Friday, 17 October 2014

Saturday 17 October 1964

Unlike last week's, tonight's Arthur Haynes Show's opening title sequence remains intact, and it's fairly imaginative.  City gents Leslie Noyes, Dermot Kelly and Nicholas Parsons are credited in turn as they take their seats in a train carriage and light up their pipes, followed by Arthur with the punchline (he dons a gas mask).  It seems a bit unfair that Noyes, who rarely contributes anything more than a walk-on, gets his name at the top of the show while the always far more memorable Rita Webb doesn't, but it's hard to imagine how she could've been worked into this sketch.

Anyway, the show's title appears on the front of Arthur's paper, as does the name of tonight's musical act (after appearances by up-to-the-minute groups like the Rolling Stones and the Dave Clark Five in the last series, the programme's makers seem to have decided to stick with solidly light entertainment acts this time round.  And you don't get much lighter on entertainment than this lot).

The first sketch proper tonight is one of Johnny Speight's more off-the-wall efforts, with Haynes and Kelly concealed inside gorilla suits as a pair of disgruntled zoo residents.  Well, I say concealed: even without their voices to identify them their body language would be unmistakable - the masks even look strangely like their real faces.  Gorillarthur's fed up with the chin-tickling antics of keeper Noyes, and so attempts to strangle him, before being customarily rude to visitor Rita Webb ("Cor, ain't they ugly?" "Hark at her, talking about ugly.  After being poked with city gent Parsons' umbrella, Arthur decides it's war and obtains the help of a neighbouring elephant to drench the crowd.

There follows a vignette with sneaky fakir Arthur's Indian rope trick used as a means of escape by a band of convicts.

The final sketch begins with an air of Pinterish menace, as Parsons is accosted in his own home by Haynes and Kelly's tramps.  Arthur's pretending to have no arms: "As you can see, England's had those."  Parsons feels unable to decline their request for admittance, and soon Dermot's trying to flog him used false teeth while Arthur's nicking everything in sight.

Noticing the theft of various items, but unable to account for how an armless man could have taken them, Parsons only realises the deception when Arthur shakes his hand on leaving.  At which point Parsons vents his frustration to the viewing public.

Autumn is now well and truly upon us, and this time of year would normally usher in a new series of The Avengers.  That show's having a year off for an extensive revamp, though, so in its place is a new ABC show from former Avengers producer John Bryce.  It concerns a military policeman, and its opening credits are full of various army motifs, including a photo of a man who clearly isn't the show's star, John Thaw, who's graduated from a brief but eye-catching stint in Z Cars to his own series.

In a British army barracks somewhere in Germany, officer's wife Mrs Lynne (Miranda Connell), seemingly in a state of shock, pays a visit to cheery MO Tenniel Evans.  When he approaches her to take her temperature she starts to scream (her voice accompanying a striking series of stylised images).

Plain clothes investigator Sergeant John Mann arrives at the barracks (Thaw was only 22 when he took on the role of Mann, but he always looked at least 10 years older than his real age - his birth must have been interesting) on business seemingly unconnected with the above: the assault on a senior officer by Private Jones (Ronald Bridges), after the leave he'd arranged for his honeymoon was forgotten about.   The officer was Captain Lynne, husband of the distraught woman and an upright scion of a respected military family, who gruff CO John Welsh is worried has "gone to pot", having lost all his enthusiasm for the job for some unknown reason.  Director Ray Menmuir (another Avengers alumnus) was clearly very struck on Thaw's corvine profile: throughout the length of the episode the actor only rarely turns his whole face to the camera.

The CO reveals to Mann that Lynne's wife's in hospital with shock, and though reluctant to talk about the officer, eventually says that he seems to have become afraid of his men.

Lynne, played by It's Dark Outside star Keith Barron, certainly seems to be afraid of something.

When he visits the MO, Mann's told that there's no apparent reason for Mrs Lynne's condition, though she was admitted the night after a mess party.  Lynne won't allow his wife to be examined by a psychiatrist.

