The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – The Case of Laker, Absconded

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Peter Barkworth as Martin Hewett in The Case of Laker, Absconded by Arthur Morrison
Adapted by Philip Mackie.  Directed by Jonathan Alwyn

Martin Hewitt (Peter Barkworth) and Jonathan Pryde (Ronald Hines) have a new contract.  They’ve been retained by the City Guarantee Society, an insurance company who guarantee the integrity of bank employees.  So in the case of fraud or theft, the City Guarantee Society are naturally keen for the culprit to be apprehended as quickly as possible.  And so are Hewitt and Pryde (they earn no fee, but collect a percentage of the monies recovered).

The case of a junior bank clerk called Laker seems to be open and shut.  Laker is a walk-clerk, responsible for collecting money from various banks during his round and then returning it to his own bank – Messrs Liddle, Neal & Liddle.  But after collecting fifteen thousand pounds, he disappears.

His fiance, Emily Shaw (Jane Lapotaire), remains convinced of his innocence and she begs Hewitt to help her.  When the evidence of his guilt starts to pile up, even she starts to doubt him.  But Hewitt wonders if some of the trail is just a little obvious – it’s almost as if he wanted to be tracked.  Emily tells Hewitt that Laker is a clever man, so why has he acted in such a careless way, throwing clues about?

The Case of Laker, Absconded was the third and final Martin Hewitt story by Arthur Morrison to be adapted for the first series of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.  The original story appeared in The Chronicles of Martin Hewitt, published in 1895, and it can be read here.

Jonathan Pryde, the Hewitt substitute from The Case of the Dixon Torpedo appears briefly, but this is very much Hewitt’s case.  He spends the majority of the episode in the company of Emily Shaw and together they attempt to prove or disprove Laker’s guilt.  Barkworth is his usual solid self and Jane Lapotaire impresses as a woman who remains unswervingly devoted to her finance – even though all the evidence suggests that’s he’s jilted her and run away to the continent with a horde of stolen money.

There’s two possible solutions to the story and it quickly becomes clear which is the more likely.  So this isn’t a complex or surprising tale – instead the enjoyment comes from the lead performances of Barkworth and Lapotaire, as well as some of the supporting cast.

Chief amongst these are Leslie Dwyer and Toke Townley as two lost property men at the local railway station.  Laker’s lost umbrella (which Hewitt recovers) is a minor plot point, but the main pleasure in these scenes is the comic timing of Dwyer and Townley.

Toke Townley isn’t the only connection to Emmerdale (he played Sam Pearson from 1972 to 1984) as Mr Wilks himself, Arthur Pentelow, appears as Inspector Plummer.  Like many of the other policemen in the series, he’s always a couple of steps behind the private detective but Plummer doesn’t seem to mind – especially since with Hewitt’s help he manages to round up a dangerous gang of crooks.

The Case of Laker, Absconded brought the first series of The Rivals to a close.  Overall, it was a very consistent run of episodes with some strong central performances from the various detectives.  The series would return for a second, and final, series – which promised new detectives and more baffling cases for them to solve.

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The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – The Affair of the Tortoise

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Peter Barkworth as Martin Hewitt in The Affair of the Tortoise by Arthur Morrison
Adapted by Bill Craig. Directed by Bill Bain

Martin Hewitt (Peter Barkworth) visits Miss Chapman (Cyd Hayman) to inform her that she stands to inherit a considerable fortune, following the death of a distant relative.  As Miss Chapman lives in genteel poverty, this is very welcome news.

When Hewitt is talking to her, he hears a dreadful din coming from elsewhere in the house.  Miss Chapman explains that the noise is made by one of the other residents – Rameau (Stephan Kalipha).  He’s a very strange fellow, he favours sliding down the bannisters, is frequently drunk and makes the life of Goujon (Timothy Bateson) a misery by playing practical jokes on him.

When Rameau’s latest practical joke results in the death of Goujon’s beloved tortoise, Goujon declares that he’ll kill him.  And shortly afterwards, the maid Millie (Cheryl Hall) discovers Rameau on the floor of his rooms, covered in blood, with an axe beside him.

It’s a clear case of murder – but when the police enter the room, Rameau’s body is gone.  Goujon has also left and he’s obviously the prime suspect – but Miss Chapman isn’t convinced and she commissions Hewitt to investigate.  Another resident, Captain Cutler (Esmond Knight), tells Hewitt that he’s seen a man hanging around for a while, watching for Rameau.  The discovery of a voodoo doll in Rameau’s rooms and the knowledge that the man lived in fear of strangers are enough to convince Hewitt that there’s more to this case than meets the eye.

Like The Case of the Dixon Torpedo, this was written by Arthur Morrison and appeared in the collection of stories entitled Martin Hewitt, Investigator which was published in 1894.  The book can be read here.

