In 1991, Patrick Malahide appeared in The Italian Venus (Lovejoy S02E02). It is an entertaining episode in which Lovejoy helps those who are down on their luck by exploiting the greed of wealthy. In other words, a normal episode of Lovejoy 🙂
The wealthy, in this case, are Sir Hugo Carey-Holden, Baronet (Malahide) and his “lovely” wife Lady Felicity, played fetchingly by Celia Imrie. The downtrodden are Sir Hugo’s little brother Douglas “Dougie” Holden (Nicholas Farrell) and his wife Emma (Joanne Pearce).
Essential Plot with Spoilers
Lady Jane asks Lovejoy to look at an illustrated catalog belonging to her acquaintances, the Carey-Holdens, which documents the antiquities and art brought back from a tour of Italy by Sir Hugo’s great-great grandfather.
Lovejoy finds a Niccolo Guarini School of Florence bronze, circa 1530s. It is of a Venus standing in an open shell, surrounded by mythical style horse-fish. The piece is worth about £2 million. Lady Felicity believes it was sold years ago and claims they no longer have it, but Lovejoy notices the shell portion has actually been converted into a fountain in the garden.
Disliking the Carey-Holdens, he keeps his discovery secret until Lady Jane asks him to help Douglas, Sir Hugo’s little brother. Dougie, as he is typically known, who had been shut out of the family fortune, is an artist and has been selling perfect (and in some cases, superior) replicas of Victorian bronzes. Lovejoy convinces Dougie to make a replica of the Venus, which they will sell to Sir Hugo for £212,000 (plus Lovejoy’s commission).
Lovejoy goes back to the Carey-Holden’s to tell them he has found the Venus portion which is worth £250,000 on its own. As the sellers do not know it is a Guarini, the cost will only be £95,000 plus his commission (5% each end). Next, he enlists the aid of posh antiques dealer Gervais Rackham (Ian McNiece) who goes to the Carey-Holden estate to “discover” the shell portion. The Carey-Holden’s now want to buy the Venus portion, but the price has gone up to £212,000!
A bit of a spanner is thrown in the works when Lovejoy, just as he is completing the sale, notices the Venus has actually been on the property the whole time, converted into a table lamp. Fortunately, the transaction is fully completed before the Carey-Holden’s notice. It doesn’t really matter, though, as everyone (even the greedy couple) wind up being significantly financially better off at the end of the program.
Sir Hugo Carey-Holden: A Wonderful Perfomance
Sir Hugo is played to comic delight by Patrick Malahide. He is the absolute embodiment of the obnoxious, upper-class aristocrat. He is also a narcoleptic dipso. He is rarely seen without a drink in his hand and seems to fall asleep regardless of the time of day. He is a wolf too, constantly harassing Lady Jane. Those don’t sound like the most amusing qualities for a man, but Lovejoy often makes light of such things with lighthearted success.
Upon our first meeting with Sir Hugo, Jane makes it very clear to Lovejoy that she dislikes the couple, “I have to warn you, they’re absolute prunes this lot.” When Sir Hugo raises his glass (seriously, he almost always has one) in greeting to approach Jane we learn he is the “principle prune”. He immediately puts his arm (over affectionately) around her and drags her away from Lovejoy and Lady Felicity. Later we see him, a little too close for comfort, “admiring” Jane’s necklace and earrings. She has her back pressed up against the ice bucket (brrrr) and is trying to lean as far away from him as possible. It is cringy but funny!
Malahide’s Sir Hugo voice is brilliant. I love it. He has the forced nasal tones of the upper class, which sounds affected and vain. It reminds me of the British Pathe newsreel readers. At the exact same time, he speaks with slurry, drunken drawl. I think it must be hard to sound clipped like a newsreel reader while drawling at the same time, but he does it so very well.
I also enjoyed the scene where he phones Lovejoy to tell him he wishes to buy the Venus. He phones him twice in very short succession and each time he introduces himself as “Sir Hugo Carey-Holden.” It illustrates how crass and vulgar he is, reminding everyone that he is a baronet.
I must admit, I was on his side a little bit. It is revealed that he gave Dougie £10,000 which was promptly lost in a bad investment. Granted, it was Sir Hugo who advised the investment, “You didn’t put it all in the same stock? Awww, Dougie.” But, he did also point out that he couldn’t sell the family pile just to subsidize Dougie’s art, “If you want to be a painter, you’ll have to start selling some of your paintings.”
That line is interesting because it illustrates one flaw I found with the program: Dougie isn’t all that sympathetic to me. While Sir Hugo certainly should have been a decent big brother and given him 200 grand in the first place, I wondered why he, who presumably would have had some family and/or scholastic connections, was completely incapable of selling his art through legitimate means.
We learn that he has been selling his Victorian replicas, but they eventually went through the system and wound up being sold as genuine. He struck me as a bit pathetic in some ways. Sir Hugo is a prune and a slimeball, but (on televised comedies, at least) prunes and slimeballs are usually far more fun and entertaining than whiners.
We are also told that Sir Hugo has always been jealous of Dougie because he was popular and had girlfriends while Sir Hugo got stuck with Felicity (ha-ha). If he was so wonderfully charming, why could he not sell his exquisite art? We are never told why but, I suppose it doesn’t matter. It’s all about Lovejoy going to the rescue, right?
Well Worth Watching
Ultimately, Sir Hugo is a fun character and the episode is upbeat and cute. I enjoyed watching Sir Hugo bothering Lady Jane, falling asleep here and there, calling his wife “Flickers”, trying to play it cool about the Venus with Rackham, being scammed out of his dough, and being completely in the dark about the whereabouts of his family treasures. Honestly, the scene where he is chatting with Lovejoy while the Venus is peeping from behind the lamp is hilarious. 🙂 It looks exactly like she is hiding from him! She must have been on Lovejoy’s side!!
When Sir Hugo finally does realize what has happened, it is too late. Lovejoy has cashed the cheques. They are fully certain that Sir Hugo won’t press charges because he would be too embarrassed to admit he was tricked with a fake. We do at least get one more phone call from Sir Hugo, “Listen, toy boy, I’ve got two bronzes here and the next time you come around I’m going to shove….” The look on Lovejoy’s face is priceless!
So, Sir Hugo gets £2 million (less his swindled loss, but he’s still well in profit), Dougie gets £200,000, Lovejoy gets his fat commission, and even Gervais Rackham gets £1,000 for “finding” the fountain. I liked seeing everyone (sort of) win.