I grew up, back home in England watching this great TV show with my mother every Sunday night evening at 8pm. I can recall the viewing routine vividly even today, and yet when I watched this wonderful BFS entire 1980-1981 series this week, not one of the 14 episodes on these seven discs rang a visual bell with me! Which I was grateful for as it allowed me to watch all of them, including two previously unaired (on PBS) episodes, 'Waxwork' and 'Abracadver' with a new curiosity.
In truth, it's not hard to figure out why PBS didn't run the unaired episodes as they both feature - especially 'Waxwork' - heavy amounts of female nudity! Especially a bathing scene featuring the on trial Carol Royle where we get to see her in ALL her naked glory!
And, in truth, what you might want to do is go to the seventh and final disc of this box-set and unleash this aforementioned previously-unreleased 'Waxwork' episode - for it is actually the 1979 pilot episode! Featuring the truly beautiful Carol Royle along with Susie Blake, it was actually produced and directed by June Wyndham Davies, who later went on to produce the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
Adapted from Peter Lovesey's Sergeant Cribb novels and set in Victorian London around the time of the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888, Alan Dobie stars as the tough Detective Sergeant who worked for the newly formed Criminal Investigation Department (CID), determined to remove crime from the streets of London using the latest detection methods.
Assisting Cribb was Detective Constable Thackery, played in fine, understated form by the great lacky, William Simons with their boss (played by David Waller) Inspector Jowett; a man who would rather solve crimes from behind his desk.
Episode 1 (in this box-set, as in real life it was actually episode 8) is entitled 'A Case of Spirits' and tells the tale of two robberies at the homes of patrons of a medium holding seances. But after a death happens at an investigation into some wired trickery, Cribb and Thackery investigate. Predominatly filmed in a studio on sets, it has the feel of a soap opera.
Episode 2 is 'Swing, Swing Together, tells the tale of when a Ms. Harriet Smith and two other lady students from the Elfrida Teacher Training College go for a midnight dip in the river - and comes across a corpse being dumped over the side of a boat. After Harriet has informed the authorities Cribb and Thackeray are sent up the canal, undercover, as boating tourists. This one follows the true life book of 'Three Men In A Boat' by Jerome K. Jerome.
Episode 3 is 'Wobble To Death' (which was actually episode 6) tells the tale of the Pedestrian Championship of the World. Taking place in London, an indoor marathon lasting six days the winner (to which 500 pounds is awarded) is the man who can be shown to have walked the greatest distance in that time in a style known as wobbling. Hot favourites are gentleman contender Captain Erskine Chadwick and professional athlete Charlie Darrell but when Darrell collapses, what first appears to have been cramp proves to be murder. "If there's no prize money they'll draw me limb from limb," says the crooked organiser. "That'll draw a good crowd though," Cribb responds!
In Episode 4, 'Invitation to a Dynamite Party' (which was weirdly episode 6 of the SECOND season!), fenians intent on the independence of Ireland from Britain are perpetrating a number of bomb attacks around London, including at Scotland Yard. Cribb is sent on a course in the art of bomb-making and poses as an Irishman sympathetic to the Irish Republican Brotherhood in order to get to the heart of the society. Here we find Thackery has stepped away from Cribb's shadow, but is suspected of being one of the bombers!
In Episode 5, 'Mad Hatter's Holiday' (season 2, episode 1) parts of a dismembered female corpse have turned up in Brighton and Cribb and Thackeray are sent to investigate. They are approached by Albert Moscrop (the great Derek Foulds), a hat-maker taking a holiday in the resort. He has binoculars and a telescope which he uses to observe people and is something of a voyeur! At one point he says to Cribb, "I am, like yourself, a scientist."
In Episode 6, 'The Detective Wore Silk Drawers,' when headless male corpses are found floating in the river the common link is scarred hands, which points to them having taken part in illegal bare-knuckle boxing. Strapping Constable Jago, the force's amateur boxing champion, poses as a boxer in search of a prize fight with Cribb as his manager. Up against a black boxer called The Ebony, after time spent outside the studio on location for shoots, we're back on stage sets for this one.
In Episode 7, 'The Horizontal Witness,' Calhoun, the king of London Vice is found murdered in one of his own brothels. Unreliable witness Charles Vokins, who had a score to settle with him, claims to know who the murderer is but wants to strike a deal with the police. And this one, unlike most others that are more procedural, features a great twist ending!
In Episode 8, 'Something Old, Something New,' Thackeray is to be the best man at the wedding of a friend of his father, elderly Henry Russell, who is marrying Denise Winter,a woman fifty years his junior. The vicar is suspicious and when Cribb investigates he discovers that Denise's mother and older sister had both married elderly men who died soon after the weddings, apparently of heart attacks. "More wine?" one of the ladies is asked, "Oh, just a suspicion, thank you."
In Episode 9, 'The Hand That Rocks the Cradle' (season 2, episode 3) after a (tampered with) pram (cutely called by its full name at all times, a perambulator!) containing Queen Victoria's grandson Prince Alexander is tampered with the nursemaid is sacked. The child's parents want young, go-ahead Miss Temple, but Queen Victoria is in favor of her daughter's old nurse, Mrs. Innocent - an austere, gin-swigging old dragon!
In Episode 10, 'The Last Trumpet,' a popular campaign is being waged to prevent the sale of Jumbo, London Zoo's most popular attraction to America. When the elderly animal-lover organising the protests is murdered Cribb considers the various motives people had for killing her. A true tale this one, featuring a beloved animal from the early '80s (who, as the special features report, sadly died after being hit by a train crossing railway tracks), this is yet another episode that comes equipped with a twist ending.
In Episode 11, 'The Choir That Wouldn't Sing,' Cribb and Thackeray go to the country to investigate the death of unpopular Captain Allbright who died as he was about to change his will in favour of birds' egg collectors to the detriment of his ward. This one is very procedural down to the final moments.
In Episode 12, 'Murder Old Boy?,' Inspector Jowett is invited by florid ex-school fellow Russell Haygarth to attend a reunion weekend, where Jowett quickly tires of his old class-mates' japes. Discovering that Haygarth is a convicted swindler Cribb and Thackeray travel to warn Jowett and find that Haygarth is hoping to relieve the company of their money for a supposed donation to the school. With Jowett more relaxed than ever before, Cribb gets the upper Police hand when he is called into action. And yes, there's another twist in the tale here too!
In Episode 13, the aforementioned 'Waxwork,' Cribb is called in when doubt emerges over the guilt of a murderess who is due to hang shortly. And Episode 14, which was actually Episode 3 from the first season, 'Abracadaver' wraps this set up. A sadistic practical joker is deliberately ruining acts at London music-halls, with stunts ranging from the mildly humiliating to the positively dangerous. Cribb receives a note to say that an accident is about to happen and turns up at the theatre just before a murder.
Again, this is a GREAT box-set and well worth the money spent on it. That said, not many special features, could have done with a one-on-one with Alan Dobie, but not that lucky. Also, and as much as it doesn't matter, the backdrop card to the seventh disc features Cribb and Thackery firing guns at someone in front of London Bridge - which is weird as that scene never happened; let alone either one of them having guns! This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.
Vlitch Godunov for ExclusiveMagazine.com