Dixon of Dock Green Episode Review: A Scrap of Paint

Following on in our series of reviews on classic Police procedural Dixon of Dock Green, the surviving episodes of which are currently airing on Talking Pictures TV, this week we discuss an episode from 1964, entitled A Scrap of Paint.

Firstly, perhaps I should re-iterate something discussed in our review of the previously screened episode, Before the Ball. Before the Ball is an episode from 1963 in which DS Andy Crawford, PC George Dixon’s son-in-law, gets injured in the line of duty. Unfortunately the second part of that story, the episode which originally followed it in 1963, no longer exists. Therefore, it is important to note that A Scrap of Paint is not the conclusion to that story. However, it does answer the question that Before The Ball‘s cliffhanger left us with: yes, Andy did survive!

So, to A Scrap of Paint. The main story begins with George’s daughter Mary and her friend Kay going out to the cinema. Andy (Peter Byrne) is left at home with the children, lending Kay his car to drive them on their evening out. When they return, they have bad news: they have been involved in a minor car accident. It left damage to Andy’s car, with the incident also involving the hit-and-run of a cyclist.

A young and inexperienced Police Constable has brought a man into the station under arrest for being Drunk in Charge of a vehicle, the same night. George – now a Sergeant – is in charge of the desk for the night shift and does his best to get a doctor to examine the man to add evidence to the charge when it comes to court. The young Constable is much affected by the delay and the goading from the arrested man, believing that the whole thing has been pointless. After all, by the time a doctor arrives, the man will have sobered up and he feels his judgement is in question. As George points out, though, whether or not they secure a conviction, the Constable has done his job. He has made sure that neither the man himself nor any other innocent motorist or pedestrian has been injured as a result of the man driving his car while under the influence of alcohol.

This is an admirable minor B-story (almost the C-story really), and loosely ties in with the main plot, concerning the investigation we find ongoing to do with the theft of cigarette shipments. The man takes out a cigarette as he is waiting to be discharged, which Laudie–DC Lauderdale–recognises as the same type which has been stolen. This leads them to understand that the thefts have been more widespread than they had first realised. It also serves to lead us, the audience, into the tobacco case and roughly explain to us the background of it.

In his opening monologue, George has introduced to us the idea that criminals very often get discovered for almost mundane things as a result of already being guilty of something else. This is where the connection between the hit-and-run in which Mary and Kay are involved eventually ties in with the tobacco thefts.

Andy and Laudie have trouble tracking down the van involved, and the driver. Mary and Laudie’s wife Kay are not able to give them much to go on. However, by the few letters of the company name they managed to see on the side, they manage to narrow it down to a pest control company. When they visit the firm to investigate, George finds a scrap of paint from another vehicle on the van.

They collect a sample of it and a corresponding one from Andy’s car to find out if they match. Meanwhile, though, the employee who admits to driving the van during the time of the incident has an alibi for his whereabouts – he could not have been involved. But when the paint samples are found to match and the person who gave the driver his alibi accidentally reveals that he has been covering up for him, things begin to unravel. Everything begins to fit together, including Dixon’s monologue – the driver is found out because he was already guilty of having an affair with his boss’ wife, before even becoming involved in the accident.

It is worth pointing out that the brilliant Jeanette Hutchinson will be absent from the series for almost all future episodes. She stopped playing Mary in 1964, when the role was taken over by Anna Dawson. For my taste, Dawson doesn’t quite hit the mark – though I’m sure that she would grow on me, given time. It would be like being able to see Billie Whitelaw, the character’s originator, in the role: she may be good but Hutchinson just is Mary Dixon/Crawford.

Unfortunately, we won’t have any more chances to see Anna Dawson playing Mary as the next surviving episode chronologically is from 1967, by which time the character of Mary was written out. We have one more chance to see Hutchinson in the part, however, as the newly discovered, previously thought lost, episode from 1959 will be aired on Talking Pictures TV on Saturday 30th March 2024. Incidentally, the newly discovered episode is also the last time we will see the curmudgeonly but delightful desk Sergeant Flint.

The pacing has picked up yet again, when compared with the previous episode to air. First broadcast in October 1964, it feels as if the mood has shifted to become a little more suspenseful and exciting. Perhaps as a result of other competing programming and a change in television trends, there seems to be more packed into an episode. I don’t think there is much left that could be called cosy or slow. The familiarity with the main cast of characters is what gives the show its warmth. Somehow, Jack Warner’s steadfast wisdom and integrity as Dixon work equally well in the more community-based earlier episodes as in this faster-paced and slightly grittier era. He isn’t out of place or irrelevant, and still gets to go out and about, despite being promoted into the role of Station Officer, usually a more static job.

The action, the home life, the efforts of the police at work, are all equally compelling. DS Andy Crawford is becoming more of a driving force as time goes on, working more often alongside DC “Laudie” Lauderdale. The evolution of Dixon of Dock Green is very pleasing to see. Once again I must refer to the impression passed down of this programme: it was sleepy, innocent, cosy and cuddly. However, it is pleasing to see that theory disproved with every episode, as we progress–all too quickly–through the show’s different eras. Every episode shows us that this programme met the demands of the era in terms of taste and representation of things that were going on in the world.

In A Scrap of Paint, for example, the idea of tobacco smoking being a contributing factor to lung cancer is referenced. And, casting my mind’s eye back over the previously aired episodes, it seems as though perhaps it was an element considered by the show’s makers from the beginning. I’m sure that there is not excessive smoking depicted in any episode. Although characters do smoke, we don’t see it as a constant presence: it isn’t something that is glamorised by this programme. Could it possibly be that Dixon was trying to be subtly mindful of its influence over impressionable viewers, even from the beginning, in a time when such things seem in hindsight to have been largely disregarded?

In Conclusion…

The more I see of Dixon of Dock Green, the more I am impressed by its value as a piece of art, entertainment, social commentary, social history and human representation. I do not claim that it doesn’t have flaws, and couldn’t be throwaway or even wrong on certain attitudes and subjects. We here at Old Time Review have yet to witness different directions that the show may have taken in series after 1964. I reserve judgement on those, but as a whole, Dixon is a quality programme which maintains considerable relevance and value in the present day.

A Scrap of Paint is another strong instalment of a great programme. Despite missing the quintessential Mary, Jeanette Hutchinson, the interactions between Andy and Mary are as sweet, genuine and believable as ever. They help bring that touch of comedy and light, even to scenes discussing serious subjects. Peter Byrne is so sympathetic as Andy and brings a great presence to his scenes. He is believable as a Policeman, husband and friend. As ever, all the actors bring such a truth to their roles that it would be hard not to become totally invested in them.

You can watch A Scrap of Paint on Talking Pictures TV Encore until 23rd March 2024. Dixon of Dock Green airs every Saturday evening around 7 pm on Talking Pictures TV.

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