The Saint – The Benevolent Burglary

burglary 01.jpg

Having had a successful evening in a Monte Carlo casino, Simon is in the process of cashing in his chips when he bumps into an old friend, Bill Fulton (Gary Cockrell).  Bill’s feeling depressed because the millionaire father of his sweetheart, Meryl (Suzanne Neve), has forbidden their union.  Meryl’s father, Elliot Vascoe (John Barrie), has an impressive art collection and the Saint – aiming to teach him a lesson – bets him five thousand dollars that sometime during the next four days his new gallery will be robbed.

Simon’s in full James Bond mode at the start of the episode.  He’s looking suitably dashing in a white tuxedo and – like Bond – is the sort of gambler who knows when to stop.  His taste for stylish casualwear can be seen later on when he relaxes in an impressive dressing gown.

Bill’s a penniless musician which means that in Vascoe’s eyes he couldn’t be a worse match for his daughter.  And then there’s the instrument he plays.   “A drummer! Not even a real musician, he just makes a noise”.  Needless to say, Meryl doesn’t take this sort of criticism very well – it just serves to drive a wedge between her and her father.

Suzanne Neve is rather lovely, although unlike some of the other ladies who cross paths with the Saint, Meryl carries herself with a more natural air.  Amongst her later credits, Neve would appear in The Forsyth Saga (1967) as well as popping up twice in UFO as Ed Straker’s bitter and estranged ex-wife Mary.

Simon’s baiting of Vascoe might be partly motivated by the travails of Bill and Meryl, but he’s also doing it because he despises Vascoe (they’ve clashed before).  Vascoe is the sort of character who simply rubs Simon up the wrong way – he tags him as a nouveau riche philistine, someone who doesn’t appreciate art (he simply delights in buying up various treasures in order to demonstrate that he’s “cultured”).

John Barrie racked up sixty six episodes of Sergeant Cork during the 1960’s.  Amazingly, all of the episodes exist and are now available on DVD – if you haven’t seen them then you really should (advert over).  It’s mainly thanks to Cork that Barrie has become a favourite actor of mine – meaning that it’s a treat to see him pop up in this episode.  Vascoe is not the most multi-layered of characters – he’s an arrogant type who you know is going to be taken down a peg or two – but thanks to Barrie’s performance he’s never less than completely watchable.

Another familiar face appearing is Rachel Gurney as Delphine Chambers.  Delphine has been commissioned by Vascoe to paint a portrait of Meryl, which gives her the opportunity to linger around the perimeters of the plot.  Other highly recognisable actors passing by include Ivor Salter as a typically inefficient policemen (just one of a number drafted in to keep tabs on Simon) and Andre Maranne as a radio operator.

Arnold Diamond, as Colonel Latignant, may be one of Simon’s lesser-known authority adversaries, but since he appeared in six episodes he possibly deserves to be more appreciated.  Latignant is tasked to stop the Saint (who of course runs rings around him with insouciant ease). This means that at one point the unfortunate Latignant buries his head in his hands and lets out a primal scream of anguish!

Simon’s public pronouncement has drawn a veritable rogues gallery to Monte Carlo – all of them keen to attempt the burglary, since they know that if they succeed then Simon will be blamed.  Jules Brant (Raymond Adamson) is the one who actually carries out the crime, although Simon is on hand to intercept him and give him a decent duffing up.  It’s a nice touch that Brant left the Saint’s calling card (the stickman figure) at the scene of the crime – this was something that the literary Saint tended to do in his early days.

Simon’s parting shot to Vascoe – he returns the stolen items and explains that any one of his trusted friends and advisors could have been the inside man since they all despise him – is devastating.  The television Saint has rarely been as ruthless as this, although since his actions do serve as a wakeup call for Vascoe, it’s not entirely vindictive.  This is easily Barrie’s best scene, as we see Vascoe slowly realise that whilst his life is materially rich it’s also emotionally barren.  We end on an optimistic note as Vascoe and Meryl are reconciled.

