Roy Dotrice as Simon Carne in The Duchess of Wiltshire’s Diamonds by Guy Boothby
Adapted by Anthony Steven. Directed by Kim Mills
Simon Carne (Roy Dotrice) is a charming socialite who is totally at ease mixing with the highest in the land. He’s recently returned to England after a period abroad and is met by his friend, Lord Amberley. On the journey to Carne’s new flat, Amberley mentions that over the last month all of London has been following the exploits of a detective called Klimo. Carne professes disinterest in the detective’s exploits and is further dismayed when Amberley tells him that his new flat is next to Klimo’s.
After Carne has heard a little more about the detective, he seems to have slightly amended his views and suggests that the Duke of Wiltshire calls in Klimo to advise on how best to protect the Duchess of Wiltshire’s diamonds. But nobody realises Carne is living a double life – he’s also Klimo.
Simon Carne and his alter-ego Klimo first appeared in A Prince of Swindlers by Guy Boothby, which was published in 1897. The concept of the gentlemen thief, able to remain undetected due to his exalted position in society, is a concept that remains familiar today – thanks to A.J. Raffles. But Carne got there first, as Raffles didn’t appear in print until the following year. A Prince of Swindlers can be downloaded here.
The opening paragraph of Boothby’s story is interesting, since he dares to compare Klimo to Sherlock Holmes –
To the reflective mind the rapidity with which the inhabitants of the world’s greatest city seize upon a new name or idea and familiarise themselves with it, can scarcely prove otherwise than astonishing. As an illustration of my meaning let me take the case of Klimo – the now famous private detective, who has won for himself the right to be considered as great as Lecocq, or even the late lamented Sherlock Holmes.
Klimo might be a great detective, but he never catches the criminal – understandable since the crimes are carried out by Simon Carne. In print, the notion of the criminal and detective being the same person works perfectly well, but on television the conceit stands or falls based on how convincing Roy Dotrice is as the two separate characters.
Carne sports a false hunchback which he naturally removes when playing Klimo, which helps to put people off the scent. How can the youngish, slightly deformed Carne possibly be confused for the older Klimo? And was the use of disguises another nod from Boothby to Sherlock Holmes?
There are some nice touches in the story, such as the handy idea that Carne and Klimo have adjoining apartments, with a different servant in each (both of whom are aware of the con). He also has a rotating desk which moves between the two flats, so he can switch disguises and apartments as required!
Carne might be a rogue (like Dorrington) but unlike Dorrington, he’s a charmer who’s very much in the Raffles mode, and it’s easy to cheer him on. Early on, it’s revealed that he’s taken to crime in order to restore the family fortunes and he admits that it’s particularly satisfying “when it’s done at the expense of those so-called friends who could well have offered to help, when help was needed. But never lifted a finger”.
Dotrice clearly has some fun playing the aged Klimo, complete with Irish accent and there’s the usual high-quality cast, including Peter Cellier and Barbara Murray as the Duke and Duchess of Wiltshire, John Standing and Felicity Gibson as Lord and Lady Amberley and the always dependable John Nettleton as Belton.
It’s a fairly complicated story, although everything becomes clear at the end (especially the reason why Carne gave his servant, Belton, such detailed instructions). And if you can suspend your disbelief that nobody guesses that Carne and Klimo are one and the same, there’s plenty to enjoy in this one.
Next Episode – The Horse of the Invisible