There’s very few hidden gems from the 60s – most have been re-shown, reissued or remade. But one cult show has remained in the archive – Big Breadwinner Hog.
This late 60s crime series from the pen of Robin Chapman was certainly controversial – violence in the early episodes saw it banned or thrown to late-night schedules, certainly never repeated. But here it is now on DVD over 30 years later, allowing us to judge it without the moral outrage.
And it does hold up. Big Breadwinner Hog is actually a man called Hogarth, played by Peter Egan. He’s a hip young villain with a hip young crew, out to make some cash. But Hogarth doesn’t want to be a small player, he wants to be a "Big Breadwinner", making his mark against the established firms with some serious violence and a seriously big job. The violence is particularly nasty and there’s plenty of action – but then things change, with more plot and less sensationalism. Although that could be because Granada demanded things were toned down after one early episode showed a gangster attacked with acid in the face.
But it still works. Although there’s still an undercurrent of menace, there’s still a strong story – with Hog slowly battling his way up through the London crime ranks with the help of the experienced Izzard, making giant strides until perhaps reaching that little bit too far. At times the plot can get a little too complicated – and Hog’s sudden rise at the expense of the old hands is a little hard to believe, but it keeps you hooked – and that’s what good drama is all about.
But things don’t end there – also in the set is another late 60s crime drama from Robin Chapman – Spindoe – and for me, it’s every bit as good. Spindoe was a spin-off from another series (The Fellows) and starred Ray McAnally as Alec Spindoe, a South London gang boss, out of prison and out of luck – his assets have been seized by his wife and his "caretaker" Eddie Edwards. And to add to his woes, the North London boss (Mackleson) is after him too.
Yes, it’s that classic tale of one man fighting his way back against the odds. A top-notch cast, including supporting roles for crime regulars Glynn Edwards and George Sewell and every bit as gritty and threatening as "Hog", even if the violence is slightly more restrained. In fact, the story is much stronger here and far more believable, with plenty of twists, turns before the final gangland face-off.
Add to that the episode of The Fellows that introduced Spindoe and an episode of 70s series Villains (again written by Robin Chapman) starring Bob Hoskins and this is quite a package for anyone into classic British crime TV. If you’re taken by Get Carter and Performance, give this a whirl – even with the black & white images and the occasional pops and crackles, you’ll see these shows really are class acts.
Extras on the DVD:
Episode of Villains
Episode of The Fellows