The Book Of Gideon

I’ve been watching the complete run of Gideon’s Way from 1965-66.

The show was based on stories about the C.I.D. Commander George Gideon and his campaigns against crime in London, from the headquarters of Scotland Yard. The original Gideon stories were by John Creasey and are credited as source, unless the scripts are original in which case they are “based on characters devised by John Creasey”.

We don’t hear too much about Gideon’s background, although he was in the Army like every other fit male of his generation (in “The Thin Red Line” he mentions he commanded a regiment, but we never hear exactly what actions it took part in). He worked his way up from doing a beat in south London, and in one episode encounters an old colleague he is now much more senior to. He lives in a nice house somewhere in the suburbs with his wife and three kids. One oddity of their world is that the children of the posh people do seem to mix or even go to the same schools as some of the rougher children who get caught up in the plots that Daddy has to solve. This may be a simplification of British society in order to make the series more saleable to American TV, where it was syndicated.

Gideon’s right hand man is Detective Chief Inspector David Keen, who seems to be a bit of a society playboy and knows an awful lot of posh girls and people who know people, which is handy for making a fast connection between the Yard and some of the more obscure crimes solved here, the ones which wouldn’t land on Gideon’s desk otherwise. The Yard is of course using the latest technology: several times we see footage of a control room in which clerical officers deal with information cards whirling around a track, reading out updates and instructions to be picked up immediately by cars out on the streets.

There are 2 versions of the opening credits. The UK Gideon’s Way ones have no voiceover, just stirring music:

American audiences saw a programme called Gideon C.I.D. and were given an introductory voiceover by Gideon to explain the key concepts of the show, mixing stock documentary footage with excerpts from a few episodes.

This is my city: London. 800 square miles. Vast, sprawling, restless. Over 8 million people live and work, love and play, hate and die. On the fringe, hidden in the shadows, those who prey on the innocent. Steal, destroy, attack and kill. When they do, it’s a job for me, and the Criminal Investigation Department.

London in this time is still a city with plenty of ruined old buildings, wrecked houses and scrapyards and empty warehouses. There are some tower blocks appearing in the background, and very attractive modern flats. It’s a world full of small and large criminals and gangs. There are angry teenagers and troublemakers, freaks and weirdos, and some apparently respectable people can be crooked as well. The only area of society above suspicion is law and order itself: the police and the courts are always straight, though they can be misled. Gideon admits he was once tricked into convicting an innocent man by a frame-up by some other gangsters (the baddies get their deserts in the end). A lawyer suggests that a witness may have been beaten; we know it isn’t true but it hangs in the air as a plausible suggestion. It’s notable that the one baddie who gets away with it all is also the one who always insisted on his rights and would’t be rolled into an impromptu interview with no legal representation present.

We are usually in no doubt about who the baddies are and what they are guilty of, since the audience sees it all from the start. A few episodes work as mysteries in which we learn the solution with Gideon at the end, and a few more have psychological revelations about deeper motives. However the usual pattern is that we know whodunnit, we want to see them caught.

A few directors play around with clever camera angles, shooting scenes from above or making objects larger than people, but mostly the presentation is unfussy. Streets around the docks and warehouses near Wapping are used several times as hideouts, and there are plenty of chase sequences. Where necessary characters are superimposed on backdrops of exterior motion. There is an odd moment where a line of Keen’s dialogue seems to have been revoiced.

Some actors appear in several stories but there are no common characters other than the central ones. These stories can be sorted into any order, and they were shown in different order in the UK and US. There are no topical details other than visual markers of 1964/5 visible in the background. A poster for A Hard Day’s Night can be seen at one point, and Peter Sloane’s gang dress up as The Beatles when they rob the cafe.

Here are the stories, in the UK broadcast order indicated in the notes on the box. There seems to be a confusion over when “The Prowler” was shown, I’ve assumed there were typos on its date and also “The Reluctant Witness”, correcting them agrees with the list on the NetworkOnAir page and has the 1966 episodes in a consecutive sequence.

