For Balladeer’s Blog’s review of the very first episode of this 1971-1973 series about London by Gaslight detectives from both the Victorian and Edwardian Ages you can simply click HERE
Episode: THE SECRET OF THE FOXHUNTER (February 3rd, 1973)
Detective: Duckworth Drew of the Foreign Office, created by William Le Queux. The first Duckworth Drew story was published in 1903. Apparently the creative team on the television show found “Duckworth” to be too silly sounding so they instead gave the character the first name of his creator, William.
Comment: In Drew’s adventures he wasn’t so much a rival of Sherlock Holmes as a detective, but more in terms of the handful of Holmes stories in which he served as a spy. Duckworth, or “Ducky” as he’s called by intimate friends, is the archetypal British spy whose diplomatic titles are just a cover for his espionage antics. Derek Jacobi shines as the intelligence operative.
Drew is often cited as one of the many, many supposed influences on Ian Fleming’s much later character James Bond. He does periodically use Q-style devices (Was Q a subtle nod to Le Queux?) like drugged cigars and drugged pins that can render people unconscious or paralyzed.
Something I found interesting about the Duckworth Drew spy stories was the way that, despite their national chauvinism in which it is just assumed that Great Britain is “the good guy,” the rival powers of Germany, Russia and France are not depicted as devils incarnate. Certainly they’re never presented in truly sympathetic ways but since these stories were written before the World Wars and the Cold War, they’re comparatively restrained in dealing with Drew’s opposition.
That restraint is typical of the relative maturity of the stories. England would often adjust its policies to court support from one or two of those powers against the others. Therefore, it wouldn’t do to hysterically demonize those other nations since HMG is sometimes in league with each of them in turn. And – another refreshing element – it is taken in stride by Drew and his superiors that Germany, Russia and France do the same thing. There’s almost an air of the Mario Puzo attitude “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.”
That maturity could be useful here in the 21st Century as shrill political partisans often feign outrage over the way yesterday’s enemy can become tomorrow’s ally and vice versa. There’s nothing new under the sun. Grow up, people.
Synopsis: The Secret of the Foxhunter begins with Duckworth Drew being recalled from the Continent to investigate an urgent situation in England itself. Known espionage agents of the Germans and the Russians – each with the same protective diplomatic cover as Drew – are among the guests for a foxhunt (“the uneatable pursued by the unspeakable” as Oscar Wilde described foxhunting) at Fitzwilliam Manor.
Duckworth Drew is needed for this assignment partly because of his long friendship with the lord of the manor, George Fitzwilliam. Our hero’s mission is to mingle with the other guests at this multi-day event and try to determine what Germany and/ or Russia have up their sleeves and what they may be after.
This particular tale out of the fourteen Duckworth Drew stories was an excellent choice for multiple reasons. First, most of Drew’s missions take place on the Continent, so doing a story set in Great Britain saves money for the television production. Second, the nature of the story – mingling with titled and well-to-do Europeans and Russians to deduce what may be going on is similar enough to a mystery that it feels at least somewhat like a detective story. The J.T. Laxworthy story from Season Two stuck out like a sore thumb because it wasn’t even close to being a mystery.
Some of the characters that our hero must deal with during the course of his investigation:
MISS BAINES (Denise Coffey) – The clever and resourceful Baines is one of the agents that Duckworth Drew “runs.” She’s a governess to Count Otto Krempelstein, the German spy at the foxhunt. Baines has more on the ball than many supporting figures in TODAY’S espionage fiction. She provides Drew with crucial information at crucial times while never blowing her cover.
I can honestly say I would read a solo Miss Baines story. She’s THAT good at spycraft. At any rate, she makes a more interesting supporting character than Drew’s usual “Watson” – his valet Boyd.
COUNT KREMPELSTEIN (Richard Warner) – The German agent whose presence at the foxhunt is clearly part of some larger scheme on the part of Germany and/or Russia. His notorious passion for foxhunting made him ideal for this mission, since it was a perfect cover.
GERDA KREMPELSTEIN (Sara Clee) – The Count’s sultry, blossoming daughter for whom Miss Baines serves as a Governess and chaperone while also tutoring her in the English language and customs. She’s less than impressed with Great Britain, especially its “men.” (She would probably use the quotes, so that’s why I did.)
If this story was written a few decades ago, Drew would probably sleep with Gerda to get some information. If it was written here in 2021, Miss Baines would probably sleep with Gerda to get some information. It’s a joke. Lighten up.
COLONEL DAVIDOFF (Peter Arne) – Russia’s agent at the foxhunt. Interactions among the Colonel and assorted other guests serve as clues for Duckworth as his investigation rolls along.
GEORGE AND SYBIL FITZWILLIAM (Peter Eyre and Karin MacCarthy) – The hosts of the foxhunt. George and Drew go back a long way, but our hero is not nearly as familiar with Sybil or her ambitions and aims.
BEATRICE GRAHAM (Lisa Harrow) – The fiance of Jack Bellingham, a Foreign Office employee currently serving in Russia. Her beauty and charm seem to account for the attention paid to her by all the men at the event, including Count Krempelstein and Colonel Davidoff.
Other characters who figure in briefly are the Foreign Secretary as well as a French spy when matters force a Channel crossing.
Though there are multiple murders as the tale unfolds, don’t expect all-out action or graphic sex scenes. Hell, there are Sandbaggers or Smiley episodes that feature more action than does this cerebral chess match.
Reasonably early in the episode it becomes clear that Beatrice Graham is being coerced into providing some documents from her husband’s work to unknown powers at the gathering. Lisa Harrow’s performance is very good as the pressured and increasingly panicked Beatrice.
Derek Jacobi is terrific as Drew. He’s suave without being snobbish and flirtatious without being oily. His way of controlling his temper in a gentlemanly manner when Miss Baines chews him out about some of his ways is entertaining.
In addition, his manner of finessing some of his stuffier superiors into steaming open a letter from Beatrice to Jack Bellingham is comical but not overdone. Their distaste for it seems appropriate to that naive era from which came the quote “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”
Overall, The Secret of the Foxhunter is a well-done production and the performances from Jacobi, Coffey and Harrow make it fun to watch again and again.
AND P.S. – THE ORIGINAL STORY DOES NOT HAVE THE SAME DOWNBEAT ENDING AS THIS EPISODE. +++
I’LL REVIEW ANOTHER EPISODE SOON.
FOR MORE FORGOTTEN TELEVISION CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/forgotten-television/