The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – The Case of Laker, Absconded


Peter Barkworth as Martin Hewett in The Case of Laker, Absconded by Arthur Morrison
Adapted by Philip Mackie.  Directed by Jonathan Alwyn

Martin Hewitt (Peter Barkworth) and Jonathan Pryde (Ronald Hines) have a new contract.  They’ve been retained by the City Guarantee Society, an insurance company who guarantee the integrity of bank employees.  So in the case of fraud or theft, the City Guarantee Society are naturally keen for the culprit to be apprehended as quickly as possible.  And so are Hewitt and Pryde (they earn no fee, but collect a percentage of the monies recovered).

The case of a junior bank clerk called Laker seems to be open and shut.  Laker is a walk-clerk, responsible for collecting money from various banks during his round and then returning it to his own bank – Messrs Liddle, Neal & Liddle.  But after collecting fifteen thousand pounds, he disappears.

His fiance, Emily Shaw (Jane Lapotaire), remains convinced of his innocence and she begs Hewitt to help her.  When the evidence of his guilt starts to pile up, even she starts to doubt him.  But Hewitt wonders if some of the trail is just a little obvious – it’s almost as if he wanted to be tracked.  Emily tells Hewitt that Laker is a clever man, so why has he acted in such a careless way, throwing clues about?

The Case of Laker, Absconded was the third and final Martin Hewitt story by Arthur Morrison to be adapted for the first series of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.  The original story appeared in The Chronicles of Martin Hewitt, published in 1895, and it can be read here.

Jonathan Pryde, the Hewitt substitute from The Case of the Dixon Torpedo appears briefly, but this is very much Hewitt’s case.  He spends the majority of the episode in the company of Emily Shaw and together they attempt to prove or disprove Laker’s guilt.  Barkworth is his usual solid self and Jane Lapotaire impresses as a woman who remains unswervingly devoted to her finance – even though all the evidence suggests that’s he’s jilted her and run away to the continent with a horde of stolen money.

There’s two possible solutions to the story and it quickly becomes clear which is the more likely.  So this isn’t a complex or surprising tale – instead the enjoyment comes from the lead performances of Barkworth and Lapotaire, as well as some of the supporting cast.

Chief amongst these are Leslie Dwyer and Toke Townley as two lost property men at the local railway station.  Laker’s lost umbrella (which Hewitt recovers) is a minor plot point, but the main pleasure in these scenes is the comic timing of Dwyer and Townley.

Toke Townley isn’t the only connection to Emmerdale (he played Sam Pearson from 1972 to 1984) as Mr Wilks himself, Arthur Pentelow, appears as Inspector Plummer.  Like many of the other policemen in the series, he’s always a couple of steps behind the private detective but Plummer doesn’t seem to mind – especially since with Hewitt’s help he manages to round up a dangerous gang of crooks.

The Case of Laker, Absconded brought the first series of The Rivals to a close.  Overall, it was a very consistent run of episodes with some strong central performances from the various detectives.  The series would return for a second, and final, series – which promised new detectives and more baffling cases for them to solve.

The Rivals of Sherlock Homes – The Case of the Dixon Torpedo


Ronald Hines as Jonathan Pryde in The Case of the Dixon Torpedo by Arthur Morrison
Adapted by Stuart Hood.  Directed by James Goddard

Jonathan Pryde (Ronald Hines) has been hired by the British Admiralty to keep an eye on a curmudgeonly, but brilliant, inventor called Dixon (Derek Francis).  Dixon is working to develop a new torpedo and the Admiralty are worried that it could be acquired by an unfriendly power.  And when the unthinkable happens – the plans are stolen – Pryde will need to use all of his ingenuity to solve the mystery.

Arthur Morrison wrote three volumes of stories featuring private detective Martin Hewitt.  They were Martin Hewitt, Investigator (1894), The Chronicles of Martin Hewitt (1895) and The Adventures of Martin Hewitt (1896).  The Case of the Dixon Torpedo was featured in Martin Hewitt, Investigator and it can be read here.

Series one of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes adapted three Martin Hewitt adventures – this one, The Affair of the Tortoise and The Case of Laker, Absconded.  Rather oddly, Hewitt didn’t feature in this adaptation – instead a new detective (Jonathan Pryde) was created.  Maybe it was felt that having three stories with the same detective would have been a slight case of overkill.

Ronald Hines gives a low-key performance as Pryde.  Unlike some of the other detectives we’ve seen in The Rivals, Pryde doesn’t possess any particular quirks or interesting character traits – he’s simply a dogged, thorough investigator

If Pryde is a bit of a dull fellow, then there’s compensation elsewhere.  Derek Francis is full of bluster as the bluff Dixon, whilst James Bolam and Bill Wallis form a decent double-act as Dixon’s employees.  Jacqueline Pearce (forever Servalan from Blake’s Seven) has a small part as Pryde’s wife and it’s always a pleasure to see Cyril Shaps (the voice of Mr Kipling).

The Case of the Dixon Torpedo is also notable for featuring a wide array of facial hair (much of it fairly false-looking, it must be said) whilst Dixon’s achilles heel are prostitutes (“two at a time!”).  It’s this particular vice that proves to be his undoing and enables the plans to fall into Russian hands (although Pryde is on hand to sort out the mess).

But though the plans are recovered, Pryde is appalled by the way that both the British and Russian governments are prepared to cover up the various deaths that have occurred along the way.  When he’s asked if he’d like to take on further cases for Admiralty, he replies “no, I don’t think so. I prefer crime. It’s more honest”.  Many future detectives will express similar sentiments.

This story of missing plans may have been influenced by the Sherlock Holmes story The Naval Treaty and it’s interesting to wonder if Morrison’s story was an influence on Conan-Doyle when he wrote the later Holmes tale The Bruce-Partington Plans.

It’s not a particularly complicated story and whilst I’d have preferred to have had Peter Barkworth’s Hewitt in the main role, the quality supporting cast are a major point in this episode’s favour.

Next Episode – The Woman In The Big Hat