This was the scene at Fulchester register office the day in 1961 when Moira Musgrove married Lawrence Webb. She was 23, he was 28. In 1970, Moira Webb became ill. Cancer was diagnosed. Doctors from this hospital advised an operation. But it was to prove only partially successful. The cancer returned, and with it pain. Constant pain. Her doctor prescribed morphine. A second operation was ruled out. So in this flat, at the age of 35, Moira Webb was bedridden, nursed by her husband, waiting for death. It came more swiftly than expected. This doctor was called to the Webbs’ flat. He found Moira dead on the 20th of July 1972. He noticed that the new bottle of morphine tablets was empty. The bottle is now exhibit A in the trial of Lawrence Webb on the charge of murder.
Original broadcast: Wednesday 8 – Friday 10 November 1972
Written by: David Fisher (1929- )
Mr Fisher would eventually write more episodes of Crown Court than anyone else, but (this being the way of things) is probably most famous for writing four Doctor Who stories for Tom Baker’s last three series. The first (and best – in fact it’s my favourite Who story of all), 1978’s The Stones of Blood, takes an unexpectedly Crown Court turn in its second half, with the Doctor donning a barrister’s wig and defending himself against deadly alien justice machines! Mr Fisher also wrote The Androids of Tara (1978), The Creature from the Pit (1979) and The Leisure Hive (1980), as well as providing the original idea that the show’s script editor, Douglas Adams, would rework into City of Death (1979), one of Doctor Who‘s all-time greats. He also wrote for Dixon of Dock Green, Mogul, Hammer House of Horror and many other shows. In later years, he collaborated with fellow Crown Court writer (and former Doctor Who script editor) Anthony Read on non-fiction books about World War Two.
Directed by: Bryan Izzard (1936-2006)
Mr Izzard’s long career as an ITV producer and director saw him work on many popular shows including The Fenn Street Gang, New Scotland Yard, Not on Your Nellie, Within These Walls, and, er, Take a Letter, Mr Jones. He directed 17 episodes of On the Buses, as well as the show’s third and final movie spin-off, Holiday on the Buses (1973) – his only shot at the big screen.
Presiding: Richard Warner as the Hon Mr Justice Waddington
The accused: Mark Eden (1928- ) as Lawrence Webb
Best known as 1980s Coronation Street villain Alan Bradley (another man with the killing of his partner on his mind), Mr Eden has been a familiar face on British TV since the 1950s (his first screen appearance was in Quatermass and the Pit in 1958). He played Marco Polo in seven episodes of Doctor Who in 1964 (and had a cameo in the 2013 drama An Adventure in Space and Time, celebrating 50 years of the programme). He was a regular in the BBC’s popular 60s soap The Newcomers, and guest starred in cult favourites like The Avengers, Man in a Suitcase and The Prisoner. He also got the odd leading role in movies at the bargain basement end of British cinema, like 1968’s Curse of the Crimson Altar. At the time of this Crown Court case he would have been fresh in viewers’ minds from his appearances as Inspector Parker in the BBC’s Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries.
Appearing for the prosecution: Bernard Gallagher as Jonathan Fry QC
Appearing for the defence: Charles Keating as James Elliott QC
Assisted by: David Ashford as Charles Lotterby
Witnesses for the prosecution:
Llewellyn Rees (1901-1994) as Dr David Davies
A seasoned trouper who continued working into his 90s (with Inspector Morse, A Fish Called Wanda and Jeeves and Wooster among his latter credits), Mr Rees was a natch whenever a distinguished elderly gentleman was required. He played the Lord President of the Time Lords in the 1976 Doctor Who story The Deadly Assassin, but wasn’t around for long before being offed by the tautologous title character.
Kenneth Gilbert (1931-2015) as Detective Inspector Charles Perry
Inspector Perry was just one of many policemen on Mr Gilbert’s long CV. He also played quite a few doctors, and combined the two with a recurring role in New Scotland Yard as a police surgeon. He’s probably best remembered now for appearing in the 1976 Doctor Who story The Seeds of Doom.
Alan Foss (1918-1989) as Professor Edmund Lambert
Mr Foss had a regular role as PC Toombs in Roy Clarke’s 1976 sitcom The Growing Pains of PC Penrose (the precursor of the better-remembered Rosie). Other than that, his screen career consisted of memorably-performed small roles like this one, in shows including Sergeant Cork, Crossroads, Adam Adamant Lives!, Elizabeth R and Z Cars.
