Case 14: Sunset of Arms

A controversial new book, Sunset of Arms, attacks British involvement in the Korean campaign of the 1950s as pointless, wasteful and last-gasp imperialism.  Written by Harold Pusey, professional historian and head of the history department at Crombie University, the book has attracted much criticism, and is now the centre of a sensational libel action.  Major Alastair Fitton, sole survivor of the defence of the post that came to be known as Hill 329 during the retreat from Manchuria, is suing Pusey and the publishers of Sunset of Armsfor libel.  Pusey suggests that as the situation worsened and eventually became hopeless on Hill 329, Major Fitton lost his nerve and abandoned his wounded and dying men, choosing to save his own life rather than share their fate.  A company director these days, Major Fitton asserts that the allegations are utterly false and highly damaging.  In the Crown Court this afternoon, Major Fitton is represented by Mr Andrew Logan QC and Miss Helen Tate, and Jonathan Fry QC appears for Harold Pusey.

Original broadcast: Wednesday 17 – Friday 19 January 1973

Written by: Bruce Stewart

This is Mr Stewart’s third Crown Court script.  His last was Case 10: Queen v Starkie.

Directed by: Brian Mills

This is Mr Mills’ third Crown Court assignment too.  His last was Case 8: Espionage.

Presiding: André Van Gysegham (1906-1979) as the Hon. Mr Justice Barclay


How exciting, a new judge! The gentleman playing him was a highly respected theatre director as well as actor, and an authority on theatre in Soviet Russia, having spent a good deal of time over there in the 30s and written a book on the subject (being a card-carrying Communist no doubt added to his enthusiasm).  His many screen roles include one of the Number Twos in The Prisoner (in the episode It’s Your Funeral) – he’d previously appeared alongside Patrick McGoohan in two episodes of Danger Man – and he also appeared in The SaintMrs ThursdayDoctor in Charge, Emergency Ward 10 and a lot of period dramas.  His daughter is Joanna Van Gysegham, star of Fraud Squad and Duty Free.

The plaintiff: James Maxwell (1929-1995) as Major Alastair Fitton


Mr Maxwell was born in the US and didn’t come to Britain till he was 20, a fact you’d never guess from most of his screen roles, including the extremely British Major Fitton and his most high profile TV work, the lead role of Henry VII in the BBC’s 13 part costume drama The Shadow of the Tower.  He made four appearances in Crown Court (each time a different character), and other TV work included Doctor Who (as a space version of Jason (of Argonauts fame) in Underworld, 1978), Danger Man (like André Van Gysegham he appeared in that show twice), three Wednesday Plays, The Power GameThe Saint and The Avengers (two appearances in each), The Champions and Doomwatch. Film work includes Hammer’s The Damned and The Evil of Frankenstein and the 1967 version of Far from the Madding Crowd.  But his most significant work was in the theatre, particularly as artistic director of the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester for more than 20 years.  His ghost is apparently reputed to haunt the theatre and (in a first for an actor featured on this blog) was the subject of an episode of Most Haunted.  He was married to Avril Elgar, herself a future Crown Court guest star.

The defendant: Michael Lees (1927-2004) as Harold Pusey


According to IMDb, Mr Lees’ first screen role was as “Man with Souvenir Piece of Ice” in 1958’s A Night to Remember, about the sinking of the Titanic.  After that auspicious start came 45 years of frequent appearances on film and TV.  Viewers of Sunset of Arms‘ original broadcast might have recently caught him in General Hospital (as a man fraudulently claiming a patient with amnesia was his wife) and LWT’s drama The Death of Adolf Hitler (as Albert Speer).  As well as returning to Crown Court twice, he also appeared in (deep breath) Dixon of Dock GreenZ CarsThe Power GameThe AvengersThe ChampionsPaul TempleThe Fenn Street GangDoomwatchPublic EyeThrillerColditzThe Onedin LineTriangleTenkoBergeracAll Creatures Great and SmallMinderCasualtyHowards’ WayYou Rang M’LordLovejoyThe BillPeak Practice and Holby City.

Appearing for the prosecution: Bernard Brown as Andrew Logan QC


Andrew Logan was last seen back in Case 3: R v Bryant.

Assisted by: Dorothy Vernon as Helen Tate


We last saw Helen Tate in Case 11: Criminal Libel.

Appearing for the defence: Bernard Gallagher as Jonathan Fry QC.


Jonathan Fry’s last appearance was in Case 12: Whatever Happened to George Robins?

Witnesses for the defence:

Bruce Boa (1930-2004) as Morton Lass


Best known as obstreporous guest Mr Hamilton in the Fawlty Towers episode Waldorf Salad (as well as achieving that curious level of fame that only comes from a small role in a Star Wars film – you can even buy a Bruce Boa action figure!), Mr Boa was (despite being Canadian) for decades British TV’s favourite rent-a-Yank (he’s also the only person to have appeared in a Star WarsCarry On and James Bond film).  Shows he graced with his unforgettably abrasive presence include The AvengersOut of the UnknownThe Saint (three times), The ChampionsDepartment S (as the voice of the US president), Ace of Wands (in the highly representative role of “Mr America”), The Onedin LineSpecial BranchThrillerZ Cars, The New Avengers, The ProfessionalsMetal Mickey and Howards’ Way, as well as regular roles in the sitcoms Yanks Go Home and Astronauts.  His other films include The OmenSuperman, Return to Oz and Full Metal Jacket.  His sister, Marion Woodman, is a famous Canadian psychologist and feminist campaigner.

