Recently we’ve had a wonderful time watching It’s Dark Outside, an early 1960s police drama that’s undeservedly obscure. Unlike most Sixties’ series, neither of us can recall watching this the first time round, though we both think our families did. I was just too young to remember, though have the vaguest recall that my family watched the sequel Mr Rose.
It’s Dark Outside – a great title – was made by Granada and broadcast in 1964. This is a stylish production, set off by a memorable jazz theme tune written by Derek Hilton. The lead, Chief Inspector Rose of Scotland Yard, was played by William Mervyn, against his usual type of amiable, oldish upper-class gents. I’ve always remembered him fondly from the Sixties as the bishop in the sit-com All Gas and Gaiters. Chief Inspector Rose is still urbane and upper-class, frequenting gentlemen’s clubs but here his character is cool and abrasive, at times pompous. He’s a very astute detective.
Rose’s sidekick was played in the first series by a young Keith Barron, as Sergeant Swift. Superbly acted, Swift is an interesting character, an outsider, prickly, suspicious, determined and good at his job. The dynamic between the two detectives is very well done. Swift has a working-class defensiveness and Rose often demolishes him with a steely remark. You feel that Sergeant Swift partly despises Rose’s comfortable world and partly wishes he could belong. They respect each other’s ability and Rose is a fair man, often coming to Swift’s rescue in various ways.
The characters of Charles Rose and John Swift first appeared in an earlier drama, The Odd Man, which ran from 1960-3. The eponymous lead was not Chief Inspector Rose, but a theatrical agent and sometime amateur detective, played by Geoffrey Toone and later Edwin Richfield, two more good character actors. Rose and Swift, appearing in the later series, were popular enough to get their own spin-off. (Keith Barron replaced Alan Tilvern in the final series). How we wish we could see this and many other series, criminally wiped – to reuse the tape – in the Sixties and even beyond.
Though Chief Inspector Rose and Sergeant Swift share the lead credits, It’s Dark Outside is something of an ensemble drama with Rose’s friends, Anthony and Alice Brand, as prominent support throughout the first series. Anthony Brand, played by John Carson, is a leading Q.C. who is very involved with a human rights organisation.
John Carson has been one of my favourite character actors (quite a long list, mind) for decades. He had a compelling presence and a rich, attractive voice, often likened to that of James Mason. A versatile actor, often cast as a memorable villain, though I always remember him as playing my favourite version of Mr Knightley in a 1972 BBC production of Emma.
His wife Alice, a freelance journalist, is played by June Tobin. She too had a great screen presence, intelligent and sultry in that late fifties/early sixties style epitomised by Honor Blackman, Diana Dors and Sue Lloyd among others. I’ve really enjoyed watching her work, which was unfamiliar to me.
The acting is first class throughout, though I’d say Keith Barron had the stand-out performance, against stiff competition. The series has some terrific guest stars such as Tony Steedman, Ronald Radd, Diana Coupland, Kenneth Colley and a very young James Bolam.
Created by Marc Brandel, It’s Dark Outside is wonderfully written with edgy, subtle, crime stories that pull no punches. This was writing for the grown-ups. The beginning of the BBC’s long glory days when they assumed they were creating drama for intelligent viewers with a proper attention-span. Scenes are longer than directors would ever dare linger these days and each episode feels more like a play than television. Being completely studio-bound, in grainy black and white just adds to the absorbing atmosphere, a sort of British noir meets kitchen sink drama.
Episodes give original slants to tough subject-matter including paedophile murder, terrorism, human rights, immigration and race crime. Week after week they seemed uncannily topical. A reminder that essentially, in fifty years, things have changed less than we like to think.
Unusually for the Sixties, It’s Dark Outside has a definite story arc. This builds to a stunning series finale in episode 8. Neither of us saw a shocking, brilliantly written twist coming. These days there’d be spoilers everywhere. I’m sure the TV Times was more discreet back then.
The box-set concludes with sadly the only two surviving episodes from the second series. Only Chief Inspector Rose remains and in this series he was joined by Anthony Ainley, Veronica Strong and John Stratton. Again written by Marc Brandel, they’re extremely good and it looked as though the new series was going for a slightly lighter feel. There are some amusing scenes with Anthony Ainley’s character, Detective-Sergeant Hunter, who is none too pleased to be picked by Rose as his new assistant.
Marc Brandel was a superb script-writer. It’s frustrating that none of us will ever see the lost episodes. It’s Dark Outside is a fascinating survival of television history and sheer quality. Well worth seeking out.