Given that it shares a few plot similarities, it’s not too surprising that this story was originally published in the same collection as The Charitable Countess (The Happy Highwayman, 1939).  Charteris’ story is set in New York rather than Monte Carlo and although Vascoe is blocking Meryl and Bill’s marriage, it’s for a very different reason.  In the short story, Bill has invented a new tube(!) that’s set to make him a fortune – but since grasping old Vascoe lent him the money to develop it, he’s now planning to foreclose on the loan and reap the rewards of Bill’s invention for himself.  The identity of the thief is also quite different and Vascoe remains unrepentant at the end.  Given that the story is pretty short, it’s not too surprising that the teleplay had to be bulked out somewhat.

Another typically strong guest cast – headed by the peerless John Barrie – ensures that this is another top quality Saint episode.  Four and a half halos out of five.

burglary 02

Gideon’s Way – The Wall

wall

Netta and Michael Penn (Ann Bell and Richard Carpenter) are a young couple very much in love.  At present they’re forced to live in a single room but dream of owning a house of their own.  So when Michael wins seven hundred pounds on the football pools, it seems their dream will come true.

But Michael makes the mistake of mentioning his win to his landlord, Will Rikker (John Barrie).  Rikker, a violent and unpleasant man, asks Michael for a loan of one hundred pounds and when Michael refuses he attempts to steal the money anyway.  Michael discovers him and a fight breaks out – brought to a conclusion when Michael hits his head on the fireplace and is instantly killed.  Rikker’s now got the money, but he also has several problems – he has to dispose of the body, pacify his wife Liz (Megs Jenkins) who learns of his crime and deal with the suspicions of Netta, who can’t understand why her husband suddenly seems to have left her …..

John Barrie would spend a great deal of the 1960’s playing two very different policemen.  Firstly, he was the Victorian Sergeant Cork (between 1963 and 1968, although some of the later episodes had been recorded some years prior to their eventual transmission) and then he moved into the modern age to play DI/DCI Hudson in Z Cars (during 1967 and 1968).  Because of this, it’s a nice change to see him on the other side of the law for a change, and Will Rikker is a splendidly villainous creation.

From the first moment we see him it’s plain that he’s simmering over with resentment and anger.  He snaps at his wife, takes a drink (even though it’s fairly early in the morning) and threatens the Penns dog with violence.  Liz reminds him that the Penns pay them to look after the dog whilst they’re at work, but this cuts no ice with Rikker.  Leslie Norman’s direction favours close ups – especially during the aftermath of the fight – and this works very well as Rikker’s sweaty, anxious face tells its own story.  And with a large part of the episode taking place inside the house, the close-ups also help to add a degree of claustrophobia.

If we have many verbal examples of Rikker’s character, there are also non-visual clues too.  The rooms he shares with Liz are shabby in the extreme, whilst Netta and Michael’s room is spotless.  So whilst the young couple have clearly taken the trouble to ensure that their living environment is as pleasant as possible, Rikker simply doesn’t care about his.  Presumably if he’s got enough money for drink then he’s not too bothered about outward appearances (which is also reflected in his unkempt dress sense).

Richard Carpenter would later be better known as a writer, penning the likes of Catweazle, Dick Turpin and Robin of Sherwood, but during the 1960’s he pursued a successful acting career with a string of appearances in many popular series of the day.  Michael isn’t too much of a part – not really requiring a great deal from Carpenter – but even with his limited screen-time he manages to make Michael seem a likeable and decent chap, which gives his death a certain impact.

It’s Ann Bell who has to carry the second half of the episode, as she continues to puzzle over her husband’s absence.  She reports his disappearance to the police but they don’t seem too interested to begin with, not really surprising since there’s nothing to go on.

Given the sort of storyline this is, where no crime – at least initially – seems to have occurred, Gideon and the others exist very much on the periphery.  So there’s the opportunity to dwell a little on Gideon’s home life (he’s forgotten his wife’s birthday) whilst at work he berates his subordinates for errors in other cases.  None of this impacts on the main plotline, but something had to be found for him to do, otherwise it would have been a thin week for John Gregson.  Gideon does get involved later on, after Netta pleads with him to investigate the case, although Netta herself (and her dog, Skipper) are really the ones who first work out that Rikker is the guilty party.

