Thursday, August 14, 2008

Coke Leaves the Temple

I must admit to harboring a passion for old-time radio dramas. Those include the horror and science-fiction stuff, the Sherlock Holmes pastiches, and many other shows. But one of my favorite programs features Francis Durbridge’s radio sleuth, Paul Temple. Being a hard-boiled guy, I rarely admit to any fondness for British Golden Age “cozy” works; however, the Paul Temple radio plays remain brilliant. So it was with dismay that I read this week in The Independent about the passing of Peter Coke (pronounced “Cook”), the definitive voice of Paul Temple. As the paper explains:
But Coke was the perfect post-war Paul Temple for Durbridge’s “New Elizabethan” world of open-top tourers, speedboats, soigné divorcees in raffish night-clubs, gleaming cocktail cabinets, spivs and chancers in camel-hair overcoats, and travel to exotic places.

All a very far cry from the first Paul Temple adventure back in 1938, Send for Paul Temple, that was so parochial that the HQ of “the most sensational criminal organisation in Europe” was finally located in a pub just outside Evesham, in deepest Worcestershire.

Peter Coke was born in Southsea in 1913, the son of a Royal Navy commander who later went to Kenya and developed a successful coffee plantation. Coke was educated at Stowe and afterwards went to stay with his maternal grandmother in Menton, in the south of France, where for a short while he acted as an unpaid assistant vice-consul.

Back in England he won a scholarship to Rada, graduating in 1937 and almost immediately landing a role in Dodie Smith’s Bonnet Over the Windmill in the West End. He appeared in weekly rep and his classic “juvenile lead” looks enabled him to gain a foothold in the movies, mainly films for the “quota”--under the rules imposed to boost home-grown cinema--such as Missing, Believed Married (1937), Keep Smiling (1938) and I Met a Policeman and The Nursemaid Who Disappeared (both 1939).
Meanwhile, The Telegraph reports:
In 1954 [Coke] first took on the role of Paul Temple (as the seventh actor in the job) with Paul Temple and the Gilbert Case. From then until 1968, when he recorded Paul Temple and the Alex Affair, Coke was indistinguishable in the public mind from the well-spoken private detective who tackles crime with the aid of his wife Steve (Marjorie Westbury). The strains of Vivian Ellis’s Coronation Scot, which provided the theme music to the series, became familiar to a new audience in 2003 when the digital radio channel BBC7 ran a selection of repeats. In later years, at his gallery in Norfolk, Coke continued to receive fan letters and visits from admirers of the series.

But while he continued to prosper on stage Coke set out to expand his career as a writer, and had his first substantial hit with Breath of Spring, a comedy at the Cambridge in 1958 which was judged a piece of “pleasant nonsense” by The Daily Telegraph. It ran for a year, and then transferred to Broadway. It also proved a firm favourite with amateur dramatic societies, and provided royalties for Coke for many years. Nine more plays followed (10 if Midsummer Mink, a reworking of, or sequel to, Breath of Spring, counted); thanks to Coke’s shrewd judgment that most plays were short of parts for mature actresses, many proved popular with am-dram companies. None quite enjoyed the West End success of Breath of Spring, though some, notably Fool’s Paradise (1959, with Cicely Courtneidge, at the Apollo) won praise.
To learn more about that quintessential British sleuth Paul Temple, click here and here.

1 comment:

Martin Edwards said...

Coke was perfectly cast as Paul Temple - a great voice.