an inferno).

Baptism is a static, talky episode but things pick up towards the end when Abbott makes his reappearance and we see Barlow entertain himself by browbeating Michaelson.  Mahoney has some decent material to work with here and the battle of wits between Barlow and Michaelson is a good one.

Softly Softly: Task Force – Sunday, Sweet Sunday

sunday

John Watt has deployed the Task Force to the seaside.  Sunday is the day when the skinheads turn up, creating havoc wherever they go.  But this week – possibly because of the strong police presence – there’s no sign of them.  So Watt sends his team out onto the streets to sniff out crime wherever they can find it ….

Sunday, Sweet Sunday has a nice, wrong-footing opening.  After Watt has explained about the skinhead problem, the audience is primed for their arrival.  PC Snow is one of the officers waiting on the train platform for them and several shots of slowly approaching trains serves to ramp up the tension just a little more.

So after they don’t turn up, the Task Force hits the streets looking for miscreants wherever they can find them.  PC Snow is less than impressed with Stephens (Windsor Davies), the bingo caller at the local amusement arcade.  Snow reminds him that he promised the players a prize if they completed a line – so why did he ask two ladies to play off for the prize when they both completed a line at the same time?  Terence Rigby is as delightfully deadpan as usual.

WDC Donald runs across the cheeky chappie photographer Daley (Christopher Beeney).  Daley takes photographs of holiday makers and then offers them several prints for the princely sum of five shillings.  Donald twigs that he hasn’t put any film in his camera all morning, meaning that he just pockets the money and moves on.  Earlier, Sgt Evans confessed to Donald that he finds the seaside to be a somewhat depressing place – it simply exists to fleece holidaymakers of their money.

His comments are echoed by Daley.  He admits that he’s ripping people off, but attempts to justify his actions by telling Donald that “people come to the seaside expecting to be taken for a ride. Well, most of them on the seaside are pretending that they’re giving you value. I mean, you’ve got fruit machines, you’ve got bingo, bags of chips. It’s all a big con. Really it is. So I don’t bother pretending.”  Beeney essays a nice comic turn (I especially like his reaction when Watt arrests him.  “That’s not fair, you should wear a helmet”!)

Watt agrees to meet Mr Hughes (Donald Morley) for a drink.  He’s never heard of him, but it’s noticeable that when Watt speaks to him on the phone he straightens up when he discovers he’s friendly with the Chief Constable!  Hughes is a local businessman who, along with others, is concerned about an influx of hippies.  The hippies don’t actually do anything, but Hughes wants them moved on.  Watt’s a stickler for the law and views Hughes with disfavour – if the hippies haven’t broken any laws then there’s nothing he can do.  Frank Windsor bristles with indignation during this nicely-played scene.

And with Evans chasing a Borstal-escapee, Kennedy (Andrew Neil), through the fairground and onto the beach, as well as the conman Miller (Michael Hawkins) lurking about, there’s no shortage of incident in Alan Plater’s script.  Although Chief Constable Cullen isn’t terribly impressed when Watt discusses his haul, deadpanning that the home office is very worried about seaside photographers!

Possibly because of the faded film sequences, the seaside sequences have a certain seedy glamour.  They’re a lovely time capsule of the period though, especially the rather run-down fairground.  A typically dense story from Plater which is a rather good vehicle for Susan Tebbs.

Softly Softly: Task Force – Safe in the Streets?

safe.jpg

Safe in the Streets? opens with an atmospheric piece of night-time filming.  A smartly-dressed Asian man, Ali Suleiman (Saad Ghazi), is being stalked through the streets by a gang of skinheads.  They corner him in an alleyway and, after relieving him of his money, give him a kicking.

Henry Mardsley (Leon Vitali) is the ringleader of the skinheads, although it’s notable that he’s spurred on to put the boot in by his girlfriend Reen (Vicki Michelle).  She seems to take pleasure in Ali’s pain and discomfort and although the attack is brief it’s still brutal.  This is a well-directed and unsettling opening to the story.

Hawkins later learns that such attacks are fairly common.  The doctor at the local hospital tells him non-whites are targeted in this way in order to force them to go back home.  But as he says, if that’s the case why is their money stolen as well?

