The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 4 – Bullseye

Steed and Gale

 

Like one of those arcane “tontine plots”, the fourth episode of series two offers us a scenario where a string of people die so somebody in the same eco-system can ultimately benefit.

Julie Stevens womanfully did sidekick duty in the last episode, but Honor Blackman’s Cathy Gale returns this time round to help Steed unravel another mystery that yet again seems to be more a matter for the police than any covert organisation – an arms company resisting a takeover bid by pushy johnny-come-lately Henry Cade (Ronald Radd) finds its board members dying one after the other. Is Cade – already painted as the unacceptable face of capitalism (as if being in the arms business hadn’t already ticked that box) – responsible?

We meet Cathy Gale, after her series hiatus, newly installed as a shareholder with a 20 per cent stake in the Anderson Small Arms Company, asking searching questions at an extraordinary general meeting held to discuss the takeover bid, a supplementary frisson added by the fact that the chairman is already dead – shot, appropriately.

More of the board are to follow in what plays out like a classic whodunit, polished in British style by fine character actors and witty badinage between the leads.

Ronald Radd is a real asset as the bullishly rapacious takeover merchant angling after the Anderson business and there’s 27-year-old Judy Parfitt as a company functionary, a commanding presence whose bearing and skill marks her out as someone who’s going to be turning up on TV for decades (most recently seen in Call the Midwife).

Spilling round the edges of Eric Paice’s screenplay are vague digs at antique British business practices – the bufferish old major with stick-in-the-mud ways; the middle-aged lothario with an eye on the typing pool; the general air of the old boys club and so on.

It turns out that it’s not all about one businessman trying to take over another business. There is a bigger picture. This is all conveniently added, in what feels like a hasty addendum, in a quick exchange between Steed (who has financed Mrs Gale’s £50K holding, it turns out, but is otherwise barely in this episode) and Gale at the London Stock Exchange (stock footage, appropriately) – Anderson’s arms are heading for an unnamed African country on the verge of revolution.

Gale wears more Michael Whittaker gear – a  jaunty Spanish bullfighter’s hat and a tartan cape at one point. Steed is a symphony of Jermyn Street clobber – shirt and tie, jacket and coat, casual trilby hat. That’s how sensible chaps used to dress before central heating. He’s probably also wearing a vest.

Nice to see Mrs Gale’s martial arts skills – ka-rah-tay, they pronounce it – are coming along too.

Really, it’s a version of the well-made play that the theatre set would flock to see in London’s West End until Terence Rattigan and his ilk went out of style. Nothing wrong with that.

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers Complete – watch it or buy it at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2017

 

 

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 3 – The Decapod

Venus Smith sings

 

Just when you thought it was Steed and Gale, Macnee and Blackman, along pops Julie Stevens (later in the decade a regular on the children’s TV show Playaway) as a sidekick in the third episode of series two. What’s afoot? Clearly there were worries behind the scenes before the series got underway and, having lost their big star in Ian Hendry, a double whammy of Macnee and Blackman not quite taking with the viewing public was insured against by drafting in ancillary helpmeet Stevens.

As Venus Smith, she plays a nightclub singer helping Steed get to the bottom of a murder after a pretty girl is murdered inside the “Balkan Embassy”. Cypriot and 1960s and 70s rent-an-ethnic Paul Stassino plays the handsome representative of the ruling junta the British government sends Steed to protect. Or is that a cover for something more serpentine?

The foreigners are hilariously typical of 1960s TV – brutes, fools, lechers and criminals – and Steed has no trouble inserting Smith into the embassy as this visiting big noise’s new private secretary. Nor does he have any trouble smooth-talking Smith into taking the gig – patting a passing cigarette girl on the bottom after having done so as if to underline his caddish charm – with a vague promise of a tour of the Balkans and a big paycheck.

Like Emma Peel, Tara King and Cathy Gale, Venus Smith has the bi-syllabic first name followed by mono-syllabic second of Steed’s regular assistants. Except Venus Smith is a civilian – she’s not only a singer but she does in fact sing a number or two in the show (starting with You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me). You could argue that Gale is a civilian too, the various references to an outside life indicating as much, but Smith is clearly outside the circle of trust; Gale isn’t.

So what’s The Decapod? It’s the name of a wrestler, who we first espy killing the comely blonde in the opening sequence, before turning up later, fighting Georgi (Doug Robinson), one of the ambassador’s bodyguards, who goes under the fight name of The Beast of the Balkans. And it’s a typical piece of Avengers plotting – confusing, colourful and not exactly the quickest way of getting from A to B for anyone involved. And it later turns out there are two Decapods, in fact, as the denouement is upon us.

En (a circuitous and never credible) route we discover that Venus Smith is a feisty and mercenary young woman who doesn’t mind being pawed by a Balkan general, that The Avengers production team are prepared to slow down the action with not one but two songs by Smith, and that when you are shot and killed on a 1960s TV show there are no bullet holes and no blood.

