Friday, 26 September 2014

Saturday 26 September 1964

Tonight, a perfunctory but pleasing puzzle to bring the current series of Sergeant Cork to end.

At rich industrialist Harry Bell's country house in Norfolk, butler Yates (not to be confused with William Butler Yeats) gathers the household staff together for the return of their master from a trip abroad (Yates is played by Victor Brooks, the rest uncredited except for one we'll get to later).

Unexpectedly for everyone, Bell (Barry Keegan) has brought with him two new household members: brand new bride Ruth (Diana Coupland), some 25 years his junior, and her stern, imposing German companion Greta Schulz (Irene Sutcliffe, later to take over Coronation Street's corner shop - minus the German accent, of course, or Albert Tatlock would never have set foot in there again).  Harry's daughter Julia (Jennie Linden) downplays her shock at finding herself with a new stepmother, and indeed turns the situation to her advantage: now her father won't have so much need of her company, he surely can't object to her going to study in London to be a nurse (the name of the teaching hospital, St Olaf's, should raise a smirk among any Golden Girls fans watching).  Harry is in fact opposed to Julia's choice of a nursing career, but eventually her stubbornness wins through.

Irate maid Parsons (Anne Stallybrass), comes to Yates with a complaint about being expected to wait on a stuck-up German who's surely no more than a servant herself: "I don't care if she's queen of blinkin' Sheba, I ain't fetching and carrying for her."  Yates aims to soothe her worries with a tender snog, and sends her off with a smacked bottom to fetch a couple of mugs of cocoa to bring up to his room.  But they're disturbed by noises from upstairs.

This being his wedding night, Harry's a tad miffed to find his wife's room locked, with Greta acting as an impassive guardian.

Yates and Parsons exchange knowing glasses (these two are absolutely wonderful, and would have received their own sitcom spin-off if there was any justice in the world).

At Scotland Yard, Sergeant Cork returns from a case, insisting to Superintendent Rodway that it's public service rather than financial reward that matters to him, but that a couple of extra guineas on his expenses wouldn't go amiss.  Rodway gently refuses, and chuckles indulgently as Cork casts aspersions on his nationhood: "The Welsh are a very hard race, Charlie.  Sympathy and sentiment seem to escape them.  No sense of comradeship."

Talk turns to the leave that Cork keeps managing not to take, and as if by magic Harry Bell appears (his arm in a delightful paisley sling, a result - he claims - of a shooting acccident).  It  turns out that he and Cork are old friends, former drinking chums at an insalubrious hostelry called the Rising Sun in the days before Harry made his fortune.  He invites Cork to come and stay with him in Norfolk - with the ulterior motive of surreptitiously finding out who stole his first wife's jewels, which he'd obtained from the bank in order to share them out between Ruth and Julia, but which were stolen from his safe before he had a chance.  Only Ruth and Julia knew where to find the key, and Harry's sorry to say that he suspects his daughter.

Cork agrees to the busman's holiday, and rushes off to get pack his things.  He returns to the Yard briefly, only to be waylaid by Bob Marriott, who has a young lady outside to see him.  Cork's in no mood for meeting his colleague's popsies.

"Wouldn't she talk to you?"
"Well that shows some degree of common sense."

Cork agrees to see the lady briefly, and who should it be but young Julia Bell? At this intriguing turn of events, Cork tells Chalky to pay off his hansom, and settles down to interview his friend's daughter.  He tells her he knows about the jewellery but she pleads ignorance.  She's come to see him because she thinks someone's trying to kill her father, citing the shooting "accident" as evidence.

At the Bell residence Harry's going mad through frustration, having not yet been able to spend a night with wife.  Seating his clearly uncomfortable wife on his lap, he tells her he's not convinced she loves him.  She in return tells him she feels neglected, and seems very keen to know when she's going to get her hands on the jewels.

Cork and Marriott arrive at the Bell residence, pretending to be stranded after a day of business in Norwich, and in search of somewhere to spend the night.  As Julia goes to greet her young man she's waylaid by Greta, who wants to know why Julia's avoiding her, claiming (in a very unfriendly way) that she wants them to be friends.

Cork and Marriott talk to Harry about the jewels.  On learning that he suspects his daughter of taking her, Bob explodes with rage at the notion that such a lovely girl could do such a monstrous thing.  In his anger he mentions Julia's suspicions, which Cork had hoped to keep quiet.

Things take an even more suspicious turn when Harry's dog Bridget (a still photograph) is found poisoned.

The dog was alive when Cork arrived, and didn't leave the house in that time.  Cork suspects the cheese and chutney sandwiches left on a tray for Harry in his study.  The sandwiches were made by Yates, but who brought them to the study is strangely unclear.  Bob takes the dog to the police doctor in Norwich, and discovers that it died of an enormous dose of arsenic.

Ruth, apparently unaware of Cork's investigations, asks him to stay for longer.  He questions an evasive Greta about her mistress's previous marriage, getting no information of any use.

Yates eventually confirms that it was Julia who took the sandwiches in to her father.  Cork asks the butler about his accent, which despite his wide knowledge of such things, he can't place.  Dropping the posh chat, Yates reveals, to the detective's great amusement, that he's from Hoxton: "My old dad used to keep a winkle store down there."

Yates then comes upon a romantic scene between Bob and Julia, carefully tiptoeing back out.

Julia begins to ask Bob a question about her father's meeting with Cork, but is interrupted by the
arrival of Harry himself, clearly in a foul mood, and roughly ejecting Bob.  Harry proceeds to tell Julia to pack her things and leave.  She admits she took the jewels, but says she'll put them back.

Cork intrudes upon the scene, and Harry tells him that Julia hates Ruth.  She admits it, and that she couldn't bear for her stepmother to have the jewels.  Harry accuses Julia of trying to kill him, but when Ruth and Greta happen by Cork pulls them in for his final summing-up.  Greta was the killer, she and Ruth having also carried out the murder of Ruth's previous two husbands.  Greta rather indiscreetly kept newspaper cuttings about both cases.  The true nature of the relationship between Ruth and Greta is heavily implied through their tender clasping of one another's hands and heavy underlining of their shared disgust of the touch of men.  Here in 2014, Doctor Who was recently in the headlines after a tiny number of killjoys complained about a kiss between two female characters, so it's interesting to find that Saturday night Victorian lesbians are nothing new in the world of television (in that case it was an Englishwoman and a lizard rather than a German, though).

When Greta viciously shoves Harry, she earns a slap in the face from Julia.

And that's that, except for a sweet little final scene with Chalky White, under Cork's instructions, assembling champagne and nibbles in the Sergeant's office.  His recent adventure having made him a bit nervous, Cork insists that Chalky try one of the sandwiches first.

The occasion is the engagement of Bob and Julia, and the assembled cast raise their glasses (Cork mainly interested in sloshing the contents of his down).  Has Scotland Yard's resident lothario been tamed? You can find out when Sergeant Cork returns in 1966.

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