While much of the significance of Basil Dearden’s The Blue Lamp derives from its status as the first of the British Police films, in as much as it is entrenched in film history, it is also entrenched within British social history. Its identity is therefore a dual one, its cinematic and social roots that are intertwined reaching deep into the past.

Scripted by ex-Policeman T.E.B Clarke that lends the film a sense of authenticity the film captures a snapshot of the post-war angst of the destabilisation of the family and the rise of the young delinquent that saw an increase in violent crime. Together these two factors conspired to create a film that not only contributed a new genre to British cinema, but also reflected on the woes of post-war London. Sixty-six years on from its release, this social self-reflexivity of the society it portrays on the screen offers modern audiences not only a slice of nostalgia, but the beginnings of a destabilisation of family and social values that is incumbent in modern society. Here we see forces of law and order attempt to staunch the bleeding of delinquent crime, the type of crime committed by those that lacked the code of the career criminal, as the film says. Dearden’s film can be seen to pre-empt Nicholas Ray’s classic 1955 troubled teen film Rebel Without A Cause, starring James Dean, that depicted the far reaching agitation of the teenage generation and the destabilisation of pre-war values in the post-war era.

Looking across years from then to now, a transition has taken place. The uniformed Police Constable replaced with the plain clothes detective, less recognisable for their attire than for certain characteristic traits. Staying within the UK, Inspector Morse’s Endeavour Morse (John Thaw and Shaun Evans) and Hinterland’s Tom Matthias (Richard Harrington) are in stark contrast to the uniformed Constables and plain clothes officers of The Blue Lamp – the Constable on his beat replaced by the detectives working violent murder cases. Meanwhile Hinterland’s DI Mared Rhys (Mali Harries) and DS Siân Owens (Hannah Daniel) are a sign of gender equality, another change from the nearly absent female presence in The Blue Lamp that too marks a social change.

Yet a stark contrast has been the shift from optimism to pessimism, which intertwines with the characteristic traits of Morse and Matthias, both of who are haunted by past ghosts, are lost in a lonely detachment, their natures making this seem impenetrable. Even their cases seem to deepen the pessimism of their modern society, as opposed to the spirit of optimism that permeated The Blue Lamp, where career criminals and the public were proactive in supporting the police, all amidst the tragedy that befell its authoritarian cast of characters. From then to now, the belief in the fight for old values that were not necessarily lost sets The Blue Lamp aside from the modern gloomy visions of defeatism.

The optimism of the monochrome image versus the cynicism of the colour image could be perceived as ironic, but The Blue Lamp’s PC George Dixon (Jack Warner) is a stark contrast to Morse and Matthias. Dixon is a symbol of certain values and expectations. He makes a home and a life with his wife, while Morse and Matthias, the former’s failure to marry, the latter’s marital breakup, sees a continuation of Dixon’s society in trouble. Also Dixon wears his love for his job openly, extending his police service for another five years. While his work occupies an important and central place in his life, unlike for the modern detective, it does not come at the expense of family or an extroverted personal life. For Morse the job is a tomb, a dark place where he can retreat to his intellectual and cultured inclinations that aid him in solving his long string of cases. Meanwhile, for Matthias, the job is a routine action, but in the hands of Hinterland’s writers, cases can be used to expose his personal pain. Together Morse and Matthias tinge the policing profession with a darker shade, lacking the idealism and belief in it that Dixon could be seen to represent.

If The Blue Lamp offered a cinematic interpretation of the post-war destabilisation of the family and the rise of the young delinquent, it’s most recognisable feature was Dixon, who inspired the long running BBC television series Dixon of Dock Green (1955-76). Herein we have less of a contrast of distinctions than one of similarities. From Dixon to Morse and Matthias, the characters are the heartbeat of the crime and detective story. While we may recall the crimes, the spatial, London, Oxford and Aberystwyth that became characters in themselves, the overriding memory is of the characters. Yet in comparing then to now, we see a transitional evolution from optimism to pessimism, the communal, family orientated Police Constable to the lonely and introverted detective. Perhaps what we witness is a crime perpetrated, the bleeding unsuccessfully staunched in The Blue Lamp. From a naïve cinematic romanticism of yesteryear, we have evolved to a dramatic modern cynicism, embodied by the main characters that are victims of what their earlier predecessors sought to fight.