- Broadcast: March 7th, 1994
Character: Langdale Pike
“I withstand the blasts of time, can’t you see?” Langdale Pike
“I don’t think that any of my adventures with Sherlock Holmes started quite so abruptly, or so dramatically, as that which I associate with the Three Gables”. Thus began the story upon which this feature of Granada Televisions The memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is based.
The televised episode, however, has certain deviations and difference from the original story – all to the benefit of the viewers and, I suspect, to accommodate the medium in which it’s presented.
Some changes concern additional scenes or the creation of details and a general rearranging of the unfolding of the mystery, as any adaptation is bound to have, but one particular change, that demands special mention here, is the expansion of the character of Langdale Pike from minor background role to, well… more prevalent background role. Why mentionable, I hear you ask, as if you didn’t know? Because the character is of course played by PETER WYNGARDE who, I might add, is woefully underused.
Langdale Pike – gossip columnist and encyclopeadia of information concerning the comings and goings; the intertwined relationships, and secrets of London’s elite.
Perfect for PETER? Yes, indeed! The character is described by Watson as a “Strange, languid creature, as well as a transmitter for all the gossip of the metropolis”. And Holmes, naturally, helped Langdale to knowledge on occasions. In the original story, Langdale is only briefly referred to, with Watson describing him when Holmes pays him a visit in order to gather information, and to help shed light on the baffling and dangerous case. But in the televised version, the character is expanded, so that we’re able to see him in the flesh. A treat indeed!
‘The Three Gables’ provided a rich hour of fine drama during a season of none-descript situation comedies, bland American imports and endless reruns of old, over worn films. If any kind of criticism is to be made of this production, I’d say that the camera indulged slightly once too than necessary on reflections and double-exposures, and that Jeremy Brett’s Holmes is a little TOO dramatic and flouncy (but convincing and always watchable). That’s all, since the series was a veritable gem for Granada.
We first meet Langdale in the opening scene where a ball is taking place. Society lady, Isadora Klien is suitably impressed by the Duke of Lomond, who is wearing the head of a bull and Douglas Mayberry as a matador, acting out a bull fight for entertainment. Watching all this drama, Langdale sits on a golden throne and reflects with his pocket watch held before him.
He expertly notices that the affections and interest of Isadora abruptly moves away from Douglas towards the Duke. Landale Pike depends upon such social engagements to glean the majority of the tittle-tattle constituting his newspaper column.
Douglas Maybury is cast aside, he brutally beaten and left to die under the instruction of his former love, and so he sets himself a task. He will write the story of his life and affair with Isadora Klien, and will ruin her as she has ruined him. When inevitably Douglas succumbs to the injuries inflicted by Isadora’s henchmen, the script is complete. Realising that her whole social existence would crumble beneath the scandal should the manuscript ever become public, she sets about finding it. However, when has it stolen and brought to her, she discovers that the final page is missing. The author’s revelations and the evidence of murder are both contained on that page.
Later, Holmes visits Langdale to have him identify the picture of a woman that had been found in Douglas Mayberry’s locket. Langdale first plays a game with Holmes – asking him what he makes of a lady he points out in the park. Holmes assesses her without ever really looking in her direction; using his imaginative skills to make a precise deduction.
Pleased with his opinion, Langdale finally reveals who the lady is and where she comes from, for Langdale knew all along but was testing Holmes.
The two gentlemen are equals, as Holmes comments: “Under that veneer, he is totally isolated, like me” – suggesting a common bond between them, and partly the reason for their relationship. At the mere mention of Douglas Mayberry, Pike comments: “Poor boy, and what a waste”, demonstrating that he not only knows the intricacies of his affair with Isadora, but that there’s more to him than merely gossip. He chooses what constitutes his column and refers to himself as “The good angel”, as he prefers not to ruin any Society figure with a scandal. And indeed in that particular era of British history, what is true doesn’t hold much weight as that which APPEARS to be true. Appearances matter. Gossip reigns, and Langdale is king.
Holmes mentions that Douglas was involved with a rich, well-placed lady and enquires if she’s known to him. Langdale displays a smug smile; he definitely knows something, but is he going to tell? Writing the name on a slip of paper he folds it, and offers it to his old friend, but then as suddenly withdraws it: “Tittle for tattle?” he exclaims. Langdale likes to play games. Holmes is not amused by this condition, and attempts to take the slip from Pike’s hand. Pike promises to retain the paper until the favour is met.
