Case 16: A Public Mischief

Carwood High Street is a notorious bottleneck for traffic entering Fulchester.  For some time the council have been considering possible routes for a motorway to bypass it.  Compulsory purchase orders were made some time ago, acquiring for the council land that lay along the proposed motorway route, including the major part of a nursery and market garden owned by Mr James Dobson.  A council survey later revealed, however, that old mine workings beneath the area presented a dangerous subsidence and consequently the council reversed its earlier decision and decided on an alternative route for the motorway.  The council voted to sell back to the former owners all the property compulsorily purchased in the now abandoned area.  It was now discovered that the remaining portion of the nursery was no longer owned by Mr Dobson but by a Miss Margaret Crawley.  It has since transpired that there has been a second change of ownership and that nearly all of the property is now owned by Charles Baker, a well known local builder and a member of the city council, for whom Miss Crawley once worked.  This land, bought cheaply when the motorway plans were in progress, is now obviously worth many times that price since the plans were changed.  The inference is town hall corruption, and Baker and Crawley stand in court today charged with forming a conspiracy to commit a public mischief.  Both have pleaded not guilty.  Mr Jonathan Fry QC is presenting the case for the Crown.

Original broadcast: Wednesday 31 January – Friday 2 February 1973

Written by: Sean Hignett

A novelist, playwright, and biographer of Bloomsbury Group member Dorothy Brett, Mr Hignett’s most significant TV work was probably the famously disturbing 1983 rabies drama The Mad Death.  Before that he wrote a couple of episodes of another nightmare-provoking BBC series, The Omega Factor.  In less frightening mode, he also wrote for Emmerdale Farm and Take the High Road.

Directed by: Gerry Mill

This is Mr Mill’s fourth Crown Court assignment.  His last was Case 13: R v Brewer and Brewer

Presiding: André Van Gysegham as the Hon. Mr Justice Barclay

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We previously saw Mr Justice Barclay in Case 14: Sunset of Arms.

The accused:

Reginald Marsh (1926-2001) as Charles Baker

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Mr Marsh is best remembered as the incarnation of the sitcom boss, playing the irascible employer of both Paul Eddington in The Good Life and Terry Scott in Terry and June.  Before that he’d played works manager Arthur Sugden in The Plane Makers and came and went from Coronation Street over 14 years as bookie Dave Smith.  In early 1973 viewers might have recently seen him making regular appearances in another ITV lunchtime show, Harriet’s Back in Town, and in Nigel Kneale’s scary Christmas Day play The Stone Tape.

Beth Harris (1935-2012) as Margaret Crawley

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Best known as prison welfare officer Miss Clarke in Within These Walls, Miss Harris had worked in rep in Northampton alongside Ian Ogilvy and Nicholas Courtney, and her other TV appearances included roles in Hugh and INo Hiding PlaceShadows of FearCallanDixon of Dock GreenSpecial BranchVan der ValkShadowsRobin’s NestBlake’s 7 and The Gentle Touch.  She played Goneril in Thames’ 1974 King Lear (a rare attempt at serialising Shakespeare) and courtier Mary Seton alongside Vanessa Redgrave as Mary Queen of Scots.  She was married to actor Kenneth Gilbert, who was in Case 4: Euthanasia.

Appearing for the prosecution: Bernard Gallagher as Jonathan Fry QC

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We last saw Jonathan Fry in Case 14: Sunset of Arms.

Appearing for Mr Baker: John Alkin as Barry Deeley

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Barry Deeley last appeared in Case 13: R v Brewer and Brewer.

Appearing for Miss Crawley: Michael Johnson (1939-2001) as Derek Sissons QC

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Mr Johnson’s best known TV work was playing Herbert Lom’s assistant in the 1960s psychiatry drama The Human Jungle.  He’d also appeared in Compact (as two different Italians), The NewcomersNo Hiding PlacePaul TempleThe Rivals of Sherlock HolmesHadleigh and Juliet Bravo.  His film work included playing Anne Boleyn’s brother George in Anne of the Thousand Days (he later appeared in another Tudor drama, The Shadow of the Tower, on TV) and the hero in Hammer’s Lust for a Vampire.

Witnesses for the prosecution:

Julian Somers (1903-1976) as James Dobson

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A veteran of TV’s early days in the 30s, Mr Somers had been appearing steadily on screen ever since.  When A Public Mischief was broadcast he’d been seen a few weeks before in Public Eye and would be seen a few weeks later in Pardon My Genie and Z Cars.  Other shows he popped up in over his long career include usual suspects like The AvengersCoronation StreetDr Finlay’s CasebookCrossroadsNo Hiding Place and The Newcomers.  His many small film roles include appearances in A Night to RememberRoom at the Top and the 1967 Far from the Madding Crowd.

John Bown (1934- ) as Alan Fairley

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Mr Bown had recently been a regular in the final series of BBC eco-disaster drama Doomwatch and made small appearances in the Hammer movies Fear in the Night and Vampire Circus when he appeared in Crown Court.  He was in a fair bit of other cult-attracting stuff as well: The Baron, The AvengersThe SaintThe Champions, Hammer’s The Devil Rides Out and Secret Army.  He’s never been in the telly version of Doctor Who but played Antodus the Thal in the first big screen version, 1965’s Dr. Who and the Daleks.  He also directed one movie, the classy (by British standards) 1969 erotic drama Monique.

Donald Morley (1923-1999) as Samuel Dickson

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One of Crown Court‘s most prolific guest actors (he made a further four appearances as different characters), Mr Morley was the kind of unshowy but reliable workhorse who forms the backbone of British TV acting.  In over 40 years he appeared in, well, practically everything.  At the time of A Public Mischief‘s broadcast he’d most recently been on people’s screens as one of the baddies in the seventh series of Freewheelers.  He was a regular in Compact back in the 60s, was in the 1964 Doctor Who story The Reign of Terror and appeared in an episode of The Plane Makers that also featured Julian Somers (though not series regular Reginald Marsh).

The jury:

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The most interesting jurors this week are everyone in the bottom photo, who look like a pair of families on an outing (mum at the bottom also bears a striking resemblance to Jane Smith, maid at the Crossroads motel).  Our foreman is the bald man with his tongue out.  His name’s Edward Greenhalgh.  IMDb would have us believe that he was also in Robert Altman’s debut movie That Cold Day in the Park and 80s cop show Wiseguy, but I am deeply sceptical.

The verdict (highlight to reveal): Both defendants are found Not Guilty.

Case notes:

SIGNS OF THE TIMES: The post-war transformation of Britain of which motorways were a key part was still forging ahead in 1973.  This transformation was now inextricably linked in the public mind to local government corruption thanks to the case of Leeds’ city architect John Poulson, the scandal surrounding whom had already led to the resignation of Home Secretary Reginald Maudling in 1972 after it was revealed Poulson had bribed him to bring his influence to bear in the architect’s favour, and which continued to make the headlines in 1973.

Summing up:

You might think from the particularly lengthy intro to this case quoted above that this doesn’t sound like the most thrilling of Crown Court cases.  Well, you couldn’t be more right.  However, after a fairly dreary first two episodes things pick up in the final instalment when the subject changes to Baker and Crawley’s personal lives, with a lively performance from Reginald Marsh and a downright heartbreaking one from Beth Harris.

In the charts:

The Sweet are still at number one with the aptly named “Blockbuster”.  Up to number 2 this week we have, erm, this 😬 😬 😬 :

You can see the full chart for this week here.

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