But unlike the Dixon Torpedo, Martin Hewitt appears in this adaptation and he’s expertly played by Peter Barkworth.  One of the pleasures of watching archive television on a regular basis is that you tend to see the same faces appear again and again.  Recently I’ve seen Barkworth in an episode of Out of the UnknownTo Lay a Ghost as well as an early edition of Public EyeNobody Kills Santa Claus.  Any performance by Peter Barkworth is worth treasuring since he was such a meticulous, tidy actor and he fits the role of Martin Hewitt (modest, undemonstrative but forthright) perfectly.

Not only was he a first class actor, but he taught at RADA during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Simon Ward and Diana Rigg were amongst his pupils. He later remarked that “of all the jobs I have ever had, teaching at RADA is the one I should least like to have missed”.

With Barkworth providing a solid foundation as Hewitt, he was supported by a very decent cast of fellow actors.  The gorgeous Cyd Hayman had appeared alongside him the year previously in the WW2 drama Manhunt, whilst Timothy Bateson makes a decent attempt at a French accent and Stefan Kalipha is suitably unhinged as Rameau.  As neither Bateson or Kalipha have a great deal of screen-time, they have to make a strong impression early on, which they both do.

Cyd Hayman
Cyd Hayman

Inspector Nettings (Dan Meaden) naturally favours Goujan as the murderer, but when it’s proved that he’s innocent, the policeman is in a bit of a quandary.  It’s a staple of detective fiction to have the police baffled whilst the private detective runs rings around them, but even allowing for this, Nettings is exceptionally dim.  As Hewitt says “I have heard the opinion expressed that Inspector Nettings couldn’t find an omnibus in Oxford Street. But I don’t share that opinion. On the other hand I’m not convinced he could find the one he was looking for”.

Much as I love Barkworth, I’m never quite sure if the scene where he questions a cabman (and adopts a rough approximation of a lower-class accent) is deliberately meant to be unconvincing (to indicate that Hewitt didn’t really go in for that sort of thing) or whether Peter Barkworth just wasn’t very good at accents.

Whilst the solution to the mystery seems clear fairly early on, nothing’s quite as it seems and there’s a number of twists and turns in the story – which could quite easily sit alongside many of Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales.  With Holmes having apparently faced his Final Problem in 1893, Martin Hewitt proved to be a very acceptable substitute and his stories (prior to being collected in book form) were published in various magazines, including The Strand (which had been the home of Sherlock Holmes).  Sidney Paget’s illustrations (like they did for Holmes) also added a touch of class.

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It does seem remarkable no series were spun out of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes as many of the stories we’ve seen so far have demonstrated that there was definite mileage in taking the characters further.  So a series with Barkworth as Hewitt wasn’t to be, unfortunately, but he’ll return in one more tale – The Case of Laker, Absconded.

Next Episode – The Assyrian Rejuvenator

Public Eye – Nobody Kills Santa Claus

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Written by Roger Marshall
Directed by Kim Mills

Public Eye was a hugely popular series, starring Alfred Burke, which ran for seven series between 1965 and 1975.  Burke played Frank Marker, a down-at-heel enquiry agent who possessed a strong moral core as he moved his way through the sometimes seedy underbelly of whatever town or city he was currently working in.  Suffice it to say that if you have the slightest interest in British archive television, then Public Eye (like Callan) is a must watch.

And like Callan, it was originally made by ABC Television, and after ABC lost their franchise it was picked up by Thames.  But whilst all the Thames episodes (series four to seven) exist, sadly only five episodes survive from the first three series (out of a total of forty one transmitted).

The first existing episode is Nobody Kills Santa Claus, the second episode of the first series.  Paul Garston (Keith Baxter) is a successful young businessman.  His success has partly been achieved by riding roughshod over other people – so he’s certainly the sort of person that makes enemies.  When he confides to his managing director Eric Hart (Peter Barkworth) that he’s been receiving threatening phone calls, Hart recommends calling in Frank Marker.

The first ten minutes or so of Nobody Kills Santa Claus focus on Garston which allows us to see the type of person he is.  He’s brash, arrogant and quite happy to engage in underhand dealings if it’s to his advantage.  And although Eric Hart is the managing director, he plays a very subservient role to Garston –  for example, when Garston clicks his fingers, Hart hurries over to light his cigarette.

It’s therefore not surprising that it’s Hart, not Garston, who visits Marker’s office to engage his services.  But Marker doesn’t seem too keen to take on the job.

HART: He’d like to see you.
MARKER: He knows where I am.
HART: Ah yes, but he’d prefer you to go to him, if that’s not asking too much.
MARKER: I’ll try and fit him in.
HART: Oh thanks very much. You know, you make one big mistake, Marker.
MARKER: One?
HART: You like people to grovel. Why? Does it make you feel big?
MARKER: Depends who they are.

