Mrs Manley (Yvonne Coulette) returns home to find a mysterious man standing over the body of her husband. Gerald Manley was a man of some substance (he was a member of parliament) so when it’s discovered that he’s dead it’s no surprise to find Cork is assigned to the case.
The opening scene is pitched at an intense level. Mrs Manley’s maid Jenny (Natasha Pyne) becomes hysterical after the body is discovered and has to be slapped hard by her mistress. Had time permitted it would have been a good idea to do a retake – the scene would have played better if the performances had been ratcheted down a little. The guest appearance of a microphone boom is another problem that a retake could have rectified.
Sir Gervase Walworth (Jack Gwillam) pays Manley a fulsome tribute. “He was a man carved out by destiny for a brilliant career in politics. He was the soul of gentleness, the essence of integrity and the truest friend a man could have. Manley was a paragon.” Cork doesn’t react to this, but when Walworth tells him that Manley didn’t have any enemies, the Sergeant counters that he hasn’t dismissed the possibility he was killed by a friend!
The nasty underbelly of seemingly respectable Victorian society is the theme of the episode, so it’ll come as no surprise to learn that Manley is not the paragon he’s been painted to be. Cork and Marriott find a stash of photographs in Manley’s study and Bob reacts strongly to them. “Those are pretty disgusting. I don’t mind a bit of honest sex but those … they’re enough to turn your stomach. They’re sickening.”
Manley had attempted to take compromising photographs of his maid Jenny (Walworth was also in attendance). Although Manley’s now dead, Walworth is very much alive and he uses his considerable influence to remove Cork from the case. Cork, of course, won’t be dissuaded and he continues digging – revealing a web of prostitution that’s linked to some of the most important people in the land.
When Cork confronts Walworth, he attempts to justify his actions. “These girls, what are they? Street arabs. Bred in ignorance and reared in poverty, they’d jump at the chance to earn money.” Cork counters that corruption comes from those who offer it. John Barrie is at his implacable best in this scene.
The Case of the Public Paragon was an early screen credit for Natasha Pyne (she would later be a regular in the popular sitcom Father Dear Father) and despite her youth – she was seventeen at the time the episode was recorded – it’s an impressive performance. Jack Gwillim had a very decent cv (film appearances included Lawrence of Arabia and A Man for all Seasons) and whilst he’s cursed with rather unconvincing facial hair (something of a continuing problem for the series) he also gives a fine turn. Sir Gervase Walworth is initially presented to the audience as an honest, upright man (just like his friend Manley). But as Cork’s investigations continue, it becomes clear that both reveled in the corruption of teenage girls and Walworth ends up a broken man.
The first of eight Cork scripts by Bill Craig, this is a powerful and rather disturbing story.