Tales of Mystery


By Tom Soter

If Dr. Watson was, in his friend Sherlock Holmes’s words, “the one fixed point in a changing age,” then what do you make of detective George Tarrell? He started out as a Sherlock Holmes wannabe and ended up as a James Bond clone by way of TV’s THE AVENGERS.

Tarrell began life in a series of short stories written by Christian Doherty, obviously patterned after Conan Doyle’s Holmes tales. In them, Tarrell is a renowned, if somewhat eccentric, detective, with a Dr. Watson-type colleague named John Johnson (no relation to the former WABC-TV newscaster) and an Inspector Lestrade stand-in called Inspector Higley. Each of the mysteries featured a puzzle for Tarrell to unlock, which he did in ways that were usually more fantastic than elementary. In “The Davenport Clock Affair,” for instance, he notices that a grandfather clock is askew and (apropos of nothing) quickly deduces that the clock is a doorway to a secret passageway in which the murderer is hiding. Simple, right?

When it came time to translate these stories to tape on TALES OF MYSTERY, Doherty and I literally read from the stories, often playing multiple characters and frequently having dialogues with ourselves (Christian was better than I was at switching from one character voice to another; listen to him, as Tarrell, confront himself, as the murderer, in “The Davenport Clock Affair” – he’s real smooth). Although the stories were influenced by the Holmes canon, the TR show also picked up ideas from the Sherlock Holmes movies starring Basil Rathbone. “Hello, what’s this!” wasn’t the way we normally talked (but Rathbone’s Holmes did), and Christian would never say (or write) a line like “These egomaniacs are much more chatty when they feel they have the upper hand” (but Rathbone would; we lifted the line from SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH, although Christian pronounced the word as “chattery”).

But the biggest lift from the Rathbone films was the “inspiring” speech that Tarrell would deliver at the end of each of the early episodes (there was nothing like them in the original Tarrell or Conan Doyle stories). Meant to be rousing, they were fairly ridiculous with Tarrell revealing his altruistic reasons for being a detective, as the uplifting strains of the Russian national anthem (!) played in the background: “Crime is what separates many men – the guilt, the fear of being caught. True peace and contentment cannot be reached until crime is wiped out completely from the face of the earth. That’s why I’m in this business, John, to see that much of this evil disease does not spread – to try and stop it from contaminating the whole world. I only hope that I live to see the fruits spring from our labors.”

As the series progressed over about 20 episodes (and into a spin-off called THE GEORGE TARRELL THEATER), we ran out of short stories and began making them up as we went along. Although these tales kept the trappings of the originals – Johnson and Higley remained virtually until the end – they slowly took on other influences. At first, it was THE AVENGERS’ absurdist villains, chief among them, The Exterminator, who exterminates people (voiced by Christian in his squeaky-voiced Ty Phillips mode, he became Tarrell’s regular nemesis after first appearing in “The Extermination Affair”). Then there was the BATMAN touch, with Tarrell and Johnson being caught up in cliffhanger endings right out of the Adam West TV series (in “The Hudley Strikes Again Affair,” the two are tied up and placed in a giant dishwasher).

Finally, Tarrell became a suave, man-about-town, more comfortable with guns and girls than magnifying glasses and “elementary, my dear Johnson”-type deductions. Like James Bond, he saved the world from super-villains, chief among them, the notorious No. 1 (who turned up in many of our series, including PLANET OF THE NUNS, THE SISTER, and GUN FOR HENRY). This transformation became complete when our hero developed a Scottish brogue. Seanny, we hardly knew ye!

George Tarrell’s last adventure was in a production Doherty did without me called THE GEORGE TARRELL THEATER. Nearly incomprehensible, it is a spy thriller that is a far cry from the genteel drawing room mysteries which Doherty himself had written. In the course of the story, the detective-turned-spy leads a group of ninjas in an attack on an enemy base and also encounters many beautiful women. Its chief influence isn’t hard to find, for Doherty unabashedly titles the episode “You Only Live Once.” Apparently not – at least if your name is George Tarrell.

Listen to:

Pilot Episode
Episode 1. Taped: December 27, 1969
Introducing detective George Tarrell (Mandy Johnson), in a series based on the short stories by Christian Doherty. First up: Tarrell and his colleague John Johnson (Nigel Manger) take an interest in the murder of Martha Hyer, a woman with a strange past.

The Davenport Clock Affair
Episode 2 Taped: 1970
Someone is planning to kill ruthless financier Clement Hobard at 5 P.M. unless Tarrell can decipher the clues, one of which is an old clock. Tarrell: Mandy Johnson. Mrs. Hobard: Hedwig Zorb.

The Malicious Mafia Affair
Episode 3 Taped: June 16, 1970
Contrary to the police view, Tarrell (Mandy Johnson) thinks that the murder of private detective Edward Stewart is tied to his connections to the Mafia. Sutton: Tom Soter. Mr. 1: Christian Doherty.

Unknown Title
Episode 4 Taped: July 4, 1970
Johnson (Nigel Manager) is held captive by an old foe of Tarrell's who is seeking revenge against the detective. Tarrell: Mandy Johnson.

The Secret South Affair
Episode 10 Taped: December 22, 1970
While on vacation in America, Tarrell (Mandy Johnson) visits a small southern town whose inhabitants seem to be harboring a secret worth killing for. Johnson: Nigel Manger. Deputy: Alan Saly.

The Birchwood Manor Affair
Episode 11. Taped: March 20, 1971
Tarrell finds that there is more fact than fiction behind the legend of a murderous hound that has apparently brutally murdered the owner of Birchwood Manor. Tarrell: Mandy Johnson.

The Student Rioters Affair
Episode 12 Taped: March 27, 1971
Tarrell’s nephew dies during a student demonstration at an American college – and Tarrell thinks it may be murder. Tarrell: Mandy Johnson. Barker: Tom Sinclair.

The Troublesome Tape Affair
Episode 13 Taped: April 5, 1971
Tarrell receives a mysterious tape recording in the mail, but it’s no practical joke: it warns of a plot to set off an atomic bomb in London. Tarrell: Mandy Johnson. Johnson: Nigel Manger. No. 1: Alan Saly.

The Extermination Affair
Episode 14 Taped: April 9, 1971
Introducing the Exterminator (Ty Phillips), a squeaky-voiced villain whose specialty is the extermination of…people. Tarrell: Mandy Johnson.

The Hudley Strikes Again Affair
Episode 18 Taped: September 11, 1971
With Johnson away, Tarrell is assisted by a bumbling replacement, Jack Logan, and his equally inept friend, Patty. Logan: Ron Neilsen. Patty: Alan Saly.