One of the big headline stories of last year was the romance between millionaire property tycoon Emannuel Lieberman and the wealthy and beautiful Mrs Delia Savage. It was a gossip columnist’s delight, conducted against a backdrop of yachts, luxury hotels and penthouse apartments. 56 year old Mr Lieberman carried on his courtship with fabulous gifts of jewellery to add to Mrs Savage’s already remarkable collection. She, a former actress, was installed in a flat worth a quarter of a million pounds in a tower block built by Mr Lieberman’s company overlooking London’s Green Park, near the Ritz hotel. The marriage was due to take place in a few months time. Then, one morning, Mr Lieberman returned unexpectedly from a business trip to San Francisco and went straight to the penthouse. What he saw there not only made him break off the engagement, but has its sequel today in the Crown Court, as judge and counsel take their places for the case of Lieberman v Savage.
Original broadcast: Wednesday 18 – Friday 20 October 1972
Written by: Peter Wildeblood (1923-1999)
It was his own experience of the law that put Mr Wildeblood on the map: in 1954, when he was working for the Daily Mail, he was arrested on charges of buggery along with Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and his cousin Michael Pitt-Rivers. The trial was a national sensation, and unlike the others Mr Wildeblood admitted his homosexuality in court, making him essentially the first person in public life to be what’s now called openly gay. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison. The scandal, and Wildeblood’s bestselling account of it, Against the Law, began a national conversation about a previously taboo subject, leading to the Wolfenden report of 1957 and, a decade later, to decriminalisation.
Perhaps surprisingly, the scandal didn’t end Mr Wildeblood’s career – he continued as a writer, with his novel West End People being adapted into a successful musical, The Crooked Mile – and moved into television. His earliest credits were at Granada for two antecedents of Crown Court, The Verdict is Yours and On Trial, making him a natural to write for the later show. A lot of his other work involved writing and producing various anthology series, and he also wrote episodes of Mr Rose, Upstairs Downstairs, New Scotland Yard, Father Brown and Within These Walls. His obituary from the Guardian, here, gives lots more fascinating information about him.
The BBC has adapted Against the Law for a film to be broadcast in 2017, starring Daniel Mays as Wildeblood. It’s unlikely to be followed by any more dramas about Crown Court writers, but I can dream.
Directed by: Peter Plummer
Another alumnus of The Verdict is Yours, Mr Plummer worked on lots of other Granada shows, including Coronation Street, The Man in Room 17 and the 1972 TV staging of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Probably his most notable credit is the 1969 adaptation of Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, haunting and baffling in equal measure. He also directed 40 episodes of mostly forgotten 80s children’s series Tickle on the Tum.
Presiding: Richard Warner (1911-1989) as the Hon. Judge Waddington
Mr Warner popped up in many a British film and TV show between the 40s and the 80s, often representing the law, the government or the medical profession. His resonant voice was often put to good use, for instance as the narrator of Yorkshire TV’s Tom Grattan‘s War and the voice of the titular bird in the BBC’s 1976 adaptation of The Phoenix and the Carpet.
The role of Judge Waddington had been played by Ernest Hare in the Crown Court pilot.
The plaintiff: Wolfe Morris (1925-1996) as Emmanuel Lieberman
A man of many races, Mr Morris’s career is well encapsulated by him playing a Jewish character here, and returning to Crown Court in about 18 months time as a Pakistani. In the rest of his career he ran the gamut of nationalities and ethnicities (including Arab, Japanese and Russian in The Avengers alone, and Tibetan in the 1955 Nigel Kneale TV play The Creature, the 1957 Hammer film version of it called The Abominable Snowman, and the 1967 Doctor Who story The Abominable Snowmen, that drew strongly on the above – he also played what must be one of the very few rabbis to appear in Emmerdale Farm). He also got to play two major figures in British history for the BBC, Thomas Cromwell in the acclaimed The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Robert Walpole in the significantly less acclaimed Churchill’s People. Mr Morris’s own place of birth was the same as mine, the entirely un-exotic city of Portsmouth. His brother, the even more prolific Aubrey Morris, also, inevitably turned up in Crown Court.
