In 1986, Patrick Malahide appeared in the BBC children’s production The December Rose as the villainous Mr. Hastymite. Originally a six-part serial with 30 minute episodes, it has only been released on VHS with the episodes smooshed together to form a single movie. That is the same way The Franchise Affair was released. This is terribly frustrating because we would like to see DVD versions of both programs released in their original, episodic format. These are definitely very good productions and deserve re-release.
RF: It would be wonderful to see both of them cleaned up and remastered. Their video quality as-is is extremely murky and blurry – or perhaps we’ve just been spoiled by DVDs. Nah, they need remastering.
Very Brief Recap
Admin: Barnacle is a young chimney sweep apprentice, also known as a climbing boy (read at your own peril; those children had miserable lives). While a group of men, one of whom is our Mr. Hastymite, are hashing out their nefarious plans, Barnacle comes tumbling out of the chimney. In the ensuing fracas he seizes a beautiful locket and runs away. Turns out the locket is very important, so they send Inspector Creaker, a genuinely good man who has been duped into doing dirty deeds, after him. But Barnacle gets away and is found and taken care of by Tom Gosling, would-be owner (he’s saving up) of a ship called “The December Rose”.
RF: Barnacle is extremely lucky that Tom Gosling takes such a liking to him, because he’s got to be one of the more annoying protagonists of all time. However, the life of a climbing boy sounds truly awful and going from that to the December Rose would be like paradise.
Admin: Tom Gosling’s patience is an inspiration to us all. 🙂
Admin: Mr. Hastymite and his associate Lord Hobart are using their government positions to steal from and murder foreigners in the guise of fighting terrorism and anarchy. They need the locket which belonged to a young Russian lady to secure funds from her father Col. Brodsky who believes her to be alive.
Barnacle, Tom Gosling, their friends Mrs. McDipper and her daughter Miranda actually meet up with Col. Brodsky and uncover the plot. Will they get to the proper authorities and put a stop to Lord Hobart’s and Mr. Hastymite’s wicked ways? And will Inspector Creaker find out he’s actually been stealing from and murdering innocent people? It doesn’t sound much like a children’s show does it? 🙂 But it is and a very good one at that.
RF: It’s surprisingly grim and gritty (pun not intended, although being a sweep is decidedly gritty) for a children’s show! But it also has an amazing depth of writing and a well-thought out, intricate plot. Hastymite and Hobart also make truly terrifying villains (the former much more than the latter) who, no doubt, featured in kids’ nightmares for weeks afterwards.
Mr. Hastymite – Gothic Perfection
Admin: So what about Mr. Hastymite? He is as gorgeous as he is evil! With his black and white attire, carefully groomed sideburns (they are pointed!), pale skin, and slender build he couldn’t look more like a vampire if he tried. He looks like something from an Edgar Allen Poe story, which is odd because The December Rose is very much a deliberate and successfully executed Dickens pastiche!
RF: That’s very true, Hastymite is very like a Poe character by way of Dickens – or vice versa. Although I think either of those authors would’ve recoiled in horror (pun intended) at the thought of being forced to collaborate (“You want me to work with him??”) on anything. And Hastymite is very vampiric, seemingly without even trying. But I still have to wonder how he trims those sideburns if he can’t see himself in a mirror.
Admin: We also know he is evil because he speaks with the silkiest, smoothest voice imaginable. It is almost a whisper, so anyone who wants to hear him must move in close…which is something Lord Hobart’s wife seems to enjoy doing. More on that sauciness later. 😉
RF: Oh, his voice just absolutely oozes menace! Unless he’s talking to Lady Hobart, that is, but his intentions for her seem to… differ from his intentions for everyone else. His soft-spokenness belies the fact that he’s easily the most ruthless person in the room, at all times, and that he’s frequently saying extremely sinister things. About the only time he raises his voice is when he begins to become impatient with Hobart – a clear danger signal that Hobart ignores.
