The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – The Looting of the Specie Room


Ronald Fraser as Mr Horrocks in The Looting of the Specie Room by C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne
Adapted by Ian Kennedy-Martin. Directed by Jonathan Alwyn

The RMS Oceanic is attempting to cross the Atlantic in a record time.  It’s also carrying a fortune in gold bullion, under the watchful eye of the ship’s purser Mr Horrocks (Ronald Fraser).  But when the ship docks at Liverpool, Horrocks is appalled to find that half of the gold has been stolen.  The ship’s owner, Lord Altington (Paul Hardwick), gives him a stark ultimatum – if the gold isn’t recovered by the time the Oceanic reaches Southampton, Horrocks will have to find another job …..

The Looting of the Specie Room was written by C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne.  Best known for the fantasy novel The Lost Continent: The Story of Atlantis, he also wrote a series of stories featuring Captain Kettle.  Horrocks made his first appearance as a supporting character in the Kettle tales and later featured in his own book Mr Horrocks Purser (1902).

Like most of the adaptations in the series, it stands or falls on the performance of the detective and sadly Ronald Fraser is something of a disappointment.  This is a pity, since he’s usually an actor I enjoy watching – but he’s very subdued here.  Ian Kennedy-Martin’s adaptation provides plenty of scope – Horrocks is an affable, honest and friendly man who’s skilled in dealing with the numerous demands of his well-heeled passengers.

But although he’s treated with indifference by some of them and with outright contempt by the Oceanic’s owner Lord Altrington, Fraser never manages to make anything of this.  Instead, he stumbles through the episode with hardly a flicker of emotion, only slightly coming to life when talking to the attractive young widow Mrs. Vanrenen (Jean Marsh).

If Fraser is a little off, then there’s some consolation to be had with the supporting cast.  Edward Dentith is profoundly shifty as Sir Edward Markham – could this apparently upright gentleman have something to do with the robbery?  Jean Marsh shares several nice, understated scenes with Fraser and as I’ve said it’s pretty much the only time he seems in any way animated.

Stephen Yardley (almost unrecognisable at first, thanks to sporting pretty much a full head of hair and a moustache) is another suspect.  His character, First Officer Clayton, has run up serious gambling debts and this gives him a strong motive.  Norman Bird, a veteran of film and television, is another quality addition to the cast.  He plays Inspector Trent, who joins the ship in England and teams up with Horrocks to locate the stolen gold.

The actual mechanics of the robbery aren’t terribly interesting (and do show the limitations of the studio) but Horrocks’ confrontation with the culprit do go some way to ensuring that the story closes strongly.  Although he successfully plays amateur detective, Horrocks finds himself demoted to another, smaller ship in the fleet (he accepts this slight with equanimity).  But when he learns that the captain of his new ship will be Clayton (a man he accused of robbery and therefore someone who has no love for him) he does seem to perk up a little!

An indifferent installment, but even with Fraser’s leaden performance it’s not a total write-off.

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