Dixon of Dock Green Episode Review: Duffy Calls the Tune

This week, we are following on in our series of reviews on the surviving episodes of Dixon of Dock Green currently being broadcast on Talking Pictures TV. However, this week there is a difference. The episode broadcast on Saturday 30th March 2024 is the one recently discovered and previously believed lost. The episode is entitled Duffy Calls the Tune from 1959.

The announcement of the episode’s discovery was made some weeks ago. Talking Pictures were already airing the series, and decided to interrupt the chronological order of existing episodes to broadcast this rarity, which hadn’t been seen for 65 years.

I must admit that I was excited at the prospect of getting to see one more episode with Grace, Sgt Flint and Mary – all characters who will no longer be featured in the rest of the surviving episodes due to be broadcast. It was very heartening to see Flint at the desk once more and to see Mary’s kind and caregiving nature one more time. It was also nice to see one instance of PC “Laudie” Lauderdale when he was still in uniform, before he joined the CID. This episode would serve as his introduction to us if it had been aired in its chronological position in the series.

The story…

At the opening of the episode, after Dixon’s introduction, a lady comes into the Police station. PC George Dixon is working at the front desk. She tells him that she has overheard a man making threats against him in a local pub.

When pressed for more details, it is revealed that the man is known to George and his colleagues, Charlie Thomson. He has just been released from prison and is staying at a boarding house where another character well known to them resides: Duffy Clayton.

Duffy is a music lover, and we find him listening to his classical records with admiration when George and Andy (DS Andy Crawford, also George’s son-in-law) decide to drop in and have a word with Charlie. Charlie is resentful that they should bother him when he has only just come out of prison. Dixon tells him they know he’s harmless but throwing around threats against a policeman could give others dangerous ideas.

The B-plot of this episode involves a sweet scene during which a young Constable, Bob Penney, and his girlfriend are at the Dixons’ for dinner. Everyone has made themselves scarce in order that Bob will have chance to propose to Sue. Initially she is sceptical, but when George and the others blunder back in and show encouragement, she is persuaded to accept Bob. This is one of those scenes which is comedic but heartening, which are lacking in later episodes.

The light relief which comes from this side of things is something I have begun to miss in the episodes from the late ’60s. Although, these later episodes do still work remarkably well. I thought it would feel somehow less compelling without being broken up by these domestic scenes. But the characters are so strong that they keep me invested.

Back to the main plot of the episode then. Charlie decides to do a risky job to make some money and go back to his village to visit. Duffy tries to talk him out of it – Charlie is planning to rob a mobster. When Charlie goes through with it, Duffy is forced to bring in the Police as the mobster’s heavies are on their way to work Charlie over.

George and Andy rush round, meanwhile Flint is sending reinforcements after them. They arrive just in time to interrupt before the heavies have had a chance to hurt Charlie. They arrest the heavies and bring Charlie in for questioning. It turns out that the money Charlie stole was part of a larger robbery. A Post Office had just been robbed, with the postmistress assaulted badly in the process. It is up to Charlie to help them bring the mobster to justice for the bigger crime.

In conclusion…

Duffy Calls the Tune feels like a real contrast to the episodes surrounding it in Talking Pictures‘ run. It is lovely to revisit this world which is a little gentler than the late ’60s episodes we have been viewing for the past couple of weeks. I stand by my diagnosis that Dixon of Dock Green is anything but cosy, even at this earlier time in its original run. After all, this episode sees gangsters threatening someone with a knife. There is mention of the elderly postmistress involved in the Post Office robbery being hospitalised by them for weeks.

The violence and criminality is as real and threatening in these gentler episodes as when we get into the grittier era. It is simply more balanced with that humour that is so prevalent in the show’s first decade or so.

Being a thirty-minute episode (the show had not yet extended its run-time in 1959), the story concludes itself much more definitely, with Dixon describing the neat outcome in his closing monologue. In the longer 50 minute episodes, the story is often wrapped up more fully within the active part, rather than needing to be quickly summed up by George. In these shorter episodes, his closing words are used more for exposition. In the later, longer shows, his words at the end of the episode are more advisory and cautionary.

Overall, Duffy Calls the Tune was a very pleasant reminder of some of the best elements of the earlier era of Dixon of Dock Green. The comedy relief and some of the characters I shall miss as the chronological run of surviving episodes gets ever further away from this softer era. However, I look forward to seeing Andy taking the crime-solving helm more and more, as his character is so strong and compelling. He wasn’t given so much to actively do in this episode.

It is easy to forget how much more of a presence Dixon is throughout the episode in these earlier ones. And yet later they managed to find a great balance between his hands-off involvement and his wise influence.

One word on the picture quality of Duffy Calls the Tune. Considering that this episode was previously believed lost, and the media has presumably been stored away from the carefully controlled environment of a formal archive for all this time, the quality was wonderful. The picture was still sharp and well defined in most areas. There were a couple of moments of drop-out and a few dirty marks on the image here and there, which is to be expected. But it is in remarkably good shape for what it is.

In all, this was another great instalment of a great programme. We here at Old Time Review still look forward eagerly to the next episode to be aired.

You can catch up on Duffy Calls the Tune on Talking Pictures TV Encore until 6th April 2024. Dixon of Dock Green airs on Talking Pictures TV every Saturday evening at 7 pm.

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