Trevor Preston's Out: It Must be the Suit
Trevor Preston was given two series of his own to write - this one in 1978 and Fox in 1980 - after writing episodes of The Sweeney, which tells us exactly what stable this show comes from. Out, however, is not a cop show by any manner of means - the story goes that a criminal called Frank Ross got grassed up and ended up in prison. At the start of the series he is released from prison, baying for revenge. It's a sort of inversion of the principle of Man in a Suitcase, because the hero is done badly to by another criminal rather than the Secret Service. Man in a Suitcase is of course a classic, and it will give you some idea of the high esteem I have for Out, that I think it superior to Man in a Suitcase. I have recently been giving the latter show another go and maintain that McGill is not bitter or angry enough. In Out, Ross is exactly as screwed up as you would be, he is angry enough and his issues of trust are portrayed exactly right for the situation.
The show had a very unusual promotion campaign:
'...Around the time of the series, a lot of graffiti saying, "Frank Ross is innocent" appeared around London, an apparent parody of the "George Davis is innocent" campaign slogans still visible on walls at the time. When a rail strike disrupted many people's plans to make it home in time for the final episode, "who grassed Frank Ross?" could be seen scrawled across blackboards at Euston station.' SourceI have commented before that what I like best about these 1970s shows is the memorable depiction of the Britain of the time: cars, clothes, decoration, attitudes, and so on. The suit of the title is completely of the time. I particularly love the way this episode shows the contrast between 1970s looking back and the aspiring brave new world of the time.
Visually this is superb. There literally isn't a scene which isn't visually effective, and it leaves you with the impression of being in the hands of an expert director. This is quality television in every way. One of the things I find most visually appealing is the wall paper in Ross's family home. The building is pre-world war one, but there is a dazzling selection of more or less contemporary papers, which really are one of the visual stars. This is cleverly contrasted with the seedy pub, and the neutral decoration of his friend's contemporary flat.
This episode sets the scene for what comes next and is as much to establish the effect of being in prison on Frank as well as the effect of being betrayed on every other relationship. As I said I think they have got the amount of bitterness and twistedness exactly right for the situation. The effect of his release on the rest of the underworld is also explored.
I really don't have anything negative to say about this, I don't even mind that the taxi driver is the chef from Fawlty Towers. I did feel like the cut throat razor in the final scene was an anachronism even for forty years ago. Apparently if you speak American English you can find Preston's work hard to understand in places because of the amount of slang he uses and here some Cockney Rhyming Slang, which really does date it because nobody in London speaks Cockney any more.
Incidentally the thing about it being the suit is that it is that suit which gives away that he has been inside.