Admin: He seems sociopathic the way he silkily discusses murder. True, he does get sharper with Hobart, but that guy would try even Tom Gosling’s patience. 🙂
Admin: Mr. Hastymite and his chum Lord Hobart are both very much of the pantomime villain variety which works perfectly well with the nature of the production. Seriously, they are great villains. Their styling is exquisite, and I must say they look terribly (and terrifyingly) picturesque together. Throw in Inspector Creaker and you have quite the scary trio — but Hastymite is easily the most awe inspiring.
RF: Agreed, they are absolutely lovely and extremely scary villains, especially Hastymite. They’re also an interesting study in contrasts, with Hastymite impeccably dressed and neat as a pin (a very sharp one) at all times, while Hobart is perpetually somewhat rumpled and scruffy-looking – the fluffy muttonchops don’t help, either. And the characters’ names all suit them perfectly. Hmm… Maybe it’s not such a wonder why Lady Hobart makes eyes at Hastymite? 😮
Admin: True, the names are very Dickensian and suit the characters wonderfully. The physical differences between the two are extreme. Hobart’s more rumpled look fits in with his buffoonish way of blurting out plans. Hastymite has a bit of a struggle keeping him placated, and I think would be all too happy to dispatch of him if the situation required it.
A Man of Wit
Admin: Like all good villains, Mr. Hastymite is quick with a quip. When sooty Barnacle first falls out his chimney there is debate as to what the heck he is! Hobart thinks he’s a nest; Hastymite thinks he’s an animal (he’s kind of right; kid is a bit ratty). But it is Inspector Creaker who correctly identifies him as a boy: A climbing boy, “a falling boy,” intones Hastymite.
RF: With the unstated implication that Barnacle should’ve continued to fall, I think. It’s a bit spooky the way they speculate on Barnacle’s origins, too. And I can’t see Hastymite setting up a home for penniless orphan foundlings any time soon.
Admin: Only if it was of the Fagin variety.
Admin: When it is decided that Creaker must retrieve the locket, Hobart worries that the kid overheard their plans, so killing Barnacle is added to his to-do list. Hastymite is amused at Barnacle’s wonder over the beautiful locket and muses “he must have thought it was his birthday.” He tells Creaker to find him and “put a stop to his birthdays, Mr. Inspector, put a stop to his birthdays.” Seriously. He thinks he’s being clever with that! Though to be fair, it is charming the way he calls Creaker “Mr. Inspector.” 🙂
RF: I somehow suspect that Hastymite has problems meeting other people who share his sense of humour. Maybe it gets harder to invent jokes when you’ve been alive for thousands of years and can’t go out in the sunlight. “Put a stop to his birthdays” is a nice little euphemism that helps him avoid the nasty task of actually uttering the word “kill”, although it’s perfectly clear what he means.
Admin: Later on, at his club, Hastymite suggests it was Creaker who came up with the “stop to his birthdays” line, but Creaker (who does have a moral code) reminds Hastymite that it was his line.
RF: And very interesting that Creaker has the guts to contradict him on that, I thought! But I think that’s also a sign of Creaker’s conscience beginning to bother him. You’re right that he has a moral code where Hastymite and Hobart definitely don’t.
Admin: Creaker occasionally phases out and remembers what he did to the Russian girl, as though he has a sort of PTSD reaction to it. Hastymite realizes that and blithely tells him he mustn’t brood. He at least has the smarts to tell Creaker he should be proud of helping his country which seems to help Creaker out a bit. For a while, at least.
RF: More helping out Hastymite and Hobart than his country, really, but that’s just a technicality. I do wish they’d mentioned which government ministry Hastymite worked for.
Admin: But my favorite bit is in the church when asked what he thought of the sermon, “rather like a pork chop, palatable if taken with a pinch of salt.” The real question is how did he actually spend time in a church without bursting into flames. Maybe he has a pinch of evil salt in his pocket.
