I’ve been watching Fraud Squad, the whole run through the 1969 series and the 1970 series.
The stories are contemporary to time of broadcast, set in the Birmingham and the surrounding area. Although we don’t have too much geographical detail, Selly Oak and Hall Green are some of the districts mentioned when giving an authentic backdrop to this saga of C.I.D. officers.
The title sequences are much the same in the 2 series. We see the fragments of a torn up paper with the title assembling, and then go through a sequence in which our two main characters shift back and to between plain images and eidetic or informational versions. In series 1 they are meeting outside, and going off in a nice car, whilst series 2 has them in the office, working with the many documents and machines available. This is the nature of the work: reassembling the facts from discarded documents and the trails of numbers and small print.
Our main characters are Detective Inspector Gamble and Detective Sergeant Vicky Hicks. Note that at no point does anyone seem to mention Gamble’s first name, though when we fleetingly see the name plate on their office door his first initial is “J”.
Their immediate chief is Superintendent Arthur Proud.
Proud is the most solid presence in the show, as he keeps the other two in line by reminding them of the limits of their powers (sometimes after they’ve exceeded them) and the requirements of proof and what their suspects could plead in defence. We find out in series 2 that he is also a lay preacher at one of the churches, and this plays a role in the story “People Can Go Too Far”, as a dishonest character takes him as a mark whilst not realising he’s also a detective.
Apart from these 3 a few other male detectives recur, but not very often, and there are no repeating crooks or bystanders. It is understood that a great many more cases are in progress and completed than we ever see on screen.
We learn in series 1 that Gamble is divorced from his wife but still meeting regularly as they have a young daughter. In the final episode Hicks mentions that he is 36 years old, which would fit with him being the same age as Patrick O’Connell. We hear more about his background in the series 2 episode “Inquest”. He did his National Service in the RAF, and before he left he saw the careers presentation for the Police. He started on the beat in Selly Oak, after an early commendation he got moved over to C.I.D. and plain clothes work. The fact he worked in a stockbrokers earlier, as he mentions in a different episode, may also have helped get him work on the financial side. When he is under scrutiny in “Inquest” he bluntly says that he can give the respectable, official answer that he was motivated by wanting to uphold the law, but in fact he was attracted by a steady career; his interrogator agrees that many coppers just want a reliable living. Both of them also know that bent coppers exist and Gamble says he faced temptation a few times but has stayed straight and honest.
Hicks went to a distinguished girls school (she meets another alumna when investigating one of these cases) but she’s a modern young working woman who wants a career and after trying some other jobs she went in for the Police. We never hear exactly where these two originated from but it can’t be Birmingham because neither of them have any trace of the accent and don’t make any attempt at faking it till the last episode.
Because of the focus on financial deception, there are some contemporary issues that aren’t present in Fraud Squad: we never hear anything about student protests, hippies or counterculture. There’s only one moment when we see some groovy young people dancing to pop music. Helen Gamble is a hand-wringing liberal but we don’t see much of anyone further Left. Series 2 starts with an episode where Gamble comes up against a mysterious person in Whitehall who doesn’t want a case investigated any further, where the suspect is a disillusioned communist now playing both sides of the Cold War. The other radicals we meet are the comical ageing revolutionary clerks at the blanket factory, but there is also the strange trip to Dublin where we see the uniformed Irish fascist “Green Shirt” movement.
In this series Britain is a country where strikes seem to be occurring fairly regularly, though there isn’t much anti-union anger. The working poor have plenty to be angry about, and the con-men have many tricks to pull on them, getting them into debt with easy money or door-to-door catalogue selling, and relying on the shame at what neighbours will think. Housing isn’t great either, there are scams to fool slum-dwellers that they can have an easy route to owning their own home. At the higher level, big property developers are pulling tricks and slipping bribes to get their schemes approved, and making themselves marks for tricksters as well. The middle and upper classes feel aggrieved at the financial burdens placed on them by socialist governments, and they’re looking for various ways around paying tax and the restrictions on capital transfers preventing them moving it abroad. There are some younger men who are keener on making money by not playing by the safe, respectable rules of the old guard. At the same time there are also quite a few failures and no-hopers who are lending their respectable accents and appearances to crooked business. In “The Front Man” we see a scam being put together from the start, with a passed-over Army officer selected as the titular front man for a racket.
