Episode 13 : Skeleton in the Cupboard
"There is nothing improbable about my husband's theory, Mr Bradley!"
The 30-year-rule is about to reveal the name of the young Civil Servant who made a complete mess of a defence contract. For some reason Sir Humphrey seems nervous...
Alternatively, 'a very brilliant if somewhat erratic anthropologist' professor type personage has stolen over £50,000 from a college account before faking his own death. Gene sets out to investigate...
'Gene Barry and Barry Morse as Mr Parminter'. And, and, AND!!!!!! Finally, we get that shot of Parminter loitering around the entrance to the Ministry for External Affairs, rather than that silly shot of him watching Gene's 'copter take off. Let joy be open-minded.
Sylvia Syms (Karen Ballard), Basil Dignam (John Ballard), Richard Vernon (Sir Richard McKenzie), Roy Kinnear (Bill Marks), Lance Percival (Carl Gardner), Johnny Wade (Johnson), Edwin Brown (Farmer).
This episode's guest cast seems to be somewhat connected - Roy Kinnear worked with Lance Percival on That Was the Week that Was, and Percival and Syms appeared in Sixties Carry On-style comedy The Big Job. So now you know. There's probably more than that, but I can't really be bothered. Thank you, won't we?
Location work in England takes us to a church somewhere for Ballard's funeral, as well as at some sort of educational-type place and the Ballards' home. We also get some shots of Gene wandering around London on his way to meet Parminter.
Gene is told about the theft of the £50,000 over a meal at the college...does that count?
Gene seems to have been involved in raising much of the college money through his 'charity committee'. Make of that what you will - I'm bitter.
Gene's investigations into the theft of £50,000 and the mysterious death of Professor Ballard first take him (naturally enough) to a car dump, where he meets Bill Marks, as played by Roy Kinnear. Bill claims to have been a stuntman on a few of Gene's movies, and Gene, ever the diplomat, pretends to remember him even though he quite clearly doesn't. Gene didn't get to where he is today by remembering the little people he trampled on to get to the top.
Anyway, Gene tries to buy the wreck of Ballard's car, Marks won't sell, so Gene sort of grabs him and threatens him with the police. Marks runs, but doesn't get very far as Gene shouts "Murder!"...which causes Marks to stop and 'fess up to everything. Mmm.
The college offers Gene an 'honorary chair' at the end of the episode, so that's yet another grand achievement for our hero. Gene likes the idea - "I'd even wear a toupee!" he exclaims. Wait - you're not already!?!? Why Gene, I had no idea...
Parminter pops up about 15 minutes in, reporting to Gene on his attempts to identify 'the car' - though what car that is remains unclear, as there were two possibilities at that point in the story. Anyway, he's been using a computer to do this, which might have been nice to see. Big reel-to-reel monstrosities spewing out lots of paper - with hilarious consequences, no doubt.
Next question, please...
Gene wears black leather gloves for his trip to the car dump. Obviously he wears other things too, otherwise I would have been blinded, but the gloves seemed an odd choice for someone of his considerable grooviness.
Later, when visiting Karen Ballard, he wears a rather fetching red jacket with those silly patchwork trousers of his, perfect for nighttime spying...
The end of the episode means it's time for Gene to beat up the bad guys - one gets a fist slap before escaping, but the other pulls a gun and takes Mrs Ballard hostage. Gene is completely unconcerned by this, as he has a plan - shove him into the wall. Which he does. 'Atta boy, Gene.
Gene and Mrs Ballard trail Gardner, the chap who got away, to a farm where he's meeting Professor Ballard. Gene spots him, and forgoes the stealthy approach by shouting "GADDNER!" as loud as he can, giving the villain ample time to get into his car and attempt an escape - fortunately Gene's had his Ready Brek this morning, and is able to leap heroically onto Gardner's car as it speeds away. More on that story later.
"How long have I known you, Richard? "Um...eight years." And it don't seem a day too long...
So, anyway, yes, Gene is pally with Sir Richard McKenzie, who is in command of the unnamed college of which we are not informed of the name. Well, I say 'pally' - Gene actually says that they only have dinner together when there's a problem the college can't solve without Gene's expert help, so their relationship isn't really a friendship as such. Still, they seem pleasant enough with each other...
For a while, it looks as if Professor Ballard and his wife Karen are up to no good, but we later learn that they're being blackmailed by a rather lumpy-looking fellow by the name of Carl Gardner. "Not very inventive in the manner of aliases." notes Parminter, but "...a very sharp dealer." At the moment, he's dealing in antiques, forcing Ballard to buy them with the money he's taken from the college. He also has an accomplice, whose invaluable contribution is to hold a torch.
The plan is simple - Ballard wants to get people to believe his theory that is his that ancient people 'migrated to America over land, through Russia and into Europe' by stealing money from the college and then faking his own death whilst using the stolen money to buy antiques for Gardner (who at the same time is stealing skulls from Ballard's own collection at the college, giving them to the Professor so that he can study them again without realising it) in the hope that the publicity from all this will force people to look at this theory in more detail and see that it makes a lot of sense after all. And then he'll pop up and say "Hurrah, I'm not dead!"
