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Homicide – The Superintendent (1970)


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.

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 (see clip two).

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.