Case 19: Infanticide or Murder

On October the 28th last, 15 year old Mary Collins gave birth to an illegitimate and premature baby.  A few days later police exhumed the body of a baby boy from the back garden of this house.

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The Home Office pathologist, Professor Stone, revealed that prior to burial the child had been strangled.  Two days later, Dominic Collins, Mary’s father, was arrested and charged with murdering the child.  His trial by jury begins today in Fulchester Crown Court before Mr Justice Bragge.

Original broadcast: Wednesday 21 – Friday 23 February 1973

Written by: David Fisher

This is Mr Fisher’s fourth Crown Court script.  His last was Case 15: Persimmons and Dishwashers.

Directed by: Mark Cullingham (1941-1995)

All of Mr Cullingham’s previous TV work had been for the BBC, including episodes of Z CarsTake Three Girls and Dennis Potter’s Casanova.  For ITV he directed episodes of another couple of courtroom dramas, Justice and Six Days of Justice, as well as a few Hadleighs.  Prestigious future assignments included the original Play for Today production of 84 Charing Cross Road, the BBC’s 1978 adaptation of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and ATV’s Will Shakespeare.  In the early 80s he moved to the US and directed, among other things, an Afterschool Special, a couple of episodes of Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre, Disney TV movie Sunday Drive starring Carrie Fisher and an episode of Thirtysomething.

Presiding: Edward Jewesbury as the Hon. Mr Justice Bragge

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Mr Justice Bragge was last seen in Case 17: Portrait of an Artist.

The accused: Robert Hartley (1915-1998) as Dominic Collins

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Mr Hartley is known to kids of the late 70s and early 80s as Grange Hill maths teacher Mr Keating.  That was his only long-running TV role, but his distinctive face regularly popped up in shows like The AvengersDixon of Dock GreenCoronation StreetThe Main ChanceThe Six Wives of Henry VIIIA Family at WarNew Scotland YardThe Onedin LineThe Rivals of Sherlock HolmesHadleighZ Cars (seven times over 12 years), Public EyeUpstairs DownstairsRumpole of the Bailey and London’s Burning (his last screen appearance in 1990).  Rather wonderfully, on the day Infanticide or Murder concluded he could also be seen in another coutroom drama, Yorkshire Television’s Margaret Lockwood vehicle Justice, this time playing the judge.

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Appearing for the prosecution: Dorothy Vernon as Helen Tate

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Like Mr Justice Bragge, Helen Tate was last seen in Case 17: Portrait of an Artist.

Appearing for the defence: Bernard Gallagher as Jonathan Fry QC

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Jonathan Fry’s last appearance was in Case 16: A Public Mischief.

Witnesses for the prosecution:

John Byron (1912-1995) as Professor Stone

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A veteran of TV’s earliest days, having made his screen debut in a 1938 BBC version of Hay Fever, Mr Byron was then a regular in televised versions of Shakespeare’s in the immediate post-war years, playing Oberon in 1946 and Hamlet in 1947 (and then playing them again for live repeats of both).  Later he appeared in The Forsyte SagaMogulZ Cars and Brideshead Revisited, among other things.  And he turns up in the following week’s episode of Justice.

Rosemary Martin (1936-1998) as Elaine Hill

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I know Ms Martin best for her role as the awful Verna Johnson, sweetly smiling but venomous top dog of the prisoner of war camp in the second series of Tenko, but that was just one in a long line of impressive stage and screen credits.  She was library assistant Mrs Partridge in the first series of Last of the Summer Wine and had regular roles in several long-forgotten 70s sitcoms (Second Time AroundHow’s Your Father?Life Begins at Forty) as well as the better-remembered Oh No, It’s Selwyn Froggit! and (in the 90s) Outside Edge and the short-running dramas Bill BrandFoxDriving AmbitionChalkfaceGone to the Dogs, Middlemarch (as Mrs Bulstrode), Seaforth and Annie’s Bar.  She also made guest appearances in the likes of Coronation StreetThe SweeneyThe Gentle TouchDramaramaThe Chinese Detective, Bergerac and Cracker, did five Play for Todays and three Screen Twos and played the mothers of both Tess of the d’Urbervilles (in the Roman Polanski movie) and Beatrix Potter (in a 1982 BBC film).

I very much like the hedgehog brooch she sports here, which you can see better in the photo below.

