Saturday, 27 July 2013

Saturday 27 July 1963

It was inevitable that sooner or later there'd be an episode of Sergeant Cork set in the bawdy, gaudy world of the music hall: where The Case of the Stagedoor Johnnie scores is in spotlighting a genuine music hall star.  Cicely Courtneidge is obviously a star of  later vintage than the 1880s setting of Sergeant Cork, but the larger-than-life turn she contributes here nonetheless lends valuable authenticity to the episode's setting.

At Riley's music hall, we meet a pair of dashing young aristocrats, Lord George Crichton (Jeremy Longhurst, with the moustache) and the Hon. James Stratton (Michael Meacham).  It's abundantly clear that they're slumming it: "This is warm," Lord Crichton complains to the waiter, indicating his Champagne.  "Yes, that's right sir," comes the cheerful reply.

The act these two have come to see is not Mr Jack Daley, who just sort of walks about the stage a bit, but singing sensation Kate Seymour (Eira Heath - later a mainstay of the BBC's The Good Old Days, doing much the same act as here), to whom Jimmy Stratton has recently become engaged - much to his friend's horror.

It's not just Lord Crichton who disapproves of Jimmy and Kate's relationship.  Kate's old mum Bessy (Courtneidge) isn't keen on it either.  In the best tradition of showbiz mums she's living out her own unrealised dreams of stardom through her daughter, and Kate'll never be the next Marie Lloyd if she gives up performing to marry a nob.

Bessy's idea of an ideal husband for her daughter is a former suitor of Kate's, dimwitted sailor Arthur (David Burke) who she welcomes to the singer's dressing room with open arms and - going into Cockney overdrive- a glass of stout and a big bowl of winkles: "'ave some winkles - you're fond of 'em, ain'tcha?"

Kate's taste's now more refined than in her days of stepping out with Arthur and she won't be persuaded away from Jimmy, though her ardour's been cooled a tad by a series of poison pen letters she's received describing a previous relationship of her fiancé's in scandalous detail.  Determined to unmask the blackguard whose trying to break up his engagement, Jimmy reports the letters to Sergeant Cork of the CID.  He happens upon the eminent detective berating long-suffering elderly porter Chalky White (Freddie Fowler) in no uncertain terms about his failure to deliver adequate refreshments: "Do you realise we fight on so that you and your family can sleep safely in your beds at night, and you tell me you're too busy to make tea?" (Update on Cork's eating habits: this week he demands a toasted bun with his tea rather than the customary two digestives).

Both Cork and Bob Marriott are fans of Kate, and despite having masses of more important cases to work on, they decide to help Jimmy out by looking into the matter of the anonymous notes - the latest of which threatens violence against the young aristocrat.  Cork eyes up the suspects: could jealous Arthur be the culprit? Or Lord Crichton, who holds very strong views about the mixing of different classes (except where him having a bit of fun is concerned)? Then there's Jimmy's spurned former lover Lily Brander herself: Marriott goes to see her and comes back both besotted and convinced Lily could quite easily kill Jimmy herself.  Lily's charms are left to our imaginations - we catch only a brief glimpse of her as Lord Crichton hustles her out of his house, where she's been hiding behind a screen during a police visit.

Jimmy ends up savagely beaten up by Arthur, whose revealed to be quite the psycho, later carrying Kate off and threatening her with a knife.

But it's blatantly obvious to the viewer from the first who's behind the letters.  Bessy Seymour isn't just determined for her daughter be a music hall star, she also nurses a grudge against the upper classes, Cicely Courtneidge's big dramatic moment coming when she angrily tells Cork about her husband's death, trampled by a horse belonging to a drunken toff who escaped justice.

Bessy eventually realises the error of her ways, and old softie Cork tells her there'll be no trouble for her as long as she leaves her daughter's relationship alone.  It's a tender little scene, but I'm not sure if many members of the 19th century CID would've been quite as touchy-feely as our hero.

