The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – A Message From The Deep Sea

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John Neville as Dr Thorndyke in A Message from the Deep Sea by R. Austin Freeman
Adapted by Philip Mackie.  Directed by James Goddard

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes was a Thames programme which ran for two series during the early 1970’s.  As the title suggests, its aim was to highlight some of Sherlock Holmes’ contemporaries.  A huge amount of crime fiction was published during the Victorian and Edwardian era, but Holmes apart, the popularity of the majority of these detectives didn’t endure.

The Rivals not only showcased some decent stories by largely forgotten authors, it also starred some of the best British actors of the time.  As with any anthology programme, some episodes are better than others – but overall The Rivals is a very strong series.

The first episode was A Message from the Deep Sea, adapted from the story by R. Austin Freeman.  Dr Thorndyke had a lengthy career – with Freeman penning novels and short stories featuring him between 1907 and 1942.  The original short story, together with a selection of others, can be read here.

Dr Hart, one of Dr Thorndyke’s (John Neville) old students asks for his help. Hart is the assistant to the local police surgeon and has just been called to his first case.  Thorndyke is reluctant at first, but when he learns it’s murder he perks up considerably.

Thorndyke and his assistant Dr Jervis (James Cossins) examine the body with Hart.  She’s a young woman, who’s been stabbed through the neck and clutched tightly in her hand are some strands of red hair.  A clue to the murderer maybe?  Thorndyke isn’t convinced, but when Hart’s superior Dr Davidson (Bernard Archard) and Detective Sergeant Bates (Terence Rigby) turn up, they consider it to be an open-and-shut case.

Thorndyke tries to give them a few gentle hints but they aren’t interested.  He claims he’ll walk away and let them make fools of themselves – but he continues to take an interest in the case and it’s his evidence that will be responsible for unmasking the murderer.

A Message from the Deep Sea is something of a joy, thanks to the first-rate cast.  For anybody who loves old British television, there’s a host of familiar faces here.  Apart from Neville and Cossins, we have an impossibly young, fresh-faced Paul Darrow as Dr Hart, who makes the most of his part despite being saddled with some very florid dialogue.  “Good god. Some infernal cowardly beast has done this. He shall hang. My god he shall hang”.

Elsewhere, Ray Lonnen (complete with a very fake moustache), Morris Perry, Nicholas Smith and Stanley Lebor are not a bad supporting cast at all.  Bernard Archard as a police surgeon icily sure of his facts and Terence Rigby as a rather stupid policeman are two more quality actors who find themselves outsmarted by Thorndyke.

And what of John Neville?  Dr Thorndyke is a man with a very high opinion of himself and Neville manages to capture his smug superiority very well. Thankfully though, Cossins’ Dr Jervis is able to direct a few barbs at him, which means he isn’t completely insufferable.  Like Sherlock Holmes, Thorndyke is sometimes exasperated when others can’t see things that are perfectly clear to him.  “My dear Jervis, pray don’t indulge in mental indolence. You have the essential facts as I have them. Consider them separately, collectively and in relation to the circumstances”.

The solution of the mystery is interesting enough but undoubtedly the chief pleasure of the story is watching a fine group of actors at work.  Dr Thorndyke was one of several detectives who would make more than one appearance in The Rivals, although in his series two appearance a new actor – Barrie Ingham – took over the mantle.

Next episode – The Missing Witness Sensation

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – The Missing Witness Sensation

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Robert Stephens as Max Carrados in The Missing Witness Sensation by Ernest Bramah
Adapted by Philip Mackie.  Directed by Jonathan Alwyn

Dennis Rank (Dave Carter) has been committed to trial, accused of attacking Lizzie Baxter at the Ayr Street post office.  The case intrigues Max Carrados (Robert Stephens) who sees it as more than just a simple robbery gone wrong.  His friend Inspector Beedel (George A. Cooper) agrees and is able to fill in some of the blanks.  Rank is a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and although Beedel isn’t sure exactly what he was up to, he’s convinced that they’ve got the right man.

The defence’s case is strengthened by a convincing character witness called Thaxted (John Wentworth).  Thaxted claims that at the time of the robbery he encountered Rank at Richmond Park.  However, Carrados knows that Thaxted is lying since he met him at Richmond Park at exactly the same time Thaxted claimed to have met Rank.