The country is changing in several ways, not least that the currency will be different soon. Gamble sneers at a younger officer that he should spend his free time studying the “Decimal Conversion Tables” and we can see newspaper headlines about this forthcoming revolution. There are no mentions of the Common Market or E.E.C. Immigration is a contentious topic in a few stories. Although no actors black up to play African or West Indian characters, we do see Christopher Benjamin portraying an Asian shopkeeper. In a case about fraudulent house sales, it is alluded that buyers were told different stories about the racial makeup of the area in order to close the deals. At the end of the episode about the lost mountaineer, we are told that life in his home town will return to normal: strikes, and an MP making a speech about immigration.
We don’t hear if Hicks finds a regular boyfriend, but she does seem to go on “dates” regularly. Gamble seems to have no further interest after the break-up of his marriage, and there is no attraction going on between the two of them. Hicks jokes with one of the young male detectives that he was sleeping with a young lady when he was called in to work late night on a case; lots of people are having affairs and leaving their partners, and one smart professional man has girly mags in a drawer in his desk. The existence of gay men is acknowledged though not really accepted.
The direction is simple and unfussy. We often have the trick of a scene starting with close focus on a ringing telephone. A few times we have a long tracking shot moving between the rooms of the Fraud Department offices. The most complex direction is in the “Inquest” episode when we flip around camera position on the interrogation in progress.
Here are all 26 stories and their transmission dates. There were many different writers, including Robert Holmes who was also starting on Doctor Who in its 1969 series, and had previous experience working as a policeman
- Turbot On Ice (broadcast 20th May 1969)
Housebreaker Turbot (Andrew Sachs) is pinching something from upstairs in a quiet street whilst the owner sits innocently downstairs.
Luckily a passing PC grabs the crook as he runs away, and we discover he was making off with a bag of money from her house. Even more luckily, the bag has her address inside, and so it is traced back to her… but she denies any knowledge, even though evidence of the break-in can be seen from outside.
Gamble suspects the householder has been dipping in to the wages at the local firm where she works as a clerk. He doesn’t get a lot of sympathy from the new young boss played by Derek Fowlds. In fact this line of enquiry soon puts Gamble’s career in jeopardy.
Going around the new man to talk to his dad at his club brings us into the history of the charity set up to support the orphans of the terrible railway accident 40 years ago. We learn that the remaining funds were invested in West African mining concerns, which were nationalised after independence… but there should have been some spare money around. We also see an old man leering at Vicky.
It turns out there was a posh man on the fiddle.
2. Brother Simple (broadcast 27th May 1969)
A wealthy woman gives away all her fancy possessions to join a group devoted to the simple life.
Her estranged husband isn’t happy about this and he wants Gamble to investigate. After warning him that he might not find any evidence of crime to act against, he goes on to talk to Brother Simple at the lodge. The exact nature of their commitment is unclear, although there are paintings of Christ in their hallway it is never stated explicitly that they are devoted to the Gospel or spend any time in prayer. Brother Simple states their occupations as “fulfilment and self-knowledge”.
It turns out there is something fishy in the finances of a group that only recruits unhappy well-off people and tells them to hand over their loot when they join. But there is a happy ending, as they all want to carry on living in poverty anyway.
3. Last Exit To Liechtenstein (broadcast 3rd June 1969)
Gamble has finally got crooked insurance man Rex Lucien (played by Michael Gambon) under arrest. He insists on confiscating his watch before putting him in the cell as “prisoners have been known to break the glass and cut their wrists”.
The trial is delayed while Gamble gets over an illness, and it becomes clear that he’s the only detective who understands the intricacies of Lucien’s financial dealings.
Out on bail, our villain dreams of getting away to Liechtenstein to do the fiddles and falsifications necessary to put him in the clear. But his sidekick suggests putting a full stop on Gamble – he knows a friend of a friend who knows a number to call, if you need someone to have a fatal accident.
Rex’s wife isn’t keen on what she’s overheard.
DIANA: He’s conned you, Rex. It’s hysterical, really. After the thousands of innocents you’ve fleeced you let that little fruit twist you round his finger.
REX: Is he a fruit?
DIANA: Oh my God… in Birmingham they call him “the crème de la menthe”. You must have noticed.
REX: People’s habits don’t interest me.
But in fact Harry really did set up a killer to strike, and they’re going to do it at or just after the Policeman’s Ball, which the Luciens have decided to attend as well for the sake of an alibi. We then have a tense final act trying to guess which new face might be the contractor.