The defendant: Barbara Shelley (1932- ) as Delia Savage
Famous as the leading lady of Hammer horror in the 1960s, starring in The Camp on Blood Island (alongside Wolfe Morris), The Shadow of the Cat, The Gorgon, The Secret of Blood Island, Dracula – Prince of Darkness, Rasputin – The Mad Monk and Quatermass and the Pit for the studio, Ms Shelley also built up a comprehensive CV of cult TV appearances, guest starring in (among many other shows) Danger Man, The Saint, The Man from UNCLE, The Avengers, Man in a Suitcase, Blakes 7 and Doctor Who (in 1984’s Planet of Fire, also starring John Alkin. Her outfits for this appearance in the Crown Court are all spectacular, so I present them all for your enjoyment (I’m going to a drag party in a couple of months and my look will be inspired by Ms Shelley’s herein. I’d even nick Delia Savage as my drag name if some queen or other hadn’t already spoken for the surname).
Appearing for the prosecution: Bernard Gallagher (1929-2016) as Jonathan Fry QC
Apart from his appearances in Crown Court (which continued, on and off, until 1984, the year the show ended), Mr Gallagher is probably best remembered as one of the original cast of Casualty. He worked steadily on British TV for nearly 50 years, from Armchair Theatre to Downton Abbey. His last role was in the sitcom Together the year before his death.
The role of Jonathan Fry had been played by David Neal in the Crown Court pilot.
Assisted by: Dorothy Vernon (?-2014) as Helen Tate
Ms Vernon is so engaging as Helen Tate (though she takes some time to bed in – she’s a bit stiff here, and her delivery of the line “Oh come, Mrs Ferguson, presumably you CLEAN IN THERE?” is hilariously over-aggressive) that it’s a surprise to find her screen career away from Crown Court wasn’t very extensive. She played Peggy Longthorn in Emmerdale Farm in the 80s, but other than that it was mainly scattered small roles, such as the Speaker of the House of Commons in The Final Cut, the last part of Michael Dobbs’ House of Cards trilogy.
Appearing for the defence: Charles Keating as James Elliott QC
Mr Keating returns from the Crown Court pilot.
Assisted by: John Alkin as Barry Deeley
Mr Alkin also returns from the pilot.
Witnesses for the prosecution:
David Webb (1931-2012) as Sidney Abbott
A memorable face if not name, Mr Webb had small roles in dozens of TV shows between the 50s and the 90s. I’m determined to chronicle every appearance of a Crown Court player in Doctor Who, so I’ll note that he was in one episode of the 1971 story Colony in Space. While I’m at it, he was also in the Blakes 7 episode Star One. The remarkably in depth biography of him at IMDb reveals that he also founded an organisation called the National Campaign for the Reform of the Obscene Publications Acts (NCROPA). Perhaps it should be taken with a pinch of salt though: it claims “He was a prominent character in the early days of Coronation Street. Worried about the dangers of typecasting, he soon moved on”. In fact, he appeared in four episodes in 1970 as an ex-con out for revenge on Betty Turpin’s policeman husband.
Witnesses for the defence:
Jean Faulds (1913-2000) as Florence Ferguson
“All-purpose elderly Scottish lady” is the easiest way to sum up Ms Faulds’ acting career. Inevitably enough she made multiple appearances in Dr Finlay’s Casebook and was a regular on Take the High Road. She also played Granny in the BBC’s early 80s Scottish teen drama Maggie.
Trevor Adams (1946-2000) as Mark Lieberman
Behind the ludicrous 70s sunglasses he wears throughout, Mr Adams is still instantly recognisable as Tony Webster from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and Alan, who feels the full blast of Basil’s fury at the permissive society in Fawlty Towers‘ The Wedding Party. Strangely enough, Perrin was his last screen role. “He left the acting profession in 1982, before moving to Norwich” notes Wikipedia, somewhat ominously.
Here’s another outfit worn by Mr Adams during the case, including a genuine bippedy-boppedy hat (his character is a “pop impresario”, by the way).
Yes, feast your eyes upon the very first tranche of viewers from the Granada region drafted in to serve Crown Court jury service. My particular favourites are the woman in the white hat, who seems to be keeping a little bit of Carnaby Street circa 1966 alive up north, the lady behind her channeling late-period Joan Crawford, and the woman at the end who looks like Margaret Thatcher playing Elizabeth I (or possibly the other way round). You may have your own.
