Buddy Rand (Fred Cullen), on the run from the police, goes to his sister’s (Marie Redshaw) place but she says he can’t stay. Running out of options, Buddy visits his girlfriend Betty Breen (Bunny Gibson) at the pub before looking up one final old mate. Summary by Kate Matthews.
These closing scenes emphasise the central themes of friendship and misplaced loyalty. Cullen delivers an affecting performance, as Buddy sees his worldview collapse and his past catch up with him.
A comparison between this sequence and the studio scenes in an early episode like Homicide – The Decimal Point (1965) shows how far Homicide’s production values had come in eight years. Aside from obvious shifts to colour film and improved sound technology, visible differences include increased variety in framing and camera movement in the studio scenes; smoother editing and action; and the consistent image quality of an all-film production as opposed to a combination of film and video.
A drama series shot entirely on film was not necessarily the norm at the time and, according to Ian Crawford in a TV Eye interview, came about in part due to Seven’s colour video facilities not being ready in time for the switch to colour television. After Homicide and its counterparts Division 4 (1969–75) and Matlock Police (1971–75) were axed in the early 1970s, Crawford’s took the step into cheaper, all-video production with Cop Shop (1977–84).
When safebreakers botch a robbery and a security guard gets killed, the Homicide squad calls in an 'old friend’ for questioning – former safebreaker Buddy Rand (Fred Cullen). Buddy is going straight these days but recognises the work of his former protégé, young Tommy Paterson (James Chesworth). Tommy has joined forces with some violent thugs and is in over his head. Inspector Lawson (Charles Tingwell) can see Buddy knows something but Buddy won’t talk. Instead, Buddy tries to help Paterson and becomes increasingly embroiled in the criminal life he has been trying to leave behind.
In a 1995 interview with TV Eye magazine, the late Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell identified ‘The Friendly Fellow’ as his favourite Homicide episode. It was written by Fred 'Cul’ Cullen, who also stepped in to guest star as Buddy when the actor they’d cast was no longer available. Cullen ended up winning 1973 Logie awards for both his script and his performance. Cullen later co-wrote The Man from Snowy River (1982).
Both Buddy and his relationship with Tingwell’s Inspector Lawson are memorable creations. Buddy is the 'friendly fellow’ of the title, a seasoned former safebreaker with a sense of humour, who Lawson admits to a colleague that he likes. The interactions between these two characters are jovial, comradely and self-aware as they knowingly play out their hands in a classic cop-crim game. Tingwell delivers a finely-tuned performance, combining sympathy and authority.
Homicide was a long-running format drama series. As is common in series television, different writers wrote different episodes but followed guidelines that stipulated everything from the number of sets and guest characters, to the ratio of location versus studio footage, to a standard narrative structure that emphasised using the genre to explore character. In an early guideline document, script editor Terry Stapleton reassures would-be writers that ‘once the restrictions have been faced and recognised there is plenty of scope for the whole gamut of human emotions to be portrayed, and this is where the real worth of any successful series will be found.’
Cullen’s script makes creative use of the standard elements of the Homicide format and is strongly character-driven. There’s the usual teaser, during which the crime is committed, followed by the crime scene investigation and scenes where the detectives track down suspects. What’s interesting is that Buddy, the character who becomes the main focus of the episode and the police’s investigations, was not involved in the crime. As the police investigate, a parallel mission unfolds – Buddy’s quest to rescue the young friend he feels responsible for getting caught up in crime in the first place. This invites us into the perspectives of both pursuers and pursued. Homicide’s police are always the good guys and while not questioning their moral position, Cullen’s script creates a suspense and sympathy for Buddy that sees us wanting him to escape.
Buddy has some elements of the tragic hero, whose core character traits spark a sequence of events that bring about his downfall, and who cannot escape his past. Ultimately, Buddy’s fatal flaw is a belief in mateship and a code of loyalty that his criminal associates don’t share. Cullen delivers some poignant moments as Buddy watches his worldview collapse.
Homicide screened on HSV7, later Channel Seven, and ran for a total of 509 episodes. The Friendly Fellow is episode 385, Homicide’s tenth all-film, colour episode. Episodes 1-375 were black-and-white and shot on a combination of film and video.
Notes by Kate Matthews