Sergeant Cork – The Case of the Two Drowned Men

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Cork and Marriott are hunting two men who killed a bank messenger and made away with a thousand sovereigns.  A tip off leads them to the docks, where Sergeant Dempsey (Victor Brooks) has some news – he says that one of their suspects, Jack Simons, has been fished out of the river.  The ever-suspicious Cork isn’t too sure, since the man’s face was so disfigured as to make a physical identification impossible.  Dempsey responds that they found several papers in the dead man’s pockets which positively identified him as Simons.  The next day, the other man they were looking for, Steve Gurling, is also found dead in the river.  But Cork’s still not happy – why weren’t both men killed at the same time?

The mystery of whether Simons and Gurling are alive or dead isn’t one that’s played out for very long.  Within the opening ten minutes or so we see a boat tie up at the docks and two men get out.  They call each other Steve and Jack which makes it obvious that these are the two men Cork and Marriott are searching for.  It’s a pity this is so explicitly (and rather clumsily) explained straightaway, as it dissipates the mystery somewhat.

Steve Gurling was played by Tony Beckley.  Beckley tended to play rather fey characters, such as Freddie in The Italian Job, Rene Joinville in the Callan episode Suddenly – At Home and most memorably of all, the monomaniacal plant lover Harrison Chase in the Doctor Who serial The Seeds of Doom.  Since Gurling is a rough, tough, East End type it’s not really a part that plays to Beckley’s strengths, but he still makes a decent fist of it (even if his performance isn’t terribly subtle).  He’s not alone in this though, as some of the other inhabitants of the waterfront offer equally broad turns (the cackling crone especially).  But although there’s more than a touch of “gor blimey guvnor” about this episode, it still offers a decent portrait of the underbelly of Victorian London.

Cork views the area with extreme disfavour.  “Do you know what this place could do with, lad? A terrible thing to say, but it could do with another fire. Another Great Fire of London, burn out all these slums. They breed vice and they breed vermin.”  Marriott replies that it’s no use getting rid of the slums if you don’t get rid of the poverty that causes them – a point which the Sergeant agrees with.

Production design is impressive.  Without ever leaving the studio, designer Anthony Waller was able to create a convincing outdoors environment.  The Adam and Eve is a nicely designed waterfront dive (complete with parrot!) and there’s enough water to create the illusion that the docks are close by.  The use of sound effects (such as the constant hooting of tugboats) and a touch of smoke (to simulate the London fog) are also simple, but effective, ways of enhancing the atmosphere.

William Gaunt shows a flair for comedy as Marriott goes undercover at the Adam and Eve.  He’s disguised as a sailor with a fake beard and an even faker Irish accent, but only gets a black eye for his trouble.  Later he’s bashed about the head after he follows a suspect, to the despair of Cork who expresses his exasperation quite forcibly!

As I’ve said, this is pretty ripe stuff, but John Barrie continues to impress.

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