Case 18: Crime in Prison

Strict security measures are being taken at Fulchester Crown Court on this, the first day of the trial of Robert Ager and George Lanigan.  Both men come from Fulchester’s largest prison, Parkmoor.  This prison has recently attracted a great deal of national publicity on account of rumours of corruption inside the prison.  Ager, one of the accused, is employed as a prison officer at Parkmoor.  The Crown, represented by Mr Steven Harvesty, allege that Lanigan bribed Ager to smuggle forbidden goods into the prison.  Ager is charged with accepting the alleged bribe.

Original broadcast: Wednesday 14 – Friday 16 February 1973

Written by: Tony Hoare

This is Mr Hoare’s second Crown Court.  He previously wrote Case 3: R v Bryant.

Directed by: Bob Hird

This is the third time Mr Hird’s directed a Crown Court case.  His last was Case 15: Persimmons and Dishwashers.

Presiding: William Mervyn (1912-1976) as Mr Justice Campbell

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What’s that sports term? MVP – Most Valuable Player?  Well Mr Mervyn is Crown Court‘s, so it’s an absolute delight to see him make his debut this week.  The very definition of the word urbane and one of the most cherishable of all British character actors, he was never less than a delight whatever he appears in.  Probably best remembered to the world at large as the Kindly Old Gentleman from the 1970 version of The Railway Children, his longest-running TV role was as Inspector (later retired) Charles Rose in three Granada series, The Odd Man (1960-1963), It’s Dark Outside (1964-1965) and Mr Rose (1967-1968).  During the same period he was also familiar to millions of BBC viewers as the Bishop of St Ogg’s in All Gas and Gaiters, and in 1966 guest starred in The War Machines, the first Doctor Who story to be set entirely in the (then) present day.  In the months before he joined Crown Court he’d appeared in The Persuaders!, the Harry Worth segment of Christmas 1972’s All Star Comedy Carnival and at the cinema in the biting satire The Ruling Class and the Frankie Howerd comedy Up the Front.

The accused:

Maurice O’Connell (1941- ) as George Lanigan

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One of the ubiquitous heavies of 70s and 80s TV, Mr O’Connell did the rounds of those decades’ crime-focused series: Dixon of Dock Green, The ProtectorsThe SweeneySoftly Softly Task ForceVan der ValkThe New AvengersHazell, Z Cars, OutTargetThe Chinese DetectiveWidows.  His occasional appearances outside that genre included a major part in 1981’s The Borgias and a guest role in the 1984 Doctor Who story Frontios.

Glyn Houston (1925- ) as Robert Ager

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Mr Houston first appeared on screen in The Blue Lamp in 1950, and for nearly 50 years rarely seemed to be off it, both big and small.  On TV he had regular roles in Softly SoftlyMy Good Woman, the BBC’s Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries (though in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, which was in progress on Thursday nights when Crime in Prison was broadcast he was temporarily replaced in the role of Lord Peter’s manservant Bunter by Derek Newark) and Keep It in the Family, did two Doctor Whos (The Hand of Fear in 1976 and The Awakening in 1984) and popped up in, well, practically everything else.  Films he appeared in include The Cruel Sea (1953), Private’s Progress (1956), The One That Got Away (1957),A Night to Remember (1958), Circus of Horrors (1960) and Invasion (1966).  His brother, Donald Houston, could be seen guest starring in Public Eye on the same day part one of Crime in Prison was broadcast.

Appearing for the prosecution: Terrence Hardiman as Stephen Harvesty

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We last saw Stephen Harvesty back in Case 6: The Eleventh Commandment.

Appearing for Mr Lanigan: David Ashford as Charles Lotterby

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Charles Lotterby last appeared in Case 15: Persimmons and Dishwashers.

Appearing for Mr Ager: John Alkin as Barry Deeley

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And the last time we saw Barry Deeley was in Case 16: A Public Mischief.

Witnesses for the prosecution:

Bob Hoskins (1942-2014) as Freddy Dean

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Bob Hoskins is the star of the 1993 film Super Mario Bros.

Stanley Lebor (1934-2014) as Malcolm Lowe

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Remembered above all as lovably odd suburbanite Howard in Ever Decreasing Circles (Geraldine Newman, who played his wife Hilda, previously guested in Case 2: R v Lord), before that Mr Lebor was often cast as considerably more sinister characters, including a psychopathic Cockney gangster in a Tony Hoare-scripted episode of New Scotland Yard a couple of months before Crime in Prison was broadcast.  He got cast in a wide variety of rolesthough, as his other TV appearances in 1973 demonstrate: G I Gurdjieff in A Picture of Katharine Mansfield and the Carpenter in Alice Through the Looking Glass.  His interesting CV also includes Robert Tyrwhit in Elizabeth R, a villainous ancient Roman from a parallel universe in The Tomorrow People, Quentin Crisp’s Polish friend in The Naked Civil Servant,  a gypsy in ‘Allo ‘Allo!, a Mongon doctor in Flash Gordon and a Russian general in Superman IV.

