Case 24: The Death of Dracula

Count Alucard, real name Norman Mattson, a famous illusionist, claimed he couldn’t be killed.  At least, that’s what his publicity said.  Unfortunately it turned out not to be true.  Two members of the audience fired silver bullets at him from real guns.  He’d performed the act thousands of times before, always successfully.  This time one of the silver bullets pierced his chest and passed right through his body.  Norman Mattson died from internal bleeding.  He died before the ambulance could arrive.  The police arrested his assistant Rita, who was also his wife.  She was charged with murder and is appearing in Fulchester Crown Court today.  Police and medical witnesses have been heard, their evidence has not been questioned by the defence.  It’s now the turn of Frank Tyler, manager of the nightclub where Norman Mattson died, to take the stand.

Original broadcast: Wednesday 28 – Friday 30 March 1973

Written by: David Fisher

This is Mr Fisher’s fifth Crown Court script.  His last was Case 19: Infanticide or Murder

Directed by: Mark Cullingham

Case 19: Infanticide or Murder was also Mr Cullingham’s last work on Crown Court.  This is the second episode he’s directed.

Presiding: Edward Jewesbury as the Hon. Mr Justice Bragge

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Mr Justice Bragge was last seen in Case 22: The Mugging of Arthur Simmons.

The accused: Valerie Bell as Rita Mattson

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Ms Bell’s brassy, hard-bitten looks often saw her cast as barmaids, tarts and criminal’s wives.  She was Harold’s first girlfriend in Steptoe and Son (and made two more appearances in that show as different characters), appeared in Public Eye three times (twice as barmaids), and made appearances in No Hiding PlaceThe Avengers, The Human JungleRedcapThe SaintThe Rivals of Sherlock HolmesBudgieNew Scotland YardSykesWithin These WallsZ CarsThe SweeneyEastEnders and  played “Mrs Green – Whipped Cream and Garters” in the 1973 sex comedy Secrets of a Door-to-Door Salesman.  Her last screen role was in an episode of The Bill in 1991, and I haven’t been able to find any information about what’s happened to her since.  So if you know, please drop me a line!

Also in the image above is Liz Dawn, making one of her frequent uncredited performances.  Viewers also had the chance to see her in a speaking role this week, in Barry Hines’ Speech Day, Monday’s Play for Today on BBC 1.

Appearing for the prosecution: Charles Keating as James Elliot QC

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James Elliot’s last appearance was in Case 22: The Mugging of Arthur Simmons.

Assisted by: John Alkin as Barry Deeley

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We last saw Barry Deeley in Case 20: An Act of Vengeance

Appearing for the defence: Bernard Gallagher as Jonathan Fry QC

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Jonathan Fry last appeared alongside Mr Justice Bragge and James Elliot in Case 22: The Mugging of Arthur Simmons.

Assisted by: David Ashford as Charles Lotterby

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Charles Lotterby was last seen just last week in Case 23: Love Thy Neighbour.

Witnesses for the prosecution:

John Blythe (1921-1993) as Frank Tyler

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Mr Blythe was a cute youngster when he first appeared in films, making his debut in Goodbye Mr Chips in 1939 and then playing Robert Newton and Celia Johnson’s sailor son in This Happy Breed in 1944.  He went on to be a prolific performer in British films of the 40s and 50s, often as low life types.  His TV appearances included roles in Hancock’s Half HourCompactNo Hiding Place, three Wednesday Plays (two directed by Ken Loach, one written by Dennis Potter), Doctor in ChargeDixon of Dock Green (six times), The Fenn Street GangRobert’s Robots, Softly Softly Task ForcePoldarkRock FolliesSykesThe Secret Diary of Adrian MoleDempsey and MakepeaceThe Two Ronnies and The Russ Abbott Show.  Like Valerie Bell he found work in the tide of tawdry sex comedies that dominated British film production in the mid-70s, appearing in Keep It Up Downstairs and The Ups and Downs of a Handyman.  To this child of the 80s, however, his most impressive credit is as Santa in T-Bag’s Christmas Cracker in 1988.

Luan Peters (1946-2017) as Dorothy Greenway

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Probably best known for having her breast mistaken for a light switch by Basil Fawlty, Ms Peters was (quite deservedly) everywhere in the 70s.  She was in the Hammer Horror movies Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil as well as Pete Walker’s The Flesh and Blood Show, the Anglo-Greek horror Land of the Minotaur and the David Niven-starring spoof Vampira and could be seen on TV in Coronation Street (as Lorna Shawcross, a love interest for Billy Walker), Z CarsDear Mother Love AlbertPublic EyeOn the BusesRobin’s NestWhodunnit?Target and The Professionals.  She appeared on stage in a long string of sex comedies throughout the decade, and made various attempts at pop stardom, the most successful a spell fronting the group 5000 Volts (literally a front, as Tina Charles sang on the records).  Her first spell as a recording artist had been in the 60s when she went by the name Karol Keyes.  Under this name she also made appearances in Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and Strange Report, and notched up one of Doctor Who‘s most unusual acting credits, playing a character in episode 4 of 1967’s The Macra Terror who’d previously been played by another actress, Sandra Bryant, in episode 1.  A couple of weeks before The Death of Dracula was broadcast she could be seen in her second Doctor Who appearance, the mute, one-scene role of Sheila, masseuse to Earth’s glamorous Lady President in the year 2450 in Frontier in Space.  Few things could be more reassuring than the idea that in the 25th century there will still be women called Sheila.

