The Blue Lamp

Last updated

The Blue Lamp
The Blue Lamp UK quad poster.jpg
Original UK quad poster by James Boswell
Directed by Basil Dearden
Screenplay by T.E.B. Clarke
Based onOriginal treatment by Jan Read and Ted Willis
Produced by Michael Balcon
Starring Jack Warner
Jimmy Hanley
Dirk Bogarde
Robert Flemyng
Cinematography Gordon Dines
Edited by Peter Tanner
Music by Ernest Irving
Jack Parnell (uncredited)
Distributed by General Film Distributors
Release date
  • 20 January 1950 (1950-01-20)(UK [1] )
Running time
85 minutes [2]
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£142,304 [3]
Box office£246,000 [4]

The Blue Lamp is a 1950 British police procedural film directed by Basil Dearden and starring Jack Warner as PC Dixon, Jimmy Hanley as newcomer PC Mitchell, and Dirk Bogarde as criminal Tom Riley.


The title refers to the blue lamps that traditionally hung outside British police stations (and often still do). The film became the inspiration for the 1955–1976 TV series Dixon of Dock Green , where Jack Warner continued to play PC Dixon until he was 80 years old (even though Dixon is murdered in the original film).

The screenplay was written by ex-policeman T.E.B. Clarke. The film is an early example of the "social realism" films that emerged later in the 1950s and 1960s, sometimes using a partial documentary-like approach. There are also cinematic influences of the film noir genre, particularly in underworld scenes featuring Bogarde's Tom Riley, such as the pool rooms and in and around the theatre, making deliberate use of genre trademarks like slow moving low camera angles and stark lighting. The plot, however, follows a simple moral structure in which the police are the honest guardians of a decent society, battling the disorganised crime of a few unruly youths. The film was set in London, and partly shot on locations there.


The action mostly takes place in the Paddington area of west London and is set in July 1949, a few years after the end of the Second World War. PC George Dixon, a long-serving traditional "copper" who is due to retire shortly, supervises a new recruit, Andy Mitchell, introducing him to the night beat.

Dixon is a classic Ealing "ordinary" hero, but also anachronistic, unprepared and unable to answer the violence of Tom Riley. Called to the scene of a robbery at a local cinema, Dixon finds himself face-to-face with Riley, a desperate youth armed with a revolver. Dixon tries to talk Riley into surrendering the weapon, but Riley panics and fires. Dixon dies in hospital some hours later.

On his beat, Mitchell notices a little girl playing with a revolver, which turns out to be the discarded murder weapon. The child is eventually persuaded to lead police to the spot where she found it. Police painstakingly drag a canal and come up with a raincoat that is traced to Diana Lewis' father, who remembers loaning it to Riley.

In his arrogance, Riley goes to Police Headquarters to provide a false alibi for himself. All this accomplishes is to convince the police to place him under 24-hour watch.

Riley is caught with the help of professional criminals and dog-track bookmakers who identify the murderer as he tries to hide in the crowd at White City greyhound track in west London. The kudos of arresting Riley falls to young Andy Mitchell.


The ensemble cast also included uncredited actors who later became better known in film, television and radio, including Alma Cogan, Glyn Houston, Jennifer Jayne, Glen Michael, Arthur Mullard, Norman Shelley, Rosemary Nicols (in her film debut as a street urchin) and Campbell Singer.


The character of "Diana" was initially envisioned with Diana Dors in mind, to the extent that the character's name was derived from her own. Nevertheless, the producers harboured reservations about Dors' suitability for the role, citing concerns regarding her emotional maturity. Consequently, a decision was made by the director to pivot away from Dors and opt for a "waif type" persona, leading to the casting of Peggy Evans for the character. [6]

The production had the full co-operation of the Metropolitan Police, and the crew was thus able to use the real-life former Paddington Green Police Station, then at 64 Harrow Road, London W9 and New Scotland Yard for location work. Most of the other outdoor scenes were filmed in inner west London, principally the Harrow Road precincts between Paddington and Westbourne Park. George Dixon is named after producer Michael Balcon's former school in Birmingham.

Locations used

The Harrow Road Police Station, with reproduction blue lamp HarrowRd PoliceStn.jpg
The Harrow Road Police Station, with reproduction blue lamp
St Mary Magdalene St Mary Magdalene, Paddington (2).JPG
St Mary Magdalene

The original blue lamp was transferred to the new Paddington Green Police Station. It is still outside the front of the station and was restored in the early 21st century. Most of the locations around the police station are unrecognisable now due to building of the Marylebone flyover. The police station at 325 Harrow Road, not far from the site of the Coliseum Cinema (324–326 Harrow Road), which is also shown in the film, has a reproduction blue lamp at its entrance.

