Dixon of Dock Green Episode Review: Looters Ltd

In our series of reviews covering the surviving episodes of Dixon of Dock Green currently being broadcast on Talking Pictures TV, we look at 1975’s Looters Ltd. Looters Ltd was originally broadcast on BBC One on 29th March 1975.

The Story…

The episode opens with George Dixon (Jack Warner) reminding us that sometimes stolen goods find their way into innocent hands.

The first bit of action we see is at night. A man walking with a stick comes to the aid of an elderly man who is being mugged. The attackers drop the man’s wallet as they run away. The man with the stick phones the Police then tries to leave the scene. Sgt Johnny Wills (Nicholas Donnelly) gets there as he is walking away. The man gives Wills his name and promises to call round at the Police station when it is more convenient – he has an urgent appointment to keep.

We have also been introduced to Charlie Barnet’s family and friends. They are having a welcome home party – he has just been released from prison. He seems to be taking a long time to get back from an errand to buy beer for the party. His wife Olive (Margery Mason) and daughter Diana (Gwyneth Powell) note the late arrival of his son Ray (Terry Cowling).

Eventually, we find out that the man with the stick and Charlie (Sam Kydd) are one and the same. He begins to enjoy the party. Meanwhile, down at the station, George is about to come off duty as the mugging victim is brought in to give a statement. When Wills mentions Charlie Barnet, George thinks it worth paying him a visit. He reminds Wills and DI Andy Crawford (Peter Byrne) of Charlie’s credentials – he was a cat burglar, well known for working at heights. He fell during his last job, sustaining serious injuries, which is why he still needs a walking stick now.

George decides to go round to Charlie’s on his way home. When he arrives, one of the female guests slips out hastily. Back at the station, they have listed all that was stolen from the mugging victim Mr Price (Robin Ford). His expensive gold watch was taken, along with the keys to his shop and a couple of other items of little value.

The next day, Andy gets word from several local stores that they are being systematically targeted by thieves. It is more than just opportunistic individuals. When they examine lists of stolen items, it is clear that goods are being stolen to order by a gang.

Charlie comes to the station to give his statement but can–or will–tell them nothing. He is given a note of thanks from Mr Price, inside which is included twenty pounds by way of thanks. When he returns home, his son Ray gives him a gift: a gold watch. This immediately tells him that Ray was one of the muggers. He tells him off. He is ashamed of Ray for engaging in something so tawdry and low as mugging old men. Charlie shows him the money Mr Price gave him, but Ray is more interested in the letter: it is written on headed paper from the man’s shop.

We learn that Olive has been running her own business while Charlie has been in prison. Local women come to her to order goods they cannot otherwise afford. She shows them a catalogue and they “order” things from her, paying her in instalments. After she takes an order from a customer, another woman enters the room: the same person who had left the party hastily the night before. She is dropping off some items to Olive that have been ordered. She has stolen them from local shops. When Diana comes back from a “shopping” expedition with items too, they discuss the attentiveness of shop assistants all of a sudden. They remark that they may need to move on to another area as the shopkeepers all seem to be on the lookout for them.

Ray meets up with the lad who carried out the mugging with him. He presents him with Mr Price’s letter. Now they know which premises the keys they stole belong to. They plan to rob the shop – the letter also tells them that Mr Price deals in valuable coins.

One of Olive’s associates is caught shoplifting. She gives nothing away when questioned by Andy at Dock Green Police station. The story she gives as to how the goods ended up in her bag is an excuse regularly used by shoplifters. DS Mike Brewer (Gregory de Polnay) takes her fingerprints. They find out from these that she is a previous offender.

We have heard during an earlier part of the episode that PC Dunne (Stephen Marsh) is getting engaged. His new fiance Barbara (Elaine Donnelly) visits Olive in good faith to get him a gift. When Dunne shows it off down at the station, Andy notices the serial number. When he checks it against the stolen property list, it matches. This leads to a nice call-back between George and Andy when they mention in private that part of the number used to be Andy’s beat number when he was a Constable.

Andy approaches Dunne and they go to see Barbara about it. She is very defensive initially, but Andy explains that they don’t suspect her. She tells them where she got the TV and what Olive’s official business model is.

Dock Green station gets a call reporting a shop break-in. On quick investigation, it turns out to be Mr Price’s shop. They despatch a unit to go round and investigate, while George telephones Mr Price.

Andy and Mike visit the Barnets. They have a search warrant and Mike begins having a look around. He reports back to Andy that there is a lot of merchandise stored in other rooms. They are about to arrest Olive when Ray comes in with a duffel bag. He quickly abandons it and tries to make a run for it but Mike goes after him. Andy checks the bag: it contains the coins from Mr Price’s shop.

George’s closing monologue informs us that Olive, Diana and Ray were all convicted and served prison time for their crimes. He also jokes that Charlie was given a new lease of life by having to visit the three different prisons each week.

My Impressions…

With only two more surviving episodes in the current format remaining, it was heartening to see an episode which balanced external locations with scenes inside the police station. There was plenty for Peter Byrne to do in Looters Ltd, as well as Jack Warner. It felt a little like their old dynamic, the two of them solving the case between them with their local knowledge and experience, supported by Mike and Wills.

The little moment between Andy and George when they referred briefly to Andy’s days on the beat as a young Constable, as he began in the programme, was heartwarming. It felt like a really comforting link to the earliest days of Dixon.

Byrne and Warner are always simply sublime in their roles. They understand them so fully it is like watching reality. It is even higher than masterful, in my opinion, as it doesn’t feel like acting. They make Andy and George seem real. Even more than that, they are like old friends. It is a testament to them, their longtime co-stars such as Nicholas Donnelly and previously Geoffrey Adams as Laudie, as well as the writing, that this feels as comfortable and familiar as a soap opera world. They spent twenty years giving us their world and their characters with such a natural level of both consistency and growth.

I cannot emphasise how strongly I will miss Peter Byrne’s performance when we come to the final series. I don’t know exactly what form the episodes will follow, but I understand that it changed shape in series 22.

The acting in general was very fine in this episode. Sam Kydd, who Talking Pictures TV viewers will recognise from many British films, was brilliant. He brought a similar realism and nuance as the regular cast. Powell and Mason’s performances, as well as the writing for them, made the Barnets’ world feel like a very real part of Dock Green life.

In Conclusion…

Looters Ltd. is a strong episode. I found it enjoyable and engaging. There are enough plot twists to make it interesting. This is balanced with drama and police procedure perfectly for me. It has everything I want from Dixon of Dock Green (apart from older characters whom I still miss somewhat, like Flint, Laudie and Mary, of course). It feels like a pleasing hybrid between the blueprint for modern detective dramas that it had become by the 1970s, and the old-fashioned police work of the first decade of the show.

I look forward eagerly, as ever, to the final two surviving episodes of series 21. I may find them a little bittersweet to watch. Here’s hoping that we get a few more callbacks between Andy and George before Andy’s exit.

If you missed it, you can still catch up with Looters Ltd on Talking Pictures TV Encore until 22nd June 2024. You can also see it during the delayed-run on Wednesday evenings on Talking Pictures TV. Dixon of Dock Green airs every Saturday evening at 7 pm on Talking Pictures TV.

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