Case 12: Whatever Happened to George Robins?

This is George Robins.

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He was a man who lived the high life.  Partner in a second hand car business and divorced for nine years, he worked hard and spent hard.  He had no shortage of woman friends.  George Robins led a full and eventful life.  He also had his fair share of enemies both in his business and private careers.  When he met Mrs Catherine Barnes, another enemy was added to the list: Harold Barnes, her husband.  On August the 6th, George Robins disappeared from his country cottage.  Police found bloodstains, signs of a struggle, and witnesses heard gunshots in the night.  From that day no one has seen or heard from George Robins.  On November the 8th, Harold Barnes was charged with his murder.  The trial of Harold Barnes has just opened at Fulchester Crown Court in front of Mr Justice Waddington.

Original broadcast: Wednesday 3 – Friday 5 January 1973

Written by: Paul Wheeler

This is Mr Wheeler’s third script for Crown Court.  He previously wrote Case 9: Conspiracy as well as the untransmitted pilot Case 0: Doctor’s Neglect?.

Directed by: Bob Hird (1936-1991)

Eventually Crown Court‘s most prolific director, Mr Hird began as a staff director at Granada in the 60s, directing 39 episodes of Coronation Street and other shows including The Man in Room 17 and its sequel The Fellows.  At the end of the decade he went freelance, still directing Granada shows including A Family at War but also working for the BBC on Dr Finlay’s Casebook and Yorkshire TV on Hadleigh.  Later work included Emmerdale FarmThe Bill and Take the High Road.

Presiding: Richard Warner as the Hon. Mr Justice Waddington

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Mr Justice Waddington, as well as the two counsel this week, were all seen just last week in Case 11: Criminal Libel.

The accused: John Ronane (1933- ) as Harold Barnes

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Look at him: brutish, cocksure 1970s masculinity incarnate.  Mr Ronane’s range extended considerably beyond this, though, as any viewers catching him as a moustache-twirling aristocratic villain in a repeat of The Persuaders! a couple of days after the end of this case could see.  His longest running role was as one of the detectives in Strangers from 1978 to 1981.  Elsewhere, he did the rounds of the ITC series in the 60s and early 70s (and was in The Avengers twice), played Jane Seymour’s brother in The Six Wives of Henry VIII, turned up in everything from Crossroads to Survivors and will make three more Crown Court appearances.  He’s never been in Doctor Who, but fans of that series may like to note that one of his last screen appearances was in Howard’s Way as a councillor called Steven Moffat.

Appearing for the prosecution: Bernard Gallagher as Jonathan Fry QC

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At the beginning of part 3 we’re treated to a photo of a wigless Jonathan Fry.

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Appearing for the defence: Charles Keating as James Elliot QC

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Witnesses for the prosecution:

Tommy Godfrey (1916-1984) as Philip Kirby

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Familiar to millions from his role as Arthur in Love Thy Neighbour, Mr Godfrey was later a regular in another the 70s’ most oft-regretted sitcoms, Mind Your Language.  Elsewhere he could be seen as assorted Cockneys in everything from Doomwatch to The Great Muppet Caper.

Rosemarie Dunham (1924-2016) as Barbara Robins

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Best known as the title character’s landlady in Get Carter, Ms Dunham’s other most notable role is as Sylvia Matthews, who gave her name to Sylvia’s Separates, the shop where Coronation Street‘s Elsie Tanner and Gail Potter worked in the mid-70s.  Her other screen work includes roles in The AvengersA Family at WarPublic EyeThe Sweeney and Bergerac, and six appearances in Dixon of Dock Green.

Meg Davies as Gwen Farr

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Ms Davies’ most significant TV role was as Van der Valk‘s wife in the 90s revival of that series.  Most recently seen on screen in the BBC drama The Honourable Woman, she’s also appeared in Inspector MorseJonathan CreekTales of the UnexpectedThe Sweeney and, almost inevitably, The Bill and Doctors.

