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  Big Breadwinner Hog Ever Decreasing Morals
Year: 1969
Director: Mike Newell, Michael Apted
Stars: Peter Egan, Alan Browning, Donald Burton, Timothy West, Rosemary McHale, James Hunter, David Leland, Brian McDermott, Godfrey Quigley, Peter Thomas, Priscilla Morgan, Barry Linehan, Davyd Harries, Tony Steedman, Hamilton Dyce, Michael Turner
Genre: Drama, Thriller, TV SeriesBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Hogarth (Peter Egan) likes to be known as Hog, or The Breadwinner, on account of his go-getting attitude. What does he want to go and get? The London criminal underworld, for he believes the old guard of gangsters deserve to be ousted so a new breed takes over. To this end, he and his gang of mods steal some brass lamps and demand the local Mr Big buy them off him, showing up literally bold as brass to persuade him and his goons at gunpoint. With an amused response, he nevertheless secures his money - but the gangsters don't get their metal. All the while, shady operative Ackerman (Donald Burton) watches as he is instructed to, waiting patiently...

Big Breadwinner Hog was one of the most controversial dramas on television in 1969, perhaps the most outright, and it was all down to its violence. Although the small screen would grow more graphic as the seventies progressed, matching the relaxing of censorship in the cinema, at the end of the sixties Britain was not yet ready for beatings and slashings, and the ending of the opening episode with Hog gaining his revenge for a walloping by use of acid in his aggressor's face was a step too far. The tabloids descended, as was their wont, and Granada, the ITV company who produced it, were immediately embarrassed as they frantically recut the remaining instalments to tone them down.

It did not help, and the programme quickly became something the ITV regions wanted to be over with as soon as possible, not so great when there were seven more episodes to go, and they could be pretty violent too, mostly thanks to the amount of characters getting shot. Not always fatally, either, with gaping, bloody wounds abounding on those who survived to be patched up in time for the next instalment, not something that had been the norm in television where to act shot, a performer would grasp at their chest or stomach and keel over, all without the use of Kensington Gore, the dye that was most often used to denote a drop or two of claret. No wonder viewers sat up and took notice.

But not too many of them enjoyed it, or were willing to admit they enjoyed it at any rate, and in some regions they quavered over a broadcast of the entire run, a cruel blow to any audience members who had genuinely been following the plot - some companies wanted to leave off the last episode having gotten sick of the whole thing and caring naught that the series might have a fan out there. It was the brainchild of actor turned writer Robin Chapman, who had penned two similar gangster-themed series immediately before this, but afterwards seemed to have learned his lesson and was not quite as ambitious ever again, though he continued to get some high profile gigs, most prominently the eighties adaptations of the P.D. James' Inspector Adam Dalgleish novels, a very different brand of crime yarns.

Back in 1969, Hog assuredly made the name of Egan, whose grinning mod thug had pretensions to sophistication and his eyes on the prize of his own empire, though he would never be quite as brutal again, instead displaying a talent for comedy in such efforts as classic sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles; if you're used to his lighter roles, it can be jarring to see him quite so callous. The point of the drama appeared to be that gangs were being run as businesses, even corporations, something The Godfather movies of the seventies would carry off, though you could argue John Boorman's Point Blank had pulled off the same plot a couple of years before. Hog, with its intense, ornate dialogue and sudden bursts of action (usually a gunfight), was not exactly typical as sixties television, though its staginess can be offputting to a twenty-first century viewer. Stick with it and get used to what was a very decent cast manoeuvring around one another in enclosed spaces and you would find a complex, cynical and perhaps prophetic cause celebre that deserved to be remembered for more than its violence, but such was its fate.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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