Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Dixon of Dock Green: First Impressions

In case anyone had spotted that I have ground to a halt with my posts on Avengers Series 1 episodes (and in fact the ones I have done are amongst the most popular posts on this blog), have no fear. I retain a sense that I want to approach Series 1 slowly and with respect, because I know for a fact that at the end of that series of posts there simply won't ever be any more. Another worry of the cult tv fan which I have written about at length here, is that one day the supply of quality TV to be found or published will simply run out, and at that point my library of DVDs will be it for the rest of my life. This fear has once again been assuaged by my discovering a couple of series which I have never seen.
One is Dixon of Dock Green. Obviously I'm not that great an old TV aficionado, since I have never yet seen a single episode of it, until today I saw one of Acorn's anthology sets for sale and thought I would give it a go. Dixon is so woven into the British imagination (surely no real policeman ever has actually said 'Evening, all' except as a joke) that I can't think how I've managed to miss it. It also has a local connection to me personally, since theseries creator went to school at George Dixon School here in the second city, which provided the inspiration for Dixon's name.
Let's get the nitty gritty over first, before I get distracted into one of my little wanderings around a subject. The episodes I've got are in colour. By that I mean the characteristic 1970s palette of muted colours. The restoration is mainly superb, with just the odd spot where the picture betrays the fact that it is forty years old. The plots move at the pace one would expect of the era: given that these late episodes were in the same era as The Sweeney, Dixon of Dock Green comes across as a bit of an anachronism, frankly. As is usually the case with seventies TV, the cars are major stars for me. I love that the police always seem to be in a Rover and I've just spotted a woman driving an Austin Maxi. Can't remember the last time I saw one of those in reality.
A few criticisms, most of which won't come as any surprise to regular visitors here. One is that far too many of the actors are familiar faces, to the extent that they distract from the show. My real complaint here though, is that they are tending to make me think how young these jobbing actors are, which is terribly ageing. I think probably in purely technical terms my main ciriticism is that Jack Warner is visibly far too old to be a working policeman. He was in his seventies at the time these episodes were made, well beyond retirement age, and was looking visibly elderly. Unfortunately his presence prevents the show having any real credence at all.
What I am about to say is more in the nature of a comment than a criticism, but Dixon of Dock Green portrays a very interesting view of policing and of Britain. For a start, I haven't seen a single ethnic minority person yet. The closest it's got is that the baddie in the one I am watching at the moment is Italian! For me this puts Dixon of Dock Green into my 'unreal' category of TV (as opposed to the gritty 'realism' of many other 1970s shows. The unreality is maximised in the portrayal of the police, and I would repeat that this isn't really a criticism, since there's nothing wrong to my mind with escapist television. I have a feeling that that was a hangover from the view of public servants which pertained when the show started in the 1950s. To illustrate this post I have deliberately chosen some parodies of a Ladybird book about 'The Policeman' in the series 'People at Work'. To my twenty-first-century mind it is so obvious that if you are a corrupt wheeler and dealer, the police is the obvious profession to go into. If you are a paedophile you'll tend to become a clergyman, teacher, or social worker, and if you like inflicting death or suffering, then medicine or nursing is the way to go. If not your actual dentistry. At the time the episodes I am watching were made, the sheer extent of police corruption was coming to public attention in some very high-profile ways, and any sense of that is completely missing from Dixon of Dock Green. The figure of the policeman is very much the solid figure of respectability featured in the real Ladybird book about the police, rather than the parody which illustrates this post.
I would certainly recommend you to watch Dixon of Dock Green if you want escapist television with a police theme. I have a feeling it would especially appeal to Anglophiles as an image of an Britain which didn't really exist even then. It is the sort of show which reminds me how exotic my own choice in television really is, though. A diet of The Avengers, The Prisoner, and The X-Files have left me somewhat unsatisfied by such an unpretentious, solid series. But if that's what you're looking for, go for it.
Images credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/norbet/sets/72157630850001574/

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