Dixon of Dock Green Episode Review: Firearms Were Issued

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Following in our review series of surviving episodes of Dixon of Dock Green broadcast on Talking Pictures TV, this week I will be discussing the series twenty episode, Firearms Were Issued.

Originally broadcast on BBC One on the 20th April 1974, it followed the week after the previous surviving episode, Sounds. Firearms Were Issued does not present us with a time leap then. There was a nice feeling, when tuning into Firearms, that the experience would be much the same as if watched on first broadcast. For a rare change, we haven’t missed anything in between episodes.

The Story…

The episode opens with George Dixon (Jack Warner) and his usual introductory monologue. It would be easy to assume that this would feel dated by now. Actually, it is still an effective narrative device. The real meat of the story can begin directly from the title sequence, without any other lead-in required. Dixon tells us there has been an armed bank robbery in another area of London, in which civilian adults and children have been caught up. All Police are on the lookout for the perpetrators.

Following the titles, we see DI Andy Crawford (Peter Byrne) in his office. He is in the middle of a phone call. Taking notes, he first writes one address, then scribbles it out after double-checking with the caller. The new address is written down. Andy asks for the caller’s name, but the caller rings off. The call was too short to trace.

He instructs his assistant DC Cox (Petert Tilbury) that they will be launching surveillance on the address he noted down. The phone call was a tip-off of the whereabouts of the armed men who robbed the bank. The caller told Andy they are still armed, waiting for their pay-off for the job.

Andy instructs George, who is working as the sergeant in charge, to issue four firearms. One for Andy, one for DC Cox, and one for each of the uniformed men who have their firearms authorisation currently on shift: PC Dewar and Sgt Wills. Andy and George both check with their superiors for authorisation for the issue of firearms.

The protocols followed by Dixon are sobering but reassuring. It is notable that this was included. It is our first indication that the programme is trying to emphasise the seriousness attributed to the use of firearms by the police. George records each gun’s number in the ledger, assigns them to each officer, who has to sign for their issue, then it is countersigned by George. He then has to read a cautionary statement to the four officers, warning them that they are only to use their weapon against an armed assailant if they are not otherwise able to safely apprehend them, or to protect themselves, a member of the public or a fellow officer from attack by an armed assailant. The whole thing is dealt with efficiently and with a heavy dose of realism. There is nothing sensational in it. In fact, it is quite chilling.

Andy organises the operation so that he and Cox will go in the front of the house. Sgt Wills and PC Dewar will cover the back garden. The rest of the uniformed policemen will cover the surrounding area. Cox waits in the front garden, while Andy knocks on the door. The lights go out immediately. Andy calls out, then he and Cox force their way in when there is no answer. The main electricity supply has been turned off, so Cox feels around for the switch while Andy explores the ground floor in the pitch-black. There is a very pleasing shot during this sequence. A filmic, shadowed shot of Andy’s poised face, from an angle which reinforces the tension of the moment.

There is a noise. A man bursts out through the back door into the garden. Andy chases him, tripping over and crying out as he does so. Shots ring out in the darkness. The man is lying on the ground. Andy orders Wills to have him taken care of; Wills radios for an ambulance. Andy has blood running down his forehead.

Cox finds the switch and the house lights up again. Andy goes back inside and he and Cox proceed upstairs. The rooms are empty, but they notice that the bathroom door is locked. They order the occupants out. The two men say they are unarmed. Cox searches them, and Andy orders the house and area to be combed for their firearms.

Back at the station…

The two arrested men maintain that they were unarmed. They also indicate that their colleague who was shot did not have a gun in his possession. News comes from the hospital that he is badly injured: the shot reached very close to his heart.

Andy’s superiors also begin to take an interest in the events of the evening. Detective Chief Superintendent Donovan (Percy Herbert) instructs Dixon to let the married men’s wives know they will be late home. All involved – including George – are instructed to discuss it with no one–including each other–and not to leave the station. A full investigation into the happenings following Andy’s anonymous tip-off must take place.

George telephones to his daughter and Andy’s wife, Mary–in a now-rare mention in the programme– and the other wives. There is only one whom he cannot get through to.

Donovan tasks Wills with drafting a diagram of their positions at the time of the shooting and questions he, Cox and Dewar. He scrutinizes Andy’s notes from the phone call. Andy is adamant he heard exactly what he wrote down, but Donovan believes he should have used more caution instead of taking the muffled information so seriously. George later tells Donovan that they couldn’t take such a chance. That, by acting quickly, they were aiming to take the criminals out of circulation to prevent them from carrying out another armed robbery and hurting anyone else.

Both Dewar and Wills believe themselves to have fired the shot which hit the fleeing man. They both say independently that they fired because they believed Andy had been shot. Also that Andy let off a shot by accident when he tripped over. Some way through the investigation, they find out that the injured man has died in hospital.

