Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

At Christmas I felt … the sting of death!

Back in the 1980s I read a mystery, A Taste for Honey by HF Heard. It’s the first of three about “Mr. Mycroft,” an elderly, brilliant retiree turned beekeeper living on the Sussex downs. … yep, that’s right. Him. Which the ending of the novel makes clear, even though they never say the still-in-copyright name.

At some point after that I learned Boris Karloff had appeared in a TV adaptation which immediately aroused my interest. It never crossed my path, however, and so faded to the back of my mind. Last year, though, I looked online and found The Elgin Hour: The Sting of Death was available on a three-DVD set of Holmesian obscurities. So I put it in my Amazon wishlist and my friend Ross sent it my way this Christmas.

The Elgin Hour was a 1954-5 anthology show, alternating in its timeslot with The U.S. Steel Hour. Elgin, in case you’ve never heard of it (I certainly hadn’t), was a watch company.

The Sting of Death follows the novel’s plot closely as far as I can remember it. Silchester (Robert Flemyng) is a Londoner spending a few weeks resting in the country. He’s a honey addict and very annoyed when his housekeeper (Hermione Gingold) tells him they’re out. Worse, most of the hives in the area have failed, with only Hargrove (Martyn Green) making a go of it. Silchester goes and buys some jars and combs from Hargrove, a tough, extremely surly gentleman. Green plays him hard enough I assumed he was a regular villain actor but he’s best known for performing in Gilbert and Sullivan pieces.

Leaving Hargrove’s, Silchester runs into Mycroft, an affable chap but rather creepy — he seems to know all kinds of things about Silchester, as if he’d been spying on him for weeks. Of course, Mycroft soon explains that’s not true. He figured out where Silchester lived, for instance, by studying the clay on his shoes. And he’s very, very troubled about Mr. Hargrove.

Mycroft invites Silchester to his home and shows him why: Hargrove has bred his bees into killers with massive stings and intensified venom. They’ve aggressively eliminated the regular bees from the area and just a couple of stings killed Mycroft’s dog. If Hargrove could arrange for the bees to kill a human being, no court in the world would believe it was murder. Mycroft suspects Hargrove is not the sort to let that kind of power go unused …

It’s a fun production, though it doesn’t confirm who Mycroft really is; if the audience wants to assume he’s just a smart guy, they could, easily. Karloff is thoroughly engaging as Mr. Mycroft, though a bit mellow for Holmes.

Other gifts included chocolate digestive biscuits (it’s a British thing and very yummy), a book about the effect of coal on Victorian England, and gift certificates which have all been spent already on tea, books or comic-book TPBs. As always I wavered between getting lots of small stuff or one or two big things and wound up with a mix. Small stuff included several books by friends such as the latest Menopausal Superheroes novel (I shall blog about the series when I finish catching up). The big one was shelling out $60 for the second Magnus Robot Fighter TPB. That was very much an indulgence but hey, what else are Christmas gift certificates for?




  1. Well, son of a bee. When I read this description of the movie, I thought, that’s The Deadly Bees, the MST3K episode, isn’t it? Sure enough, The Deadly Bees is basically the same story, with a screenplay (based on the novel you mentioned) by Robert Bloch, oddly enough, but it gives us a pop singer needing R&R heading to the country, staying with the Hargroves, and the husband is a beekeeper. There’s no Holmes stand-in, though, as far as I remember, although maybe that’s the guy with the bowler (Misties get that reference!).
    I wonder why they changed the things they did. I get the pop singer bit added to give a then-contemporary twist to the story, and I guess you need to take out the Holmes character since he’s basically a deus ex machina, no?
    My mind’s blanking right now as to how to add a link in a comment, so just look up The Deadly Bees on IMDb or look up the MST3K episode. It looks like it might be a MST episode that’s not readily available any more, but luckily I have at least my old VHS, and possibly it’s on one of the DVD sets that I own.

    1. Wow, thanks — I see it’s available on YouTube if I want to find it. But no, Mycroft in both the book and the Karloff show is involved and working against Hargrove from the beginning so he’s hardly a deus ex.

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