State Visit shown 18th March 1965

The chemist Max is angry at the forthcoming state visit of the President of West Germany. Max and his wife Sarah are Holocaust survivors who came to Britain after 1945.

SARAH: Do not upset yourself.

MAX: Upset myself? The President of Germany an honoured guest in this country?

SARAH: He was an anti-Nazi during the War.

MAX: Sure, sure. They were all “anti-Nazis”. The Nazi Party had millions of members – so where have they gone to, all of a sudden? They are still there!

SARAH: It was a long time ago…

MAX: That such a man should be invited…

SARAH: Times have changed. You do not understand. It is better that the bad days are forgotten.

MAX: Forgotten? Ella, can you forget what they did to your Papa? Can I forget what they did to me?  Six million people… six million people…

Max’s co-worker isn’t too bothered about the visit.

MAX: …if you’d seen what the Germans did… you have no right, no right to tell me to forget.

MORRIS: Look mate, I’ve as much right as anybody to say “forget it”. I fought all the way from El Alamein to Luneberg Heath.

MAX: Did you see any concentration camps?

MORRIS: Oh come on, Max, don’t bring up all that….

Gideon is involved with the chaps working on security measures for the visit, and so ends up the frantic rush to catch the potential assassin, who is travelling across London in a bus, haunted by memories and disturbing fellow passengers.

The ‘V’ Men shown 25th March 1965

Sir Arthur Vane is the leader of the fascist Victory Movement (“the V Men”) who are making trouble in west London and elsewhere in a way very similar to Oswald Mosley’s comeback tour of the late 50s as an anti-immigration campaigner.

Gideon and the chaps do not agree with Vane’s politics but feel he has a democratic right to be heard and that they should protect him from the angry mobs that turn out against him. This becomes an acute worry when a bomb goes off in Vane’s private flat, injuring other leaders of the movement. Vane’s main opponent is a CND badge-wearing limp lettuce who clearly wasn’t responsible. Our counter-terrorism man organising the protection of Vane previously worked in Kenya.

Crossing over with the politics is a story of a posh young couple who live in the same fancy new block, and the husband is having an affair. When we find out the insider who was responsible, he gives a very strange speech that includes accusing Vane of being “effeminate”.

The Firebug shown 1st April 1965

George Cole plays Bishop, a harmless travelling salesman who was driven insane after his family died in a house fire. Now he is on a mission to make the world aware of the dangers of the old condemned properties still standing in London by burning them down, unfortunately one of his targets had a squatter living in it.

Bishop sooths his conscience by talking to the charred dolly that belonged to his dead daughter, and he visits the ruins of their old lodgings, seemingly hearing voices.

Gideon and his men work out the connections and track Bishop’s final explosive-armed campaign down to his final demise.

The Big Fix shown 8th April 1965

Crooked business at the race track, where stable hands are getting paid off to put the fix in by doping the favourite to be dozy on the big day, and getting beaten up if the trick doesn’t work out. One punishment goes a big too far and so there’s a murder that Gideon’s team have to pursue.

Gideon talks to his contact in the underworld at his favourite clipjoint where loud music and loose women are swirling around.

An elaborate sting operation is set up, as there’s another stable hand who needs money because his feckless teenage son needs to pay off a fine.

It’s all a jolly exciting race against time plot to get the various switches in place and make the baddies go bust.

The Housekeeper shown 15th April 1965

An electrician turns up at what seems to be an empty house to do some work… and discovers a dead body in the bathtub. He has to go to the house next door to call the police as there is no phone in this one.

Mrs Smallwood the housekeeper was having the afternoon off.. but we see she’s actually leading a double life as the housekeeper “Mrs Warren” for a blind ex-Major elsewhere, and switching outfits in the Ladies at the train station.

Smallwood/Warren does get an angry scornful speech at the climax, in which she frames her crimes as revenge on a cruel society in which she was abused when she was a young “domestic” and her child was taken away from her. However the real twist at the end is for Gideon and Keen, hearing that the electrician reverted back to his life of crime after his marriage failed following CID interrogating him under pressure in the presence of his wife because they thought he was the killer.

