Monday, 17 March 2014

Friday 17 January 1964

This week's It's Dark Outside begins in especially glum fashion in prison, with a grim procession making its way to the condemned cell.  An uncredited but unmistakable Kathy Staff plays one of the warders.

The young woman dragged screaming to her state sanctioned demise is Juliet White, a prostitute convicted for killing one of her clients.  After her punishment's been carried out, in the very different surroundings of their opulent flat, Anthony and Alice Brand discuss the case, Anthony having started a petition against Juliet's sentence.  He's convinced that Juliet's profession prejudiced the jury against her: "We don't hang people because they commit murders but because we disapprove of their private lives," he snarls.  In this context, it's surely no coincidence that the fictional Juliet White story is placed next to a genuine one about Stephen Ward in the newspaper.

When they meet at their club, Anthony's regular sparring partner Inspector Rose suggests that the real reason he's so incensed by the case is that his petition only attracted 2000 signatures.  Further discussion is cut short when Anthony receives a message from a mysterious woman asking to see him at the Skeleton Club, a coffee bar in Soho ("A haunt of cheap courtesans, predatory pimps and other unsavoury citizens," in Rose's words), in connection with the Juliet White affair.  "Caveat emptor", Rose portentously warns Brand of any information he might be about to receive.  With its morbid decor and blank-faced Morticia-wannabe staff, the Skeleton Club's clearly inspired by the real-life Le Macabre in Meard Street.  There, Brand meets dippy beatnik Dolores Dacosta (aka Dorothy Coates), played by Patricia Healey, a future regular in Lindsay Anderson's films.

A dancer whose career never hit the dizzy heights promised by her role in Odds and Ends, a topical revue of the kind popular in the early 60s, in which she had a number about the 11 plus, Dolores confesses to Brand that it was she who committed the murder her friend Juliet White's been hanged for. She's of the belief that the law doesn't allow two people to be hanged for the same crime - which Brand deliberately doesn't abuse her of.

Brand takes Dolores' story to Rose, who swiftly dismisses her as a dim publicity seeker.  The inspector's rather more impressed with the knowledge of Latin Sergeant Swift reveals as they discuss the late Ms White:

"De mortuis nil nisi bonum - never speak ill of the dead, sir."
"You astound me, Swift."
"It was on one of those question and answer programmes the other evening."

Despite Rose's pooh-poohing, Brand sees Dolores' confession as an ideal opportunity to cast the death penalty he despises in the worst possible light by proving the death of an innocent woman.  And, perhaps more importantly, to cause a huge embarrassment to the Home Secretary (at the time this office was filled by the notoriously inept Henry Brooke, who That Was the Week That Was characterised as "The most hated man in Britain").  Brand senses a powerful ally in Alice's friend Seth Danby (Godfrey Quigley), a fearsome TV interrogator (whose glasses and bow tie indicate that he's based on Robin Day), who we first see reducing a deserter from the guards to jelly with his fierce questioning.

Just as Brand's plotting Dolores' appearance on Danby's show she turns up at his house.  Having realised she could be convicted for the murder after all, she's come, along with her dope fiend boyfriend Scooty (Brian Phelan) to inform Brand that her whole story was a lie, intended to kickstart her showbiz career.  There's an oblique reference to Profumo and similar scandals as Dolores vents her frustration that so many girls are coming out of nowhere off the back of sex scandals and getting jobs denied to a professional like her .

Brand's not going to give up his plans that easily.  He talks Danby into letting him appear on the show himself to tell the public about Dolores' first confession (keeping quiet about the second).  Dolores is horrified, but elsewhere in London a young man watching it (and recording it) is inspired.

This is Alan Day (Michael Meacham), a career opportunist who rapidly instals himself as Dolores' publicity manager (the girl herself doesn't have much say in the matter).  His first action is to launch a slander suit against Brand - which is precisely what the lawyer was hoping for.  Day proves rather enthusiastic about his new role than Dolores might have liked...

Brand's game-playing earns him the enmity of Danby, outraged that the lawyer's used him as a pawn.  Brand's next pawn is Scooty, peeved at Dolores after she refused to continue supplying him with drugs, who he pays to tell Day compromising stories about her.

Despite (in truth because of) their ongoing battle, Day invites Brand to a party at his flat.  Unable to make it, Brand sends Alice in his place, encouraging her to take Sergeant Swift - of all people - along with her.  This particular odd couple are, despite each other's better instincts, getting increasingly close.

The absurdly sophisticated Alice doesn't bat an eyelid at the dodgy crowd hanging out at Day's, but the decorative zombies and offers of drugs prove a bit much for the policeman.

Eventually Dolores is so overcome by angst that she withdraws her slander action, and ends up sentenced to six months in prison for peddling drugs.  When they meet in court, the implacable Rose informs Brand there will be no further developments in the Juliet White affair: Brand's attempts to stir up trouble have all been for nothing.  But as the atmosphere between these two grows increasingly frosty, it looks like things might be continuing to heat up between their respective partners...

Seven months after this episode was broadcast, Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans would be the last people to be executed in the UK.  The following year the death penalty would be abolished.  By this time the Home Secretary was Roy Jenkins - as the epitome of the Champagne socialist it's safe to say he's a figure Anthony Brand would have felt rather more comfortable with.

1 comment:

  1. The death penalty was abolished for murder in the mainland UK 1965 (initially for five years), but not fully and finally abolished until 1998 when it was removed for treason, piracy with violence and some other rare offences. In 1973, Liam Holden was sentenced to death in Northern Ireland for the murder of a British soldier, but his sentence was commuted; he was released in 1989 and his conviction later quashed on appeal in 2012.

    Interesting review. Is this your first piece on the death penalty?