Barlow and Watt are also in the area, taking a drink at a fairly down-at-heel bar.  Delightfully, Watt tells Barlow that “I think you brought me down here tonight because you’re feeling nostalgic. For the old times, you know, out in the streets, the docks, the pubs, like this one. Only then we were ten years younger and you were two stone lighter.” It’s a lovely nod back to their  Z Cars past and although Barlow demurs, there’s a sense that he’s enjoying being out on the streets again, rather than struggling with the pressures of command.

Barlow and Watt have come to talk to Nasim Khan (Marne Maitland).  The script is deliberately opaque for a while about Barlow’s interest in the man, although Watt suggests that if he wasn’t white he might not be so interested.  This raises the possibility that Barlow could be racist, although when Hawkins comes into the pub and tells them about the attack on Ali, Barlow reacts with fury (an innocent man going about his business who’s then robbed and attacked clearly sticks in his craw).

Whilst Watt and Hawkins head off to speak to Nasim, Barlow goes looking for the youths.  His confrontation with Henry is a cracking scene, with both Stratford Johns and Leon Vitali in fine form.  Henry should be the one to dominate – after all, he’s got a coffee shop full of cronies to back him up.  Barlow has no-one on his side, yet the older man is slowly but surely able to dominate the younger.

Barlow gently probes him about his dislike of Pakistanis.  Henry responds that they shouldn’t be over here, taking all the jobs (a viewpoint which, sadly, makes this story just as relevant today, more than 45 years later). But it’s doubtful as to whether Henry actually believes any of bigoted comments he comes out with. It’s just as likely that he simply enjoys causing aggro and the colour of his victim’s skin is immaterial. Apart from Reen, the rest of the gang are non-speaking extras, which although slightly limiting does work well in one way (their silence generates an air of menace).

When Barlow meets up again with Watt, the pair discuss the youth problem and it becomes clear they have very different opinions.  Watt is all for handing out a dose of swift, brutal retribution whilst Barlow is more resigned and laid-back (he indulgently muses that they’re a lost cause).  On a technical point, there’s some rather dodgy CSO at work in these scenes.  Their current base of operations (a laundrette) is on videotape, whilst the streets outside are on film.  Both are fine, but when the two are mixed together it looks rather odd …..

If Henry delights in making money out of the local immigrant community, then so does Khan, albeit in a different way.  Khan is a fixer, smoothing the passage of illegal immigrants and finding them homes and jobs (Ali is one of his “clients”).  Khan has the veneer of culture – he enjoys taking a glass of sherry every evening – but he’s still profiting from the misery of others.

He turns out to be Henry’s latest victim, which closes the story in a slightly contrived way (Henry, after a brief chase, admits to Barlow and Watt that he was responsible for the attack).  Although this feels slightly unbelievable, it doesn’t detract from the quality of Allan Prior’s script.  Seeing Barlow and Watt working the streets is highly entertaining, whilst the nihilism of Henry and Reen is quite disturbing (both Vitali and Michelle, chewing gum throughout, are very watchable).  A fascinating time capsule of the period.

Softly Softly: Task Force – Good Listener

good

PC Snow and Radar are patrolling in the park, where they meet an old lady called Miss Thomson (Sylvia Barter).  She’s clearly agitated and Snow, seeing this, suggests she tells her story to Radar.  As strange as this seems it does the trick and Miss Thomson explains that she’s worked as a bookkeeper at a local company for the last fifteen years.  It’s recently been taken over by a man called Overson (Jonathan Newth) and Miss Thomson is concerned that something fraudulent is going on.

The opening scene has another example of a film/VT mix which isn’t very effective.  Location filming always cost more (and was a lengthier process) than taping scenes on videotape in the studio, so it’s easy to see why SS:TF tried to limit the time they spent on location.  The problem comes when you mix film and videotape in the same scene.  Here, the establishing shots of the park are on film.  We them move to videotape for the dialogue, which is jarring enough, but there’s also a moment when Terence Rigby delivers several lines on videotape with a film background.  This looks very odd indeed.

PC Snow is a copper rather in the Dixon mould, shown by the way that he has time to stop and chat.  Possibly this might also have something to do with the fact that he spends most of his time with Radar.  He admits he does talk to his dog, but presumably the dog doesn’t answer back!

