Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Tuesday 20 August 1963

This episode of the long-running police show's missing its first 10 minutes or so (or at least it is in the version I saw), which makes it all very disorienting to begin with.  The loss of the introductory scenes means the episode's curious title, Expert with Salt, only gradually starts to make sense.  The expert in question is Roley Sadler (Alan White), a crooked Australian businessman who's made a fortune from salting mines.  For the benefit of those (like me, before I saw this) who have no idea what this means, it entails planting samples of precious metals in order to trick those with more money than sense into investing in a worthless mine.

Much of the episode's taken up with scenes of the not conspicuously attractive Sadler romancing a pair of glamorous women.  The first of these is Nesta Somers (Judith South), secretary to rich widow Justine Power (Naomi Chance), who has herself recently come to London from Australia.  Roley and Nesta are plotting to blackmail Justine, whose husband (unbeknownst to her) became a millionaire off the back of salting.

Sadler's other paramour (of whom Nesta is viciously jealous) is Gloria Connell (Katharine Schofield, clearly not cast for her dramatic talent).

Gloria's an associate of high-flying stockbrokers Derek Breen and Arnold Gracie (Ronald Allen and Ronald Leigh-Hunt - you may not be interested to learn that Leigh-Hunt now ties with Guy Deghy as TV Minus 50's most prolific guest actor).  The pair's public image paints them as the golden boys of the City but in fact they're just a pair of crooks, who are starting out on the salting game themselves.  Sadler finds out about their plan to dupe rich but gullible Aussie farmer Charles Milner (Jerold Wells, whose remarkable face looks like it was hewn out of a cliff) into investing in a dud gold mine, and muscles in on it, demanding a third of the proceeds.

These alternative Two Ronnies are a menacing pair, however (though Leigh-Hunt's character being referred to throughout as "Gracie" makes them a bit less so), treating poor Gloria with wince-inducing cruelty on learning she's been giving information about them to Sadler.  And soon enough, it turns out he's bitten off more than he can chew when he's found dead.

It's difficult to know what to make of Expert with Salt.  Anthony Scott Veitch's script is confusing, its characters and their motivations frustratingly unclear- and I'd guess it would still be like that even with the first 10 minutes extant.  It follows the same format as the last episode of No Hiding Place featured here (months ago), with the original object of the police investigation offed at the end of the second act, meaning the investigation into his death and the eventual reveal of the killer are entirely perfunctory.

The police themselves are barely in this episode, though in his limited screentime Raymond Francis's Superintendent Lockhart gets some decent moments, disapprovingly reading aloud from the society column: "Gaiety in Wimbledon: Mrs Justine Power lets frivolity go to her head in a crisp lemon sailor hat," and tussling with Sadler's entertainingly dreadful landlady (Elizabeth Benson).

But eventually it's left up to Justine's bizarre, seemingly omniscient Chinese chauffeur Lee Tok (Anthony Chinn) to wrap things up by fingering Ronald Allen.  As the murderer.

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