Thursday 24 January 2019

Carrying On with The Gentle Touch

I absolutely love the classic television series The Gentle Touch. I'd obviously heard of it before and was aware of its star, the excellent Jill Gascoine, for many years but until earlier this year I'd never actually seen the show. This all changed when Talking Pictures TV announced they were running every episode of the series, all 56 episodes across five series, made between 1980 and 1984.

The series starred Jill Gascoine as Detective Inspector Maggie Forbes, who has worked her way up through the ranks of the police force and is based at Seven Dials, a station in Central London. Maggie's husband, a police constable, is murdered during the first episode, leaving her to juggle her career and single parenthood, raising her teenage son. 

The Gentle Touch largely dealt with routine police procedures and offered a frank depiction of relevant social issues such as sexism, racism, homosexuality and mental health. It marked a major departure from other police action series such as The Sweeney or The Professionals as it mainly offered a more realistic and low key approach. Although the series mostly focused on Maggie's professional life in a male-dominated field, it also showed her home life with her teenage son Steve, who in one episode she castigated for looking at porn, as well as her occasional romantic involvements which sometimes clashed with her job. In real life Jill Gascoine could not drive so when Maggie had to be seen driving the scenes would be shot using a car towed behind the camera truck.

The Gentle Touch was a ratings success in the UK, where it was screened on Friday nights in a 9 pm slot (except for the final series which was shown on Saturday nights). One episode shown in January 1982 garnered over 18 million viewers and was the 5th most watched television programme in Britain that year.

You might wonder why I'm writing about this, apart from the fact it's just an ace piece of television drama. Well despite its subject and content not being exactly prime Carry On territory, the series did actually feature a fair few Carry On actors. Fancy finding out who they were and what they got up to? Well read on

Regular supporting actor in six Carry Ons, from Carry On Matron to England, Brian Osborne appeared the first series episode Rogue in 1980, playing Detective Inspector Jim Souter. A year later, the instantly recognisable character actor Harry Towb cropped up as Martin Hersh in the story, Scapegoat. Harry had a cameo role as the doctor in the sex film seen briefly in Carry On At Your Convenience! 

One of my favourite actresses, the fabulous Dilys Laye guest starred in the 1982 episode, entitled Vigil. Playing a rather feisty, upper crust and glamorous fraudster, Dilys displays both her natural comedic talent and flair for straight dramatics in the affecting role of Annette. We all love Dilys for her four 1960s Carry Ons - Cruising, Spying, Doctor and Camping. Two years later, in 1984, Angela Douglas joined The Gentle Touch in the role of Betty Farrell. Angela's character appeared in A Woman's Word, a story which sees Maggie Forbes struggle to keep the confidence of an informer.

The 1982 series also featured the legendary character actress and future Miss Marple extraordinaire, Joan Hickson. Joan, who appeared in five Carry Ons between 1958 and 1973, guest starred in the episode Auctions as Sarah Meade. This episode sees Maggie investigate the refined world of fine art. It also sees the actor Bernard Kay make an appearance, playing Finnerman. Bernard had a very small role as a Recruit in the very first Carry On film, Carry On Sergeant, in 1958. 

Playing the excellently named Selina De Sade in the 1984 episode Exit Laughing is the glamorous Wanda Ventham. Yes, she's the mother of Benedict Cumberbatch, but Wanda has also enjoyed an extremely varied acting career which also includes small parts in Carry On Cleo, Carry on Up The Khyber and The Big Job. Also in 1984, the great Larry Martyn cropped up in Mad Dog as a Minicab Driver. Larry had cameos in two 1970s Carry Ons - as the shooting gallery assistant in At Your Convenience and as the bemused electrician in Carry On Behind. 

Are You Being Served? legend and Carry On Screaming supporting actor Frank Thornton guest stars in the 1982 story Right of Entry, playing Leo. While playing Elaine Campbell in Appearances Can Be Deceptive in 1984 is Carry On Behind star Adrienne Posta. The story revolves around a woman who has killed her abusive husband, apparently in self defence until new evidence emerges…heavy stuff! Fellow Carry On Behind star Sherrie Hewson guest stars as Steph in the story Joker in 1982, the tale of a jewel thief and one policeman's attempt to frame him. The episode also starred Diana Dors' husband Alan Lake. 

Another familiar face to star in The Gentle Touch is actress and author Linda Regan. Linda, best remembered for her regular role in Hi-de-Hi, starred as Marilyn in the 1980 episode, Break-In. Four years earlier, Linda made her only Carry On film appearance, in Carry On England. 

And last but by no means least is the South African born actress Olga Lowe. Olga played a Supermarket Detective in Tough, Mrs Rudge in 1982. Olga, a long time friend and colleague of Sid James, played Madame Fifi in Carry On Abroad. She was also working with Sid James on that fateful night on stage in Sunderland in 1976. 

I hope you've enjoyed this run through the various Carry On faces to pop up in the brilliant series, The Gentle Touch. And a big thank you to Talking Pictures TV for introducing this classic show to a whole new generation of viewers. Wonderful stuff. 

And remind yourself of the cracking theme tune from the series here:

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

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