The Comedian’s Graveyard boasts a wonderful performance from Joe Melia as Billy Raybold. Raybold is an end-of-the-pier entertainer, who is seen at the start of the story holding auditions for his latest show. When Judy Blackburn (Tessa Wyatt) turns up, his attention is immediately drawn to her, since she’s young, nervous and very attractive. He does his best to calm her nerves by telling her that they’re not here to eat her (“I wouldn’t mind” mutters his sidekick Arthur Mack, played by Leslie Dwyer). So the scene seems to be set for Raybold to take advantage of the naive girl, but it doesn’t quite work out like that.
Raybold is always performing, even when off-stage, cracking corny jokes – but there’s plenty of opportunity to view the real man behind the greasepaint (and he’s someone who’s well aware of his mediocrity). This is clearest at the end, when he tells Judy that “I could stand being a has-been, but a never-was, that takes some swallowing.”
Frank’s still working for Joe Ryland’s detective agency (although not for long – by the end of the story he’s resigned, finally worn down by the endless form-filling and his personal dislike of Ryland) and has been given the case of locating Judy. There’s a clear difference of opinion between Frank and Ryland – Ryland is happy to take the client’s money, but Frank feels they’d be better off going to the police. “I’m one man. With one pair of eyes and one pair of feet. The population of Brighton and Hove is something like 240,000, not counting the tourists. I”d have to get very, very, lucky.”
Eventually he agrees with Judy’s aunt, Mrs Reid (Mona Bruce) that he’ll spend a few days looking for her. And since this is television, he does manage to find her fairly easily. Frank spies her on the pier, handing out leaflets for Raybold’s show. This brings Frank into conflict with Raybold, since he showed him Judy’s picture earlier in the day and he claimed not to have seen her. Frank’s suspicious of Raybold’s motives, but the comedian tells him that “I don’t want any trouble, I’ve done nothing wrong. All I want is some decent trade, bit of fishing, little money to show for it at the end.”
Earlier, Raybold confessed to Mack that he wasn’t getting anywhere with Judy, and he’d decided not to. His reputation as a womanizer in the past was well known, but he now admits he’s “too old for the chase, the lies, promises, chat.”
As I’ve said, Melia’s riveting as a third-rate comedian, hiding the pain of his mundane existence behind the false bonhomie of the professional comic. It’s a familiar character (think of Archie Rice in The Entertainer) but it works just as well here. Tessa Wyatt is appealing as the seventeen year-old Judy, who dreams of stardom but finds that the reality is somewhat different. Leslie Dwyer (later to be a regular in the early series of Hi-De-Hi!) offers solid support as Arthur Mack, who seems keen to move in on Judy, since Raybold isn’t interested.
Another thread developed in the story is the continuing relationship between Frank and Mrs Mortimer. Together they take Mrs Reid to see Judy perform in the show. Although it’s essentially a professional trip (after Judy’s performance, Mrs Reid confronts her and pleads with the girl to come home) it could also said to be virtually a date for Frank and Mrs Mortimer. Certainly as they reach home, they’re both still in high spirits – and even though Raybold has never topped the bill at the London Palladium, he’s still able to put on a good show which they both seemed to enjoy.
Over a nightcap, the conversation turns to Frank’s long-term plans. He confesses that he doesn’t see himself staying with Rylands much longer. Mrs Mortimer tells him he should set up on his own again, but Frank knows that’s easier said than done. “There’s a little item buzzing around Parliament called the private investigators bill. The bit that caught my eye said ‘agents would have to satisfy a judge of their competence and honesty.’ And here am I, still on parole. You’d also have to deposit a one thousand pound bond before you could set up shop.”
Mrs Mortmer offers without hesitation to provide the bond. Frank refuses (“finance and friendship, like oil and water”) and the fact he mentioned friendship is picked up by Mrs Mortimer (“coming out of your shell, aren’t you?”) It’s a far cry from the start of the series, where Frank was an isolated character with no friends at all.
The end of the scene does imply that Mrs Mortimer would like to be more than friends though. But since series five would see Frank relocate again (this time to Windsor) their relationship is already on borrowed time. Had Frank stayed in Brighton, it’s intriguing to wonder exactly what would have happened to the pair of them. But maybe it was the fear that he was getting too domesticated that caused the programme-makers to move him on again.