Pilgrim Street

1952 | United Kingdom

Six part series made by the BBC documentary department that was a direct follow on from the 1951 experimental series I Made The News and seen now as a direct forerunner to Dixon of Dock Green. Although these programmes were described as documentaries because they were based on cases from real-life police files, they were in fact dramas acted out by actors. Previous police procedural series tended to focus on high-profile cases and centred round the Criminal Investigation Department officers of Scotland Yard. 

Pilgrim Street was the first of these docu-dramas to revolve around the work of policemen at a suburban police station, and to feature cases, as the Radio Times of 1952 reported, that "never find their way into the pages of the Commissioner's Report and in which the police act as helpers and protectors of the public." The fictitious Pilgrim Street police station was, however, just a stones-throw from Scotland Yard as the opening narrative indicated: "Our manor - our ground. It's as varied as anything in London. The railway station is in the centre there, and around it are cinemas, the shopping streets, the wharehouses, the pubs, the pawnbrokers, and the little streets. Up here, luxury flats, spacious squares and gardens, and embassies. Skirting it all, the Embankment and the river. That's our ground. Our Manor. And right here is our station: Pilgrim Street."

The series was originally to have been called The Blue Lamp, however BBC bosses were concerned about using a title already used by the cinema for the feature film, even though the film was undoubtedly the inspiration for this television version. Clearly producer Robert Barr was hoping the short run (Pilgrim Street ran from June to July and was produced at the newly acquired Lime Grove studios) would give rise to a long running series. However, critical reaction and lack of support from his boss, Cecil McGivern, put paid the that idea. One critic described Pilgrim Street as "ordinary to the point of dullness." Nonetheless, Pilgrim Street is an important programme in the development of the British TV police procedural drama genre being the first steps towards a series featuring the exploits of 'an ordinary copper.'

Published on January 18th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.