Review: Prime Suspect 1973 (S1 E3/6), Thursday 16th March, ITV

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At last the tempo goes up a few beats in the third episode of this turgid ‘throwback Thursday’ series. There has to be a good twist soon, there just has to be. We Got To Get Out Of This Place sings Eric Burdon (a golden oldie from 1965 even then), although maybe The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun would have been a more apt choice for the hapless Bentley clan: ‘Oh mother, tell your children not to do what I have done.’ Indeed.But there is no way out of this – even though Bentley the Elder (Alun Armstrong) has been released from clink, he now has to do the bank job for banged-up crime kingpin Whiteley. Bad news for the old lag, but good news for the plot, as we really need an acting heavyweight to lend considerable heft to this lacklustre ensemble. And this does only really live when Armstrong is about – he doesn’t get much screen time, but he dominates it effortlessly.

Missus Renee (Ruth Sheen) is making a cake to welcome him home, and hanging out bunting – well, a tatty sign. The police know Bentley is out – Bradfield (Sam Reid) suggests they should send a welcoming party for him. His desk sergeant tells him “this isn’t the old days” – “They are for Clifford Bentley,” says Bradfield, still playing Basil Exposition for everyone.

There are no celebrations for the Collinses, who are being taken in for questioning. A golf club – the middle-class killer’s weapon of choice – is found at their home with Julie Ann’s blood on it.

George (Geoffrey Streatfeild) stalls for as long as he can, saying the red fibres on Julie Ann were from her bedroom carpet – maybe she’d had a nosebleed at some time – before admitting that he’d taken her back home from hospital to go cold turkey locked in her bedroom, and was clonked by her mother with the club as she’d tried to break out. Then, bleeding but unbroken, she’d run away, taking cash from her parents so that she and junkie boyfriend Eddie could go off to see the ‘wizard’ – a dealer named Oz – to score, presumably the drug deal that went south for the dead couple (if indeed it was Eddie we saw in the water last week).

Tennison is on the naughty step for being seen kissing the boss, and gets sent out on donkey work to get the Collinses bank statements – a chastened Bradfield is not keen to let her in on questioning Mr and Mrs Collins.

The unreconstructed DS Gibbs (Blake Harrison) seems to have given up trying to get into Tennison’s knickers and is instead trying his luck with her fellow probationer Kath Morgan (Jessica Gunning), a sharp and cheerful plonk who has just helped clear up several recent burglaries in one day. He asks her if she wants to sit in on questioning Mrs Collins. Morgan 1, Tennison 0.

Collins says Eddie had come back to the house on the earhole for a few quid in blackmail cash because he knew they’d beaten their daughter, if not actually killed her. He says they should be hunting for Eddie (surely someone would have found him clogging up a drain by now?) – and the elusive Oz.

Meanwhile, Renee is cooking up a storm for the Bentley soirée (BYOB and flick-knife), dancing to Petula Clark’s Downtown in the kitchen – wretched David (Jay Taylor) is spliffing up and skulking about to pinch money from brother John’s coat – almost coming to fisticuffs with him. Being thrown off a roof by your big brother would make anyone feel sibling resentment.

Bentley leaves the prison to the strains of Whiskey In The Jar by Thin Lizzy, collected by thuggish John (Lex Shrapnel), who plans to get more than their 40 per cent of the £100 grand proceeds of a previous Whiteley blag – and skedaddle to the Costa del Crime.

As Julie Ann’s parents didn’t actually kill her, they are let go. Not the cleverest move by Bradfield in these pre-PACE days when the police could keep you in custody for longer. He’s a bit soft – does he have kids? It seems so because he has a go at DS Gibbs for wanting to charge the Collinses with GBH and perverting the course of justice. Bamber Gascoigne would never have given Gibbs his starter for 10, but his instinct is right here.

Renee is already fretting. “Do you think I’m stupid enough to get caught again?” says Bentley. They’re playing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising at your homecoming bash – take the hint, Cliff. David remains the spectre at the feast, mooching about outside. Back at the bash, Cilla’s singing Something Tells Me (Something’s Gonna Happen Tonight). Surprise, Surprise – things go sour once Cliff finds a grand is missing from his rainy day fund.

Kath (friend or foe in this competitive terrain?) warns Tennison off Bradfield. “They’re like dogs – don’t let them hump your leg” – only to be patronised herself when she cosies up to Gibbs in the mess hall.

Bradfield, finding himself the centre of tittle-tattle, tells Tennison he can transfer her if needed, then – probably feeling his libido kick in again – drops the idea. Guv’nor, if you don’t want to be the subject of gossip, don’t keep taking Tennison in your car.

Bradfield goes to meet Bentley to let him know he’s still in the frame for the hit-and-run death of a police officer – so it’s a reckless idea for Bentley to set off to do his blag now as the dust of suspicion is still thickly billowing around and he’s hardly thrown off his prison pallor.

Silas the café owner is jittery as Bentley makes his final recce – his family has already gone off to Limassol and he clearly doesn’t want to hang about, especially as Bentley is menacing him. The gang’s alarms expert gets to work and they break through the bank wall.

Tennison must be a whizz at cryptic crossword clues; she links dealer Dwayne to receptionist Teresa O’Duncie (Franc Ashman) at the drug dependency centre from a note in Julie Ann’s bag about ‘TOD’ – she’s Oz’s sister.

The action here falls just before the big heroin epidemic starting in the late 1970s and building up to the 1990s’ Trainspotting era.

Heroin addiction had emerged as a problem in the 1960s because of excessive heroin prescribed by a small number of doctors – crime gangs were hauling in cannabis, but not generally opiates at that point. Then in 1968 the law governing prescribing heroin to addicts withdrew the responsibility from GPs and was restricted under special licence to doctors in dependency units. And where does flash Dr Hussein Pryor (Richard Sumitro) work?

Couple this with the old TV crime drama trope of introducing a suspect character fleetingly early on then dismissing them – and we might have a suspect.

Prescription of heroin to addicts was declining in the early 1970s, as doctors at drug clinics didn’t like prescribing it. But methadone, pioneered in the US, would have been quite a new treatment here.

He might not have owned a red Jag, but we’d like to see Pryor’s car – we bet it’s a nice one.

Was receptionist Teresa O’Duncie a conduit for the pharmaceutical grade, uncut stuff from the clinic to Oz? She did tearfully tell police she was trying to keep the addicts safer rather than letting them use street skag.

During the raid on Oz’s shooting gallery, Tennison is told to keep away from the discarded sharps – “You obviously haven’t got to the chapter on hepatitis yet,” another DS tells her. That lad was on the ball for those days.

Oz, alias Terrence O’Duncie (Aaron Pierre), has anachronistically been working out – he has the most impressive musculature at a time when a six-pack was just beer. As the junkies are hauled out to the paddy wagon, Oz tries to bribe the cops with wads of cash – and loose cannon Gibbs tries a little bit of police brutality. Tennison looks on shocked – as well she might – The Sweeney was still about a year away from our TV screens. Softly, Softly and Dixon of Dock Green were more the image of the police then. You never saw PC George Dixon beat a suspect to pulp, did you? G’night all.

Deborah Shrewsbury
@shrewdkitty

For our episode one review go here

For our episode two review go here

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