Carrados is happy to appear for the prosecution, but Beedel’s one concern is whether the jury will believe him, since Carrados is blind.  But whilst he may lack vision, he makes up for it with his other senses and he’s able to provide a very good portrait of Thaxted.  “If I say the man I sat and walked with is an ardent Carnation grower, smokes Algerian cigars, bites his fingernails, has varicose veins in his left leg and wears an elastic stocking”

As the Inspector says “you see more with no eyesight than most people with”.  Carrados is danger though, kidnapped by members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who plan to keep him out of circulation until the trial is over.  There’s no guarantee that he’ll get out alive afterwards, so Carrados will have to use all of his wits to extricate himself from this dangerous situation.

Max Carrados was created by Ernest Bramah and appeared in a series of stories originally published in The Strand Magazine.  This made him a direct contemporary of Sherlock Holmes and his adventures were as popular, if not more so, than Holmes at the time – although like many of the detectives featured in The Rivals, he quickly faded from the public consciousness.  The original short story can be read here.

Robert Stephens is delightful as the rather fey detective genius who has managed to overcome the handicap of his blindness by developing his other senses to an impressive degree. as he demonstrates to one of his captors.  “Did you know that each man’s footstep is individual and unmistakable?”.  This gives something of an insight into how Carrados can make statements that would seem to be impossible for a blind man to make.

I recently enjoyed Stephens’ performance in The Box of Delights and Carrados is an equally good turn, although a totally different character.  He’s something of a dandy but he shows his steel when facing down the Irish Nationalists.  Elsewhere in the cast, George A. Cooper is a suitably bluff policeman whilst Christopher Cazenove is a member of Irish Republican Brotherhood who’s afflicted with a conscience.

Thanks to Robert Stephens, The Missing Witness Sensation is an entertaining fifty minutes and it’s a shame that it was Stephens’ only outing as Carrados.

Next Episode – The Affair of the Avalanche Bicycle & Tyre Co. Ltd

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – The Affair of the Avalanche Bicycle & Tyre Co. Ltd

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Peter Vaughan as Horace Dorrington in
The Affair of the Avalanche Bicycle & Tyre Co. Ltd by Arthur Morrison
Adapted by Julian Bond.  Directed by James Goddard

Horace Dorrington (Peter Vaughan) is a private detective who always puts his own interests first.  The information he’s gleaned about a new bicycle company should provide him with a good payday, provided he can outwit an opponent who’s just as double-dealing as he is.

Series one of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes leant heavily on stories from Arthur Morrison.  There’s another one with Horace Dorrington to look forward to (The Case of the Mirror of Portugal) as well as three stories which Morrison wrote for his other sleuth, Martin Hewitt (Peter Barkworth).  Although not all of those adaptations actually featured Hewitt, which we’ll discuss when we get to to them.

Morrison only wrote seven stories featuring Dorrington and they were published in magazine form in 1897 and were also collected into a book the same year entitled The Dorrington Deed Box.  It can be downloaded here.

Whilst Morrison’s earlier detective, Martin Hewitt, was a fairly conventional sleuth, Horace Dorrington is a much more interesting character.  He’s unrepentantly amoral and is happy to stoop to any means necessary (be it blackmail, murder or theft) in order to achieve his ends.  Such a character gives plenty of scope for a good actor and Peter Vaughan is perfect casting.  Vaughan is a master of sinister charm (for example, his brief, but career-defining appearances in Porridge) and this comes over very well here.  Dorrington is able to appear affable when it suits him, but his true nature shows through from time to time.

There’s a good example of Dorrington’s unscrupulous nature early in the story.   He’s been able to recover a series of incriminating letters stolen from the lovely Mrs Chalmers (Sheila Gish) but he sorrowfully informs her that he had to pay the blackmailer two hundred guineas to get them back.  When she tells him that she would have happily paid double for their recovery, we see a momentarily spasm of pain on his face.  Which is understandable after we learn that he stole them from the blackmailer, so he’s made a tidy profit! This is typical of Dorrington, he’s happy to do the right thing if there’s a decent profit in it for him.

Dorrington is debating whether to invest in the Avalanche bicycle company.  Bicycles are the coming thing and large profits can be made, but he wants to know more.  He cultivates the friendship of Stedman (John Carlisle) who works for a rival company, the Indestructible Bicycle company.  Stedman tells him that he wouldn’t invest in Avalanche himself, although if an Avalanche bike wins the big race on the weekend things would be different.

