Friday, April 21, 2006

Cholmondley-Warner of the Yard

As anyone who knows me...eh...knows I love old television - primarily from the seventies, but also older stuff when I can get it. Generally that means programmes from the early sixties onwards, but amongst the plethora of TV I've downloaded over the past year and then stuck on hundreds of DVDs there's a smattering of even earlier shows.

Last night, for instance, J fell asleep early and, in a desperate attempt to avoid the large number of work-related things I should really be getting on with in my spare time, I put on an episode of the 1954 BBC show, Fabian of Scotland Yard. The first police show ever to be made by the BBC, Fabian concerns dramatisations of the exploits of real Police Inspector Robert Fabian (it even has the real man presenting a Jerry Springer style homily at the end).

The episode I watched was called 'The Execution' and was actually quite good, if very dated in presentation style. It's what would nowadays be called a police procedural rather than a whodunnit with the executioner in question a man whose son drowned years previously and who has now decided to take his vengeance on the six school friends whom he (erroneously) blames for the accident. Fabian figures it out just in time to save a young Elspet Gray from being the final victim and arrests the man, following a bit of a fight - a voiceover at the end explains that the killer is now in an asylum for the criminally insane.

There are some nice touches, like the killer talking to a picture of his son as though the child were still alive but for all that it was presumably ground-breaking at the time, it's hardly The Sweeney.

What almost ruins it however is Harry Enfield and his Cholmondley-Warner character. Fabian and his seargeant could be straight out of one of Enfields forties educational spoof shorts ("Women! Know your limits!"), particularly in one unintentionally hilarious scene in which a Fabian voiceover boasts of the crime detecting tricks used by Scotland Yard and then walks into a room to use 'the giant map' which is...a very big map. His colleague then appears and Fabian spends a couple of minutes pointing in a mannered (and curiously straight-armed) way at various pins on the map and explaining in RP English what they represent.

Fabian: "Yes, the killer struck here [swings entire arm to pint at pin]. After a brief bout of fisticuffs he evaded capture here [points in a Nazi salute at another pin] by boarding a speeding tram and thus outpacing the Police Constable's bicycle."

Sarge: "That's very useful information, Inspector. Shall we ask one of the girls to make a cup of tea whilst we smoke our pipes?"

Fabian; "Yes Bob, that's a very good idea. Let us examine the giant map further whilst we wait."

It's hard to imagine the impact the series made on British TV viewers fifty years ago, but to a modern viewer it is very much a nostlgia piece and, thanks to Enfield, very difficult to take seriously. Which does make me wonder how shows like The Bill will stand up to scrutiny in 2056.

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