GIDEON: Suppose if we hadn’t questioned him, pulled him in…

KEEN: We had no other choice.

GIDEON: No I suppose not. Had to be done.

Don’t spend too long gazing at the middle distance, old boy.

The Lady-Killer shown 22nd April 1965

Robert Carne has had several wives and used several names, trouble is he never quite makes as much money as he expected when they die.

His latest conquest is a friend of Keen’s latest girlfriend, which is how he gets on the radar when further complications arise.

Carne really isn’t up to the job of being a master criminal, having to get in to ever more hopeless attempts to cover his tracks and realising that killing witnesses isn’t as simple as all that, nor burning everything down and pretending to be surprised.

To Catch A Tiger shown 29th April 1965

An old woman is knocked down and as she is dying she says that she nursed a woman who was killed with a morphine overdose by her husband.

Top businessman John Borgman is the baddie and so Gideon’s boys have the job of figuring out if there’s anything in it. This involves joining the business and checking the books outside hours, and also finding a hidden compartment in Borgman’s desk.

A pesky defence barrister causes problems with the case but luckily a minor detail proves useful at the last minute.

Big Fish, Little Fish shown 6th May 1965

Nasty cynical adult gangsters are getting young lads to go out thieving for them, aided and abetted by bad mums. It’s not so far away from 21st century problems with “county lines” gangs.

“Frisky” Lee is the big man behind the operation, and Gideon has had him in his sights for a long time, but of course the sharpsuited scumbag is one step ahead of the law even when they’re bending the rules as far as they can in searching his property while he’s on holiday.

However Frisky is not at peace with himself, he’s another of those anxious, paranoid gangsters who can fall into a quarrel with his own lieutenants and get them wondering if they’d be better off without him.

In due course the big man is found dead and the question is who will inherit the loot and the business… but maybe he wasn’t the real boss all along? Aaah…

The White Rat shown 13th May 1965

Ray McAnally is Mickey Keston, albino gangster whose rage against society is very obviously fuelled by being considered a freakish outsider all his life. He can do a sharp job of organising warehouse robberies, but he goes too far in dealing with a security guard, and his explosive paranoia make him carelessly unstable and makes his gang wary of him.

Gideon and Keen are on to him, the latter daringly turning up at a house party where the baddies are celebrating their latest big score and showing they aint got no class, even though the baddie has got himself a posh girlfriend. Keston’s rage gives this story an us-against-them dimension of social revolt.

How To Retire Without Really Working shown 20th May 1965

I suppose this is the comedy episode, with the criminal behaviour done in caper fashion and the crooks a pair of lovable harmless characters who could have been playing support to Peter Sellers in a longer film version a few years earlier; without him it’s all a bit sad.

Mr Pater and Margaret Gresham are a couple who have been pulling off successful smash&grab jobs for many years. Pater got caught once trying to branch out into safecracking which is why Gideon has them on his radar, but they’ve been careful ever since to not leave too many clues. They decide they might retire after one big job, robbing the wages from a small factory.

They pull off the blag but of course getting away abroad with the loot isn’t going to be easy and Gideon and the boys catch them in the end, ensuring they won’t spend their final years together.

Subway To Revenge shown 27th May 1965

Accountant John Lane works at the same firm as secretary Ellen Winters. Just as she is getting friendly with him a weird stranger starts stalking the couple and tries to push Lane in to deadly danger where possible – shoving him off a Tube platform, or in front of a bus.

Bryan Pringle plays the brooding baddie, one of the creepiest of creepy menaces in the Gideonverse and even more powerful for never speaking a single line for himself. There’s a murky backstory to be unravelled, about a young woman trying to get away from a domineering father. Even Gideon himself seems to find these characters a bit much this time.

The Great Plane Robbery shown 3rd June 1965

This looks like a condensed version of the plot that would later be the 1969 epic The Gold Robbers starring Peter Vaughan. As with that story, we start with a daring robbery of a load of gold bullion arriving at a small airfield (in this case the original owners are the USSR, rather than an African country). A gang of well-prepared men are ready with a lot of equipment to intercept the cargo and then make a fast getaway.