Gillet (Paul Angelis) is the favourite for the race and since he races for Indestructible, Stedman invites Dorrington to see him train.  As they watch, there’s a nasty crash and Gillet is carried off injured.  It clearly wasn’t an accident, so who was to blame? The boss of Indestructible, Mallows (John Stratton), offers a reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator, but Dorrington has his eyes on a bigger prize.

The Affair of the Avalanche Bicycle & Tyre Co. Ltd
is an enjoyable fifty minutes, mainly thanks to the slimy performance of Peter Vaughan.  Also worth watching are Kenneth Colley and Petronella Barker as his very much put-upon employees, Farrish and Miss Parrott.

Unfortunately for Dorrington, things don’t work out quite the way he’d hoped for.  But he lives to fight and scheme another day and as the episode ends we see him consoling another young woman who’s lost some incriminating letters.  He tells her not to worry, as he’s had plenty of experience in this field ….

Next Episode – The Duchess of Wiltshire’s Diamonds

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – The Duchess of Wiltshire’s Diamonds

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Roy Dotrice as Simon Carne in The Duchess of Wiltshire’s Diamonds by Guy Boothby
Adapted by Anthony Steven.  Directed by Kim Mills

Simon Carne (Roy Dotrice) is a charming socialite who is totally at ease mixing with the highest in the land.  He’s recently returned to England after a period abroad and is met by his friend, Lord Amberley.  On the journey to Carne’s new flat, Amberley mentions that over the last month all of London has been following the exploits of a detective called Klimo.  Carne professes disinterest in the detective’s exploits and is further dismayed when Amberley tells him that his new flat is next to Klimo’s.

After Carne has heard a little more about the detective, he seems to have slightly amended his views and suggests that the Duke of Wiltshire calls in Klimo to advise on how best to protect the Duchess of Wiltshire’s diamonds.  But nobody realises Carne is living a double life – he’s also Klimo.

Simon Carne and his alter-ego Klimo first appeared in A Prince of Swindlers by Guy Boothby, which was published in 1897.  The concept of the gentlemen thief, able to remain undetected due to his exalted position in society, is a concept that remains familiar today – thanks to A.J. Raffles.  But Carne got there first, as Raffles didn’t appear in print until the following year.  A Prince of Swindlers can be downloaded here.

The opening paragraph of Boothby’s story is interesting, since he dares to compare Klimo to Sherlock Holmes –

To the reflective mind the rapidity with which the inhabitants of the world’s greatest city seize upon a new name or idea and familiarise themselves with it, can scarcely prove otherwise than astonishing. As an illustration of my meaning let me take the case of Klimo – the now famous private detective, who has won for himself the right to be considered as great as Lecocq, or even the late lamented Sherlock Holmes.

Klimo might be a great detective, but he never catches the criminal – understandable since the crimes are carried out by Simon Carne.  In print, the notion of the criminal and detective being the same person works perfectly well, but on television the conceit stands or falls based on how convincing Roy Dotrice is as the two separate characters.

Carne sports a false hunchback which he naturally removes when playing Klimo, which helps to put people off the scent.  How can the youngish, slightly deformed Carne possibly be confused for the older Klimo?  And was the use of disguises another nod from Boothby to Sherlock Holmes?

There are some nice touches in the story, such as the handy idea that Carne and Klimo have adjoining apartments, with a different servant in each (both of whom are aware of the con).  He also has a rotating desk which moves between the two flats, so he can switch disguises and apartments as required!

Carne might be a rogue (like Dorrington) but unlike Dorrington, he’s a charmer who’s very much in the Raffles mode, and it’s easy to cheer him on.  Early on, it’s revealed that he’s taken to crime in order to restore the family fortunes and he admits that it’s particularly satisfying “when it’s done at the expense of those so-called friends who could well have offered to help, when help was needed.  But never lifted a finger”.

Dotrice clearly has some fun playing the aged Klimo, complete with Irish accent and there’s the usual high-quality cast, including Peter Cellier and Barbara Murray as the Duke and Duchess of Wiltshire, John Standing and Felicity Gibson as Lord and Lady Amberley and the always dependable John Nettleton as Belton.

