Miles Kington: Super sleuth on the case of the exploding vase

'Sir Paul Medway?' said Inspector Braid. 'I can think of lots of people who would like to blow him up'
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The Independent Online

"And the award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre goes to..."

For a moment, the famous actress Jemima Winch struggled to open the envelope. There was laughter from the tables. They all knew who the award was going to: Sir Paul Medway, the veteran director, who had been around so long he had tussled with Sir Laurence Olivier, survived the slings and arrows of outrageous Tynan, and worked with Peters, Hall and Brook. Now he was white-haired, wise and unpopular.

"Sir Paul Medway!" Ironic cheers. Clapping. Spotlight on one table. Medway getting up, smiling. Walking up to stage. Is given award (large vase). Walks to mike to make short speech but before he can start, the vase seems to explode, and Medway is suddenly lying on the stage, not moving, not breathing.

Pandemonium. "Sir Paul Medway, eh?," said Inspector Braid as he and Sgt Comfort sped through the London traffic towards the Park Lane hotel where the award ceremony was taking place. "The director everyone admires and nobody likes? I can think of lots of people who would like to blow him up."

"He hasn't actually been blown up, sir," said Comfort. "It was just a thunderflash, apparently. So, who are these people who would want to get at him?"

"Actors, for a start," said Braid. "There comes a point in every production when the cast think the director has got it wrong, and they could do it so much better, and they would willingly strangle him. Directors. All jealous of Medway's knighthood. Playwrights. All those who have had their texts cut by Medway ..."

They entered the grand hotel hardly ten minutes after the vase had exploded. "The vase did not actually shatter, I see," said Braid.

"No, Inspector," said Delia Laidlaw, the woman in charge of the ceremony. Modern awards may look ugly, but they are built to last. Especially lifetime awards, of course. Medway got the shock of his life, but he wasn't hurt. It must have been on some kind of timing device."

"Was the ceremony running to schedule?," asked Braid. "No, we were about 25 minutes behind. As usual."

"Here is the guest list, sir," said Comfort. "There are about 700 people on it and they are all still out there getting restless...."

"Hmm," said Braid, scanning the list. "I'd like to have a word with one of them, please. Leslie Ketch." Ketch, a grizzled West End director, was sent for. "How can I help you, inspector?," he said, coming into the small room the hotel had set aside. "Ah, Mr Ketch," said Braid. "I am delighted to meet you. I saw your production of the Great War drama, Somme Time. It was very well done."

"Thank you, Inspector."

"I was especially intrigued by the special effects. You had devised a way of mocking up shells bursting and bombs landing which I have never seen on stage before. Quite remarkably convincing. All radio-controlled, I take it?" "Yes, they were, but I don't see ..."

"Miss Laidlaw thought that the explosion which gave Sir Paul such a shock had been timed to go off. When a ceremony is running late, I don't think that's very likely. Much more likely that someone had planted a small device which could be set off remotely." "I still don't see ..."

"You and Medway were notorious rivals once," said Braid. "Who could forget that battle over Vanessa Redgrave in 1981?" "Ah," said Ketch.

"The breach was never healed. So when you heard Sir Paul Medway was getting an award for lifetime achievement, you...."

"I wanted to make him look stupid!," said Ketch, colouring suddenly. "Humiliate him a bit. Not hurt him."

"You could have hurt him badly, you know," said Braid.

"I don't think so," said Ketch. "Are you going to charge him, sir?," said Comfort as Ketch departed, looking pale.

"I don't think so," said Braid. "Intent to simulate bodily harm is not a crime. And between you and me, Medway fully deserved it. I only wish I had been there to see it. Luckily, they filmed it, and it's going to be on the news. Let's roar home and watch it."