Dixon of Dock Green Episode Review: Harry’s Back

Following on in our weekly review series on police procedural series Dixon of Dock Green, this week I will be discussing the next surviving episode, entitled Harry’s Back. Shown on Talking Pictures TV on Saturday the 4th May 2024, the episode originally aired on 12th January 1974.

Usually, there is more of a time jump between the episodes which survive. However, Harry’s Back was first broadcast only two weeks after the episode that aired last week on Talking Pictures, Eye Witness. It was a nice change to watch a second episode from the same series. This has not been the case since the beginning of the surviving run, with five consecutive episodes from the 1956 series. Since then, there has rarely been more than one episode in each year and we usually see large jumps in era.

The new titles…

I must mention the opening title sequence, here. I didn’t have the chance to last week. Here at Old Time Review, we use a recordable YouView device to record Dixon each week, to make sure that we don’t miss it and can view it at a time which suits us. Of late, it has taken to cutting off the beginning of some recordings, with last week’s episode being one such example. Unfortunately, the device we use to view Talking Pictures TV Encore was also not working properly last Saturday. So we completely missed out on the first surviving example of the updated titles.

They are a pretty slick, animated affair. I liked the use of the Sergeant’s Stripes, reminding us that this is now Dixon’s rank. Also, the use of the blue background and white text is effective. It brings us into a “the boys in blue” mood. This sequence is in keeping with the era and puts me in mind, again, of some of the American cop shows. I keep being surprised by the amount of television trends Dixon followed. Its reputation in hindsight suggests that the programme began in 1955 and never changed, staying the same stagey, later old-fashioned show for 21 years. This is so far from the truth, as we all now know.

The Story…

Harry’s Back focuses on a well-known local named Harry Simpson. He has returned to Dock Green from a long trip abroad. Everyone seems happy to see him. Even some of George Dixon’s colleagues find him pleasant and likeable. George himself seems to be neutral about him. There is just one person who thoroughly disapproves of him: Andy Crawford. George’s son-in-law, DS Crawford, seems determined to get Harry behind bars one way or another. We see George explain to a colleague that Andy has been close to convicting Harry several times, with each case falling through when witnesses withdraw their statements at the last minute.

We begin to build up a picture of Harry as the episode progresses. He splashes his money around, buying everyone in the pub drinks, including George and his young colleague. He offers to send perfume to the young copper’s wife. Harry visits the wife of his business partner and we learn that he has been sending her money following her husband’s departure. He tells her that Terry is in a secure location, waiting for the heat on a criminal job to die down. He buys her little boy ice cream and gives her more money. His ways are ingratiating and intended to portray him as generous and likeable. He tries to buy people.

While George is still on the fence about him, he doesn’t like the way Harry tries to buy people’s loyalty. He tells him to stop buying policemen presents.

Meanwhile, Andy is looking into every possible angle to work out why Harry returned to England after being “thrown out by the Spanish police”. And why did he leave in the first place? Harry gets married and Andy acquires copies of the wedding photos in order to identify his associates. At the same time, Harry’s top henchman is acquiring a driving licence from a small villain type. The licence is used to hire a car to carry out a robbery.

The owner of the licence initially admits that Harry had something to do with it. But when he is viciously attacked, he changes his story. This confirms even more positively to Andy that Harry is responsible.

Harry has been trying to sweet-talk Andy’s Chief Superintendent, by applying to join his golf club. The Superintendent speaks to Andy about it. He appreciates Andy’s instinct and believes that he is likely correct, but warns him not to make a move without proof. After all, Andy is waiting for his promotion and wouldn’t want it scuppered again by having a case fall apart due to lack of evidence.

Andy is informed that the body of Harry’s business partner, Terry, has been found. Following this, he manages to obtain a search warrant for Harry’s home. Just as he thinks they will find nothing, Harry accidentally signals where he has something hidden: the key to a safe deposit box.

When they open it, they find a gun inside which seems to match the calibre of the bullet which killed Terry. During George’s closing monologue, he informs us that Harry was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder.

My Impressions…

Harry’s Back is very much an example of what I would call an “Andy Episode.” Peter Byrne is once again faultless as DS Crawford. His acting style is so skilled that it doesn’t feel like watching someone act. It feels like we’re watching Andy Crawford. He never breaks character, there are no cracks in his portrayal. For me, he is so convincing as Andy. He is certainly a reason to keep coming back to Dixon. Even during moments when Andy can be a little unlikeable, Byrne is simply perfect. He brings such understatedness and balance to the role. For me, it equals Jack Warner’s impeccable reality and subtlety, and even sometimes surpasses it. It honestly feels like watching two policemen at work.

The way that these characters are written for must also be highlighted I feel. Their dialogue is always completely true to their character. Nineteen years into a series, it would be easy to assume that a character might have changed exponentially in that time. However, George and Andy remain the same as ever. This could seem out of place. But somehow, Byrne and Warner manage to make it work beautifully. They crafted their characterisations so fully right at the beginning of the run that the characters were able to move through eras flawlessly. They remain the same dependable, upright, familiar policemen, no matter the era.

I cannot overstate the accomplishment that this seems. These fictional men have grown and developed with the times, without ever uttering a word they wouldn’t have done in 1956. Yet, they are so contemporary and not a bit old-fashioned. I could see Andy Crawford transplanted straight into a show like The Sweeney a year on from here, or into Lewis in the 2000s. It would work. He would not be out of place. He is middle-aged now, but not slow or boring or even stuck in his ways. We see the policing move with the times.

In Conlusion…

Another brilliantly strong episode of this legendary show. I cannot rate Dixon of Dock Green highly enough. It impresses me week after week and continues to be compelling and exciting. The supporting cast is always strong and Harry’s Back is no exception to this. Week after week I am sad to see the credits roll, and hooked in waiting for next Saturday to come. We have only two years left of this wonderful show, and 16 episodes. Two more from 1974, six from 1975 and all 8 episodes of the final series from 1976. We look forward keenly to each one.

If you missed it, you can still watch Harry’s Back on Talking Pictures TV Encore until 11th May 2024. Dixon of Dock Green airs every Saturday evening on Talking Pictures TV at 7 pm.

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