Last night I found myself watching a couple of episodes from the ancient police drama Dixon of Dock Green that were showing on BBC4. Expecting to find them merely quaint and, by modern standards of slickness, shambolic, I was amazed and impressed by how technically accomplished they were - especially as the cast and crew were working in conditions their modern equivalents wouldn't even contemplate, and on budgets that wouldn't stretch to a 90-second insert these days. Many of the scenes were filmed live, and there were certainly no retakes, so lines are often stumbled over (giving an oddly raw, modern feel to the dialogue). The acting was at least as good as it would be in today's British cop shows, and there seemed to be a geniune 'chemistry' among the ensemble cast. A deft script drove the story along smoothly, and the whole thing was hugely watchable.
Above all, though, it was a piquant illustration of how the country has changed - yes yes, for the worse - in the 50-odd years since then. Dixon of Dock Green represents a world where decency, restraint, good manners and good humour seem so firmly engrained you'd think nothing could ever shift them. What happened? Everyone - apart from a lovable rogue off the streets - spoke in Received Pronunciation (the women more markedly than the men), and even the lovable rogue was capable of quoting that now forgotten book, the Bible. Everyone (with the same exception) was decently dressed, and all the men were smoking heroically and drinking steadily, but without getting drunk. If there was any inner torment going on, they kept it to themselves. To appreciate just how wide is the gulf between then and now - how extensive has been the work of change and decay - check out The Bill, or the BBC's equivalent police soap, Holby Blue. No don't, it would be too painful.
Meanwhile, here's a suggestion for the next series of Life On Mars (one of the very few good BBC dramas of recent years) - instead of taking the action forward into the 70s (that was a failure), take it back to the 50s and plunge Sam Tyler into the world of Dixon of Dock Green. That would sort him out.