TV… Flashbacking to a Final Episode of a TV Series, When Topol Knew It All

#1970s #1980s


Topol’s character sings to a different tune the more you get to know him…


Remembering Topol when he played a womanising archaeologist whose past is dug up when he riles an irritated hotel worker.



I was sad to learn that Chaim / Haym Topol had passed away. Topol was remembered by many as the lead, Tevye the milkman in the award winning film musical Fiddler on the Roof (1971). This much Oscar nominated musical was a regular fixture for Scottish Bank Holidays and Hogmanay or the matinee movie on New Year’s Day. For the film role, director Norman Jewison chose Topol from a list of big names including Richard Burton, Walter Matthau and Danny Kaye.

Topol had played this character on stage before he was chosen for this role in the 1971 film. Wikipedia HERE tells that Topol auditioned for this stage role before he became fluent in English and won the role after listening to a record and then memorising the lyrics from the Broadway production.

The plot of this film is set in 1905 and tells of a milkman who plans to marry off his five daughters in a small town in Imperial Russia. It came with catchy song numbers such as Matchmaker, Matchmaker and If I Were A Rich Man. My Darlin Husband recalled Topol from his later roles in Flash Gordon (1980), and in the James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only (1981).

I noticed Topol also had a dubious claim to fame as the principal actor in the Tales of the Unexpected TV series in the final episode from 1988. This episode was aptly timed for Friday the 13th (of May). So intrigued by the title and the serendipitous timing, I settled down with pen and paper to take notes for this review of Tales of the Unexpected, season 9, episode 10 in an episode named Mr Know All.

The episode, Mr Know All is set for no apparent reason in the Virgin Islands, brought to you by the power of… er stock footage. A hotel holds a conference for archaeologists, and the esteemed Professor Max Kelada (Topol) checks in. He immediately irritates assistant hotel manager, Jasper Cranley (Edward Wiley) by inquiring if the women present are prostitutes or “tarts”. Kelada’s roving eyes also wander to the rear view of a group of ladies who walk by…

Cranley curtly tells him many of the women are students who work on the island. After his comment, Cranley apologises for his snippy mood, putting it down to his nerves as his wife and child are due to return the next day from a trip abroad. But you feel that this hotel worker is sizing up Kelada, and he is also judging him badly by this guest’s behaviours and continual stream of lewd comments about the ladies.

That evening, Kelada displays a poster in the hotel lobby about a night where he will show off his archaeological talents. Max plans to show off his archaeological talents to a crowd of archaeologists as he claims can recognise archaeological artefacts just by looking at them, and he wages 100 quid a shot. He often makes a small fortune doing this, and it’s claimed that this talent is mainly one “to impress the girls”. So he does just that and impresses many of the hotel guests with his never-ending knowledge, he really is a Mr Know All.

It’s learnt Kelada is a bit of a heartbreaker and a womaniser. Cranley warns the new hotel employee, a pretty medical student, Elly Somerton (Kim Thomson) about this guest’s behaviour. Max tries it on with Elly after she brings a bottle of whisky he ordered to his room and successfully fends him off. Later, Cranley introduces him to his wife, who seems pretty loved up with the uptight hotel worker. Yet the insecure Cranley observes them together from a distance, not trusting this man who never dates the same woman twice.

Elly goes to his room again and Kelada puts on the charm and she falls into bed with him. She’s not the first in this hotel stay with the judgemental Cranley telling Kelada he is not there to “entertain” the guest’s wives…

However, after they make love, Max then gives Elly a small sculpture, which he claims is Columbian and asks her to promise not to ever sell it. Elly then discovers by accident, that he has a handy supply of these “artefacts”. He tells her his secret, that they were made by a good friend, and are worthless. But he adds that he gives his bedfellows these artefacts as a small souvenir of their night of passion with him. (He apparently has given away over 90 of these statuettes already)

Cranley catches Elly in bed with Kelada after she doesn’t return from her room service tasks, and he demands they both leave by midnight… Cranley sacks Elly. He then seeks to humiliate Kelada by asking him to recognise the origins of an artefact belonging to his wife. Then Cranley presents him with an identical statuette… as both Elly and Cranley’s wife, Lizzie (Leslie Lyon) look on in amusement and fear respectively…

Ranker placed it as number 28, HERE, in a chart of all 112 of the Tales of the Unexpected episodes. These tales with a twist are worth their weight in gold with some fabulous stories and casts including John Gielgud, Joan Collins, John Mills and Pauline Collins. More about this TV series is found HERE.

This episode interestingly was based on a W Somerset Maugham short story, Mr Know All and it was adapted for the series by writer Paul Ableman. This story is summed up HERE by E-notes as,

In “Mr. Know-All,” the narrator is forced to share a cruise cabin with a man called Max Kelada. He claims to be an expert on pearls and values Mrs. Ramsay’s chain at several thousand dollars. Mr. Ramsay values them at $18.

Kelada challenges him to a bet for $100, which he deliberately loses to spare Mrs. Ramsay any embarrassment. The next day, Kelada receives $100 from a grateful Mrs. Ramsay for lying to protect her.

I won’t tell you how Kelada responds to Cranley’s request but it was clear that Topol enjoyed his part in this episode. It proves that your initial perceptions of a person can alter in quite surprising circumstances. Topol’s character initially seemed a bit of a cad and a charmer, and he definitely had an eye for the ladies. However, he’s also seen as an honest man, who makes no secret of his womanising as we find when he confesses all To Elly and in his sexual behaviours continuing despite Cranley’s warnings.

The prudish hotel manager initially had many ideas about Kelada, and this led to some delightful scenes. This judgemental hotel worker reprimanded Kelada like he was a small boy with his hand in the sweetie jar. Despite this, Kelada and Elly did as they pleased. Topol seemed to delight in this role, and it was fun watching him sparring with the hotel manager. Despite playing such a caddish character, Topol played his character with a twinkle in his eye and it’s clear he was having fun in this role.

I loved those scenes showing Topol’s on-screen chemistry with Thompson where Kelada confessed quite honestly the truth behind these statuettes. This truth behind the statuettes was neatly added to this final twist and the repercussions. The combination of Topol’s caddish performance as this know all, archaeologist and the title meant I thought the story would take a different turn.

Although not a singing role, this story had a more surprising end to this episode. And it didn’t end with Kelada losing all his winnings and singing If I Were A Rich Man in the style of his Oscar-nominated role in Fiddler on the Roof... But it will like this musical bring a smile to your face, as this series ends on a good and honourable note in the last moments of a tale of the unexpected kind.



4 thoughts on “TV… Flashbacking to a Final Episode of a TV Series, When Topol Knew It All

  1. Very nice tribute, Gill!
    Tales of the unexpected sounds like a great series!
    Your review also reminded me that I have never seen fiddler on the roof. Musicals from the 1960s and very early ’70s have always been difficult for me to watch. Maybe I will get around to it one day.

    Liked by 1 person

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