25th September 1976 – 16th October 1976
Written by Stuart Wales and Geoff Kemp
Art by Tom Hirst
“Probationer” was Stuart Wales’ first writing contribution for Action, stepping outside of his role as Money Man for a while. Unluckily for him, his creation was short-lived, getting the axe after only four issues. In that time it produced some very intense moments of violence, entirely in keeping with Action’s style, but just a bit too much for the new direction scheduled for Action’s return. The art was a little odd, but suited the story. The characters appeared strange and cartoonish at times, and anatomically grotesque at others. Wales went on to contribute several more strips for IPC after the ban, normally working with Geoff Kemp. Their later Action contributions included “Dredger” and “Roaring Wheels“.
“Probationer” is a difficult strip to judge as its life was so brief, but there was plenty of room for development, had it got out of the rut of repetition it created whilst setting the style and pace of the story. Certainly it produced some of the more graphic elements of the comic in its four episodes. A chip shop owner was hit round the head with an axe, a policeman was shot in the face with an air-pistol, Brockman was stabbed in the back by Gloria, then kicked by Slater, and another policeman was attacked by dogs.
Slater’s delusions of his status as anything more than a small-time criminal were as laughable as his belief that he’d be able to afford a new life in Rio from the proceeds of his petty crimes. Brockman founds an ally of sorts in Detective Constable Buddy, the only person who believed Brockman was fitted up on the robbery charges.
Had “Probationer” been allowed to continue then these threads of plot may have woven together and paid off in spades, we’ll never know. An ending was written, with Brockman accepting help for his mother if he confessed to his involvement in Slater’s crimes and did a short stint in Borstal. That conclusion wasn’t in the true vein of Action, because it told the reader that the system couldn’t be beaten, and that authority would always win in the end.
Having finished his shift at the local chip shop, Dave Brockman witnesses a break-in at a newsagent. Though not part of the gang, the police see him in the street and he is arrested. The magistrates find Dave guilty and he is put on probation for six months. Returning home, he finds his crippled mother lying on the floor. The Brockman home has no telephone so, unable to call an ambulance, Dave hot wires a van and takes his mother to the hospital himself.
Luckily things go well and he returns the van to more or less where he found it just moments after it is reported stolen. Unluckily for Dave, local villain Clem Slater has witnessed the incident, and blackmails Dave into helping him with some petty crimes.
With the threat of Borstal over his head and no-one able to care for his mother, Dave is forced to go along with Slater’s demands. Slater decides to rob Dave’s place of work, but things go wrong almost immediately. Mr. Garner, the owner, hears a noise and comes downstairs to investigate. Slater coshes him over the head with an axe. Believing that Garner is dead, Slater runs, leaving Dave to take the fall. Dave makes an excuse about seeing a break in as Garner comes around. The police arrive, and the officer tells Dave that he doesn’t believe him guilty of the break in he was convicted for. Dave comes up with a story saying he saw a figure running away from the scene, but couldn’t identify him.
The next day, Slater tells Dave they will be robbing Greenwood’s, the grocer’s shop that Dave ‘borrowed’ the van from, later that evening. Slater brings his girlfriend Gloria along for the job. As they rifle through the takings, a police car stops outside. Slater pulls out an air pistol and shoots one of the police officers in the face. He throws Dave the gun as he and Gloria leg it, leaving Dave to face the police. Dave makes a lucky escape and decides to deal with Slater before matters go any further.
Slater is at the local dog track betting with the stolen money. Dave knocks Slater to the floor with a decent punch and continues to beat the fallen thug. Gloria stabs Dave in the back with a metal comb. Slater gets to his feet and gives Dave a kicking before dragging him out to the car park to assist him with the theft of a few car stereos. As Slater smashes a window, the owner of the car arrives and grabs him. Slater breaks free and runs across the dog track, escaping the policemen who have begun chasing him.
Dave visits his probation officer, but Slater is soon back on the scene. He’s borrowed £500 from local villains the Marconi Brothers, and has promised to repay them within two days. He has bought a van full of suits for Dave to sell, planning to flee to Rio on the proceeds. Unfortunately, when they open the van, the only suits inside are a job lot of prison greys. A suitably irritated Slater demands Dave’s help in getting his money back from the dodgy character who sold him the stripy suits, in order to get the Marconi’s off his back. This is where we run out of story.
Apparently the ‘lost’ issues sees Dave Brockman attending a local church youth club, after which Slater manages to get him into grief with the Marconi brothers. After that… Brockman eventually helps the police nail Slater in exchange for a short sentence and some home help for his mum. Bless.
Brockman was wrongly arrested and convicted as part of a gang involved in a hold up. Placed on six months probation, Dave needed to keep out of trouble so that he could look after his sick, paralysed mother. Unfortunately Dave fell foul of Clem Slater, who knew that Dave had ‘borrowed a van to get his mother to hospital. Despite his best efforts, Brockman was unable to avoid petty crime and petty criminals, as Slater was always around to drop him in it. The story is said to have ended with Brockman going to prison, vowing to go straight, just to get Slater off his back.
Slater was a small time thug who delighted in creating trouble for Brockman, stitching him up for things he hadn’t done. Slater used Dave’s sick mother as a hold over him, forcing him to commit petty crimes on fear of imprisonment were Slater to grass. Slater was followed around by the truly obnoxious Gloria, and found that his own petty scheming landed him in it with those higher up the crime ladder. Brockman was his scapegoat in any given situation.
Gloria was a back-stabbing (with the sharp end of a metal comb), spiteful bitch, who believed the sun shone out of Clem Slater’s arse. She treated Dave Brockman with little more than loathing and resentment, truly believing her man to be a poor, hard done by chap and Brockman the contemptible louse ruining his life, the mad cow.
Mrs. Brockman was in a wheelchair and in failing health. She believed her boy was an angel, and had no idea he was being manipulated by Slater. Were the story to have reached its conclusion, maybe some light would have been shed on the true nature of the Brockman/Slater relationship, but we’ll never know.
Text © Moose Harris
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