The MO recommends Mann speak to Mrs Wells (Mary Webster), a fellow officer's wife who was with Mrs Lynne throughout the party.  She's a chatty, posh type who Mann helps in with her shopping.  She's looking after Captain Lynne in his wife's absence, but knows very little about what's wrong with her friend as Mrs Lynne won't talk about it.  She reveals that Mrs Lynne left the party alone.

Mann finally gets to meet Captain Lynne, who's deeply unimpressed that Mann's more interested in his wife than the assault on him.  Lynne tells Mann to mind his own business, but Mann's insistent that something happened to Mrs Lynne that badly scared her.

The MO confides in Mann that he thinks Lynne's curious behaviour contributed to his wife's illness, but the CO insists Mann stick to the case he's been brought in to investigate.  Mann reveals that he's read the CO's report on Mrs Lynne, and it says she's been raped.

Comedy stalwart David Battley plays the CO's secretary, who, at Mann's requests, suggests some possible suspects for the assault.

The most likely of these seems to be Private Bolt (Kenneth Colley), who works in the mess and is known to be a dodgy character, especially where women are concerned.  Mann interviews him about the death of a girl from the local village.  Bolt denies all knowledge.

Mrs Lynne tells the MO she's recovered, but starts shouting senselessly at Mann when he questions her about the night of the party.

Mann interviews the mess sergeant (Derek Newark) about Bolt.  He's no fan of his underling, considering him an insolent pervert.

After Lynne refuses Mann any further co-operation the investigator tells the MO he's stumped by the captain's lack of interest in bringing his wife's rapist to justice (the MO's one of the more sympathetic characters, but the smoke billowing from his cigarette acts as a metaphor for the wall of silence that Mann's unable to break down).  The CO instructs him to leave the matter alone.

Mann's convinced that Bolt is the rapist, and is determined to convict him (Bolt's distorted reflection in a glass emphasises his twisted character), but Mrs Lynne refuses to identify her attacker. Anyway, Mann's become more interested in finding out why Lynne's keeping quiet.

When Mann confronts Lynne, the officer breaks down and tells him about the horror of finding his wife after she had been raped.  He tells Mann that he's kept quiet for fear of his career and reputation, convinced that an officer who'd "allowed" his wife to be raped by one of his men would lose all respect.

But in the face of Mann's clear revulsion, Lynne admits the real reason for his silence: fear for his wife.  "Do you ever think of a woman, after a thing like this? What her feelings are? Well I thought about it.  All that night while Jean was still crying.  How would she live it down? How would we walk about, and mix with people that knew about it? They were looking at her, calculating, wondering. The women, and the men.  Oh yes, the men."  Lynne's hatred for the institution he's been forced to enter through family tradition is summed up in his scathing dismissal of the army as a "gossip club", where lives are frequently ruined by malicious whispers.  It's a marvellous performance by Barron, and Thaw's just as good as Mann, rarely talking, always watching.  In the face of Lynne's apparent uninterest in the identity of his wife's rapist Mann tersely tells him it was Bolt, then heads off to snare him.

Having gained the CO's grudging agreement, Mann attends the officers' party at the mess that evening, where Lynne once again tries to justify himself.  He gets no comfort from Mann, who coldly tells him that his reasons for acting as he did were "adequate".  But when Lynne sees Bolt follow after Mrs Wells, Lynne's instincts take over and he attacks the private, dragging him outside for a visceral fight sequence (regular readers may recall that Barron and Colley had a similarly adversarial relationship in an episode of It's Dark Outside).

Mann lets Lynne get on with giving Bolt a cathartic thrashing (all the characters in this episode - that is the ones whose names we learn - have monosyllabic surnames: I suppose it adds to the urgency of the thing), until the rapist's down and bleeding, when he swoops in like the bird of prey he closely resembles.  He tells Lynne he'll get Bolt convicted for killing the German girl and try and keep the rape of Mrs Lynne hushed up.

Writer William Emms' scenario is a powerful one that tackles rape in an unflinching, grown-up way, although modern viewers might quibble with the way it shunts the victim's own experience to the sidelines.  With It Comes After it feels like Redcap is setting out its stall straight away, showing viewers just how hard-hitting it intends to be.  It'll be interesting to see what follows.

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