Homicide: The Superintendent - The Oomtah Bird
Superintendent Tilley (Nigel Lovell) tells Inspector Fox (Alwyn Kurts) about his sightings of a drunken man he thinks was Senior Detective Patterson (Norman Yemm). Fox defends Patterson but is nonetheless disturbed and later asks Detective Sergeant Mackay (Leonard Teale) and Senior Detective Barnes (George Mallaby) about Patterson. Meanwhile, the superintendent sees Eddie Patterson (Norman Yemm or Gordon Yemm) at the golf club and again mistakes him for his brother. Summary by Kate Matthews.
Although the superintendent takes Inspector Fox at his word when he defends Patterson, his doubt is made visible by the sudden, hilarious flash of an image from his dream.
Tilley’s reticent golfing buddy Paul (Lloyd Cunnington) appears a couple of times in the episode and is a curious, mysterious character. Who is he? What is he doing there? Why is he filling in his tax form? These things are not revealed, but the existence of this character provides the superintendent with somebody to whom he can express his concerns. Perhaps the extra detail allows this character to come across as more than just a plot device. The odd character traits Bayonas gives him serve to reinforce the generally offbeat tone of the episode.
Norman Yemm and his identical twin Gordon, a non-actor, played the part of Eddie together, with Norman taking on the more demanding moments. Although both were credited for the role, it’s likely that Norman is playing the part here. He revels in Eddie’s theatricality – a marked contrast with the confines of his usual role as straight man Detective Patterson.
Homicide: The Superintendent synopsis
A young girl, Alice (Jessica Ball), is heartbroken when homicide detectives take away ‘Jennifer’, her new favorite toy. Jennifer is a human skull with a bullet rattling around inside. Senior Detective Patterson (Norman Yemm) needs Alice to tell him where she found Jennifer but Alice won’t cooperate; she wants Jennifer back. This isn’t Patterson’s only headache. His identical twin Eddie (Norman and Gordon Yemm) is in town and has a penchant for causing trouble.
Eventually Alice breaks her silence and Senior Detective Patterson is able to solve the crime and close a ten-year-old case. Police Superintendent Tilley (Nigel Lovell) gets wind of his success and decides to nominate him for a prize. He has second thoughts, though, when he meets Patterson for the first time. He recognises him as the same man he recently saw at the golf club, outrageously drunk, telling dirty stories and dropping his trousers.
Homicide: The Superintendent curator's notes
This extraordinary episode breaks away from many of Homicide’s usual conventions. It dispenses with the customary police investigation in record time – less than halfway through the episode – before devoting itself to a comedy of mistaken identity that plays out between Patterson, his twin and the superintendent.
Screenwriter José Luis Bayonas makes these two sections of ‘The Superintendent’s’ plot almost self-contained. The first story (about the skull) relates to the second (about mistaken identity) only in that it sets in motion the subsequent chain of events. This is not an unknown narrative structure for series television – a contemporary example that often employs a similar technique is US animated comedy series The Simpsons (1989–current). It is, however, not at all typical of Homicide, which commonly devotes itself to a single crime and the police procedure of solving it.
‘The Superintendent’ is not the only episode of Homicide to play with the format but the manner in which it does so is quite unique. Both parts of the story are comic and surreal. The lead actors seem almost to parody their usual detective roles, maintaining a deadpan gravity in the face of increasingly absurd events. At the heart of the episode there is a gloriously bizarre dream sequence.
According to a 1994 interview with actor Norman Yemm in TV Eye magazine, Bayonas was inspired to write this episode when he discovered that Yemm had a twin brother. Gordon Yemm was not an actor and for this reason, for the most part, Norman played both roles, with his twin joining him in scenes that required both brothers on screen. Yemm appears to revel in the ‘bad’ twin’s theatrics and this departure from his normal straitlaced detective role.
Homicide screened on HSV7, later Channel Seven, and ran for 509 episodes from 1964-76. ‘The Superintendent’ is episode 249.
Notes by Kate Matthews