Sunday, 3 April 2016

370 Dick Barton Special Agent

First  viewed : 12 January  1979

I  first  caught  this  at  my  friend  Stephen's  house   though  it  had  started  the  previous  week. Earlier  that  day  I'd  gone  with  him  to  Rochdale  to  help  him  purchase  walking  boots  and  a  riucksack  then  in  the  afternoon  we'd  gone  for  a  stroll  round  Hollingworth  Lake. My  diary  also  records  that  we'd  played  Pong  on  his  TV  and  had  a go  at  the  Bontempi.

We'd  just  finished  an  extra  week  off  school  because  there  was  no  heating. It's  often  forgotten  that  the  "Winter  of  Discontent"  was  also  marked  by  extreme  weather, the  worst  winter  in  my  memory  although  I  don't  know  how  it  compared  to  1963. It  played  havoc  with  our  Saturday  morning  plans  for  the  first  few  months  of  1979.

Dick  Barton  Special  Agent  was  an  ITV  attempt  at  reviving  a  popular  BBC  radio  character  from  the  immediate  post-war  period  before  it  was  controversially  axed  for  The  Archers.   Hammer  had  started  a  film  franchise  featuring  the  character  but  it  was  discontinued  after  three  films  when  the  lead  actor  Don  Stannard  perished  in  a  car  crash.

Dick  had  served  as  a  Commando  in  the  War and  now  headed  a  three man  unit  with  sidekicks  Snowy  White  and  Jock  Anderson  investigating  crimes  which  had  national  security  implications. The  storylines  were  pulpy  and  sensationalist  with   a  melodramatic   cliffhanger  at  the  end  of  each  episode  . Dick  was  suave  and   aristocratic  while  Snowy and  Jock  were  obediently  working  class.

Though  it  had  original  plots  by  Clive  Exton  who  later  wrote  much  of   Poirot , the  TV  series  made  no  attempt  to  update  the  character. He remained  in  the  late  forties  with  attitudes  to  match  , picking  his  way  through  the  bomb  sites  and  patronising  his  female  supplicants. He  was  played  by  the  plummy-voiced  Tony  Vogel. Anthony  Heaton  played  the  cockney  Snowy  , a  hothead  somewhat  akin  to  Bud  White  in  LA  Confidential,    while  the  more  cerebral  Jock  was  played  by  ubiquitous  Scotch  hard  man  James  Cosmo.  As  in  the radio  version  the  episodes  were  fifteen  minutes  long. It  was  shown  on  Saturday  and  Sunday  evenings.

Although  I  enjoyed  it  at  the  time  , few  details  of  the  stories  have  remained  with  me  which  is  indicative  of  how  ephemeral  it  was. Four  stories  were  broadcast  in  total  but  it  was  apparently  expensive  to  make  and  there  was  no  second  series.  Vogel  remained  an  actor , popping  up  here  and  there  but  appears  to  have  retired  around  a  decade  ago. Heaton  had  a  part  in  Widows  in  1983  but  died  four  years  later  aged  just  39.  

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