Dixon of Dock Green
||This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (January 2010)|
|Dixon of Dock Green|
Jack Warner as Constable George Dixon
|Created by||Ted Willis|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of episodes||432|
|Running time||30 minutes & 50 minutes|
|Original run||9 July 1955 – 1 May 1976|
Dixon of Dock Green was a BBC television series following the activities of police officers at a fictional Metropolitan Police station in the East End of London from 1955 to 1976. Some episodes were later remade as a BBC radio series in 2005 and 2006.
Beginning in 1955 and finally ending in 1976, Dixon of Dock Green was a popular series whose main character is still often used as a symbol of policing in Britain. Despite being a drama series Dixon of Dock Green was initially produced by the BBC's light entertainment department.
Plots in Dixon of Dock Green often focused on the role of the police in dealing with low-level, community-based crimes. Dixon was portrayed as having a paternal and steadying influence on his colleagues and episodes often highlighted the family-like nature of life in the station as well as Dixon's actual family life at home. Dixon's experience as a police constable was frequently in evidence, and he was often shown as being able to solve crimes and to keep the peace using his knowledge of human behaviour and of the Dock Green area.
Dixon of Dock Green is sometimes unfavourably compared with later police procedural series (such as Z-Cars in the 1960s and The Bill in the 1980s) which were seen as having a higher degree of realism due to their harder hitting and more dynamic nature. However the style of the programme did evolve over time and some of the 1970s episodes which have been preserved demonstrate little of the homely nature for which the show was often criticised. Plotlines in this period included the suspected suicide of a police officer, a gangland killing, and the shooting of a suspect by police officers using firearms.
Outline of characters and plots
The main character, Police Constable George Dixon, played by Jack Warner, was an old-style British "bobby" (policeman) who had become a policeman in 1935 (according to the "London Pride" episode). The character first appeared in a 1950 British film by Ealing Studios, The Blue Lamp, in which he was shot and killed by a criminal called Tom Riley (Dirk Bogarde). However, it was decided to resurrect him for a television series, written by Ted Willis and designed by Laurence Broadhouse.
If Dixon was known to the public, the actor Jack Warner was even better known. Born in London in 1895, Warner had been a comedian in radio and in his early film career. Starting in the early 1940s, he broadened his range to include dramatic roles, becoming a warmly human character actor in the process. But as well as playing in films with dramatic themes, such as The Blue Lamp, Warner continued to play in comedies such as the successful Huggett family programmes on BBC Radio and films made between 1948 and 1953.
In Dixon of Dock Green, Dixon is a "bobby" on the beat and a widower (his wife died in an air raid in WWII, according to the "Needle in a haystack" episode") raising an only daughter, Mary (Billie Whitelaw in early episodes, later replaced by Jeanette Hutchinson) in a small mid-terrace house on a busy road. However, in The Blue Lamp, Dixon has a wife named Em (Gladys Henson) and it is mentioned that their only son, Bert, was killed in the Second World War – hence Dixon adopts a paternal aspect towards PC Andy Mitchell (Jimmy Hanley), a young policeman on his first day.
Subtitled in the early days "Some Stories of a London Policeman", each episode started with Dixon speaking to the camera. He began with a salute and the greeting "Good evening all", which was changed to "Evening all" in the early 1970s, which has lived on in Britain as a jocular greeting. In similar fashion, episodes finished with a few words to camera from Dixon in the form of philosophy on the evils of crime, before saluting and wishing the viewers "Goodnight, all". At the end of a series, Dixon would tell the audience that he was "going on holiday for a few weeks" so that they wouldn't worry about not seeing him around.
Initially, Dixon continued in the same role as in the film The Blue Lamp, a constable based at the fictitious Dock Green police station in the East End of London, which replaced Paddington Green police station from the film. The character of Andy Mitchell, the young constable in the film who embarks on a perilous quest to find and bring Tom Riley to justice, became a detective named Andy Crawford (Peter Byrne), in the CID at Dock Green, and he was married to Dixon's 23-year-old daughter, Mary, in the 19th episode, "Father-in-Law" (1 September 1956). Dixon sings a few songs at the wedding and wishes the viewers goodbye at the end of the episode (this was the end of series 2 and series 3 was four months away). The couple moved to a flat in Chelmsford.