4. Run For Your Money (broadcast 10th June 1969)
A drunk man is making trouble in the offices of the Nuneaton Evening Argus. As the police arrive, a groovy-looking guy (Michael Gothard, star of Herostratus) outside is worried and drives off.
He heads back to the hotel for a meeting with the 2 other members of the gang about “Phase 2” of the con they’re involved in. They’ve been working jobs together for a few years now, and young Jackie is still wracked with anxiety, in contrast to the overconfidence of his mates, who chatter easily in modern slang with their fruity posh voices.
Meanwhile news of the incident filters up to Gamble, as the small ad that caused the trouble was one promising cheap housing from a “philanthropist” who only wanted applicants to send in a subscription of ten bob.
GAMBLE: Not that one again!
VICKY: You’ve met it before?
GAMBLE: Not that particular one. They didn’t bother with all that window-dressing then – it was in the 50s, when we had an acute housing shortage.
VICKY: And there still is.
But the special offer “doesn’t exist, it couldn’t exist at that rent”. Someone is simply out to make a quick killing collecting ten bob each off lots of desperate people.
GAMBLE: I thought newspapers didn’t accept ads asking for money to be sent to box numbers?
EDITOR: We don’t usually, but I was away at the time. It was a silly little girl.
Meanwhile Vicky goers to talk to Mrs O’Leary, wife of the angry man who went to the offices of the Argus. She tells her that everyone in the street wants to get out of their awful housing and they all answered the advert. “I reckon you’d have a go if you lived here”. But she isn’t keen on helping the cops, who are just another authority not bothered about helping them when they get kicked out.
Gamble pounces on Jacky when he comes to collect the latest batch of donations from suckers. In the background, “MERGERS: UNIONS CALL FOR STRIKE”.
Jacky starts panicking at the thought of “the fuzz” after him, and he wants to go on the run. It’s almost as if he’s a bit highly strung due to taking some substances. These crooks don’t have much loyalty to each other and “Major Blunt” comes up with alternative plans to cut the 3rd party out. But Blunt is just a clapped out alcoholic nostalgic for the old wartime black market when you could make money out of anything. He’s just a hanger-on for this con-lady who has a bigger dream of running a pretend-business for 1 week, to make the whole scam sufficiently plausible to stay out of the reach of the law. Gamble realises how much money could be defrauded and so he’s after the gang. In the end there is no honour amongst thieves and our man picks them up after they double-cross each other.
5. All Clean And Paid For (broadcast 17th June 1969)
Martin Shaw is door-to-door catalogue salesman Marchmont, who has a nice line in charming the ladies, though he has to beat a retreat is husband is at home because his union’s on strike again. “You keep callin’, she keeps buyin’. She’ll end up with ‘er ‘ead in the gas oven like Mrs Hammond…”
Gamble and Vicky take a look at this “doorstep fraud” but can’t find anything actually illegal in the small print. “Chromium-plated rubbish… they don’t last as long as the instalments”. At the inquest into Mrs Hammond’s death, Marchmont stated that she owed £40. “That’s 6 months rent to some people, sir!”
Vicky speaks to Mrs Hammond’s widower and finds out they were unhappy as she was concealing an affair from him (we can guess who it was with). Over at the offices of the Finbow company it’s hard to get a detailed breakdown of the exact credit agreement and payments she had made. Marchmont and Finbow have to work on their story about how they get customers into debt and stay within the HP laws.
Marchmont has his own fiddle going on by taking names off gravestones and logging them as new customers. He also knows Finbow wants to sell up and go, and he tells her she’ll soon be forced to as the council are planning to put a new ring road through the area soon. All that’s stopping it happening is her landlord’s connections with the Planning Committee.
Finbow tries to get Gamble to investigate Marchmont’s fraud but has to back away when he hints that he knows about a bigger racket she’s involved in. Gamble senses what’s going on. As he tells Proud: “She’s far too inconsistent, even for a woman.”
“Underprivileged housewives frequently overbuy – it’s a kind of disease” explains Finbow as her deceptions begin to unravel. But these creepy people don’t have any loyalties, and the world they’re fighting over is scheduled for demolition anyway. In the final act, the surveyors are already looking at starting the work.
6. Over A Barrel (broadcast June 24th 1969)
We finally see Gamble meeting his ex-wife.
GAMBLE: …you didn’t say anything about having to go to this meeting.
HELEN: Well how could I? It was only arranged last night. It is an emergency meeting.
GAMBLE: Well what is it this time?
