Case 21: Freak-Out

The death last year of Peta Best, photographer and fashion world personality, made headlines: one of the few women to succeed in a predominantly male field.  On July the 7th, in the company of Natasha Marlow, a model she often employed and who was a friend, Peta Best attended a party at publisher Alleyn Griffin’s flat.  Miss Marlow had a good deal to drink, and at about 11pm, she was seriously under the influence of alcohol.  Peta Best therefore said she would take her home with her, and the two women left.  The following morning, reporting for work at Peta Best’s studio, Fred Maple discovered Natasha Marlow pressed against the wall.  Her eyes were blank and staring.  When he approached her, she screamed and kept on screaming.  Natasha Marlow seemed unaware of where she was, or of what was going on about her.  She even seemed unaware of the fact that Peta Best was dead.  Today in Fulchester Crown Court, Natasha Marlow stands accused of the murder of Peta Best.

Original broadcast: Wednesday 7 – Friday 9 March 1973

Written by: Bruce Stewart

This is Mr Stewart’s fourth Crown Court script.  His last was Case 14: Sunset of Arms.

Directed by: Alan Gibson (1938-1987)

Mr Gibson is the biggest name director Crown Court‘s attracted so far, having directed three big screen horror films: CrescendoGoodbye Gemini and, most recently and most wonderfully, Dracula AD 1972 for Hammer (he’d also helm its sequel, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, the following year).  A lot of his screen work was in the horror or thriller mode: he first worked for Hammer on their TV anthology series Journey to the Unknown, and later directed episodes of Orson Welles’ Great MysteriesThrillerHammer House of Horror and Tales of the Unexpected.  Viewers in early 1973 might have seen his work recently in six episodes of The Adventures of Black Beauty.  Other notable work includes episodes of BudgieRaffles1990 and Z Cars, the acclaimed TV movie Churchill and the Generals and the fondly remembered sci-fi themed Playfor Today The Flipside of Dominick Hyde and its sequel Another Flip for Dominick (which he also co-wrote).  His last work was the Nigel Havers-starring Patrick Hamilton adaptation The Charmer.

I’m going to take this opportunity to plug reviews I wrote a few years ago of Mr Gibson’s Goodbye Gemini and Dracula AD 1972.

Presiding: Edward Jewesbury as the Hon. Mr Justice Bragge

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Mr Justice Bragge was last seen in  Case 19: Infanticide or Murder.

The accused: Susan Tracy (1945- ) as Natasha Marlow

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Looking up what Ms Tracy’s been up to lately, I find that her most recent TV work was Channel 4’s 2017 series The Trial, in which the verdict in a fictional trial was decided by a jury of members of the public.  It must all have seemed a bit familiar to her (though The Trial actually went a couple of steps further than Crown Court – the judge and counsel were real too).  She’s been on TV in mostly smallish roles since an Armchair Theatre in 1964, and has popped up in No Hiding PlaceNew Scotland YardThrillerWithin These WallsThe SweeneyThe Gentle Touch,Tales of the UnexpectedBulmanMinderLovejoyPoirot and Holby City, plus, of course, multiple appearances in The BillMidsomer MurdersDoctors and Casualty.  She’s had a very decent stage career too, and was nominated for Olivier awards for two different roles in 1980.

Appearing for the prosecution: Bernard Gallagher as Jonathan Fry QC

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Jonathan Fry’s last appearance was also in Case 19: Infanticide or Murder.

Appearing for the defence: David Ashford as Charles Lotterby

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Charles Lotterby last appeared in Case 18: Crime in Prison.

Witnesses for the prosecution:

Sidney Livingstone as Fred Maple

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Mr Livingstone has two impressive claims to TV fame.  In 1976 he played the married man to whom Gail Potter lost her virginity (in the stockroom at Sylvia’s Separates) in Coronation Street, and in the 90s he played Arthur Daley’s brother in Minder.  This Crown Court role was only his second screen appearance (his first was in the film adaptation of Alan Sillitoe’s The Ragman’s Daughter, which was in cinemas a couple of months before Freak-Out was broadcast).  He’s also been in FoxShine on Harvey MoonAngelsHart to HartJohnny JarvisMiss MarpleRockliffe’s BabiesLondon’s BurningAll Creatures Great and SmallSpace PrecinctCasualtyAs Time Goes ByA Touch of Frost (and – yes! – multiple Bills, Midsomers, Doctors and Holbys).  He also had tiny roles in three movies I’d certainly be pleased to have on my CV – LifeforceClockwise and Wilt, and has most recently appeared in a 2018 episode of Call the Midwife and in a lead role as one of the elderly crooks in a straight-to-DVD account of the Hatton Garden job.

