Locked Room Mystery

Actor Steven McNicoll, in addition to his invaluable services to the nation as actor and funnyman, has a stockpile of thespian anecdotes second to none. Here’s one you might enjoy.

Wilfred Lawson, left, in THE WRONG BOX, suffering from the advanced stages of Wilfred Lawson Syndrome.

I’ve written before of Wilfred Lawson, character actor and celebrated inebriate. One of the few actors who could function quite well with a skinful, and who always seems quite drunk anyway when you see him in films. But there are limits, and you had to get him onstage or in front of the cameras before complete paralysis set in. 

It seems he was to do a live radio show. A minder was given the task of keeping him from the demon drink. The minder escorted Lawson to a dressing room and locked him in. The room had been thoroughly searched, and did not contain a trace of liquor. Lawson was sober when he went in, and had no booze on his person. There were no windows, and the only door was securely locked from the outside. The minder had the only key.

Returning after an hour to collect Lawson for the broadcast, the minder finds him utterly rat-arsed, pissed beyond language. How was this possible?

Readers of John Dickson Carr might have the advantage in guessing this one, since Carr performed so many variants on the classic Locked Room Mystery during his long career (yet there are only a few movie adaptations, THE MAN WITH THE CLOAK being perhaps the best). In The Hollow Man, Carr’s obese detective, Dr. Gideon Fell, actually lists all the different solutions possible to an L.R.M. And it STILL doesn’t help the reader reach an answer to the problem at hand.

For the record, the basic gimmicks are:

1) The crime was committed BEFORE the room was hermetically sealed, despite appearances (see The Mystery of the Yellow Room).

2) The crime was committed AFTER the room was unsealed, despite appearances (the husband rushes in and quietly throttles his fainted wife while his friends are going for the doctor).

3) The room is not 100% sealed — there exists some kind of ingenious secret access (see The Murders in the Rue Morgue, where an inaccessible window turns out to be perfectly accessible — if you happen to be an orang-utan).

4) The crime was self-inflicted, with a cunning mechanism designed to disguise the fact (such as an elastic band that yanks the fatal pistol up the chimney when it is released from the victim’s hand, thus concealing the ugly truth of suicide).

I suppose I ought to tell you the answer to this one, but I’m quite curious to hear your suggestions first.

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16 Responses to “Locked Room Mystery”

  1. I’m going with number one as dedicated alcoholics are given to secreting hooch in all manner of places all the time.

  2. Arthur S. Says:

    I’d go with second. Lawson acted drunk and got drunk for real after leaving his minder who in his befuddlement at his seeming failure actually fails by not minding Lawson who escapes his all-seeing Mabusean eyes.

    If not that then the door isn’t really secret. And Lawson hid the alcohol in plain sight just like in the sequel to “The Murders of Rue Morgue” which has that fancy title about purloinment.

  3. Ah yes, Poe’s famous The Purloined Lager.

    I like those theories, but I can state that everything I said in the blog post is factual (if the story is true): Lawson WAS sober going in, there WAS nothing in the room, the door WAS locked.

    Arthur’s first theory is a good one, deploying Lawson’s thespian skills, but it’s not actually the solution.

    David Wingrove just offered me some more solutions, none of which were correct, but which showed a truly criminal mind at work: an accomplice disconnects the water supply and pumps whisky into the room, fulfilling some kind of drunkard’s dream of drinking booze from the fawcett of a sink (downside: Barbara Windsor’s probably pissed in that sink); an accomplice spills alcohol in the room above until it drips through the ceiling into Lawson’s waiting mouth; Lawson plants a small bottle of booze on the minder, and removes it surreptitiously as the minder is frisking him (this is DAMNED CLEVER).

    Any more ideas?

  4. Probably number 1 – did he have a liquid lunch and being an ‘experienced drinker’ would be able to put up a performance of sobriety while slowly getting drunker and drunker on a time-release basis?

  5. Or perhaps he was just acting drunk to get out of the live radio show and off to the pub early?

  6. Or perhaps he was completely sober and the minder didn’t realise that he was either acting his ‘drunk persona’ or that this was his natural state and thought he was completely out of his gourd?

  7. Had he soaked his clothes in alcohol and it was just a case of wringing the sweet, sweet liquor into the (Windsor-sullied) sink?

  8. Nope, nope and nope! He WAS sober, and then he was drunk. The time-release thing is allowable on a technicality, but it’s not the solution.

  9. Hmm, did an accomplice help him with the use of a drinking straw through the keyhole? Or alcoholic vapours likewise (this is a real product you can buy if you can’t be bothered with the faff of drinking in order to get drunk). Or maybe he had some food that secretly contained booze – an orange or a packet of “Locket” cough sweets that had had their syrup removed and replaced with hard liquor.

  10. Oh man, it’s so obvious. He had swallowed a condom filled with booze which he then regurgitated and consumed as soon as the coast was clear. Right?

  11. We have a winner!

    Not the condom approach, that’s just gross.

    Once alone, Lawson banged on the floor until somebody shouted up to see what was going on. “Are you bribe-able?” asked Lawson. The fellow was. Directed to lawson’s room, the fellow received a fiver under the door and went out and bought booze, which lawson consumed using, as Jenny suggests, a drinking straw through the keyhole.

    I think that merits some kind of prize. One thing’s for sure, the readers of this blog would all make formidable alcoholics.

  12. Hooray, best news all day! It’s a good job I’m practically TT, cos I know all the tricks. If anyone ever tries to take my morning cappuccino away from me I’ll know what to do though.

    As an aside, does anyone know if I got that orange-injected with booze thing from a film? and if so what? I don’t know the answer, I’m wondering if Lisa Price, the naughtiest girl in the playgound made it up.

  13. The orange injected with booze was definitely featured in Roughnecks, the BBC Scotland James Cosmo vehicle. Someone was trying to smuggle whisky out to an oil rig and used that very method.

  14. I can’t place the alcoholic orange offhand. I wonder how much booze you could fit inside?
    For some reason thinking about all this makes me want to make vodka ice cubes.
    A musician friend once invented a beverage, though he never actually made it. A cup of tea made with frothed milk — to be known as a cuppatino.

  15. Excellent – I want to try the cuppatino, I don’t think I’d like it but I’ll try anything once.

    I’ve looked up Roughnecks, I don’t remember it but I used to watch everything on TV back then so it might well be that. Thank you Douglas.

  16. Georgina Says:

    vodka ice cubes… I wonder how many you’d have to have to get drunk?

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