HELEN: Committee of the MCRI.
GAMBLE: The what?
HELEN: The Midland Congress for Racial Integration.
GAMBLE: Oh, one of those.
HELEN: There’s no need to sneer.
GAMBLE: I wasn’t sneering!
HELEN: That same cheap sneering tone you always use. The same typical crypto-fascist police attitude to the underprivileged.
GAMBLE: Helen, for Goodness’ sake! Let’s not start all that again!
Tension continues when Helen reveals that daughter Lucy’s school friend is from an Indian family. Gamble refuses to react.
GAMBLE: Why the hell do you have to make a political issue out of everything?
HELEN: Because everything is.
She is then unhappy that Gamble’s present for their 7-year old daughter is “a junior vanity case”.
GAMBLE: Damn and blast that woman!
When Vicky suggests Helen may be correct to go to her meetings, Gamble is triggered.
GAMBLE: Don’t tell me you’re another one…
VICKY: Another what?
GAMBLE: Well… another of those women. Who think that every problem can be solved by forming a committee. Another of those priggish, pseudointellectual, Lib-Lab busybodies.
Of course Gamble describes himself as “politically neutral”.
Whilst all this culture war battling is going on, Lucy and Nala go home to her uncle’s store and walk into the back office while he’s being threatened by a heavy, and they overhear the word “blackmail”. Yes, the uncle is being played by Christopher Benjamin wearing make-up.
Lucy asks her mum to explain “blackmail” and so that gets her concerned about what’s going on. Meanwhile Uncle Lal talks to his lawyer friend about his troubles getting his family to leave Kenya in the face of British immigration restrictions.
Things get serious when Nala and Lucy are kidnapped by the smooth-talking English baddie who seems to be in charge of the pressure on Uncle Lal. The schoolteacher thought it was plausible that a stranger was turning up to collect them in a car as bus strikes were occurring again. Although Helen wants to just give the kidnapper whatever they want, Gamble takes a firm line and unravels the whole plot of a crooked solicitor fronting for a businessman running an illegal immigration racket, who has total contempt for the people he is helping to get out of East Africa.
In the end, our chap is disgusted with “the whole political setup”. So in a way he’s coming around to Helen’s position, slowly.
7. Where’s George? (broadcast 1st July 1969)
Joy comes home from a big shopping trip with the news that she isn’t pregnant after all. Husband George is heading off with a travelling suitcase and rather vaguely suggests he might not see her again for a long while.
Soon a business associate comes around with the news that George’s plane crashed in the Irish Sea and no survivors were recovered.
But then Joy’s rich daddy wants to know about all the money he invested in the business which now seems to be nearly bust, and he’s got doubts about this whole story of George’s death. His business partner Angus admits that George absconded with £50,000.
Daddy starts spouting off to his important mates that he thinks George was killed by a bomb, so Gamble ends up required to look into the affair. He has had a look at Global Sales Boosters before (“they make all those gimmicks that nobody wants and everybody buys”) but concluded that Angus isn’t fraudulent, although he sails close to the wind.
Gamble looks in to the details – it seems 3 bodies were identified of the 4 passengers on the plane. A 4th body washed up a few weeks later but couldn’t be matched with George. Nevertheless it seems pretty solid that he died in a non-suspicious accident… until we have an identification of the 4th body, as a petty crook that knew George.
As Gamble explains to Joy’s dad, new businesses like GSB are a bit flakey and it would make more sense to invest your money in “the back-street boys who knock it all together”, and we have a trip to see the people who did the work for George and Angus, to check where the money went to. Of course they’re not too keen on keeping proper books and are wary of anything to do with tax or National Insurance.
8. The Front Man (broadcast 8th July 1969)
John Nettleton is Tommy Morrissey, confidence man. His team are looking for some patsy to use as the respectable front man for their latest operation.
Graham Crowden is sad old wash-out ex-Army officer Captain John Oakes. He’s the mark they select to be “Managing Director” and lead through the deception of a “job interview”. Morrissey plays up a fake background in the same regiment.
Gamble is away for most of this episode and Vicky takes the lead, making a few mistakes getting ahead of herself and telling Oakes directly that he’s the victim of a fraud.
It all crashes down in the end, and Gamble’s team play a dubiously ethical deception of their own to stop the team getting away. But Oakes’ final departure is rather sad for all witnesses involved.
This episode also includes moments when we hear radio DJ Tony Blackburn playing the latest single from The Moody Blues.
