It was an ITC series so production values were quite high and it features a lot more location shooting than you expect in a mid-60s British cop show. The London locations are a definite highlight. It shared the same production team as The Saint - producers Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman and script supervisor Harry W. Junkin. It was shot at Elstree Studios in tandem with The Saint.
Gideon’s Way was based on the series of crime novels which John Creasey wrote under the pseudonym J.J. Marric.
An interesting feature is that while most cop shows have an Inspector or a Chief Inspector as the protagonist, natural enough since these are the officers who are going to be the ones conducting the actual investigations of crime, Gideon’s Way focuses on a very senior officer. A Commander is very unlikely to have any intimate involvement in investigations so this series has to fudge things a bit by finding ways to get George Gideon out on the streets. The experiment does succeed pretty well though, with Gideon mostly making command decisions that influence the course of investigations while the hands-on stuff is mostly left to Chief Inspector David Keen (Alexander Davion).
In John Creasey’s Gideon novels Gideon’s marriage is not exactly on the rocks but it’s far from being a perfect marriage and neither Gideon nor his wife could really be described as happy. The TV series makes the Gideon family pretty much the perfect happy family. I think it was a positive change - personally I get a bit tired of tortured heroes whose personal lives are a train wreck.
Unfortunately the series gets off to a rocky start. State Visit deals with terrorism but it’s a bit too inclined to be sympathetic to the terrorist. The ‘V’ Men taps into 1960s hysteria about neo-nazi conspiracies and an imminent fascist takeover of Britain. Worse than that it’s an utterly predictable story. And then we get The Firebug, another story that tries too hard to portray a villain as a victim. And it’s also very contrived.
The fourth episode, The Big Fix, is a more straightforward crime story but again with too much emphasis on criminals as victims, plus it’s a fairly unexciting story.
To Catch a Tiger is great stuff. A death-bed confession by a nurse suggests that a man may have murdered his wife. Gideon is determined to get this murderer but the odds seem hopelessly stacked in the murderer’s favour. There’s no hard evidence and there seems to be no way to prove the case. But Gideon hates admitting defeat.
Big Fish Little Fish is a Dickensian tale of child thieves but it’s the Fagin behind them that Gideon wants. Melodramatic but enjoyable. The White Rat pits Gideon’s team against a ruthless but dangerously unbalanced crime boss. The ending is a fine suspense set-piece.
How To Retire Without Really Working is about a very pleasant middle-aged couple who happen to be very successful thieves. Now it’s time to retire but that requires a lot of money. If only they could pull off one big job they’d be set. The twist in this episode is that they’re so nice that Gideon really doesn’t want to catch them.
The Tin God concerns a prison breakout. For Benny Benson it’s a chance to even the score with the person he believes betrayed him to the police - his own wife. And his wife knows that promises of police protection won’t do her any good. Benny will get her sooner or later, unless he is recaptured. A fine episode with a great performance from Derren Nesbitt as Benny.
The Alibi Man is an interesting tale of loyalty with some elements that are very surprising and very daring for 1965. A racing driver has been cheating his business partner and the ensuing confrontation ends in murder. The racing driver has an alibi but Gideon and David Keen are not entirely convinced by it. They’re not entirely convinced by any of the apparent circumstances but their suspicions do not amount to proof. A very good episode.
A Perfect Crime is the title but the perfect crime involved is like most perfect crimes. It’s very imperfect. It’s a brilliant and daring jewel robbery except that a girl is killed in the course of the theft. And the two thieves don’t trust each other. There’s good police procedural stuff in this episode but as usual in this series it’s the criminals’ own folly that brings them undone. A good episode.
The Millionaire's Daughter is a kidnapping story and to be honest the plot is fairly routine. But the execution is good and we get to see an early Donald Sutherland performance as a psycho. An average episode.
Morna is a 19-year-old girl found murdered. She was the perfect English Rose, an angel come down to dwell among mortals. Everyone loved her. No-one could possibly have wanted to harm her. At least that’s the story everyone is telling. But if all the is true there’s one problem - somebody most definitely did want to harm her. Maybe Morna wasn’t quite so perfect after all. This story is told largely through flashbacks which gives us the chance to see Morna through the eyes of various possible suspects. A good episode.
Despite that very bad start Gideon’s Way is a top-notch police drama with some clever scripts and by mid-60s British TV standards very high production values. John Gregson gives a very sympathetic performance but he doesn’t let us forget that while Gideon is a sensitive civilised man he’s also a cop, he takes his profession seriously and he doesn’t flinch from tough decisions.
Alexander Davion as Chief Inspector David Keen is also excellent. He’s smooth and sophisticated, a bit of a college boy type, with a seeming air of carefree irresponsibility but underneath he’s a non-nonsense cop who gets the job done.
Gideon’s Way is the product of an era in which cop shows were starting to move towards greater realism and greater emphasis on detailed police procedural stuff but before the unfortunate trend towards making everything dark and edgy and cynical. It gets the balance right, whereas from the early 70s on British cop shows veered too far in the direction of violence and nihilism. Gideon’s Way is a grown-up police drama that doesn’t insist on wallowing in the gutter. Highly recommended.
Gideon’s Way was based on the series of crime novels which John Creasey wrote under the pseudonym J.J. Marric. I’ve reviewed the first of the novels, Gideon’s Day, at Vintage Pop Fictions.