James Donnelly (1930-1992) as Detective Inspector John Barber

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This is the first of three appearances by Inspector Barber.  Mr Donnelly’s other TV work includes episodes of Emergency Ward 10The LarkinsThe AvengersCrossroadsNo Hiding PlaceRandall and Hopkirk (Deceased)Department SJason KingMan at the TopPaul TempleZ CarsRobin of SherwoodTaggart and The Storyteller.  In the unlikely event that any readers would like to see him in a state of undress I’ll direct you toward a pair of especially grotty sexploitation films, The Wife Swappers (1970) and Suburban Wives (1972).

Margaret Nolan (1943- ) as Angela Mercer

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One of the great British glamour girls of the 60s and 70s, Ms Nolan is most famous for her roles in Goldfinger – as James Bond’s masseuse in the film itself, and as the gold-painted girl in the film’s title sequence and publicity.  After that she’s best known for appearing in six Carry On films: CowboyHenry, At Your ConvenienceMatronGirls (her biggest role, as beauty queen Dawn Brakes) and Dick.  Her screen debut was in a 1964 episode of The Saint, and she’s also been in Danger ManAdamant Lives!Nearest and DearestThe Persuaders!Steptoe and SonBudgieNew Scotland YardMy Wife Next DoorWhatever Happened to the Likely LadsLast of the Summer Wine and The Sweeney on telly, and A Hard Day’s NightThe Great St Trinian’s Train RobberyWitchfinder General and No Sex Please, We’re British at the pictures.  Nowadays she’s an artist who uses images of herself from her modelling and acting years as the basis for photo montages.

Witnesses for the defence:

Elizabeth Counsell (1942- ) as Rita Davey

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Best remembered as Veronica, long-suffering wife of the ghastly Lionel in Brush Strokes, Ms Counsell has most recently been on our screens in BBC 2 sitcom Quacks and Channel 4 drama Born to Kill.  She might point to playing leading lady to Michaels Redgrave and Gambon in Shakespeare on stage as highlights of her career.  Myself, I’d probably go for her role in the barmy Fay Weldon-scripted slasher movie Killer’s Moon.

Here’s a lovely shot of Ms Nolan and Ms Counsell for no reason other than that they look  fierce, as the young people would say.

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Also:

Irene Sufrini as Mrs Ager

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Mrs Ager is seen in the public gallery, looking discomfited by revelations about her husband.  This seems to have been Ms Sufrini’s only credited screen appearance.

The jury:

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This week’s jury are shot from some odd angles, and we don’t get a very good look at all of them.  The gent second from left on the bottom row displays the sartorial influence of Jason King on the man in the street.  To his left is our foreman this week, Tom Gowling, who returns for another stint in 1975 and then comes back as an usher in 1977 and a clerk of the court in 1978.  He also played a court usher in The Main Chance and appeared in another courtroom drama, Justice, in 1974.  A couple of weeks after his Crown Court debut he could be seen in the first of a handful of appearances in Emmerdale Farm as squire George Verney’s butler.  My favourite juror this week is the formidable-looking lady in the sleeveless dress with the massive hair.  But the most interesting thing (to me at least) about this week’s jury is that four of them (the ones circled in the pictures below) were on the jury in the untransmitted Case 7a: A Genial Man.  I’m glad they got their chance to be on TV in the end.

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The verdict (highlight to reveal): Lanigan changes his plea to guilty and is sentenced to two years on top of his current sentence.  Ager is found not guilty.

Case notes:

  • The title of this case appears on screen as Crime in Prison, but it was listed in the TV Times as A Crime in Prison, and that title has been used on the sleeve and menu for its DVD release (on Network’s Crown Court Volume Two).
  • The public box, which up to now has been raised at the back of the court, is from now on much lower down.
  • The name of the prison in this case, Parkmoor, is an obvious conflation of the real prisons Parkhurst and Broadmoor.
  • Most of the cast struggle with their lines at some point this week (with David Ashford very nearly corpsing after slipping up on the word “successful”), but Stanley Lebor has the worst time, dropping the oath when it’s handed to him.

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  • Crime in Prison has the most “adult” content of any Crown Court case yet, with frank references to pornography and prostitution and an extremely risqué moment when the court erupts with dirty laughter after assistant prison governor Mr Lowe says that Ager is “responsive to the needs of the inmates.
  • Instead of the usual montage of black and white photographs, the opening narration for each episode is played over action in the court itself.
  • There’s a goof at the end of Part Two, with a man in a very 70s patterned tank top briefly appearing behind the Granada ident.

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Summing up:

The arrival of William Mervyn, whose blend of humour and gravitas is so perfect for the role of Crown Court judge, immediately lifts the show to new heights (and straight away he’s the star of the show).  Tony Hoare’s gift for writing believable low life shines through in the script, and his characters are brought to life by perhaps the most impressive cast yet assembled in the Fulchester courtroom.  It’s clear to see that Bob Hoskins is destined for great things (like most of the best Crown Court actors the best part of his performance comes after  he’s been in the witness box, when we cut back to him for reaction to what happens afterwards), and Glyn Houston does a good job of making the beleaguered Bob Ager a heartbreakingly tragic figure.

Elsewhere on TV this week:

Thursday sees the beginning of a new sitcom on BBC 1, Some Mothers Do ‘ave ’em.

In the charts:

It’s still the Sweet at number 1 with “Blockbuster”.  Here’s this week’s number 4.  You can see the full chart for the week here.

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