Set in London in the 1890's, Sergeant Cork worked for the newly formed CID, the Criminal Investigation Department of the Metropolitan Police. The show was created by Ted Willis, who was responsible for the long running-and at that time, modern day police series, Dixon of Dock Green.
Willis would often repeat the story of how the series came about when he went to see
ATV executive Lew Grade to pitch an idea about a different series to him. Grade wasn't interested
and asked Willis if he had anything else to offer. Willis didn't, but not wanting to leave Grade's
office without a commission and thinking on his feet he said "what about a series about a
Victorian detective, fog shrouded London, Jack The Ripper, music halls and all that?" Grade took a
long thoughtful puff on his cigar and said, "I'll take 26." The series proved so successful that
eventually 65 episodes were made over the next three years.
In creating the series Willis aimed to accurately portray the new methods of tracking down criminals by the use of scientific evidence, at a time when Victorian London was beset with problems of extreme poverty, played host to political exiles from around the world and was a hotbed of argument and debate. Cork was shown as a man of vision and a passionate believer in modern techniques in criminology, constantly waging a one-man war with his superiors to achieve proper status and facilities for the CID. John Barrie portrayed the 42 year-old Sergeant who came from middle class parentage and lived a bachelor life in comfortable lodgings in London's Bayswater Road. A well-known figure in the city, due mainly to extensive coverage by a press that was fascinated with detectives of that era, Cork was at ease with both sides of Victorian Society, whether in the company of the rich and famous or carrying out his detective work in the meanest of pubs in London's notorious East End district of Limehouse.
Cork was assisted by Bob Marriott, a 25
year-old ex public schoolboy and university graduate who got into the CID through his contacts.
Although the two men were from different worlds, Cork had a fond admiration for Marriott who had
pursued a career in detection to the despair of his family, who regarded the police with complete
disgust. William Gaunt played the part of Marriott before going on to star as one third of the
team of agents that made up The Champions.
Conflict and opposition came in the form of Detective Joseph Bird (Arnold Diamond) who was representative of everything Cork disliked. Servile to his superiors, bureaucratic and a narrow-minded man of the 'old school', this deeply religious, strong disciplinarian had mutual feelings towards Cork and his methods. However, Cork had another ally in Superintendent Billy Nelson, an ex-military man who didn't always understand his Sergeant's methods but was always prepared to back him to the hilt. The series ran until 1966 and the concept was revived in similar form during the 1980's when Alan Dobie donned bowler hat and mounted hansom cab to portray Peter Lovesey's inspired Detective, Cribb.
Published on January 28th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.