Saturday, 21 September 2013
Saturday 21 September 1963
As we've reached the last in the present series of Sergeant Cork, it seems only right that I should pay tribute to a hero of the show who has thus far been unsung. It's the little old man who turns up every week to light the lamp outside the CID offices at the beginning of the show. Gawd bless you sir, you're doing a marvellous job.
Anyway, now for the substance of this week's episode. Over the past 12 weeks Sergeant Cork's brought us mystery, derring-do, social commentary and comedy. The show's first series bows out with an episode devoted to the latter element, from the pen of the reliably witty Julian Bond. Our main guest star this week is an old friend of TV Minus 50, Derek Francis, sporting a Cockney-Jewish accent twice as strong as Robert Cartland's last week (he even exclaims "My life!" a couple of times) as flamboyant moneylender Eli Klein. We first meet Klein as he and his equally flashy assistant Solomons (Hugh Futcher) - there's something a bit queer about these two - prey on a vulnerable gent who's hit hard times (John Lee). They're pretty ludicrous Jewish stereotypes, but as with Lionel Bart's version of Fagin they come across as lovable rogues despite the depths of despair they drive their clients to.
Once his latest debtor departs, a mere shell of a man, Klein settles down to an absurdly lavish lunch, only to be interrupted by a very different kind of caller, an especially debonair cove played by another TV Minus 50 fixture, John Woodvine. Far from wanting to borrow money from Klein, this chap claims to be selling gold - at below the market rate. Klein is, unsurprisingly, utterly gobsmacked by the offer.
At CID HQ, Bob Marriott turns up late to work after an assignation with one of his many lady friends to find Sergeant Cork - always a man ahead of his time - experimenting with toothmarks on apples in a bid to show that teeth would be a brilliant way of identifying a corpse. Bob isn't keen on apples, but the pair try and rope in ever-crotchety porter Chalky White to assist. "What?! And get a pip stuck under my plate? I should say so!"
Freddie Fowler's Chalky is always brilliant fun, and this week his character's expanded upon a bit: during a conversation with Cork about Marriott's womanising we learn that in his day he was quite the ladies' man himself - though these days he'd much rather sit down and have a nice cup of tea with the Sergeant.
Chalky announces the arrival of Mr Klein, who Cork knows of old, and, unsurprisingly, is no fan of: their previous encounter occurred when the Sergeant was investigating the death of a man who committed suicide after being unable to repay the moneylender. Klein, who seems to have a strange desire to redeem himself in Cork's eyes, tells him and Marriott all about his encounter earlier that day. "I was approached this morning," he announces, dramatically. "How nice for you," Cork wryly responds. "Where?"
The sparring between Klein and Cork, brilliantly written by Bond and played to perfection by Francis and Barrie, is sheer delight: "I always sensed a certain ruthlessness in you," Klein grumbles. "No doubt it touched a chord," says the Sergeant.
What piques Cork's suspicion is the question of why, exactly, the not conspicuously law-abiding Klein would come to him with the information about the gold salesman. There's an especially brilliant moment when Klein indignantly protests he's doing out of a spirit of public duty and Cork nearly doubles over with laughter - with which Klein himself quickly joins in.
As Cork tells Marriott once Klein's left "The only time I met him before I told him in no uncertain terms exactly what I thought of him. Why should he come back for more? Nobody else does!" Klein's due to meet the salesman's shadowy employers that night at a swish eaterie, and Cork sends Marriott along to observe. The Sergeant's complete obliviousness to the fair sex is brilliantly illustrated when Marriott asks if he can take his latest lady friend, Charlotte: "Sergeant who?"
We don't get to see Marriott's night out with Charlotte, the action instead following Cork as he pays a visit to an old acquaintance, Evans (Newton Blick), a reformed ex-con who the Sergeant helped find a job as a goldsmith, a profession he's now devoted to.
Evans only gets the one scene, but he's a wonderfully vivid Dickensian character with his own catchphrase ("...isn't that what they say?" he asks at the end of practically every sentence). He provides Cork with a recipe for aqua regia, a solution that can be used to test gold. Enjoyable as Cork's meeting with Evans is, it proves to be pointless, as it emerges that Marriott could have told him about aqua regia all along, chemistry having been something of a speciality of his (until he became more interested in, er, biology). "It's elementary, dear Sir," he says of the solution, prompting a grumpy "I refuse to play Watson to your Holmes" from his boss (the mention of Watson and Holmes clearly places the action of Cork after 1887, when A Study in Scarlet was published, butif one were feeling especially in the mood to pick nits it could be pointed out that the phrase "Elementary, my dear Watson" isn't spoken in any of Conan Doyle's stories and is unlikely to have been regarded as a catchphrase of Holmes' until quite some time after the Victorian era).
