Synopsis: Turpin and Swiftnick are riding towards Mudbury, to lie low for a while. On the way, they save a man’s life when he is attacked by deserters. The man turns out to be Tom Bracewell, a prize-fighter on his way to a fight. Turpin brags to Swiftnick of the time he knocked out the English prize-fighting champion, but admits it was probably down to a lucky punch. Once at Mudbury, Turpin takes a bath while Swiftnick learns that a man named Nightingale is running a protection racket and terrorising the village.
Nightingale employs a thug by name of Hogg (played by Robert Russell) to beat up anyone who refuses to pay. Swiftnick brags of Turpin’s former victory and the villagers temporarily regard Turpin as their potential saviour until, following an altercation with Nightingale, Turpin is beaten by Hogg.
Turpin refuses to leave and is determined to rescue Mudbury from the clutches of Hogg and Nightingale. He engages Bracewell to challenge Hogg to a fight. On the day, however, Bracewell is nowhere to be found, and in order to avoid forfeiting the money put down for the challenge, Turpin steps into the ring in Bracewell’s place. Swiftnick breaks into Nightingale’s house to find out if Bracewell is being held there, but in fact Bracewell has been gagged and bound and is trapped in a box near where the fight is being held. A small boy in the crowd discovers Bracewell, and just in time – Turpin has been well and truly beaten up, but refuses to give in. Bracewell steps into the ring just as Turpin delivers one final punch which defeats Hogg. The village is freed and Nightingale is placed in the stocks.
Commentary: The deserters we see at the beginning of this episode are presumably from the Jacobite Rising of 1715. James II fled to France following the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 and was active afterwards as The Pretender. Those still loyal to James II feature in episodes which follow this one, as we shall see. The reigning monarch at this time was George I, who succeeded to the throne after Queen Anne’s death in 1714.
That which is most interesting about this episode is the way in which Turpin’s vanity manifests itself. He can’t reveal his name willy-nilly as he travels about the country because there is a very large price on his head and if captured, he will hang. The pair travel under assumed names: Mr Turner (close to Turpin) and Mr Nicholas Smith (which is Swiftnick’s real name, but it is a common enough name and he is unlikely to forget it). However, as we see in this and other episodes, there is a conflict between the necessity of keeping Turpin’s name a secret and his desire to create his own legend.
In spite of Turpin’s vanity, he is hero-material nevertheless. He refuses to chuck in the fight, even though he is half-dead, and he is fighting under an assumed name – it is only at the end of the episode that he reveals his true identity. Fortunately for him, his ‘lucky punch’ replays itself and he lays out Hogg without having to concede the fight.
This episode features a lovely over-the-top performance from John Grillo as the zealous tax-collector Father Nightingale. Turpin shows himself to be more than capable of preaching the Bible right back at the village’s oppressor, reminding us, perhaps, that he wasn’t always a highwayman and was once a gentleman-farmer. There are many funny moments in this episode and some excellent comic timing from O’Sullivan, who, of course, was something of a sit-com star (Man About the House in the seventies, Robin’s Nest and Me and My Girl in the eighties). The final fight itself, with Turpin dodging punch after punch, reminds me of the fight between Vitalstatistix and Cassius Ceramix (whose name is a pun on Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali’s real name) in Asterix and the Big Fight – and of course, Vitalstatistix emerges the victor in exactly the same way that Turpin does here.