‘Dick Turpin’ Episode 4: The Poacher (in which our hero makes a new friend)

Ep 4 Dick and Willoughby victorious
In which our hero makes a new friend

Synopsis: Turpin and Swiftnick hold up a traveller only to be informed that he’s already been robbed. Turpin concludes that a ‘poacher’ is working their patch. They chase a likely suspect, but decide not to follow the rider into the woods and to head him off instead. They meet a foppish young man called Willoughby (played by Rupert Frazer) who claims also to have been robbed. He is the nephew of Sir John Glutton and is en route for Rookham Hall. Turpin and Swiftnick allow Willoughby to go on his way, laughing at him as he does so. A mysterious man is watching all three of them from behind the trees.

Ep 4 lovely Willoughby
Rupert Frazer as Willoughby

Big Nell (played by Joan Rhodes) tells Turpin that a newcomer to the neighbourhood by name of Vizard (the mysterious man) is absent all day and when he returns his horse has been hard-ridden. Turpin is convinced that Vizard is the poacher.

Meanwhile at Rookham Hall, Captain Spiker is not impressed with Willoughby’s ways and is openly aggressive in his behaviour towards him. Glutton tells Spiker he should acquire some social polish if he wants to get on in life. While Spiker is practising his courtly bows in front of a mirror, a maid brings him a letter from Vizard, in which Vizard promises to help Spiker catch a notorious thief.

Ep 4 Spiker meets Vizard good pic
Spiker meets with Vizard

Spiker rides to meet Vizard at the appointed time, and Vizard (played by Michael O’Hagan) informs him that the thief referred to is Willoughby.

Turpin is planning to catch his poacher by means of posing as a wealthy traveller. He dons a wig and affects a foppish manner by way of disguise and joins Willoughby in a tavern. While Willoughby and Turpin drink together, Swiftnick goes through Willoughby’s saddlebags and discovers his identity as the poacher. Swiftnick takes Turpin aside to inform him of this, and then Turpin returns to the table to blow Willoughby’s cover. The three of them agree to co-operate in order to rob Glutton, and Willoughby, who longs to return to London, agrees to leave once he has acquired the sum sufficient to cover his gambling debts.

Ep 4 Swiftnick discovers the truth
Swiftnick discovers the truth

Turpin infiltrates Rookham Hall and, disguised as a servant, steals the key for the strongroom from under Glutton’s pillow. Willoughby is engaged in distracting Spiker. Glutton discovers that the key is missing and shouts for help. Turpin and Willoughby are cornered by Spiker, Glutton and Vizard as they try to escape. Spiker steps forward to challenge Turpin, but Willoughby intervenes, leaving Turpin to deal with Vizard. Willoughby outclasses Spiker in swordsmanship and easily defeats him, thus getting his revenge for Spiker’s earlier treatment of him. Turpin also wins his fight with Vizard and, having become firm friends with Willoughby, they get away with Glutton’s money.

Commentary: First of all, it has to be said that this is one of the funniest episodes I’ve seen so far, and it features a hugely entertaining and show-stealing turn by Rupert Frazer. The final confrontation between Spiker and Willoughby, when Willoughby outshines the captain as a swordsman, is an absolute joy, and the odious Spiker well and truly gets his comeuppance.

Ep 4 Willoughby turns out to be a fantastic swordsman
Spiker is no match for Willoughby

And, of course, Willoughby’s main contribution to the series is the discussion surrounding wigs. Turpin wears one disguise or another in practically every episode and more or less every disguise is effected by a wig, a coat and a different voice and/or accent.

O’Sullivan himself displays his versatility when he dons yet another round of disguises as the bogus servant Zachary and the rich traveller intended as bait for the poacher (click on the images below to enlarge).

And Swiftnick is not to be overlooked either: he reveals his talent for picking locks in this episode when he and Turpin have the key for the strongroom, but not for the treasure chest.

Ep 4 shall I pick the lock
‘Shall I pick the lock?’

Big Nell also comes to prominence in this episode as someone who both shields Turpin and provides him with information, and she will feature in many more episodes as the series goes on.

