Crown Court (TV series)
T. P. McKenna
|Opening theme||Sinfonietta by Janáček, 4th movement|
|Ending theme||Distant Hills by the Simon Park Orchestra, composed by Peter Reno|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||11|
|No. of episodes||879|
|Running time||23 minutes|
|Picture format||1.33 : 1 / colour|
|Original release||18 October 1972– 29 March 1984|
Crown Court was a television courtroom drama produced by Granada Television for the ITV network that ran from 1972, when the Crown Court system replaced Assize courts and Quarter sessions in the legal system of England and Wales, to 1984. It was transmitted in the early afternoon.
A court case in the crown court of the fictional town of Fulchester would typically be played out over three afternoons in 25-minute episodes. The most frequent format was for the prosecution case to be presented in the first two episodes and the defence in the third, although there were some later, brief variations.
Unlike some other legal dramas the cases in Crown Court were presented from a relatively neutral point of view and the action was confined to the courtroom itself, with occasional brief glimpses of waiting areas outside the courtroom. Although those involved in the case were actors, the jury was made up of members of the general public from the immediate Granada Television franchise area taken from the electoral register and eligible for real jury service: it was this jury alone which decided the verdict. Indeed, contemporary production publicity stated that, for many of the scripts, two endings were written and rehearsed to cope with the jury's independent decision which was delivered for the first time, as in a real court case, while the programme's recording progressed. However, the course of some cases would lead to the jury being directed to return 'not guilty' verdicts.
After an unscreened pilot (see 'Untransmitted stories' below), the first story to be shown was Lieberman v Savage (18 to 20 October 1972). Unusually this was a civil case, whereas the vast majority of subsequent instalments featured criminal trials, with only occasional civil cases such as libel, insurance or copyright claims.
There were some subtle changes in presentation in the early years. In the first year or so stories often opened with photographs of key figures or incidents around the alleged offence over which the court reporter would narrate the background to the case. In other instances there were filmed sequences but these were without dialogue and rarely showed the alleged offence. They were phased out a little earlier than the photos. Thereafter the action would immediately start in the courtroom.
Although the standard format was stories of three 25-minute episodes there were occasional variations. In 1973 there was one story of just one episode and another comprising two. In July and August 1975 a number of stories were presented in single extended episodes at 8.15pm on Saturdays - a prime time scheduling. They occupied a slot of 75 minutes (just over one hour for the story on-screen after adverts are taken into account). This was a brief interlude and the programme reverted to its standard format and daytime location thereafter.
The series was occasionally humorous and was even capable of self-parody. On 27 December 1973 a 52-minute self-contained episode Murder Most Foul had a distinctly light-hearted theme and even featured special Christmas-style titles and music. The 1977 story An Upward Fall, written by absurdist playwright N. F. Simpson, was played for laughs. This bizarre case featured an old people's home built atop a 3000-foot cliff; its only lavatories were located at the foot of the cliff. Other episodes were deadly serious, such as the story Treason in which a White Congolese man is found guilty by the jury and sentenced to death for treason by the court (a crime still punishable by execution under British law at that time).
An untransmitted pilot called Doctor's Neglect? was eventually broadcast as part of a repeat run on satellite channel Legal TV over 30 years later. Like the first transmitted episode, this was a civil case - in this instance relating to negligence. The pilot story differs in style in some important respects. Most notably it features informal conversations between the barristers in their quarters as well as them giving advice to clients. Neither aspect figured in episodes from the broadcast run itself, which strictly confined legal discussions to the courtroom. David Ashford, a regular in the programme's early stages as barrister Charles Lotterby, plays a different barrister called Derek Jones. Actors Ernest Hare and David Neal make their only appearances, as a judge and barrister respectively.
This was not the only example of untransmitted stories. In February 1974 the scheduled Traffic Warden's Daughter was replaced by The Getaway. In 1979 Heart To Heart, intended for transmission from 15 to 17 April, was replaced by a repeat of A Ladies' Man (originally broadcast 15–17 February 1977). Although neither story was ever broadcast on terrestrial TV they both received airings on Legal TV and have since been released on DVD.
Regular actors included William Mervyn, John Barron, John Horsley, Edward Jewesbury, Richard Warner, Basil Dignam, Laurence Hardy, Frank Middlemass, and Basil Henson as judges, John Alkin, David Ashford, Keith Barron, Jonathan Elsom, Bernard Gallagher, Peter Jeffrey, Charles Keating, Maureen Lipman, T. P. McKenna, Dorothy Vernon, Richard Wilson and William Simons were among the most common faces as barristers.