While the 11 non-speaking jury members are drawn from the public, the foreman gets lines, and so for union reasons has to be played by a professional actor. In this case it’s John Jardine (the man on the right of the lady in the hat), a busy bit part player who has a second stint as jury foreman in a couple of years time then graduates to a Clerk of the Court. He he is about to receive a massage with “extras” from Steve Pemberton in The League of Gentlemen in 2002.
A feature of Crown Court I’m especially amused by is that the actors (or at least the ones not in gowns and wigs) change their costumes for each episode to give the impression the case is taking place over a number of days, but the jury don’t. What a giveaway.
The verdict (highlight to reveal): The jury finds for the defendant, so she gets to stay in the penthouse. Lucky cow.
- It’s acknowledged in the script that this kind of case wouldn’t normally be heard before a jury at all, which makes the choice of it as the first to be broadcast a bit puzzling.
- The clerk of the court in this case is played by Malcolm Hebden (1939-), familiar to millions nowadays as Coronation Street busybody Norris Cole.
- Manny Lieberman and his empty tower block are clearly inspired by Harry Hyams, the property developer who built Centre Point in London and caused a national outcry by leaving it empty for years until he could the maximum amount for letting it. As far as I’m aware, though, Mr Hyams did not have a glamorous fiancée installed on the top floor.
- It hasn’t yet been established that this particular Crown Court is in the fictional town of Fulchester, hence it hearing a case revolving around a property in central London.
- The dock at the back of the Crown Court set, where the prisoner will sit in criminal cases, has not yet been built. Instead, the back row of the set is a public gallery stuffed with elaborately dressed extras who ooh and aah at the more salacious elements of this case. This is all a bit odd, and the strangest moment for modern viewers comes when they collectively “Oooooh” as Manny Lieberman tells the clerk of the court he’s Jewish and dons a skullcap to take the oath.
- The version of Peter Reno’s “Distant Hills” played over the end credits sounds a bit slower than the one that will eventually become familiar.
- One of the bands Mark Lieberman represents is the Kitchen Sink – a name clearly just intended as an example of the kind of wacky things pop bands call themselves that leads to befuddlement of judge and counsel. There was an American garage band called the Kitchen Cinq, though. They were signed to Lee Hazlewood’s record label, but had disbanded in 1968.
- Jonathan Fry uses the phrase “piss off”, supposedly quoting Delia Savage. It’s a bit of a surprise to hear this in a programme that went out at 1.30pm in 1972, but as we’ll see, Crown Court managed to get away with quite a lot of risky things that might have raised eyebrows (at the very least) in a later slot.
- There’s a marvellous goof at the start of part three, with a camera operator, camera and monitor clearly visible behind the witness box.
Apart from observing the differences to how Crown Court will eventually look and feel, the main fun to be had from Lieberman v Savage is in the performances of Morris and Shelley. Both are very big, but in different ways. Shelley, quite naturally, decides that the only way to play a glamorous ex-actress formerly married to an Italian count is to camp it up outrageously, and does so very entertainingly. Morris, on the other hand, decides to play Manny Lieberman as emotionally as he can manage, seemingly doing his best to humanise a character who could be seen to represent what Edward Heath called the “unacceptable face of capitalism, and makes some rather odd choices, such as a strange hand movement when his character’s especially overcome.
Even when he’s not in the witness box, Morris makes sure to do very intense acting faces whenever the camera’s on him.
Elsewhere on telly this week:
Going out at 1.30pm on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Crown Court was one of the shows that kicked off ITV’s bold move into afternoon television. In the words of the TV Times, “The housewife, the child, the shiftworker, the pensioner, the sick or disabled, all those at home during the day can now find more than 20 extra hours of television programmes every week” (there’s a full copy of the issue of TV Times greeting afternoon TV here) Other long-lasting shows premiering this week were Rainbow and Emmerdale Farm, while Mr and Mrs, previously local to the Anglia region, went national.
Some other TV developments this week are pithily summed up in the below, from Thursday’s edition of the Times.
In the charts:
To play us out, here’s this week’s number 1 single, Lieutenant Pigeon’s deathless “Mouldy Old Dough”. You can see the full chart here.