Ep 4 Nell tells Dick about Vizard

‘Dick Turpin’ Episode 3: The Champion (in which our hero lands another lucky punch)


Ep 3 reading the flyer
Clunky plot device: Tom ‘The Bristol Butcher’ Bracewell, drops a flyer that conveniently tells us the who, the what and the why, and which also serves to set events in motion

Synopsis: Turpin and Swiftnick are riding towards Mudbury, to lie low for a while. On the way, they save a man’s life when he is attacked by deserters. The man turns out to be Tom Bracewell, a prize-fighter on his way to a fight. Turpin brags to Swiftnick of the time he knocked out the English prize-fighting champion, but admits it was probably down to a lucky punch. Once at Mudbury, Turpin takes a bath while Swiftnick learns that a man named Nightingale is running a protection racket and terrorising the village.

Ep 3 Nightingale bullying the village
Nightingale extracting money from the people of Mudbury

Nightingale employs a thug by name of Hogg (played by Robert Russell) to beat up anyone who refuses to pay. Swiftnick brags of Turpin’s former victory and the villagers temporarily regard Turpin as their potential saviour until, following an altercation with Nightingale, Turpin is beaten by Hogg.

Ep 3 Hogg
Our first glimpse of Hogg

Turpin refuses to leave and is determined to rescue Mudbury from the clutches of Hogg and Nightingale. He engages Bracewell to challenge Hogg to a fight. On the day, however, Bracewell is nowhere to be found, and in order to avoid forfeiting the money put down for the challenge, Turpin steps into the ring in Bracewell’s place. Swiftnick breaks into Nightingale’s house to find out if Bracewell is being held there, but in fact Bracewell has been gagged and bound and is trapped in a box near where the fight is being held. A small boy in the crowd discovers Bracewell, and just in time – Turpin has been well and truly beaten up, but refuses to give in. Bracewell steps into the ring just as Turpin delivers one final punch which defeats Hogg. The village is freed and Nightingale is placed in the stocks.

Ep 3 Nightingale in the stocks
Nightingale in the stocks

Commentary: The deserters we see at the beginning of this episode are presumably from the Jacobite Rising of 1715. James II fled to France following the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 and was active afterwards as The Pretender. Those still loyal to James II feature in episodes which follow this one, as we shall see. The reigning monarch at this time was George I, who succeeded to the throne after Queen Anne’s death in 1714.

That which is most interesting about this episode is the way in which Turpin’s vanity manifests itself. He can’t reveal his name willy-nilly as he travels about the country because there is a very large price on his head and if captured, he will hang. The pair travel under assumed names: Mr Turner (close to Turpin) and Mr Nicholas Smith (which is Swiftnick’s real name, but it is a common enough name and he is unlikely to forget it). However, as we see in this and other episodes, there is a conflict between the necessity of keeping Turpin’s name a secret and his desire to create his own legend.

Ep 3 Turpin faces Hogg in the ring
A reluctant Turpin faces Hogg in the ring

In spite of Turpin’s vanity, he is hero-material nevertheless. He refuses to chuck in the fight, even though he is half-dead, and he is fighting under an assumed name – it is only at the end of the episode that he reveals his true identity. Fortunately for him, his ‘lucky punch’ replays itself and he lays out Hogg without having to concede the fight.

Ep 3 not going well
The fight is not going well for Turpin

This episode features a lovely over-the-top performance from John Grillo as the zealous tax-collector Father Nightingale. Turpin shows himself to be more than capable of preaching the Bible right back at the village’s oppressor, reminding us, perhaps, that he wasn’t always a highwayman and was once a gentleman-farmer. There are many funny moments in this episode and some excellent comic timing from O’Sullivan, who, of course, was something of a sit-com star (Man About the House in the seventies, Robin’s Nest and Me and My Girl in the eighties). The final fight itself, with Turpin dodging punch after punch, reminds me of the fight between Vitalstatistix and Cassius Ceramix (whose name is a pun on Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali’s real name) in Asterix and the Big Fight – and of course, Vitalstatistix emerges the victor in exactly the same way that Turpin does here.

Ep 3 the victor
Turpin, sore and swollen, but victorious


‘Dick Turpin’ Episode 2: The Capture (in which our hero is duped by Cleopatra and labelled a symbol of anarchy)

Ep 2 Turpin captured
Turpin is captured!

