Dixon of Dock Green Episode Review: Jig-Saw

As we go into week 14 of the broadcast of surviving episodes of Dixon of Dock Green on Talking Pictures TV, we find ourselves in 1971 with the episode entitled Jig-Saw.

Jig-Saw was first broadcast on 18th November 1971. We are fully cemented in the years Dixon of Dock Green became more of a detective drama than the kitchen-sink local Police chronicle it was when it started in 1955. We are finding that the CID officers are the ones who direct the investigation of crimes, with the uniformed men playing much more of a support role. Having said that, Dixon and his fellow uniformed sergeants still offer insight and organise the groundwork of constables under their supervision with authority and well-honed expertise. The uniformed officers often find out important details which advance the case.

In this episode, Mrs Warren has gone missing. Mr Warren (Charles Houston) reported her disappearance some days earlier: he had returned home to find her gone and their baby alone in the house. He suspects foul play, with the Police somewhat uninterested until at the opening of the episode when the night watchman at a derelict gas works also experiences strange goings-on during his shift. He is shut in a shed by an unknown assailant while on his rounds. There seems to be a link between the two when the Dock Green Police come to investigate and begin to find the contents of a woman’s handbag. Mr Warren also informs them that his wife often takes a short cut through the grounds of the gas works.

Mr Warren seems cagey and a little suspicious, and when he later turns out to be lying about his own whereabouts on the night of the disappearance, it starts to look bad for him. However, the detective in charge, Chief Insp Jameson (Glynn Edwards) seems to believe that her disappearance may be linked to attacks perpetrated on women alongside the gas works a couple of years previously. Initally, DS Crawford and DC Lauderdale are sceptical of this because it seems that the lady’s husband could have been that attacker, due to the fact the attacks stopped around the time of their marriage. Jameson isn’t so convinced by that.

It turns out the disturbance was just children parking about. We see a glimpse of the old Dixon, when Goerge questions two young children who admit to having locked the night watchman Forbes (Victor Maddern) in a shed while playing, as a joke, and found the handbag. They hid the handbag as a kind of treasure to come back and play with another time. George’s questioning of these children is very sweet and sincere, with the children–played by Nicholas Wright and Kay Humblestone–also coming across very real and endearingly cheeky but innocent. George has the air of a kindly grandpa-type in this scene; a little nod to the slower and more character-led years of the show. It gives us a small taste of the community and human side of the police force which was the driving force in the first ten years of Dixon, and which maintains the heart of the show even in these later years simply by its earlier existence.

Jig-Saw comes to something of a climax when the perpetrator of the original attacks–and as it turns out, the murder of Mrs Warren–is caught. He owns up to it, after trying to throw the scent off himself and onto his fellow watchman Mr Forbes. The murderer is played by Windsor Davies in a kind of pathetic yet chilling portrayal.

The climactic scene is very quickly cut away from in a way that feels like they are trying to close the book. The case isn’t discussed any further, almost as if the show is trying to reassure viewers that the crime has been dealt with: it’s over and we don’t need to worry about it anymore. It is almost a kind of safety mechanism, to make the audience feel that the police have this under control. We can still trust the police.

It is hard to explain how much of a natural progression from the earlier show these later episodes seem. They are such a contrast in so many ways, however they also have so much still to offer in the way of reassurance. You get the feeling that, at this stage, they still must have been getting some level of cooperation and support from the Police force. The way they portray the Police is so positive, and I don’t think you could say that the image they give of Police work and investigation is any more glamourised, softened or sensationalized than any other similar contemporary show.

It is very easy to criticise Dixon of Dock Green, but in fact, they are dealing with some very gritty and serious crimes. It would be a real disservice to talk it down and dismiss it as a Police show to compete with any other. Similarly to the previous surviving episode to be broadcast, Waste Land, Jig-Saw stands up as an example of a compelling detective drama. The value in them keeping familiar characters, such as DC “Laudie” Lauderdale (Geoffrey Adams) is immeasurable because it makes it feel safe and familiar. Those supporting officers are a feature of detective dramas extending into the present day. It is still a method used in order to make the viewer feel comfortable and able to understand what is happening in the story without needing so much exposition which wastes time and slows down the progression of the plot.

Laudie is a very interesting character because he is of a lower rank than Andy Crawford (Peter Byrne), so he gets stuck with a lot of the boring jobs. But when he is talking to, for example, a suspect he is also quite gentle and level. The writing for these characters is first-rate. The type of language used and what the actors do with it is impeccable. The kitchen-sink may be gone, but the realism is still evident in spades. Again I must praise Jack Warner: he gets the tone perfect. He knows that character and it has never been a caricature. He hasn’t changed the performance by 1971, 15 years in, in order to fit in with the new vibe. It isn’t necessary: the character is so well-rounded and played so truthfully by Warner. Everyone plays their roles with integrity. A shout-out to Glynn Edwards is necessary – he always manages to hit every role perfectly, even here as the detective in charge, despite having played a villain in an earlier episode, A Scrap of Paint.

There is still a very healthy helping of police procedural in this programme, showing the approach to different aspects of the case. It is fascinating to see the reasoning behind certain decisions and methods. Jig-Saw has all the things you would want from a detective drama. Once again I am left wanting to see what they do next week. The next surviving episode is from 1972: it will be very interesting to see whether any further developments in style have been made in the intervening time.

If you missed Jig-Saw you can catch up on Talking Pictures TV Encore until 20th April 2024. Dixon of Dock Green is on Talking Pictures TV every Saturday evening at 7 pm.

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