Garston wants Marker to act as his bodyguard for the next few weeks.  Marker agrees and he begins to consider the possible suspects.  Garston’s estranged wife Eva (Caroline Blakiston) must be one – although after Marker’s seen her it seems less likely.  She’s well provided for (at least in terms of money) and she declares that “nobody close to him will ever kill him.  Nobody kills Santa Claus”.

Ray Johnson (Robert Tunstall) looks to be a much more likely prospect.  His wife Anne (June Barry) is having an affair with Garston and he pays to him have beaten up.  Fortunately for Garston (and unfortunately for Marker) it’s Marker that receives the beating.  This provides a good closer to the second act.  Garston sees Marker being attacked in the street below, but he doesn’t raise the alarm or attempt to help – instead he goes back to Anne (whilst the sounds of the beating are reverberating in his head).  Marker’s made of stern stuff though.  Although there were two thugs and he took a bad beating, he was still able to scare one off and we see him pull the other one away for some, no doubt, intensive questioning.

Marker does eventually get to the bottom of the mystery of the threatening phone calls (it wasn’t Johnson after all) and Garston is grateful.  He offers Marker a permanent job, which he refuses.  It’ll become a familiar trait throughout the series, but Marker values his independence above everything else (which means there’s conflict in later series when he goes into partnership).  Marker tells Garston that he’s “getting old. Too stiff to lick boots”.  Garston responds by telling him that “you’re not Shane, you know, riding off into the sunset. You’re just another man in a dirty old mac”.

Even this early on, all of the basics of the series are firmly in place.  Marker doesn’t necessarily have to like his clients to work for them – it’s purely a business transaction and he won’t follow their orders blindly, which means he often comes into conflict with them.

Keith Baxter was perfectly cast as the arrogant businessman Paul Garston, whilst it’s always a pleasure to see Peter Barkworth – such a solid and dependable actor.  June Barry was also very good as Garston’s mistress, who candidly told Marker that she’d only be around for a short while and wasn’t intending to leave empty-handed.

Next Episode – The Morning Wasn’t So Hot

Out of the Unknown – To Lay A Ghost

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Written by Michael J. Bird
Directed by Ken Hannam

After Eric and Diana Carver move into their dream house in the country, Diana (Lesley-Anne Down) feels very happy, claiming a special connection to the place.  This pleases Eric (Iain Gregory) who is well aware of his young wife’s traumatic past.  Several years earlier, when Diana was still a schoolgirl, she was raped – and the effect of this experience is still felt very strongly by her (for example, she resists any sexual advances from Eric).

But their idyllic peace is shattered when they realise that they’re not alone.  The house is also inhabited by a ghost, which seems to have a special interest in Diana.  On several occasions Eric comes close to death at the hands of Diana (under the control of the ghost).  Paranormal specialist Dr Walter Phillimore (Peter Barkworth) is intrigued by the case, but warns Eric that both he and his wife are in danger if they remain in the house …..

The first surviving episode from the fourth and final series, To Lay A Ghost was written by Michael J. Bird, later to pen acclaimed series such as The Lotus Eaters, Who Pays The Ferryman? and The Aphrodite InheritanceTo Lay A Ghost has attracted a certain amount of notoriety over the years, and it’s not difficult to see why.

The story opens with scenes of the schoolgirl Diana being raped (although nothing graphic is seen, it’s obvious what’s happening).  Later in the story, Phillimore tells Eric that he’s been too considerate with his wife (implying that he should force himself on her).  Another implication is that the ghost (a 19th Century murderer and rapist called Thomas Hobbs) has been summoned due to Diana’s repressed desires.

This seems to be confirmed when Diana says to Eric that if he wants her to do something then he shouldn’t ask her – he should make her.  From this, Eric concludes that Diana enjoyed the rape and has subconsciously wanted it to happen again ever since.  Eric is unable to treat her roughly, so he leaves.  Diana is left alone, waiting on the bed for the ghost to appear.  Her last words are identical to those she spoke just before she was raped – which is a clear indication of what will happen to her after the credits have rolled (and explains the double-meaning of the title).

Apart from the controversial nature of the story, it’s a fairly static and underwhelming production.  The seventeen year old Lesley-Anne Down looks lovely (but is rather wooden) whilst Iain Gregory also gives a somewhat indifferent performance.  Things do pick up when Peter Barkworth appears, as he adds a touch of class to proceedings.

Whilst the ending is memorable (if somewhat questionable) the rest of the story is less engaging.  To Lay A Ghost isn’t totally without merit, but it’s certainly something that it’s difficult to imagine being broadcast on mainstream television today.

Next Up – This Body Is Mine