Admin and I were greatly saddened to hear of William Simons‘ recent passing at the age of 79. Mr. Simons was such an indelible part of the “Inspector Alleyn Mysteries”, playing Alleyn’s stalwart, imperturbable right-hand man, Inspector Br’er Fox. He was a constant, steady, reassuring presence, providing Alleyn with more than competent assistance and avuncular, at times even fatherly, advice. He went on to other series after “Alleyn”, but he’ll always be Br’er to us, so we thought we’d remember him by analyzing one of our favourite scenes from “Death in a White Tie” (1993), S02E01 of the “Inspector Alleyn Mysteries“.
In this scene, Alleyn is pursuing the murderer of family friend Lord Robert Gospell (Harold Innocent), fondly known as “Bunchie”. Bunchie was helping Alleyn solve a society extortion case when he got too close to the blackmailer and was killed for it. Devastated and feeling responsible for Bunchie’s death, Alleyn has been pushing himself more than usual, and dealing with suspects more emotionally than usual – even to the extent of rowing with his girlfriend, Agatha Troy (Belinda Lang), who would surely otherwise understand. It’s at about this time that Fox steps in with a little advice, gently admonishing his guv’nor to take better care of himself.
[Fox enters Alleyn’s office with a loaded tea tray.]
Fox [cheerily]: Here we are, sir. Just what the doctor ordered.
[Alleyn doesn’t respond; he’s sitting quietly, chin in hand, obviously hashing over events again and again in his mind.]
RF: Alleyn is so subdued and still here that it’s very out of character for him. It’s obvious he’s greatly upset and still trying to figure out how he could’ve handled things differently. It’s a bit of a contrast from the more aggressive way (for him) that he’s been going after the suspects up to this point. Also, Fox’s comment about “Just what the doctor ordered” is a neat little play on words, considering that one of the suspects, doctor Sir Daniel Davidson (John Carlisle), noted in the previous scene that Alleyn “appear[s] to be under some strain”.
Admin: You can see right away that Fox is determined to get Alleyn sorted out and refreshed. The way he makes a beeline through Alleyn’s office with the tray lets us know he is ready to lay down the gauntlet (gently, of course) and set everything back on the right track.
Fox: Bailey says there are plenty of prints in the telephone room, but nothing conclusive. Our lot have gone through the list of guests, and the servants, but no one will admit to having overheard Lord Robert.
[Alleyn still doesn’t respond.]
RF: Alleyn is obviously just barely holding his emotions at bay – again, unusual for him, as is his failure to even acknowledge Fox when he came in the room. For his part, Fox seems to be trying to make things “business as usual” as much as possible, perhaps hoping it’ll snap his guv’nor back into the groove.
Admin: Yes, Fox is trying so hard to be matter of fact, but he is clearly having a tough time getting through since Alleyn is very much lost in thought. But, Fox’s direct approach is clearly going to be only way to get things out in the open so they can move on.
Fox: Mr. Alleyn?
Alleyn: Do you know, Br’er, if I hadn’t asked Bunchie to help… he’d still be alive.
Fox: If you don’t mind my saying so, sir, I don’t think that’s the sort of remark to get you or anyone else much further.
[Alleyn looks up at Fox.]
Fox: Lord Robert wouldn’t have thanked you for it, and that’s a fact. [Offers Alleyn a sandwich.]
Alleyn: All right, Br’er. I’ll pipe down. [Takes a sandwich.]
RF: Alleyn seems just about on the verge of tears, but still holding it together – although Fox is probably the only one, perhaps except for Troy, that he’d ever reveal this to. Fox takes a very pragmatic approach, not allowing his guv to wallow in could’ves or should’ves. It seems a wee bit harsh, but Fox is right that it’s not likely to get Alleyn anywhere. And Fox is also well aware of the strain Alleyn’s under, hence insisting that he take a sandwich. Alleyn takes the sandwich mostly to placate Fox, but he probably really does need some sustenance at this point.
