Case 23: Love Thy Neighbour

Martin Thornton and his younger brother Gerald live with their mother next door to the house of Alexander Reid on a large council estate.  For some time there’s been a history of petty squabbles between the two families, culminating on the night of Friday December the 15th in an argument, following which Reid was found seriously injured with shotgun wounds.  The Thornton brothers stand charged with his attempted murder and causing grievous bodily harm.  Medical evidence has been brought to show that it is unlikely that Reid, semi-paralysed as a result of his injuries, will ever recover his power of speech. Reid’s employee and lodger, William Johnson, is now being examined by Miss Tate, prosecuting counsel.

Original broadcast: Wednesday 19 – Friday 21 March 1973

Written by: Sean Hignett

This is Mr Hignett’s second Crown Court script.  He previously wrote Case 16: A Public Mischief.

Directed by: Brian Parker (1929- )

Mr Parker’s impressive CV includes five Wednesday Plays and seven Play for Todays (the most recent at the time of Love Thy Neighbour‘s broadcast was Alan Plater’s The Land of Green Ginger – he’d later direct Plater’s The Beiderbecke Tapes) and episodes of MogulDr Finlay’s CasebookSoftly SoftlyHadleighUpstairs DownstairsInspector Morse and The Bill (46 of those).

Presiding: Richard Warner as the Hon. Mr Justice Waddington

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This is our first sighting of Mr Justice Waddington since Case 12: Whatever Happened to George Robins?

The accused:

Tony Doyle (1942-2000) as Martin Thornton

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Best known for his roles in 90s drama series BallykissangelBetween the Lines and Band of Gold, and as the head of the SAS in much-loved action movie Who Dares Wins, when Love Thy Neighbour was broadcast, Mr Doyle had most recently been seen on TV as Concepta Hewitt’s second husband Sean Regan in Coronation Street and a horse thief in an episode of The Adventures of Black Beauty.  He’d made his name in the Irish soap opera The Riordans in the 60s and as well as the above appeared in Z Cars1990Minder (in the show’s very first episode, as “Irishman”, a role he was certainly qualified for), The Gentle Touch, the BBC’s 1983 Macbeth (as Macduff), seven Play for Todays, CATS EyesBulmanBoonThe BillRumpole of the BaileyTaggart and Peak Practice.  And as a change from the Irish characters he usually played he was the British Prime Minister in Louis Malle’s DamageDrop the Dead Donkey star Susannah Doyle is his daughter.  After his tragically early death the BBC instituted the Tony Doyle Bursary for New Writing

Shane Connaughton (1947- ) as Gerald Thornton

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Mr Connaughton appeared in Coronation Street, Tony Allen and Ken Loach’s Play for Today The Rank and File, and played William Butler Yeats in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, but has found his greatest success as a screenwriter, most famously for the movie My Left Foot, for which he received an Oscar nomination.  His writing career began with an episode of another courtroom drama, Thames’ Six Days of Justice, later in 1973, Mr Connaughton later wrote two Crown Court cases (Pickets and Winklers, both from 1974), the TV adaptation of Maeve Binchy’s The Lilac Bus and the films The PlayboysThe Run of the Country (based on his own novel) and Tara Road.

Appearing for the prosecution: Dorothy Vernon as Helen Tate

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Helen Tate was last seen in Case 19: Infanticide or Murder.

Appearing for the defence: David Ashford as Charles Lotterby

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Charles Lotterby’s last appearance was in Case 21: Freak-Out.

Witnesses for the prosecution:

Warren Clarke (1947-2014) as William Johnson

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Mr Clarke’s highest profile role at this time had been Dim, the aptly named Droog in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.  Though I’m not sure what the crossover between the audience for that film and ITV’s lunchtime viewers would have been. They might have been more likely to have seen him in one of his three roles in Coronation Street or his small parts in The Avengers and Callan.  Later in 1973 they’d have the chance to see him in a few episodes of Softly Softly Task Force as Detective Sergeant Sterling or, if they were so inclined, in Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man! The following year he landed his most significant TV role to date as the young Winston in Thames’ bio-drama on Jennie, Lady Randolph Churchill and from there would go on to become one of British TV’s most popular and distinctive performers, right up until his final role in the hugely popular remake of Poldark (ending his career sadly but suitably with a death bed scene).

Geraldine Moffat (1943- ) as Madge Gorman

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A constant presence on 60s and 70s TV in usually glamorous, often untrustworthy roles, Ms Moffat notched up appearances in many of the glossy ITC shows: Danger ManThe BaronStrange ReportUFODepartment SThe PersuadersJason King and The Protectors, and in a similarly culty vein Adam Adamant Lives!, Out of the UnknownThe New Avengers and The Sweeney – though it’s her role in a cult movie, Get Carter, for which she’s probably best remembered.  She also notched up appearances in Emergency Ward 10, four Wednesday Plays, Paul TempleZ CarsSix Days of JusticeWithin These Walls and Coronation Street.  But her most significant contribution to popular culture is her sons, Sam and Dan Houser, the video game creators behind the phenomenally popular Grand Theft Auto games (Ms Moffat contributed a voice cameo to the fifth in the series).

The jury:

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Some excellent faces this week, not least the extraordinarily careworn countenance of our foreman (bottom left in the top image) whose many screen appearances include bit parts in CrossroadsMr RoseThe Liver BirdsGBHMaking OutHeartbeatCoronation Street, the 1993 movie of The Secret Garden and Peter Greenaway’s Drowning by Numbers, and he later returns to Crown Court as an usher.  My favourites this week are the two ladies at the back with the stratospheric hairdos and imperious demeanour, particularly the one with the streak.  Here’s a better look at her.  Majestic.

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The verdict (highlight to reveal): Guilty.  Both brothers are sentenced to eight years in prison.

Case notes:

  • Coincidentally, the hugely popular Thames sitcom Love Thy Neighbour began its third series this week.
  • The episodes don’t begin with the usual montage of black and white photos – instead the voiceover plays over muted action in the courtroom.
  • The Thornton brothers are employees of Bakerbuild, a company that was previously featured in Sean Hignett’s Case 16: A Public Mischief.
  • SWEARWATCH: We get an “effing” and three “bloody”s.

Summing up:

Well, the good news is that Sean Hignett’s previous Crown Court is no longer the most boring case to date.  This one has all the ingredients needed to be gripping: Long-simmering resentments leading up to a violent crime, complicated relationships between the characters… and yet it’s utterly flat and lifeless.  The fact that only four people appear in the witness box over the course of the three episodes gives an indication of the glacial pace, and they all seem to have been directed to give the least interesting performance possible.  For some unknown reason Warren Clarke’s saddled with a Scottish accent that he seriously struggles to maintain, and Tony Doyle in particular is completely soporific. Only Dorothy Vernon really brings any life to the proceedings.  And the character who would have been guaranteed to liven things up, domineering Ma Thornton, remains frustratingly offstage (not even existing as a suitably baleful extra in the public gallery).  And the choice to begin each part with scenes in the court we can’t hear (and have Parts 1 and 3 fade out while Mr Justice Waddington is speaking) is just frustrating.  This is one of the few times that Crown Court lives up to its popular reputation of being a complete snooze.

In the charts this week:

Slade are still at number 1 with “Cum on Feel the Noize”, with Donny Osmond nestled beneath them.  Here’s the rather stonking tune at number 3.

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