The smart man behind it all is Bailey (George Baker) but he puts his rather raffish mate Harold in charge of seeing the loot is melted down.

There are rather obvious tensions between the original gang leader and the new one, and this leads to a nasty accident which means they have to seek medical help, creating one of several ruptures in the secrecy around the caper which enables Gideon and his boys to roll it all up.

Gang War shown 10th June 1965

Ronald Lacey plays Jerry Blake, head of a new bunch of rough boys trying to move into the territory protected by the Frank Romano (Ray Brooks) gang. The area in question seems to be around Bloomsbury, judging from references to Gower Street and Theobalds.

Frank’s top lieutenant is Duke, played by Clive Colin Bowler, who also plays a gang member in another Gideon episode “The Rhyme And The Reason”, and another in The Small World Of Sammy Lee. He may have been typecast.

But Frank also has trouble with his girlfriend, who is clearly the smarter and more ambitious of the 2 of them.

She’s the one who finds out about a possible big blag that would work to the advantage of both gangs, if they work together to throw off the CID, who of course are trying to stamp out the struggle between the two rival firms. A very good noirish plot of double crosses ensues.

The Tin God shown 17th June 1965

Convict “Benny” Benson (Derren Nesbitt) breaks out of prison with young Freddy Tisdale (John Hurt). He has a getaway abroad lined up, but first he wants to get in touch with his young son Syd (Michael Cashman).

Gideon and his men are tracking the blighters and get them surrounded in a warehouse in Wapping. Of course Syd has to learn the lesson that Daddy isn’t such a great man and Mummy was right to keep him away from him.

The Alibi Man shown 17th June 1965

Bruce Carroway is a star racing driver idolised around the country. One of Gideon’s sons thinks he’s great. But he’s been fiddling the books at his garage, and now the accountant Jeff Grant (Geoffrey Palmer) is on to him. His wife has also figured out that he has had various girlfriends and that he’s bored with her pretentiousness.

Luckily he is aided by mechanic Eric Little, an ex-driver who owes a huge debt for being assisted by Bruce years ago and seems to have deeper feelings towards him, though that is not stated.

It’s a classic spiral-of-violence, and the CID boys were wise to the amateurish attempts to make the original murder scene look like a break-in had occurred, nor were they fooled by the Agatha Christie nonsense about smashing a wristwatch at the wrong time. The difficulty is in getting a charge against Carroway when he’s got a Number One fan ready and willing to confess guilt to everything and acting alone. And so this time, Gideon and Keen have to swallow the bitter pill of “reasonable doubt – because of it sometimes a guilty man goes free. But sooner or later…”

The Wall shown 16th September 1965

Jolly young couple Netta and Michael Penn are renting a room in the house owned by angry old thug Will Rikker, who’s run out of money and wishing he’d never left the Army.

When Michael has a win on the pools he leaves work early to plan a lovely surprise for Netta, and reveal that they can now get ahead with buying their own place. Of course Rikker wants to “borrow” a bit of the money, and in a struggle Michael gets killed.

There follows a phase in which Netta feels she’s going out of her mind as everyone gently tries to bring her round to the idea that Michael just left her once he had other options. However Gideon and Keen are following the case and loose threads unravel Rikker’s plan (which was going fairly well, by the usual standards of amateur criminal endeavours in this universe). So we get a big reveal of what he hid away behind the wall in the basement.

The Thin Red Line shown 3rd February 1966

Gideon called in to discreetly investigate trouble amongst officers and gentlemen. It seems that the silver dining service belonging to one of the most renowned Scottish regiments has been replaced with fakes so that the originals can be sold off. Naturally it’s hard to talk about this when no decent man would be an object of suspicion.

Of course the trail of evidence leads to various toffs who won’t tell on each other, for the honour of the regiment and all that. The sense of a rotten ruling class caught out and with not much left to cling to runs through this story. Real quality means nothing these days, all sorts of frightful people are climbing up the ladder and becoming important.

