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!