The episode ends with Kate leading a rousing singalong of "The Boy I Love Is Up in the Gallery".  There's not a great deal of mystery to The Case of the Stagedoor Johnnie, but it's a loving portrayal of the music hall and a touching mother-daughter character study.  Richard Harris's script is gloriously witty and there are some lovely guest performances, particularly from Heath and Longhurst - and especially Courtneidge, who dominates the screen every time she appears.

Finally, I don't think I've yet sufficiently praised William Gaunt as Bob Marriott.  Louche, but with bursts of puppyish enthusiasm, he's absolutely adorable, and I think I'm a bit in love with him.  He gets some especially wonderful moments this week: looking thoroughly bored as Cork pontificates over the class problem in Jimmy and Kate's relationship ("I thought all that went out with George IV," he later grins)...

...his reaction when Cork accepts a glass of fine old crusted Port from Lord Crichton but informs him "my assistant does not drink"...

...and, best of all, his look of abject horror on learning that the pair's next case will take them to Bradford.

But what, you may well ask, is happening in the charts this week? Well, Frank Ifield's confessing that he loves you at number 1, while at number 2 a rather less enamoured Elvis insists you're the devil in disguise.  At number 3, here's the Searchers with the irresistible "Sweets for My Sweet".  The full chart's here.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Thursday 25 July 1963

As a complete scientific ignoramus, I've no idea how plausible the plot of this week's Space Patrol is.  I'd take a wild guess at not very, but you get the feeling that the show at least tries, and that seems laudable in itself.

After last week's success at teaching a bird English, Professor Haggerty's now created a machine to translate the language of ants.  Although nominally employed by Space Patrol, Haggerty seems to spend all his time arsing about on barmy projects of his own, any help he gives to anyone else being incidental.  That's definitely the case this week - when his radio (which looks a bit like a certain alien menace that would capture the imaginations of the nation's children in a few months) goes on the blink and his living room becomes unbearably hot, Haggerty realises that quite by accident he's invented a machine that converts sound waves into heat waves.

Colonel Raeburn's brilliant Venusian secretary Marla's round Haggerty's for a cuppa when this happens, and when the Colonel later tells her of the plight of colonists on Pluto (continuing a plotline from last week's episode) she realises how useful the Professor's new invention could be.  As Pluto's orbit takes it away from the sun, the planet will become increasingly cold, until it's impossible to live there (I'm no expert, but it seems to me it would have been a good idea to address this issue before colonising the planet).  It's not just the colonists that are the problem, though - Space Patrol's Galasphere spaceships are made from a metal only found on Pluto.  So if it's too cold for anyone to go there and mine it there'll be a bit of a problem. Marla hits on the idea of using Haggerty's machine to transmit heat to Pluto from the fiery world of Mercury, at the other end of the solar system.  As ever, it seems that Marla should be running the show rather than grumpy old Raeburn, but genius though she might be, she is still just a woman.  She has to make do with a few scraps of praise from the old goat:  "How felicitous to receive a compliment from Colonel Raeburn!" she giggles in her odd Venusian way.

Raeburn and Captain Dart visit Haggerty to set the plan in motion. "My dear boy!" the professor clucks, "You may be a captain of Space Patrol, but you know nothing at all about science," which is lucky for the viewer as it enables Haggerty to explain in great detail how the transmitter and receiver will be set up on the two worlds.

Dart and his crew are tasked with the unenviable job of travelling to Mercury ("the boiling planet") to install the transmitter.  As they prepare to head off, crewmen Slim and Husky debate the latter's bottomless appetite. "Have some sausages, Slim," Husky insists. "No thank you," Slim responds, "Venusians never consume sausages" (don't tell me this blog never teaches you anything).  Martian parrot Gabbler has no such sausage qualms, however.

Dart, Husky, and Slim board the ship and go to sleep for the duration of their trip to Mercury.  Peculiar robots stalk the corridors of the Galasphere while they slumber.

The trip's set to take three months.  It's good that the show tries to be accurate about how long space voyages will take, but this means that the episodes we've seen so far have already taken place over a number of years, and there are 35 more episodes to go.  Presumably the Galasphere crew don't age while they're in the fridge, but one would expect Raeburn, Marla and Haggerty to all be pretty decrepit by the time the series ends.