A Perfect Crime shown 10th February 1966

Two men break into an empty house in central London to rob the safe.

While they are busy, a young woman returns and sees them. The posh man, Mr Todd, played by Patrick Allen, hits her hard, whilst the lower-class safecracker Casey faints at the sight of blood.

It turns out that the posh man has a double life going on: working by day as the stockbroker Mr Spender, with a fancy girlfriend impressed with his tales about special trips abroad or around the country. His other life is robbing the rich people they know socially. When his assistant Casey gets arrested during their next caper, he tries to lie low, but Casey’s wife does a thorough job of tracking him down and demanding money to pay the fees of the top class defence barrister she has hired. So, like every hopeless Gideon villain he escalates his crisis by killing her.

Casey’s trial is notable for we finally see a lawyer challenging the methods that Gideon and Keen routinely use, in particular the interviewing of suspects without anyone else present or notification of their rights. He accuses the Commander of beating Casey for a confession, but of course we know what really happened is the poor chap fainted and banged his head at the sight of his dead wife’s body, which Gideon sensitively showed him a photo of.

Spender totally falls to pieces once Keen is on to him, of course.

The Millionaire’s Daughter shown 17th February 1966

Gideon has had a tip-off to keep an eye out for young American con man Alan Blake.

Blake has been wooing the daughter of wealthy Americans The Hendersons on holiday in London, and he sets up an elaborate scheme to kidnap the heiress and fake some public appearances with a lookalike to make it seem as the real abduction occurred when he wasn’t around. The crew assisting him includes Philip Guest (Donald Sutherland) who seems a bit creepy and willing to just kill the hostage right away.

Obviously Young Donald is Outlaw Iggy Pop, but surely Georgina Ward as Erica Townsend needs to be remembered as a great face of the 60s?

Morna shown 24th February 1966

This is an actual mystery story, with a proper reveal at the end after a long investigation full of flashbacks. We start with the discovery of a dead young woman by a lake, though she actually died from a gunshot.

Everybody loved the wonderful Morna, but of course there are all kinds of secrets around her. She had another life visiting night clubs in Soho, in addition to the various men she was stringing along. Amongst those are smart-talking Trinidadian club owner Chay, who stands up for himself well against the racist cops who think he’s getting above himself (Gideon is not like that, of course).

He turns out to be the most honest and decent of the witnesses we encounter, cutting a better figure than the parade of public school creeps, exploiters and spiritual voids on display.

Boy With Gun shown 3rd March 1966

We start with a nervous mummy’s boy being threatened by some tough street kids who want to take his rifle off him. Of course it ends in trouble.

The boy who gets shot isn’t dead, but young Chris Kirk doesn’t know that and he goes on the run, climbing into a lorry headed up North. As it happens his dad is a police surgeon played by Anthony Bate (an odd moment of having the camera move into the office from outside):

It doesn’t take much questioning to spot that the trouble is that Kirk Snr is a very dominating presence who is impatient with the bookishness of his son and lack of interest in manly pursuits like fishing and hunting (he bought him the rifle to encourage an interest). So he seems to agree with the rough boys that Chris is a “mummy’s boy”. Once again we have the mystery of posh kids apparently mixing with and going to the same schools as the young tearaways that their parents deal with in court. There is an awkward moment when Mr and Mrs Kirk are arguing:

MRS KIRK: I’ve just realised something: you’re obsessed with Chris being masculine because you’re not!

Out on the road Chris gets to make friends at last: another runaway, in this case a borstal boy who is amazed at his story of shooting someone.

Fall High, Fall Hard shown 15th April 1966

Nasty business on a building site where some tough men are telling the gaffer to lie about various matters.

Turns out the nasty men are hired and paid for by a man in a smart suit in the head office – Charlie Randle, who they still remember as “an East End slum kid”.

Of course the other side of the partnership is clueless Old Etonian Tony Erickson, played by Donald Houston. Tony doesn’t know what goes on to fix the company’s reputation against lawsuits, since he only does the sales side, which mainly involves taking old chums out to play golf.

