Saturday, 4 May 2013

Saturday 4 May 1963

This week's Ghost Squad begins with an insight into what Nick Craig does with his precious leisure time.  It seems he's no stranger to drinking alone at his local pub, and on this particular visit he chivalrously picks up a purse for the young lady who's dropped it (Ann Lynn, an actress who was everywhere around this time).  On his way back up, he has a less-than-chivalrous peek at her legs.

By the way, this episode's called Sentences of Death, a title which for all its relevance might have been picked out of a hat.  Personally I would have called it While You're Down There, as when Craig returns to his drink he finds there's something funny about it, taking a sip and promptly collapsing.

 An ambulance can't be called as the phone's mysteriously out of order, but luckily a kindly doctor (Ronald Leigh-Hunt) is on hand to take Craig back to his surgery and revive him.  This achieved, the doctor takes the unusual step of dumping the groggy agent in a nightwatchman's hut.

It turns out the doctor isn't a doctor at all: he and Ann Lynn's character are lovers who've got hold of a truth serum (she works for a real doctor) and, having pumped Craig for information on Tony Miller's latest mission, are issuing Ghost Squad with a blackmail demand for £40,000.  It's quite interesting to have the adventures of our two regular agents intersect in this way, but the only other interesting thing about the episode is that the baddies are based in... a caravan! Craig manages to locate it, and stakes it out in the slightly ridiculous guise of an Irish tramp (perhaps he's a fan of The Arthur Haynes Show).

 Lynn turns up and drives the caravan off, with Craig still in it.  He's eventually found by Leigh-Hunt, who hatches a dastardly plan to dispose of him: "Do you read the newspapers?... Then you'll know about the sort of accidents that can happen to caravans!" Craig finds himself tied up with a ready-to-explode canister of butane gas.

Can Stock and the police find him in time? Probably, but they all need a fag first.

 Sadly, Sentences of Death is a particularly dull adventure for the squad.  The guest villains do their best, but their roles are seriously underwritten (their characters are just called Paul and Philippa, and I don't think Philippa's name's even mentioned in the episode) and Leigh-Hunt seems far too much of an authority figure to convince as the desperate criminal he's meant to be.  Lynn's a wonderful, intense actress crying out for a far more substantial role.  The few seconds where she just sits in the caravan nervously waiting for Leigh-Hunt to return are the highlight of the episode.

Director Peter Sasdy tries to make things a bit more interesting with some unusual shots like this extra reflected in the display of a pinball machine.  Sadly, it's a losing battle.

This week's Human Jungle edges unusually close to Ghost Squad territory with a tale of cold war dirty tricks.

At a British army camp in Germany, highly-strung Lieutenant Grey (Tim Seely) is having trouble keeping a lid on his frustrations with his men, particularly Sergeant Major Bennett (Alfred Burke), a few weeks away from retirement and not inclined to take much notice of the young officer's orders.  Things come to a head when Grey receives a call to tell him Bennett and several other soldiers are smashing up a bar in town.  He angrily heads down there to put a stop to the ruckus, and discovers Bennett assaulting bar owner Rudi (regular Hammer supporting player Peter Madden) before swiftly knocking out a chef.

Grey and Bennett have a confrontation which ends with the Lieutenant telling the Sergeant Major he'll be court-martialled for his behaviour.  The most remarkable thing about this scene, however, is a formidably ugly piece of set-dressing in the shape of a guitar-wielding statue of Bacchus.

 Back in London, an old army friend of Dr Roger Corder's ropes him in to assisting at Bennett's court martial by examining Grey's fragile mental state.  Corder's initial doubts about getting involved are increased when he realises that Bennett was in fact his very first psychiatric patient, during the war.  Worried he'll be seen as an old army comrade coming to Bennett's aid Corder tries to back out, but the machiavellian General Fielding has already leaked Corder's involvement to the press in order to prevent this.  Fielding, who admits himself to be a politician rather than a soldier, is a fascinating character.  He's determined Corder should help exonerate Bennett in order that the army not be cast in a bad light: "I don't want the army to be this week's public villain."  And if he has to compromise Corder's ethics and make Grey out to be a paranoid lunatic that's all by the by.  He's played by Peter Williams with the same avuncular charm he brought to the role of Secret Beneath the Sea's Captain Payne, but here there's steel hiding just beneath that friendly surface.  And Herbert Lom, brilliant as always, perfectly conveys Corder's discomfort with both the job he's been trapped into and working with someone as utterly ruthless as Fielding.

Bennett greets Corder as an old friend and reveals to him that the owner of a rival establishment paid he and the boys to smash up the bar.  The court-martial clears him, but it emerges that both Rudi and his rival are enemy agents who engineered the situation in order to bring the British army into disrepute.  Forced by Corder to confront his unwitting treachery, Bennett reaches for his service revolver...

Our expectations are subverted, though, as rather than himself it's the dodgy pair who set him up that Bennett points it at.  Can he be stopped before he does something foolish?

In its setting and subject matter A Friend of the Sergeant Major is a departure for The Human Jungle, but Lewis Davidson's script's as intelligent as we've come to expect from this show, and its placing of PR at the head of the military's agenda is as pertinent now as ever.  The information we get on Corder's past pleasingly fleshes out his character, preventing him from being just an omniscient problem-solver.  In fact, not for the first time, Corder's actions (here, his goading of Bennett into facing what he's done) may even have made the situation much worse.

Next week there's a new addition to our Saturday night entertainment roster with the return of ITC adventure series Man of the World.

1 comment:

  1. Saturday May 4th 1963,ITV Drama Series,Ghost Squad starring Michael Quinn as Nick Craig alongside Ray Barratt & Neil Hallett as Peter Clarke & Tony Miller from 1961-64 are the great original episodes for ATV-ITC Shows.

    Followed by ABC Television drama series The Human Jungle starring the late Herbert Lom as Doctor Roger Corder,best remembered in The famous Pink Panther Movies.

    The Episode,A Friend of The Sergeant Major with the guest star is the late Alfred Burke as Sergeant Major Bennett when the infamous fight broke out at The Rudi's Bar in Germany and he got hold of the chair and smashed the glass on the wall and he put on the wrist of the bar owner played by the late Peter Madden,best remembered in The Saint,Danger Man,The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner,The Avengers,A Kind of Loving,From Russia With Love & On The Buses.

    Sergeant Major Bennett's Trial at The Germany's Crown Court and the result is not guilty.

    The Human Jungle & Ghost Squad screened by ITV on Saturday Nights since the early sixties.

    Terry Christie.