At Romano's, Marriott observed Klein meeting up with a known crook, but wasn't privy to what else happened. Fortunately, Klein himself turns up and announces that his contact refuses to deal with him as an intermediary, and he'll need to provide a client for the gold sellers. This puts a splendid idea into Cork's head, as he sets about squandering police resources to pose as the client himself, baffling an estate agent (Keith Smith), a tailor (Noel Davis) and a Bank Manager (William Redmond) with his requirements of a furnished flat for one week, a set of posh togs (including brocade smoking jacket), and a chequing account on which the cheques should in no circumstance be honoured.
Penny-pinching Inspector Bird is, of course, outraged by Cork's vast expenses (Bob points out that rent of the furnished flat is inclusive, but this seems not to help). He angrily forbids Cork's expensive charade - a directive the Sergeant, of course, takes no notice of whatsoever.
Installed in his lush new surroundings, with a deeply uncomfortable Bob posing as his manservant, Cork proceeds to metamorphose into George Sanders. Bob's discomfort at playing a servant, and his wincing reaction to Cork's gauche attempts at sophistication, are really the first time the show's played on the social gulf between the two characters: possibly because, as the two speak in the same RP accent, it's not easy for the casual viewer to detect. Were the series to be remade today it seems almost certain that Cork would sound less posh, but John Barrie gives the impression of a man who's pulled himself up by his bootstraps in order to be able to talk to the ruling class just as competently as those in the gutter.
The comedy highlight of the episode is the visit to Cork's new apartment of glamorous Russian crook Tamara Andreyev (Jill Melford), the woman who's trying to sell off the gold. Hilariously, Marriott initially opens the door on the wrong side of the corridor to look for his Master (William Gaunt's never more lovable than when he's being sheepish). The social faux pas continue as Cork welcomes his guest:
CORK: Would you care for a drink, Miss Andreyev?
TAMARA: Please, Tamara.
CORK (anxiously, to Marriott): Do we have any?
Cork's on the now deeply odd sounding drink of Hock and seltzer.
TAMARA: Ah! Like Oscar.
CORK (flummoxed): Oscar?
TAMARA: Dear Mr Wilde!
CORK: Oh, fancy you knowing him!
The sketch, sorry scene, eventually moves into sheer Carry On territory when Cork asks a shocked Tamara "Is your seat agreeable... I mean, would you be more comfortable over here?"
The hilarity subsides just a tad in order that Tamara can explain that a cousin of hers escaped Russia with a large amount of gold he's now keen to get rid of: which Cork can have for the bargain sum of £11,700 (even he hesitates at putting this amount on expenses). Tamara, however, can tell by the indifference of Cork's wine and the fact he only has one, incompetent servant, that he's not all he appears. Fortunately, though, she thinks he's just a front for Klein, who really wants to purchase the gold for himself. A relieved Cork readily agrees with her interpretation.
Although the sample of gold Klein obtained passed the aqua regia test, it turns out the metal weighs too much - it's really iron pyrites that Tamara and her gang have been trying to flog! As they're carted off, the episode ends with Klein and his associates pleased as punch that they've managed to get into the Sergeant's slightly better books.
There's a subplot to this week's episode: despite the bizarre case numbering it turns out the last 12 weeks of adventures for Cork and Marriott have in fact taken place over 12 weeks. Marriott's now at the end of his probation period, and Inspector Bird's unsubtle hints that he'd be better off working elsewhere have the young detective terrified he won't pass. Bob's due to meet Superintendent Nelson to find out whether he'll be staying on the force, and things look especially black when Nelson proves unavailable and it's Bird who'll be telling him about his future. There's fantastic characterisation of Arnold Diamond's finicky inspector in this scene: "I am not against the unorthodox - in the right place at the right time," he says of Cork's methods. The fact that the Superintendent wants Marriott to stay on is dropped into the conversation incidentally - for Bird the most important thing is to express his deep sympathy that a young man as cultured as Marriott should be expected to work side-by-side with someone as unsuitable as Cork.
So - yay! - Bob and the Sarge will continue to work together. We'll see them again after Christmas. Next Saturday sees the return of The Avengers and the start of a new ITC action-adventure series, the Man of the World spin-off The Sentimental Agent.