Tales of the Gold Monkey: e04 – Legends are Forever

Never kill off a great guest star

This week’s episode was a great, gleeful collection of cliche and thrill that fit in surprisingly well with my recent contention over opinions as to the Sixties Batman  TV show. As I’ve already said, there’s nothing of any great depth to Tales of the Gold Monkey, it’s about fun and simplicity, bundled together into the recognition that the early films and serials it echoes were cheap and naive, but Monkey is in tune with its subject matter, and at heart sides with it.

There’s cliche a-plenty this week, not least in the adventure brought by guest star Gandy Dancer, played by William Lucking. Gandy’s introduced in a medium long flashback to a year earlier, over China. He’s an older, looser, loucher version of Jake, the big-hearted Texan (actually, he’s from Pennsylvania), forever warbling ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’ on his mouth organ, a grifter and a likable con artist whose biggest cons are all on himself.

It’s immediately clear that he and Jake have knocked about a lot, and that Gandy can pull the wool over Jake’s eyes, no matter how wary he gets. They’re flying booze, under cloud cover, to a Chinese warlord, a mission that Gandy has suckered Jake into flying in the belief they’re under orders, when he’s used Jake’s clean-cut reputation to suggest this to the General…

Because there’s a legend out there, of gold and riches, and Gandy’s a sucker for legends and treasure. Believes ’em all, implicitly, chases ’em all, looking for that score, sucking the unsuspecting, and even the suspecting who can be misled, into his wake. Which, in this instance is persuading Jake to jump, with Jack, when they’re being shot at by Japanese Zeros, leaving good ol’ boy Gandy to fly on into the cloud…

Cut back to ‘now’, in 1938, and Jake returns from a solo, transporting nuns, to find Gandy’s turned up on Bora Gora. The old partnership is back, the boys are reunited, and Jake has only one greeting for his old buddy: I’m gonna kill you! Cue a glorious, destructive barfight, knocking over tables, chairs, smashing bottles and glasses, jumping over the piano, all set to the background of the imperturbable Bonne Chance Louie tidily totting up the cost of the damage (920 francs, to be precise).

It appears Gandy is there on a mission of mercy, at the behest of the tall, coal-black skinned Mr Umopwa, bringing quinine for a lost tribe of transplanted Watusi Africans on a remote, formerly volcanic island, who are suffering from malaria. Everyone believes Gandy except Jake, who refuses to get involved. Next shot: the Goose in flight and Jack giving up the co-pilot’s seat. t to allow Gandy to chat with Jake.

There’s no Sara this week, which is a shame, but her place is taking by the unflappable Louie, as the French magistrate, which allows further development of Louie’s past. In true ‘Flashman’ style, Louie it seems has been everywhere that was everywhere to the drama world of 1938. To last week’s reference to Devil’s Island., we now add George Mallory’s Everest expedition of 1924, not to mention Beau Geste’s Fort Zinderneuf.

There’s another romantic literary reference coming up before long, but first we have the Goose putting down on a rather small lake, we have mysterious natives hiding in the jungle, and we have a glorious suspension bridge over a precipitous gorge with the statutory waterfall in the background – oh, this show knows its iconography – and we have blowpipes and poison darts, one of wich strikes Gandy in the shoulder…

And we know where this is set to go.

The tribe and the malaria are, to Jake’s  surprise, true, and Umopwa turns into a dignified king, but Gandy turns out to be Gandy, as we knew all along he would. Gandy’s read ‘King Solomon’s Mine’ and believe’s it’s true, that Haggard based it on real legends, and that the treasure was moved from Africa to an island across a great sea…

And Gandy’s tired. Perhaps it’s just the poison talking, but he’s had enough.  There’s a little girl back home, a motherless child called Molly, back in Pennsylvania, a daughter he’s not seen since she was two: five years, and it’s time she had a father. One score, one last adventure for Gandy so we can give Molly the life she should have.

It’s just never going to happen. Jake can scare the threatening Bogras off the island by terrifying them with the Goose, he can save the Watusi, but nothing can save Gandy Dancer, and Jake’s parting gift to his old sparring partner is a vision of lies, of the treasure Gandy believes in, recounted as a litany of gold and diamonds that Jake has ‘seen’ and can attest that Gandy was right, after all…

It’s sentimental, but it’s very effective, and affecting. Not that it does little Molly any good, though everyone, Louie himself, agrees to chip in money for the orphaned girl. And a grateful Umopwa has given Jake a bonus, a little bag… which turns out to be full of raw, uncut diamonds. Molly Dancer’s going to be rich. And Corky has the last word, or rather question: “Jake, you don’t think…?”

I loved this. I don’t say I remember, though the name of Gandy Dancer stuck in my head over thirty five years, and I recognised him immediately I saw William Lucking, and that he died in this episode, though he does make one further appearance later on, briefly, in another flashback. Lucking, with his innocent shiftiness, made an ideal Gandy and a more rounded cliche than he need have been. And the series takes me back, to 1981, and who I was and where I was, and was it Thursday nights, on BBC1 at about 7.35pm?

Roll on the next one.

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