Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Friday 3 January 1964

Tonight, courtesy of Granada, we bring you TV Minus 50's first new show of 1964.  The wonderful opening credits, accompanied by Derek Hilton's jazz theme (probably inspired by Johnny Dankworth's work on The Avengers) need to be seen to be appreciated, but here's my attempt to give you a flavour of them.

It's Dark Outside is a spin-off from a previous Granada crime series, The Odd Man, and focuses on William Mervyn's conspicuously erudite Chief Inspector Rose.  Here he's teamed with hot-headed, working class Sergeant Swift ( a young Keith Barron).  So far, so much like any other odd couple detective series - but It's Dark Outside is lent an extra dimension by two other regular characters.  Barrister Anthony Brand (John Carson) is an old friend of Rose's who often tussles with him professionally in his role as head of the Human Rights Organisation, who keep a beady eye on the police's treatment of its suspects (so it turns out human rights aren't just something that have been foisted on Britain by Brussels in the period since political correctness went mad after all); Brand's journalist wife Alice, meanwhile, is chomping at the bit to chronicle the police's misdemeanours in the Sunday papers.

The question at the heart of the show: Are the police systematically disregarding people's human rights, or are they being hindered in their quest to bring criminals to justice by clueless do-gooders? has never seemed more relevant than in the opening decades of the 21st century, and in many ways It's Dark Outside seems far more modern than its contemporary police series.

The Grim World of the Brothers Tulk begins with Rose and Swift arriving at the scene of a child murder.  It's certainly an attention-grabbing start to the series, and seems a world away from the stolen handbags and misunderstood juvenile delinquents that more often characterise 60s crime shows.  Rose (the living embodiment of the word "urbane") takes it all in his stride, but it proves a bit much for Swift, not yet sufficiently dry behind the ears.

Once Rose is satisfied his assistant is up to the task, he leaves him to look after the body, and endure the clucking of the garrulous neighbours who found the body.

The scene changes, to a hammy rendition of music hall staple "A Bird in a Gilded Cage" by the Brothers Tulk, Arthur (Richard Butler) and Harry (Aubrey Morris, in drag).  As their performance goes on, it becomes clear there's no audience: much to Harry's distress, their days on the halls are long over, and they just run through their well-worn routines at home for old times' sake.

 It appears their lack of success stemmed partly from the oddly macabre nature of their act, and Harry's convinced that changes in comedy fashion mean their time's come at last: "It's all the rage now, our kind of humour... you know, jokes about dead bodies.  Sick, they call it."

"Sick" is exactly the word Arthur's wife Joan (Jane Barrett) applies to the brother-in-law she unwillingly lives with: "I'm sick of the neighbours talking about him, calling the kids into the house when he walks down the street.  I'm sick of that loony creeping about the place.  Sick of it, sick, sick, sick!"  For his part, Harry thinks Joan's jealous that he looks better in women's clothes than she does.  "Ugly old bitch!"

It wouldn't have been possible to find a better fit for the role of Harry than the incomparably seedy Aubrey Morris.  The scene where he gazes longingly at a ghostly display of shop window dummies is undeniably creepy.  It ends with him apprehended by a policeman for loitering.

Things get worse for Harry when he's taken to the police station, and a glove embroidered with the name of the dead child, Doreen Bates, is found in his pocket.  The interrogation Sergeant Swift subjects him to is not exactly gentle.  The Grim World of the Brothers Tulk is full of memorable lines, none more so than Swift's assessment of Harry: "You wear perversion like an overcoat, Tulk, it's stinking and it suits you down to the ground" (an ideal description of Aubrey Morris's screen persona, in fact).

The fact that Harry's clearly gay ("We had a name for your sort... rough trade!" he tells Swift, and his pockets contain photos implied to be of naked men), only convinces Swift further that he's a murderer of little girls (a pervert is a pervert, after all).  The more worldly Rose sees it as a good reason for thinking he's not ("Chacun a son gout").  "He enjoyed killing that kid!" Swift insists.  "I doubt it," drawls Rose, "I doubt it very much.  The English almost always take their pleasures sadly."

As Harry's locked up in a cell, Anthony Brand drops in to pay Rose a visit.  Rose explains Swift's hostility on learning who his guest is: "We like to think of ourselves as a public service and you keep insisting we're a public menace."

There's a shock end to the episode's first act as Harry Tulk's found dead in his cell.  Not only do things look black for Swift but with Brand privy to the find there could be a major PR headache...

But, as Brand explains to his wife, until someone makes a complaint to the Human Rights Organisation about Harry's treatment, there's not much he can do.  The word "yuppie" didn't exist in 1964, but if it had there'd have been nobody more suited to it than the Brands.  They're a far from flattering characterisation of a middle class liberal couple: Alice is brimming over with excitement at the prospect of writing an article about a death at the hands of the police (she talks about writing for "the Sunday papers" - the Observer seems the most likely place she'd be published in).  The social gulf between the Brands and those they professionally stick up for is at it's clearest when Alice jokes that a mysterious letter had made her think her husband had a mistress.  "In Balham?!" he cries in disbelief.

The Tulk business sees Swift suspended from the force pending investigation.  His heated exchange with Rose (who he believes to be behind the suspension) sets the terms of reference for their relationship: Rose, embodiment of the old boys' network, is despised by his chippy subordinate.  Rose accepts his insults with little more than a raised eyebrow: "Do stop shaking, Swift.  You're giving me double vision."

The suspended sergeant is tracked down by Alice Brand to a caff where she finds a knickerbocker glory to be the only vaguely appetising item on the menu (even that doesn't merit more than a mouthful).  He proves resistant to her attempts at an interview.

Joan Tulk, stricken with guilt over her mistreatment of her brother-in-law, calls in the Human Rights Organisation to look into his death.  But when Brand comes to visit her, he's puzzled by the strange familiarity of her husband.  Arthur, for his part, disappears shortly afterward.  The discovery of a photo of Arthur in a policeman outfit leads Rose to the conclusion that he disguised himself as an officer on canteen shift, and - seen by Brand as he arrived at the police station - delivered his brother's very last meal.

Hiding out in the basement of a derelict house, Arthur's brought food by Joan, and explains that he was compelled to kill Harry in order to prevent him from attacking any more children.

As you've probably realised, it's all a lie.  It's Arthur who's the danger to young girls (the word "paedophile" was barely known in 1964), as illustrated by the arrival of young Sally (Elna Pearl), who runs into the basement after her ball...

Sergeant Swift was trailing Mrs Tulk, and rescues young Sally before anything terrible happens.  "If every private citizen took his duty as seriously as you, spying on his fellow citizens, following them through the streets as you followed Mrs Tulk, it'd be the death of democracy in this country," Rose observes to his now-reinstated Sergeant, who's decided he wants to carry on working with him (it's an education of sorts).  Later, Rose gloats over a brandy with Brand that the police weren't to blame after all.  The Grim World of the Brothers Tulk certainly comes down on the side of the police - nominally Rose's more cautious methods, though it was Swift's that prevented a child being molested - and it'll be interesting to see if future episodes continue to paint the Brands purely as obstructions.

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