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Probation Officer out on DVD

Wednesday, 08 February 2017 00:00 Written by 

Probatiion Officer - Volume 1 of existing episodes out on DVD nowEvery now and then, a DVD release comes along of a TV series that has vanished into the memory hole. Remembered by few, the perceived wisdom is that if it was worth taking notice of, then the trivia books would pay close attention to it. In the case of Probation Officer, we have a series which has slipped through the net. An ATV production starring John Paul (Doomwatch) and Honor Blackman (The Avengers), even from that small snippet interest is immediately on high alert.  This initial batch of surviving episodes, (unfortunately the archive holdings are patchy at best) come from 1959 and 1960. Anyone who thought in that era it was all very “Cholmondley-Warner” when dealing with fiction rooted in reality will be in for a shock.

Whether it’s drugs on the streets, gangs out of control, or even a very early inter-racial screen kiss (beating Star Trek’s “Plato’s Stepchildren” by a good nine years), even today there will be many surprises as to what topics are brought into sharp focus. Admittedly, the attitudes of many of the characters are set in another era, where racism and sexism were par for the course, but this adds a blunt reminder of how much things have changed over the nearly six decades which have passed since these episodes were put into production. For any students of sociology or cultural studies, there are a stream of dissertations which could be written from this sample of a dozen episodes.

Drawing on the documentary-based background of creator Julian Bond (Creator of Police Surgeon, the series which led on to The Avengers) and produced by Emergency Ward 10’s Antony Kearey, Probation Officer came about at a time when the service was hitting the headlines, being seen as a progressive response to rising crime rates. It is no surprise that the stars of the show are all playing Probation Officers, and how they interact with those who come under their care. The format provided character studies of the types of individuals which the viewership would not necessarily have ever come across. Young, old, of all sorts of race and attitude.

Another unusual early nuance was that not all the stars would appear in every episode. Sometimes the story would be a solo adventure, in others two of the three would appear, and if your luck was in, then all three were on-hand in a plot!

John Paul is a new probation officer, Philip Main, naïve to the world following time in the army and only the most basic of training since. Paul, soon to be the star of Doomwatch was at that point heralded for having featured in Emergency Ward 10.

David Davies is the senior probation officer, Jim Blake. He’s crusty, set in his ways, jumps to assumptions based on someone’s looks, but throughout all of it has a good heart.

Honor Blackman is initially part of the series, as probation officer Iris Cope. At that point, the press materials noted her appearance in The Four Just Men (she had played Nicole in ten episodes just prior to Probation Officer). She had got her first on-screen role, if not credit in 1947, aged 21, in the movie “Fame is the Spur”. It was to be 1962 Before viewers would be introduced to her as Cathy Gale in The Avengers.

Background information from the time of the show’s release is included as a PDF on Disc 1 of this set, and within it there are name-checks for John Scott (playing Bert Bellman, who would feature in 30 episodes) and Betty Hardy (as Miss Randell, who featured in just seven) as supporting cast. A second PDF has a short story from one of the TV magazines of the time, where Philip Main recounts one of his cases.

Guest stars to look out for include Melvyn Hayes (It Ain’t Half Hot Mum), Alfred Burke (Public Eye), Susan Hampshire (Monarch of the Glen), Charles Lloyd Pack (Professor Marks in Strange Report), Richard Vernon (The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), Derren Nesbitt (Jordan in Special Branch), Stratford Johns (Barlow in Softly Softly Task Force), and the late, great Peter Vaughan (Harry Grout in Porridge, with his last role being Maester Aemon in Game of Thrones).

Look out for Earl Cameron (The Supervisor in The Prisoner “The Schizoid Man”) and Lloyd Reckord (who featured in episodes of Danger Man, The Human Jungle, and Redcap) starring in Episode Two, a heavy story of racism and intolerance which features one of the earliest inter-racial kisses broadcast on British television. Interestingly, Reckord, who was one half of the kiss with Felicity Young, also featured in in the ITV Armchair Theatre adaptation of the Ted Willis play “Hot Summer Night”, broadcast on 1 February 1959, where he shared smooching duties with Andrée Melly. To complete a triple of memorable lip-smackers, there was another inter-racial kiss for Lloyd in 1962 within a Granada “Play of the Week” called “You in Your Small Corner”, this time sucking face with Elizabeth MacLennan.

