*** DEBUG END ***

TV review: Happy Valley, and Britain’s Most Notorious Prisons: Wormwood Scrubs

27 January 2023

BBC/Lookout Point/Matt Squire

Sgt Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley (BBC 1, Sundays)

Sgt Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley (BBC 1, Sundays)

SARAH LANCASHIRE’s Sgt Catherine Cawood towered over this week’s television in Happy Valley (BBC1, Sundays). Whether in uniform with hi-vis vest, bristling with phones and restraining tools of the trade, or autumnal jackets and scarfs thrown on to run to the shops, Cawood dominates every Happy Valley scene. After last week’s storyline-heavy Episode 3, overdosing on thoughtless blabbing as a plot device, Sunday’s show demonstrated writer Sally Wainwright returning to incredible form.

Opening with low-ranking criminals Ivan and Matja contemplating their fate for failing their boss, the focus moves to Cawood’s recovering addict sister Clare (Siobhan Finneran), trying to rebuild their sibling relationship and telling the weary copper “I love you.” The frame then widens with the consequences of Ivan and Matja’s failure colliding with the fallout from Clare’s betrayal.

As Cawood’s premonition of her family’s nemesis Tommy Lee Boyce (James Norton) escaping court custody, and being on the loose to track them down, comes true, a strand centred on prescription drug addiction and coercive control also takes a terrifying twist. Suddenly, the machinations of missing-persons procedures crashes into the life of an abusive husband. And, somehow, Ms Wainwright also fits into 60 minutes touching vignettes of a former prisoner, Alison Garrs, working on the old Land Rover that Cawood plans to drive to the Himalayas for her imminent retirement.

This is coupled with the desk officer’s announcing that she had collected more than £2000 for the sergeant’s leaving present. “Even people she arrested contributed.”

Happy Valley’s deft change of gear from individual foibles to family relationships operating within a matrix of social institutions and pressures, to organised crime and its interface with everyday life, is what makes it so enjoyable. And its world of clunky cars, chain-store clothes, and faltering articulacy in the face of shared human dilemmas makes it eminently believable.

Honour among thieves has been distinctly absent from the West Yorkshire drama, but the two reformed inmates in Britain’s Most Notorious Prisons: Wormwood Scrubs gave hope for redemption. Marvin Herbert and Noel “Razor” Smith spoke about the violence and drugs endemic in the prison system.

Mr Herbert outlined his cycle of crime and prison sentences running parallel to his belief that he was on track to be a criminal mastermind, and lawbreaking would make him rich. Removing his glass eye and showing it to the camera, he recalled the fight and injuries which set him on a new path. Now, he works with schools, demonstrating that crime does not pay.

Alongside the musician Pete Doherty’s possible behind-bars drug use and the spy George Blake’s escape, the documentary’s most shocking revelation was that, until late 1990s, Wormwood Scrubs prisoners had limited bathroom access. “Three hundred men slopping out is a smell you never forget,” a former Security Governor, Vanessa Frake-Harris, recalled.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)