Dixon of Dock Green Episode review: Conspiracy

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This week, I will be looking at the final surviving episode to feature Peter Byrne as Andy Crawford: Conspiracy. It was originally broadcast on BBC One on 10th May 1975, the last episode of series 21.

The Story…

We see a car speeding through the streets. It runs down a pedestrian, killing him. PC Warren (Andrew Burt) is in the area and attends the scene. The occupants of the car come out. It is a married couple. The woman claims to have been driving.

We learn that the man, Ben Randall (Jon Laurimore) is already awaiting trial for another crime and has been disqualified from driving. He was also heavily intoxicated, hence their claim that Mrs Randall was driving.

Warren seems to take a very personal interest in the case. Sgt George Dixon (Jack Warner) receives a letter by recorded delivery. When he reads it, he deems it necessary to share it with DI Andy Crawford (Peter Byrne). The letter accuses PC Warren of improper police conduct. The writer claims to have seen Warren drinking with Ben Randall. This is against the rules as Warren is due to give evidence against Randall in the other case. It compromises his integrity.

Andy wants to contact the department which deals with investigations inside the Police force immediately. George says he should be the one to contact them since he is Warren’s direct superior, in the uniformed division. He then hangs up the phone instead, asking Andy to give a little leeway and at least probe Warren a little, first. After all, it could be a false accusation by someone Warren had previously arrested, just designed to get even.

During several exchanges between Andy and Warren, Warren is cagey and unhelpful. He has very high principles and resents being suspected and investigated by his colleagues. Meanwhile, George has been trying to subtly ascertain whether Warren has been spending more money than usual.

Andy finds out from Randall himself that he was in the pub at the same time as Warren, despite Warren’s protestations that he doesn’t drink and was there for another reason.

Mike and Wills do their part in trying to corroborate certain details about the traffic accident that might lead to some further conclusion. Mrs Randall will not change her statement, maintaining that she was driving at the time of the accident.

A small scene in the middle of the episode shows Warren out on the beat with another constable. They give directions to a young woman. Warren’s colleague identifies her as a student. They observe that, broadly, students are happy to take Police help when they need it but are quick to attack and malign them at protests and demonstrations.

Andy deems it necessary to search Warren’s quarters in the section house. George goes with him as witness. He finds a bank statement showing £800 paid into his bank account on the day on which the letter says he met with Randall. He finds further damning evidence: the Randall file. When they check with the records department, the file has been taken without permission, without being signed for. Warren has also added a statement to it without informing a superior.

When his fiance is interviewed, she is at first indignant about the intrusion. But she relents when she realises that divulging the source of the money is in Warren’s best interests. It turns out that they have decided to use some of the money they have been saving together to buy their first home on a new car. She transferred the £800 from their joint account to his personal bank account so that he could make the purchase.

Andy disapproves strongly of Warren and his attitude. He intends to continue investigating. George reminds him that he too used to be fiercely determined when he was a PC, sometimes bending the rules in order to solve a case.

George is convinced that should be the end of it. After all, Warren is in the clear. Andy still believes Warren to have been in the wrong. He thinks him too headstrong and independent. And the writer of the letter still needs to be found in order to find their motive. Mike matches the handwriting against a statement in one of Warren’s case files. They bring in the previous offender. It is a street trader whom we have seen being moved on by Warren earlier in the episode. He wrote the letter just hoping to cause trouble for Warren. He deems that Warren constantly deals too harshly with him, observing that most other PCs just tell him to move along, rather than exerting their right to bring a conviction for trading without a licence.

Warren hands George his resignation. George tries to talk him round. In a moving scene in the locker room, George outlines his attitude to Police work. He tells him what a privilege he considers it to protect the public. Although they only manage to catch and convict around half of the perpetrators of crimes, he still believes that is worth doing. He acknowledges that they are forced to give up a portion of privacy and freedom when they join the police force. But, in his opinion, that is worth it to be able to do the important work they do. In the end, Warren won’t change his mind and leaves anyway.

In the closing scene, George and Andy leave the station. As they exit, two constables walk into the station. As George and Andy walk away together, the camera pans up to the blue lamp above the door. For perhaps one of a few times–or the only time–there is no closing monologue. The credits roll.

My Impressions…

First of all, this episode feels like it was intended to be the conclusion to the whole series. If that was not the original intent, I believe it must have been deliberately written as Andy’s last episode and George’s last as a serving member of the Police force in uniform.

It is absolutely first-rate. Conspiracy gives every regular character a moment. They each have a chance to shine and to do what they do.

It is heavy with poignant scenes between Andy and George. If this had been made in the last twenty years, it would likely be little more than a clip show, laden with excerpts from previous series, reminding us of their best moments together. Instead, their shared scenes are littered with dialogue which tugs at the thread joining together the beginning of Dixon and the then-present.

I have to single out Andrew Burt for his performance. I believe he was worried about type-casting when he worked on Emmerdale Farm. In Conspiracy, he seems to be playing a very similar character to Emmerdale Farm‘s Jack Sugden. PC Warren is an idealist, a loner who thinks he knows better than anyone else and rails against authority and interference as he sees it. But Burt brings the surliness and cynicism required for this heavily principled character.

Gregory de Polnay as Mike Brewer and Nicholas Donnelly as Johnny Wills are perfectly understated, as ever. They seem to stand back somewhat. This whole episode feels as if everything is secondary to the relationship between George and Andy. Throughout all the years of Dixon of Dock Green, it has felt as if they made sure that the two characters never mix their private relationship with their official work. When on duty, they know each other as colleagues, not as father-and-son-in-law. Although George never mentions the family connection in Conspiracy, he refers to their early years of working together more than any other surviving episode.

During these two-hander scenes between Warner and Byrne, the atmosphere is full of echoes of the show’s history. Warner’s delivery feels emotionally charged. Yet their performances are as professional and perfect as ever. They still both deliver their characters with absolute truth. There is no indulgence or departure from their characterisations.

When they leave the station at the end, walking out of the station together it feels so final. Most long-running series finish with less apt closing scenes. The tone and symbolism are immaculate. As they walk out together, the message seems to be that even though they may soon be gone, the Police will carry on doing their duty and protecting the public.

I must praise N.J. Crisp, the writer of this and many previous episodes of Dixon of Dock Green. His tone for the subject and the dialogue were so balanced and fair. This episode is like a love letter to the entirety of the programme. It puts the focus back on George Dixon’s experience and judgement. A very satisfying bookend to a pretty perfect series.

In Conclusion…

Although this is the last time we will see Andy (Peter Byrne) in an episode, Conspiracy is one of my very favourite episodes. It absolutely should have been the final episode. What a perfect closer to a mammoth of a show which deserves so much more than the low reputation it has garnered in hindsight.

I am open-minded enough to believe I may still enjoy and value the coming eight episodes (the entirety of series 22). I’m sure they will still have something to offer. But I am certain that they will feel the worse for lacking the only other ever-present character.

If you missed it, you can still catch up with Conspiracy on Talking Pictures TV Encore until 6th July 2024. You can also catch it in the delayed run of Dixon of Dock Green which airs on Wednesday evenings on Talking Pictures TV.

Dixon of Dock Green airs every Saturday evening at 7 pm on Talking Pictures TV.

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