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Lost Gems: Mark Saber (1951-1960)

Posted on November 4, 2010 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Mark Saber

Mark Saber. You've heard of him, right? No? One of the finest detectives around? Okay.

Odd that, because as a character, he lasted a very long time on both US and UK TV radio, solving murders around the world both as a US homicide detective and as a London private eye, in no fewer than three TV shows and one radio show, with four actors having played him.

Let's start at the beginning with the radio show. ABC Mystery Theater aired from 1951-1954, with two original seasons of scripts and one season of repeats from the second season. Season one introduced Inspector Mark Saber of The Homicide Squad (who, as you can guess, worked for a US homicide squad) and his assistant, Sergeant Tim Maloney. For season one, Robert Carroll provided the voice of Mark Saber and Tim Maloney was played by first James Westerfield then Douglas Chandler. Then for seasons two and three, Les Damon, of the radio series, The Adventures of The Falcon and The Thin Man, played the part of Inspector Saber and Walter Burke played the part of Sergeant Maloney.

Got that? That's three seasons with two different Mark Sabers on the radio.

Because just to confuse matters, between 1951 and 1954, there was also a TV show on ABC called Mystery Theater as well as a show called first Mark Saber and then Inspector Mark Saber: Homicide Squad. In this, Saber was played by Tom Conway, the elder brother of George Sanders who, like Sanders and Les Damon, had also played 'The Falcon'. Here he is:

Tom Conway

Conway played Saber as a foppish, well-dressed homicide detective and was again assisted by the Watson-like Sergeant Tim Maloney. But it's also notable that unlike radio Mark Saber, this Mark Saber was British.

Right. Time to really confuse things. Also running on ABC from 1954 to 1959 was a show called The Vise. This was ostensibly an anthology series hosted by Australian actor Ron Randell about 'individuals trapped by circumstance', the eponymous vice/vise constricting them. But as of the second season, The Vise was turned over to Mark Saber stories and Inspector Mark Saber: Homicide Squad was stopped.

You might think that wouldn't cause problems – it was just a renaming. But since The Vise was a British show that was made in Britain, not only did the old name and set-up go, but so did the Hollywood-based Conway. In came an entirely new set-up and an entirely new Mark Saber, this time played by South African actor Donald Gray (best known as the voice of Colonel White in Captain Scarlet).

This Mark Saber worked in London and was a private detective. But see if you can tell from this picture what was most notable about the new Mark Saber:

Donald Gray as Mark Saber

No? Well, Donald Gray had actually lost his left arm during World War II, making Mark Saber one of the few mentally or physically disabled detectives in TV history (can anyone name any others except Saber, Ironside and David Creegan in Touching Evil?) and one of the even fewer who's actually been played by a disabled actor (Robert David Hall on CSI?).

This Mark Saber basically ran around London investigating crimes, assisted by his slightly thick American assistant Barney O'Keefe (Michael Balfour), as well as a number of secretaries, including Stevie Ames (played by singer Diane Decker) and Judy (Theresa Thorne). Each episode would begin with Donald Gray speaking to camera: ""How do you do? The story is about people caught in the jaws of a vise, we'll begin our story in a moment," and conclude with "See you again to tell you another story of those who are caught in the jaws of a vice," after Saber had cleaned up the mess in just under 30 minutes.

As you can probably tell, The Vise – which was actually called Mark Saber in the UK – did not turn out epically great bits of work, since its producers, the famous cheapskates the Danziger brothers, were making two episodes of it a week. But it did see writers like Brian Clemens (who went on to make The Avengers what it was) cut their writing teeth on its production line and there's many an actor, including the likes of Patrick MacGoohan, who got bit parts in it.

Eventually, The Vise died. But the public loved Saber so much, he lived on in a new show called Saber of London (Detective's Diary and also Saber of Scotland Yard in the US). Out went Barney and Saber's various secretaries and in came Neil McCallum as Pete Paulson, who was soon replaced by Larry Nelson (Gordon Tanner) and then Bob Page (Robert Arden). It may have been called Saber of London, but Saber spent very little time in the city, instead globetrotting to far flung studio setsforeign locations, including Paris and the Riviera.

In 1960, though, Mark Saber's time was up. After being played by four actors, and solving over 156 cases over eight seasons in three TV shows, one radio show and countless cities, there were apparently no more murders for him to solve. Barring a few repeats in 1969 and then during the 90s on Bravo, he's not resurfaced since and he's almost unheard of now. But during his time, he lived a lot. Here's a complete episode of The Vise, its weird old title sequence intact, for you to remember him by.

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