Sgt Jackson (David Allister) is a more complicated figure than Snow.  He tended to exist around the fringes of the action in series one and rarely initiated events.  Unlike the much more avuncular Sgt Evans, Jackson doesn’t seem to possess any sense of humour and is also deeply ambitious.  We see an example of this here – Hawkins is happy to shuffle off the job of investigating the fraud to the Commerce Division, but Jackson is keen to keep it in-house.  He argues that it’ll be good experience for them (and won’t look bad on their records if the right result is gained).

Jackson, clearly enjoying being in charge, sends Snow around to the company warehouse to sniff around.  He meets the manager, Bert Fowler (Douglas Livingstone) and the assistant bookkeeper Betty Adams (Marilyn Harrington).  Both are friendly enough to Snow’s face, but clearly have little time for the police.  Because they have something to hide?  For his part, Snow’s not impressed with Betty, later telling Hawkins that she’s “a little tartlet and tough with it.”

When Barlow finds out that Jackson is running his own enquiry without the authorisation of the Commerce Division, he entertains himself by making the Sergeant sweat for a few minutes.  There’s no finer sight than Barlow in full flight, although he’s prepared to wait and see what Hawkins and Snow (on photographic reconnaissance) turn up.

When Hawkins and Snow return, Barlow continues in pretty much the same vein, taking shots at all of them.  I also love Stratford Johns’ reaction when PC Snow admits that he talks to Radar.  Barlow succulently sums the situation up. “Barmy. I think this is a nut house, not a police office.”

The crime in this story is very much secondary to the interactions of the regulars.  I’ll probably end up sounding like a broken record as I make my way through the series, but Stratford Johns is always so amazingly watchable.  When he leaves SS:TF for yet another spin off series (hopefully Simply will consider releasing Barlow in the future) it’s going to leave something of a hole.

Jonathan Newth, an actor who’s appeared in a score of popular series from the 1960’s onwards (and is still going strong today) is perfect as the icy kingpin.  He considers himself to be fireproof (as the police aren’t interested in long frauds) but now that Barlow’s on the case all bets are off ….

Another good script from Elwyn Jones.

good-01

Softly Softly: Task Force – Time Expired

time

Sergeant Jackson spots a familiar face by the docks.  Ingram (Leon Eagles) has been out of prison for a month or so, but it’s what he was sent down for that interests Barlow.  Along with a man called Thomson (Jonathan Holt), Ingram stole a cargo of ingots worth fifty thousand pounds.  So Hawkins is sent to investigate.

Ingram’s been asking about a man called Bruton.  It quickly transpires that he’s a link in the ingot chain, but Bruton’s death has complicated matters.  When Ingram goes to visit another person connected to the crime, Maitland (John G. Heller), there’s a gratuitous info-dump that’s simply breath-taking.    Maitland asks Ingram to refresh his memory and tell him about how the robbery was committed (even though Maitland already knows all about it).  It’s an incredibly clumsy way of bringing the audience up to speed and not really necessary anyway, since at this point we’re only ten minutes in.

But clumsy though it is, it does make the plot very clear.  Ingram and Thomson entrusted their cargo to Bruton, who planned to ask his son Peter (John White) to take it over to Holland on his barge.  But Ingram and Thomson were arrested and unable to contact Bruton and now Peter denies all knowledge of the ingots.

Sadly Time Expired is the first dud of series two.  Barlow doesn’t do a great deal and there’s no sign of Evans or Snow (who can both be guaranteed spice up a middling script).  Instead, Hawkins and Donald take centre-stage.  Norman Bowler and Susan Tebbs are both fine at what they do, but since Hawkins and Donald are rather conventional characters they tend to cancel each other out.

The story is given a little lift when Thomson is released from prison.  We’ve already been told that he’s not going to be pleased that the ingots have disappeared – and it’s true that he does seem a little miffed.  But the tension is still played at a very low key (a spot of gratuitous violence from Thomson might have spiced things up, but it wasn’t to be).

And by now the viewer will be pondering one very obvious question.  Ingram and Thomson have both been in prison for three years, so why have they made no attempt to find out what’s happened to the ingots until now?  Maybe they’re just rather trusting fellows, but it all seems a bit odd.

The main problem with Robert Barr’s script is that we don’t feel invested in the hunt for the ingots, mainly because Ingram and Thomson are such pallidly drawn characters.  There’s some nice location filming, but that aside, this one is rather forgettable.