Case 22: The Mugging of Arthur Simmons

On November the 4th last, 58 year old Arthur Simmons was walking home from his local public house shortly before 9 o’clock.  As he took a shortcut through a narrow alleyway he was attacked by two men.  One of the men held him from behind, while the other man ransacked Mr Simmons’ pockets and found a wallet containing two pounds and some loose change.  The two men made off, leaving Mr Simmons unhurt but badly shocked on the ground.  However, as the attackers ran out of the alley they collided with 63 year old Mrs Winifred Palmer.  After bashing at them several times with her umbrella she chased them up the street some distance before returning to tend to Mr Simmons.  Mrs Palmer accompanied Mr Simmons to the main street of the neighbourhood, where they found Police Constable Kershaw.  PC Kershaw took them along to a local youth club, catering mainly for the black immigrant population of the area.  Mr Simmons and Mrs Palmer identified two youths as the assailants.  The trial of John Harold Dempsey and Colin Clive Langham has just opened in Fulchester Crown Court, where they’re charged with stealing with the use of force.  They’re pleading not guilty.  Arthur Simmons is now in the witness box.

Original broadcast: Wednesday 14 – Friday 16 March 1973

Written by: Paul Wheeler

This is Mr Wheeler’s fourth Crown Court script (including the untransmitted pilot).  His last was Case 9: Conspiracy.

Directed by: Richard Doubleday

This is the second case Mr Doubleday’s directed.  His first was Case 17: Portrait of an Artist.

Presiding: Edward Jewesbury as the Hon. Mr Justice Bragge

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We saw Mr Justice Bragge just last week in Case 21: Freak-Out.  At this point in Crown Court‘s production it’s rare to see the same judge or barrister two weeks in a row – in this case it’s because a case made between this and last week’s, Intent to Kill, had its broadcast put back a couple of months.  Any viewers missing Mr Justice Campbell this week could at least see William Mervyn doing a splendid turn as a mad baronet in Monday’s The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.

The accused:

Gregory Munroe (1953-1998) as John Dempsey

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This was the screen debut of Mr Munroe, who’d go on to star in the teen drama The Siege of Golden Hill (and its sequel, Golden Hill), and make appearances in The FostersAngelsReturn of the SaintEmpire Road and Miss Marple, and play a reporter in the infamous hoax documentary Alternative 3.  His mother was actress Carmen Munroe (herself a future Crown Court guest), and he played her son on screen in late 70s interracial marriage sitcom Mixed Blessings.

Christopher Asante (1941-2000) as Colin Langham

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Best known as mature student Matthew in Channel 4’s 90s sitcom Desmond‘s (also starring Gregory Munroe’s mother Carmen) – by which time he was credited as Gyearbour Asante – Mr Asante moved to Britain from Ghana in the late 60s and became a regular presence on the nation’s TV screens, appearing in the usual suspects for a black actor of the time like Love Thy NeighbourMind Your Language and Mixed Blessings as well as Doctor on the GoSpace: 1999StrangersHazellThe Professionals and Rumpole of the Bailey and the films The Dogs of War and Local Hero.  After Desmond’s ended production in 1995 he returned to Ghana, and was made a cultural ambassador.  31 year old Mr Asante is here playing an 18 year old, which is a bit of a stretch.

Appearing for the prosecution: Charles Keating as James Elliot QC

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Our last sighting of James Elliot was in Case 20: An Act of Vengeance.

Appearing for Mr Dempsey: Bernard Gallagher as Jonathan Fry QC

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Like Mr Justice Bragge, Jonathan Fry was also in last week’s Case 21: Freak-Out

Appearing for Mr Langham: Dennis Burgess (1926-1980) as Walter Sissons QC

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Mr Burgess’ story is inspiring: having spent most of his life as a drama teacher, at the age of 47 he followed his dream to become a professional actor and had a highly successfully career, most notably playing master thief Flambeau in ATV’s 1974 Father Brown series, and also appearing in Public EyeWithin These WallsSpace: 1999FoxThe SandbaggersThe ProfessionalsTriangle and David Lynch’s The Elephant Man.  Of course, being a childhood friend of Richard Burton, who secured his first screen appearance alongside him (in the 1972 Europudding Bluebeard) probably helped.  Sadly Mr Burgess’ acting career was destined to be brief: in 1980, he died after having a heart attack at the wheel of his car.

We’ve already had a barrister in Crown Court called Derek Sissons (played by Michael Johnson), so I’d like to think he and Walter are in some way related.  The character Walter’s gripping in the above image is an instructing solicitor named Mr Williams.  The actor playing him is not credited although he does get a line (“Yes thank you, My Lord”), which it must be said is not delivered in the educated tones one might expect of a solicitor.

Witnesses for the prosecution:

Cyril Shaps (1923-2003) as Arthur Simmons

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Totemic.  That’s the word I’d use to describe Cyril Shaps’ place in the world of British TV character actors.  He’s the embodiment of the ultra-reliable performer who represents a particular type (in Shaps’ case, the weedy, slightly seedy, nervous middle-aged/elderly man) so utterly that it becomes a “Cyril Shaps type”, whoever’s actually playing it.  There’s no point me telling you what he was in, because he was in practically everything.  Regular readers will know I always note Doctor Who roles though, and Mr Shaps appeared in four stories: The Tomb of the Cybermen (1967), The Ambassadors of Death (1970) , Planet of the Spiders (1974) and The Androids of Tara (1978).  My own strongest memory of him is in a pivotal role in Russell T Davies’ children’s drama Dark Season.  The week prior to his appearance at Fulchester Crown Court he could be seen camping it up under a ludicrous toupee in one of his best-remembered roles, Frank and Betty’s irritating fellow hotel guest (“Mr Bedford! Mr Bedford!”) in the Some Mothers Do ‘ave ’em episode Have a Break, Take a Husband.

