Despite his impressive swimmer’s build Tommy Beresford (David Walliams) has spent the past two episodes cowering under threats from the Soho-based thugs working for the mysterious Brown, who had mistaken him for Drennan, paymaster for a Russian assassin who plans to bump off the visiting US Secretary of State. “I’m just a man, a very ordinary man”, has been his mantra up till now. Honestly, Florence (“I’m a lady”) had more cojones. But suddenly this week his dander is up. And it needs to be. He is driven to a remote location by Brown’s gang and is pressed into stealing a file marked ‘The Linden Tree’ from the third-floor archives at Military Intelligence on pain of little son George’s life. “Wouldn’t want him not to be able to play cricket, would we?” snarls Whittington. Because villains were that oblique back in the 1950s.
When Tommy arrives home to await telephoned instructions from the thugs, he finds Julius (Clarke Peters) looking cosy in Tommy’s pipe and cardie.
Tuppence (Jessica Raine) is racking her brain for the meaning of ‘Anassa’ the cryptic clue she found in the Soho brothel left by kidnap victim Jane Finn. Using an atlas she narrows it down to a street in Glasgow or a boat-builder in Cardiff (see, there was life before Google). If only people didn’t keep phoning then hanging up.
Tommy realises he can’t risk Tuppence and Julius knowing about his arrangement with Brown’s gang, so heads off to use a public phone box on the village green. In a Vicky Pollard-style ‘shut up and don’t be giving me evils’moment, Tommy gets into a comical tussle with a bossy neighbour who is setting up for the village fete. When he ejects her from the call box she hilariously assumes he’s calling a floozy.
Tommy learns that in order to steal the classified code red file he can gain access to the third floor by using the secret word ‘sandcastle’.
When he gets back home creepy lawyer Peel (Andrew Havill) turns up to debrief the couple.
Tuppence is still fretting over ‘Anassa’ and the fate of Annette (Madeline Appiah), the prostitute who has been helping Tommy on the quiet. Fair enough, because opera star Rita has already been killed by Brown. But Peel tells Tuppence not to set too much store by Annette. “I see women like her in court all the time – how reliable are they? Who knows?” he smarms.
Tommy’s debriefing session at Military Intelligence looks like a smoke-filled version of Dragons’ Den, headed by the dour Bulldog (Richard Dillane). He won’t believe the crooks just let Tommy go, and asks if he has any connections with Russia or had heard from Brown – warning that either could be construed as treason.
When Tommy mentions ‘sandcastle’ the vetting committee sits up and everyone starts commending him on making a good impression. Apparently, it is a stretch of coastline used by smugglers. The spooks now seem to think they have the drop on Brown.
With praise from Bulldog (“Call me Nigel”) and Uncle Carter (James Fleet) ringing in his ears, Tommy now discovers his balls and while in a meeting in Carter’s room he tells Tuppence, sotto voce, that George is in peril. She distracts the spies while Tommy sets off the fire alarm as a diversion while he raids the third floor for the file. Oh, for the days before CCTV surveillance.
Waiting in their car at the rendezvous in a dark underpass the Beresfords peek at the file, which is about Carter. They decide George’s life is more important than Carter’s career. They deliver the file to Whittington – and Annette, who has suffered a severe beating. While Tommy starts to act the tough guy, Tuppence nobbles Whittington’s car with a shortwave radio tracker. Obviously, the Beresfords’ car has been counter-nobbled. Its brake lines have been cut; after pursuing Whittington’s car into countryside, the brakes fail and they end up in a field.
When they get home the place has been turned over by the gang. But when they find Jane Finn’s Greek translation book – which has been moved from the bedroom to the kitchen – they understand what Anassa means.
Well, as any fule kno it is Greek for ‘queen’ (surprised Tommy doesn’t know, as by his own admission he knows a lot about queens).
Luckily, the thieves don’t know the finer points of bee-keeping and Tommy realises that Jane has hidden her secret tape recording in the bee-box he showed her on the train. The queen bee and the tape are in the shed. So who was the mole? They had told Carter, Peel, Albert and Julius about Anassa. After listening to the tape enough to know it is all in Russian, they call Carter to the house.
Suddenly Julius breaks in, threatens Tommy and Tuppence with a gun, steals the tape and runs to the phone box to call the gang. After setting fire to the tape, he blunders into Carter’s Austin Seven and is taken to hospital.
While keeping vigil at Julius’s bedside, they discover that Jane is not Julius’s niece, but his lover and he just wanted her back from the gang. Julius tells them he is Brown – but it just doesn’t seem likely any more.
Of course, as we predicted, Peel turns out to be the wrong’un. Tommy unleashes his inner Rambo when the couple realise that Peel is the one planning to kill the US Secretary of State at the nuclear treaty talks with the government at the US ambassador’s gaff.
In Carter’s car the couple hare off to the embassy’s country residence – sweeping into the grounds like The Stig rounding Gambon Corner in Top Gear – and hero Tommy counteracts a deadly insulin injection with a jar of honey. It all ends up in the inevitable stand-off on the roof of the ancient pile. Soviet quisling Peel damns Britain as “immoral and corrupt” before taking a dive. Happily, Jane is found in one piece at Peel’s chambers.
It’s post-war austerity Britain so, nolens volens, unlike in most Christie works, there’s little scope here for inserting eye-candy (of either sex). Among theraisons d’être of TV adaptations of Marple and Poirot – apart from the chintzy locations – was the prospect of seeing the latest up-and-coming telegenic actors lolling about looking pretty (Benedict Cumberbatch, James D’Arcy, Dan Stevens, Freddie Fox, Talulah Riley have all served in the field). Here, it is all grey men in grey coats.
Tuppence (Jessica Raine) is becoming quite a spunky gel, as one used to say.But what we need is a little sexual chemistry between the leads – they are rather more Florence and Emily than Hart To Hart. Walliams and Raine are like brother and sister. Still, the characters are getting a taste for this detecting lark, so we can probably look forward to them displaying a little more professionalism and a touch more glamour in coming episodes.
We missed Henry the flying cat, owned by murdered singer Rita, from the previous week’s episode. If Tommy and Tuppence wanted to spice up their lives maybe they should just have adopted him.
For our episode one review, go here
For our episode two review, go here