Thursday, 27 March 2014

Friday 24 January 1964

With Anthony Brand and his machinations absent this week - he's at a function in Uganda - It's Dark Outside feels more like a standard crime series this week.  That may be because it utilises one of the most standard of all crime series tropes: the figure from the past stalking the detective, bent on revenge.  As regular followers might expect, It's Dark Outside has an especially grim take on this well-worn plot, and one that's considerably more gruesome than you might expect of TV in 1964.  I don't know if Mary Whitehouse ever saw More Ways of Killing a Cat.  It's safe to say that if she did she would not have been amused.

It's Sergeant Swift's birthday, and as he listens to the radio that he bought for himself, a sinister, gun-wielding figure (Emrys James) sneaks up on him.

Turns out this is just practical joke-loving Sergeant Jones, giving Swift his own special brand of birthday surprise.  A far more conventional present is provided by Inspector Rose: a box of liqueur chocolates (it's the sort of thing you can imagine Rose having a whole stack of, ready to dole out to slight acquaintances as necessary: as Swift points out, Rose still doesn't even know his first name).

Rose has brought up two other presents for Swift: there's a small one containing a bow tie from Alice Brand, the burgeoning relationship between she and Swift confirmed by a note telling him to come round so she can teach him to tie it.  The other, larger gift gives justification to anyone marvelling at the notion of the police blithely taking in wrapped packages: it contains an explosive device that nearly removes Swift's hand.  Also in the box is a photograph of a glowering man, with a message on the back.

Later, Swift visits Alice for his lesson.  It seems their unlikely relationship's not been consummated yet, but it surely can't be far off.  Swift notes that Alice's gift isn't in keeping with the current trend for the "dishevelled look": "Hobnail boots and trousers with built-in gravy stains".  "I like men shevelled," she tells him, meaningfully.

Before anything more can happen, Alice's cat (named, with the degree of pretentiousness you'd expect, Freud) starts crying to be let in.  By the time she reaches the door its throat's been slit, another message for Swift left beside it.  The bloodied lump of fur we see may not look much like a cat, but it's still a pretty shocking sight.

While Swift's been dallying with Mrs Brand, another package has arrived for him.  Taking no chances this time, Rose has it blown up.  Fortunately, it wasn't just a jumper knitted by Swift's gran, but another sinister message.

So what's it all about? Swift reveals to Rose that the man in the photo is Joe Hammond, who he's known since they were in an orphanage together.  Always a rather peculiar character, Hammond had a habit of calling his friends by the names of animals - the killing of poor Freud was a reference to Swift's nickname, White Cat.  Hammond was the Black Cat, and the pair of them used to steal from shops together.  On one occasion Hammond was caught, and Swift legged it, leaving him to take the sole punishment.  After this Swift had promised to help Hammond out if he was ever caught again, but on the next occasion Hammond got in trouble with the law, Swift was just starting as a police cadet.  The latest package from Hammond contains a tape recorded message for Swift, setting out his plan to wipe out all of the White Cat's nine lives.  "An unpleasant, monotonous voice," is Rose's assessment.

Hammond's recently been released from a mental home, supposedly fully cured.  Swift and Rose head there to see if they can find out his current whereabouts.  It's a grim place, full of hopeless cases like the endlessly muttering Arthur (Jack Woolgar), who the camera gets disconcertingly close to.

Dr Harvey (Gerald Jewesbury) tells the detectives that Hammond's main preoccupation at the home was reciting fairy tales, including one he invented himself - about a black cat and a white cat.  With mounting horror Swift reads the tale of the terrible revenge Black took on White after its former friend sided with an old woman from whom they once stole.  Swift takes the old woman as a metaphor for the law, but the story's denouement, with White turning to the old lady for help only to find Black's there waiting to take his final life, is just confusing.

Hammond had a particular friend at the home, Taffy (Wilfrid Downing).  When Swift approaches him for help, he gets a knife held to his throat.  It's all been planned by Hammond to eliminate another life.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Jones is trying to avoid the attentions of a tarty landlady (Diana Coupland, making the most of her brief screen time) as he investigates Hammond's former lodgings.

Sadly he's unable to avoid the attentions of Hammond himself, who comes up from behind and stabs him to death.  The sight of the detective spewing blood as he expires would be a bit much for an ITV drama series today, let alone one from 1964.

The next move Hammond (Kenneth Colley) makes is to turn up at Alice Brand's house with a gun (he's under the impression she's in love with Swift) and force her to accompany him to a dingy caff, where he subjects her to a stream of trite epigrams he got from a calendar.  She proves a terrible kidnapee, entirely unable to subdue her native sarcasm and superciliousness, even at gunpoint.  Fortunately for her she's too important to his plans for him to kill.  I absolutely love June Tobin, who plays Alice: her resonant voice, her facility for making her character both likeable and objectionable at the same time, and her striking look, which reminds me of nobody so much as cabaret artiste The Divine David.

It turns out that Swift and Rose were wrong: the old woman of the story wasn't a metaphor for the law but an actual old lady, a schoolteacher who favoured Swift over Hammond.  Swift's summoned by Hammond to their old school for the final showdown, where Alice is being forced to play the role of the teacher (Alice being forced at gunpoint to treat Swift like a naughty schoolboy adds a new layer of kink to their relationship).

As the Black Cat prepares to take the White Cat's final life, Alice takes the initiative and, departing from the script, scolds Hammond for his actions in her most schoolmarmish tone.  And that's all it takes for him to collapse in a sobbing heap.

The danger over, Alice marvels at the grottiness of her surroundings: "So this is where you went to school?" In his distress it's not surprising that Swift misses this flashing sign warning that her interest in him is purely an interest in slumming it.  Hammond, for his part, retreats back inside his mind...

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