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999 Letsbe Avenue: Gideon's Way on Blu-ray

  Before there was The Sweeney on British television of the nineteen-seventies, there was in the previous decade Gideon's Way, which started in 1964 and lasted till 1966. Based on the books of John Creasey, it brought something new and dynamic to the cop show out of Blighty, a tendency towards action rather than realism as rival channel the BBC was doing with Z-Cars, and a preference for not staying in the studio when they could help it, with location shooting its trademark. This meant the London area was plundered for places they could film, and what would be the norm the following decade was established here, with fifties star John Gregson taking the lead as Commander George Gideon, a far cry from his most celebrated role in vintage car comedy Genevieve.

There follows an episode guide of this ITC gem based on the Network Blu-ray re-release of the show...

In the first episode on Network's HD set, titled curiously The Tin God, the series was blessed by some canny casting as the two villains who have escaped from Strangeways and are hightailing it down to London were played by seasoned bad guy Derren Nesbitt and future cult star John Hurt. Nesbitt in particular was excellent value, as his character was plainly a dangerous man (we see him commit murder in the first ten minutes) yet we can perceive his dangerous actions make perfect sense to himself. Driven by a pathological hatred of his wife, he was a criminal who was a far cry from the ne'erdowells Dickson of Dock Green was tackling at the same time, and adds a tension to the storyline that still succeeds today as events lead to a showdown in (what else?) a warehouse.



Second up is The V Men, which demonstrated the series was unafraid to tackle stories torn from the headlines as the rise of the British fascist movements was very much in the news of the day, with their accompanying civil unrest. The plot had Roland Culver as the leader of The Victory Party, a far right group blaming the ills of Britain on the immigrants and Jews and pacifists, who are stirring up pre-election trouble. Gideon must deal with them and a sympathising colleague (Allan Cuthbertson) who wants to crack down on the lefties more than he does the right wingers, as well as a young woman (Angela Douglas) embroiled with the issues when there is an attack on the fascists at the flat of their leader. It may softpedal politics from the halfway mark, but was tough on the bully boys.

More studio-bound than other instalments, To Catch a Tiger had Gideon embarking on something of a vendetta against one Mr Borgman (Walter Brown) who he has a grudge against, and after a deathbed confession from a traffic accident victim, it seems he has reason to reinvestigate the death, possibly murder, of Borgman's first wife. He is now unhappily married to Vanda Godsell, the former secretary he wed after his first wife died, and now his new secretary (Erica Rogers) is his latest conquest. A curious tale, you're never sure of the truth until the last few seconds (is Gideon overreacting?), but it builds well to a courtroom scene (with Raymond Huntley as the prosecution) that is surprisingly tense as the key police witness (Norman Bird) buckles under the pressure.

The Rhyme and Reason was back outside, in particular for a climactic foot chase with stakes of life and death, one of the best staged action sequences the series ever did. The plot set up a rivalry between Mods and Rockers, well, one Mod anyway, Alan Rothwell of Picture Box fame, who falls out with girlfriend Carol White over them. Gideon's righthand man DCI David Keen, played by Alexander Davion, makes no secret of his dislike for the Rockers, but our man is more interested in whether Rothwell has been framed for murder and by whom, his sister Jo Rowbotham seemingly doing more than the actual police to uncover evidence that could exonerate him. But is this a matter of the Rockers taking things too far? A solid mystery made this one of its strongest thrillers, finale and all.

Ray McNally steals the show in The White Rat, an episode title that could refer to his gangster character's pet rat which he fawns over to an obsessive degree, or himself, for he was an albino, so McNally got to wear a white wig and face makeup. His physical abnormality was supposed to explain how he has ended up a criminal as he has such a complex about it that he is incredibly touchy and paranoid, constantly pushing away his girlfriend (the tragic Virginia Maskell) who cannot make him understand she loves him for himself. However, while in other hands he would be a tragic villain, here the writers were more interested in him as a murderous grotesque, introduced coshing a nightwatchman to death and later attempting to kill a police sergeant. Comeuppance awaits.

Alfie Bass was the guest star in State Visit, a deceptively mild title for an episode evoking the horrors of the Holocaust as Bass played a concentration camp survivor who is outraged at the thought of the West German Chancellor making a state visit to London, since he believes him to be an ex-Nazi and representative of all the Nazis who tormented him and murdered his family members. The theme of how two wrongs don't make a right was perhaps an obvious one, but was quite effective here thanks to some deeply felt playing from Bass, arguing with his wife Catherine Lacey that his plan to take nitro-glycerine from his chemist's lab and set off a bomb hidden in a Thermos flask with it is not the correct course of action. The refugee's frustration is palpable, but reasonable Gideon steps in.