Synopsis: Swiftnick’s apprenticeship is not going well because he’s foolhardy and talks too much. Turpin is not pleased with him, but agrees to give him one last chance as long as he can do as he’s told and keep his mouth shut. Within minutes of their arrival at the White Lion, however, Swiftnick is telling tales of their adventures to one of the staff, a young girl called Kate. Spiker has been tipped off and arrives on the scene, only to receive a splendid black eye during the fight which ensues. Turpin assumes it was Kate who informed Spiker, so he arranges for Swiftnick to serve an apprenticeship with a gunsmith and leaves him behind.

Ep 2 Swiftnick gabbing
Swiftnick telling Kate tales of derring-do

Meanwhile, Sir John Glutton and Spiker are laying a trap for Turpin. An actress sentenced to three years for scrumping apples is disguised as a rich widow travelling alone. Turpin holds up her coach and is captured. He is thrown into jail and sentenced to hang.

Ep 2 Spiker hanged her father
Kate tells Turpin he used to ride with her father

Kate visits Turpin in jail and tells him that he used to ride with her father, who was hanged by Spiker. Turpin informs Kate where to find Swiftnick, and the two lay an explosive ambush to rescue Turpin as he is transported from jail to the place where he is to be executed. Swiftnick is forgiven and reconciled with Turpin.

Ep 2 Swiftnick arranges a surprise
Swiftnick and Kate rescue Turpin

Commentary: the themes of betrayal and loyalty characterise this episode. The ‘squealer’ at the White Lion witnesses Turpin’s arrival and rides off to betray his whereabouts, motivated no doubt by the thought of the £200 reward offered for Turpin’s capture. The actress, who tells us she has played Cleopatra, is induced to play her part in Sir John’s plot in exchange for her freedom, but she cooks her own goose when she demands the reward and is instantly slung back in jail.

Ep 2 Cleopatra
‘Cleopatra’ sentenced for scrumping

In spite of the generous reward on offer, there are those who are loyal to Turpin. Kate stands out as one who risks a great deal to help the man who once rode with her father, and when Swiftnick hears that Turpin has been taken, he charges to the rescue regardless, not worrying that Turpin had dismissed him from his service.

Ep 2 The gunsmith
The gunsmith

Something else to note in this episode is the way in which Spiker’s vanity and ambition is exploited by Sir John Glutton. Spiker spends quite a lot of time looking in mirrors (for which he is often berated) and Sir John knows that what the man wants is property, position and respect. ‘Rid the nation of this symbol of anarchy’, says Sir John, and promises to reward Spiker accordingly once Turpin has been safely hanged.

Ep 2 Cleopatra disguised
‘Cleopatra’ in disguise with Sir John

In spite of the seriousness of the heavy-weight themes and all the talk of hanging, it’s important to note that the series has a light-hearted touch throughout, with plenty of humour. The gunsmith comments that Swiftnick looks as if he’ll eat too much, for example. Our ‘Cleopatra’ gives a wonderfully hammy performance and Sir John can’t make up his mind whether or not he wants Spiker to knock before he comes in.

Ep 2 reconciled
Turpin and Swiftnick reconciled



‘Dick Turpin’ Episode 1: Swiftnick (in which our hero acquires a sidekick and reports of Turpin’s death are greatly exaggerated)

Generic strip image for each post

Dick Turpin was a television series produced by London Weekend Television and screened in half-hourly episodes from 1979 to 1982. Richard O’Sullivan starred as the eponymous hero, with Michael Deeks as Swiftnick, Christopher Benjamin as Sir John Glutton and David Daker as Captain Nathan Spiker. I loved this series when I was a kiddy, and I’ve just acquired the DVD box set so I’m planning on writing a short post dedicated to each episode with a plot synopsis and commentary. I’ve even worked out how to make screenshots from the DVDs so there’ll be pics too, and I’m not going to pretend that most of them won’t be of Richard O’Sullivan looking gorgeous because that most certainly will be the case. He was my first celebrity crush and I adoooooooored him.

