Patrick Mower's autobiography ...
Patrick Mower published his autobiography in 2007, and in a chapter entitled "Demons" had the following to say about his involvement with Target (p.217-21):
(...) I got a phone call from David Wickes the producer saying he was sending me the script for a new police series for the BBC. The series had yet to be named but it was a revolutionary concept for the corporation as it would be their first shot at filming a whole series outdoors.
Four years after Euston Films had paved the way, the BBC were finally waking up. But Im afraid Target, as the series was finally named, was doomed from the word go.
Philip Hinchcliffe, a very nice, intelligent and affable BBC man, was the producer. But they couldnt even get the shows name right. David, its creator, wanted it to be called Hackett, the name of my character, in line with contemporary top American shows like Kojak and Columbo. But the BBC refused, arguing, "That will give Patrick Mower too much power if he wants to leave the show and we still want to carry on with it."
They insisted on calling it Target, which was an awful title as it made it sound like a nice childrens show instead of the hard hitting cop drama it was to be. That was bad enough, but the BBC, bless em, just hadnt a clue about shooting film. With a film you have a director assisted by a first assistant director, then a second, then a third and possibly a fourth assistant, with the orders being passed down the line from the director. Not at the BBC! Being an egalitarian organisation, the BBC insisted on a director and five equally responsible assistant directors.
How many electricians does it take to change a lightbulb?
This was the same ludicrous system.
David Wickes directed the first episode, which involved numerous screeching car chases which left the BBC trailing in their wake. Ken Westbury, the camera operator, tried his best to catch all the action of a car racing at 60 miles per hour into a handbrake turn, and then followed Hackett leaping from the moving car, diving over a hedge and rolling over to reveal his gun. But it wasnt what he was used to.
He complained to me that I was running and diving too fast, explaining that for the past four days he had been quietly sitting on top of a "cherry-picker" sedately following the flight of a golf ball in a ladies match at Wentworth.
A problem was that no BBC employee was allowed to request which programme they worked on. Everybody was delegated. And that didnt make for a happy ship. The make-up artist admitted she would prefer to have been on Jackanory rather than finding, to her disdain, that she had to apply bruises and bloodstains to battered bodies.
With my experience in Special Branch and other outside-broadcast productions, like The Sweeney, I was horrified as I watched Wickes going hoarse screaming at these amateurs as he battled to shoot the first episode in ten days. This process continued throughout filming, with most people complaining bitterly that it was impossible to shoot, ignoring the fact that Euston had already filmed 26 hours of Special Branch, each episode shot in ten days, and then had done the same with The Sweeney.
In fact, two years later, when Trevor Eve was asked to repeat our exercise of shooting an hour of Shoestring in ten days he found it impossible. The first episode of Shoestring stretched into three weeks, the second episode was cancelled, the third was almost three weeks. The BBC were profligate. The corporation used to be very high-handed, thinking they were the Almighty, but they were incredibly disorganised. As Target was on film, we had no rehearsal rooms. This caused mayhem.
When Douglas Camfield, the director for the third episode, rang up the BBC to ask where I was filming, he was told there was no such programme as Target. Persevering, he got through to BBC drama publicity to be told, "Patrick Mower is an ITV contract artist and does not work for the BBC!"
We used to make one programme in Bristol and the next in Southampton and used those studios facilities. The rest of the time our headquarters were in Ealing. The BBC were so insular that the crew were told not to watch or talk about ITV.
I wanted to make Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Hackett different from Cross and Haggerty. So, with the producers support, I based the character more on Clint Eastwoods Dirty Harry-style policeman. If he was punched, he punched back. He was tough – and he meant it. He was aggressive and I hid my charm under a bushel.
We shot some terrific episodes and a measure of its authenticity and success was painfully rammed home to me one chilly afternoon when I was playing in Dennis Watermans Soccer XI against a Sussex police team in Greenwich. The police had two enormous sergeants playing in their defence and, as I lifted my arms while leaping to head a Waterman cross from a corner, one of them elbowed me in the ribs. As I lay in a crumpled heap, the sergeant stepped over me, looked down and said, "Sorry, Pat, but Ive always wanted to do that to a bleeding superintendent."
The Referee awarded a penalty – and I got up and scored it.
But the sergeant really left his mark on me. He had broken two of my ribs, which, apart from my nose, are the only broken bones I have ever sustained in all my years of high activity whether in sport or leaping, diving, kicking, fencing, judo – you name it – as an actor.