Thanks to John Barrie’s monstrous performance and Ann Bell’s equally good counter-performance as the innocent ensnared by Rikker’s machinations, The Wall is one of the best of the series.

Sergeant Cork – The Case of the Gold Salesman

gold

Eli Klein (Derek Francis) is a moneylender who’s not averse to turning a tidy profit wherever and whenever he can.  So the arrival of a mysterious stranger (who we later learn is called Carlyon) intrigues him, especially when Carlyon offers to sell him gold at well below the market price.  This seems far too good to be true, so Klein makes his way to Cork to ask for his assistance.  But Cork knows and distrusts Klein of old – why has he approached him?

Cork continues to explore methods of categorising felons.  He offers Bob an apple and then tells him that teeth marks, like fingerprints, are a good way of making an identification. Although how many people leave teeth marks at a crime scene is open to question!

Derek Francis’ first screen credit was in 1958 – when he was thirty-five – but whilst he may have been a fairly late starter (although he’d enjoyed a healthy stage career prior to this) he racked up an impressive list of both film and television credits during the next twenty five years or so (he died in 1984, aged 60).  Francis was equally adept at playing both comedy and drama (one of my favourites was his turn as Nero in the Doctor Who story The Romans in 1965).  Klein is also something of a comic character, although Cork does slightly disprove of him (as a moneylender, he’s driven desperate people to suicide).  It’ll come as no surprise to learn that Francis plays Klein as very broadly Jewish – the cliche that moneylenders must be Jewish is a well established one, a pity that Julian Bond’s script adheres to this stereotype.

John Woodvine (Carlyon) is an actor with considerable presence.  His film and television career (like Francis’) started in 1958, although Woodvine continues to act today (his most recent credit was 2015).  Some of his more memorable appearances include New Scotland Yard, The Tripods, Edge of Darkness and Knights of God.  His role in this story is small, but memorable.

The Case of the Gold Salesman is a Cork episode with a definite comedic edge.  Cork’s plan to catch the conmen includes leasing a house and posing as an interested buyer.  No surprises that Inspector Bird becomes positively apoplectic when he learns about this – the extra expense of a servant’s uniform for Bob and a nice smoking jacket for Cork doesn’t help either!

Julian Bond’s script takes its time to put all the pieces into place.  Cork’s masquerade as the gold buyer only takes place during the last fifteen minutes, so prior to that we’ve ambled through a number of (admittedly quite entertaining) character scenes – Klein and Cork, Bird and Marriott etc.  The meeting between Bird and Marriott is noteworthy, as Bob finally receives confirmation (much to his relief) that his probationary period is over and he’s now a fully fledged detective.

But all this preamble is worth it to see Cork relaxing in his smoking jacket, being attended to by his faithful servant Bob.  The scene between Cork and the bewitching gold agent Tamara Andreyev (Jill Melford) is lovely – for once Cork seems to be slightly on the back foot, probably because alluring females aren’t really his thing.  After he bids her farewell, he mutters to Bob that Henry Irving has got nothing to worry about!

It’s not the most interesting of cases (the fake gold scam is dealt with very perfunctorily) but the character interaction between the regulars and the guest cast more than makes up for this.

Sergeant Cork – The Case of Ella Barnes

ella

At first, the death of Ella Barnes looks like a simple case of drowning – but Mrs Sinkins (Wynne Clark) isn’t convinced.  She’s a member of the women’s protective league and had persuaded Ella to give evidence at a House of Lords enquiry into sweated labour.  Could the girl have been murdered to prevent her from attending?  Cork and Marriott venture into the slums of the East End to find out the truth.

Ella had worked at a sweat shop run by Brandel (Robert Cartland) who tells them that she was the ringleader of a recent strike.  All the other girls were fired and replaced with even cheaper (non English) labour but Brandel, for some reason, chose to take Ella back.