9. The Biggest Borrower Of All (broadcast 15th July 1969)
An unusual episode as the team have to come back to the office late and work through the night, as we can see from the changing light in the window behind Gamble’s desk. Apart from a brief moment in a hospital corridor at the start, we are confined within the rooms of Fraud Squad’s own base.
The chief financial officer of a building society has attempted suicide in his office. Before slipping into a coma he mumbled about a large fraud and that his boss Joseph Hordern (played by Paul Eddington) may have been involved with. Gamble has clashed with Hordern previously as the latter is a magistrate and he bailed a suspect who was then able to cover up and foil the case that was building against him.
A tense to-and-fro goes on as Hordern holds tight and fights back against Gamble’s suppositions which, as Proud points out, don’t yet have any solid evidence.
In this episode we see the cleaner working in the office, and he’s persuaded to rustle up a late-night snack from the canteen. Vicky and others are dragged in from whatever fun things they were up to, and we understand the young male detective was in bed with a lady.
Gamble goes up to and beyond the limits, and the final twist relies on a blatant deception such that any half-awake lawyer ought to be able to get this case thrown out of court.
10. Pros And Cons (broadcast 22nd July 1969)
Gamble is keeping an eye on property developer Bernard Grant who he knows is short on funds but using dirty tricks to keep his empire afloat. He sees him passing a bribe by pretending to lose a card game at their club.
Meanwhile he sees old small-time con-man Harry Bristow has turned up in town, so he gives him a friendly warning not to pull any tricks or rob any rich widows.
Gamble’s furious when he finds out Harry really is planning to get married… but it’s not what it seems at first. Vicky hears from his bride-to-be that she knows exactly what he is, because they’ve been in touch since he was working the black market back in the war years.
It’s actually Grant who is the target of a clever plan by Harry, setting him up with an offer of PR consultancy, which would really involve another bribe to fix a planning problem. To pitch this idea he puts on a fine show as a rather posh ex-journalist with a limp earned from serving at Arnhem.
This is all rather helpful to Gamble.
11. Cold As Charity (broadcast 29th July 1969)
Stefan Pastek is a Polish immigrant who has risen from nothing since he got here just after the war to becoming a captain of industry. He took control of some failing engineering businesses from the ineffectual toffs who ran them and is now ready to close the loss-making subsidiaries down, outraging the old boys in the boardroom who affect to care about the workers.
Pastek is also involved in a charity to raise money for refugees gathering in camps in Austria. He makes TV appeals in which he pleads for support for people who don’t have the advantages he had in 1945, as there are now “strict laws on immigration”.
Fraud Squad receive an anonymous tip-off that its finances are dodgy. Gamble wants to recuse himself from the investigation as he’s friendly with Pastek, but Proud insists he has to do it. A check on the names of big donors, and then a trip out to the offices in Switzerland, convinces him that currency fraud is going on. But something doesn’t feel right.
There is indeed a plot, with some grumpy old English men who are resentful of the immigrant who did well through his hard work. Pulling the levers are a pair of groovy young people who like to bop to the latest hits such as The Amen Corner.
12. Two Kinds Of Crash (broadcast 5th August 1969)
A rare sighting of Geoffrey Palmer playing a lower class character, in this case Arthur New, who is trying to build up his own taxi business. His brother-in-law Olly West (played by Colin Welland) wasn’t much use as a driver and has now moved off in to insurance.
An accident leads to a claim on his insurance policy, which then takes a long time to be processed. Meanwhile Gamble is amongst the on-lookers when the rather boorish boss of the insurance company announces he is making a big donation to charity.
It seems that this business isn’t paying out much money any more, and it may be that there is a problem in the computing system supervised by the chief financial officer. Vicky enrols as a typist so she can do some spying inside.
The big boss talks about his desire to quit and do something useful, while at the same time manoeuvring a replacement into the chairman’s position so he can get away from responsibility.
Gamble and the team have to figure out who is to blame as the whole house of cards falls down.
13. Anybody Here Seen Kelly? (broadcast 12th August 1969)
A story mostly set in Dublin, where Gamble is following up leads from a smuggling case. He suspects an insurance fraud involving the leader of an Irish fascist movement dubbed “the Green Shirts” who have established themselves as a feared presence around the docks.
Gamble needs to find the dealer Kelly who was the link in the deal whereby a painting that was supposedly destroyed in a fire is now being sold off to a collector.