As we began filming the second series of Target, I could feel the edge was gradually being taken off the show. I had script approval and director approval but not, it seems, Mary Whitehouses approval. She had mounted a campaign against the programme with a vengeance, declaring in a letter circulated to members of her National Viewers and Listeners Association, "On Thursday night Patrick Mower, playing Det Supt Hackett, was insubordinate to a superior officer, punched a fellow officer, said the word "bloody" three times and was seen in bed with a drug addict (female). I am sure you will agree that we do not want this sort of programme on our beloved BBC TV. Please send a copy of the above comments to Alasdair Milne, Director General."
At the BBC, and indeed at my home and my agents office we were getting letters by the hundred saying thank goodness the BBC is at last competing with ITV. Possibly few of those letters found their way to Alasdair Milne. But he heard from Mrs Whitehouse & Co.
We were told he received 5,000 letters from her League of Light and he made a statement declaring that he felt it was his bounden duty to stand up and say it was a mistake to make Target – and he would take it off immediately.
As if that wasnt bad enough, an influential report on violence from America came out. Its author, Dr William Belson, declared that "there is too much gratuitous violence, whether verbal or physical, on TV and note what a harming effect it can have on children".
Critics, policy makers, features editors all looked round for someone to blame and as the only show in town was Target we took all the flak. They were looking for violence on television and in Target they found it. It was lucky for all the other cop shows that they were not being screened at the time.
But Target was not meant to be a programme for children. The police themselves loved its tough style, saying it had far more veritas than The Sweeney or The Professionals. The show was successful but was a victim of circumstance.
The atmosphere and collective vibes were that it was doomed, and my sense of foreboding at the start proved right.
The BBC killed it off and it has never been repeated, despite constant requests, because of Milnes statement.
... put into perspective
An archive TV researcher longs for every line published on Target. Sadly, Patrick Mower often fails to deliver the goods. It is disappointing that, in order to give his writings an "edge", he presents some of the people he worked with as "amateurs". One would have hoped for more fairness and, of course, accuracy. Just as the rest of the book those few pages are laden with errors:
- David Wickes was the director, not the producer.
- Douglas Camfield was the director for the third episode shown (the second to be filmed).
- The surviving PasCs credit three assistant directors for each Target episode.
- The stunt scene referred to above (if it exists at all) is probably from the episode Vandraggers, the third to be filmed and Ken (!!) MacMillan's first.
- In Vandraggers, according to the PasC Patrick Mower was doubled by stuntman Cliff Diggins and stunt arranger Peter Brayham respectively. He was doubled in most of the other episodes (usually by Cliff Diggins).
- ("Quietly ... sedately" – I dont know what you call it but I call it bad writing.)
- Outside Broadcast productions are completely videotaped and thus the opposite to all-film productions.
- The BBC Director-General in 1977-8 was Ian Trethowan.
Not surprisingly, other key contributors to the show(s) remember things differently. Ken Westbury, having read the relevant pages, said:
(KW) To put the record straight, I only shot the odd Target episode and certainly not the first or even the first few. I also certainly never shot a golf match on a "cherry picker". I was always senior cameraman supervising about 9 crews. None of the matches were ladies either. I must say that Patrick Mower (...) should have got his facts right before printing this load of rubbish about the BBC. (...) Also if I remember rightly Shoestring, once it got going, ran pretty smoothly.
The following statement was given by cinematographer John Daly, who was a BBC assistant cameraman at the time:
(JD) I did work on the 2nd episode of Shoestring, shot by Peter Hall which Mower claims was cancelled! I have (..) consulted my dairy for 1979 (I knew they would be useful one day) and see the 2nd episode of Shoestring was shot between March 23rd to April 6th 1979 which included days off, so I can confirm that we shot it in 11 days which included 2 half days travel to Bristol and back to London. I cannot recall there being any problems on Shoestring.
The comments of the director of that episode (Knock for Knock), Roger Tucker, are very much in the same vein:
(RT) (..) this was a case of a whole bunch of us coming together at a particular point in time, hell-bent on showing what we could do. Graeme MacDonald had just taken over as Head of Series and Serials at the BBC, it was Robert Banks Stewarts first job as producer, and it was my first chance to do an all-film drama. (...) The BBC invented their own way of doing television without regard for the outside world. For example, a production assistant at the BBC did a totally different job from a production assistant in ITV or, for that matter, in the film industry. (...) As to the specifics of car chases and punch-ups, there was no difference — at least, not for long, because techniques picked up at one company would rapidly be cross-pollinated to the other by freelances like myself. (...) The language of film is universal, and far more important than the company hoops you have to jump through is the spirit and inventiveness of the individuals in the team.