Although Brandel’s workshop is a pretty desperate place, Cork doesn’t rush to condemn him.  “In a way he’s just as much a victim as the people he employs. Brandel and the thousands like him who run these workshops don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. To turn out a cheap product you’ve got to have cheap labour. If you don’t turn out a cheap product you don’t survive.”

The cheapness of life is made clear after Cork speaks to several of Ella’s former work-mates.  One of them, Barbara Ellis (Rosemary Ashford), tells the Sergeant that she’s known several girls who’ve been fished out of the docks, so finds it hard to express sorrow over Ella’s death.  Mrs Brandel (Isa Miranda) later sums up the hopelessness of East End life.  “Work, work, work, for what? To eat, then more work. Maybe she’s more happy where she is. There is not much happiness here.”

Like many of the episodes we’ve already seen, as the victim is dead at the start of the episode Cork and Marriott (as well as the audience) have to build up a picture of them from the testimony of witnesses.  Whether they’re a saint or sinner will be determined from the facts they can uncover.  The news that Ella was four months pregnant, and her husband Alfred Barnes (James Kerry) had been absent for six, could be a vital clue (or it could just be a red herring).

The Case of Ella Barnes, like the earlier episode The Case of the Soldier’s Rifle, has a light dusting of social history (poor working conditions) but once again this is subordinate to the whodunnit part of the story and it’s true that Eric Paice’s script never quite succeeds in developing the misery and desperation of the sweat shops as fully as they could have been.  The guest cast is decent, although there’s a lack of stand-out performances.  But the solution to the mystery is well handled – the identity of the guilty party seems obvious, but things are not always as they seem ……

This is a fairly run of the mill episode then, although it’s enlivened by the usual high-quality production design (designer Anthony Waller creates a series of dock-based workshops in the studio very effectively) and there’s also some nice banter between Cork and Bob.

Sergeant Cork – The Case of the Public Paragon

paragon 01

Mrs Manley (Yvonne Coulette) returns home to find a mysterious man standing over the body of her husband.  Gerald Manley was a man of some substance (he was a member of parliament) so when it’s discovered that he’s dead it’s no surprise to find Cork is assigned to the case.

The opening scene is pitched at an intense level.  Mrs Manley’s maid Jenny (Natasha Pyne) becomes hysterical after the body is discovered and has to be slapped hard by her mistress.  Had time permitted it would have been a good idea to do a retake – the scene would have played better if the performances had been ratcheted down a little.  The guest appearance of a microphone boom is another problem that a retake could have rectified.

Sir Gervase Walworth (Jack Gwillam) pays Manley a fulsome tribute. “He was a man carved out by destiny for a brilliant career in politics. He was the soul of gentleness, the essence of integrity and the truest friend a man could have. Manley was a paragon.”  Cork doesn’t react to this, but when Walworth tells him that Manley didn’t have any enemies, the Sergeant counters that he hasn’t dismissed the possibility he was killed by a friend!

The nasty underbelly of seemingly respectable Victorian society is the theme of the episode, so it’ll come as no surprise to learn that Manley is not the paragon he’s been painted to be.  Cork and Marriott find a stash of photographs in Manley’s study and Bob reacts strongly to them.  “Those are pretty disgusting. I don’t mind a bit of honest sex but those … they’re enough to turn your stomach. They’re sickening.”

Manley had attempted to take compromising photographs of his maid Jenny (Walworth was also in attendance).  Although Manley’s now dead, Walworth is very much alive and he uses his considerable influence to remove Cork from the case.  Cork, of course, won’t be dissuaded and he continues digging – revealing a web of prostitution that’s linked to some of the most important people in the land.

When Cork confronts Walworth, he attempts to justify his actions.  “These girls, what are they? Street arabs. Bred in ignorance and reared in poverty, they’d jump at the chance to earn money.”  Cork counters that corruption comes from those who offer it.  John Barrie is at his implacable best in this scene.

