First broadcast: 1974
“Inevitably Brits will spend half their time laughing hysterically at how certain Americans perceive our fair isle.“
London, England, and in the Royal Court Theatre there's a fraught rehearsal going on prior to the opening night of Macbeth - the play which husband and wife stars Nicholas Framer and Lillian Stanhope hope will re-launch their careers and lead on to bigger, and better things.
In a break, the two retire to their changing rooms and its there that Lillian finds the show's producer, Sir Roger Haversham, with whom Lillian has been having an affair.
Haversham however has discovered that he's been played for a fool - Lillian's advances and clandestine meetings with Sir Roger were actually arranged in conjunction with Nicholas Framer, with the aim of ensuring the production happens. However having discovered the truth, Sir Roger declares his plan to cancel the production before its even started.
Hearing the heated discussions between Sir Roger and Lillian, Nicholas enters and it becomes a full blown argument. In an attempt to stop them, Lillian throws a prop at Nicholas but it accidentally hits Roger on the head and kills him.
Initially unsure what to do, the pair put Roger in an old trunk and later that evening after the dress rehearsal, drive out to Sir Roger's country house and place the body at the foot of the stairs in an attempt to make it look like an accident.
Meanwhile at Heathrow Airport, a certain Lieutenant Columbo has arrived in the country on a visit to see what some of Britain's top policeman in Scotland Yard are up to. However the man he's come to visit, Detective Chief Superintendent Dirk has a call to make first. His wife is related to Haversham, so it's off to the Haversham household first to see what's been happening.
And whilst there, Columbo just happens to notice that a highly valuable first edition of Alice in Wonderland, has been left folded flat on a coffee table...
What does an old man need when reading a book? Well usually reading glasses and it's the absence of any in the room that really ensures that an investigation starts. On checking with Tanner, the butler, the police are told that Sir Roger had the habit of keeping his spectacles in his pocket.. So if he had fallen down the stairs, they'd be smashed. They weren't...
One post mortem later and it's established the body was moved. A murder investigation has begun...
Cleverness of the way Columbo catches out the murderer
With Haversham's death not having been planned, Standhope and Framer are constantly on the wrong foot and ultimately give themselves away as being suspicious. On hearing that the police suspect foul play and that the body was moved, they return to the Haversham household to try to find a rare book - Henry Irving's own copy of Macbeth with his own notes in them - in order to make it look like Haversham had stumbled upon a robbery.
Later there's a second problem - theatre Stage Manager Joe Fenwick is seen with Haversham's umbrella which he'd unknowingly picked up in mistake of his own whilst in Standhope's dressing room.
This leads to a comical set of events where Framer takes Fenwick to the pub for a pint of wallop (that's bitter to everyone else), gets him drunk and steels the umbrella before rushing off to try and do the old switcheroo at Haversham's house. Unfortunately Joe's has been taken off to the "London Wax Museum" for use in a new exhibit.
Columbo meanwhile has also bumped into Joe who is now soaking wet, walking home in the rain. After racing to Haversham's house to discuss umbrellas with Tanner, he too heads to the "London Wax Museum", where he joins Dirk to check it out. Unfortunately Standhope and Framer have already broken in and done the old switcheroo there.
Meanwhile Tanner has become highly suspicious, and attempts to blackmail Standhope and Framer into giving him a well paid job. This leads to Framer then killing Tanner and making it look like suicide - full of "remorse" for "killing" Haversham.
Ultimately there's little for the police to go on, so it's time for a bit of Columbo magic. At the opening night of the play, Columbo had trod on a fake pearl, unlodged during the fight.
He proclaims that there's a chance that if the umbrella was in the room, it might just have a fake pearl in it.
The umbrella is opened. A pearl is found. Two arrests are made.
With the two suspects led away, Dirk asks Columbo how the pearl really got there. Columbo explains he flicked it in from a distance after causing a distraction...
Convolutedness of the murder
Impromptu murders (or I guess we should say in this case, manslaughter) can never be convoluted, leading to a low score on this front. The attempted cover up however is so convoluted it gave me a headache just typing it above.
How annoyed does the murderer get with Columbo?
