Sunday, 24 September 2017

Scotland Yard is showing on Talking Pictures TV - and I'm relishing every minute of every episode

I'm particularly enjoying the splendidly boastful sequence and presenter Edgar Lustgarden's borderline-salacious, lip-smacking, dead-eyed intros:

The 39 episodes of Scotland Yard were shot between 1953 and 1961 as programme-filler for...

...cinemas, but they were shown on American television and eventual transferred to TV in the UK, which is where I must have seen them in the early '60s. Looking at them now, it's easy to see that they weren't originally made for British television - believe it or not, the production values were too high: there's a lot of location filming, for a start - which is what makes up for the stilted direction and the distinctly iffy performances given by many of the bit-part actors. The shots of London streets, with their bombed-out, rubble-strewn gaps, the general shabbiness of the buildings, and the lack of street markings remind me of what it was like when I arrived in the late '50s - and they do a nice line in rural crime scenes, which always seem to have been shot in freezing cold weather.

Russell Napier as Inspector Duggan
The use of locations makes up for the improbable nature of many of the plots: they're supposed to have been based on actual crimes, but the crime-fiction neatness of some of the stories, and the cunning complexity of some of the criminal scams seem a trifle unlikely: I've read a lot of true crime books, and I'm convinced more of these tales would have appeared in them. I also doubt that Scotland Yard would have been quite so relaxed about its detectives jetting off to foreign climes at the mere sniff of a clue: "Sergeant, one of the words on this crumpled piece of paper found in the dead woman's hand looks a bit Spanish to me - book me on the next flight to Barcelona." I've also lost count of the times a Detective Sergeant says, "So you mean that Nobby Crump and Dieter Schultz...", only for the Inspector to respond with, " and the same person? Yes, Sergeant - that's exactly what I mean!"

Apart from the locations, the attitudes of everyone involved are a constant source of delight and/or amusement. Foreigners are all exactly as you'd expect them to be: wily, excitable, craven, violent, romantic etc. Criminals can be silenced with a stern "Here, that's enough of that!" The first thought that pops into the mind of the rural police when faced with anything more puzzling than a cat stuck up a tree or a missing bicycle is to call in the Yard, whose help is always hugely appreciated. Not every detective speaks like a member of the aristocracy, but they all sound solidly middle class - when, in reality, they were a pretty rough lot (at least, they were according to former Met police officer Dick Kirby's fascinating The Guv'nors, Ten of Scotland Yard's Greatest Detectives). But so what? Scotland Yard is a rather poignant reminder of an era when we automatically assumed the police were solidly on the side of sensible, decent citizens, whose attitudes they largely shared - it's hard to imagine this lot in "gay pride" squad cars or scouring the internet for hate crimes.

Scotland Yard also has the distinction of giving rise to at least two very funny parodies. The first one, with Stanley Baxter as Edgar Lastgasper, is from the 1960s:

This one, with Robbie Coltrane as Edgar Dustcarten, nicely captures the impression Lustgarden gives of enjoying the details of grisly murders just a little too keenly:


  1. Thanks for this, Scott. I always felt when I saw these films, that they deserved a "take-off". You are so right with the lipsmackingness; he seemed to delight in announcing headless torsos. We used to call him Edgar Lustpot - not very clever, but indicates how we regarded him.

    1. Bother! I meant to say "send up". Obviously! But the message vanished even before I had time to prove I wasn't a robot so no time to edit. EL was also very fond of the word "grisly". Luckily I had a strong stomach.

  2. I had forgotten how funny Baxter and Coltrane used to be. I was under control until the "The Silent Stiffy of Stanmore" came up and then lost it.

    I wonder if Talking Pictures have plans to run "No Hiding Place" with Raymond Francis as the redoubtable Detective Inspector Tom Lockhart. This was the worst programme ever in terms of acting and production values until "Cross-Roads" came along.

    You are right, Helen. With this new censorship regime you have to be quick on the keyboard. Also, I think the Gauleiter is using it as an excuse to blitz amusing comments without owning up.

  3. Agreed Helen, vexing to see it all disappear into the ether. Mind you I've enjoyed Mr G's spate of posts enormously even if I've a feeling of an enormous elephant in the room-you know the one that directed 'Vertigo.'
    The problem lies more with Netflix and others like them.