I don’t know what I’d watch on television if it weren’t for BBC4. This week I’ve been following part of their cops season, starting with The Real Life On Mars the other evening. This looked at how far the series reflected the reality of policing in the 1970s, without reaching a conclusion. Then yesterday I watched two ancient episodes of Dixon of Dock Green. Blimey. Dixon is always thought of as the British public’s ideal of a cosy, kindly copper; firm but fair. Watching these episodes though, I realized that Dixon was not really a cop series at all, but The Jack Warner Show.
The programmes started not with the harmonica performance of Just An Ordinary Copper, which everyone thinks they remember, but with Dixon whistling Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner, written by Hubert Gregg, who himself had a long running nostalgia programme on Radio 2. Father In Law (1956) had Dixon in sentimental mode, when his daughter Mary married Andy Crawford. It looked out of date even for that time, more like 1944 and This Happy Breed. When Jack Warner sang Her Name Is Mary, viewers must have been taken right back to the days of the pre-war music halls.
The second episode shown was Hot Seat, 1960. This was a bizarre travelogue in which Dixon, Andy and his neglected wife Mary with Grace-from-the-Station had a short stay in Paris and foiled some confidence tricksters. Jack Warner got the chance to show off his French and to instruct the unsophisticated British public on the beauties of Paris (‘the famous church called the Sacré-Coeur’ and so on). What seemed like hours passed as the travellers gazed in wonder at the French! gendarmes, French! views and ooh là là! the French! habit of having a female attendant in the gents. It was all unbelievably patronizing yet extremely popular; the programme ran from 1955 until 1976.
I did watch a few episodes of Dixon of Dock Green when I was a child and Saturday evening’s light entertainment ran: Juke Box Jury; Dixon of Dock Green; The Billy Cotton Band Show (that’s Bill Cotton senior, not the son who has just died). Goodness, I feel old.