The Metropolitan Theatre of Varieties, featured prominently at the start of the film, was demolished because it was thought likely that the Marylebone flyover would need the site, although that turned out not to be the case. It is now the site of Paddington Green Police Station. The scene involving a robbery on a jeweller's shop was filmed at the nearby branch of national chain, F. Hinds (then at 290 Edgware Road). This was also knocked down when the flyover was built.

The scenes of the cinema robbery were filmed at the Coliseum Cinema on Harrow Road, next to the Grand Union Canal bridge. The cinema was probably built in 1922, was closed in 1956 and later demolished. [7] The site is now occupied by an office of Paddington Churches Housing Association.

Some of the streets used, or seen, in the film include: Harrow Road W2 and W9, Bishop's Bridge Road W2, Westbourne Terrace Bridge Road W9, Delamere Terrace, Blomfield Road, Formosa Street, Lord Hill's Road, Kinnaird Street and Senior Street W2, Ladbroke Grove W10, Portobello Road W11, Latimer Road, Sterne Street W12 and Hythe Road NW10. The church which features prominently towards the end is St Mary Magdalene, Senior Street W2. [8] Most of the streets around the church were demolished in the 1960s to make way for the new Warwick Estate in Little Venice.

Tom Riley's home was in the run-down street of Amberley Mews, north of the canal, and is now the site of Ellwood Court, part of the Amberley Estate. It is from this mews that Riley walks into Formosa Street, then crosses the Halfpenny Bridge. He then goes into Diana Lewis's flat on the corner of Delamere Terrace and Lord Hill's Road where he attacks her and is chased out by the following detective. Then follows one of the first extended car chases in British film. The route of the chase is as follows: Senior Street W2, Clarendon Crescent W2, Harrow Road W9, Ladbroke Grove W10, Portobello Road W11, Ladbroke Grove W10, Royal Crescent W10, Portland Road W10, Penzance Place W10, Freston Road W10, Hythe Road NW10, Sterne Street W12 – then a chase on foot into Wood Lane and then to White City Stadium. [9] Most of the chase is a logical following of Riley's car apart from when the car goes from Hythe Road NW10 into Sterne Street – Hythe Road in 1949 was a dead end.



The Blue Lamp premiered on 20 January 1950 at the Odeon Leicester Square in London, [1] and the reviewer for The Times found the depiction of the police work very plausible and realistic, and praised the performances of Dirk Bogarde and Peggy Evans, but found Jack Warner's and Jimmy Hanley's two policemen portrayed in a too traditional way: "There is an indefinable feel of the theatrical backcloth behind their words and actions ... The sense that the policemen they are acting are not policemen as they really are, but policemen as an indulgent tradition has chosen to think they are, will not be banished." [10]

In the context of a campaign against perceived "middle-class complacency" in British film-making, Sight & Sound editor Gavin Lambert (writing under a pseudonym) attacked the film's "specious brand of mediocrity" and suggested the film was "boring and parochial", views which caused outrage. [11] [ failed verification ]

Writing for The Guardian in 2007, Andrew Pulver called the film "the most successful example of the rough-and-tough Brit crime thriller of the immediate postwar period." [12]


The film had the highest audiences in Britain for a British film that year. [13] [14] According to Kinematograph Weekly the "biggest winners" at the box office in 1950 Britain were The Blue Lamp, The Happiest Days of Your Life , Annie Get Your Gun , The Wooden Horse , Treasure Island and Odette . [15]


The film won the 1951 BAFTA Award for Best British Film and was nominated for the Golden Lion at the 1950 Venice Film Festival. [16]


In 1951, a stage play of the same name was written by Willis and Read. It ran for 32 performances at the Hippodrome in London. It also played the Hippodrome in Bristol. [17] In 1952, the play ran for 192 performances in a summer season at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool, Lancashire. Gordon Harker took the role of George Dixon, while Jack Warner played Chief Inspector Cherry. [18]

Several of the characters and actors were carried over into the TV series Dixon of Dock Green , including the resurrected Dixon, still played by Warner. The series ran on BBC Television (BBC1) for twenty-one years from 1955 to 1976, with Warner being over eighty by the time of its conclusion.