Other (currently or subsequently) famous names to appear on the show included Eleanor Bron, Warren Clarke, Tom Conti, Brian Cox, Honey Bane, Philip Bond, Michael Elphick, Sheila Fearn, Colin Firth, Brenda Fricker, Derek Griffiths, Nigel Havers, Ian Hendry, Bernard Hill, Gregor Fisher, Ben Kingsley, Ian Marter, Mark McManus, Vivien Merchant, Mary Miller, Geraldine Newman, Judy Parfitt, Robert Powell, Peter Sallis, Anthony Sharp, Michael Sheard, Barbara Shelley, Juliet Stevenson, Patrick Troughton, Mary Wimbush, Peter Capaldi and Mark Wing-Davey.
Production and archive details
- Although the (non-speaking) jury members were members of the general public, the foreman of the jury would have a small speaking role to deliver their verdict. For this reason the part of the foreman had to be played by a professional actor to stay within the rules imposed on Granada by the actors' union Equity.
- All episodes of a story would be recorded on the same day.
- The show was recorded in Studio Two, the largest studio at Granada Television; Crown Court shared the studio with University Challenge. Before Crown Court began transmission, its courtroom set was used for the court scenes in an episode of the sitcom Nearest and Dearest, A Pair Of Bloomers (transmitted on 20 July 1972); indeed, actor Malcolm Hebden played a court clerk in this episode as well as in several early episodes of Crown Court.
- In an effort to make the replica courtroom appear as realistic as possible to the 'jury', each episode was recorded as 'live', with retakes kept to an absolute minimum. The cameras (which at the time of production were large and cumbersome and required an operator to be present) were placed at strategic points and largely kept static, thus reducing any possible distraction caused by production requirements.
- The jury were given only 30 minutes to reach their verdict.
- Episodes included a brief voice-over narration by Peter Wheeler at the beginning either to introduce the context of the case (for the first episode of a story) or to summarise the events of the case so far (for the later episodes of a story).
- Early episodes of the series took the case name as the episode title, e.g. Lieberman v Savage (transmitted 18–20 October 1972) and "Regina v Lord" (25–27 October 1972). After the first eight cases, a short description of the issues in the case was added to the episode titles, such as Criminal Libel: Regina v Maitland (27-29December 1972) and A Public Mischief: Regina v Baker And Crawley (31 January-2 February 1973). This style persisted until Regina v Marlow: Freakout (7–9 March 1973); following these episodes the case title was dropped and episode titles became purely descriptive and remained so until the show ended in 1984.
- All episodes of Crown Court exist in PAL colour as originally transmitted, including the postponed Heart to Heart.
- The closing theme tune is entitled Distant Hills - the presumed view of a prisoner. Distant Hills was the B-side of the 1973 UK number 1 hit by the Simon Park Orchestra, Eye Level, which was the theme tune to the Amsterdam-based detective series Van der Valk.
- The programme's distinctive opening theme was the opening bars of the Fourth Movement (Allegretto) of Sinfonietta by Leoš Janáček.
- Joan Hickson, later to be well known for her portrayal of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, appeared as the defendant in a story written by another of the 'Queens of Crime', Ngaio Marsh.
- Robin Bailey and Peter Blythe played judges and barristers respectively in both Crown Court and Rumpole of the Bailey.
Repeats and commercial availability
- Legal TV and UK Satellite channel Red TV showed episodes from the series until December 2008 when Red TV rebranded itself from an entertainment channel to a music channel.
- Satellite channel Granada Plus repeated a number of episodes in the mid-1990s.
- Despite the almost full archive of broadcast quality episodes the series has never been repeated on ITV since the late 1980s.
- The story The Eleventh Commandment was included as an extra on Network DVD's 2007 release of The Sandbaggers Series 3 as it features the series' lead actor Roy Marsden.
- Similarly, the Network DVD release of The XYY Man included the Crown Court story An Evil Influence (15–17 October 1975) as an extra feature; Stephen Yardley, star of The XYY Man, plays the role of Dr Thanet.
- The Network DVD release of Strangers includes the 1977 story A Place to Stay, featuring Don Henderson.
- Seven volumes of stories have been released by Network DVD. These are in production order and currently include all those broadcast from the programme's inception to May 1974. The two instalments not broadcast by ITV are also included.
References and footnotes
- Down, R., Perry, C. (1995). The British Television Drama Research Guide, 1950-1995. Dudley: Kaleidoscope. ISBN 1-900203-00-6
- Legal TV 2007 documentary Crown Court Revisited
- lostshow.com on Crown Court