The ‘Appening: Parkin’s Patch (1969-70)

DAVID ROLINSON

Parkin'sPatch_Parkin
As a festive, er, ‘treat’, here’s a much more facetious piece than this site usually runs, a DVD review (of Parkin’s Patch: The Complete Series), which apart from some revisions is reproduced from the excellent (but at this moment on hiatus) Tachyon TV website… There’s a moment in the episode ‘Lock, Stock and…’ when a character starts an alibi with “I took the whippet out”. This made me think two things: “until it has a Yorkshire edition, the CSI franchise is merely treading water” and “Parkin’s Patch is pretty much what I expected.” So, should you expect 26 half-hours of charming yet undemanding early evening telly with a local bobby investigating quirky and/or spiky Yorkshire folk? ‘Appen. And ‘appen not. There are some predictable, even ramshackle, moments, but there are also some lovely surprises that make Parkin’s Patch a bit of a treat.

The Good Companions (1980-81)

DAVID ROLINSON

Nine parts. Writer: Alan Plater; Adapted from (novel): J.B. Priestley; Music by: David Fanshawe; Producer: Leonard Lewis; Directors: Bill Hays, Leonard Lewis


A “tuneful tonic of merriment and mirth”, The Good Companions is a nine-part Yorkshire Television serial about a touring concert party adapted from J. B. Priestley’s famous 1929 novel.1 It was adapted by Alan Plater, who described the serial as one of his happiest working experiences, but added that it was “interesting but flawed, and didn’t really catch on”.2 That’s a fair assessment, but the serial is certainly more interesting than flawed. Like the two previous film adaptations, the serial risked being written off as undemanding, suffering in part because of the reputation of the source novel. Writing about the 1933 film version, Charles Barr observed that the novel “never had much currency in academic circles”, with supportive opinions outweighed by the impact of “the vinegary attacks on the book and the novelists by the two Leavises”.3 Priestley himself argued that “[s]ome severe critics dislike” stories in the picaresque tradition of “huge wandering tales” as these are “too rambling and easy for them”.4 However, the serial’s ability to parallel the book’s feel-good, episodic qualities is also one of its main strengths. With composer David Fanshawe setting Plater’s lyrics to a variety of song styles, and a lively ensemble cast relishing on-stage music hall scenes and off-stage full production numbers, this is a witty and unashamedly fun serial. The Network DVD release also comes with the 1980 tie-in documentary On the Road, in which Plater interviews Priestley, compares the serial with previous film versions and provides behind-the-scenes footage.5

Dixon of Dock Green in the 1970s

DAVID ROLINSON

The opinion that Dixon of Dock Green (BBC, 1955-76) was a cosy anachronism throughout its existence, and in particular in the 1970s, remains pervasive. Lez Cooke’s excellent study of British television drama fairly summarises the common view that Dixon “gained a reputation as a ‘cosy’ representation of the police and their relationship with the public in the mid-late 1950s”, a representation which was “superseded” in the 1960s and 1970s “by more hard-hitting and up-to-date representations of both the police and the criminal underworld”.1 Dylan Cave goes further in Ealing Revisited, arguing that Dixon‘s long run “wasn’t due to innovation, but to its dogged refusal to acknowledge the pace of a changing Britain, as depicted in the far tougher police series Z Cars and The Sweeney. It was cherished as a reassuring reminder of apparently simpler, gentler times”.2 There is room to question the pervasive generalisation that 1970s Dixon was a cosy anachronism that was smashed up by the arrival of The Sweeney (ITV, 1974-78). As I’ve argued in my previous writing on police drama,3 this generalisation needs to be put under more scrutiny, either by putting The Sweeney in the context of the detailed study of other police and action series of the period (Cooke wisely uses the plural “representations”), or looking into the apparent anomaly that Dixon survived – indeed, was still hugely successful – well into the 1970s. Dixon makes its own use of the changing language of police drama – with its “shooters”, “birds” and “blags” and the prioritisation of the CID while former beat copper Dixon takes a back seat – and reflects the changing practices of, and attitudes towards, the police. Acorn Media’s welcome DVD release of six colour episodes gives me a chance to look more closely at 1970s Dixon to add this article as a supplement to this much longer and more detailed piece on Dixon’s place in the history of police drama.

Children’s Ward Series 1

DAVID ROLINSON


These days, teatime ITV means repeats of Midsomer Murders or reality formats so recycled that their pitches were delivered in a green caddy. But Children’s Ward is a reminder that this slot used to house children’s programmes, including three great drama series that started in 1989: Press Gang (on 6 January), Children’s Ward (on 15 March, after a 1988 one-off) and Byker (Byker!) Grove (on 8 November). Given that the 1990 Broadcasting Act entrenched deregulation, it’s tempting to see these shows clinging to pre-1990 public service values, and aiming to give children the same range of programming that was available to adults.

What would ITV do now to have shows in the same week written by Paul Abbott, Kay Mellor and Steven Moffat? That happened for the first few weeks of Children’s Ward’s run (Press Gang Mondays, Children’s Ward Wednesdays). Welcoming an Ofcom review of children’s programming, Mark Wright at Television Today argued that, despite there being numerous digital channels for children, there aren’t many “original, home grown shows that nurture not only young and upcoming talent, but bring new audiences” to television rather than encouraging kids to “sod off to the Internet”.1 As Wright notes, many of Children’s Ward’s alumni are now “among the premier drama writers in the country”: Abbott, Mellor and (from later seasons) Russell T. Davies, Matt Jones, and Sally Wainwright.