The Green Shirts are a pretty nasty group of enforcers, which we’ve never really seen in the series so far. Not too much is stated about their politics other than that they are “Irish patriots”. We get some tense moments as they pursue Kelly around the streets.
14. The Martin Kessel File (broadcast 19th September 1970)
We start off in the basement of a printers workshop. Martin Kessel is the owner who also has a side-line in forging various documents and he’s prepared some for a classy-looking crook.
Meanwhile Fraud Squad are interested to hear from an American who was buying up various bonds and realised he was being slipped fakes because the serial numbers duplicated others he’d seen. Our boys are interested as they think this is a way in to tracking the forger whose work has been turning up in other cases.
There’s a bit of driving around this time.
Gamble catches up with Kessel, an old French communist who used to prepare bogus papers for agents in the war and is now working various rackets. He is also known to some important people in Whitehall belonging to mysterious higher agencies that can order Proud to get Gamble off the case. But our man stays the course and wants to hear the truth about this little corner of Cold War intrigue. We hear his views about the cynicism and corruption of disillusioned Marxists.
15. The White Abyss (broadcast 26th September 1970)
An extraordinary episode, exploring what we would now call “toxic masculinity”.
We start amongst the mourners for Henry Cornwallis, an assistant bank manager who went missing and is presumed dead whilst taking part in a mountaineering challenge in Switzerland. His widow Angela looks sadly at his room in which he tried to put himself in the right mindset to succeed. His old boss wants to set up a fund to raise money in memory of the outstanding man who tried to set an example. £1000 has been raised in contributions, and he’s going to hand it over when Sergeant Hicks turns up and wants to ask questions.
Fraud Squad get involved when Phillips, the organizer of the competition, starts to have doubts about the story. An eyewitness claims to have seen Cornwallis in the village recently. Gamble isn’t impressed but agrees to go out to have a look, even though he has no authority to demand an extradition even if they find him.
Meanwhile Hicks gets closer to Angela, hearing the rather eerie tapes Henry made imagining the problems and fears he would face during the ascent.
Gamble and Phillips catch up with Cornwallis on a train. The latter is scornful but the detective slowly begins to unpeel all the self-loathing and sense of failure that drove Henry to run away when, once again, he found he couldn’t overcome his fears at the moment of truth. The two men have a long talk about the different role models they’ve had to live up to, and the effects of tough, unforgiving fathers. Gamble admits he was terrified of firearms and had a blank panic when he encountered a thug with a gun during his early days as a policeman.
However there is no happy resolution to this story. Altogether, it deserved at least as much attention as the Public Eye episode “The Man Who Said Sorry”.
16. …To Pay Paul (broadcast 3rd October 1970)
An episode that survives in colour.
Phyllis Sturt is getting money from old Peter Taylor with her hard luck stories. The poor old man is now in financial trouble himself.
Phyllis can’t tell her taciturn tyrant of a husband about her debts. Note that “Sixpence will stay for two years” according to his newspaper.
Her money is draining away to Paul Wylie, boss of a driving school who also lends money on the side and then yanks up the interest on debts to preposterous levels, relying on his victim’s naivete and susceptibility to mild threats to make a nuisance with husbands and neighbours. Wylie is notable for being an Alan Partridge-before-Partridge figure on screen, and it’s good that this should be the surviving colour episode. We can enjoy the majesty of his casualwear. Also check out some of the incredibly naff “art prints” on the walls of his flat. He doesn’t actually have a giant swan with a naked couple, but you can be sure he’d buy one when it becomes available.
Notable also is the appearance of his receptionist Liz Paterson, who was played by Trisha Noble, who was quite a successful singer as well.
Although we have some comedy around the absurdities of the Sturt’s home life, there is a dark side to this story. Fraud Squad are called in by poor old Peter, who isn’t too sure if he wants the inquiries pursued to court. But Gamble and Hicks soon realise Wylie is a nasty little coward who scares quite easily when he meets a confident woman he can’t charm or dominate. As with the world of Marchmont and his door-to-door sales, there are sad lonely women driven to suicide in this business.
17. Double Deal (broadcast 10th October 1970)
Another colour episode, which suits the flamboyant appearance of con-man Charlie Dickens, played by Dinsdale Landen.
Right from the start Charlie lets Fraud Squad know he is back in town and insists he’s playing straight now… so of course Gamble wants to know about his involvement as front man for a new property development backed by financier Sir Roy Prentiss (Richard Vernon) and which local politicians may have their own interests in. The planned development looks too good to be true: lots of nice new amenities for the people, instead of an ugly profit-maximising concrete shopping centre.