Finally, a few years ago I asked David Wickes about his contribution to Target. Originally the material should have been used for an article in Action TV, which fell through due to lack of suitable photographic material and "creative differences". Some of it was then used for an article in the German language book Dark Zone, edited by Martin Compart and published in 2004, about British TV series with a film noir aspect. The Target part of the interview is reprinted here in its entirety.
(Q) There are conflicting accounts as to how Target was set up (Roger Marshall vs. Ben Bassett/Ken Clark). Can you shed any light on this? Also, when Roger decided to leave the project, was Graham Williams or Philip Hinchcliffe in charge?
(DW) Target was an amalgamation of several talents and the product of many meetings and discussions. The BBC had originally contacted me and asked if I would be interested in giving them the "answer" to The Sweeney which was currently carrying very big audiences on ITV. Several ideas were then discussed. I was introduced to Philip Hinchcliffe who, like me, was attracted to the notion of a series based on the Regional Crime Squads, one of which formed the basis of Target. As I recall, just about the only disagreement that Philip and I had was over the title which I still think was too bland and did the project no great favours. As to Graham Williams, I cannot remember any significant input from him.
(Q) After Philip took over you obviously sat down with him and drafted a new pilot which is very powerful and must have opened a few eyes in 1977. What were your guidelines for the script?
(DW) As mentioned above, the BBC wanted its own rival to The Sweeney - this was the main guideline.
(Q) Hackett was a very tough protagonist who did not inspire a lot of viewer affection and identification (in direct opposition to Regan and Carter). Would you say the series was years ahead of its time in this respect?
(DW) What Philip and I tried to do with the Hackett character was to invent a man of the "radical centre" as disctinct from a man of the radical Right or of the radical Left. The whole point of Hackett was that he saw flaws in all extremities and lashed out at all of them. This almost certainly antagonised people of many different views that prevailed at the time. A few years later came Thatcherism, Glasnost and Perestroika, the collapse of Communism, the softening of Thatcherism into what we have now. So yes, in a sense, Hackett was a preview of today; and when one is trying to glimpse the future, one can easily disturb an audience. My guess is that Hackett would not disturb a modern audience.
(Q) In 1978 the BBC deliberately reacted to critics and viewer reactions and toned everything down, as shown by the tame season opener. Who exactly was responsible for the change of pace? I take it no-one asked for your advice on the second series?
(DW) You are right. Nobody asked my advice - for the simple reason that I was doing other things, among them The Sweeney feature film. In large organisations, there are always legions of apparatchiks who come out of the woodwork to claim ownership or to put their fingerprints on a successful formula (Target was successful, which is why there was a second series) but the trouble with such people is that they are career executives, not creative authors. Such people automatically fear originality because it threatens the status quo in which they believe their future resides - so the cry from such people will always be "make it blander".
(Q) You wrote and directed one episode, Queen's Pardon, which is more of a character piece than all-action stuff, hence in keeping with the spirit of the second series. Would you say it worked well?
(DW) Yes, that particular episode got quite a lot of press, not least because the guest star was a well-known and well-liked stage comedian called Max Wall. This was Max's first dramatic role and I thought he carried it off very well. He showed me several letters from viewers who said they had been in tears at the end of the show when he blew himself up to draw attention to an injustice.
(Q) (Cinematographer) Fred Hamilton (...) doesn't remember to have been 'cherry-picked' but he has fond memories of working on this particular show nonetheless. What made you choose him for the job?
(DW) Fred was one of a number of experienced DPs shown to me by the BBC's film department. They arranged screenings of these men's work at Ealing Studios. Fred's lighting was slightly more dramatic than that of the others, so I asked to meet him. His personality was so much in tune with the style and methodology of the series that I had no hesitation. He and his crew, while inexperienced initially in the kind of guerilla filmmaking required, were a delight to work with.
Thanks to Ken Westbury, John Daly, Fred Hamilton, Roger Tucker, David Wickes, Jonathan Sothcott and Steve Rogers for their help with and contributions to this page.