It’s a fairly complicated story, although everything becomes clear at the end (especially the reason why Carne gave his servant, Belton, such detailed instructions).  And if you can suspend your disbelief that nobody guesses that Carne and Klimo are one and the same, there’s plenty to enjoy in this one.

Next Episode – The Horse of the Invisible

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – The Horse of the Invisible

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Donald Pleasence as Carnacki in The Horse of the Invisible by William Hope Hodgson
Adapted by Philip Mackie.  Directed by Alan Cooke

Captain Hisgins (Tony Steedman) is a worried man.  According to family tradition, if the first-born is a female then she will be haunted and ultimately killed by an invisible horse during her engagement.  And for the first time in several generations, there is a first-born female.  Mary (Michele Dotrice) has heard the horse and her fiance Charles Beaumont (Michael Johnson) injured his arm when he tried to protect her from the apparition.

Hisgins doesn’t want his daughter to die, so he calls on Carnacki (Donald Pleasence).  Most detectives would raise an eyebrow at this story, but Carnacki is a ghost detective.  He doesn’t discount the supernatural possibility, although he also concedes that it could all be achieved by trickery.  But as he spends some time at the Hisgins home, the strange events come thick and fast ….

Thomas Carnacki was created by William Hope Hodgson and appeared in a number of short stories published between 1910 and 1912. These were collected together as Carnacki the Ghost-Finder and they can be read here.

The Horse of the Invisible is certainly different, that’s for sure.  It’s pitched at such a level of melodrama (with suitably dramatic music) that it’s difficult to take it entirely seriously.  The major saving grace is Donald Pleasence.  He plays Carnacki in a slightly absent-minded, self-effacing way that’s very effective.  When everyone around him is descending into hysteria, he’s very much the still point.

It’s fair to say that it’s a story that tries to have its cake and eat it – since it’s revealed that some of the hauntings were faked, but at the end we do witness a real ghost horse as well.  And Carnacki is quite honest in admitting that whilst he can explain some of the events, others are a mystery to him.

The last five or ten minutes, when we discover the identity of the faker (and for good measure he’s dressed as a horse!) might be the point when many people lose patience with the tale.  Quite why he went through all this rigmarole is something that’s never made that clear – surely there were easier ways for him to achieve his ends?

Michele Dotrice is suitably winsome as Mary, although Tony Steedman is slightly odd casting as her father.  At the time he was only in his early forties and he’s obviously made up to be much older – complete with a false moustache and a white wig.  This is a little distracting, and it begs the question as to why an older actor wasn’t cast.

The Horse of the Invisible is very watchable, thanks to Donald Pleasence, although it’s probably not a story that will appeal to all.

Next Episode – The Case of the Mirror of Portugal

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – The Case of the Mirror of Portugal

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Peter Vaughan as Horace Dorrington in
The Case of the Mirror of Portugal by Arthur Morrison
Adapted by Julian Bond.  Directed by Mike Vardy

A penniless Frenchman called Jacques Bouvier (Michael Forrest) spins Dorrington a strange tale. During the French Revolution his family acquired one of the French Crown Jewels – known as The Mirror of Portugal. The diamond is worth one hundred thousand pounds and Jacques feels that it should be his by right – although at present it’s in the possession of his cousin Leon (Oscar Quitak).

It’s a tale that intrigues Dorrington, although he ejects Jacques from his office and tells him that he wants nothing to do with the case. Afterwards, he explains to Farrish and Miss Parrot that “he wanted me to steal that diamond. He wanted me to do it for nothing and give him three quarters of the proceeds”. Naturally, Dorrington plans to steal the diamond and keep one hundred per cent of the proceeds. But someone beats him to it – and it wasn’t Jacques ….

The Case of the Mirror of Portugal was the second Dorrington tale adapted for the series.  It, along with Arthur Morrison’s other Dorrington stories, can be read here.

There’s some, interesting, French accents in this story.  Clearly French actors were thin on the ground, so the Welshman Michael Forrest essays the sort of accent that Inspector Clouseau would have been proud of.  It certainly helps to liven up the beginning of the story.

A young Jeremy Irons pops up in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role as a silly young ass (“What larks eh?”).  There’s a more substantial part for Paul Eddington later on in the story as Hamer and Ingrid Hafner is also very good as Hamer’s wife, Maria.

It turns out that Hamer stole the diamond and it’s currently in Maria’s possession.  Dorrington attempt to force them to hand it over, but she throws it into the Thames, rather than give it to Dorrington.  If she can’t have it, then she’d sooner that nobody did.

