Having raised the bar for television violence the previous year with his crime drama Spindoe, writer Robin Chapman pulled out all the stops for his next series based on the power struggles among the criminal fraternity. However, for many viewers it was several stops too far and Granada Television found themselves having to make an official apology to viewers before the transmission of episode two!
Peter Egan stars as Hogarth, a ruthlessly ambitious, flash and violent small-time criminal who has visions of being king of London's criminal underworld. Hogarth has no respect for authority whatever side of the law it is on and his audacious nighttime robberies soon bring him to the attention of the established underworld who decide he needs a lesson in criminal etiquette. But when local crime boss Ryan (Godfrey Quigley) makes an example of Hog by giving him a public beating in his nightclub the young upstart extracts his revenge by returning with a bottle of acid. It was the extended scene where Hog throws the acid into the face of one of Ryan's subordinates that caused a flood of viewer complaints.
Following the official apology, Granada ordered that the violence be toned down on all subsequent episodes and moved it to late night viewing in some areas. This wasn't enough for some ITV companies who pulled it from the schedules completely. A daring raid on several jewellery establishments suddenly puts Hog into the big league but also brings him to the attention of a law firm nicknamed Scot-Yanks which is no more than a front for a mafia-style operation that controls and takes profits from all major criminal activity. With the owner of Scot-Yanks currently residing in a high-security prison the firm is experiencing its own power struggle. Currently Scot-Yanks is controlled by the equally ruthless and manipulative Lennox (Timothy West) who decides that Hog is just the person he needs to spring their owner from prison but only so Lennox can have him murdered. But Hogarth is one step ahead and has knowledge of another murder arranged by Lennox, of which there is a crucial witness, Ackerman (Donald Burton), a one-time private eye who has been blackmailed into working for Scot- Yanks and bitterly resents Lennox as a consequence. Hogarth now sets his sights on taking over Scot-Yanks.
The eight-part series was widely condemned at the time for its amorality and violence, and apart from the famous acid scene further complaints followed a later episode where a woman is shot whilst in police custody. Written and produced by award-winning writer Robin Chapman and directed by BAFTA-winners Mike Newell and Michael Apted, Big Breadwinner Hog is one of the all time great British gangster dramas. Definitely an improvement on the previous years Spindoe which also broke new grounds in its gritty portrayal of a violent and malicious underworld, 'Hog' left such a lasting impression that he managed to land a number nine slot in a 2002 'Radio Times' poll of TV's nastiest villains.
Never repeated on television since its original
transmission, Big Breadwinner Hog is available to the viewing public again through Network
DVD and comes as a box set with Spindoe. There is also an added bonus of an episode from
the series Villians in which Bob Hoskins is seen in an early television appearance as the
recently released crook, Knocker. All in all, this is a superb release and is highly recommended.
Published on November 29th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.