Dixon of Dock Green episode review: Before the Ball


Watching through the episodes of police procedural Dixon of Dock Green currently airing on Talking Pictures TV, we here at Old Time Review are constantly impressed. The latest edition was no exception, so today I will be talking about Before the Ball.

I feel it important to address something straight away: this episode is the surviving first part of a two-part story. The episode ends on a cliffhanger and there was originally a continuation of the same story broadcast the following week. Dixon tells us as much at the close of the episode. However, the second part sadly did not survive. Talking Pictures TV are not able to broadcast the conclusion because it no longer exists in the archive.

Perhaps, then, they should not have aired this first part? The channel have committed to airing all surviving episodes – so much so that a very recent discovery of a previously lost episode has now been added to the episodes that will be broadcast. There are only 33 surviving editions of the show which originally ran for 21 years and 432 episodes. To take out one because its follow-up cannot be aired would mean missing out on something rare and which has value in itself even though a part of it is missing.

To the episode itself then, we join PC George Dixon as usual outside Dock Green police station. He sets up the idea that the ‘Green staff are all busy organising the annual Dock Green Police ball fundraiser. We are soon introduced to Sgt Flint’s sister, a formidable foil for him which injects the episode with extra comedy weight. Later, this is much needed to preserve the usual balance between darkness and light.

George and his colleagues have a meeting to make sure all is going as planned for the ball in two days’ time, which is interrupted by a call from a local retailer about a shoplifter. When Sgt Freeman and Andy bring back the argumentative but knowing thief, Dixon points out that she and her family are known to the Police. Andy decides to go with George to familiarise himself with the family. The eldest son Tony is more intense and impetuous than his father and brother. The audience finds out, while Andy and George are still none the wiser, that he has a gun.

Comedic inserts with the Superintendent and Sgt Flint, and more from Flint and his sister, punctuate these more intense moments. As ever, the dialogue and character interactions make this such a compelling show. Even though we have only seen a total of 9 episodes from a time period between 1956 and 1963, the characters are so well drawn that we as the audience can already be fully invested in them.

The acting is superb also. When the dramatic moment in the episode comes, the following scene involving George and his daughter Mary is so well acted that it is heartbreaking to watch. The chemistry between Jeannette Hutchinson and Jack Warner is so pure and palpable. Warner brings such love, concern and resolve, with just an economical gesture, his tone of voice and his eyes. And Hutchinson’s own very real portrayal of panic, of the loss of her usual grit for a moment when she feels the threat of losing one whom she loves so much: it is perfection.

There is initially a moment of regret that we do not get to see the conclusion of this emotional plot, because the scene is so fine. However, when Dixon’s bookend fades in to close the episode, it somewhat cuts off the mood of jeopardy. The cliffhanger has less punch because he pops up to say words to the effect of “we’ve run out of time, I’ll tell you the rest next week”.

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight and the information available to us online, we already know the outcome of that part of the story. We can easily ascertain that the character of Andy Crawford–having been injured in the line of duty–survives, because the actor Peter Byrne is credited in the series until 1975.

In conclusion…

Although only one half of the story, the value of Before The Ball should not be underestimated. The episode does not subscribe to the cosiness assumed during the years since the end of the show’s original run. There seems to be enough B-plot, by way of the charity ball, to fill in the gaps between the police action. It preserves the pacing so that nothing feels drawn out or superfluous. In the previous two episodes shown on Talking Pictures, A Home of One’s Own and A Green Wedding, the pacing has been a bit slower than in earlier, shorter episodes. However Before the Ball doesn’t feel slow or cosy in any way. It is yet another proof that Dixon of Dock Green has been unfairly appraised throughout the years. It is not looking at a world through rose-tinted glasses. It was trying–and seemingly doing a fairly good job–to represent a somewhat realistic view of life in its time.

I thoroughly recommend this episode, as ever. You can still catch up on Before the Ball on Talking Pictures TV Encore until 16th March 2024.

Dixon of Dock Green airs on Saturday evenings around 7 pm (keep an eye on your TV schedules!) on Talking Pictures TV.

One thought on “Dixon of Dock Green episode review: Before the Ball

  1. I have really been enjoying this series too. I was hoping to find a synopsis of the missing episode but cannot find anything. Even the Radio Times for that week doesn’t list anything other than cast. It would be interesting to find out why this episode survived. Was it recovered by a collector? If the BBC retained it why only the first part? Maybe a consequence of a reappraisal of this series will see a book published about its many missing episodes.

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