Ah, actors. Always so... very... temperamental, don't you think? And those who are too busy having to rush around trying to cover their tracks and leaving mistakes all over the place are going to get rather angry.
But actually Columbo doesn't actually see that much of Standhope and Framer - he's only a guest in the country and has no real powers and actually spends most of his time following Dirk around.
If on the other hand, the question was, how baffled do the good policemen of Scotland Yard get with Columbo, well that's VERY baffled.
The smug-richness factor
Like many of the early episodes, there's very little smugness to go around. Ultimately our baddies are on the hoof and can't just sit back and watch their well made plan baffle everyone. They're also not that rich, although thanks to the rave reviews of their opening night, would stand a chance of being. If only they hadn't murdered their backer anyway....
Quality of sub-plot
With Columbo being in London, there's only one thing that can be done - yes, Columbo as a tourist!
There's a fantastic shot of Columbo leaping out of a car in order to photograph the Changing of the Guards, and naturally he manages to lose his luggage on the plane. There's a lovely bit outside New Scotland Yard to especially show off.
But best of all is when the staff at the airport think their meeting some big shot LA policeman... Well you can guess the rest...
The best Columbo sub-plots are those that offer some serious comic potential, and this episode has it in buckets.
Mentions of Mrs Columbo
Now this is disappointing. Mrs Columbo doesn't even get a mention. Nope. Not one. Well unless I coughed and missed it. I guess she's never heard of Framer or of Standhope. And the chances of her being a big fan of Chief Superintendent Dirk are frankly very low.
What new-fangled thing does Columbo learn about this episode?
Again, there isn't anything really other than perhaps how to do a dodgy cockney accent.
Was anyone given sedatives?
No, but that sort of thing wouldn't have happened in the UK in the 1970s anwyay. Stiff upper lip and all that.
Deviations from the norm and inconsistencies with other Columbo episodes
It's not the first episode that Columbo has to resort to fakery in an attempt to get his suspect, and it's always fun to watch. However it isn't generally something that happens in a Columbo episode.
Appearances by the Regular Cast
No chance. None of them can probably do good cockney accents. I guess they could have imported Vitto Scotti to play someone in Little Italy, but they didn't.
The closest we get are Bernard Fox (Dirk) and William Hyde-White (Tanner) who both appeared twice in Columbo. But then so did William Shatner, so they don't count.
Anyone who has watched any American programme which "goes abroad" will know that what normally happens is the cast stay resolutely in their normal country and the whole episode is padded out with lingering shots of the glamorous location.
Thankfully not Columbo - Peter Falk did actually travel to capital of the United Kingdom for this one, although for some reason they seemed to pick a time when it looked very grey and very gloomy. Indeed the only time it looks sunny is around Sir Roger Haversham's house. If I was to tell you that bit was filmed in LA, that might explain it.
Either way it gives us a chance to see what the Columbo team really think Britain is like. Which means everyone is rather on the posh side - yes, even the cockneys. Dirk is seen taking Columbo to his "club" for a bite to eat. An incredibly posh pathologist comes to visit them there.
The pub scene sees more fun especially when Joe and Framer are talking about pints but are clearly drinking halves.
Oh and apparently Brits are very likely to flock to the "London Wax Museum" (located opposite the Albert Hall incidentally) to see a wax model of a dead theatre producer. Now call me funny, but can you really see people rushing off to Madame Tussauds to see a waxwork of Sir Cameron Mackintosh? (Oh, okay, they would if it was Andrew Lloyd-Webber...)
The storyline about acting however inevitably mean that half the cast spend their time hamming it up to the max, each one trying to overact the other.
There's some excellent casting, which includes Honor Blackman as pretty much the only woman in the entire episode whilst Wilfred Hyde-White plays the role of a double crossing butler to perfection, which is not entirely surprising as he spent most of his career playing butlers, gentlemen and Lords. Bernard Fox plays bafflement to extreme.
The lack of a planned murder does cast its shadow on the episode, but it's an amusing amusing romp, although for those of us in Britain, perhaps not amusing in the way that the writers intended. Inevitably Brits will spend half their time laughing hysterically at how certain Americans perceive our fair isle.