Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Tuesday 12 February 1963

Operation Tiptoe begins, as all good television should, with a woman with an enormous beehive clad in a towel and pouring herself a glass of champagne.

She's socialite Deirdre Crowther, and she's about to discover that she's the latest victim of Tiptoes, a jewel thief in evening dress who's modelled himself on the infamous pre-World War 1 cat burglar known as Burlington Bertie.  Here he is in action, making away with loot and then leaving a message on a mirror in lipstick.

Tiptoes has been depriving the wealthy of their trinkets for more than two years now and the police are no nearer finding out his identity.  If he doesn't track the fiendishly clever thief down soon Inspector Baxter'll end up pushing the corporation dustcart ("corporation dustcart" is a phrase I would love to see return to everyday conversation).

Rather cleverly Tiptoes is, in fact, flash jeweller Eddie Frazer (Ian Shand), who steals his own stock back from his customers and then resells it in his shop.  Pretending to be Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief has been fun while it's lasted but he's decided that it's now time to give it all up and leave the country before he gets caught.  Eddie and his shop assistant/girlfriend Jennifer (Jayne Muir) have a leaf through a magazine for inspiration on where to go, with Eddie's eye being caught by "a delicious piece of hors d'oeuvre":

Tut.  That's commercial television for you.
Frazer's latest customers/targets are impresario Arno Mendelssohn-Jones (played by ubiquitous sweaty foreigner Guy Deghy) and his glamorous girlfriend Michelle Duvalle (Bettine Lebeau), who seems to have sprung to life from the pages of The Bumper Book of French Stereotypes.

When the necklace Mendelssohn-Jones buys for his less-than-faithful mistress is stolen , her absurdly dramatic reaction, clutching her neck and crying "Mon dieu!" is priceless.

There's a welcome surprise twist to the well-worn cat burglar storyline when Frazer is found dead at the end of Act Two, meaning that in the third act the episode switches from a hunt for a thief to a murder inquiry.

The problem is that the 15 minutes or so left to the episode aren't really long enough for Lockhart and Baxter to properly investigate the killing, so it feels like everything gets wrapped up far too quickly, and not all that comprehensibly.  Still, like the last episode of No Hiding Place I wrote about, it's jolly good fun.  My favourite thing about the episode is Mendelssohn-Jones's thoroughly bored receptionist (Joan Lindsay) who has to contend not only with police enquiries but with persistent bad variety acts turning up at the door ("Don't tell me, a double act", she sighs when the detectives arrive).  She's a marvel.

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