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.