Anyway, enough of such musings.  On the forbidding world of Pluto we meet the colony's fur-clad, gloriously mustachioed Martian commander and his second in command, who has a bizarre gravelly voice of the like that wouldn't be heard on TV again until Phyllis Pearce joined Coronation Street.  These poor chaps are banking on Space Patrol to save them from an icy demise.

When our heroes finally reach Mercury, they set to work getting the transmitter in place.  Slim proves himself to be a liability once more by promptly falling down a hole.  Wonderfully, this means that when his colleagues manage to haul him out of it, the extremely camp - sorry, androgynous - Venusian gets to exclaim "I'm free!"

Despite Slim's antics the mission's a roaring success, and the crew head back to the Galasphere before they get fried.  "Speaking of fried, I could do with some chips!" exclaims dear old Husky.  It's good to know that in the worryingly Americanised future of Space Patrol at least Martians (who,of course, all have Russian accents) still enjoy such reassuring British fare as sausage and chips.

You can enjoy the delights The Fires of Mercury has to offer here.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Saturday 20 July 1963

The Case of the Knotted Scarf, by sometime Avengers writer John Manchip White,  is Sergeant Cork's stab at a traditional country house whodunnit, adding a hefty dollop of Agatha Christie to the show's Dickens, Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins influences.  After a brief run-in with an exasperatingly finicky pathologist (the gloriously-named Mischa De la Motte), Cork heads to Devon with Bob Marriott in tow to investigate the murder of Lady Langford, the young wife of a retired general, whose body has been found with the garment of the title around its neck.  "Don't think we're just a pack of country bumpkins down here in Devonshire," grumbles the local country bumpkin police inspector (Royston Tickner), whose nose is put out of joint by the presence of the Scotland Yard men.

Could Lady Langford's paralysed husband (Brewster Mason) be her murderer? Or is it another of the episode's stock characters? How about widowed neighbour Mrs Henderson (Valerie White), whose expectations of marrying the General were thwarted by the dead woman?

Or perhaps it was Lady Langford's houseguest, the boorish French artist Jean-Pierre Ducane (Robert Arnold) - who Cork's investigations soon reveal is in reality neither an artist nor French, but an ex-convict who was blackmailing the general's wife over her lurid past as a good-time girl in London.  Ducane's the object of director Anthony Kearey's most interesting touches.   At one point he sneers "This is a very bad painting," as he looks out of the screen, almost as if he was passing judgement on the viewer's own choice of art.  Later, the camera takes on the perspective of the General as he looks at Ducane down the barrel of a gun he's cleaning.

Finally, there's the household's Indian contingent.  Manservant Kulil's played by David Spenser, no more convincing as a sinister Indian here than he was in Secret Beneath the Sea. The beautiful Sorya (Edwina Carroll), nominally a servant, is treated by the General as a surrogate daughter.

Kulil looks like the obvious culprit, the scarf around Lady Langford's neck having been tied in the fashion of the Dacoit bandits - of which Kulil's father was one.  But it turns out that the dead woman was poisoned rather than strangled, the finger of suspicion deliberately pointed at the manservant by (look away now if you don't want the mystery spoiled)...

...Sorya, who hated her mistress for usurping her place in the household, and who also hates Kulil for daring to be in love with her despite belonging to a lowlier caste.  When Cork solves the mystery and the forces of law and order haul Sorya away, she takes the less than classy step of spitting in poor Kulil's eye.

The Case of the Knotted Scarf feels like a very stiff stage mystery, with its cardboard characters and clichéd whodunnit dialogue ("Lady Langford was obviously killed by some ruffian - the moors around here are swarming with them," Mrs Henderson insists at one point), White's obvious interest in the Indian caste system seeming carelessly tacked on.  Sadly Sergeant Cork'susual lively Victorian London setting isn't here replaced by anything equally colourful (so to speak).

