On April 17th, 1970, at 11.40 in the morning, Arthur John Simpson was involved in a car accident. Suffering various abrasions but conscious and able to walk, he was taken by ambulance from the scene of the crash to the accident department of Rudkin General Hospital. There he was examined by a member of the accident department staff, a Dr Warner. X-rays were taken of the left elbow, knee, two-inch flesh wound to the left side of the skull. Mr Simpson was taken by a Nurse Dowling to a nearby restroom and told to lie down. Half an hour later Mr Simpson was found in a state of collapse, on the street that runs in front of the main entrance to the hospital. He was rushed into an operating theatre, and an operation was performed on a hairline fracture of the skull. The operation was not a success, and at 12.23 on the afternoon of April 17th, Arthur John Simpson died.
Originally transmitted: Doctor’s Neglect? was a pilot made in 1972 that was never transmitted in Crown Court‘s original run, but has since been broadcast in satellite repeats and released on DVD.
Written by: Paul Wheeler (1934-)
Mr Wheeler worked for MI6 when he began writing for TV in the 60s, and took up writing full time when he realised it would make him more money. His previous credits included episodes of popular ITV crime series Special Branch and Fraud Squad, and he’d go on to write for many more hit shows, including Poldark, Van der Valk, Tenko, Minder, The Professionals, Bergerac, Dempsey and Makepeace and CATS Eyes. His film work includes the splendidly trashy 1978 horror film The Legacy. Perhaps the most surprising item on his CV is 2003’s The Medallion, starring the mind-boggling combination of Jackie Chan and Lee Evans.
Directed by Richard Everitt (1933-2004)
Mr Everitt must have seemed a natural choice for Crown Court, having worked on The Verdict Is Yours, the Crown Court forerunner which ran from 1958 to 1963. Very much a Granada man, he was a director and executive producer of Coronation Street in the 60s, and produced many popular shows for the company, including The Man in Room 17, The Dustbinmen, The XYY Man and its follow-ups Strangers and Bulman. He finally left Granada in 1991 to produce Lovejoy for the BBC.
Presiding: Ernest Hare (1900-1981) as Mr Justice Waddington
A stage veteran who’d been in mostly small screen roles since the 30s, Mr Hare was only in Crown Court this once. The role of Mr Justice Waddington was taken over by Richard Warner in the series proper.
The plaintiff: Petra Davies (1930-2016) as Anna Simpson
Ms Davies regularly popped up in British films and TV shows from the 50s to the 80s, and had a regular role in ATV’s General Hospital, which originally followed Crown Court on Thursday and Friday afternoons. She was married to actor Jack May, who surprisingly never appeared in Crown Court, though he had been a barrister in The Verdict Is Yours.
The defendant: Rudkin General Hospital Management Board, represented by George Waring (1925-2010) as Mr Frost.
These proceedings must have seemed very familiar to Mr Waring, who regularly played the clerk of the court in Thames’ primetime courtroom drama Six Days of Justice, which began six months before Crown Court. He was a busy TV actor who guested in shows including Doctor Who (1967’s The Ice Warriors), Doomwatch, and Z Cars and notched up two further roles in Crown Court. Probably his most significant role was as Arnold Swain, who bigamously married Coronation Street‘s Emily Bishop in 1980. He was the brother of actor Derek Waring.
Prosecuting counsel: David Neal (1932-2000) as Jonathan Fry QC
Owner of a remarkably compelling face and voice, Mr Neal was an elder of Krypton in Superman (1978), the captain of Ming the Merciless’s air force in Flash Gordon (1980), and popped up in Blake’s 7 (1981’s Games) and Doctor Who (memorably being pushed down a lift shaft in 1984’s The Caves of Androzani. He had lead roles in the Southern TV children’s dramas The Flockton Flyer (1977) and Noah’s Castle (1980). This is his only appearance in Crown Court – the role of Jonathan Fry was taken over by Bernard Gallagher in the series.
Assisted by: David Ashford (1941- ) as Derek Jones
Mr Ashford would become Crown Court‘s most prolific barrister, but after the pilot his character’s name was changed to the slightly less prosaic Charles Lotterby. His other TV roles have mostly been small ones (eg a vicar in Howards’ Way, an auctioneer in Keeping Up Appearances, one of the all-powerful Gods of Ragnarok in the 1988 Doctor Who story The Greatest Show in the Galaxy – that sort of thing). According to his IMDb page, he was also a secondary school drama teacher in the 90s.
Defence counsel: Charles Keating (1941-2014) as James Elliott
Mr Keating began his acting career in the US, where he’d moved as a teenager. After returning to the UK for a successful career including a stint at the RSC and roles in high profile series Edward and Mrs Simpson (1978) and Brideshead Revisited (1981), he moved back there. He joined the cast of daytime soap Another World in 1983, and won an Emmy in 1995 for his work on the show. Thanks to his transatlantic career there is at least one person who’s been in both Crown Court and Sex and the City.
Assisted by: John Alkin (1947- ) as Barry Deeley
Aside from his work on Crown Court, Mr Alkin is probably best known for playing DS Tom Daniels in various episodes of The Sweeney and its two spin-off films. In the 80s he married Kenny Everett’s ex-wife, and left acting to set up a spiritual healing centre with her. Ubiquitous mention of role in Doctor Who: he popped up in the last episode of Planet of Fire (1984) to take the Doctor’s companion Turlough back to his home planet.
