The Detective Wore Silk Drawers is the third episode of Granada TV’s Cribb, starring Alan Dobie as the Victorian detective. Adapted by Peter Lovesey from his own novel, it was first broadcast Sunday 27 April 1980.

Investigating a headless corpse, Detective Sergeant Cribb traces it back to illegal bare-knuckle fights – held in the countryside at ‘pop-up’ rings, with the location only announced at the last minute (similar to 20th century ‘raves’). Together with Constable Thackeray (William Simons), Cribb inducts amateur boxer PC Henry Jago (Barry Andrews) to infiltrate the ring.

Thackeray, Jago and Cribb

Made in the era when British TV was trending toward all-film drama, this Cribb episode has a disconcerting mix of film and tape. But not the standard mix of film exteriors and tape interiors which viewers had got used to. The episode opens with a taped sequence of a body being found on a theatrical fog-shrouded set of London’s docks, and climaxes with a film sequence of Jago enduring a bloody bare-knuckle fight in a candle-lit mansion. At one point we see Alan Dobie on tape, brooding in a pub and then flash back to a film sequence in the office of Superintendent Jowett (David Waller) who is berating Cribb over his clear-up rate.

Cribb and Thackeray on the docks

However, the constant change of visual style is only a minor distraction in a convincing and well-told tale. As the titular detective in silk drawers, Barry Andrews from The Blood on Satan’s Claw is convincing as the educated, middle-class Jago, who aspires to promotion so that he can marry his girlfriend. Under a false identity, he is taken on as a fighter by Isabel Vibart played by Norma West (Miss Bo-Peep in The Prisoner episode Dance of the Dead) who takes a ‘hands-on’ approach to training.

Cribb uses various wiles to keep in touch with Jago as it becomes clear that prize fighters are being disposed of once they lose fights and have no further worth to their owners. But then, Vibart’s predatory possessiveness and suspicion cuts off communication with Jago. There is plenty of intrigue between rival fighters and Vibart’s accomplices (played by Mark Eden and David Hargreaves) and the plot takes an unexpected left turn at the end of the second act. With Jago left to keep the villains busy in a bare-knuckle fight which can last as long as three hours, the pressure is on for Cribb and Thackeray to find the location.

Cribb and Thackeray speed to the rescue.

In the final fifteen minutes, Alan Dobie as Cribb finally demonstrates some classic detective work, using reasoning to demolish the villain’s alibi’s and then coercing a confession out of the guilty party. While generally light-hearted, Alan Grint’s direction preserves the brutal background to Lovesey’s novel. Dobie’s performance derives a great deal of humour from the character of Cribb, who shows little concern for the constable he has put into danger, but also has to put up with a clueless and carping superior.