Another quasi-sympathetic villain appeared in The Firebug, which took the pattern of the previous episode and applied it to an arsonist. Here George Cole, better known for comedy roles but seeking to broaden his range, was the criminal who has been driven insane by the loss of his wife and daughter in a house fire; in a macabre touch, he keeps the little girl’s half-burnt doll as a souvenir and something to talk to, handy in giving the audience some insight into his disturbed mind and its twisted logic. When he accidentally kills some squatters in his fireraising, he is racked with guilt until he adapts the information into justification, seeing the deaths as necessary sacrifice and emboldening him to wreak fresh havoc. A cat and mouse with Gideon ensues, Cole very effective.

Some episodes of Gideon's Way, it was complained, could have been renamed Gideon's Away because of how little screen time the title character featured in them, and The Lady-Killer was one of those. Coming across as more of a Sunday night crime effort rather than the Saturday night thriller so much of this series was, Gregson appeared briefly as the bulk of the investigation fell to Davion's Keen, as his suspicions had been aroused by a marriage to a rich heiress (Rosemary Leach) he knew socially. She has married Ray Barrett, an apparently decent cove whose mask slips occasionally to reveal the gold-digging psychopath he actually is, with two marriages to wealthy women behind him already. This culminates in a fairly exciting race against time, but a series odd one out overall.

Gideon was back with a vengeance for The Big Fix, possibly because as per the extensive location shooting, it gave Gregson the chance to visit the racetrack for real. This was a horse racing and gambling yarn, opening with a stablehand being beaten to death for failing to dop a horse. The episode makes no secret of the fact that the sport is corrupt, and points out doping cases are increasing year on year, which may not be what the turf accountants would want the viewing millions to be aware of. Gideon is no fool, but his naive son is seen to be aspiring to grow up to be a professional punter; meanwhile Michael Ripper of Hammer Horror fame is mixed up with the gangsters and with six mouths to feed, cannot wriggle out of it. The arrest is a good one here.

There was a telling scene in Big Fish Little Fish where Gideon's wife Kate (Daphne Anderson), who was in most episodes, is keen to take the family on a picnic for Sunday, but just as it is decided she and her husband are to go, the phone rings. "Don't answer it," she says, knowing it will spell the end of their plans, just as it has before. That loving domesticity is contrasted with a young pickpocket's life with his abusive mother (Carmel McSharry) who likes to lock him in a cupboard and sends him to steal. Child abuse was a theme, but this was actually a murder mystery when the mastermind behind the pickpockets is killed, and Gideon seems to be directed to capture a man who may be innocent. This was a rich narrative populated with some reliable character actors, one of the better.



Into suburbia for The Housekeeper, with featured guest stars Kay Walsh and Harry Fowler getting their names in the opening credits. Walsh deftly played the housekeeper who looks after a number of elderly men, and by "looks after" they mean "murders for their money", one of the more ruthless villains that Gideon and Keen encountered, all the trickier for her liking for disguise. Fowler meanwhile played the chief suspect of her latest crime (an old fellow drowned in the bath), an ex-con who has since gone straight as an electrician, but thanks to the suspicion falling on him finds his home like with wife Marjie Lawrence coming undone. In truth, the Fowler business appeared to be included to get the running time up to a hour (with commercials), but had a stark conclusion.

Another despicable villain was in The Nightlifers, where a gang of supposed (by the programme) teenagers went wild for kicks and set about sadistically coshing shopkeepers in London's late night eateries and shops. That the ringleader was Anton Rodgers, well into his thirties at the time, strains credibility somewhat, indeed none of these teens look the age they're supposed to be which means when Keen infiltrates one of their nightly parties, Davion fits right in, looks-wise. This also gives Gideon the chance to sound off about the state of kids today, which given the arguments have not really changed from that day to this may make you think on the gap of time rather than the generation gap we're meant to. The most memorable aspect is saying "giggles" for the crimes.

The show was on a roll for depicting truly awful people, as in Fall High, Fall Hard there were a more "professional" strain of criminal, out for financial gain rather than anarchy. It took as its setting one of the boardroom dramas that were popular on sixties television, where men in suits nursed glasses of Scotch and had heated conversations about stocks, shares and overheads. However, it did not stay there as the lawbreaking element intruded: builder's company boss Donald Houston discovers his business is crooked thanks to his partner Victor Maddern, who he promptly beats up in rage. But the crims are too powerful, and begin plotting a way to gain the upper hand in an action-packed episode that assuredly looked forward to the more violent cop dramas and thrillers next decade.

