Thursday, December 29, 2022

Watching Softly Softly: Task Force 50 years on

I can remember lying in bed at the age of eight or nine, hearing the theme music for Softly Softly playing downstairs and wishing I could watch it. But it started at ten past eight, which was late for a well brought up Sixties child.

By the time I could watch it, it had metamorphosed into Softly Softly: Task Force, and its those shows that I have been watching on YouTube over Christmas.

One of the things that has struck me is how little help the police could expect from forensic science in those days. There were fingerprints, but beyond that only blood tests - and they could eliminate suspects but never prove guilt.

So in order to take the villains Task Force have to catch them red-handed - and in a lot of shows they receive a tip off and are able to do just that - or they have to rely on obtaining a confession.

Which makes Detective Chief Superintendent Barlow a key figure in the dramas because of his ability to make suspects "cough" for a job. He can be browbeating, even thuggish, but there was more to him than that.

The other thing that strikes is the quality of the writing and acting. I will admit that Norman Bowler, who played my early hero Detective Chief Inspector Hawkins, had won a film contract for his looks before he had stepped on a professional stage, but Stratford Johns is magnificent and Terence Rigby, who played the dog-handler PC Snow, was one of Harold Pinter's favourite actors.

So here are the closing stages of Copper Wire from 1971. Barlow has been to a formal dinner and is being driven home when he hears from the police radio that an old adversary of his from his days in the North West (Barlow started out as a character in Z Cars in 1962) has been detained.

Barlow involves himself in the case and here is his interrogation of that adversary, 'Tiger' Mulholland, played wonderfully well by Peter Kerrigan, who was later to appear in several of Alan Bleasdale's plays.

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