It is this scene that really puts the character on the map – introducing Langdale; showing a little of what he’s capable of and, indeed, how he works. Much more than merely a gossip, Langdale appears to sincerely care for the Society by which he earns his keep.
During a lavish garden party and masquerade ball hosted by the Duke of Lomond’s family, Holmes again consults Langdale who, needless to say, was invited. He greets Holmes with:
“You owe me a favour, dear boy. Remember?”
They discuss the current investigation, and as Isadora’s name is mentioned, a sudden change comes over Langdale; his mood blackens and his propensity for fun wilts.
“She’s deadly!“ he confides.
Holmes is beginning to put the pieces together. Langdale reveals that the Duke of Lomond’s mother is dead-set against Isadora’s forthcoming marriage to her son; that she recognises what the woman is, even if her love-struck son does not. When later Holmes meets with her, she urges him to break the scandal, but he has other plans.
Isadora Klien is confronted by Holmes, who reveals that he knows she’s responsible for the beating Douglas suffered that resulted in his death. The fact that he’d died from pneumonia caused by a ruptured spleen is not, in itself, enough to convict her. Holmes couples this with the knowledge that Isadora is not as noble as she at first appears and is, in truth, the daughter of gypsies. To her, the revelation of this truth poses more of a threat than the hangman’s rope ever could. She agrees, reluctantly, to call off the wedding to the Duke of Lomond and is thus saved from scandal.
At the end of the tale – when Holmes finally solves the mystery and is revealing the numerous twists and turns to Watson, he spots Langdale and raises his cane to him in acknowledgement. Langdale, in turn, proffers the slip of paper expectantly, then comes to realise that Holmes is not going to reciprocate; Sherlock Holmes cannot be played so easily.
Langdale tears the slip of paper into confetti and scatters the pieces into the air. There is a final glimpse of him is of him lifting his monocle to his eye. Watching.
PETER WYNGARDE plays Langdale Pike so well it seems, as with Jason king, as if the part was written for him. “I supress much more than I expose,” Pike reveals, and how true. PETER underplays Pike, toning down gestures which Brett would certainly have overstated. His manner and tone are made for this costume Drama; his gravelly voice and refined gestures ARE Langdale Pike.
“I withstand the blasts of time,” Langdale cries after Holmes. “Can’t you see?”
Written by Ian Smith
This is a pen and ink sketch drawn by PETER to illustrate his idea for the costume he would wear in the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes episode, The Three Gables.
As you can see, he’s written detailed instructions about every part of the jacket. In case you can’t read his handwriting (From top – clockwise):
- Spy Glass
- Similar to cravat. Lace sleeves.
- Black Lace.
- Black neck band.
- Gold thread.
- High collar.
- Gold thread cravat.
- Black water silk coat.
- Black water silk breeches.
- Shining black boots.
- Walking stick gold nob.
- Cuffed sleeves.
“PETER WYNGARDE played Langdale Pike – a Victorian Nigel Dempster in ‘The Three Gables’, which opened the 1994 season of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.
As always, PETER was distinguished by his rapier wit and style. A memorable performance”
June Wyndam-Davis – Producer: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
On Monday, 22nd November, 1993, the National Film Theatre in London showed a preview of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes episode, ‘The Three Gables’ (it was broadcast for the first time on British television four months later, on March 7th, 1994). PETER was a special guest at the event.
The following letter was written by Brenda Peck (Howes and Prior Theatrical Agency) to Carolyn Bartlett, Casting Director at Granada Television:
How are you? Well, I hope.
Although I’m trying this on agency stationary, it’s really just a personal note to thank you for casting the delicious PETER WYNGARDE in ‘The Three Gables’ episode of the new Sherlock Holmes series, which was previewed at the NFT on Monday evening, and which, of course, I went along to see: going along there last evening, too, to catch the Illustrious Client episode in the 60’s television starring Douglas Wilmer.
I’ve been a great admirer of his work since, I suppose, the 50’s: certainly long before he was Jason King – when he was beautiful Sydney Carton in those splendid BBC classic serials we used to have on Sunday teatimes and what a joy he was in ‘Duel of Angels’ with Vivien Leigh in the West End all those years ago.
It’s a great shame we don’t see more of him these days –as someone in the audience on Monday evening and last night on leaving the NFT someone was saying how marvelous he was and I don’t think they seemed to know him previously – so I’d appreciate your considering him in future for anything else you might be working on.
Of course, there’s no need to acknowledge this but thank you for reading it.
© Copyright The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/