On the surface the case is straightforward: was an overcoat stolen from the directors’ cloakroom at the factory of Wright Samkins Metals Ltd by Graham Erringburn, employed there as personnel manager? What starts with a whimper, however can often end in a bang. Erringburn has pleaded not guilty, and has elected to be tried by jury in Fulchester Crown Court.
Original broadcast: Wednesday 25 – Friday 27 July 1973
Written by: Stuart Douglass
A very prolific TV writer at this time, Mr Douglass had penned the previous week’s edition of the BBC’s Warship, and the day after Beggar on Horseback finished viewers would be able to see an episode of LWT’s New Scotland Yard written him too. He also contributed scripts to (among others) Armchair Theatre, Sergeant Cork, Emergency Ward 10, Fraud Squad, The Flaxton Boys, Doomwatch (the banned episode Sex and Violence) and Within These Walls, and scripted the cult 1962 juvenile delinquent movie The Boys.
Directed by: Bob Hird
This is Mr Hird’s fifth Crown Court case. His last was Case 39: The Inner Circle.
Presiding: William Mervyn as Mr Justice Campbell
Mr Justice Campbell was last seen in Case 40: The Black Poplar.
The accused: James Cossins (1933-1997) as Graham Erringburn
The embodiment of frosty, stiff upper-lipped Englishness in countless (by which I mean I can’t be bothered to count them) films and TV shows, Mr Cossins’ roles occasionally came with an edge of sleaze (Bette Davis’ knicker-stealing son in The Anniversary, the civil servant in Death Line who leaves a strip club and falls prey to a cannibal in the London underground). But he’s probably most familiar from being fawned all over by Basil Fawlty in the mistaken belief that he’s a hotel inspector.
Appearing for the prosecution: Bernard Gallagher as Jonathan Fry QC
Jonathan Fry last appeared along with Mr Justice Campbell in Case 40: The Black Poplar.
Appearing for the defence: David Ashford as Charles Lotterby
We last saw Charles Lotterby in Case 38: A Right to Life.
Witnesses for the prosecution:
James Donnelly as Detective Inspector John Barber
Donald Hewlett (1920-2011) as Phillip Samkins
The year after his first appearance at Fulchester Crown Court Mr Hewlett would find his greatest fame as Colonel Reynolds in the BBC’s It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, and would continue to work with producer/writer David Croft in the infamous Mollie Sugden vehicle Come Back Mrs Noah and the considerably more successful You Rang, M’Lord? In all three shows he formed a double act with Michael Knowles, and the two were also paired in radio sitcom Anything Legal. He also appeared in an episode of Croft’s Are You Being Served?, acted as a stooge for the likes of Les Dawson and Russ Abbott, and appeared in the 1971 Doctor Who story The Claws of Axos.
Brian Miller (1941- ) as Peter Drake
Prolific on screen since debuting in Compact in 1964, Mr Miller has been seen in the likes of Two’s Company, Blake’s 7, Shoestring, Angels, The Professionals, Grange Hill, Waiting for God, 2point4 Children, Line of Duty and old reliables EastEnders, The Bill, Casualty and Coronation Street. He’s probably best known for his association with Doctor Who, having appeared in 1983’s Snakedance, voiced Daleks in Resurrection of the Daleks(1984) and Remembrance of the Daleks (1988) and more recently appeared in Peter Capaldi’s debut story Deep Breath in 2014. He was also married to the late Elisabeth Sladen, who played the much-loved Sarah Jane Smith, and appeared alongside her in The Sarah Jane Adventures.
A pretty dull lot this week, with only that white-bearded foreman really being of any interested, not least because of the strangely strangulated way he delivers the verdict. His name’s Reg Passingham, and his only other credited screen appearances were in an episode of Here’s Harry in 1961 and an episode of Coronation Street in 1962.
The verdict (highlight to reveal): Guilty.
- SIGNS OF THE TIMES: The kind of industrial action central to this case was front page news on an almost daily basis throughout the 70s.
- The cast have a major struggle with the name ‘Erringburn’, delivering it at various times as Errington, Erringham and Erringbourne.
- The mysterious geography of Fulchester gets even stranger this week. Eventually it’ll be settled that it’s somewhere in the North Westbut this week it appears to be down south: we’re informed that Graham Erringburn lives in Kent, and that the Wright Samkins factory is located in somewhere called Headingham, yet Inspector Barber is long established as belonging to the Fulchester force, and Mr Erringburn mentions that he’s found it hard to get a job because there’s a lot of unemployment in Fulchester…
The minutiae of industrial relations in the 1970s are not the most exciting, or indeed intelligible, subject at the best of times, and when allied with mind-numbingly detailed discussions of the location of particular coat hooks they become positively deadly. And it doesn’t help that Mr Justice Campbell signals his own impatience and frustration with this particular case throughout. James Cossins delivers a characteristically excellent performance of wounded dignity, but on the whole it’s a very long three episodes.