Even Gene 'Let's put morse code in piano music' Bradley can't get his head round that one.
McKENZIE: "This morning, the accounts were re-examined. Over £50,000 is missing."
GENE: "£50,000...missing, er...you mean stolen?"
No, I mean we dropped it behind a filing cabinet and can't quite get to it - what do you think he means?!!?
KAREN: "Is this some trick to link him with the stolen money?"
GENE: "You still don't accept that he took it?"
KAREN: "Of course not, how could he..."
GENE: "Well then, you won't have checked with police investigation."
KAREN: "I don't...the college does."
What are you two talking about? There's been no investigation! This scene ends with Gene threatening to get the police in if Karen won't co-operate, but...what are you talking about? We've gotten used to Gene's unique way of structuring sentences by missing out key words, but this is the first time we've seen another character hear one of them and react as if they sound perfectly normal...
PARMINTER: "(Gardner)'s speciality - exporting antiquities to other countries in Europe."
GENE: "Old ones?"
What? If it's an antiquity, then surely it is old? That's what antique means, yes?
PARMINTER: "Oh yes. Antique antiquities, you might say."
GENE: "As old as that?"
Oh, shut up, you talkers of rubbish.
As Ballard's car lies in flames, Gene spots a car coming out of some bushes and driving away. The music (one of the few teasers to actually end with music) makes us think that this is suspicious...
"I'm not an ogre."
The police are kept out of the story when they should be right there. McKenzie says he doesn't want the police involved in the search for the stolen money - "You know our feelings about that." - but apparently the police are also uninterested in investigating Professor Ballard's apparent death. Also, they manage to mistake a skeleton for actual post fiery-car-crash human remains, which seems just a tad unlikely.
Gene quite clearly calls Bill Marks 'Mark' at the car dump. Whether he forgot the guy's name, or if he was just being downright rude by missing off the 's' is not clear...
After the funeral scene, we fade back to stock footage of the 'college'. However, as soon as the fade is completed, we cut instantly to a different shot...
For once, we have a tie here - firstly, a little moment where Gene's investigations at the Ballards' home run into trouble when he encounters a nice big Alsation doggy. Rather than just go round it (it's chained up, and looks like it just wants someone to play with rather than someone to eat), Gene considers the matter thoroughly before running away.
Later, as I said before, Gardner escapes in his car with Gene scrambling onto the roof. Gardner swerves this way and that trying to shake the Gene loose, but no such luck. Finally, Gene decides to take off his jacket and dangle it over the windshield, so that Gardner can't see where he's going. The car zooms offscreen and we hear it crash. Gardner is badly hurt (looks like he breaks his neck, actually), but Gene looks perfectly fine as he slides off the roofrack, quite possibly on account of the fact that he's wearing his trusty yellow turtleneck. Oh, and this scene has a sort of Hanna Barbera 'sneaking around a haunted house' type music, which helps considerably.
This episode opens with a staggering 35 seconds of random footage of what I assume is some Cambridge college or other. Really, 35 seconds - other programmes would give you five seconds maximum, with a caption if it wasn't immediately obvious where we were, which just shows how much padding went into a typical Adventurer episode...
There's an actual sort of stunt type scene, as Gene (and it does appear to be him) and some passers-by stand near Ballard's car as it explodes. I only mention this because I think it's the only actual explosion in the series, and also because of Gene's reaction to it - he mouths the words 'Oh my'. Bless.
The Ballards have a chair right up against the television, facing backwards. This strikes me as odd, as does Gene's comment about Parminter's bookcase containing 'inflammatory material', such as a copy of the Boys Own annual. That seems like improv. Pretty sure that was Gene improvising.
One last point - three things go into making a proper ITC series.
1) A first-rate theme tune - The Adventurer's got that covered, of course.
2) That clip where a white Jaguar drives itself off a cliff. Well, we've not had that yet, but fingers crossed...
3) Basil Dignam. Finally, he makes his appearance in this episode. Every ITC series had to have him in at some point, usually as some important cabinet minister or civil servant, with recurring roles in Department S and Gideon's Way. I just mention him because he was in a lot of things, and because I can. So there.
There's a good story in here somewhere, and for the first half I was somewhat interested. Unfortunately, once Gardner's plan is revealed in all its godawful glory what little interest I had soon faded away, returning briefly for the 'Gene-on-the-roof-rack' scene. It's not a boring episode, just confusing to the nth degree...
"Suppose we designed a different rice pudding?"
"And this is where I've been keeping Catherine, Garrick and Stu -...ah..."
Parminter poses with his new and exceptionally well-polished office plaque.
Wouldn't it have been great if that skeleton had come to life and strangled Gene? Hmm? Yes, t'would. Or maybe it could have just started making mocking gestures in the background...