By the final years of the series in the 1970s, Warner was getting elderly and looking increasingly implausible even in a desk job (as he had increasing difficulty moving about, helped slightly by a treatment involving bee stings). In the final series, when Warner was 80, George Dixon was shown as retired from the police and being re-employed as a civilian collator.
The opening and closing moments of each episode originally had PC Dixon deliver the famous lines "Evening, All" and "Goodnight, All", and a suitably moral homily, from outside Dock Green police station. However most of these sequences were not filmed on the steps of Ealing police station (then still operational) but on the front steps of the (1902) Ealing Grammar School for Boys on Ealing Green. The BBC would attach a blue lamp next to the double doors, and the front oak-floored vestibule of the old school would warmly glow behind. During later series, Dixon addressed the audience standing in front of a painted backdrop of a London skyline.
The 1973 episode "Eye Witness" shows a shot of a derelict warehouse complex with a sign identifying it as part of the 'Metropolitan & New Crane Wharves'; these are located in Wapping Wall. This episode also shows the bascule bridge across the entrance to Shadwell Basin in Wapping.
At the end of the 1975 episode 'Conspiracy', the exterior of Dock Green police station is represented by the Metropolitan Police's (then recently built) Chiswick police station, located on Chiswick High Road in west London.
Most of the original 432 episodes of Dixon of Dock Green are still missing. Only 32 still exist in full, due both to the show being broadcast live in the early days and the BBC's policy of wiping videotape for re-use. Extracts exist for a further 19 episodes. In summary:
- Series 2 (1956): the last five episodes in full
- Series 7 (1960): one episode in full, plus extract from one other
- Series 9 (1962): three episodes in full
- Series 11 (1964): one episode in full
- Series 13 (1966): extracts from five episodes
- Series 14 (1967): one episode in full, plus extracts from eight others
- Series 15 (1968): extracts from three episodes
- Series 17 (1970/1): first episode in full
- Series 18 (1971/2): two episodes in full
- Series 13 (1966): extracts from one episode
- Series 20 (1974): four episodes in full, plus extract from one other
- Series 21 (1975): six episodes in full, plus extract from one other
- Series 22 (1976): complete – eight episodes in full
An out-take sequence also exists from It's a Gift (Series 21, Episode 3 – 01/03/75) involving two criminals in which one of them, played by Victor Maddern, finds himself unable to deliver correctly the required line "It's down at Dock Green nick!" – referring to a stolen necklace. After two failed attempts, in which the line is spoken both as "It's down at Dock Green dick!" and "It's down at Dick Green dock!", Maddern asks the unseen director "Couldn't I just say 'It's down at the nick'?"
The public appeal campaign the BBC Archive Treasure Hunt continues to search for lost episodes.
The ordinary, everyday nature of the people and the setting was emphasised in early episodes by the British music-hall song "Maybe It's Because I'm a Londoner" with its sentimental evocations, being used as the series theme song. It was composed by Hubert Gregg, but this was replaced with an instrumental theme composed by Jeff Darnell later released as a single under the name "An Ordinary Copper".
Release and reception
The BBC scheduled Dixon of Dock Green in the family time slot of 6:30 on Saturday night. At the time it started on air in 1955, the drama schedule of the BBC was mostly restricted to television plays so that Dixon had little trouble in building and maintaining a large and loyal audience. In 1961, the series was voted second most popular programme on British television with an estimated audience of 13.85 million. Even in 1965 after three years of the gritty and grimy procedural police-work of Z-Cars, the audience for Dixon stood at 11.5 million. However, as the 1960s wore on, ratings began to fall and this, with health questions around Jack Warner, led the BBC to end the series in 1976.
The series was the creation of writer Ted Willis, who not only wrote the series over its 20 years on British television but also had a controlling hand in production. Longtime producer of the series was Douglas Moodie whose other television credits include The Inch Man and The Airbase. Dixon was originally produced at the BBC's studios at Lime Grove. Altogether some 430 episodes were made, at first running 30 minutes and later 45 minutes.
