Associated-Rediffusion's police series No Hiding Place ran for an impressive 10 series from 1959-1967. Thanks to the cavalier attitude of TV companies of the time to their shows once broadcast only a handful of episodes is known to still exist (maybe the others have just found a hiding place. Sorry.), so getting to watch one feels like a bit of a treat. The show's curt opening sequence and stentorian, marching theme suggest a no-nonsense show, sort of a British Dragnet. So it's a pleasant surprise to find that the series (or this episode at least) features quite a lot of nonsense, of the most agreeable kind.
Doctor Who fans (Enwhosiasts is my preferred term, if nobody else's) may like to note that Beware of the Weepers issues from the pen of Bill Strutton, author of The Web Planet, surely the closest the BBC sci-fi show has ever got to avant-garde experimental theatre. Sadly there are no pantomime ants or wildly gesticulating butterfly men in sight here. What there is though, is a pair of tramps, which every show seemed almost duty bound to feature in early 1963. We first see them trudging across thick snow in a shot that takes full advantage of the severe weather conditions in Britain that winter. As I write this, the UK's in the midst one of its yearly snow panics - the amount we've had so far looks pitiful by 1963 standards.
The "weepers" of the title are defective bundles of gelignite which these two gentlemen, Mort and Joss (Reg Lye and Duncan Lewis) steal after sheltering for the night in a condemned explosives store. They're a great double act - I'm especially fond of Joss, the slower-witted of the pair, and his ridiculous pop-eyed facial expressions:
|The "Oh no! I'm smoking in an explosives store" look|
|The "What's that noise?" look|
|The "My eyebrows are singed!" look|
Investigating the theft, and trying to avoid "the biggest public danger since the IRA" from explosives which could blow up any second are No Hiding Place's protagonists Chief Superintendent Lockhart (Raymond Francis) and Inspector Baxter (Eric Lander), a likeably ordinary pair. Lockhart's like a more senior Dixon of Dock Green, a solid, fatherly type it's easy to imagine tending his roses on a Sunday. They let us know they're men of the people by talking in slight Cockney accents, discussing the football results and saying things like "since when has crime knocked awf for the weekend?"
The show's clear championing of the common man is emphasised by the contrast of our heroes with explosives expert Yeomans (Ewan Roberts), a supercilious, bowler-hatted toff who clearly has no faith in their abilities to track down the dangerous substance before something terrible occurs.
Joss and Mort, meanwhile, are trying to sell off the remaining gelignite, and head to dodgy pub The Miller's Arms to meet an ex-con mate of Mort's. The scenes in the pub are a fascinating illustration of how entertainment was was shifting in the 60s from mainly public to mainly private, with the marvellously gormless extras who make up its clientele glued to a TV set in the corner.
In the middle there with the pint is Mort's friend Joe Macclesfield, played by rent-a-heavy Danny Green, best known as One-Round in classic Ealing comedy The Ladykillers. He buys some jelly from our roguish pair, only to end up a bit worse for wear for it.
The second dodgy character they attempt to offload their deadly acquisition on to is played by another actor probably best known for his Ealing Studios work, former child star Harry Fowler. Fowler's very funny as a would-be high class criminal in velvet collared coat, whose attempt at sounding posh just turns out very camp (his request, "let's see your jelly", sounds downright indecent).
Fowler drops the airs and graces and scarpers the second he realises the gelignite's unstable. Mort and Joss's sheer bewilderment as to why people aren't interested in their explosives is hilarious. In fact, the comedy element of Beware of the Weepers ends up completely overwhelming any drama in the episode - as the ending amply demonstrates. The tramps have been caught dumping their jelly down a manhole, and Yeomans, exasperated by the uselessness of his men, descends to dispose of it himself. A huge explosion is followed by a moment of silent tension, only for the pompous explosives expert to sheepishly emerge from the hole with blackened face. This, and Lockhart's jolly reaction, is just crying out for the words "You have been watching" to appear at the bottom of the screen.