Eve Pearce (1929- ) as Helen Musgrove
I love it when I look up now-elderly Crown Court cast members and find out they’re still notching up interesting credits. In the last decade, as well as the standard appearances in Doctors and Holby City, Ms Pearce has appeared in Getting On and Torchwood, and played the title character in The Woman in Black 2. In fact, since her first TV credit in 1954 she just hasn’t stopped.
Denise Buckley (1945- ) as Betty Ashford
Ms Buckley did the rounds of the filmed adventure series in the 60s, appearing in The Prisoner, Man in a Suitcase, The Saint, The Avengers, Department S and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) in rapid succession. She had some high-profile roles in the 70s, including a regular one in the BBC’s Tycoon. She retired from acting in the early 80s, which is a great shame.
Witnesses for the defence:
Marjie Lawrence (1932-2010) as Rose Berryman
Ms Lawrence supposedly spoke the first words on ITV, in the 1955 Associated-Rediffusion soap Round at the Redways (she tapped a television set and said “There’s something wrong with this”). She constantly worked on screen from then on (including in another soap, Weaver’s Green, in 1966), playing glamorous blondes of varying degrees of tartiness. She was married to TV DIY expert Howard Greene, and their children include Sarah Greene.
I covet that brown and orange jumper. Bryan Izzard is clearly more interested in the jury members than any previous Crown Court director, and gives us some fantastic close-ups of these everyday people as they cogitate on the case before them.
The woman in the front row in the floral blouse looks remarkably like Mark Eden’s Coronation Street co-star Lynne Perrie (indeed this Crown Court‘s even included as a credit on her IMDb page), but on closer inspection, it’s probably not her.
The jury foreman this week is Geoff Tomlinson (below), a bit part actor whose credits include All Creatures Great and Small, Howards’ Way and Hetty Wainthropp Investigates.
The verdict (highlight to reveal): Not guilty of murder; guilty of manslaughter.
- We get our first mention of the town of Fulchester in the opening narration to this case.
- This was the fourth Crown Court case to be aired, but the seventh (not including the unaired pilot) to be made.
- There’s some very 1970s content to this case. The reason Lawrence Webb gave Dr Davies for switching from his usual GP was that he didn’t want a “coloured” man looking after his wife – though Webb claims he thought Dr Davies would understand this better than the real reason, that Mrs Webb didn’t like the wart on her Goan (“Therefore light-skinned”, as Jonathan Fry notes) GP’s nose. Also, Mr Webb admits that “I’m not averse to a bit on the side, the same as any man”, which is about as “70s masculinity” as you can get.
- Judge Bragge, the other regular Crown Court judge at this stage, is namechecked: Professor Lambert has to dash off to another case which he’s hearing.
- SWEARWATCH: Lawrence Webb interrupts his frosty sister-in-law Helen Musgrove’s evidence with “It’s a bloody lie! You’re not going to take any notice of that bitch, are you?” Later he also says that his late wife could sometimes be “a bit of a bitch”.
- The black and white stills at the beginning of episodes two and three include some shots of James Elliott and Jonathan Fry without their wigs (a rare sight!)
- The Webbs’ neighbour Rose Berryman’s husband can be seen in the public gallery, played by an uncredited actor.
- In the more intense passages of Jonathan Fry’s interrogation of Lawrence Webb, director Bryan Izzard uses a split-screen technique to show Mark Eden and Bernard Gallagher at the same time.
- There’s a sketch artist (resplendent in purple velvet) in the press gallery, and we’re privy to his rather dodgy likenesses of Lawrence Webb and Rose Berryman.
Charles Keating and Bernard Gallagher are both on especially excellent form here, and the guest cast are all terrific, particularly Mark Eden, who makes Lawrence Webb a sympathetic, but not terribly likeable, figure. David Fisher’s script is gripping and hugely entertaining, and breaks new ground for afternoon drama with its no-holds-barred description of the Webbs’ marriage – what we’re now familiar with as an “open relationship”, but which would have been considerably more shocking in 1972 (especially Webb’s confession that he had sex in one bedroom while his wife was suffering in the next).
In the charts:
Gilbert O’Sullivan’s now in the top spot with “Clair”, pushing Lieutenant Pigeon down to number 2. Here’s this week’s number 4, Alice Cooper with “Elected” (spookily enough, as I type this in the futuristic year 2017, a general election has just been called three years early). You can see the full chart for the week here.