I truly enjoy listening to Patrick Malahide’s audio book narrations. The Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery, Five Red Herrings (click for audio sample) is certainly no exception. Ian Carmichael has narrated the bulk of the Dorothy L. Sayers stories, but, due to the vast number of Scottish accents, Patrick Malahide handled Five Red Herrings. And did he ever handle it. The vocal gymnastics are amazing as he switches from character-to-character, accent-to-accent.
It makes a lot of sense that Mr. Malahide was enlisted to narrate this production. He is no stranger to Scottish characters and spent a significant part of his early career working in Scotland. I’ll get into that more later, right now I’ll go over:
Five Red Herrings:
I won’t mess with the plot since you can go to Wikipedia. It is essentially about the murder of a man named Sandy Campbell (not to be confused with Sandy MacRae!!). Campbell is a belligerent, argumentative artist who almost everybody loathes. There are so many motives, broken alibis, and clues (mostly red herrings) that Wimsey finds himself with more suspects than he can shake a stick at.
Each character, regardless of nationality, has a distinctive voice. He gives Wimsey a light, flippant voice that makes him seem very harmless. Of course, Wimsey is anything but harmless if you are a murderer hoping to get away with it! There are a couple of characters (Michael Waters and John Ferguson) who have delicious drawls that reminded me slightly of Sir Hugo from Lovejoy. I say slightly because they are similar yet still distinct enough to be different.
Initially, I thought most of the policemen sounded alike with their gruff brogues, but when they began interacting with one another I could see I was wrong. Each one has his own unique manner. I think the scenes where they spoke together must have been very challenging, but the results are wonderful.
Bunter the Valet
Mr. Malahide completely aced Wimsey’s valet Bunter! He was easily my favorite in the production. His droll, dry London accent is charming and he had the best scenes.
He has a lovely entrance where he immediately begins moaning (in a very dry tone) about how the Scottish insist on calling cuts of meat by the wrong name, shins are “houghs” and legs are “jiggets”. He thinks they do it on purpose to confuse the foreigners, but he copes with sombre dignity.
He is immensely helpful as he went on a cinema date with Betty, maid to one of the red herrings. She told Bunter a terrible story of how she saw what looked like a “walking corpse” at the door of a room she had been expressly told to stay away from. He tells the story in deadpan, yet grimly ghoulish manner:
‘Really, Bunter,’ said Wimsey, ‘your narrative style would do credit to the Castle of Otranto.’
‘Thank you, my lord. I am only acquainted by repute with the work you mention, but I understand that it enjoyed a considerable vogue in its day.
The way Mr. Malahide narrates that is perfect. Bunter seems completely oblivious to the hidden insult (though probably he is not) and handles it with masterly aplomb. I’m a bit envious of Betty the maid; a cinema date with Bunter sounds like a very attractive prospect. I’d certainly be happy to listen to him read the Castle of Otranto.
Bunter is fond of a pair of middle-aged ladies. The artists, Miss Selby and Miss Cochran.
Bunter was always distressed to see them cooking their own dinners and putting up their own curtains. He would step reproachfully to their assistance, and take the hammer and nails from their hands, with a respectful, ‘Allow me, miss’; and would obligingly offer to look after stews and casseroles during their absence. They rewarded him with gifts of vegetables and flowers from their garden – gifts which Bunter would receive with a respectful, ‘Thank you, miss. His lordship will be greatly obliged.’
Miss Selby and Miss Cochran are also excellent characters. Miss Cochran has a very chatty, hyper way of speaking, yammering out loads of dialogue very quickly. Miss Selby is far more austere, speaking firmly and resolutely. Wimsey thinks they are both excellent ladies and is tickled by how amused they are with dear Bunter.
Patrick Malahide’s Other Scottish Forays
Obviously this is not the first time Mr. Malahide has made use of his excellent Scottish accents. There are a couple of Scottish roles of his that I desperately want to see: Dear Enemy’s Dr. Robin “Sandy” MacRae, and The Standard’s hotshot reporter Colin Anderson.
Some of his other Scottish roles include: Mr. McCrum in Educating Marmalade (a hilarious, anarchic kiddie program), the warm and compassionate Colin (such a charming and loveable man) in Comfort and Joy, Uncle Ebenezer in Kidnapped (I’m almost ashamed at how much I love Uncle Ebenezer; I totally adore him), Ballie Creach in Deacon Brodie (I haven’t seen this one yet, but I shall; Ballie sounds a really nasty sort though), and Headmaster Forbes in Like Minds (very good film that will eventually be recapped).
Much of Mr. Malahide’s earlier acting career took place in Scotland with his work for the Byre Theatre, which you can read about here.
According to his official website, he also appeared in a number of early 1970s projects produced for Scottish television. Some are not included in his IMDB entry, so I fear they may be lost. Programs such as The Great Tay Bridge Disaster, John McNab, and Flight of the Heron sound intriguing, so I hope they do still exist.
However, there is no need to be pessimistic. There are plenty of projects readily available where you can hear Patrick Malahide’s fetching brogue. And, fingers crossed, there will be plenty more to come.