“The Blue Lamp” (1949)

From the Caroline’s Miscellany blog:

“…Blue lamps appeared outside London police stations in 1861. They would spread throughout not only Britain but also the empire: Bahamian police stations, for example, still have these lamps today.

There seems to be some uncertainty as to why the light is blue. Probably it was chosen to match the colour of police uniforms, themselves selected because blue was a fairly neutral colour and clearly distinct from the red of the military. However, it wasn’t popular with everyone: apparently, Queen Victorian objected to the lamp outside Bow Street Police Station. Every time she went to the nearby opera house in Covent Garden, it reminded her of the blue room in which Prince Albert had died. Bow Street was therefore unusual in having a white lamp.

Whatever its origins, the blue lamp became a symbol of British policing and in particular of its positive features. *Dixon of Dock Green gave his monologues under this light…”

From the website BFI screenonline:

“Probably the most famous of all British police films, The Blue Lamp (d. Basil Dearden, 1950) is a classic example of the Ealing Studios ethos of inclusiveness. The film was scripted by ex-policeman T.E.B. Clarke (from a story by **Ted Willis and Jan Read), the writer who arguably did most to define the studio’s postwar identity.

35mm, black and white, 84 mins

Production Company: Ealing Studios

Producer: Michael Balcon

Additional Dialogue: Alexander Mackendrick

Photography: Gordon Dines

Cast: Jack Warner (PC *George Dixon); Jimmy Hanley (PC Andy Mitchell); Dirk Bogarde (Tom Riley); Peggy Evans (Diana Lewis); Bernard Lee (Divisional Detective Inspector Cherry); Gladys Henson (Mrs Dixon)

A pair of London hoodlums, rejected by the established criminal set, execute a spate of robberies which finally results in the death of a policeman.

In a pseudo-documentary opening, the film offers itself as an examination of a new breed of young criminal, hardened by the war years, whose recklessness and violence contrasts with the discipline of the older criminal fraternity.

Dirk Bogarde’s edgy performance as loose cannon Tom Riley launched his career, but the centre of the film is Jack Warner’s unimpeachable PC George Dixon – even though Dixon is shot by Riley around halfway through and dies shortly after.

Dixon is the kind of ordinary hero who had become a commonplace of Ealing films during the war period. He is an unassuming moral giant of a man, loved by all those around him and always ready with a reassuring song and a piece of simple wisdom. The scene in which Mrs Dixon (Gladys Henson) learns of her husband’s death is a masterpiece of understated emotion, moving without falling into sentimentality.

As a British response to developments in the crime genre, however, the film is less successful. While there’s a convincing fury to Bogarde’s performance, the film lacks the moral complexity of the Hollywood film noir of the 1940s. In the place of film noir’s ambiguities, its blurring of boundaries between hero and villain, The Blue Lamp offers a very English vision of honest, cheerful bobbies unwavering in their determination to root out crime.

More interesting is the way the film suggests a moral hierarchy within the criminal fraternity, with Riley and his partner Spud sneered at by the more established villains for their recklessness and immaturity. In the memorable climax, Riley is finally captured thanks to an impromptu alliance of police and criminals. It’s a very Ealing conclusion – the community comes together, abandoning its internal divisions to defeat a common threat and restore the social order. It also recalls the expressionist classic M (Germany, d. Fritz Lang, 1931), in which police and underworld unite to defeat a child murderer.

Jack Warner’s George Dixon made a remarkable recovery from his untimely death, becoming known to millions of TV viewers as *Dixon of Dock Green (BBC, 1955-1976).”

**Ted Willis was best known for writing the television series Dixon of Dock Green, based on the stories of Gordon Snashall, a local Chislehurst policeman with whom he was great friends. Announced on 23 December 1963, he was awarded a life peerage, which was created on 21 January 1964 with the title Baron Willis of Chislehurst in the County of Kent, on a Labour Party nomination. He died of a heart attack at his home, 5 Shepherds Green, Chislehurst in December 1992, aged 78.

*in 1907 Michael Balcon won a scholarship to Birmingham’s George Dixon Grammar School. George Dixon (1820 – 1898) was an English Liberal Party then Liberal Unionist politician who was active in local government in Birmingham and sat in the House of Commons in two periods between 1867 and 1898. He was a major proponent of education for all children. George Dixon was named after Balcon’s grammar school.

Also see https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042265/trivia

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