In 1988, Arthur Ellis's satirical BBC Two play The Black and Blue Lamp had the film characters of Riley (Sean Chapman) and PC "Taffy" Hughes (Karl Johnson) transported forwards in time into an episode of The Filth, a gritty contemporary police television series, replacing their modern-day counterparts. [19]

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill has one panel suggesting a George Dixon died in August 1898, the time-period given for the first two graphic novels, as well as The War of the Worlds . There is a real George Dixon (1820–98) who was a Victorian politician whom Balcon's school was named after.

In 2010, the BBC Television drama Ashes to Ashes concluded with a short clip of George Dixon, referring to the similarity to Dixon's death in The Blue Lamp and subsequent resurrection for the television series and the underlying plot of the show. [20]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Harlesden</span> Human settlement in England

Harlesden is a district in the London Borough of Brent, North West London.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paddington</span> Area of central London, England

Paddington is an area in the City of Westminster, in central London, England. A medieval parish then a metropolitan borough, it was integrated with Westminster and Greater London in 1965. Paddington station, designed by the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel opened in 1847. It is also the site of St Mary's Hospital and the former Paddington Green Police Station.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dirk Bogarde</span> English actor (1921–1999)

Sir Dirk Bogarde was an English actor, novelist and screenwriter. Initially a matinée idol in films such as Doctor in the House (1954) for the Rank Organisation, he later acted in art house films, evolving from "heartthrob to icon of edginess".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jack Warner (actor)</span> English actor (1895–1981)

Jack Warner, OBE MSM was a British actor. He is closely associated with the role of PC George Dixon, which he played in the 1950 film The Blue Lamp and later in the television series Dixon of Dock Green from 1955 until 1976, but he was also for some years one of Britain's most popular film stars.

<i>Dixon of Dock Green</i> British police procedural TV series (1955–1976)

Dixon of Dock Green is a BBC police procedural television series about daily life at a fictional London police station, with the emphasis on petty crime, successfully controlled through common sense and human understanding. It ran from 1955 to 1976. The central character, George Dixon, first appeared in the film The Blue Lamp. Dixon is a mature and sympathetic police constable, played by Jack Warner in all of the 432 episodes.

The W postcode area, also known as the London W postcode area is a group of postcode districts covering part of central and part of West London, England. The area originates from the Western (W1) and Paddington (W2-14) districts of the London postal district. This area covers 35 postcode districts and around 18,554 live postcodes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metropolitan Borough of Paddington</span> Former borough of London

Paddington was a civil parish and metropolitan borough in London, England. It was an ancient parish in the county of Middlesex, governed by an administrative vestry. The parish was included in the area of responsibility of the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1855 and became part of the County of London in 1889. The parish of Paddington became a metropolitan borough in 1900, following the London Government Act 1899, with the parish vestry replaced by a borough council. In 1965 the borough was abolished and its former area became part of the City of Westminster in Greater London.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Portobello Road</span> Street in the Notting Hill district of west London

Portobello Road is a street in the Notting Hill district of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in West London. It runs almost the length of Notting Hill from South to North, roughly parallel with Ladbroke Grove. On Saturdays it is home to Portobello Road Market, one of London's notable street markets, known for its second-hand clothes, pastries and antiques. Every August since 1996, the Portobello Film Festival has been held in locations around Portobello Road and, in 2015, Portobello Radio was founded as the area's community radio station.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ladbroke Grove</span> Human settlement in England

Ladbroke Grove is an area and a road in North Kensington in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, passing through Kensal Green and Notting Hill, running north–south between Harrow Road and Holland Park Avenue.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Mervyn</span> English actor (1912–1976)

William Mervyn Pickwoad was an English actor best known for his portrayal of the bishop in the clerical comedy All Gas and Gaiters, the old gentleman in The Railway Children and Inspector Charles Rose in The Odd Man and its sequels.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Basil Dearden</span> English film director (1911–1971)

Basil Dearden was an English film director.

<i>Carry On Constable</i> 1960 British comedy film by Gerald Thomas

Carry On Constable is a 1960 British comedy film, the fourth in the series of 31 Carry On films (1958–1992). It was released in February 1960. Of the regular team, it featured Kenneth Connor, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, and Hattie Jacques. Sid James makes his debut in the series here, while early regulars Leslie Phillips, Eric Barker, and Shirley Eaton also turn up, although Phillips did not appear again in the series for 32 years. It was the first "Carry On..." film to include some nudity with Connor, Hawtrey, Williams, and Phillips baring their behinds during a shower scene. The film was followed by Carry On Regardless 1961.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">London Buses route 15</span> London bus route

London Buses route 15 is a Transport for London contracted bus route in London, England. Running between Blackwall and Charing Cross stations, it is operated by Blue Triangle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Harrow Road</span> Street in London

The Harrow Road is an ancient route in North West London which runs from Paddington in a northwesterly direction towards Harrow. It is also the name given to the immediate surrounding area of Queens Park and Kensal Green, straddling the NW10, W10, W2 and W9 postcodes. With minor deviations in the 19th and 20th centuries, the route remains otherwise unaltered.

