4.8 The Bandit From Stoke-on-Trent

In which our heroes mingle with the criminal classes…

BOB: Timothy Bateson! Timothy Bateson! Timothy Bateson!

NOTE – It took a full five minutes, two cups of tea and half a packet of McVitie’s Hobnobs to pull Bob down from his character actor fueled mini-stroke.

BOB: What a brilliant surprise… a fabulous, fruity British character actor who’s never failed to light up absolutely anything I’ve seen him in. He’d be doing his marvelous thing in the Doctor Who story The Ribos Operation a few months after this episode was broadcast, so 1978 was a vintage year for seasoned Timothy Bateson-watchers.

Anyway, he turns up here as the suave but slimy Amos, clearly an old acquaintance of our heroes with a reputation that’s less than salubrious. ‘You’ll love Amos, he’s a laugh a minute,’ enthuses Clegg, and for once there’s not a hint of sarcasm. It’s a brilliant guest performance from Bateson that brings the episode to life. Is Amos really a seasoned criminal? We’re never sure, but our heroes are constantly checking their wallets to be on the safe side.

ANDREW: I’m not as entirely enamored of Amos as you are. Bateson was undeniably a great actor – with his roles in Labyrinth and Tugs being my standouts – but his character here is both written and performed a little too broadly for my tastes. It’s almost as if he’s popped over for a visit from a David Croft sitcom. I love Croft’s work, but his tone is a million miles from Clarke’s.

BOB: Some lovely late 70s nostalgia in this episode. The sight of an old-school Midlands Bank, complete with griffin logo, took me back… as did the pub’s stained brown snooker room, complete with wooden fag machine and leatherette seats. There aren’t many pubs these days that have maintained that level of studied shabbiness throughout the decades. And so, in a fit of Foggy-led paranoia, our heroes become convinced that Amos is back in town with the intention of robbing said bank, despite all appearances to the contrary.

It’s an episode with the bare minimum of plot, but a delicious helping of lovely character acting and fine, fruity dialogue. We see two old ladies in a shop, talking about the ‘illustrated sex manual’ bought by one of their husbands. ‘Is it fully illustrated?’ asks one old dear, her eyes agog. ‘You must be joking,’ replies her friend. ‘I couldn’t eat solid food for a week’. Pure Northern nudge-nudge, and I love it.

ANDREW: That really shocked me actually, but I think that might be more to do with me initially reading more into the lines than was actually there. I’m a scrotty little herbert by default.

BOB: And then, right at the end, apropos of nothing, a moment of pure poignancy from Clegg. ‘We were married all those years, and we never had children,’ he ponders, staring wistfully into space. ‘Do you think flannelette sheets cause impotence?’

I’ve never heard Clegg be so rueful about anything in the series so far, but my heart went out to him here. A really nice touch, made all the more striking for its incongruous inclusion amongst the belly laughs. 

ANDREW: Yep, that’s up there with Ivy’s wistful look at Compo’s extended family back during series two in the poignancy stakes.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Chris Orton on April 17, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    Fellers, has it ever been established how old the characters were at the start of the series? Given that it ran for about 40 years and that Clegg must have been about 85 by then I find it hard to believe that he was only 45 at the beginning.

    Telly years must work differently!


    • Posted by Jakob Pieterson on April 18, 2012 at 12:20 am

      They were supposed to be in their 50’s in the pilot. “Redundant instead of Retired” is a quote relating to it (the first draft had them in their 70’s). Peter Sallis was actually 52 when the series started (Bill Owen was 59, Michael Bates was 53, Brian Wilde was only 49 when he joined).

      Regarding this episode, it’s always been one of my least favourites and one that i’ve tended to skip on rewatches, so i’ve just watched it tonight. I tend to agree with Andrew regarding Bateson, he’s a little to broad, but really it’s the plot that i find a bit lacking in this…i never for one moment believe the security guard bit. Still there’s some lovely character moments as you say.


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