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Witnesses for the defence: Sheila Raynor (1908-1998) as Evelyn Collins

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Ms Raynor’s most-seen roles are small ones in big movies: Alex’s colourfully-coiffured mother in A Clockwork Orange (which was still showing in London when this Crown Court was broadcast) and the Thorn family’s housekeeper in The Omen.  Other major films in which she had tiny parts include Room at the Top and Suddenly, Last Summer, and she was also in the horror movies Die, Monster, Die! and Demons of the Mind (in the flattering role of “Old Crone”).  On TV she played works manager Arthur Sugden’s long-suffering wife in The Plane Makers in the 60s, and later in the 70s was Lizzie Dripping‘s grandma.  She also appeared in Coronation StreetPublic Eye, Dixon of Dock GreenDoomwatchTake Three GirlsAce of WandsZ CarsWithin These WallsAll Creatures Great and SmallJuliet BravoSorry! and Miss Marple.  She was married to actor Keith Pyott, who died in 1968 but had he survived into the 70s would have been a dead cert to play a Crown Court judge.

Brenda Cavendish (1947- ) as Mary Collins

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Viewers of Public Eye would have recognised Ms Cavendish as Nell Holdsworth, antique shop assistant and friend of Frank Marker.  Nowadays she’s probably best known as one of the victims of An American Werewolf in London.  A couple of weeks after Infanticide or Murder was broadcast she could be seen in Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, and she’s also been in Doctor in ChargeWithin These WallsThrillerThe SandbaggersThe ProfessionalsCATS EyesThe Brittas EmpireLovejoyGrange HillWycliffe and The Bill.

The jury:

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The stars this week are clearly that gentleman blithely breaking the fourth wall, and his neighbour, who’s making up for an otherwise drably attired group all by herself.  The George Orwell lookalike on the end is our foreman this week.  His name’s Roy Maxwell and he’ll return to deliver another verdict in 1975.  He has a good few TV credits, but his character rarely has a name: his three roles in Coronation Street (Postman in 1963, Taxi Driver in 1967, RAC man in in 1971) give a good idea of his range.

The verdict (highlight to reveal): Not guilty (a caption at the end of Part Three informs us that Mary Collins was later charged with the murder).

Case notes:

  • There’s no question mark in this case’s title as it appears on screen, but there is in the TV Times listings, and it’s also there for the sleeve and DVD menu of Network’s Crown Court Volume 2 DVD release.
  • Dorothy Vernon and Bernard Gallagher both call Mrs Hill “Mrs Collins” (Bernard Gallagher does it three times.
  • We get a rare bit of background information on one of our regular characters, as Jonathan Fry reveals he comes “from a long line of clergymen”.
  • Unusually, the case for the prosecution is wrapped up before the end of Part 1, with the rest focusing on the defence (and what a defence!)
  • The end credits of Part Three use a slightly different typeface to the one seen on previous episodes.

 

Summing up:

Similar in some ways to Case 11: Criminal Libel, which also featured a domineering father, timid, mentally disturbed mother and teenage daughter whose pregnancy comes to a tragic end, Infanticide or Murder manages to be considerably more disturbing (and a world away from the knockabout comedy of David Fisher’s last script, Case 15: Persimmons and Dishwashers).  Crown Court has a reputation for being dull (and indeed there are cases, like Case 16: A Public Mischief, that live up to that) but here we have a programme featuring two women each clamouring to take the blame for strangling a newborn baby.  It’s hard to imagine what could be less boring than that.  As coolly played by Brenda Cavendish, Mary Collins, who claims to have planned for months to murder her child after its birth, is a particularly frightening figure.  Sheila Raynor’s utterly distraught performance is heart-wrenching, while Robert Hartley’s is both heart-wrenching and frightening.  And Rosemary Martin provides us with a textbook example of my favourite kind of Crown Court witness, the gossipy neighbour.

The script establishes early on that Dominic Collins has an obsessive love for his daughter, and while it doesn’t explicitly follow the particularly horrible direction this seems to flag up, it still plants some queasy suspicions about what’s been happening in the Collins home in the viewer’s mind.  That Crown Court was able to carry off such dark (to use a word all the rage in the 21st century) subject matter at 1.30pm in an afternoon schedule also featuring the likes of  Sing Out with the Settlers and Whose Baby? seems quite remarkable (and it should be noted that on Monday this week, in the same time slot, Emmerdale Farm featured a mentally disturbed tramp falling out of a window to his death after being suspected of the murder (and possibly rape) of a teenage girl.  Good afternoon!).

In the charts this week:

The Sweet score yet another week at number 1 with “Blockbuster”.  The below is at number 4.  You can see the full chart for the week here.

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