The best things about the episode are the insights it gives us into the show's title character.  As with Inspector  Morse later on, his first name's still withheld from us, but we learn a fair bit about his diet.  On his visit to General Langford he insists on two digestive biscuits with his tea (a quick internet search suggests that digestives were indeed on sale at the time Sergeant Cork's set, but at that time they seem to have been marketed more as a genuine aid to digestion rather than a teatime treat).  Later, as Bob negotiates Scotland Yard's impenetrable filing system (an explanation for the random case numbers assigned to the show's episodes), Cork puts his feet up and enjoys a bowl of pease pudding and faggots.

We also learn that the Sergeant is inordinately fond of treacle toffee (a fondness Bob does not share). All fascinating stuff, I'm sure you agree, but John Barrie's finest moment this week comes when he reveals a mischievous side to Cork's personality, flirting charmingly with Mrs Henderson.  "Have you no private life?" she asks him, as they discuss what he does when he's not solving crimes.  "Well, I didn't say that, did I?" Cork twinkles.  "Well?" asks Mrs Henderson, breath bated.  "Well, if I told you about that it wouldn't be private, would it?" the Sarge saucily responds.

Now, if you were looking for a tenuous link to a song in the top 10 this week, you might suggest that the seemingly angelic Sorya was a devil in disguise, thus linking it to the Elvis Presley song at number 3.  I, however, would never dream of doing such a thing.

The full chart's here.  Incidentally, I was absolutely terrified of this song when I was very young, having heard it on the radio and over-literally interpreted the lyrics.  I was a strange child.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Friday 19 July 1963

This week Space Patrol makes it even more difficult not to compare it to Fireball XL5 by introducing its answer to the Gerry Anderson show's comic relief annoyance Zoonie the Lazoon.  This new mascot is a giant, perpetually squawking Martian parrot known as a Gabblerdictum, which Husky has brought back to Earth from a trip to his home planet.

Much like XL5's otherwise sensible Space Doctor Venus, Husky begs for his new pet to be allowed to join the Galasphere crew on their space missions.  Captain Dart's having none of it - he bans the creature from the ship and (ignoring Husky's protests, the brute) names him Gabbler.  "He talks even more than a woman!" cries the Captain, who clearly shares Steve Zodiac's rather 20th century views on the female gender.

For the duration of the Galasphere's next voyage, Husky leaves Gabbler to the tender loving care of Professor Haggerty.  Well maybe it's not all that tender and loving, as the professor hatches a plan to teach the bird English by attaching electrodes to his brain (I dread to think what bizarre invention Haggerty's come up with to fend off animal rights protestors).

Perhaps Gabbler does need some form of behavioural therapy though, as he's heard to wolf-whistle lewdly at the Professor's daughter Cassiopeia.

Anyway, with all that business over for now we can get on with the episode's main thrust.  This involves Dart, Husky and Slim being sent to find out what's happened to two ships full of colonists that vanished mysteriously on the way to Pluto.  We find out before they do that the culprits are the strange people of Neptune.  With their ghostly appearance, floaty robes, strange draperies and odd plant arrangements, the Neptunians are possibly the spookiest aliens ever to appear in anything.  This is enhanced by their weird, high-pitched voices (despite apparently being male their leader, Tyro, has a squeaky female voice provided by Ysanne Churchman - best known for voicing infamously phallic alien Alpha Centauri in Doctor Who), and the way the speaking Neptunian's always lit, while the others are wreathed in shadows.  They could have been designed by Edward Gorey.

The Neptunians have sidetracked the colonist ships by using their long-range hypnotic powers, and their motive for doing so is a novel one: sheer laziness.  They loathe any kind of physical activity ("Don't mention the word work! The mere thought of it makes me feel tired," shrieks Tyro at one point), and so draw any passing ships to Neptune and mentally enslave the inhabitants to do everything for them.  But their existing slaves are dying off.  "We need more stupid Earthmen!" as one of the Neptunians succinctly observes.

As the Galasphere crew chase after the latest ship drawn off course, they begin to be pulled toward Neptune too.  But when Husky falls into a trance he collapses on the control for the ship's magnetic field - which it turns out nullifies the Neptunians' psychic powers.