John Bennett (1928-2005) as Dr Martin Stanislaus

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From the 60s up until the year he died Mr Bennett was one of the most inescapable of British character actors.  But why would you want to? He was always superb.  That extraordinary face of his meant that he was often cast as sinister foreigners (most famously, and these days controversially, as a nefarious Chinese ventriloquist in one of the most beloved of all Doctor Who stories 1977’s The Talons of Weng-Chiang).  But he was simply too good and too versatile to get stuck in that kind of role (his other Doctor Who assignment was as a British army general in 1974’s Invasion of the Dinosaurs).  A few other major roles from his incredible CV: leads in the ITV drama series Front Page Story and Market in Honey Lane, the ill-fated Philip Bosinney in The Forsyte Saga, Xenophon in I, Claudius, the impressively collared inventor of the ultimate weapon in Blake’s 7, Sigmund Freud in TV movie Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (with Christopher Lee as Holmes and Patrick Macnee as Watson – Mr Bennett also appeared alongside Mr Macnee in two episodes of The Avengers), the Grim Reaper in Mulberry.

Douglas Lambert (1936-1986) as Alleyn Griffin

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The early part of Mr Lambert’s career was spent in his native USA, where he appeared in some of the top shows of the 60s, including The Donna Reed ShowDr KildareBonanzaMy Three SonsWagon Train77 Sunset StripRawhide, The Littlest HoboThe Twilight ZoneVoyage to the Bottom of the SeaPerry MasonLassie and The Big Valley.  At the end of that decade he moved to Britain and made a good living as a rent-a-Yank in TV, appearing in the likes of Softly Softly Task ForceMogulSecret Army and Tales of the Unexpected.  His film work includes Sunday Bloody SundayMoonrakerThe Hunger and Spies Like Us.  He was an out gay man, and opened the nightclub Heaven in 1979 with the words “In the beginning there was darkness, and God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God created Man and Man created Heaven.”  In the 80s he contracted AIDS and in his last few months the Daily Mirror published his diary of life with the disease.

Witnesses for the defence:

Eileen Colgan (1934-2014) as Sister Joanna Forbush

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In the 90s and 2000s, Ms Colgan would become well known in her native Ireland for roles in two soap operas, Glenroe and Fair City.  Prior to that she was a familiar face in international films set in Ireland, including My Left Foot, Far and AwayWidow’s PeakThe Secret of Roan InishAngela’s Ashes and Tara Road.  In the earlier part of her career she did quite a lot of British TV, including No Hiding PlaceThe Newcomers, four Wednesday Plays, Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width and Dixon of Dock Green.  There were quite a few nuns among those roles.

The jury:

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Quite the cross-section of grey-faced British 70s masculinity (and indeed moustaches) there.  Our foreman (chap bottom left in the top pic) is Jim Whelan, who’s still working away as a bit-part player, having most recently been seen in the TV series based on Guy Ritchie’s Snatch.  He’s also been in Last of the Summer Wine (in four different roles, the last 35 years after the first), The Liver Birds (three different roles), Cracker (as another jury foreman), Velvet Goldmine, The Royle FamilyHeartbeat, Blackpool and Emmerdale.  He’s played five speaking roles (including two vicars) in Coronation Street, and worked on the show as an extra since 1965, meaning he’s made an appearance on the soap in every decade it’s run for.  He’s even written a book about his years in the business, which you can buy here.

The verdict (highlight to reveal): Not guilty.

Case notes:

  • There’s a great bit where Bernard Gallagher very nearly calls the wrong witness.
  • There’s painful feedback noise whenever one of the cameras is cut to.
  • To date we’ve been led to believe that Fulchester is a town or city, but, confusingly, Dr Stanislaus is said to work for Fulchester County forensic department.
  • Fulchester (as opposed to, say, London) seems a strange place for a top fashion photographer and a girly magazine publisher to be based (we’ll have to get used to this sort of thing).

Summing up:

As even the title suggests, Freak-Out is the most wildly (and entertainingly) dated Crown Court case to date.  Its cautionary tale of the dangers of LSD must have seemed pretty old hat even in 1973 – though I suppose the housewives, elderly people and invalids who made up the bulk of Crown Court‘s audience might not have been up to date on drug culture.  Anyway, I love old hats.  The best things about the production are a mesmeric performance from John Bennett (doing wonders with the reams of dry expert witness educational dialogue about drugs he’s been given), some memorably grim details (the nature of Peta’s death – and the horrible pictures of her corpse we see in the episode openings, the black slugs Natasha witnessed by Natasha on her bad trip), and Alan Gibson’s interesting direction (the long tracking shot from over Charles Lotterby’s shoulder to a tight close-up on Natasha’s face that ends Part Two is the most technically impressive thing seen so far on a show that’s necessarily often pretty static).  One final thing: I don’t claim to be any kind of expert, but I would request any TV writers out there not to write about female characters called Peta.  It’s just confusing.

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Elsewhere on TV this week:

Yet again I must mention Yorkshire Television’s Justice, which this week features appearances from two (yes, two!) of Crown Court‘s regular extras – one of the male prison officers (also playing a prison officer here – presumably in the same uniform), and the silver-haired gentleman often seen as an instructing solicitor.  Here they are sharing the screen (with Geoffrey Whitehead, himself a future Crown Court guest).

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I don’t know either of these gentlemen’s names but if you do I would love to know (I’m sure they probably appear in many other shows of the same vintage).  You really don’t want to know how excited I was when they turned up.

In the charts:

Slade are at number 1 for a second week.  The below is this week’s number 2.  You can see the full chart for the week here.

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