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How things have changed
on 13 December 2012
Hunters Walk is another early 1970s police drama, this time from ITV's production powerhouse, ATV. First broadcast in 1973, it was created by veteran writer Ted Willis. The set released by Network contains all the episodes that exist in the archive, the other episodes presumably suffering the same careless fate as many other missing TV works of the 1960s and 70s; some of the episodes are in black and white.
The series is set in the fictional east Midlands town of Broadstone, which was actually an industrial small town off the A6 called Rushden, Northamptonshire. It's an ensemble piece, but the main characters are Det. Sgt. Smith ("Smithy"), Sgt. Ken Ridgeway, and PC Fred Pooley. Hunters Walk follows the by-now familiar format of many other television police shows, both before and since. One min plot line is the focus of each story, with most of the action centering on the victims or perpetrators and the others affected by the crime. I was surprised at how relatively little time was devoted to telling the stories from the perspective of the police themselves.
On-screen fashions and production techniques aside, what dates the series most is the excessive two handed dialogue, with loads of exposition making the characters' speech seem laboured and clunky. I lost count of the number of one-sided telephone conversations where the character related the other person's speech second hand as a way of telling the audience what is going on, but without going to the expense of hiring another actor. We're told about the story, as opposed to seeing it for ourselves, which is surprising, as there is a fair amount of location (and even some nighttime shoots) filming. The sets and art work generally both add to the period feel, but I wonder if the show seemed slightly dated even as it was being shown first time round. Broadstone police station seems to be a badly converted Victorian terrace house, with just one interview room, one office, and a front desk; for example, `the cells' are mentioned, but are never seen, and even the most dangerous and violent suspects are all processed and dealt with in one of the two main rooms. The of-the-time brown and grey walls add a generally gloomy air, and the somewhat minimalist sets wobble a fair bit. All the sets seem really small and cramped, and I guess the actors had quite a tough time when filming in the tightly packed studio. I suspect that the studio work for the series was done at ATV's Birmingham complex, hence the small scale and relatively few sets used. Compare it to other taped, studio-based series of the time produced by ATV at their Elstree site (eg: General Hospital), and you'll see what I mean.
It's pretty hard to judge the three series overall, as there are so few episodes left, but as is to be expected, some them are better than others. Most stories move at a fairly slow pace, and there are a lot of dialogue-heavy scenes instead of the action and movement that we eventually came to expect from police procedurals. The focus is fairly evenly split between stories that centre on the officers, and those that focus on the public. But as with so much TV drama of the period, the theatrical tone and relatively limited budgets mean that most of the stories are fairly unbelievable. Nobody more senior than a sergeant is featured, nothing is ever referred up the line, or supervised by a senior officer, and female officers barely get a mention, let alone appear on screen. The female roles are slight, and most of the attitudes and dialogue are of the standard 1970s sexist type, with some scenes bordering on misogynistic. Spinsters is a good episode, with some effective writing by Roger Marshall, but the basic premise which depends on CID becoming actively involved in a silly dispute between two neighbours is laughable, even for the 1970s.
The acting is fairly uninspiring, except for Ruth Madoc as Betty Smith, who I thought was excellent, and it made me wonder why she didn't pursue more dramatic roles throughout her career. It's fairly obvious that, despite the assistance of a dialogue coach, most of the cast struggled to cope with the tricky east Midlands accent, and one or two performances are firmly in the wooden category. But it was interesting spotting the young faces of a number famous TV actors - Duncan Preston, Ruth Madoc and David Simeon, to name a few.
I didn't dislike the show, and the episodes are generally an easy-watch on a quiet winter evening, but nothing really grabbed me (although the theme music was fairly catchy!). Still, I shouldn't be too harsh: it's a product of its time, and was a mainstream, peak time programme, which with the benefit of hindsight needed more oomph and energy. But this was how most TV drama was made at the time, in fact, fast-forward 10 years and mainstream police dramas were still being produced using the same story-telling and production techniques; many of the episodes could just as easily been part of The Gentle Touch, and that was phenomenally popular in its time.
There's an interesting fan webpage about the series at: [...]
© Koplowitz 2012