Ann Hamilton (1939- ) as Kathleen Nolan

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A familiar face on TV for years due to her regular appearances with Morecambe and Wise, Ms Hamilton worked with the comedy duo over 100 times on stage and screen.  She also worked with Roy Hudd, Ken Dodd, Bruce Forsyth and the Two Ronnies, and appeared in Dr Finlay’s CasebookThe AvengersSoftly Softly and Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? In the 80s she left showbiz to become a dog trainer, working under the name Annie Clayton.  In 2005 she presented the mind-boggling TV show Bring Your Husband to Heel, which taught women how to use dog training techniques on their husbands and attracted quite a bit of controversy.  It only lasted one series.  She’s also been a judge at Crufts and on Julian Clary’s The Underdog Show.

Witnesses for the defence:

Anthony Sharp (1915-1984) as Brigadier Sir Ferdinand Tennyson-Pusey

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One of the most indispensable character actors of the 70s, Mr Sharp was the British establishment on screen, be it the aristocracy, the government, the military, the church or the judiciary – he played them all.  He’s probably most famous for playing the Minister in A Clockwork Orange and his recurring roles as another Brigadier in To the Manor Born and the vicar in Steptoe and Son.  The list of other popular movies and TV shows he turned up in would just be unwieldy.  His traditional role as a pillar of the establishment is mildly subverted here when the Brigadier announces himself as an atheist (to Mr Justice Bragge’s bewilderment).  There’d be a much bigger subversion in 1976 with his extraordinary performance as a homicidal Catholic priest in the Pete Walker horror movie House of Mortal Sin.

As well as the credited cast, we get some great photos of Count Alucard in action in the opening photo montages (though they do somewhat count against the descriptions of him in the story as a very attractive man):

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The jury:

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My favourites this week are those two elderly ladies on the end up the top, particularly the one dressed as Southern Rail upholstery.  Our foreman this week (the man on the end in the tinted specs) is Alan Starkey (1931-2003), whose most significant role was cowman Daniel Hawkins in Emmerdale Farm in the early 80s.  He was also in Coronation Street, four Play for Todays, Open All HoursJuliet BravoEdge of DarknessThe Two RonniesAll Creatures Great and SmallSingles (as the father of Judy Loe’s character), Inspector Morse and both Last and First of the Summer Wine.

The verdict (highlight to reveal): Not guilty.

Case notes:

  • At the beginning of Part One we get a good look at the oath card witnesses read from every week:

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  • Frank Tyler tells us that Norman Mattson got the name Count Alucard from “these dreadful old films late at night on the box”.  Several ITV regions regularly showed old horror films late at night in the 70s, and this is a reference to Universal’s Son of Dracula (1943), which had most recently been shown on Scottish TV on 1 December 1972.
  • SWEARWATCH: A couple of bloodys and the assertion that Rita secured the role of Norman’s assistant by getting her predecessor too pissed to perform.
  • There’s some particularly “adult” content this week, with Frank Tyler telling all about Norman using his office to “entertain” women, and Kathleen Nolan informing us that Norman “certainly wasn’t queer”.
  • We get a good view of a boom mic in Part Three:

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Summing up:

David Fisher spins a hugely entertaining yarn of backstage shenanigans, and it’s superbly brought to life by a uniformly excellent cast (Ann Hamilton in particular gives the kind of expert comedy performance you’d expect from someone so long associated with the nation’s top comics).  The bulk of Part Three consists of a lengthy explanation of how the gun trick worked and how it went wrong, which could have been laborious if it weren’t performed with the verve Anthony Sharp brings to it.  The characters are given extra depth by a fun little tableau under the end credits, with Frank Tyler giving Rita an enthusiastic thumbs up and Kathleen Nolan sashaying over to chat up James Elliot.

Elsewhere on TV this week:

Sunday sees the start of Seven of One, a series of comedy playlets starring Ronnie Barker, on BBC 2.  The first, Roy Clarke’s Open All Hours, will eventually spin off into its own series, and the next two weeks’ will give rise to Porridge and the not quite so well-remembered My Old Man, made by Yorkshire Television and starring Clive Dunn rather than Barker.

In the charts:

Donny Osmond and Slade swap places at 1 and 2 respectively, and Gilbert O’Sullivan is at number 3 with “Get Down”, as memorably interpreted by Pan’s People.  I think Ann Hamilton would have enjoyed this.  You can see the full chart for the week here.

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