Alfred Burton, a retired colonel, put a number of articles in his shopping bag. Regrettably, he didn’t produce them at the cash desk, and left the supermarket without paying for them. But the best laid plans sometimes go awry, and unfortunately for Colonel Burton, he had been observed by the manageress and an assistant, who followed him into the street and stopped him. The Colonel was requested to go with the manageress to her office. He did this willingly. When it was suggested that he hadn’t paid for the goods, the Colonel agreed, and went on to say that he had no intention of paying for them. The police were called. And now the Colonel, who long ago practiced for a year or two in the Far East as a lawyer, is defending himself on a charge of shoplifting. The prosecution case is already underway.
Original broadcast: 18 April 1973
Written by: David Blunt
Mr Blunt’s work on Crown Court makes up the bulk of his TV writing – he wrote 14 cases between 1973 and 1982 (two – including this week’s second case, The Gilded Cage – in collaboration with Nicholas Mander). He also wrote two episodes of early 80s hospital drama Maybury and a play for ITV Playhouse.
Directed by: Gordon Flemyng (1934-1995)
Mr Flemyng is the biggest name signed up to direct Crown Court to date. He’d helmed an all-star Hollywood movie, The Split, in 1968, and his previous features included the two his name’s best remembered for today – the 1965 TV spin-off Dr Who and the Daleks and its sequel Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD. He’d also directed Great Catherine, a comedy starring Zero Mostel, Peter O’Toole and Jeanne Moreau, and The Last Grenade, a Stanley Baker action movie. Having started out in British TV (with the likes of The Army Game, The Avengers and The Saint), he returned there for good in the early 70s, with a stint on Emmerdale Farm closely followed by his three Crown Court cases. Later work included Willy Russell’s coming of age drama One Summer for Channel 4, and episodes of Wish Me Luck, Bergerac, Taggart, The Bill, Peak Practice, Lovejoy and Minder. His son is the actor Jason Flemyng.
Presiding: William Mervyn as Mr Justice Campbell
Mr Justice Campbell was last seen in Case 25: Wise Child.
The accused: Roland Culver (1900-1984) as Colonel Alfred Horatio Burton
Mr Culver was a mainstay of British film and television from the early 30s to the early 80s, with age making his face more fascinatingly crumpled and his voice more distinctively raspy. The best known of his earlier work is probably his cheery turn as the host of the increasingly sinister house party in Ealing’s Dead of Night (1945), and probably his most-seen performance is as the Foreign Secretary in Thunderball (1965). His latter years were mainly spent playing various peers and judges (a capacity it’s a surprise he never turned up in at Fulchester).
Appearing for the prosecution: Terrence Hardiman as Stephen Harvesty
Like Mr Justice Campbell, Stephen Harvesty last appeared in Case 25: Wise Child.
Appearing for the defence: Colonel Burton conducts his own, highly spirited, defence.
Witnesses for the prosecution:
John Rainer (1946- ) as PC David Donaldson
Mr Rainer is great fun as the genial copper in the case, so it’s a surprise that he only notched up a handful of screen credits, beginning with an appearance in the film of Under Milk Wood in 1971 and ending with an appearance in ATV’s Disraeli in 1978. Along the way he notched up appearances in Dixon of Dock Green, Wessex Tales, Clayhanger and the curious Oliver Reed horror movie Blue Blood.
Ishaq Bux (1917-2000) as Mr Patel
The other two credited characters in the case both have silent cameos, as we see them sitting in the public gallery. Despite how minimal his role as Colonel Burton’s landlord is, however, Mr Bux will get a better chance in future with two further Crown Court appearances in which he actually gets to give evidence. Also, in a few months time he could be seen in the first of several appearances as a magistrate in another courtroom drama, Thames’ Six Days of Justice. His screen career is essentially a long list of unnamed Indians, Arabs and Pakistanis – still, he made a decent 30-year career of it, including five appearances in It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, and tiny roles in Octopussy and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Edith Carter as Irene Makepiece
The actress playing Colonel Burton’s friend Mrs Makepiece didn’t achieve quite such a lasting screen career as Mr Bux. Her only other credited roles were in Granada drama anthology City ’68 and political drama Bill Brand.
A splendid selection of outfits and hairdos this week, of which my favourite is probably the extremely glamorous lady in plum. The man to the left of her is this week’s foreman. He’s Ralph Lawton, whose long career included 11 years as Joe Allard in The Archers. On screen he mainly played bit parts, including a health inspector in Cathy Come Home, a police constable in Crossroads, and similar small roles in Z Cars, Follyfoot, Gangsters, Empire Road, Angels, Emmerdale Farm and Coronation Street. Films he’s popped up include Chariots of Fire and Leon the Pig Farmer.
The verdict (highlight to reveal): Not guilty.
- Theft by Necessity is the only Crown Court case to consist of just one half hour episode (the 1973 Christmas episode Murder Most Foul and the cases comprising the show’s brief primetime run in 1975 are all only one episode long, but they’re all extended length).
- The first shot of the episode is a splendid example of that TV staple, the fictional newspaper headline over a real story completely unconnected to it (which of course viewers without the luxury of pausing the image would never be able to clock. It’s a strange coincidence, though, that one of the stories under it also concerns a military man named Alfred.
- SIGNS OF THE TIMES: People interested in comparing the past with the present may like to know that the price of the goods Colonel Burton took – an orange, a packet of dates, a packet of rice, a tin of curry powder and half a pound of minced beef – is given as 64p. Even more astonishingly, these items are considered sufficiently luxurious to be described as “a Christmas feast”. Stephen Harvesty considers a rent of £6 per week for a single room is excessively high (though Mr Justice Campbell assures him that rents are on the rise throughout the country). Colonel Burton was expelled from Uganda in 1971 (as part of incoming ruler Idi Amin’s purge of foreigners). The plight of elderly people like Colonel Burton had been increasingly in the news since David Hobman began his crusading leadership of Age Concern in 1971.
New writer David Blunt seizes on a curiosity of British law to deliver an entertaining mini-case, with some splendidly witty dialogue. It’s probably too slight to have stretched to a whole three episodes, but that hasn’t stopped some writers from drawing their cases out interminably in the past, so it makes a nice change for everything to be breezily over and done with in half an hour. But mainly Theft by Necessity serves as a splendid showcase for Roland Culver, who is a sheer delight as the impoverished but dignified old soldier.