Dixon of Dock Green Episode Review: Eye Witness

Continuing our series of reviews of police procedural Dixon of Dock Green, episode-by-episode, this week we jump to the next surviving instalment, entitled Eye Witness. It was first broadcast on Talking Pictures TV on Saturday 27th April 2024. The original first broadcast date on the BBC was 29th December 1973.

I will begin by saying that this week felt like a strange hybrid. Since it was originally broadcast during the period between Christmas and New Year, that may account for the slightly stilted vibe I got from Eye Witness.

The episode concerns the protection of a young woman, Anne Hastings, who has witnessed the murder of her man friend. We see two sides of the same situation: there is George Dixon, the experienced and wise Sergeant assigned to protect her by taking her away on a “holiday”. Then there is DS Andy Crawford and the CID, running the investigation into which criminal gang was responsible for the killing. Andy’s end of things feels like any police show of the era. It is trying to be more real, with a bit more grit and action.

Before George takes Miss Hastings away, the gang plan to silence her. In an attempted drive-by shooting, they reveal a clue as to their identity: the police are now sure that some sort of organised crime organisation is involved. Andy sees the car speed around the corner as they stand outside the murdered man’s house, pulling Anne to the ground just in time to save her from the bullet.

For the first time–at least in the surviving episodes–Andy uses the services of a paid informer, whom he seems to know as a regular collaborator. It is beginning to show us a very different side of the Police. Their world is opening up. This contrasts with early Dixon when matters only seemed to cover a few streets and a small group of residents. While the implication in the late 1950s was that such cases existed – after all, there were CID men stationed at Dock Green – we never saw them played out.

Now it seems that, with each surviving episode, the crimes and their perpetrators become more and more dangerous. During the 1950s and 60s, Dixon of Dock Green explored and warned viewers of insidious crimes. The show dealt with confidence tricks and fraudulent cold-callers. With petty thieves and crimes organised by individuals on an opportunistic basis. By 1973, Dixon has joined the ranks of Police shows that would follow. Its treatment of these gangland crimes is such as we would see a little later in shows such as The Sweeney. There are no long car-chase sequences or violent arrests. But the predominantly outdoor scenes and location work is almost certainly a forerunner to those heavy, sensationalised-violence-laden series.

The contrast to all this, in Eye Witness, is what gives the episode its slightly confusing mood. Although it is evidence of the impeccable balance which Dixon of Dock Green always has. While watching, the rather slow scenes concerning George, Miss Hastings and the female police officer at their remote island hotel hideaway, seemed incongruous. The idea of just an ageing George Dixon and one policewoman to protect the witness from a far-reaching and determined criminal gang seems a little ridiculous.

However, it keeps the episode from feeling too heavy. A real strength of Dixon of Dock Green is its ability to show a crime very honestly and without shying away from its more disturbing implications, but also to balance this in a way which provides nuance and relief. They were able to highlight serious issues with the integrity they deserved, while keeping the episode balanced. In the early years this was achieved with light humourous relief from the likes of Sgt Flint (Arthur Rigby) or with the at-home scenes of George, his daughter Mary and son-in-law Andy. Now, the writers find a different way each week of breaking up the grit with lighter scenes.

In Eye Witness, this is by showing us sleepy, idyllic scenes of a holiday destination (a location which has been seen before in the ITV Poirot series I believe). Even during the episode, our attention is drawn to the contrast by the constant protestations and disapproval from Anne Hastings over how boring and ridiculous it is for her to be kept there.

The episode comes to a head when Anne is abducted by two of the gang’s henchmen who have managed to track her down. They take her to meet Mr Colly, the head of the organisation. He plans to transport her away by air, to kill her at his convenience. When the policewoman informs George that Anne has been taken, he enlists the help of the hotel proprietor’s son. The hotel owner is a former policeman and his son has been helping George with information and keeping watch. He assists George in pursuit of Miss Hastings and the killers with his local knowledge. At one point during the car chase, he advises George to use the new but unfinished motorway to save time. When they run them to ground at an airfield where Mr Colly is waiting, they manage to delay the plane until more Police arrive to assist.

Eye Witness is wrapped up as many of these later stories seem to be: George informs us during his closing monologue that Miss Hastings never gave evidence of what she knew and the gang weren’t caught. While this could feel a little unsatisfying, in fact it feels quite realistic. It is reasonable to assume that the police did indeed have little success in penetrating such large, far-reaching crime organisations enough to bring even one member to justice, let alone take the whole lot down. It would seem totally unbelievable to claim otherwise with a big arrest and talk of bringing down an entire gang.

In Conclusion…

Dixon of Dock Green does it again. It has evolved almost beyond recognition as a show from its earliest surviving episode, one year into its run, versus eighteen years in. Yet somehow it maintains its realism. The Kitchen Sink style has disappeared, long out of fashion. Yet its integrity is just as evident as ever. Although the character of George Dixon looks a little old, Jack Warner’s portrayal is true and real and balanced. It confounds me week after week how he never changes the way he plays the character, yet it worked as realistically and satisfyingly in 1956 as it does in 1973. By this point, it has essentially become Crawford of Dock Green. But in some way, George Dixon manages to be anything but a relic.

As ever, Peter Byrne is faultless as Andy Crawford, the other most satisfying constant in this show. He also manages to make Andy feel like the genuine growth and evolution of a real person. He has aged and matured, but feels exactly like the Andy we first saw in Postman’s Knock. We know him as we know an old and valued friend.

I must give a quick nod to the absence from this episode onwards of Detective Constable “Laudie” Lauderdale. Laudie has been another comfortable companion for many episodes, a fitting and compelling sidekick to Andy Crawford. He was played with truth and humour by Geoffrey Adams and I will miss his presence.

The next surviving episode of Dixon of Dock Green is Harry’s Back which was originally broadcast in January 1974, so it won’t feel such a jarring jump from Eye Witness. We here at Old Time Review look forward to it as eagerly as ever.


George Dixon: Jack Warner

Andy Crawford: Peter Byrne

Chris Bowie: David Rose

Anne Hastings: Gwyneth Powell

Tony: Stephen Greif

Mr Colly: Steve Plytas

Paul: Gordon Bilboe

DCI Scott: Kenneth Watson

Albert: Sidney Kean

Girl In Street: Maureen Grayson

John Pierce: Andrew Lodge

Jane: Diana Scougall

Terry: Chubby Oates

Michelle: Nancie Wait

Billy: Richard Reeves

Police Driver: Ken Haward

Peter: Robert Tayman

Cliff: John Salthouse

Pilot: Bernard Martin

In case you missed it, you can catch up with Dixon of Dock Green: Eye Witness on Talking Pictures TV Encore until 4th May 2024. Surviving episodes of Dixon of Dock Green air every Saturday evening on Talking Pictures TV at 7 pm.

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