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.

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