It’s not exactly a comedy but it does fizz along as a bit of jolly old fun, and no one gets hurt as the double-crossers get double-crossed. Fraud Squad themselves are being played, but they realise it and go along with it all as there is a sort-of happy ending to it all.
18. The Harland Affair (broadcast 17th October 1970)
Businessman Jim Harland is staying at a clinic but still trying to run his deals secretly, despite the staff insisting he needs rest and recovery.
An anonymous tip-off that Harland’s books may not be quite straight gets Fraud Squad to go around, although Gamble introduces himself as a “management consultant” to prevent gossip leaking out. Working through the evidence shows there are problems.
This is a complex game of bluff and counter-bluff, and once again Fraud Squad are being played by manipulators who can use their presence to force the pace of events.
19. Inquest (broadcast 24th October 1970)
An unusual episode. Gamble is in a bad mood, and as he tells Helen when they meet up, he’s “tired, jaded… fed up”.
His mood worsens as we go into another long, claustrophobic night back in the office, remorseless questioning about an old case that we haven’t seen in this series. The interrogator is Laughton, the HMI, who starts off promising “just an informal chat” but gets tougher as the details come out.
One strange feature of this episode is the camera sometimes flips over to the other side of Proud’s office, showing us the 2 parties in reversed position. At the conclusion we get to look straight down on the room from above.
This is where we finally get Gamble’s full back story, and this leads in to what Laughton here: a magistrate is concerned with how Hicks and Gamble pursued a case against a fraudulent property sale where the suspect was a West Indian, who later killed himself in custody. It turns out Gamble heard the news earlier in the day, and the magistrate is part of the left-liberal world that Helen belongs to.
This is of course the first time we hear our team’s usual methods reviewed from the perspective of an outsider, with the impulsive decisions and dubious inferences brought to the surface instead of being rushed over in the chase to victory.
20. People Can Go Too Far (broadcast 31st October 1970)
Grace Miles is a music teacher who administers a small charity for distressed gentlefolk.
She sends a letter requesting a donation to Proud, which is a mistake as he sees problems in the patrons she listed. So Hicks and Gamble are set on the case to find out whether this is a genuine charity or not.
MILES: There are some words young people cannot speak easily: God, honour, gentry…
But while Fraud Squad aren’t sure if they really have a case, there’s a rather nastier toff in the background ready to twist her arm.
21. Remission-Negative (broadcast 7th November 1970)
Anton Rodgers is Dr David Matthews, who is doing very well in private practice. He has a fancy car with a phone and a music system in it, and he works at his own residential clinic.
One of his patients is played by Jan Chappell, who was later in Blake’s Seven.
He works with patients suffering a rare neurological condition that involves steady decline in mobility and general function. He is confronted by the angry widower of a patient who died.
Fraud Squad have to act on a complaint from the widower, which takes them into tricky questions about what exactly Matthews promised he could do for the patients, what he might believe he can do, and what can be proven with conditions that are known to simply undergo remission sometimes without any explanation. Gamble has to talk to people in the medical profession to get the lay of the land.
22. Whizz Kid (broadcast 14th November 1970)
Robin Simms is the youngish superstar at Burton Investments, making all the right calls and boosting profits up.
However the old company accountant isn’t happy about his slapdash attitude to paperwork and the amount of money he’s used in deals and hasn’t filed the proper returns on. So he gets Fraud Squad to take a look, just at the same time as Simms runs up a debt at his favourite casino and has to resort to taking money out of the safe in his office to keep himself out of trouble.
The problem is that all his own money is “tied up” in order to avoid tax and so he can’t get hold of it easily. As the investigation proceeds we can see how he holds his nerve brilliantly under stress, which is presumably the secret of his success. The background plot is that he is an example of the new, adventurous executives who want to shake up British business and perform better than the complacent old boys who just manage decline… and in the process stir up the jealousy of the passed-over, safety-first generation.
What this story is missing is an epilogue in which it turns out the experience has shaken up Simms and he’s lost the magic touch.
23. The Great Blanket Factory Swindle (broadcast 21st November 1970)
The nearest we get to a fully comic episode, also the nearest we get to the topic of “industrial relations” instead of simply hearing about strikes occurring in the background. Fun fact: the ageing “Bolshevik” clerk Jim Ford is played by Cyril Luckham. In the previous episode Robin Simms was played by Edward Petherbridge. Both would be united as father & son in the dystopian thriller The Guardians a year later.
