This article was originally published in Issue 1 of the Curious British Telly fanzine.
The opening episode of Parkin’s Patch sets up its rural atmosphere as Police Constable Moss Parkin (John Flanagan) deals with a case of sheep rustling. In the fictional Yorkshire village of Fickley, Moss knows everyone, cares about his patch and seems respected by most of the community.
Yet despite its early evening broadcast slot in some regions, the series is far from a predictable, cosy teatime drama. After watching a few episodes, you can never be sure which direction an episode is going to take. A petty thief threatens his mother with a kitchen knife, a vandal confesses to murder, and Moss is physically sick after discovering a dismembered body. The programme can be thought-provoking on matters affecting wider society as well as shining a light on rural issues. John Flanagan was only 22 when the series aired from 1969-1970 and even if Moss might be a tad older, he’s still young and his limited experience sometimes shows.
Moss is regularly supported by Detective Constable Ron Radley (Gareth Thomas). While Moss appears happy for now in his role, Ron is a tad more ambitious and has an eye on his Sergeant exams. Ron can frequently be found in the Parkins’ kitchen with a cup of tea and Moss’s wife, Beth (Heather Page). Moss offers the odd comment or look at finding Ron alone with Beth, but it really is innocent enough. Beth herself is content to do the shopping, cook Moss’s tea and be an ear for his frustrations.
Moss’s life is dedicated to the job and living in a house attached to the Fickley station adds to this. It’s rare we see him off-duty and even if he technically has clocked-off, he’s discussing work with Beth. She never objects to this, but the all-consuming nature of her husband’s vocation is an occasional source of annoyance. Ron does drop by unannounced, but it is always on business and, despite getting on with each other most of the time, he and Moss are nothing more than colleagues. They don’t meet up for a drink after their shifts, they don’t confide things and their relationship lacks any of the warmth or ribbing and ribaldry that friends might demonstrate. As a result, plots are usually tightly focussed around crime and policing.
Although Ron once accuses Moss of being too friendly with people, I find his demeanour removed and official – he’s hardly the face of a genial village bobby. He’s suspicious of everyone he encounters and often treats victims and criminals in a similar manner. Nonetheless, Moss’s actions generally credit him, and he clearly has in mind the best interests of both individuals and the community.
With Moss, Ron and Beth the only regular characters, there are numerous guest actors to spot, including Pauline Collins, Glynn Edwards, Ronald Lacey, William Russell and Peter Sallis. There is also an appearance from Len Jones, who had become known to viewers over the previous year as the voice of Joe McClaine in Gerry Anderson’s Joe 90.
On the surface, Parkin’s Patch can be a regular police procedural, but its different writers (Allan Prior, Ian Kennedy Martin) also offer a range of stories that vary in tone and structure. There are episodes in which no crime at all is committed and some where the crime is only discovered at the end of an episode. While certain stories put Moss directly in the limelight, such as when someone threatens Beth and when he’s accused of theft, others give him more of a backseat, enabling the criminals and other characters to take centre stage.
Among the latter is The Deserter, in which Moss supports a military police officer who has come after an army deserter. It’s one way the series brings in elements that would usually be outside Moss’s remit. With the deserting soldier’s mother ill, we’re asked to sympathise with him at times, but the episode is also unusual for having a slight farcical aspect in the chase after the private.
Boys is another Moss-lite story and one of a few that only exist in monochrome, but its atmosphere seems the better for it. We largely follow four lads who steal a car belonging to the father of one of the boys. They really do look young, being only around 13 or 14, and I suspect more modern dramas would be inclined to depict slightly older teenage joyriders. Their adventure was just supposed to be an extension of the re-enactments of their favourite films – it’s apparent that they have seen lots of American crime thrillers, quoting and acting out entire scenes. Among the seriousness of what happens, the episode does a wonderful job of portraying the boys’ childish innocence.
The interesting exploration of characters continues in The Journey, which is almost entirely a two-hander between Moss and a thief, Curry, who Moss is accompanying on a train from London. It doesn’t show Moss in a great light but it’s certainly a fair one. His standard hostility only stokes his companion, making it easy for Curry to get a rise out of Moss, who readily admits he has a temper. Curry has nothing to lose and Moss’s inexperience is apparent as he ends up making his own task far more challenging.
Parkin’s Patch is probably less well-known partly because it wasn’t fully networked and, although broadcasts originally started between 6 and 7pm, days and times varied across the country, with schedule movements later on. It’s six-month run may have ultimately been brief, but the 26 episodes of Parkin’s Patch offer a variety of interesting plots and characters with many well-crafted stories that generally move at an ideal pace for the series’ half-hour format.