For Balladeer’s Blog’s review of the first episode of this 1971-1973 series about non-Holmes detectives of the Victorian and Edwardian Ages click HERE
*** This review will cover the three 1st Season episodes featuring Max Carrados, Simon Carne and Romney Pringle, each with their own defect. I’m borrowing the term “Defective Detectives” from a subgenre of Pulp stories starring detectives who had some form of defect (even pin-headedness) as their gimmick.
Episode: THE MISSING WITNESS SENSATION (September 27th, 1971)
Detective: Max Carrados, created by Ernest Bramah. The first Max Carrados story was published in 1914.
Review: Private Detective Max Carrados (Robert Stephens) was blind, but brilliant. His gimmick was the ingenious way he alertly used other sensory clues and his computer-like mind to compensate for his blindness.
Amazingly enough, during the six years (1914-1920) that Ernest Bramah’s Max Carrados tales went head-to-head with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Bramah’s detective often outsold Doyle’s. It reached the point where Bramah’s name would appear above Doyle’s on magazine covers.
The Missing Witness Sensation was an ideal choice to dramatize out of the more than two dozen Carrados stories. We viewers are treated to an excellent display of how every activity which sighted people take for granted is in itself a piece of detective work for blind Max.
Naturally, the fictional Carrados takes those masterpieces of observation and attention to detail to nearly superhuman levels when doing detective work. His younger, sighted sidekick Greatorex (Michael Elwyn) handles the fisticuffs and all business elements that require the gift of vision.
Inspector Beedle (George A Cooper) from Scotland Yard has a great deal of respect for Max’s abilities and is glad to consult with him on tough cases, or “first class crimes” as Carrados calls them. This cordial relationship with the Yard makes for a refreshing change from the usual adversarial relationship that fictional detectives of the time had with the coppers.
Max’s elderly butler Parkinson (Leslie French) rounds out his support staff.
The mystery in this episode centers around a post office robbery that has already been committed and one of the perps arrested. A bystander was killed during the crime.
Max Carrados works out the political motives behind the armed robbery then sets about destroying the perjured testimony of a co-conspirator of the captured perpetrator. If Max isn’t on hand to testify in court to shred the false testimony the killer will go free.
The killer’s accomplices abduct Max and keep him under guard to prevent him from showing up in court. A citywide manhunt – the “Missing Witness Sensation” of the title – fails to find our hero.
Inspector Beedle and Greatorex also come up empty in their efforts but with time running out, Max must overcome his captors and manage to get himself freed.
Carrados’ abilities are finely displayed throughout the episode, including his impressive memory when he dictates to Greatorex a transcript of the perjurer’s testimony off the top of his head following the day’s court proceedings.
Robert Stephens is terrific in the lead role, but his resemblance to comedian Roberto Benigni might make you laugh sometimes.
Episode: THE DUCHESS OF WILTSHIRE’S DIAMONDS (October 11th, 1971)
Detective: Simon Carne/ Klimo, created by Guy Boothby. The first Carne/ Klimo story was published in 1897.
Review: Ostensibly, Simon Carne’s defect is his hunched back, but since that hunch is fake I will instead say his defect is Gimmick Overload.
Anyway, if you hear it once, you’ll hear it a thousand times with Carne: he came BEFORE A.J. Raffles, the gentleman thief and cricket player. Just because Simon came first it does not make him better, I’m afraid. Raffles’ gimmick was pleasantly streamlined compared to Carne’s convoluted schtick.
Simon Carne (Roy Dotrice) is back in England after several years abroad. Outwardly, he is smooth and charming, dazzling everyone he meets with his charisma and general good will. Inwardly, he resents the upper class – especially the titled ones – for not helping his family when their fortune was nearly wiped out years earlier.
So far so good, but now things get messy. Carne has faked having a hunchback for most of his life as a cover for the spectacular thefts he pulls off against his resented “social betters.”
But wait, there’s more! In England, Carne adds the new wrinkle of impersonating an eccentric, elderly private detective called Klimo. After Carne pulls off his robberies and the police prove incapable of solving those crimes “Klimo” comes forward and is paid to prove how the crimes were committed … but conveniently never recovers the loot.
Roy Dotrice is very impressive as Simon Carne and Klimo, and his detailed transformations from and to them both is fun to watch. Unfortunately the whole setup gets tiresome after the initial con becomes apparent.
Dotrice masterfully conveys his character’s bitterness, and his secret reveling over the way his role in his associates’ losses goes unsuspected adds a sort of Cousin Bette feel to the proceedings. However, it’s all too cumbersome.
Carne’s fake hunchback limits how far he can go romantically with the hoity-toity women he socializes with. As old man Klimo he has no hunchback, throwing off suspicion that the two are one and the same, but Klimo is so off-puttingly weird that he grates on the nerves. All this sours the fun of watching his pompous victims get theirs.
This episode becomes a slog to get through, suffice it to say that Carne succeeds in stealing the Duchess of Wiltshire’s diamonds, the cops get embarrassed and Klimo then reveals how the theft was committed. The story failed to make me a fan of this thief/ detective.
Episode: THE ASSYRIAN REJUVENATOR (November 29th, 1971)
Detective: Romney Pringle, created by R. Austin Freeman. The first Romney Pringle story was published in 1902. Freeman also created the detective Dr Thorndyke, who was featured in the very first episode of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.
Review: This episode presents Romney Pringle (Donald Sinden) as a private detective who puts on a front that he is instead a Literary Agent. We are told that this pretense is necessary since the other businesses in the building would frown on having someone as sleazy as a private detective for a neighbor.
That’s not strictly faithful to the original stories but it’s a minor quibble. Stylistically, the Romney Pringle mysteries are noted for what we would today call “the Columbo approach.” The perpetrator is known upfront but the fun comes from watching the cat and mouse game that the schmoozing Pringle plays with the guilty party or parties.
The down side is that, unfortunately, Romney Pringle is depicted here as just a poor man’s Horace Dorrington, the amoral but charming detective from earlier episodes from this first season. Donald Sinden is pretty pale compared with Peter Vaughan, who kept the viewer on his side no matter how low he stooped.
Sinden is way too Zero Mostel-ish, broadly telegraphing that he’s a conman, leaving you wondering how his clients and his targets could fail to realize that they’re being taken. Vaughan’s Dorrington was disarmingly charming, making his deceptions more plausible.
In this tale Pringle outshines Police Sergeant Hawkins in a bid to infiltrate and expose a fraudulent youth treatment being marketed by a sham company. Sinden never drew me in the way Vaughan did, making Romney Pringle’s shabby treatment of everyone around him way too grating to me.
In true imitation-Dorrington style, Pringle brings down the fake company, saves his client from being publicly exposed as one of their victims and makes off with a large chunk of the fraudsters’ ill-gotten gains.
If you’re wondering, Romney Pringle’s defect is his moral defect. +++
I’ll review the next episode soon. Keep checking back.
FOR MORE FORGOTTEN TELEVISION CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/forgotten-television/