Not so long ago, a beleaguered and, no doubt, overworked copper was sorting through evidence (who knows why – maybe Walt and Jesse had been up to their old tricks) and came across a bunch of cash marked with the tag PC World. Naturally, they immediately put out a call to see if Police Constable World could get in touch… the genius response was that he might be found through his supervisor, Dixons of Dock Green.
All of which isn’t amusing if you don’t know that there used to be electrical shops called Dixons, and before they stopped using the name, they shared space with PC World shops. And that Dixon of Dock Green ran for 21 years on the BBC – from 1955 to 1976.
There are a few things to note about Dixon, though. First is the sad fact that of the 429 episodes made over 22 series, only 44 survive in the BBC archives, thanks to their “wiping” policy. Love it or hate it, this kind of wanton destruction of our cultural history feels like a crime in itself, but I digress.
Second is that Jack Warner, who played George Dixon, was 60 at the time the series started – theoretically retirement age for a police officer in the UK. I’ve been told that this isn’t true, and there’s no hard-and-fast rule regarding retirement from the force, just about when you can retire on full pension, which makes that issue a bit more thorny. That said, there’s no doubt that he would have retired by 1976, when Jack Warner was 81.
The third is really the strangest of them all (and a spoiler, sorry). You see, the original character of George Dixon came from the 1948 film “The Blue Lamp”, where he was an ordinary policeman who was murdered in the course of an armed robbery. So let me just spell that out for you: the BBC made a series for 21 years based on a character who had died 7 years before the series began.
If George Dixon had an urge to munch on his fellow cast members’ cerebral cortices, it’s not much in evidence, at least in the few episodes I’ve seen. I’ve mainly looked at the older ones on YouTube (playlist here), but a Guardian review says that the later, colour 1970s episodes were grim and unremittingly tough. Clearly, the focus changed over the years to compete with the more hard-edged shows. Like The Sweeney, probably.
So, how close is George Dixon to being the British Columbo? As usual, these are completely subjective and arbitrary and you’re free to disagree with me.
Car: George didn’t have one. So that’s pretty much an automatic Score: 0/10
Ahead of the game: Not particularly. Although his considerable policing experience help tremendously, he’s not the Columbo style uber-sleuth. Score: 4/10
Personality: Just like Columbo, he’s a family may (one episode focuses on his daughter’s wedding to a fellow officer). Altogether a “good egg”, Dixon’s name is used, even today, as the stereotype of the good, honest, British copper. Score: 8/10
Investigative style: Dixon used his considerable experience, and knowledge of human nature, to break the cases. Until Jack Warner got too old and was consigned to a desk job, that is, but then Columbo wasn’t at its peak for its later years either. Score: 6/10
Sidekick: You can argue Dixon didn’t really have one, but if he did, it would undoubtedly be his son-in-law, the CID officer Sergeant Andy Crawford (later played in the 2005 radio remake by soon-to-be Doctor Who, David Tennant). But he’s no Dog. Score: 2/10
Violence: most of the violence was off screen, at least in the early years. Score: 7/10
Catchphrases and ambience: “Evening all” is pretty much a catchphrase for the entire British police. You can’t get more of a catchphrase than that. The ambience wasn’t quite as cosy as Columbo though, and the “battle of wits” really isn’t in evidence. Score: 6/10
Despite the lack of car, George Dixon leaps into the lead by 6 points with a score of 33. But truth to tell, he’s not even remotely close to the prize. There’s a few really heavy hitters he’d have to get past. Detectives who maybe, on reflection, seem entirely fitted to the post. See you next time…