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Fear of Strangers, A (1964)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Fear of Strangers, A (1964)
For Drama '64, ITV, tx. 10/5/1964, 60 minutes, black & white
DirectorHerbert Wise
Production CompanyATV
Written byLeon Griffiths
Music Composed byJack Parnell

Stanley Baker (Chief Inspector Dyke); Earl Cameron (Ramsay); Garfield Morgan (Detective Sergeant Miller); Peter Williams (Superintendant Willis); Neil Wilson (Station Sergeant Joyce)

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A black saxophonist and small time crook is picked up by police on suspicion of murder. His problems multiply when the investigating officer lets his own issues influence the subsequent interrogation.

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Written by Leon Griffiths, whose later credits include Minder (ITV, 1979-91), A Fear of Strangers (ITV, tx 10/5/64) was written in 1958 but banned for six years by the Independent Television Authority, over concerns about Chief Inspector Tom Dyke's (Stanley Baker) racial abuse of black musician Ramsey (Earl Cameron).

The ban is curious, because it's difficult to be certain whether it reflected concern about compromising the integrity of police methods, or concern about the offence the racial abuse might cause to black viewers. One doesn't have to be a cynic to suspect that the former rationale carried the day. At the time Griffiths made his position clear: "A Fear of Strangers was against bad policemen, not policemen in general."

It's possible that to some, Dyke may have seemed a fairly reasonable sort. Therefore it was probably incumbent on Griffiths in his characterisation to put the question beyond doubt. One simple and obvious way would be to allow Ramsey to articulate a defence effective enough to counter Dyke's racism, so, so that even the most ardent censor might think the characterisations fair in the context. But Ramsey's defence of himself is feeble.

The interrogation itself is tightly structured. This is partly due to technical restrictions of the time and partly to the way the two central characters are portrayed. The camera roams around the room in long takes and the lighting is stark and harsh. Baker is excellent in the way he dominates the space in the scene; he doesn't so much speak his lines as bark them. He stands and walks around for much of the play and is able to strike more dynamic and telling postures, while Ramsey sits throughout, imprisoned in the small space of his chair. Cameron, cast against type, has to subvert his usually dignified air to portray a crooked and downbeat wastrel.

In an interview Cameron described the play as "a very good, strong two-hander," but described the earlier live television transmission as "...a nightmare. Nerve-racking."

Carl Daniels

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Video Clips
1. Dyke meets Ramsey (1:35)
2. The fight (3:48)
3. Sergeant and Ramsey (2:03)
Big Pride, The (1961)
Baker, Sir Stanley (1928-76)
Cameron, Earl (1917- )
The Television Play