Lloyd Reckord and Felicity Young with THAT kiss from Episode 2 of Probation Officer

Needless to say these were way, way before the lip-soaking adventures of Captain Kirk and Lt Uhura – and even in the USA, Star Trek can’t actually claim the title of first inter-racial on-screen kiss in November 1968, as I Spy (“The Tiger” from January 1966 with Robert Culp and France Nuyen) and Movin’ With Nancy (a Nancy Sinatra vehicle from December 1967 where she kissed Sammy Davis Jr) take precedent. Still, Star Trek fans won’t be defeated, as now they turn to October 1967’s “Mirror Mirror” episode where Kirk kisses Marlena (played by Barbara Luna) as another example to cite.

Probation Officer ran until September 1962, clocking up 109 episodes, of which around 77 are believed to be missing, presumed never to be seen again.

All in all, a surprising viewing treat, the hazy monochrome rendition and patchy sound helping to reinforce these are television productions we are lucky to ever see again. Honor Blackman’s solo episodes are obviously the inspiration for what would come later in terms of Cathy Gale and The Avengers – we see her as an equal to the men around her, and she is competent, mature and intelligent. And John Paul, too, is very much putting in an audition for what would become Spencer Quist in Doomwatch – he learns the hard way not to trust too easily, and takes on board the lessons of experience to become better at his job.

Probation Officer – Volume One is out now from Network Releasing. The three DVD set has a ‘12’ certificate, a running time of 549 minutes approx, and a RRP of £29.99 – or get it for less at BY CLICKING HERE. 



John Paul as Philip Main (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 13, 15)

David Davies as Jim Blake (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 15, 16, 22)

Honor Blackman as Iris Cope (1, 2, 5, 6, 14, 15)

John Scott as Bert Bellman (1, 2, 3, 15, 22)

Betty Hardy as Miss Randell (5, 6, 14, 15)

A J Brown as Judge Kempton (1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 13, 14, 16)


Script: Julian Bond (except where stated)

Producer:  Antony Kearey

Where Director is not stated, none was listed in the end credits.


Episode One

Guest starring: Melvyn Hayes (Arthur Finney), Raymond Bennett (Clerk of the Peace), Ilona Ference (Mrs Finney), Arthur Lovegrove (Fred Perkins), Richard Vernon (Lessing), Jack Stewart (Dr Bertram), Frank Sieman (Senior Prison Officer), Fred McNaughton, Edward Higgins, Kalman Glass (Prisoner Officers), Terence Soall (Mr Mead), with Frank Pemberton, Anthony Roye, George Street, Henry Kaye, Bart Allison, Humphrey Heathcote, Appaline Yale, Michael Seaver, Norman Taylor, John Bonney.

Original Transmission: 14 September 1959


Episode Two

Guest starring: Earl Cameron (Mr Alexander), Lloyd Reckord (Johnny Alexander), Felicity Young (Mary Sadler), Toke Townley (Mr Sadler), Bee Duffell (Mrs Sadler), Aleksander Browne (Bartlett), Irvin Allen (Ibrahim), Larry Martyn (Gang Leader), Ray Grover, Peter Thomas, Malcolm Knight (The Gang), with George Street, Doreen McKenzie, Randolph McKenzie, Lesley Jones, Mary Daws, Carol Cherrie, Flores Cherrie, Joan Harsant, Benn Simons, Gordon Lang, Gilbert McIntyre.

Guitar played by Roland Harker

Director: Christopher Morahan

Original Transmission: 21 September 1959


Episode Three

Guest starring: Melvyn Hayes (Arthur Finney), Paul Farrell (Patsy Morley), Raymond Bennett (Clerk of the Peace), Arthur Lovegrove (Fred Perkins), Richard Vernon (Lessing), Edward Kelsey (Douglas Ewart), Rex Graham (Ron Drew), Michael Segal (Coffee Bar Proprietor), with Herbert Nelson, Sarah Payne, Barbara Young, Anthony Roye, George Street, Rose Alba.