Meanwhile PC Dewar’s wife, whom Dixon was unable to reach by telephone, hears of the shooting on a radio news broadcast. She rushes round to Dock Green police station and manages to slip by George as he is busy on the radio. She finds Dewar and he tells her what has happened. When Donovan discovers this, he reprimands George for not stopping her.

Andy becomes frustrated with Donovan’s constant suspicion and doubt. This is a rare show of frustration at the hierarchal machine of the force. We get the idea that he resents the way he is being treated. Since we know the character so well, we can perhaps assume that he has given so much loyal service and worked by the book for so many years that speculation over his judgment is beyond offensive. George finds him preparing to leave the station to find the proof he needs to absolve himself and stops him. He isn’t willing to let Andy put his career in jeopardy by going against Donovan’s orders. Instead, George quietly dispatches Andy’s subordinate, DS Brewer (Gregory de Polnay), to find the informant.

Brewer tracks him down, with one line of expositional dialogue informing us that he has been all over the area, speaking to a myriad of people for two hours, trying to find the right person. The informant, Mr Green (Cyril Shaps), turns out to be an independent trader who had been hired to fix a short-term house rental for the robbery money to be exchanged. He was after the reward money offered by the bank, so he made the phone call to Andy once he realised who his clients were.

With luck, he recorded the phone call on tape in order to prove his cooperation in catching the criminals and fortify his claim. This also acts as vindication for Andy as it proves that his interpretation of the message was accurate. When asked how he knew the men would be armed that night, Green replies that he assumed they would be since they had used guns in the robbery.

The episode closes with George Dixon telling us that the two gunmen received hefty prison sentences following their conviction for the armed bank robbery.

My Impressions…

DCS Donovan seems set against Andy, George and their respective teams. He is hyper critical. However, he is merely pre-empting the line that the press will take. Firearms Were Issued is a clever examination of the attitudes towards police procedure by the press, by the public and by the members of the force themselves.

It has to be one of the most self-aware episodes in the run. It seems to be critical of the integrity of the police: in fact, by scrutinizing the methods, the safeguarding practices and the chain of command, it ends up proving how robust the protocols are. Firearms Were Issued says that the mechanisms in place are almost foolproof. That anything that goes wrong is due to human error, which cannot ever be avoided entirely. I feel that it goes so far as to say that the human beings in the force are so guided by procedure, protocol, duty and hierarchy that operations are as safe as they can possibly be.

For a programme that is seen as very praising of the police, this episode of Dixon of Dock Green does not shy away from human weakness. In fact, it shows Andy close to breaking point. He is usually so calm and measured. However, when he feels backed into a corner and desperate for corroboration, he throws aside what is required of him. It demonstrates the same type of instinct for justice as Dixon possesses: after all, he might be breaking the rules but it is only in the interest of proving he and his colleagues innocent. Donovan is pre-emptively painting them in the wrong, and Andy wants to protect them all.

Peter Byrne is masterful in this episode. He somehow manages to bring a bit more edge to Andy. That rebelliousness isn’t something we have seen before, at least not in the episodes which now survive for broadcast.

I couldn’t help missing Geoffrey Adams here as DC “Laudie” Lauderdale. It would have been great to see him alongside Andy during this operation. They made a great team. Adams’ understatedness paired perfectly with Byrne’s economy. However, Peter Tilbury as Andy’s direct subordinate during the operation brought an endearing nervousness without being unbelievable as a detective constable. If we see him in the next series, I won’t be too sorry – apart from missing Laudie still of course!

Jack Warner is mention-worthy as ever in this episode. Dixon takes a more active role in terms of his responsibility and culpability. Warner brings so much realism and integrity to that role. He is honest and decent to the last. He sides with Andy, but won’t let him do something he’ll regret and which George knows is the wrong thing to do. Inside the station, he isn’t Andy’s father-in-law, he is simply a colleague.

Once again, we know these characters so well, and everything they do rings absolutely true. Byrne and Warner are flawless, as is the writing.

In Conclusion…

Firearms Were Issued was an extremely competent episode. It was the last episode in series twenty of Dixon of Dock Green. 1974 has been a very good year for this show. I look forward to seeing the final instalments of Dixon in its original format, before it takes a different shape in its final series. We have six episodes of the original thirteen to look forward to, from 1975. I have been thrilled with the added grit and jeopardy during the past four surviving episodes, and wait with anticipation to find out how it developed further in Peter Byrne’s final series.

In case you missed it, Firearms Were Issued is available to catch up on via Talking Pictures TV Encore until 25th May 2024. Surviving episodes of Dixon of Dock Green air every Saturday evening at 7 pm on Talking Pictures TV, with a delayed run of the episodes also airing on Wednesday evenings at 7 pm.

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