As might be expected, this doesn’t please Dorrington, but he quickly recovers his equanimity.  And after Jacques and Leon visit his office and tell him they’ve decided to join forces to recover the diamond, he’s happy to tell them exactly where it is (once they’ve paid him eighty guineas for the privilege, of course).

“At the bottom of the Thames. Approximately in the middle, I’d say, where the steps lead down to the towpath at Richmond lock. How do you get it back? Well, you could buy a boat and try fishing for it.  But if that doesn’t appeal, you could wait for some future age until the bed of the Thames is rediscovered as a diamond field, I suppose”

As with The Affair of the Avalanche Bicycle & Tyre Co. Ltd, Dorrington doesn’t get the ultimate prize – although he doesn’t come too badly out of it.  Peter Vaughan is, once again, smoothly ruthless as Dorrington.  Given that he’s a crook and a swindler, you don’t really want to see him finish on top – but Vaughan is just so entertaining in the role and it’s his charisma that drives this (it must be said, fairly slight) story along.

Next Episode – Madame Sara

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – Madame Sara

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John Fraser as Dixon Druce in Madame Sara by L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace
Adapted by Philip Mackie.  Directed by Piers Haggard

Jack Selby (William Corderoy) approaches private detective Dixon Druce (John Fraser) with a strange story.  His new wife Beatrice (Jasmina Hilton) is one of three people who have a chance of inheriting their family fortune (which stands at two million pounds).  The other two are Beatrice’s sister Edith (Caroline John) and their step-brother Silva (Roger Delgado).

The capital is held in trust and will go to the last surviving family member.  Dixon quickly sees the danger that the sisters may be in – and this seems to be confirmed when Edith dies, poisoned in a most mysterious manner.  Silva would seem to be the prime suspect, although Inspector Vandeleur (George Murcell) favours Dixon’s client, Jack Selby.  If Selby disposes of the other two, then he (through his wife) will have access to the money.

But what part does the mysterious Madame Sara (Marianne Benet) play in this devilish affair?  She’s a friend of both Beatrice and Edith (although Edith seemed to live in fear of her).  According to Selby, she’s “a professional beautifier. She claims the privilege of restoring youth to those who consult her. She also declares that she can make quite ugly people handsome”.  She captivates Dixon Druce with her beauty and he confesses that he’s somewhat in love with her.  But Madame Sara is a complex creature, who isn’t quite all that she seems ….

Dixon Druce tangled with Madame Sara over the course of six short stories which were published as The Sorceress of the Strand in 1902.  The tales were written by L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace.  Although there had been female criminals before (such as “the woman” Irene Adler) Madame Sara is of particular interest since she’s very much in the super-criminal mode, which is much rarer.  During the six stories, she appears each time with an outlandish scheme, Dixon Druce gets to hear about it and stops her – but always she lives to fight another day.  For those who want to sample the original tale, Madame Sara can be downloaded here.

As Madame Sara was the first story in The Sorceress of The Strand, it made sense to adapt it for The Rivals, since it sees Dixon and Sara meet for the first time.  Sara is a strange figure, seemingly ageless (thanks to her many mysterious potions) and there’s no doubt that she captures Dixon’s heart, which makes the fact that he has to hand her over to the authorities something of a wrench for him.

John Fraser is forthright and upstanding as Dixon Druce.  To be honest, he’s not the most interesting or charismatic detective we’ve seen so far, so Fraser does sometimes struggle to make an impression (and the somewhat florid dialogue is also a problem at times).  Marianne Benet doesn’t act evil, which is a good thing – her Madame Sara is a businesswoman, rather than a cackling villain.

For any Doctor Who fans, there’s two good reasons to watch this one.  Caroline John is Edith (a subdued performance) and Roger Delgado, even though he’s confined to a wheelchair, dominates the scenes he’s in (playing the apparently invalided Silva).

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Whilst Dixon appears to be more of a thinker than a man of action, he can still make the odd surprising move – such as when he wrenches a tooth from the unfortunate Beatrice with a pair of pliers (it makes sense when you’ve watched the story).

Not the strongest story, but it’s entertaining enough and the further adventures of Dixon Druce and Madame Sara would have made a decent (if short) series.

Next Episode – The Case of the Dixon Torpedo