Admin: There is a slightly challenging note in Fox’s voice when he says “Mr. Alleyn.” It sounds like the tone he might take with a suspect who isn’t answering questions. It works as it finally gets Alleyn to speak and open up. Good for Fox in reminding Alleyn that moping about what has happened won’t solve Bunchie’s murder. And I’m sure he is absolutely right in believing that Bunchie wouldn’t appreciate Alleyn falling apart in what appears to be a lot of self-pity when his murder needs solving. Alleyn absolutely is not used to Br’er taking such a hardline with him (though it was tempered quite a lot with the sandwiches), so it was the wake up call he needed.
RF: No, it’s a bit of a role reversal with Fox taking charge – to gently boot Alleyn back into being in charge.
Fox: Now! According to François, there were three people who might’ve overheard Lord Robert: Captain Withers, Sir Herbert Carrados, and Donald Potter. And there’s still no news of young Mr. Potter.
Alleyn [Gets up and heads for the tea tray]: Well yes, but anybody could’ve come upstairs, heard Bunchie, and then gone down again while François was getting matches for Sir Herbert. [Takes a sip of tea.]
Fox: There you are. I told you you needed a sandwich.
RF: It does seem that that sandwich has miraculous powers. 😉 Alleyn’s tone quickly becomes much more like his usual one, and he’s beginning to think like a detective again. The fact he gets up and goes for a cup of tea also seems to suggest his appetite is kicking back in. Fox might be mother-henning Alleyn a bit, but he’s going about it the right way. He’s obviously pleased that his guv is getting back into things.
Admin: Nothing like a few carbs to get you up and running. That’s right, Fox’s tactic got Alleyn back on the ball. Of course he’s still going to be hurt about what happened to Bunchie, but now he knows he has to compartmentalize it and get to the task at hand. I like the way Fox smoothly gets back to the briefing, reminding Alleyn that they also have the whereabouts of Potter to worry about.
[A young constable comes in with shaving gear.]
Fox: Perhaps you’ll oblige me by having a shave.
[Alleyn eyes Fox, teacup in hand.]
RF: Of course Fox wouldn’t overlook that his guv needs a shave, too. It would be barely noticeable on anyone else, but Alleyn is always fastidious about his appearance. Not becoming for a Chief Inspector to go about scruffy! And that young constable looks positively gleeful at the prospect. 😉 I also like how Fox phrases it as Alleyn doing him a favour by “oblig[ing]” him, when we know that refusal is not an option.
Admin: It all ends on a rather cute note. But it really lets Alleyn know that Fox respects him for the detective he is and knows that his neat appearance is part of the total package. Fox truly understands and appreciates his guv’nor and that comes through in this highly effective scene. No time is wasted with psychoanalytics. It is simply a case of the very wise and efficient Inspector Fox sorting things out firmly but gently, allowing Alleyn a chance to refuel and get on with what has to be done, all with the minimum of fuss.
RF: When Admin and I were deciding on the perfect scene to commemorate William Simons, we both came up with this one as our first choice. It really is a perfect example of Fox and Alleyn’s relationship – not just their day-to-day work one, but some of what lies under the surface. Fox would never mollycoddle Alleyn, but he knows how much his guv is hurting, and he knows him well enough to come up with exactly the right sort of approach to get Alleyn back into the game, and get the mystery solved. It’s a bit of a “tough love” tactic. And I think Alleyn realizes that Fox wouldn’t take the tone he has if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. It also shows that Fox is well aware of his guv’s state of mind and how he functions best. Both Mr. Simons and Mr. Malahide convey a lot about their characters in this scene; it’s not blatant or spelled out, but it’s definitely there. They each clearly have a lot of respect and consideration for each other.
Admin: Truly there could be no better scene to highlight the depth of their relationship. Br’er is caring and considerate, but also direct and professional. It shows how they are both work colleagues and also the greatest of friends. With his natural aura of reliability and good old fashioned common sense, William Simons will forever be the perfect Inspector Fox.