Fredric Abbot (1928-1996) as Ronald Hartstrong


Mr Abbott came from his native Australia to the UK in the 50s and worked steadily in small roles in TV shows including most of the ITC series (including three appearances in The Saint and four in Danger Man), Z CarsEmergency Ward 10The Plane MakersThe Avengers (twice), Adam Adamant Lives!Special BranchThe ProfessionalsRobin’s Nest and George and Mildred.  In the 80s he returned to Australia but was still occasionally seen by British viewers thanks to appearances in some of the country’s most popular exports: The Flying DoctorsPrisoner: Cell Block HA Country Practice and Home and Away.

Barry Jackson (1938-2013) as William Truscott


Best known nowadays for playing Midsomer Murders‘ pathologist George Bullard for 14 years.  But that was just the end of a screen career lasting more than 50 years.  He made two more appearances in Crown Court, was in Doctor Who three times (in 1965’s The Romans, the same year’s Mission to the Unknown and 1979’s The Armageddon Factor (as an old school friend of the Doctor)).  Other shows he turned up include The Wednesday Play (three times, including the role of a rent collector in Cathy Come Home), Public EyeA Family at WarDoomwatchSpecial BranchNew Scotland YardDixon of Dock GreenZ Cars, PoldarkThe New AvengersSecret ArmyBlake’s 7The ProfessionalsThe Onedin LineLovejoyBergeracAll Creatures Great and Small, etc. etc. etc.  He also played the title role in the short-lived 1982 sitcom Horace, about a man with a learning disability, and Grandad in the long-running 90s-00s children’s show Bernard’s Watch.  In the 60s he also worked as a fight arranger under the name Jack Barry, most notably on nine episodes of Adam Adamant Lives!


Pamela Lane (1930-2010) as Claire Fitton


As Major Fitton’s wife, watching from the public box, Ms Lane doesn’t get any lines but gets to throw a lot of meaning glances.  A respected stage actress, she made only a handful of screen appearances (there were only two more after this – in an episode of Shine on Harvey Moon in 1982 and a One Foot in the Grave in 1990).  Her biggest claim to fame, however, is as the first wife of John Osborne, whose relationship with him inspired Look Back in Anger.  According to her obituary in the Guardian, when her career hit a rocky patch in the 60s she auditioned for the role of Alison (which was based on her) at the Bristol Old Vic, only to be told she wasn’t right for the role.

The jury:


Director Brian Mills only gives us a few brief glimpses of this week’s jury, which is a shame as there are some interesting characters there – the standout obviously being the chap with the eyepatch and loud blazer, who looks like an undead John Waters.  And I do feel rather for that young lady who’s not quite able to carry off such an extravagant hat.  The gent at the far left with the boiled eyes is this week’s foreman.  His name’s Clifford Kershaw and his other roles include Mr Creakle in the BBC’s 1974 adaptation of David Copperfield, the witchfinder in the 1975 Ghost Stories for Christmas adaptation of M R James’ The Ash-Tree and the mayor in the Ripping Yarns episode The Testing of Eric Olthwaite.  He also appeared in Last of the Summer WineI Didn’t Know Y

The verdict (highlight to reveal): The jury finds for the plaintiff, who is awarded £30,000 in damages.

Case notes:

  • On a rather morbid note, this case’s cast has the lowest survivor rate of any Crown Court to date, with only Bernard Brown and Clerk of the Court Richard Colson still alive out of the speaking cast at the time of writing.
  • For the first time, the familiar Janacek theme is not used in the opening titles, which instead feature sounds of gunfire and other war-type things.
  • Unusually, part 2 features a reprise of the previous episode’s cliffhanger (or perhaps Morton Lass just makes the same dramatic revelation twice in quick succession).
  • The Milton Berle show becomes the first TV show to be mentioned in Crown Court.
  • There’s a tiny scrap of background information about one of our judicial regulars as we learn that Andrew Logan once served in the army.

Summing up:

As with his previous case, Bruce Stewart writes Sunset of Arms far more dramatically than the usual Crown Court, with plenty of surprising developments and shock revelations at the end of parts one and two.  Director Brian Mills very much gets into the spirit of things – part two ends with the kind of crash zoom more often seen in a Doctor Who cliffhanger.  There are some excellent performances too – James Maxwell overplays the dodderiness of Major Fitton just a bit, but the counsel are on especially brilliant form (Dorothy Vernon in particular really coming to life this week), and André Van Gysegham’s droll performance makes his judge a much funnier (though no less authoritative) character than we’re used to seeing on the bench (“I’m not at all sure that the phrase ‘establishment knocker’ appears in the dictionary” being his most perfectly delivered line).

In the news this week:

The big story of the week is a ceasefire in Vietnam, ordered by the about to be re-inaugurated President Nixon on Monday.

In the charts:

Little Jimmy Osmond continues to exert his thrall on the record buying public, keeping the top spot for another week.  Here’s the far more exciting tune that’s up to number 2 this week.  You can see the full chart for the week here.


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