Gabrielle Daye (1911-2005) as Winifred Palmer

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Ms Daye came and went from Coronation Street over 23 years (1961 to 1984) as Albert Tatlock’s daughter Beattie Pearson.  Aside from that she’s probably best remembered as housekeeper to Catholic priest Arthur Lowe in late 70s/early 80s sitcom Bless Me Father.  Other TV appearances include roles in Emergency Ward 10Z CarsPublic EyeFor the Love of AdaI Didn’t Know You Cared (alongside John Comer), SurvivorsAll Creatures Great and SmallAngelsJuliet BravoEver Decreasing Circles and four Playfor Today.  On the big screen she could be seen in small parts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang10 Rillington Place and Sunday Bloody Sunday.

John Comer (1924-1984) as Constable Kershaw

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There’s a lot of Mr Comer about this week: on Saturday (or Sunday, depending on your ITV region) he could be seen (as another policeman) in LWT’s The Adventures of Black Beauty, and on Wednesday nights he could be seen in the (by all accounts terrible) Yorkshire Television sitcom All Our Saturdays, centred on the unlikely situation of Diana Dors managing a football team.  It’s two other sitcom roles he’s remembered for, both for the BBC: patriarch Mr Brandon in I Didn’t Know You Cared and, especially, café owner Sid in Last of the Summer Wine.  Constable Kershaw is just one in a long line of policemen he played: he could also be seen in uniform in It’s Dark Outside, Pardon the Expression (and its sequel, Turn Out the Lights), The Man in Room 17 (and its sequel, The Fellows), Fraud SquadNearest and DearestThe Dustbinmen and Murder Most English.  Non-constabulary TV appearances include roles in Softly SoftlyCoronation StreetZ CarsDixon of Dock GreenThe AvengersDoomwatchA Family at WarFather Dear FatherBless This HouseSurvivors and All Creatures Great and Small.  His films include I’m All Right, Jack (his screen debut), Hell is a CityHeavens Above!The Family WayBattle of BritainVillain and Dr Phibes Rises Again.

Witnesses for the defence:

Elizabeth Adare (1949- ) as Linda Brown

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The year after her Crown Court appearance, Ms Adare would land the role for which she became loved by a generation of children, The Tomorrow People‘s “mum” figure Elizabeth M’Bondo, one of British TV’s few black female (or indeed any sex) role models of the 70s.  Previously she’d appeared in CrossroadsThe Guardians and General Hospital.  During her time on The Tomorrow People she also popped up in Within These WallsAngelsRising Damp and Mind Your Language.  Afterwards she appeared in Enemy at the Door and Rumpole of the Bailey, but gave up acting in the early 80s to become a child psychologist and youth worker.

The jury:

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As we’ve seen very few non-white jury members to date, I suspect the presence of three this week is not an accident.  The bored-looking gentleman is our foreman this week.  His name’s Chris Canavan, and he could boast that he was Coronation Street‘s longest-serving extra, appearing in a multitude of background roles from 1962 until 2013 (the year he died), as well as a few credited bit parts.  Among his other roles (almost all for Granada) is a return appearance as a jury foreman in Crown Court in 1974.

As well as the jury this week, I’d like to note a number of particularly stylish extras watching from the public gallery:

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The verdict (highlight to reveal): Not guilty.

Case notes:

  • James Elliot says that Fulchester has 25,000 non-white residents.
  • SIGNS OF THE TIMES: “The entire white race is locked on to three clichés,” John Dempsey scathingly observes, “Black Power; Black Is Beautiful; Kill Whitey”.  The Mugging of Arthur Simmons serves as a fascinating snapshot of race relations (to use a ubiquitous phrase of the time) in the early 70s, with the tensions that had been building since Enoch Powell’s speech of 1968 meeting the radical Black politics imported from the USA.  Model Linda Brown sardonically refers to “Radical Chic (she prononces it “chick”) housewives” – a reference to Tom Wolfe’s famous article about the middle class adopting revolutionaries as fashion inspiration, and further notes that black models are beginning to lose work as the Chinese have become the radicals du jour.  James Elliot refers to the “fashionably anti-police” sentiments of young people.  In the early 70s the crime of mugging was considered a relatively new and regrettable import from the US (Mr Justice Campbell previously noted the increase of such crimes in Case 20: An Act of Vengeance).

Summing up:

Paul Wheeler’s have been the most political Crown Court scripts to date, and The Mugging of Arthur Simmons goes further in that direction than any other.  It’s clearly (and justifiably) very angry about the police’s treatment of young black people, but Wheeler stays remarkably even-handed: the elderly residents bewildered by the change in the demographic of the area they’ve lived all their lives are sympathetically portrayed, and even Constable Kershaw, who it would have been easy to make the uncomplicated villain of the piece, gets to deliver a not-a-dry-eye-in-the-house speech about the unhappiness of a policeman’s lot.  The Mugging of Arthur Simmons is an excellent 90 minutes of TV drama that points the way forward to the many more social issues that Crown Court will tackle head on.

Elsewhere on TV this week:

BBC 1’s Play for Today this week is Hard Labour, Mike Leigh’s first work for TV.  It features a former Crown Court jury foreman, Clifford Kershaw (from Case 14: Sunset of Arms) in a lead role.  Tuesday sees the start of fondly remembered BBC 1 children’s series Lizzie Dripping, and, also on BBC 1, the first series of Are You Being Served? kicks off on Wednesday with a repeat of the Comedy Playhouse episode that served as a pilot for the show.

In the charts:

Slade are still exhorting the nation to cum on and feel their noize at the top of the hit parade.  At number 2 here’s quite a different kind of noize.  You can see the full chart for the week here.

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