RF: Or he’s just been around for so long that he’s completely immune. It did look as if he was keeping to the shadier parts of the church… but that might have just been my imagination.
He’s a Lover; Not a Fighter
Admin: Hastymite prefers not get his white gloves dirty, so Creaker does their dirty work. Allowing Hastymite opportunity to (ahem) “entertain” Lord Hobart’s wife. I am quite certain that the little church scene described above alludes to that. When Lady Hobart runs into Hastymite, she tells him that she enjoys Sunday Sermon because it leaves her feeling so “good and refreshed….for a full half hour.” She gives her husband a decidedly nasty look there. Next she *GASP* places her hand directly on Hastymite’s chest and asks him about the sermon. Surely that is a terribly scandalous place to put one’s Victorian hand!
RF: Completely shocking and incredibly forward! Touching a man not her husband, who’s probably a vampire, on his chest, in a church! And exchanging flirty banter! What a hussy!! I think you’re right that there was more going on in that relationship than met the eye, and moreover, Hobart was completely oblivious.
Admin: She and Hastymite join arms are prepare to leave church but are blocked by Hobart who wants to talk about funds and lockets. Lady Hobart leaves them (a tad crossly, and I don’t blame her) to talk shop. Hastymite reassures Hobart that Creaker will get the locket and kill the boy because he had already failed in his duty and “duty to man like that is as dear as God or a wife….dearer even.” As he says “wife,” Hastymite gives a slow gaze towards Lady Hobart. They are totally getting up to no good and probably doing so under Lord Hobart’s own roof.
RF: And a very charming discussion to have in church, too – how to murder some poor chimney sweep who happened to overhear an incriminating conversation and (more or less accidentally) swipe a locket. Although you’d think that if Hobart and Hastymite (it does sound like a Dickensian law firm) were that worried about it, that they’d employ more than just poor Creaker to get the job done. I agree, it did seem like Lady Hobart became very impatient when Hastymite was being detained on Hobart’s business, instead of entertaining her the way he was supposed to. She behaved much the same way when she was having her big dinner party and Hastymite was preoccupied with intimidating Creaker in Hobart’s study.
Summing Up With Spoilers
Stop reading now if you don’t want to know the end. I suppose it comes as no surprise that Hastymite and Hobart lose. When Creaker learns the truth and realizes he’s been murdering innocents, he is overcome with remorse and decides to stop the duo for good. Even though it will cost him his own life also.
RF: Creaker totally telegraphs that he has something fishy planned – I mean, why stash the loot in a rowboat and make Hobart and Hastymite go sit in the rowboat to get it? But apparently they’re so greedy that this doesn’t strike them as strange. Or maybe Hastymite has never met anyone willing to double-cross him before and doesn’t recognize the signs.
Admin: Hastymite asks Creaker if he plans to drown them, but he is reassured when Creaker says he doesn’t. That is asking someone if they are a vice cop before breaking the law. 🙂
Admin: One night, all three head out in a dinky rowboat which is pretty funny as Hastymite looks outlandishly sharp in a top hat and evening wear. Creaker has a bag full of what they think is the Russian’s money, but it is actually explosives, so when Hastymite opens the bag……KA-BOOOOOOM!
RF: Hastymite is indeed ludicrously overdressed for a rowboat trip, but it just adds to his mystique. For him, that probably is “dressing down”. Sadly, he never had the benefit of watching any Yosemite Sam cartoons, so he didn’t realize that opening the satchel would be a bad idea. 🙁
Admin: Sure, he deserves it, but it is never nice to see something as beautiful as a Hastymite be blown into a squillion pieces. But surely something as wicked as Mr. Hastymite will be able to do like Dracula and slowly, slowly piece himself back together. It’ll take a hundred or more years, but I say any descendents of Barnacle’s might want to watch their backs. 😉
RF: Bwaaahh!! 😀 Sequel, anyone? 😉