Donald Sinden as Romney Pringle in The Assyrian Rejuvenator by Clifford Ashdown
Adapted by Julian Bond. Directed by Jonathan Alwyn
Sergeant Hawkins (Victor Platt) calls on Romney Pringle (Donald Sinden) to ask for his help – a conman called Henry Jacobs (Derek Smith) is selling a potion called the Assyrian Rejuvenator. He claims it’s a remarkable tonic that will restore their lost youth, but it obviously does no such thing. Hawkins can’t proceed until somebody makes a complaint and he concludes that nobody will – since they’re all too embarrassed to admit they’ve been conned.
When Pringle asks why Hawkins has come to him, the policeman’s answer is straightforward – “set a thief to catch a thief”. Pringle’s office door might declare him to be a private detective, but it’s clear that he’s more than happy to break the law when it serves his best interests – and he quickly sees how to turn the affair of the Assyrian Rejuvenator to his own benefit,
Romney Pringle was created by R. Austin Freeman and John Pitcarn (writing as Clifford Ashdown) and the character appeared in a series of stories written at the turn of the twentieth century. The Assyrian Rejuvenator was included in the book The Adventures of Romney Pringle and it can be read here.
Pringle is a rogue, very much in the mould of Horace Dorrington, and he’s quickly able to deal with Jacobs (by scaring him out of town). He then proceeds to take over Jacobs’ operation, which also means inheriting Doris (Alethea Charlton). Pringle’s an arch manipulator and he quickly has poor Doris hanging on his every word.
Donald Sinden gives a typically ripe performance as Pringle, although he never manages to make the character even remotely likeable. Peter Vaughan’s Dorrington was similarly unscrupulous, but he had a certain charm, thanks to Vaughan. Also, whilst Dorrington never quite managed to pull of the big con in either of the two stories adapted for The Rivals, here we see Pringle make a tidy profit from Jacob’s operation – and he shows little remorse when both Jacobs and Doris are caught by the police and charged with running the whole operation. Which isn’t, when you consider how he manipulated Doris to serve his own interests, a very admirable trait.
It also doesn’t help that the story is a little mundane, although there are a few compensations such as Jo Rowbottom as Suzy Shepherd, Music Hall artiste, and Michael Bates as Colonel Sandstream, an elderly duffer who’s somewhat smitten with her and will try anything (including the Assyrian Rejuvenator) to improve his chances to, as it were, satisfy her. Rowbottom is rather alluring and Bates (star of It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum and Last of the Summer Wine) has a nice line in comic bluster.
They both help to compensate for an episode which is one of the less engaging from the first series.
Next Episode – The Ripening Rubies