In contrast, the villains of How to Retire Without Really Working were far kindlier, played by comic performers Eric Barker and Joyce Grant in a change of pace. They were appearing as a married pair of petty criminals who commit a theft once every couple of months, just enough to live on but now they are thinking of retiring after their latest endeavour (with a Rolls Royce as a getaway car!) proved tricky when Gideon recognised them as they drove by. He takes no pleasure in warning them they may not be charged with anything - yet - but if they continue on this path they will be in deep trouble that will separate them for good. Gideon was genuinely empathetic in this episode, not something you generally associate with police procedurals, but the quiet tragedy impressed.

The Wall is nothing to do with the Pink Floyd album, and you'll have to wait till the end to find out why the instalment is so titled, but until then this was one of the most menacing stories they ever produced, putting across a genuine existential dread that only grows with each scene. It begins innocently enough, with a young couple (Ann Bell and actor-turned-writer Richard Carpenter) lodging with an older couple until they can afford a home of their own. But the older couple are John Barrie (at the time star of hit Victorian detective series Sergeant Cork) and Megs Jenkins, he is capable of violence and she is too meek to stop him, so when the young man wins on the pools, all hell breaks loose. With a baby-napping too, there was only Gideon and a pet dog left to cheer us.

Subway to Revenge could have been just as grim, featuring as it does apparently random murders committed by a madman, but it was lifted by the quirky character played by Anne Lawson who doggedly pursues Gideon and the killer all the while romancing his potential next victim. The plot was that Donald Churchill and she work in the same chemicals business, and he has been plucking up the courage to speak to her until the criminal (reliable heavy Bryan Pringle) forces his hand by nearly pushing him under a subway train. Only Lawson's quick thinking saves Churchill, but he would rather die than make a fuss, so she must take matters into her own hands. The wife of Davion, he evidently pulled strings to get Lawson the role, and she's one of the series' strongest female leads.

Gang War was the first to dispense with the services of Anderson, preferring to roll up its sleeves and get stuck into a tale of petty protection rackets turning to a more lucrative line of crime. Ray Brooks and Ronald Lacey were the rival gangster, strictly small time who make a profit leaning on the shops and business around their London patch, but Lacey decides Brooks is on the way out and starts muscling in on his rival's interests. However, Brooks' wife, Jane Merrow, persuades him she can help him do better and starts falsely romancing a man from the treasury who has access to lots of lovely lolly, as Gideon and his team put two and two together - but will they be in time to stop the gangsters teaming up? Very pre-Sweeney this one, it was a tough crime drama foremost.

The world of motor racing was the setting for The Alibi Man, but only really for the first five minutes of footage of the cars, as the rest was given over to champion driver Jack Hedley and his issues behind the scenes. Said issues being a small matter of murder, as he is fiddling the books and his business partner (sitcom stalwart Geoffrey Palmer) finds out and then promptly murdered for threatening to expose the racket. Hedley makes it look like someone broke in and did the deed, but Gideon sees right through him, though not quickly enough to prevent Hedley's mechanic (James Culliford) from "assisting" him in tying up loose ends, thanks to his misplaced loyalty after his boss dragged him from a burning car years back. The ending was one of the most surprising in the series.



We returned to the more pathetic style of villains with The Prowler, where the son of an aristocrat, David Collings (possibly best known for his guest roles on TV science fiction Doctor Who, Blake's 7 and Sapphire and Steel), has just been released from a clinic after a nervous breakdown. But he's more seriously ill than exhaustion, as his grief at losing his girlfriend to suicide has sent him into psychosis, and that exhibits itself in following young women after dark and cutting off locks of their hair. Gideon describes him as a "weirdie" but there is a degree of compassion for the character, making it clear his coldhearted mother is the source of his issues (there's a particularly nasty twist in that plot), though by the siege finale we are in no doubt this man is a danger to others, and himself.

The Thin Red Line was somewhat out of character as it involved lawbreaking among a regiment of Scots Guards that Gideon's boss, the Commissioner (Basil Dignam, a past master at authority figures and a semi-regular on the show), belonged to in his younger days. This is headed by Finlay Currie, a now very elderly Scottish character actor, and some of his countrymen appeared in supporting roles, such as the inevitable Gordon Jackson and the lesser spotted John Cairney (before he devoted his life to writing and one-man stage performances). You can identify non-speaking Graham Crowden in there too. The story concerned a theft of regimental sliver which nobody there wants to discuss, and Currie wants the business sorted privately, much to Gideon's consternation.

