Hell Is A City (1960)
What with its city centre exteriors, those pitch and toss scenes on Saddleworth Moor, and that celebrated cliffhanger climax atop the Refuge Assurance building, Hell Is A City has become a much loved Manc institution. Who wouldn’t warm to Stanley Baker’s square-jawed cop, Billie Whitelaw’s bookie’s missus, John Crawford’s fevered turn as deadly fugitive Don Starling?
Less well remembered are the ‘Inspector Martineau’ crime thrillers of Maurice Procter which gave rise to Val Guest’s 1960 filum. An ex-bobby himself, the Nelson-born novelist cashed in on the craze for realistic ‘police procedurals’ which came in after the second world war. Dragnet was the big beast in that jungle, of course. Before that detectives tended to be PIs or mavericks like Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe.
Set in a fictional ‘Granchester’ the Martineau series sold in no small mumbers on both sides of the Atlantic – perfect material for incipient ‘British New Wave’ cinema. “Hell is a city much like London” Percy Shelley originally wrote. The Manchester which the novels reflect…a world of back street pubs, small time gangs and coshed businessmen…is very much a Krays-era milieu…albeit perhaps with flatter vowels, hilllier backdrops and warmer beer.