The Case of the Public Paragon was an early screen credit for Natasha Pyne (she would later be a regular in the popular sitcom Father Dear Father) and despite her youth – she was seventeen at the time the episode was recorded – it’s an impressive performance.  Jack Gwillim had a very decent cv (film appearances included Lawrence of Arabia and A Man for all Seasons) and whilst he’s cursed with rather unconvincing facial hair (something of a continuing problem for the series) he also gives a fine turn.  Sir Gervase Walworth is initially presented to the audience as an honest, upright man (just like his friend Manley).  But as Cork’s investigations continue, it becomes clear that both reveled in the corruption of teenage girls and Walworth ends up a broken man.

The first of eight Cork scripts by Bill Craig, this is a powerful and rather disturbing story.

paragon 02

Sergeant Cork – The Case of the Soldier’s Rifle

rifle.jpg

The army are called in to keep the peace during an industrial dispute – but when one of the strikers is shot dead it falls to Cork to investigate.  However, what appears to be a straightforward case turns out to be much more complicated.

Cork is the only man for the job, according to Supt. Nelson.  This irritates Inspector Bird who offers to lead the investigation himself – the way Nelson hurriedly turns down his kind offer is a clear indication that Bird (whilst Cork’s superior in rank) is decidedly his inferior as a police officer!  After Cork leaves, Bird has to grudgingly admit that he’s a decent officer, but believes (as does the audience, no doubt) that his abrasive manner will not go down well with the army bigwigs.  Nelson does give Bird another reason as to why he chose Cork.  Apart from his undoubted investigative qualities, Cork’s public profile continues to rise and his verdict, when reprinted in the newspapers, will carry more weight than most.  It’s another indication that the Sergeant enjoys something of a celebrity status, although it’s not something he trades on.

Like Cork and Marriott, the audience comes to the investigation with no knowledge as to exactly what happened.  Although the episode opens with the strikers confronting the army, when the shot was fired the camera was elsewhere.  Was the murdered man an agitator (as Major Edwards says), in the wrong place at the wrong time or killed for another reason?  Edwards (Basil Henson) makes his position clear from the start.  “The army doesn’t have to give reasons for what it does, it conducts its own investigations and I advise you to leave well alone before you find yourself in trouble. Clear?”  No surprise that Cork isn’t at all intimidated and instead continues to ask questions.

The murdered man, Strong, had been keen to stand up for his rights.  His brother Alf (John Boyd-Bent) makes this point forcibly to Cork and the union leader Ned Fisher (Charles Morgan) agrees (Morgan would become a very familiar face in the later run of the series, he returned for a lengthy spell as Supt Rodway).  The resentment felt between the workers and the management is spelled out by Fisher.  The workers were striking for an extra four-pence a day – and with the fruits of their labours (luxury furniture) being sold for a healthy profit, this seems a reasonable request.

Although Major Edwards and Cork didn’t exactly hit it offer when they first met, they do reach a rapprochement after Cork proves that the private soldier who claimed to have shot Strong couldn’t have done so.  Strong was killed by a revolver bullet, not one fired from a rifle, and the soldier had lied to cover up that he’d lost his rifle in the melee.  So could the factory owner Charles Robinson (Neil Arden) be responsible?  His dislike of Strong was well known and his death certainly seemed to meet with his approval.  If not Robinson, then Cork will have to cast his net even wider – maybe one of Strong’s fellow strikers pulled the trigger?

It’s probably not too surprising that the murderer turned out to be someone close to home – Cork was a fairly traditional series and a straightforward theme of social unrest would have been rather outside the series’ remit.  Instead, we have a reasonably satisfying whodunit with a light dusting of social history (poor working conditions, the army called in to keep the peace, etc).

The Case of Soldier’s Rifle was the second of two scripts by Bill Macllwraith (the first was The Case of the Two Drowned Men).  Interestingly, Macllwraith would later work on another Victorian detective series – Cribb.  Based on the novels by Peter Lovesey, it would be easy to imagine that Lovesey had been influenced by Cork (although he’s never said so).  But for anyone who enjoys Cork, Cribb is also well worth your time.

