Dixon of Dock Green Episode Review: Baubles, Bangles and Beads

This week, we look at the third surviving episode from series 21 of Dixon of Dock Green. Baubles, Bangles and Beads was, in fact, the fifth episode of the series. It was originally broadcast on BBC One on 15th March 1975.

Baubles, Bangles and Beads opens as usual with a monologue from Sgt George Dixon (Jack Warner). He introduces the theme of the episode. This is closely followed by the screeching of tyres as we are propelled into the first proper scene. We quickly learn this is a getaway car engaged in a chase with a Police car. The occupants talk about ditching the items they have stolen before the Police can catch them up. As they drive around a corner, one of them throws a bag into the garden of a house.

Once back at Dock Green Police Station, they complain of being detained on a simple driving charge. Detective Inspector Andy Crawford (Peter Byrne) lets them know that he suspects them in connection to a robbery that has just been committed in which valuable jewellery was stolen from someone’s home. They maintain their innocence. Andy discusses this with George. Between them, they decide it would be better to let the men go and keep them under surveillance. They may give themselves away in time.

We have been introduced, by this point, to a couple of young men squatting in the house where the bag of stolen jewels was thrown. The more innocent of the two, Eric (Leon Vitali) has discovered the bag and its contents in the garden. He conceals this from his friend Phil (Peter Denyer). Phil presents himself as very worldly and enlightened. The two get ready to move on to another squat.

Neither the Dock Green police nor the criminals can track down the jewels. The head of the gang, Chuck (Brian Glover), goes to the house and finds it empty. But he recognises the type of person to have been squatting there. He and his associates, Bert (Johnny Fanning) and Syd (Frank Jarvis) set about trying to track down some “Hairy Krishna” types, as they term it. They go so far as to grab an innocent member of a parade taking place, assuming that anyone young and enlightened will know all other like-minded people.

George and DS Johnny Wills (Nicholas Donnelly) narrow down the possible locations where the goods may have been dumped. Wills visits one of them and finds an earring in the garden. He shows it to Andy and they find that it matches the description of one of the stolen items. When Andy and DS Mike Brewer (Gregory de Polnay) visit the house, Mike decides that the recent occupants must belong to some religious group. He proceeds on that line.

Meanwhile, young Eric and Phil have made friends with another squatter, Marion (Kitty Stevenson), who invites Eric to meditate with a guru she knows. Phil declines to join them, believing himself to be above any potentially fraudulent “lower class” of guru. He feels the teachings he follows are superior and he has achieved a higher level of self-awareness. Eric is put off when the so-called guru refuses his gift. However, Marion tells him to try again the next day. He takes the bag of jewellery and almost immediately the session ends. He is glad to have his gift accepted but saddened that he didn’t have the chance to make the most of the meditation guidance.

Here we must address the issue of the actors playing the guru and his associates. Although the picture quality of this episode isn’t great, it is clear that the actors are white and British and putting on fake accents while dressed in Asian robes with headdresses and turbans. I didn’t want to believe that a programme with as much integrity as Dixon of Dock Green could deal so insensitively and lazily with this subject – and I was soon rewarded for my faith. Although some other shows during the same era were still using blackface and phoney accents instead of actors of the genuine required ethnic origin, Dixon seems too good for this.

It is soon made clear that in fact the guru and his associates are local criminals operating a phony religion in order to obtain goods from innocent people. Mike accidentally discovers them about to abscond with the jewels.

Chuck and his mates have tracked down Eric as it turns out that an associate of theirs is Phil’s father. When they force Eric to take them to the guru’s temple, they find it empty but Andy and Mike are waiting there to arrest them.

The episode is neatly wrapped up, with George telling us that the three criminals were convicted of the robbery.

My Impressions…

This episode was much more fun for me than the previous two broadcast on Talking Pictures. It feels more like the Dixon of earlier years, with more humour and more rounded characters. Although they all had their functions, they were more than just stereotypes. Baubles, Bangles and Beads feels like a much more complete episode than the previous two to be broadcast. This week, it doesn’t feel like The Andy Crawford Show, with little else to offer. Everything else stands up to his never-wavering quality, for me.

Two idealistic young men in search of some purpose in a time of economic and political uncertainty feels relevant. In fact, it still has surprising relevance in the present day. It was interesting that many of the stereotypes about such people were explored and then largely debunked. The idea of organisations claiming to help people find a higher purpose and understanding, only to take financial advantage of them, is an interesting one to explore. Phil is very aware that some of the so-called gurus are only out to take people’s money. But he is unwilling to believe that the one he follows could be one of them. There is a very relatable and heartening innocence to the cynicism of Phil’s character. He feels it is his responsibility to educate Eric. He gets pleasure and a feeling of power from doing so.

The theme of confidence tricksters taking advantage of the vulnerable is nothing new to Dixon. In episodes such as The Team, the same idea is explored. To see the show revisit something like this is refreshing. It shows that the creators behind Dixon of Dock Green still valued the idea of trying to help people protect themselves. The people being taken advantage of in this case are simply young and idealistic. They are easily manipulated because they are searching for something.

It is also heartening in Baubles, Bangles and Beads that the older characters don’t spend too much time seriously ridiculing these beliefs. They admit that they don’t understand them. George even observes with levity that discussing religion causes arguments when Andy loses patience with Mike’s explanations of the different religions’ symbols displayed in the squat. Andy is even observed to be reading a book entitled The In-ness of One-ness by “Shashti Ap Davies”. A quick internet search tells me this was most likely a made-up book invented by the writer. It’s a fun little mock-up though and one which adds another layer of humour. We can infer that Andy is trying to keep up with his subordinate who is more knowledgeable on such subjects. Perhaps long-time fans of the show might even hypothesise that he is trying to understand his children’s generation a little better. After all, he and Mary’s twins must be at least in their late teens by this time.

In Conclusion…

The acting in this episode is as great as ever. Jack Warner is given a little to do, putting George’s experience to good use as they form a strategy to locate the stolen goods. Everyone brings the trademark subtlety that we have come to expect from this great programme. In the young squatters, we also find a little echo of some of the Kitchen Sink style of yesteryear carried forward into this new era. The young boys feel disenfranchised in much the same way that characters like Doug Beale (Kenneth Cope) in The Roaring Boy did in the mid-1950s.

With only three more surviving episodes of series 21 remaining, we will soon lose Peter Byrne. I shall definitely miss his great steadying, real, serious and comedic presence once we move on to the final series. Watching Dixon of Dock Green in hindsight, I hope it was Byrne’s choice not to take on a starring role for himself in another similar series, rather than an oversight by the powers-that-be in not creating one for him. By 1975, he has been the star of Dixon in all but billing for some years. His portrayal is impeccable, flawless and so pleasing. He makes Andy Crawford a character I think I would like to meet.

In case you missed it, you can catch up on Baubles, Bangles and Beads on Talking Pictures TV Encore until 15th June 2024, or during the delayed run on Wednesday evenings. Dixon of Dock Green airs every Saturday evening at 7 pm on Talking Pictures TV.

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