It’s a familiar story: British actor makes it big in Hollywood and then returns to Blighty to do a TV series before scooting back to do more films. More remarkable that this was 1956, TV was still in its infancy and the star in question was Boris Karloff. The series, Colonel March of Scotland Yard, would indirectly sow the seeds for much of the ITC output of the 60s and 70s and, even later, shows like Jonathan Creek.
Like many leads of the time, Colonel March is a seemingly starchy man in a utility suit that represents the establishment. Less obvious is that March heads up Scotland Yard’s Department of Queer Complaints (from the name of the John Dickson Carr book that March first appeared in), a unit that specialises in seemingly inexplicable crimes. As a noted horror actor, Karloff makes the character even more distinctive by the inclusion of an eyepatch. The series’ cinematic feel was further underlined by directors including Cy Endfield (Hell Drivers, Zulu) and Terence Fisher (Hammer Films), and the fact it was produced by Nettlefold Studios, at the time best known for their Paul Temple films. Guest stars included Anthony Newley, Joan Sims and Christopher Lee who, like Karloff, was a screen Frankenstein’s Monster.
Despite his slightly cadaverous appearance and the eyepatch, Karloff makes March an engaging lead, a kindly mentor to his more conventional policing foil, Inspector Ames, played by Ewan Roberts with an intermittent Scottish accent. The stories follow a fairly standard format: a crime is committed, March turns up, spots the gimmick and explains all, whereupon the villain usually does the decent thing and puts their hands up to their misdemeanour. In ‘The Case of the Misguided Missal’, March even brings in a conjuror to help demonstrate how the titular hymnal apparently vanished. It’s easy to see the ‘Creek connection’. That said, including a shot of the murder weapon/missing object/key to it all in the title sequence of a mystery series is a bit weird. It would have killed Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade flat dead, put it that way.
Colonel March of Scotland Yard was an early hit for ITV- so much so that some episodes were re-edited to make two B-movies. The series has recently enjoyed a renaissance, not just on Talking Pictures TV here in the UK, but also on Amazon Prime. It’s a perfect addition to any lazy Sunday.