Ep 1 Dick Turpin revealed
Dick Turpin revealed to the viewer for the first time

Richard Turpin was indeed a real person and you can read about his exploits here. The Turpin of the television series is a ‘Robin Hood’ type of character, who only steals from the rich and often shares what he has stolen with those less fortunate. As Swiftnick says in ‘The Imposter’, Turpin offers an opportunity for the poor ‘to drag [themselves] from the mire’. In addition, Turpin is a character who has turned to crime because his farm was stolen from him by Sir John Glutton while Turpin was away fighting for his country. But the real Turpin certainly wasn’t the noble hero depicted in the television series: he was a notorious highwayman and a murderer who was eventually hanged for his crimes. Fortunately though, most of us can tell the difference between real life and telly (some YouTube commenters excepted) and we know that this is just a bit of entertainment.

Dick Turpin Episode 1: Swiftnick in which our hero acquires a sidekick and reports of Turpin’s death are greatly exaggerated

Synopsis: Sir John Glutton plans to evict Mary Smith and her son Nick from The Black Swan inn where they hold tenure if they cannot pay twenty guineas in rent. Mary borrows the money from Dick Turpin, who holds up Sir John’s coach and takes the money back. Nick helps Turpin evade capture, but Nick himself is taken by Captain Spiker. Mary begs Turpin to rescue Nick and to let Nick ride with him as a highwayman. Turpin grudgingly agrees. Disguised as a doctor, Turpin tells Sir John that Nick has the plague. Turpin’s ruse is discovered by Spiker who arrives just as Turpin and Nick are about to make their escape, and a fight ensues. Turpin and Nick escape and the episode concludes with Turpin bestowing on his new sidekick the name of ‘Swiftnick’.

Ep 1 Swiftnick_s arrest
Nick Smith, later ‘Swiftnick’, is arrested

Commentary: In this, the first episode, everyone’s sort of finding their feet a bit – by which I mean ‘it’s not great’. The fights are very stagey and the scene in which Turpin and Mary are discussing Turpin’s past and Nick’s future in The Black Swan is uncomfortably like watching a filmed play, but this is in part owing to a pretty bloody awful performance on the part of Jo Rowbottom as Mary. She’s just terrible. The series improves rapidly, however, and this first episode is really just about providing expository information: who the characters are, Turpin’s tragic backstory as justification for his criminal activity, how Swiftnick becomes the sidekick, and so on.

Ep 1 genuine riding of horses
David Daker on horseback as Captain Nathan Spiker 

The other point to mention is that there is genuine riding of horses: O’Sullivan, Deeks and Daker are all seen mounting and dismounting, with a bit of trotting too perhaps, although obviously the more dangerous riding scenes (and there are lots of them) are clearly performed by stand-ins. Nevertheless, the actors were clearly required to do some actual horse-riding themselves.

Ep 1 The Farm
Jo Rowbottom as Mary Smith with Richard O’Sullivan as Dick Turpin

The key themes that emerge from this episode and that feature throughout the series are those of disguises, imposters, impersonators, and the use of Turpin’s name. Turpin is presumed dead at the beginning of the story, hanged for his crimes, but this turns out to be another man who used Turpin’s name to carry out his own acts of robbery and who eventually went to the gallows still professing to be Turpin. The most interesting moment of the episode comes when Nathan Spiker, who believes Turpin to be still alive, is explaining to Sir John Glutton why anyone would want to die in another’s stead. Spiker claims that the carnival atmosphere attending the execution of a celebrated criminal is such that the condemned man had to be Turpin to the end, to go out in a blaze of (someone else’s) glory. Even Nick Smith takes on Turpin’s name to steal the twenty guineas needed to pay the rent; unfortunately for him, the traveller he tries to rob is none other than Turpin himself. There is a kind of hero-worship that surrounds Turpin in as much as other would-be thieves are anxious to emulate him. And it is easy enough to pretend to be Turpin, when all the imposters have to do is pull a neck-tie up over their noses so the lower half of the face is obscured.

Ep 1 Dick Turpin in disguise
Turpin’s first disguise

In this episode, Turpin ‘dies’ twice: first when another goes to the gallows for him, and second when Turpin disguised as the doctor announces that Turpin has perished of the plague. Turpin also appears in disguise twice: first as the traveller who unwisely flashes his money in The Black Swan (thus provoking Nick’s attempted robbery), and second as the doctor. It takes no more than a wig, a pair of spectacles and an unconvincing accent.

Ep 1 another disguise
Turpin disguised as the doctor, with Christopher Benjamin as Sir John Glutton (far left)