Sexton Blake

Sexton Blake

1967 - United Kingdom

Sexton Blake was called the "prince of the penny dreadfuls" and "the office boys' Sherlock Holmes." 

He first came to life in 1893 in the pages of 'The Halfpenny Marvel' shortly after a certain Mr. Holmes had toppled off Reichenbach Falls. Blake's cases were stronger on action rather than deduction but there were parallels to be drawn with Conan Doyle's detective; substitute a cigar for Holmes' pipe, a landlady called Mrs. Bardell and his own Watson in the form of street smart Tinker Bell, who was not adverse to rolling his sleeves up and getting 'stuck in' whenever the fists were flying. Blake also had a pet dog, a bloodhound called Pedro. In the early stories Blake dashed about town on a bycicle but this was later traded in for a Rolls Royce nicknamed 'The Grey Panther'. The character was created by Harry Blyth and the great detective was initially called Frank Blake. Blyth received nine guineas for the first story before signing away his rights to the character. Since then it has been estimated that Blake's adventures have been penned by over 200 different writers before he was retired in the 1970s. 

In 1967 Rediffusion Television bought Blake's adventures to the small screen in a regular weekday tea-time series. However, the move angered Blake's legion of loyal fans many of whom were unable to watch because they were at work! The programme was eventually moved to a Sunday slot. Laurence Payne played the lead with Roger Foss starring as Tinker and Ernest Clark (Professor Loftus in Doctor In The House) was one of the many Scotland Yard detectives who called on Blake's services. The series proved popular enough for Thames Television to take it on board when they took over Rediffusion's franchise and the BBC reintroduced the character in a one-off story, Sexton Blake and the Demon God, in 1978.

Sexton Blake tv series

Rick Briggs, a film camerman on the series recalled an incident whilst filming an episode in the book Coming to You Live! by Denis Norden, Sybil Harper and Norma Gilbert:

'...we were filming a studio scene where Sexton Blake is menaced by a full-grown Bengal Tiger inside a cave. When Sexton makes a dash to escape from it, a portcullis drops down between him and the tiger, effectively stopping the beast coming after him.

The clapper-boy stood well back to mark the shot but he smacked the board down with such a hell of a bang that it must have sounded to the tiger like a rifle-shot. All I can tell you is, he took off - and his forward path being barred by the portcullis, he leapt straight over the camera...over the dolly, right over my head - he cleared the lot.

And not only did he clear it, he took with him the man from Chipperfield's Circus who'd had him on a concealed chain. This Chipperfield lad also went soaring over the camera. And because he still didn't let go of the chain attaching him to the tiger, he was dragged on his stomach across the studio floor.

The whole thing happened in a matter of seconds, but when I looked round, instead of the usual thirty or forty people you generally find hanging round a studio - electricians reading newspapers, props men sipping tea, and so on - the place was empty. The whole lot of them had left ground level. They'd all shinned up the nearest walls or ladders and were now peering down at me from the overhead gantry.'

Published on January 28th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.

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