The jury's in again as 'Crown Court' returns to TV screens

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The Independent Online

It was one of the most successful daytime television dramas ever created and launched the careers of dozens of actors who went on to become household names.

Now Crown Court is set to return with a rerun of the 250 cases that gripped daytime television audiences between 1972 and 1985. The repeat screening will give new audiences a chance to review the youthful talents of the likes of Ben Kingsley, Juliet Stevenson, Nigel Havers, Mark McManus, Vivien Merchant and Brenda Fricker, who all appeared in the fictional Fulchester Crown Court in south London.

Producers at Legal TV, which is to bring back all 800 episodes, believe Crown Court's appeal spanned all generations and classes because of the controversial issues tackled in the cases and the use of a real jury which meant the endings were always unscripted. The unflinching storylines meant characters stood trial for rape, terrorism, and racist crimes - sensitive and controversial issues rarely covered in 1970s television.

Among the regular barristers to appear at Fulchester Crown Court was Bernard Gallagher who played the tough but very fair Jonathan Fry QC. Dorothy Vernon helped to give the show a little lunchtime sex appeal as the lawyer Helen Tate. Writers included the playwright John Godber and Jeremy Sandford, who wrote Cathy Come Home.

Crown Court was devised as part of ITV's plan to add a further 20 hours of television to the weekly schedule. Instead of gearing the programmes towards an assumed audience, the schedule brought a standard mix of genres to daytime TV. But it was Crown Court, the forerunner of modern legal dramas such as Kavanagh QC and Judge John Deed, which proved a serious subject matter given a dramatic twist could entertain millions of people every day.

A typical dramatic device employed by the programme's writers was to play on the audience's prejudices. In one three-parter called "Sugar and Spice", the backgrounds of a spiky-haired punk rocker and a well-spoken public schoolgirl were brought before the jury in the case of a very nasty mugging.

Viewers automatically assumed that the punk was the initiator of the attack and had coerced her apparently meek friend into the crime. It turned out that the public schoolgirl was responsible for the crime after a wily lawyer successfully antagonised her to the point where she showed her real character in the witness box.

Simon Haveland, the head of production at Legal TV, said: "I remember watching the original shows while 'sick' from school. The storylines were so addictive that I often tried to extend my illness for the rest of the week to see the outcome.

"My nan used to love the show too, which wasn't very cool from my perspective, but looking back it was incredibly clever that they managed to appeal to such a wide audience. We know that attraction is still there."

The prosecution will open for the first case at 9am on Monday 2 October on Legal TV and will continue six days a week with an omnibus edition on a Sunday.

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