John Boyd-Bent (Alf) gives a rather broad performance, as does Jane Wenham as Strong’s widow, Ivy.  I wonder if this was more down to Macllwraith’s scripting, since The Case of the Two Drowned Men also had its fair share of histrionics?  The whodunit angle isn’t as satisfying as some of the other episodes, as the characters aren’t as well drawn (so don’t invite our sympathy or interest) but it’s still an amiable enough way to spend fifty minutes.

 

Sergeant Cork – The Case of the Sleeping Coachman

coachman

The Case of the Sleeping Coachman opens with Cork attempting to pack his suitcase.  He and Bob are heading down to Wiltshire to investigate a murder, the news of which seems to please Cork’s landlady Mrs Fielding (Carmen Silvera) who tells Bob “that’ll be nice for you. Make a change to do your investigations in the country, won’t it?”  This opening scene serves several purposes – Mrs Fielding’s curiosity about the reason for Cork and Bob’s trip allows them to make a none too subtle info dump but it also shines a rare light on Cork’s off duty life.  We see that he appears to be a hopeless organiser when it comes to simple matters like buying socks (he’s constantly being chivied about such things by the kind-hearted Mrs Fielding).  It’s also characteristic that we see Bob lounging around with his feet up, not concerned in the slightest that Cork is rushing about frantically.

They’ve been sent to investigate the murder of Nellie Bishop, a servant girl in the employ of Sir Henry Melrose (Mark Dingham).  Sir Henry is dismissive of the Scotland Yard men, and his son George (Philip Bond) is even more so.  Bond (father of Samantha) was good at playing disinterested, upper-class types and George is no exception.  His open contempt for Cork and Bob is shown when he insists they use the servant’s entrance (instead of entering through the front door).  Cork, of course, comes in through the front regardless!

Sir Henry is allowed a few minutes for his character to be well established.  He has a complete and unshakable belief in his own authority and this makes it clear that as soon as he and Cork meet, sparks will fly.  When Cork is asked why he didn’t enter through the servant’s entrance he casually mentions that only last month he had the privilege of entering Windsor Castle by the main gates.  It’s an indication that Cork is something of a public figure – earlier on this was confirmed by Lady Melrose (Beatrice Kane) who mentioned that she’d read about several of Cork’s more prominent cases in the newspapers.  When Sir Henry leaves, Inspector Armstrong (John Harvey) makes his feelings known to Cork.  “We’ve been treated as children or usurpers, never as responsible police officers.”

The first meeting between Bob and George is another nicely written and played moment.  At the same time that Cork was upstairs, irritating Sir Henry with his questions, Bob was downstairs in the servant’s hall, enjoying a hearty meal and seeing what facts he could learn from the servants.  When George arrives, bristling with indignation and flourishing a riding crop, he assumes Bob is a friend of one of the servants and asks him, none to politely, to leave.  Bob refuses and George then sees that he’s wearing a Winchester school tie.  It’s the same school that George went to and it staggers him to learn that Bob is a policeman (“on probation” mutters Cork).  The unspoken inference is that the police-force is no job for a gentleman.

After questioning Nellie’s parents and some of the servants, Cork makes an astute observation.  “I’ve got a feeling we’re travelling back into history. Fifty, a hundred miles away, the world is changing so fast you can’t keep pace with it.  Yet here, it’s like a book isn’t it? The lord of the manor, the arrogant son, the peasants on the estate. As though you’d frozen a calendar.”

Cork manages to get under the skin of both George and his sister Victoria (Rosalie Crutchley) to say nothing of the constant irritation he causes Sir Henry.  His relentless enquiries are one of the key pleasures of the episode and everything culminates in a classic drawing room scene as he brings the family together to reveal the murderer.

There’s plenty of good performances to savour – including Philip Bond and Rosalie Crutchley (the incestuous relationship that’s hinted between them is an interesting one to see in a popular drama of this era), John Harvey (sporting an impressive set of whiskers) and Patricia Clapton as Sarah the maid (who Bob takes something of a shine to).  All this, plus another outing for Cork’s special country suit!