As often happens in the Gideonverse, the baddies get caught up in an ever-widening spiral of violence and destruction in order to cover their tracks. In this case Thompson and Jensen truly go the extra mile when maybe they should have just run away.

The Prowler shown 22nd April 1966

The other creepiest of creepy menaces in Gideon’s world is The Prowler – emerging out of the foggy night, wearing a rubber theatrical mask, grabbing young women and cutting off a lock of their hair.

He is in fact the hopelessly neurotic young Alan Campbell-Gore (David Collings), tortured by a failed relationship with another young woman who lived in Chelsea, and bullied endlessly by his domineering mother.

There is a long sequence of Alan stumbling around in confusion, attempting suicide at one point before passersby distract him in to visiting the flat where his old love killed herself. Electronic sounds waver madly in the background.

The Reluctant Witness shown 29th Aprl 1966

Another group of nasty people: the Carter Brothers, who have a nice little racket going by stealing cars and then fixing them up with details taken from old wrecks. Fun fact: the Carters are played by actors who have also appeared in other gangs in the Gideonverse.

On the trail of them is the local car dealer Tiny Bray, who was put out of business by the Carters.

He got framed up and sent to prison, and Gideon regrets that as the only time he got someone convicted who he later realised was innocent. So he’s ready to listen to any tip-offs from that source… unfortunately he gets killed, but there is a witness to be beating. Note the HANDS OFF VIETNAM graffiti:

The job of protecting young witness Rachel falls on PC John Moss (Trevor Bannister, or Mr Lucas in Are You Being Served?)

With one of the Carters in custody, the other makes a hopelessly overambitious attempt to fight back at Gideon which of course goes wrong, and the Commander gets his man.

The Rhyme And The Reason shown 3rd May 1966

Youth culture enters Gideon’s world as young mod William Rose takes his girlfriend Winifred Norton out in the country but they get accosted by the more exciting rockers on their more powerful bikes.

William is a bit insecure and unstable and slaps Winifred in public. So he’s the obvious suspect when she’s found stabbed to death and with a very clear footprint nearby that matches William’s trainers.

Gideon doesn’t turn up until nearly halfway through, and quite surprisingly it turns out William’s sister goes to the same music school as Gideon’s daughter, so she thinks she can appeal directly to the great man.

Gideon enunciates the clear danger in what we would now call “unconscious bias” and the assumption that a scruffy teenage tearaway must automatically be guilty (“…his hair, his clothes…”). There is a scene where Keen goes down in to one of these basement dives frequented by the dissolute youth (“no pills, no reefers” insists the fat bloke at the desk) and we see an uncredited appearance by young Billy Murray as one of the teenagers cavorting in the background.

The climax is a really tense and exciting chase through derelict sites of Battersea, as good as anything in any films at this time.

The Nightlifers shown 10th May 1966

Time for Gideon to encounter nihilistic young middle class youth getting excited at Colin Wilson books and new beat groups and wearing black all the time. And yeah, actually robbing useless old people instead of just reading a Penguin paperback Dostoevsky or Anthony Burgess.

Anton Rodgers is Peter Sloane, the groovy leader of the wannabe droogs.

Derek Fowlds is Tim Coles, not happy about all this smash & grab business and thus the target for Sloane’s scorn for petty bourgeois values and etc etc.

Fun fact: this episode includes an appearance by Roddy McMillan as Detective Inspector Caldwell. McMillan later played “Choc” Minty, the regular Met detective character in Hazell; what a missed opportunity to call him “Coldy” Caldwell instead and link up the 2 fictiverses.

The jerky POV filming of the groovy youngsters jiving to the latest jazz sounds in a smoky room on Sloane’s houseboat is pretty good, and you could almost believe someone in that scene was really stoned.

So that was all of Commander Gideon. After him came Revolver and the 1966 World Cup and Britain was never the same. It wasn’t in very good shape when John Gregson rode out one last time in Dangerous Knowledge in 1975, sad to say. Damn it all, if we’re going to be run by a few posh men who all know each other, let’s have the ones who can actually do the job.

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