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Way back in early AIO history, there existed a character that became probably the most debated of all time. He was a simple, humorous character whose only offense was his occupation. When he departed, AIO fans were divided on whether they were very glad or very sad to see him leave. His legacy survives to today and now he is one of the most popular discussion topics. His name was Officer David Harley.
Of the episodes Harley was in, only a very few survive in their complete form to this day and Harley has only very short parts in those episodes. Most AIO listeners (myself included) will probably never get to hear the complete Harley history. For clarification, after episode titles, unreleased means that this episode is not included in any tape album and does not play on the radio. Thus, only those who tuned in during its original airing or those who have somehow gotten the privilege of a listening have ever heard these lost episodes.
Harley first appeared in the third AIO episode, Light's Out at Whit's End (unreleased), a conglommeration of short skits. His first dialogue is recorded in Gifts for Madge and Guy, but he only appears briefly while helping Whit put up a Christmas tree. Harley has his first major lines in The Day After Christmas, in which he converses with Whit about a whistle he hoped to get for Christmas. Harley again appears very briefly in Promises, Promises (but was replaced in the episode for general release). Since only two of these episodes have been released to the "general public" we can get very little Harley was like. From these examples, Harley does not seem to be incredibly annoying or stupid. Perhaps not the wisest one of the group, but certainly not a fool.
Nearly all the rest of Harley's episodes were either completely remade or slightly redone to take him out of the script or they are not released at all. Doing Unto Others, his next story, was remade as Isaac the Benevolent, in which he was replaced by Eugene, who is actually the same actor. Evidentially, Harley and Johnny Bickly of Doing Unto Others had an equally confusing conversation to Eugene and Isaac of Isaac the Benevolent. Addictions Can Be Habit Forming is not released, but according to the Complete Guide to AIO, reveals Harley's truly foolish nature. Evidently Harley has yet another witless conversation in this episode and even ends up holding up someone with a cucumber. In The Tangled Web, Harley played a very minor role in one scene with a police officer in a scene which was re-recorded later. In Bobby's Valentine's remake, The Trouble with Girls, Harley is again replaced by Eugene. Evidently, Harley's crazy, silly dialogue was not necessary for these episode's success since they seeem to still work with Eugene in the role.
Recollections is the last episode in which you can still hear Officer Harley. He briefs appears to make an unhelpful statement to the town council. While not incredibly annoying, Harley adds little to this otherwise serious episode. He only briefly appears to make a statement that is basically ignored as soon as he has said it.
All of the other episodes in which Harley appears are either remade completely or have rerecorded scenes to replace him. In The Case of the Missing Train Car, remade as the excellent episode What Happened to the Silver Streak?, Harley "helps" the investigation of the train car. In the remake, Curt took his role. Officer Harley is replaced by Officer O'Ryan in The Quality of Mercy's remake An Act of Mercy. Evidently, Harley was rather helpful here if he played the role anything like O'Ryan.
Pieces of the next episode, Gotcha!, seem to be laying around everywhere. Evidently, the episode began with Philo playing the same jokes that Curt played in Pranks for Memories and also shared endings. Officer Harley was again replaced by O'Ryan in the remakes. The central section of the episode was flashbacked to in It Began with a Rabbit's Foot..., but had nothing to do with Harley.
Harley had the honor of having the first AIO two-parter. It was entitled Harley Takes the Case and was actually designed to show that Harley was not a complete idiot. The episodes were remade as Missing Person, with Isaac replacing Harley. The new episodes includes various twists on the plot, the most interesting of which was the removal of a "wild dog attack" sequence. Before Harley went on hiatus for a while, he briefly appeared agin in Rumor Has It, but was later replaced by a "normal" policeman.
Harley then left AIO for a long time, only to resurface nearly a year later in The Return of Harley. The episode follows the "bootlegger plot" that was remade in The Boy Who Cried 'Destructo!' and is actually the only episode where Harley is remade by his replacement, Harlow Doyle. (See below for more information.)
The were two other very brief appearances of Harley in AIO canon. He appeared in Peace on Earth, the end of the year episode, but he only had one line and was not even called by name. The other, very humorous, appearance of Harley is in A Thanksgiving Carol where he plays Jacob Arley and his dialogue offers a commentary on why he had to leave Odyssey. It was a fun reference to a portion of AIO history. Did Harley really deserve those chains? Evidently some thought so.
Harley caused more negative mail than most of the other AIO characters combined. Many objected to seeing a police officer portrayed a bumbling, moronic buffoon. On first glance, Harley doesn't seem as annoying as Harlow, his replacement, but I can really see the people's point. Policemen are people we are supposed to look up to and respect. They are the ones to whom we need to turn in times of crisis. However, various television programs and motion pictures often portray officers as "the bad guys". There are often even "cops" who conspire with the villains. Look even at AIO. In Waylaid in the Windy City, Agent Phillips of the Chicago Police turns out to be in league with Dr. Blackgaard, a world terrorist. Does Officer David Harley make people, especially children, want to trust police officers? While he certainly isn't threatening, he does not inspire the trust that children need to have for law enforcement agents. I can certainly see the point, and even agree.
After Harley was stripped from the series, there was a equal call for his return. Many fans liked the humorous character and wrote letters commenting on their enjoyment of his persona. Eventually, nearly three years after Harley's disappearance, Harley was brought back as Harlow Doyle, a very similar character who was more annoying than Harley, but at least he wasn't a policeman. Harlow is one of my very few major problems with AIO, but see a seperate article for a full ranting on the subject (when it is written).
While we still don't know that much about Harley, it is an interesting case to study. One of AIO's biggest debates and the first case of fans influencing a major storyline change, Harley proved that writing letters to AIO does make a difference. That address that Chris gives (and we all know by heart) at the end of the episode isn't just for fun; the writers/producers actually listen to what fans have to say. So the next time you hear an episode of AIO that you really disliked, or more likely, you hear an episode you really love, send a letter. You may influence the course of AIO history.