Saturday, 11 October 2008

The Trojan Tanker

I’ve watched a DVD of the second ever episode of ‘Department S’, a light thriller series from 1969 which I enjoyed as a schoolboy. The opening scene is excellent – a van crashes with a tanker on a dark road. The tanker driver is killed and the van driver looks through a spyhole in the tanker and sees the dead body of a blonde woman in the relatively luxurious interior. Amazed, he summons the police, but by the time they break into the tanker, the body has disappeared.

It’s an excellent ‘locked room’ concept, but the unravelling is weak. It turns out that the woman wasn’t dead after all (though I wasn’t clear why she pretended to be; maybe she was injured in the road accident?) and that the tanker was part of a criminal conspiracy to rob airliners of their freight.

Not a brilliantly plotted mystery, therefore, but not terrible either, and quite fast moving. ‘Department S’ made a star (for a time) out of the suave Peter Wyngarde, who played the crime novelist Jason King, who later had his own spin-off series. His co-stars, Joel Fabiani and Rosemary Nichols, were rather less memorable. In this episode, the guest stars include Simon Oates, whom I remember from the sci-fi series ‘Doomwatch’ and Patricia Haines, who played the glamorous blonde criminal. Haines, I discovered, was Michael Caine’s first wife. But they parted young, and she died in her 40s, of lung cancer. Very sad.

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