The 1971-1973 British series The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes dramatized non-Holmes stories of detectives solving mysteries in Victorian and Edwardian England written by contemporary authors. For Balladeer’s Blog’s review of the first episode click HERE
Episode: THE AFFAIR OF THE AVALANCHE BICYCLE & TYRE CO. LTD (October 4th, 1971)
Detective: Horace Dorrington, created by Arthur Morrison. The first Dorrington story was published in 1897.
Review: Horace Dorrington was a refreshing change among the London by Gaslight detectives. The wily, double-dealing scoundrel represented every reason that hoity-toity Britishers of the day looked down on the character of private detectives. Writer Arthur Morrison’s Dorrington was in the grand literary tradition of despicable yet charming rogues.
Peter Vaughan is nearly flawless in his portrayal of the suave yet black-hearted detective. In the opening scene – a teaser before the main mystery – we viewers get to see Horace Dorrington’s true nature.
He charges a cheating wife three hundred British Pounds for supposedly “buying back” her indiscreet letters to a lover who is blackmailing her. He cheats his unseen partner in the detective firm out of his share of the fee by having the wayward wife make the check payable to him (Dorrington) only and after she leaves we learn that Dorrington didn’t “buy back” the letters from her blackmailer – he stole them – so he just pocketed three hundred Pounds in pure profit.
Assisting Horace are his secretary Miss Parrot (Petronella Barker) and his man Farrish (Kenneth Colley). Both subordinates are very capable – in fact Miss Parrot skillfully shadows a suspect at one point in the episode – but are harried and overworked by their demanding, often unappreciative employer.
The main storyline of The Affair of the Avalanche Bicycle & Tyre Co Ltd involves Horace Dorrington’s investigation into an enigmatic new bicycle corporation floating a public stock offering. A determined social climber, the detective has been thinking of investing in Avalanche B&T but as he and his people do a background check, certain things about the new firm don’t add up.
Already intrigued by the air of mystery surrounding Avalanche, Dorrington delves deeper and happens to be on hand when a shady “accident” injures and sidelines a competing bicycle firm’s champion bicyclist right before a high-profile event. With the champ out of commission Avalanche B&T’s bicyclist has a very good chance of winning, giving the company a huge public boost that is sure to make the price of shares skyrocket.
There is great period detail in the way “bicycle mania” was sweeping the world at the time. (“Meet the future!”) Speaking for myself, I was surprised to learn that early bicycle companies, like automobile companies in later decades, showed off their products in high-profile racing competitions, but it makes perfect sense.
At any rate, the president of the firm whose rider was seemingly sabotaged hires Horace to investigate the ugly incident. Obviously, given the title of this story, the trail leads our antihero to the Avalanche Bicycle & Tyre Co Ltd.
Since murder mysteries are so overdone I’m a huge fan of tales like this which instead feature the investigation of other sorts of crimes, in this case a public swindle. Dorrington being Dorrington, he probes deeper to see if it would be more profitable to serve his client’s interests or his own, given the big money to be made in the ongoing corporate con-job.
Horace is a ruthless operator, perfectly willing to bribe bank employees for confidential records of their establishment’s clientelle and MORE than willing to kill dangerous criminals if he can get away with it.
I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that I particularly loved the period details, especially the 1890s sporting milieu and the vintage “exercise equipment” at the gymnasium in the story. If you don’t eat up atmospheric details like that you may not rate this episode as highly as I do.
The actors portraying Farrish and Miss Parrot stand out very well as characters who COULD have just faded into the woodwork if played by less talented performers. The youngsters are clearly sweet on each other, but the ’round the clock demands of their employer keep getting in the way of their budding romance.
As for star Peter Vaughan himself, his terrific performance made me wonder two things: how he’d have done as one of the Doctor’s regenerations on Doctor Who and if Dorrington was an illegitimate son of George MacDonald Fraser’s arch-rogue Harry Flashman.
I’ll review the next episode soon. Keep checking back.
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