As we all know, arguments about “union militancy” killing British industry in the 60s and 70s have to face the counter-argument that it was incompetent, unimaginative management that was to blame. Fraud Squad is definitely siding with the latter view here: the workers at the Cozy Lamb Blanket Factory aren’t unionized but the hopeless directors haven’t got a clue how to deal with the colossal inefficiency and outdated machinery in their plant, even though they’re already paying terrible wages. There is one old boy who has ideas about modernization and bringing in new ideas from America, but he gets overruled at every turn.
Our investigators are brought in when office manager Bender is caught red-handed trying to take out a bag full of thousands of pounds in notes that he must have been pinching from the safe over several decades. He knows nothing about this, so we need to establish why anyone else would plant the lot on him. Along the way we find out that Jim Ford and his other 2 mates have been trying to bring down the capitalist system since 1920 through random acts of petty vandalism, though everything we’ve seen suggests that Lady Flanders and her board are doing the job quite well without their help.
We also hear that Bender is a bit creepy, with some pornographic magazines hidden away at home, and he’s known for “buying drinks for young girls” in local pubs, which is not regarded as entirely innocent and appropriate behaviour by everyone else.
When Hicks goers undercover as the new office manager, the sad old boys are pathetically fascinated by the spectacle of a young working woman.
24. The Hot Money Man (broadcast 28th November 1970)
Aubrey Dowsmith is an “investment consultant” who also has a very discreet sideline helping wealthy men get their money abroad in larger amounts than are permitted under Bank of England controls.
Fraud Squad encounter him whilst trailing Harry Killett, an old sick man who is clearly aiming to get away to Switzerland with as much as he can manage. But it doesn’t seem he had any hidden compartments in his luggage, so it’s a mystery how the trick was done. Gamble poses as a prospective client (pretending to be married to Hicks) and later tries to provoke Dowsmith into bending the rules, but just gets thrown out of the office as an undesirable person.
Like Robin Simms, Dowsmith is a grabby young man who knows how to keep his cool and what his rights are. He’s having an affair with his secretary, keeps a stash of porn mags in his desk, and is happy to flit away himself when it looks like his little racket is in danger.
But it doesn’t like a very stressful job in the customs section at the airport.
25. Golden Island (broadcast 5th December 1970)
Winifred Holland is a wealthy unmarried woman living with her mum but also working part-time for Bill Garland, the dashing author of numerous travel books about exploits in obscure parts of the world. She is completely captivated by him, and believes in his next project, to search for a legendary “golden island” in the East Indies where a treasure ship was wrecked. Her mum calls in Fraud Squad because she’s found out this man claiming to be Garland must be a phoney.
Gamble and Hicks investigate as far as they can, mindful that this is another case where the suspect man has been very careful about what he actually says about himself and any promises made.
It all gets rather complicated and tricky, but “Garland” really is a con man working a medium-term game on a succession of besotted upper-class females. It’s rather sad when his latest victim realises it was all a dream, though we’re left with the possibility that “Golden Island” might be real anyway.
Above all, 1970 Phyllida Law is exactly like Emma Thompson in black & white.
26. The Price Of A Copper (broadcast 12th December 1970)
The final episode is very odd, in that we get an overlong comic interlude where Gamble & Hicks attempt to put on Brummie accents for the first time ever… but the overall plot is deadly serious, with police corruption (and the killing of a policeman) finally entering the world of Fraud Squad. Hicks gets kidnapped by the baddies as well.
The baddies are the Dysart Brothers. There’s an obvious temptation to assume all TV/film gangsters in the 60s are allusions to the Kray Twins, but these ones really don’t have much in common except a desire to mix with celebrities and respectable gentlefolk in order to go fully legit. They’ve got involved in horseracing, and that gives Gamble an angle, as it seems they’ve been using different horses and passing them off as the same one.
The Dysarts are making use of a variety of failed or declining toffs, who don’t like these grubby young upstarts with their vulgar casinos and brash manner.
Once Hicks is abducted Gamble goes completely off the rails in his behaviour, and gets suspended by Proud. However it seems he’s playing a game to provoke the mole. Since he mentioned in “Inquest” that he knows about bent coppers we have to wonder how much experience he’s had of this sort of thing before.
Fun fact: Jim Kent is played by Alexander Davion, who was George Gideon’s sidekick David Keen.