Original Transmission: 28 September 1959


Episode Five

Guest starring: Alfred Burke (Len Grantham), Annabel Maule (Eva Grantham), June Petersen (Mrs Carpenter), Rosemary Giles (Ella Carpenter), Norman Pitt (Mr Daniels), Brenda Cowling (Mother), Bevan Williams (Court Usher)

Original Transmission: 12 October 1959


Episode Six

Guest starring: Julie Hopkins (Carrie West), Derren Nesbitt (Joe), Noel Dyson (Mrs West), Frederick Piper (Dr West), Charles Lloyd Pack (The Judge), Carl Lacey (Clerk of the Peace), June Munro (Sally), Susan Hampshire (Jane), William Simons (Tony), Brian Weske (Mick), Carmen Hill (Maid), Johanna Martin (Waitress), Raymond Hodge, Brian Dent, Anthony Jennett (Policemen)/

Director: Christopher Morahan

Original Transmission: 19 October 1959


Episode Seven

Guest starring: William Kendall (Colonel), Raymond Bennett (Clerk of the Peace), Douglas Blackwell (Mr Clarke), Ida Goldapple (Mrs Clarke), Peter Vaughan (Anson), Nicholas Grimshaw (Prison Officer), Terry Raven (Tommy), Barry Henderson (Johnny), James Langley (Bill), Cyril Renison (CID Sergeant).

Original Transmission: 26 October 1959


Episode Eight

Guest starring: William Ingram (Con Barnes), Tony Lyons (Larry Melvin), James Ottaway (Mr Melvin), Katherine Parr (Mrs Melvin), Raymond Bennett (Clerk of the Peace), Darlene Johnson (Lily Smith), Patrick Durkin (Chuck), Jess Conrad (Lofty), Richard Jacques (Nitty Whiskers), Louise Stafford (Miss Cowan), Frank Hawkins (Police Sergeant), Anne Scott (Girl)

Original Transmission: 2 November 1959


Episode Thirteen

Guest starring: David Markham (Peter Fry), Joyce Heron (Isobel Fry), Sarah Long (Rose Fry), Barry MacGregor (Rupert Fry), Tony Quinn (Professor Wood), Felix Felton (Mr Bellows), Anthony Roye (Barrister), William Lyon Brown (Usher), Noel Coleman (Clerk of the Peace), Patrick Newell (Orator), Joyce Hemson, Blanche Moore, John Baker (Onlookers), John Dick, George Mossman (Mounted Police), Richard Steele (Policeman), Gordon Cave (Det Sgt Brown), Humphrey Heathcote (Prison Officer), John Walker (Prisoner), Hazel Graeme (Library Assistant), Keith Campbell (Manservant).

Director: Christopher Morahan

Original Transmission: 7 December 1959


Episode Fourteen

Guest starring: Patricia Healey (Joyce Langley), James Sharkey (Frankie), Freda Bamford (Mrs Langley), Rose Alba (Kathie Morgan), Anthony Woodruff (Mr Langley), Denis Holmes (Barrister), Joan Frank (Nora), Charles Wade (Anderson), Noel Coleman (Clerk of the Court), Lewis Wilson (Detective Constable), David Browning (Sergeant), Ray Browne (Constable Blair), Eunice Black (Wardress).

Script: Peter Yeldham (story-line by Julian Bond)

Director: Hugh Rennie

Original Transmission: 14 December 1959


Episode Fifteen

Guest starring: George Roderick (Mr Belcher), Sheila Raynor (Mrs Belcher), Catherine Feller (Myrtle), Cassie Langridge (Miriam), D Williams (Benjie), Lane Meddick (Teddy Jenkins), Charles Leno (Children’s Officer), Derek Tansley (Police Sergeant), Kenneth Firth (Policeman), Barbara Ogilvie (FSU Woman).

Director: Christopher Morahan

Original Transmission: 21 December 1959


Episode Sixteen

Guest starring: Charles Gray (Richard Bates), Pauline Letts (Heather Bates), John Bailey (Alcoholics Anonymous Member), Richard Burrell (The Sponsor), Raymond Bennett (Clerk of the Peace), Margaret Elliot (Miss Desmond), Stratford Johns (CID Sergeant), Malcolm Watson (Court Usher), Una Trimming (Maid), Ben Simons (Dock Officer).

Original Transmission: 28 December 1959


Episode Twenty-Two

Guest starring: Redmond Phillips (Charlie Tolliver), Susan Richards (Annie Tolliver), Dinsdale Landen (Tommy Purvis), Avis Bunnage (Phyllis Purvis), David Garth (John Tolliver), Pauline Winter (Madge Tolliver), Petronella Byrnes (Shirley Deegan), Peter Hunt (Harvey), Raymond Ray (Richards), James Donnelly (Stevenson).

Script: Phillip Grenville Mann

Director: Christopher Morahan

Original Transmission: 8 February 1960