Michael Vestey

Force for change

Force for change

It was something of a shock to hear the first episode this week of Radio Four’s adaptation of BBC television’s popular 1950s series Dixon of Dock Green (Wednesday). Were policemen ever like the bluff, wise, shrewd and avuncular constable George Dixon? As a child watching the series, I thought they were, and we expected them all to bend their knees and say, ‘Evenin’ all.’ Audiences also believed it, as the series, written by Ted, later Lord, Willis, ran for 21 years. By the time Jack Warner, who played Dixon, retired, he was 80 and hardly looking like a police constable, let alone being able to bend the knees.

Even if Dixons really did exist, they certainly don’t today. Cocooned in their hermetically sealed patrol cars, abandoning the solving of burglaries for motoring offences, shooting men armed with table legs and arresting householders who defend themselves from attack: that’s our image of the police today, rightly or wrongly. In this episode, ‘London Pride’, Dixon (David Calder) arrests a young man about to commit a crime and stops a landlord harassing his tenants. He has the time to pause for a cup of tea with those in his ‘manor’; he values his local knowledge as he patrols the beat. It sounded positively prehistoric: a policeman on the beat!

There’s poignancy, too, as Dixon realises that his new sidekick, PC Andy Crawford (David Tennant, played, mysteriously, with a Scottish accent), is one of the new breed of young policemen — zealous, officious and humourless. Dixon says dismissively, ‘Fresh out of police college, thinks he knows it all.’ He tells Crawford, ‘After 20 years in this game, you get to understand human nature a bit, Andy.’ He values experience, but Crawford replies that there won’t be bobbies on the beat any more but patrol cars.

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