Saturday, 14 September 2013

Saturday 14 September 1963

Strangely enough, this week's Cork is the second in a row to feature the death by drowning of a young woman named Barnes.  This week the mortal remains fished out of the Thames are those of seamstress Ella Barnes.  Her death appears to have been an accident - "appears" obviously being the key word because if it were that simple the case would hardly merit the attention of the CID's finest brain.  It's a literal; case of "did she fall or was she pushed?", as Ella's former workmate Rose Wolf (Billy Liar star Gwendolyn Watts) points out to us. The case is brought to Sergeant Cork's attention by redoubtable social reformer Mrs Simkins (Wynne Clark), who had befriended Ella and is convinced foul play's involved in her demise.  Mrs Simkins is an especially well-drawn character, who at one point emotionally describes the discovery of an absconded workhouse girl starved to death which inspired her burning zeal for stamping out sweated labour.  Cork admiringly notes that "if we had 2000 like her we could reform the country overnight."  But lest we should fear Mrs Simkins is some kind of crazed radical feminist, she reassures us she's always home at night to get her husband's dinner on the table.

The Case of Ella Barnes is the second Cork episode to focus on organised labour, Mrs Simkins' influence having led Ella to instigate a strike for better pay and conditions at the factory where she worked.  Mrs Simkins thinks this may have been connected to her death. The strange thing is that, despite being the ringleader of the strike, Ella was the only one of the workers who walked out to retain her job. Cork pays a visit to the dingy little sweatshop, now staffed almost entirely by European refugees after Ella's colleagues all lost their jobs for striking.  The boss, Brandel (Robert Cartland) is an especially slimy character who talks in that heavy caricature Yiddish accent so commonly heard in 60s productions, but which now seems a bit embarrassing.

Faded Italian screen siren Isa Miranda appears somewhat unexpectedly in the glamour-free role of Brandel's put-upon wife Magda.

Just how put-upon she is eventually becomes clear as we learn of Brandel's tendency to exploit the young, vulnerable members of his worksforce sexually as well as financially.

Cork has by this point discovered that Ella was pregnant when she died and, her husband (James Kerry) having only just returned from prison (and not,as he claims, the sea), it doesn't take long to work out who the child's father was.

Cork gets little in the way of cooperation from Ella's sour-faced former workmate Barbara Ellis (Rosemary Ashford), and Bob Marriott's attempts to sweet-talk her housemate, the rather friendlier Rose, are scuppered when she has him pegged for a copper straight away.

Bob, for his part, is convinced that Ella was killed at Brandel's instigation by Stan (Jack Phillips), a hulking, sinister Pole employed at the sweatshop.  Towards the end of the episode the pair have a massive fight in the factory (arranged, of course, by Ray Austin), which features Bob spectacularly pushing Stan through a stair railing but ends with the over-eager young detective at the other man's mercy.

The episode ends with Cork forcing a confession from a rather drunk Barbara and Rose (binge drinking young women aren't just a modern social phenomenon) that they slashed Ella's face with a pair of scissors on the night of her death as punishment for betraying them and returning to work for Brandel.

Cork forces the pair into the horrible realisation (though really it must just be supposition) that the depressed, pregnant Ella, on discovering the friends she needed to rely on hated the sight of her, felt she had no option other than to drown herself.

So, not the most upbeat ending ever.  The Case of Ella Barnes, scripted by Avengers writer Eric Paice, is a solid Cork that, like the earlier The Case of the Soldier's Rifle, is clearly rooting for the working class even if it can't bring itself fully to believe in them.

In this week's chart, the Beatles have scored their second number one with "She Loves You".  Just below them, it's Cliff Richard with "It's All in the Game".

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