Bruce Stewart's script for tonight's Sergeant Cork brings together two archetypes/clichés of Victorian sensation literature: the returned Colonial prisoner, intent on revenge (Bruce Beeby, top) and the orphaned street urchin, ill-treated by the world (John Barnhan, bottom). The latter spies the former entering the home of an elderly man (Beaufoy Milton), leaving a corpse in his wake...
It's a mainly humdrum tale enlivened by the engaging performances we've come to expect of the show, plus an intriguing (though ultimately arbitrary) fixation on Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky". Before news of the old man's death reaches Sergeant Cork, we see his puppyish assistant Bob Marriott eagerly awaiting the results of the Sergeant's latest invention in the war against crime: a hidden camera. Unfortunately it's an idea a bit ahead of its time: at this point in the history of photography any subject who doesn't pose stock-still for minutes on end is reduced to an indistinct blur. Still, it's a nice try. Helping Bob out is John Junkin as sweetly enthusiastic police photography expert Perryman.
When Marriott and Perryman go to break the bad news to Cork they find the Sergeant reading aloud from a volume of Carroll. Marriott's unimpressed by the nonsense words, but Perryman waxes lyrical about the meanings they can have for different individuals: "To me, brillig is that moment in the developing tank just before the image becomes clear on the plate, all misty, and wandering light and shadow." It's a strangely tender moment, though Cork's suggestion that Marriott's no stranger to gyring and gimbling is less so. Cork has his own views on another of Carroll's phrases: "A slithy tove is a slippery customer . It's only when you turn your back you're sure he's behind you. Face him and he's faceless."
Cork's musings are interrupted when he's summoned to the scene of the crime. In life the corpse was an old lag named Trumble, well known to the Sergeant. As they depart, Cork rather spoils his show of erudition by musing "Alas poor Trumble, I knew him well", as Marriott fools about with a skull.
Cork's detestable superior Inspector Bird's already on the scene, not bothering to hide his disdain for the rabble that's gathered outside Trumble's hovel. The attendant police doctor (the marvellous Robert James, from Secret Beneath the Sea) is clearly unimpressed with the Inspector's ghastly snobbery, or the Inspector's attempt at linking them together as "men like us" against the horrors of the working classes.
Underlining the contrast between Bird and his subordinate's approaches, Cork shows his man of the people credentials by properly working the crowd with a grandstanding oration promising justice for the dead man.
After visiting the crime scene to inspect the body (Trumble was bludgeoned to death with an unknown object, which we're left to suppose was the cane his visitor carried) Cork finds himself followed back to his office by the young urchin, who seems to have something to tell him. Cork, Marriott and the doctor take him in and clean him up, but he seems curiously resistant to speak. Even the confectionery-fixated Sergeant's offer of a piece of stickjaw won't unseal his lips.
A far more animated performance is provided by Ann Lynn, bewitchingly intense as always in the role of Trumble's daughter, Nora. As if the apparent murder of her father wasn't enough to put up with, her fiancé (Peter Fraser), upset at the discovery that the old man was a crook, dumps her in fear that it might damage his prospects at the grocer's shop where he works. She's far better off without him, if you ask me, he's a weak, sanctimonious arse.
Marriott manages to turn up a likely suspect: a Mr Lake, who was transported to Australia 20 years before after Trumble turned Queen's evidence against him. And that's exactly who Trumble's visitor is. Lake's now a force to be reckoned with in the field of Australian beef, and has returned to his homeland to confront the man who betrayed him. He's staying at the Excelsior Hotel, to which Cork is led by his strange young charge. There's a fantastically obsequious turn from Hugh Morton as the hotel's manager, whose pleasantries about the climate of the colonies provoke an angry reaction from a man who spent years out there as little more than a slave.
But as Cork discovers, it's not just revenge Lake returned home for: it turns out that Nora's his daughter, not Trumble's, and that Lake had shelved his vengeance on learning how well Trumble brought her up. Sadly, Trumble then tripped and hit his head on the fire grate. Whoops.
So Lake's not quite the slithy tove Cork initially thought, and the sentimental old detective leaves father and daughter together to get to know each other as he heads home, warily followed once more by the little boy. The expected pay-off for all the Lewis Carroll references never emerges but it does lead to one especially brilliant moment as Marriott, who Cork's given up for a philistine, merrily trumps the Sergeant's "Jabberwocky" references with a quote from "The Hunting of the Snark".
Talking of nonsense words, here are some of the most wonderful in pop music history. At number 5 in this week's hit parade, it's the Crystals with "Da Doo Ron Ron".