It’s all highly enjoyable, in a ridiculous way, and with its focus on more arcane areas of society (both the foreign embassy and the wrestling ring), it foreshadows many Avengers storylines to come.

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers Complete – watch it or buy it at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2017

 

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 2 – Propellant 23

Gale and Steed

 

Set mostly in the airport at Marseille (a studio just to the north of London, apparently), this tight and fast episode gets underway with a passenger on a plane arriving from Tripoli getting very distraught and claiming he’s about to die. Without giving too much away, he does die, gratifyingly for the foreign spies who are after a flask of a highly volatile rocket fuel, Propellant 23. Unfortunately for them, the flask gets lost in the shuffle. Has it fallen down the back of a seat, been taken home by a light-fingered airport luggage worker, been drunk by the hotel barker who touts for business in the arrivals lounge, or been whisked away to behind the Iron Curtain?

The last possibility seems unlikely as there is a lot of continuing interest in this seemingly unimportant missing object by people who wouldn’t normally be that bothered, among them Geoffrey Palmer as suave ladies man Paul Manning. The airport police are also interested, since the dead passenger is now in their jurisdiction.

Enter Steed and Gale, who seem to be already in France, bantering as they set off in a sports car for a through-the-night drive to Marseille. As part of this to-and-fro we learn a bit more about the imperious, mysterious Mrs Gale – that she has some sort of interest in feeding the starving children of Africa. A humanitarian? An anthropologist? The queen of a foreign land? We’re not entirely sure.

At that airport we’re introduced to the various characters who work there – Laure (Katherine Woodville), the woman running the airport cafe, Jacques (Trader Faulkner) the drunk hotel barker she has a soft spot for, the various police, among them a French police lieutenant known as Curly (John Crocker) by his mocking colleagues – he’s battling hair loss with the latest in what is probably a long list of quack remedies.

And that’s it – with the flask as a McGuffin, the action moves between suave Paul, drunk Jacques, sweet Laure, the dead body, Steed and Gale and a mystery man in a hat with the sort of sweaty, swarthy complexion that was shorthand for Soviet Spy in 1960s TV.

The tone sits somewhere between the movie Casablanca and the British TV series ’Allo ’Allo – exotic ruffians in foreign climes and a lot of people with very odd accents. Jonathan Alwyn directs in a brisk manner and needs to because Jon Manchip White’s screenplay fits a lot of people and plot into the 50 minutes. It’s an enjoyable, studio-bound spy caper that manages a few moments of real tension. Only the hair-loss comedy subplot could do with a trim.

Fans of Doctor Who might enjoy seeing Nicholas Courtney (later Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart) as the plane’s captain.

 

 

The Avengers Complete – watch it or buy it at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2017

 

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 1 – Mr Teddy Bear

John Steed and Cathy Gale

 

Ian Hendry has left, Patrick Macnee has been bumped up to star and Honor Blackman has been drafted in as a sidekick who’s not just a pretty face. But there’s more than just those cosmetic differences – if they are just that – going on. In the opener for series two, it’s clear things have gone just a tiny bit self-referential too and that The Avengers is beginning to push against not just the envelope of its own founding principles, but also against those of television.

The self-referentiality comes in the opening scene, set in a TV studio where a notable traveller and writer is about to be interviewed in some highbrow arts show (by genuine TV face Tim Brinton). But instead of speaking, the imperially-moustached Colonel Wayne-Gilley dies dramatically on air, eyes bulging, leaping upwards before falling to the ground where a camera swings down to watch him hit the floor. But is it the camera shooting the TV show that’s followed him down, or is it the camera shooting this episode of The Avengers, or are they the same thing?

That, and the arrival of the jokey episode title – Mr Teddy Bear – indicate we’re really in new territory. No more small beer. The case is high-profile, for starters, the killer is of international renown, and the method – cyanide pills activated by a tiny clockwork mechanism inside the capsule – arcane. We’re also introduced to Steed’s organisation, in the shape of One Ten (Douglas Muir), a desk-bound boss with whom much exposition is done in short order. Damn useful these desk-bound bosses, as the Bond series would find out with its own version – M.

“Anyway, Steed, get him. That’s as near an order as I can make it,” One Ten says to Steed, slightly mysteriously – is he his boss or isn’t he? And off Steed heads, back home, where we meet Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), smoking a cigarette in a holder and trading banter as Steed lays out his plan to ensnare the assassin Mr Bear by getting Gale to pose as a woman who wants to buy Mr Bear’s services – to kill Steed.

There’s a lot more spy stuff – disembodied voices down the phone, meeting in exotic locations, surveillance by camera, pursuit by person or persons unknown – but most notable of all is the fact that the villain remains hidden the entire time. We know whodunit but we’re not quite sure what he looks like, another enduring Avengers theme.

And Steed and Cathy Gale. Do they live together? What is the exact nature of their relationship? It has the same prickly wham-bam quality that Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd would later borrow for Moonlighting, or William Powell and Myrna Loy had in The Thin Man.

Teasing. Conceptually a very important idea in this series.

 

 

 

The Avengers Complete – watch it or buy it at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2017