Just as a reminder that this was made in the 70s, here is a shot of Ms Davies just after she enters the witness box.

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Jonathan Adams (1931-2005) as Detective Inspector Robert

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One of many jobbing British character actors whose posterity is dominated by a single role in something with a frenzied cult following, in Mr Adams’ case it’s not Star Wars or even Doctor Who but The Rocky Horror Picture Show, in which he played Dr Everett V Scott.  Other than that his CV is dominated by roles as policemen, but he was also a regular in Star Cops as moonbase commander Alexander Krivenko, Dr Lejeune in eight episodes of Bergerac and (a personal favourite of mine) anti-pornography campaigner Lord Coltwind in satirical sex comedy Eskimo Nell.

John Woodnutt as Dr John Gold

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This is Mr Woodnutt’s second appearance as expert witness Dr Gold.  We last saw him in Case 9: Conspiracy (also written by Paul Wheeler).

Witnesses for the defence

Shirley Stelfox (1941-2015) as Catherine Barnes

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For decades Ms Stelfox specialised in roles that can be summed up best by the word “tart”.  I mean no disrespect by this: it’s a character type she played better than just about anyone else, and she certainly covered a lot of different ground in the kinds of tart she played, as can be seen in three of the best known: Julie Walters’ associate in Personal Services, the original Rose in Keeping Up Appearances and the title characters’ very unmaternal mother in Victoria Wood’s Pat and Margaret.  Which makes it quite remarkable that the role for which she became best known was Emmerdale‘s godfearing busybody Edna Birch (not a trace of slap or peroxide in sight) which she played for 14 years, until her tragic death finally put an end to one of the most iconic (sorry) soap characters of the 21st century.

Ms Stelfox doesn’t turn up until part 3 of Whatever Happened to George Robins?  but on the Wednesday part 1 went out she could be seen on ITV making a guest appearance in World War 2 drama Pathfinders.

The jury:

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A mostly pretty nondescript bunch this week.  The two women in specs who look like they could be mother and daughter are probably my favourites.  But, excitingly, the other woman in specs (on the end) is our first ever lady foreman.  Her name is Mu Hird, she has no other screen credits and her surname leads me to suspect she’s married (or otherwise related) to the director.

The verdict (highlight to reveal): Not guilty (but arrested for car theft directly after leaving the court).

Case notes:

  • The title of this case does not include a question mark on screen, but I’ve added it because otherwise it would really annoy me.
  • Scorby and Silverton are rural areas near Fulchester.

Summing up:

As with Case 9: Conspiracy, writer Paul Wheeler keeps things interesting with a rapid turnover of distinctly characterised witnesses, and Bob Hird’s direction is enjoyably flashy.  The case is dominated by John Ronane’s highly animated and very funny performance as the defiant Harry Barnes, which also gives Bernard Gallagher the chance to do his best work yet as he baits the bearlike defendant.  Mr Justice Waddington gets some unusually funny moments as he tries to keep up with the Cockneyisms of Tommy Godfrey and the insolence of John Ronane, but Richard Warner doesn’t quite have the comic brilliance of future Crown Court judges like William Mervyn and John Barron, which will eventually make these moments the highlight of the show.

In the news this week:

On Monday 1 January, a new era dawns as Britain joins the EEC.  I wonder how that will turn out.

Elsewhere on TV this week:

On Saturday, Doctor Who returns for its 10th series with a special celebratory story that sees previous Doctors Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell join the incumbent Jon Pertwee (though the show’s actual 10th anniversary is still the best part of a year away in November).  The original run of Doctor Who lasted 26 years, but even that was surpassed by another TV phenomenon that begins this week with an instalment of Comedy Playhouse titled Last of the Summer Wine.

In the charts:

The demonic Little Jimmy Osmond continues to reign at the top of the hit parade.  Here’s something considerably more palatable at number 4.  You can see the full chart for the week here.

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