Sir Harold Richard Scott was Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police from 1945 to 1953.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">A404 road</span> Road in London and Berkshire

The A404 is a road in the United Kingdom that starts at Paddington in London and terminates near Maidenhead in Berkshire. It is 44.6 miles (71.8 km) long.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">A40 road in London</span> Major trunk road connecting London to Fishguard, Wales

The A40 is a major trunk road connecting London to Fishguard, Wales. The A40 in London starts in the City of London and passes through six London Boroughs: Camden, Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, Hammersmith & Fulham, Ealing and Hillingdon, to meet the M40 motorway junction 1 at Denham, Buckinghamshire.

<i>Boys in Brown</i> 1949 British film

Boys in Brown is a 1949 black and white British drama film directed by Montgomery Tully, which depicts life in a borstal for young offenders. It stars Jack Warner, Richard Attenborough, Dirk Bogarde and Jimmy Hanley. It is based on a 1940 play by the actor Reginald Beckwith.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Dixon Butler</span> English architect (1873–1958)

John Dixon Butler was a British architect and surveyor who had a long, professional association with London's Metropolitan Police. During his 25-year career with the police, he completed the designs and alterations to around 200 police buildings, including ten courts; as of 2022, about 58 of his buildings survive. Historic England describes him as "one of the most accomplished Metropolitan Police architects" and have included around 25 of his buildings on the National Historic List of England and Wales.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paddington Town Hall, London</span> Municipal building in London, England

Paddington Town Hall was a municipal building in Harrow Road, Paddington, London. The structure, which was the headquarters of the Paddington Metropolitan Borough Council, was demolished in 1965.


  1. 1 2 The Times, 20 Jan. 1950, page 10: Picture Theatres – Odeon, Leicester Square: The Blue Lamp Linked 2015-04-22
  2. BBFC: The Blue Lamp - runtime 03/11/1949 Linked 2015-04-22
  3. Chapman, J. (2022). The Money Behind the Screen: A History of British Film Finance, 1945-1985. Edinburgh University Press p 356.
  4. Harper, Sue; Porter, Vincent (2003). British Cinema of The 1950s The Decline of Deference. Oxford University Press USA. p. 281.
  5. Vagg, Stephen (23 September 2020). "The Emasculation of Anthony Steel: A Cold Streak Saga". Filmink.
  6. Dors, Diana (1960). Swingin' Dors. World Distributors. p. 25.
  7. "Coliseum Cinema in London, GB - Cinema Treasures".
  8. Map of W2 locations Archived 30 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine at the Museum of London
  9. See also Paddington — on film at Greater London Industrial Archaeology
  10. The Times, 20 Jan. 1950, page 8: Odeon Cinema: "The Blue Lamp" Linked 2015-04-22
  11. Cited by Geoffrey Macnab in the article "Time for British cinema to rediscover the Aga saga?" at The Independent 2 July 2010. Retrieved 7 January 2015
  12. The secret artist of Ealing Studios, Andrew Pulver, The Guardian, 5 January 2007
  13. "Critics Praise Drama: Comedians Win Profits". The Sydney Morning Herald . NSW. 29 December 1950. p. 3. Retrieved 7 January 2015. at Trove
  14. Thumim, Janet. "The popular cash and culture in the postwar British cinema industry". Screen. Vol. 32, no. 3. p. 258.
  15. Lant, Antonia (1991). Blackout : reinventing women for wartime British cinema. Princeton University Press. p. 233.
  16. IMDb: The Blue Lamp (1950) - Awards Linked 2015-04-22
  17. "Production of The Blue Lamp - Theatricalia".
  18. Wearing, J.P. The London Stage 1950-1959: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel. Rowman & Littlefield, 2014 p.198
  19. "Black and Blue Lamp.qxp" (PDF). Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  20. Simon Brew (21 May 2010). "The significance of the final shot of Ashes to Ashes". Den of Geek. Dennis Publishing. Retrieved 25 May 2010.