The Great Train Robbery was still in the headlines in 1965, so the writers here opted to cash in with The Great Plane Robbery, where a stash of gold bullion flown in from the Soviet Union is "liberated" by a highly trained gang led by George Baker (best known on TV as Inspector Wexford a couple of decades later). Otherwise it was your basic, no honour among thieves heist yarn, where said thieves found they could not get on with each other thanks to anger issues between them (to put it mildly), though interestingly for the times these issues seem to stem for intolerance about a couple of characters being gay, not that it is stated explicitly. Coded gay characters had been around ever since the start of the entertainment media, so this adds a layer to what could have been routine.

Another news story in the headlines mid-sixties was that of the Kray Twins, the gangster brothers who lorded over London as part of their organised crime empire until it all came crashing down. The brothers in The Reluctant Witness were not complete copies of that pair, but clearly were inspired by them as the Carter brothers (Mike Pratt of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and David Gregory) who put the squeeze on a witness (Audrey Nicholson) who could put one of them away for murder. Gideon and Keen have been after them for some time, but it takes a constable on the beat (Trevor Bannister) to step up and really make the gangsters sweat as he gives the witness a safe house (his own). One of the most traditional thriller episodes of the series, it saw its tricks running smoothly.

A not-quite (as opposed to a hasbeen) graced The Millionaire's Daughter, namely Don Borisenko, who had been Canada's answer to James Dean when he started his career, and retained his boyish good looks by the point he played the conniving bad guy in this episode. He was an American conman known to Gideon re-entering Britain under the pretence of romancing the titular daughter (Lans Traverse) to kidnap her, hold her to ransom for a million dollars, and make off with the loot away from the other members of his gang (Georgina Ward and - yes! - Donald Sutherland), both nasty pieces of work. Also featuring Miss Moneypenny herself, Lois Maxwell as the mother, this was obviously devised with both eyes on the American market, as the series had been sold overseas.

A kid with a gun was the main concern in, er, Boy with Gun, as a fifteen-year-old, bullied and friendless schoolboy makes the mistake of shooting one of his tormentors as he and his pals bear down on him, threatening violence despite the boy holding the rifle his father gave him. Ah, there would appear to be the real theme: the damage a wayward parent can do to their offspring, as the victim has granite-faced George Sewell as a dad, and he is an out of control ex-con, while the shooter has the cold-eyed stalwart of British TV Anthony Bate for a father, which can only spell mental breakdown for the teen. Gideon as ever was the picture of "Put it down, son!" reason, and Doctor Who companion Michael Craze was the borstal escapee who befriends the youngster.

The trope of finding a murder victim in the opening scene and then using flashbacks to fill in their lives and the circumstances of their death was well to the fore in Morna, which starred Angela Douglas of Carry On fame as the title character. She is a nineteen-year-old schoolgirl (bit old?) who has been found shot in the grounds of her boarding school, and nobody has a bad thing to say about her, which doesn't make Gideon's job any easier. Naturally, the more we delve into those flashbacks, the more we realise Morna was not all sweetness and light, and the suspects line up, including Johnny Sekka, the only actor of colour to have a speaking role in the series, but it's a good one, as a nightclub owner; he does say the N-word, and is angry at the cops, but he steals the show.

Finally, the series closed out with A Perfect Crime, one of the most violent episodes with people seemingly being beaten and shot left, right and centre - this was always a programme that was testing what could be shown within the limits of censorship on British television, either in violence or thematically, and they could be strong stuff for the day, which naturally made it all the more attractive to the viewing millions. Voiceover man extraordinaire Patrick Allen was the well-bred, psychopathic villain here, seen in the opening sequence smashing an au pair over the head with his torch when she interrupts him and his cohort (Patrick Bedford) mid-jewel robbery. Also worth mentioning was unsung heroine of sixties film and TV Ann Lynn as Allen’s girlfriend - watch for her.

And so, as the series ends on a bleak note, that was Gideon's Way. All these episodes have been restored to absolutely pristine condition, and represent a set of stories that broke new ground in what was allowed in police drama, while balancing that with scenes of Gideon's stable home life to reassure us he could meet the worst of humanity in his job, but remain a decent, upstanding man throughout. Gregson was perfectly cast, and if he was never in any more than half an episode every week, he was the rock the stories were tethered to. Somewhat forgotten now, even by the fans of many shows it influenced, it is ripe for rediscovery as one of the best of its kind.

[Gideon's Way Blu-ray special features:

Deluxe, limited edition packaging
Brand-new paperback book on the making of Gideon's Way by Andrew Pixley
Interview with Giles Watling, who played Gideon's youngest son
Clean UK Titles
US Titles (where it was called Gideon... C.I.D.)
Ad bumpers
Textless episode openings for eight episodes
To Catch a Tiger: short ending
Image Gallery.

Click here to buy from the Network website.]

Author: Graeme Clark.

 

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Last Updated: 31 March, 2018