Continuing our series of written reviews on the surviving episodes of Dixon of Dock Green currently being aired on Talking Pictures TV, this week we take a look at Father in Law.
The last surviving episode from 1956, before the available editions jump to 1960, Father in Law was also the last episode in the 1956 series run. It shows us the long awaited wedding of Dixon’s daughter Mary and their lodger, Dixon’s colleague Andy Crawford.
The episode begins with George and his colleagues in uniform, but this is almost the last hint of Police Procedural that we see this week. We quickly move away into wedding land, with the arrival of Mary’s friends and bridesmaids and Andy being willingly banished from the Dixons’ for the night.
We are introduced to Mary’s friend Pam, who was jilted two days before her own wedding. Oddly, when she recounts the story to George’s colleague Grace, Pam invents the idea that her fiance was actually killed in a motor accident two days before their wedding. She seems unsettled and very downcast, although expresses desire not to spoil Mary’s happy day.
It is soon the morning of the wedding, with buzz and excitement. Suddenly this episode feels quite lavish and expensive, with wedding cars and a street full of extras – possibly the real neighbours from the street where the house exterior was filmed. There are best suits and wedding dresses, flowers and accessories: all rather a contrast from the comforting ordinariness of Dixon’s usual world.
A character from a previous episode, Billy, the lifelong-crook-gone-straight whom the Dock Green coppers gave a reference, comes to wish Mary good luck. In a scene during which he compliments Mary with unexpectedly poetic language, the integrity of this episode becomes very moving.
Suddenly it all feels like a soap wedding, bringing the audience to tears as we see the characters we have invested in embarking on happiness. Although we have only been watching for four previous episodes, rather than over a year in the original broadcast chronology, it does feel like we have known these characters forever. They seem to be so real, so relatable and so much more complex than expected, that they feel like old friends. Old friends for whom we wish only the very best.
The camera this week seems to carry us into the past for a glimpse at a version of our own family history. My own grandparents were married around a year from Father in Law‘s original broadcast, they were Londoners and it feels as though the imagery here matches their wedding photos. Perhaps this is what makes this episode especially moving. As ever, it feels so true to the life that many were living. It always feels everyday. That Kitchen Sink style of drama is evident here, even though there is very little of the grit or grime that that style often brings with it.
Having said that, there is a prevailing sense of discomfort as Pam confides in the cloakroom attendant at the wedding reception venue that her fiance died: this time on the very morning of their wedding. And Grace recognises the cloakroom girl. Is she known professionally to the Police?
By the time we come to the reception itself, the mood is still so jolly and happy. George is proud and enjoying himself with all his well-wishing colleagues and friends. Even Billy pulls another moving scene out of the bag, having been invited along to the reception and managed to borrow some suitable clothes in time.
The cast then are assembled: the coppers and the potential villains. Now comes the moment when a wedding guest informs George that his wallet has been stolen containing £10 along with his driver’s license etc. George makes gentle inquiries of the cloakroom girl and Billy, unintentionally offending Billy who points out that he need not answer any accusations unless George is willing to ask the same of every other guest. George is not willing to upset Mary’s special day, and so drops the matter for the time being.
He is then called in to do his ‘turn’, singing one novelty number and one straight. It feels just for a moment like Jack Warner being let off the leash.
Back at the Dixons’, they are ready to see off Andy and Mary on their honeymoon. Grace telephones to say she has tracked down the criminal record of the cloakroom attendant. But Pam quickly confesses that she stole the wallet: she felt desperately sad and jealous of Mary’s happiness, and dead inside after her own trauma.
The gathered off-duty Policemen deal with her gently, preferring to preserve the day as a happy one for Mary rather than turn it into a bust. Pam is quietly taken away by a bridesmaid to go and recover.
The sensitivity and understanding with which Pam’s sad compulsion is dealt is as surprising as ever. The subtlety and awareness displayed in this episode are again so much more complex than I would expect from a programme that is 67 years old. We are constantly sold ideas like “it was innocent then” and “we didn’t talk about things like that” and “mental health didn’t exist in our day”.
In fact, what Dixon shows is that much more was understood and accepted than we might be led to believe in hindsight. There are no rose-tinted glasses in sight. Just the plain realities, with all the harshness and all the love and softness that life encompasses, all in one.
Finally, George Dixon says goodbye to his daughter. He tells her quietly that he wishes her mother could have shared the day with them too, bringing us to tears again.
Warner breaks the fourth wall, possibly for the first time on a stage with his surrounding cast. He is not PC Dixon here, he is just George, Mary Crawford’s Dad. He delivers a couple of moving lines’ farewell to the audience and then we enjoy a sung version of Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner over the credits.
In conclusion, this episode feels plush and exciting, it is a lovely break to go inside the personal world of the Dock Green bobbies. The crime element feels a little like shoe-horning in something to remind us that this is usually a Police show. However it is so well handled that it feels justified and is not unsatisfying. A fitting send-off for the 1956 series and it makes this reviewer as excited as ever in anticipation of next week’s edition.