In 1960, British television comedy's most sullen son, Anthony Aloysius St. John Hancock, went to the library and, after using the best four books in the place as a step ladder, returned home with Darcy Sarto's most famous work, Lady Don't Fall Backwards, a hard-boiled mystery. featuring JOHNNY OXFORD.
Oxford is a hard-bitten, roguish private eye, good-looking, a judo master and drives "a big white American car". He has sparkling repartee and entertains all the lovely ladies at his marvellous apartment in New York. He's also fond of saying things like "C'mon, man, you're cooking with gas now!" and "New York is now a safer place to live in".
In Lady Don't Fall Backwards, Oxford finds himself investigating the murders of twenty-five UNO typists and the theft of a seating plan for the upcoming peace conference. The D.A. has been to see the governor ("It's political, too, you see"), and it's up to our intrepid P.I. to dig the dirt. Among the victims are Jocelyn Knockersbury, strangled with her own stocking and Freda Volkinski ("she was asleep in her pulldown bed, someone pushed the button, she flew up into the wall and suffocated"). Then there's death by carbolic milkshake and water on an electric typewriter.
There are a host of suspects, most of whom get knocked off. The labyrinthine plot is only tied up on the last page, where Oxford gathers his remaining suspects in his apartment, plies them with drinks and points out the guilty party, who makes a mad dash for the window, slips and falls.
At least, that's the idea. Unfortunately for Hancock, the last page has been torn out, and all he's left with is an advert for skinny blokes. The rest of the episode follows Hancock as he desperately tries to find out who did it, even going so far as to track down the author. Darcy Sarto is dead, though -- "Dead! The fool! Some people have no consideration at all!" And, of course, Lady Don't Fall Backwards turns out to be something of an Edwin Drood, the last great unfinished book.
Johnny Oxford wasn't the only fictional character whipped up by Galton and Simpson, the men responsible for the Hancock Half Hour, which is something of a comedy institution in Blighty. They also wrote The Missing Page and were obviously fans of the British pulp writers of the time, creating Darcy Sarto from the pseudonyms of Harold Kelly and Frank Dubrez Fawcett (Darcy Glinto and Ben Sarto respectively), peppering the excerpts of the book with a taste of the retro hardoiled. It wasn't the first time Galton and Simpson delved into the crime scene -- they stuck Hancock on a jury in the 1959 episode of Hancock's Half Hour "Twelve Angry Men".
Respectfully submitted by Ray Banks.
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