Timothy Bateson

Series 4 Episode 8: The Bandit from Stoke-on-Trent

In which our heroes mingle with the criminal classes…

Bob: Timothy Bateson! Timothy Bateson! Timothy Bateson!

NOTE : It took a full five minutes, two cups of tea and half a packet of McVitie’s Hobnobs to pull Bob down from his character actor-fuelled mini-stroke.

Bob: What a brilliant surprise… a fabulous, fruity British character actor who’s never failed to light up absolutely anything I’ve seen him in. He’d be doing his marvellous thing in the Doctor Who story The Ribos Operation a few months after this episode was broadcast, so 1978 was a vintage year for seasoned Timothy Bateson-watchers.

Attention Griffin Savers!

Attention Griffin Savers!

Anyway, he turns up here as the suave but slimy Amos, clearly an old acquaintance of our heroes with a reputation that’s less than salubrious. ‘You’ll love Amos, he’s a laugh a minute,’ enthuses Clegg, and for once there’s not a hint of sarcasm. It’s a brilliant guest performance from Bateson that brings the episode to life. Is Amos really a seasoned criminal? We’re never sure, but our heroes are constantly checking their wallets to be on the safe side.

Andrew: I’m not as entirely enamored of Amos as you are. Bateson was undeniably a great actor – with his roles in Labyrinth and Tugs being my standouts – but his character here is both written and performed a little too broadly for my tastes. It’s almost as if he’s popped over for a visit from a David Croft sitcom. I love Croft’s work, but his tone is a million miles from Roy Clarke’s.

Bob: There’s some lovely late 1970s nostalgia in this episode. The sight of an old-school Midlands Bank, complete with griffin logo, took me back… as did the pub’s stained brown snooker room, complete with wooden fag machine and leatherette seats. There aren’t many pubs these days that have maintained that level of studied shabbiness throughout the decades. And so, in a fit of Foggy-led paranoia, our heroes become convinced that Amos is back in town with the intention of robbing said bank, despite all appearances to the contrary.

It’s an episode with the bare minimum of plot, but a delicious helping of lovely character acting and fine, fruity dialogue. Where else can you see two old ladies in a shop, talking about the ‘illustrated sex manual’ bought by one of their husbands. ‘Is it fully illustrated?’ asks one old dear, her eyes agog. ‘You must be joking,’ comes the reply. ‘I couldn’t eat solid food for a week’. Pure Northern nudge-nudge, and I love it.

'...an illustrated sex manual'.

‘…an illustrated sex manual’.

Andrew: That really shocked me actually, but I think I might have read more into the lines than was actually there! I’m a scrotty little herbert by default.

Bob: And then, right at the end, apropos of nothing, a moment of pure poignancy from Clegg. ‘We were married all those years, and we never had children,’ he ponders, staring wistfully into space. ‘Do you think flannelette sheets cause impotence?’

I’ve never heard Clegg be so rueful about anything in the series so far, but my heart went out to him here. A really nice touch, made all the more striking for its incongruous inclusion amongst the belly laughs. 

Andrew: Yep, in the poignancy stakes, that’s up there with Ivy’s wistful look at Compo’s extended family, back during Series 2.