A collection of the first six available colour episodes was released by Acorn Media UK on DVD in July 2012, with the following episodes;
- 1. Waste Land (Series 17, Episode 1 – 14/11/70)
- 2. Jig-Saw (Series 18, Episode 1 – 20/11/71)
- 3. Eye Witness (Series 20, Episode 1 – 29/12/73)
- 4. Harry's Back (Series 20, Episode 3 – 12/01/74)
- 5. Sounds (Series 20, Episode 16 – 13/04/74)
- 6. Firearms Were Issued (Series 20, Episode 17 – 20/04/74)
A second collection of six episodes was released by Acorn Media UK on DVD in in July 2013, with the following episodes: 
- 1. Target (Series 21, Episode 1 – 15/02/75)
- 2. Seven for a Secret – Never To Be Told (Series 21, Episode 2 – 22/02/75)
- 3. Baubles, Bangles & Beads (Series 21, Episode 5 – 15/03/75)
- 4. Looters Ltd (Series 21, Episode 7 – 29/03/75)
- 5. A Slight Case of Love (Series 21, Episode 10 – 19/04/75)
- 6. Conspiracy (Series 21, Episode 13 – 10/05/75)
Remake for BBC Radio
- 1. London Pride
- 2. Needle in a Haystack
- 3. Crawford's First Pinch
- 4. Dixie
- 5. Rock, Roll and Rattle
- 6. Roaring Boy
- 1. Little Boy Blue
- 2. The Gentle Scratcher
- 3. The Captain (based on the episode "The Rotten Apple")
- 4. Andy Steps Up
- 5. Give a Dog a Good Name
- 6. The Key of the Nick
Dixon in other shows
The Black and Blue Lamp by Arthur Ellis was screened in the BBC2 Screenplay series of drama plays on 7 September 1988. In the play – which begins with a montage of key scenes from 'The Blue Lamp – Tom Riley (Sean Chapman) and Police Constable Hughes (Karl Johnson) are projected forwards into a violent parody of 1980s police procedurals called The Filth. Once there, they meet the corrupt Superintendent Cherry (Kenneth Cranham) and Superintendent Hammond (John Woodvine), and discover just how much policing has changed between the two periods.
One of Dixon's closing monologues from Dixon of Dock Green was recycled for the final scene of Ashes to Ashes in 2010. Like The Black and Blue Lamp, characters in Ashes to Ashes and its predecessor, Life on Mars, were seemingly sent into different eras of policing. Moreover, Dixon's 'resurrection' for Dixon of Dock Green, after having been killed in The Blue Lamp, parallels the stories of the principal characters in Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, having been explained in the final episode.
- Dowling, Tim (19 July 2012). "Your next box set: Dixon of Dock Green". The Guardian.
- Although it is never mentioned on-screen in The Blue Lamp, Bert could possibly be the young sailor in uniform whose photograph can be seen on the Dixons' mantlepiece.
- "Dixon of Dock Green". Whirligig-tv.co.uk. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
- Ealing and Brentford: Public services, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7: Acton, Chiswick, Ealing and Brentford, West Twyford, Willesden (1982), pp. 147–149. Date accessed: 10 May 2008.
- McEwan, Kate (1983). Ealing Walkabout: Journeys into the history of a London borough. Cheshire, UK.: Nick Wheatly Associates. p. 45. ISBN 0-9508895-0-4.
- Collins, John. "A brief history of the Metropolitan police in Brentford and Chiswick". Retrieved 26 July 2013.
- Baron, Alexander. "Digital Journal". David Rathband – The Spirit of the Blue Lamp. Digital Journal. Retrieved 1 March 2012.
- "Dixon of Dock Green Collection Two". Retrieved 10 May 2013.
- Simon Brew (21 May 2010). "The significance of the final shot of Ashes to Ashes". Den of Geek. Dennis Publishing. Retrieved 25 May 2010.