Excited by this discovery, Dart and the gang manage to get the colonist ship within the magnetic field, awakening its Martian crew.  But with the magnetic field on the Galasphere's unable to communicate with the other ship. So how can they warn them about what's going on?

Dart has the bright idea of using Morse code to contact the other ship's occupants.  Well, I say bright - the fact is that Morse code's completely antiquated and it seems vastly unlikely that Martians would be able to understand it anyway.  "They don't seem to understand Morse code," says a baffled Dart.

"What do they think it is Christmas?" - tuts the heavily Russian-accented Martian captain when he sees Dart switching his torch on and off.  But it turns out he does know Morse code after all, and they follow Dart's instructions to stay well away from Neptune.

The Neptunians, rather miffed at this loss of potential workhorses, aim a missile at the Galasphere - which turns out to be a damp squib as it's just burnt up by the ship's forcefield.  Dart, Husky and Slim return home to the news that Gabbler can now speak English - in a high-pitched, American-accented female voice that makes him barely more intelligible than he was before.

The Slaves of Neptune is an inventive story with some wonderfully odd ideas in it, and the Neptune scenes are magnificently eerie.  It's the best Space Patrol to date and you can watch it here.

Next week, Space Patrol moves to the slightly earlier time of Thursday.

Well, that's the future dealt with for another week .  Now here comes the past:

Reigning all the time can get very wearying, so this week we find King Richard having a break by engaging in a spot of recreational deer killing with his constant companion Sir Gilbert.  Their fun's short-lived though, as they soon stumble across the corpse of a man stripped to his (considerable) undergarments.  Initially Gilbert thinks he accidentally offed the poor chap with a stray arrow, but Richard dramatically turns the body over and announces: "This man was not killed... by an arrow!"

Yes, it's another case for Inspector King Richard I of the Yard, who heads to a nearby encampment of soldiers for some clues to the dead man's identity.  The chief is randy old Irishman Sir Brian McFergus, who we first see salivating over a buxom delivery girl.  It's strange to see the normally dour Philip Latham playing such a jovial character.

Sir Brian thinks the body was that of one of the raiders who've been plaguing his men by stealing gold from their wagons - he must've been turned on by one of his compatriots.  The only lead for where the raiders might be hiding out is the local monastery, run by the saintly Father Benedict (Robert Raglan, the colonel from Dad's Army).  Benedict has a tendency to take in all manner of waifs and strays in the hope that they'll eventually take holy orders, and currently the monastery's overflowing with discharged seamen.  Lemuel, the lay brother who looks after these dodgy types, is played by Neil Hallett, who - Ghost Squad having come to an end last week - it's lovely to see again.  Richard and Gilbert go undercover at the monastery as a pair of former sailors - giving Dermot Walsh the chance to use the accent of his homeland, Ireland: "Sure oi'm the king of England!" the incognito Richard jests at one point.

Put to work in the monastery garden with nothing but gruel to eat, Gilbert's not very happy.  He sits glumly in his cell as an internal monologue lists all the food he'd like to chow down on.  He's like a character from the Beano.

Gilbert's stomach gets the better of his discretion (this is one of the King's most trusted soldiers, by the way - bloody hell), and he heads to the kitchen to find something to eat - only to come across much carousing as Lemuel and his supposedly ascetic chums indulge in a vast midnight feast, complete with arm wrestling and other hearty pursuits as well, no doubt.

Lemuel tries to convince Gilbert the party's a final blow-out for the sailors who've decided to become monks, and sentences him to solitary confinement for a month to keep his tongue from wagging.  As Gilbert languishes, Richard gets ever more into character as a bone idle ne'er do well wanted for all sorts of crimes.

Eventually Lemuel invites him to join the raiders, whereupon he beats up Gilbert's guard and frees his friend...

...and the two of them round up the baddies (including ubiquitous heavies Bill Nagy and Walter Randall).

And that's it, really.  The plots of Richard the Lionheart may be paper-thin, but at least it only takes 25 minutes to tell them.  I've seen much slighter stories dragged out to twice the time, and I'm sure you have too.