Saturday, 17 August 2013

Saturday 17 August 1963

Spot the typo
One of the most impressive things about Sergeant Cork has been how versatile the format's proved to be.  In the past seven weeks we've seen the show explore a variety of styles including standard whodunnit, sentimental backstage drama and full-blooded penny dreadful.  The latest genre to be added to the list is the political thriller, with a tale of European intrigue of the kind Sherlock Holmes occasionally found himself embroiled with.

Prince Frederick of Silesia is coming to London, and it looks certain that there'll be an attempt on his life by exiled countrymen of his dissatisfied with the current Silesian regime.  Britain's prodigiously bearded Prime Minister (Julian d'Albie, his character unnamed but clearly meant to be the Marquess of Salisbury) personally assigns Sergeant Cork to act as the Prince's bodyguard for the duration of his stay.

Cork, who despite the Victorian drag really represents the early 60s' most socially liberal attitudes, abhors the repressive Silesian regime, but duty is duty.  The Prince turns out not to be quite what Cork expected, though.  He's no fan of the way his uncle the Archduke runs the country either, and wants to extend an olive branch to the rebels living in London.  I don't know whether European monarchy of the 1880s generally wore as much makeup as Garfield Morgan does as Prince Frederick: he's so plastered in the stuff he looks like the Emcee from Cabaret.  Lawrence Davidson plays the Prince's right hand man Leon Kortner.

While Cork escorts the Prince, Bob Marriott helps Inspector Henson (Jack Lambert), head of Scotland Yard's dynamite squad, to ensure there are no troublesome explosives in the Prince's hotel suite.  Bob's amazed disbelief at the idea that anyone would put innocent lives in danger just to kill one man now seems an especially poignant moment.

Sure enough there are some would-be assassins waiting for Prince Frederick just across the road from the hotel...

Luckily, they prove totally incompetent.  But it's not the last attempt to be made on the Prince's life: when he takes Cork to an old haunt of his from his younger days living in London, the pub's entire clientele's nearly blown sky-high when a mysterious hooded lady (Liane Aukin) plants a bomb under a table.  Fortunately the wily Sergeant discovers it in time.

The woman who planted the bomb turns out to be a Silesian named Irene Stone, and brought face to face with the prince she wastes no time showing him what she thinks of him by spitting in his face.  Charming.

More attempts on Prince Frederick's life follow. We can tell it's a stressful situation for poor Sergeant Cork - his hair goes absolutely bonkers

The most likely suspects as masterminds behind the assassination attempts appear to be brother and sister Max and Maria Sondheim (Nicholas Meredith and Sally Bazeley), two of the most infamous Silesian rebels.

But Frederick's been trying to forge a political alliance with Max and a matrimonial one with Maria, and after a final attempt on the Prince's life that very nearly sends Bob Marriott to meet his maker it's revealed that the real culprit is Leon Kortner - he's been trying to discredit the Sondheims, and if that means the Prince's death, so be it.

The episode ends on a strangely downbeat note with Cork reading, some months later, of the prince's death.  The Case of the Persistent Assassin is as ho-hum as Sergeant Cork gets, with neither Frederick or any of the other characters sufficiently well-drawn for us to care much what happens to them.  But as always there's plenty to enjoy here: standing out especially in an otherwise unusually serious episode is Redmond Phillips' comic turn as an irritable gunsmith named, appropriately enough, Mr Smith.  Suspected of supplying Irene Stone with her bomb, his reaction to being told the device could have blown up half of Westminster is simply to tut extravagantly and exclaim "These amateurs! They ruin the trade".

In the world of popular music, the Searchers are at number 1 with "Sweets for My Sweet", while at number 3 this week here's Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas with the John Lennon-penned "Bad to Me".

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