Witnesses for the prosecution:
Basil Dignam (1905-1979) as Dr Sissons
Instantly recognisable as the face of officialdom in masses of films and TV shows throughout the 60s and 70s, it’s no surprise that Mr Dignam was Crown Court‘s first expert witness, and it’s even less of a surprise that he later returned to the show as a judge. His brother, the equally prolific Mark Dignam, later played a barrister in Crown Court. Basil’s wife, acclaimed actress Mona Washbourne, was sadly never in Crown Court, though she did play a magistrate in Thames’ Six Days of Justice.
Rex Arundel as Mr Masterton
This isn’t exactly Mr Arundel’s big moment, as the scene changes after he takes the stand (see Case notes), and we never get to hear his evidence. Probably the proudest achievement on his CV was playing the mayor of Weatherfield in Coronation Street. Other than that his screen career consisted of bit parts in various Granada shows. He also wrote an episode of Nearest and Dearest, the Granada sitcom for which the Crown Court set was originally built.
Witnesses for the defence:
Jeremy Bulloch (1945- ) as Dr Warner
Mr Bulloch’s had a full career which has included appearing in Summer Holiday (1963) as a member of Cliff Richard’s gang, roles in two Doctor Who stories (1965’s The Space Museum and 1973’s The Time Warrior), the lead role in a typically atrocious British sex comedy called Can You Keep It Up for a Week? (1975) and making up one half of the groundbreaking gay couple in Maureen Lipman sitcom Agony. Despite all that, the role for which he has gained international fame is one where his face is covered and his voice dubbed: bounty hunter Boba Fett in the Star Wars films.
Jacqueline Stanbury as Nurse Dowling
Ms Stanbury had a regular role as WPC Hawkins in the 1974 series of Dixon of Dock Green, and the same year got to be in a Crown Court which was actually shown on the telly (The Flight of the Lapwing). She played a lot of small roles in other shows, including an uncredited walk-on in the 1973 Doctor Who story The Time Warrior (which also starred Jeremy Bulloch).
- Crown Court‘s pilot episode is different from the series in some noticeable ways, the most obvious being that there’s no jury. What seems even more wrong to the seasoned Crown Court viewer are the scenes that take place in the corridor outside the courtroom, including Dr Warner and Nurse Dowling emoting about their relationship and Barry Deeley chatting with Dr Warner as a friend, and the friendly scenes with the barristers in their chambers. Nothing like this will be allowed in the series. Other differences include:
- The paint job on the court set, which will soon be a lot less turquoise.
- David Neal (as Jonathan Fry) reading the opening narration to each episode – this role will be assigned to “Court Reporter” Peter Wheeler.
- The defence team on screen right and the prosecution team on screen left – they’ll usually be the other way round in future
- Joseph Berry, the familiar Crown Court usher, is here, but credited as Clerk of the Court, while Derek Hockridge, in future one of the regular Clerks of the Court, has a non-speaking role as a solicitor sat next to Barry Deeley.
- Throughout the trial, Mr Frost acts as a sort of audience surrogate, tapping his barristers on the shoulder to have them explain some of the more complex legal points. In future these will be communicated by having the judge explain them to the jury.
- The theme music is an unidentified piece, rather than the familiar Janacek in the opening titles and Peter Reno’s “Distant Hills” over the end credits.
- There’s an odd bit with Derek Jones taking over questioning for the prosecution when Jonathan Fry’s called out to another case, and proving embarrassingly inexperienced. If this was attempted to be part of an ongoing storyline it was quickly dropped.
- Even though there’s no jury made up of members of the public, there are still some interesting background characters to observe. What the man on the top left is up to here I have no idea.
Mrs Simpson: Our life together was one of uninterrupted contentment, if that does not sound too sentimental.
Justice Waddington: How refreshing to hear such sentiments in these days!
(Barry Deeley is deeply unimpressed by the above exchange).
Barry Deeley: Three years in the courts have taught me a few things, and one of them is a resentful woman doesn’t even know when she’s lying.
Dr Warner: What’s he like, the judge?
James Elliot: Justice Waddington? Well, he plays golf badly, plays bridge rather well, he’s an old-fashioned gent when it comes to the ladies, he hates dogs but he adores children. He’s also a very fair man. Just how fair we’re soon to discover.
Charles Keating: The witness, excellent record though he has as a doctor, has made no claims to onmisty…omniscience.
The verdict (SPOILER – highlight to find out): The defendant is found liable.
It seems a bit pointless to criticise a programme that was never intended for public consumption, but Doctor’s Neglect? is a less than thrilling case to test the format with (happily far more interesting stuff is in store), and the lack of jury makes it all seem a bit sterile. The two sides are also noticeably unbalanced, with the hospital staff being far more sympathetically depicted than the plaintiff thanks to all the scenes outside the courtroom revolving around them. Still, terrific performances, particularly from Neal (who it’s a great shame never returned to Fulchester), Keating and Waring, and sheer curiosity value, help keep things interesting.