The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 6 – The Removal Men

Edina Ronay and Douglas Muir

 

Heady Europeanism, alcohol, jazz music and sexual licence are the watchwords of The Removal Men, number six in the second series. And Julie Stevens, appropriately, returns as Steed’s helpmeet in an episode set on the French Riviera, where a Bardot-like sexy French actress (played to the hilt by Edina Ronay, who went on to become a designer) needs protection from some thugs who want to kill her because of her outspoken political views on some far flung colony.

Don Leaver is in the director’s chair, and there are hints of The Third Man in his use of close-ups (which he’s always used to great effect), a mood compounded by the jaunty mitteleuropean tune we hear at one point in a jeweller’s shop, where fenced diamonds add another thrill.

But jazz is the main musical texture, unsurprisingly since Venus Smith (Stevens), is a nightclub singer who only works for Steed with some reluctance, a point underlined by the fact that the forward thrust of the story actually pauses for a song by Smith and The Dave Lee Trio (a real band) – “reminiscent of Bill Evans when he was playing with Miles Davis” opines a cop ruminatively at one point about Dave Lee’s pianistic tinkling.

Again Venus Smith is portrayed as a goodtime girl who enjoys sex with whoever takes her fancy, but really she’s more window-dressing than she was in episode 3, this time around more an act than an agent.

It’s Steed who does the work, again going undercover among the assassins who have the actress in their sights – Avengers villains do seem to accept a newcomer far too quickly for people engaged in the risk business, but I suppose them’s the breaks in a 50-minute self-contained episode.

Roger Marshall and Jeremy Scott’s screenplay is snappy, bantering and fast-moving and, as well as the observation on jazz, includes a scene in which Steed and his control One-Ten (Douglas Muir) gamely and with stomachs pulled in strip down to their swimming gear for a de-brief and make out they’re catching some rays on the Cote d’Azur, rather than staring into the lights of a studio just outside London.

The entire effect is like reading Elizabeth David’s run of books on Mediterranean cooking from the 1950s and early 1960s – this is clearly high-order stuff, even if the years have worn away the glamour a bit.

The 1950s dowdiness of series one still pervades, though, battling against the exotic setting, snappy dialogue and faint disapproval of alcohol which marked out the 1960s.

And we get to see Steed in a T shirt, a thick-knit aertex-style thing, but a T shirt all the same. Is there no end to the sartorial wonder?

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers Complete – watch it or buy it at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2017

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 5 – Mission to Montreal

John Steed and Dr King

 

Mixing it up yet again, episode five of series two – Mission to Montreal – introduces yet another sidekick in a story set on board a cruise liner heading for Canada.

Jon Rollason plays Dr Martin King and brings the number of Steed’s accomplices in this series to three (Honor Blackman and Julie Stevens being the other two). King is an echo of Ian Hendry’s Dr David Keel in that he’s a doctor, and also one only too happy to indulge in a bit of espionage and rough stuff if necessary – not exactly what you’d expect from a well paid follower of Hippocrates, but there you go.

In fact he’s more than an echo – he is Dr Keel in all but name, Rollason’s three appearances in this series all coming about because there were three unfilmed scripts left over from the first series, which were hastily repurposed after Hendry left to pursue a career in films.

Again, as in episode one (Mr Teddy Bear) of this series, there is a little bit of blindsiding meta-business as we’re introduced to key character Carla Berotti, killed off in her first scene, only for the camera to pull back and reveal that Carla is an actress and this is a film set. The action then shifts to the liner, where fragile, sexually loose, drunk, pill-popping but most of all ageing Carla is in a full tyrannical funk as the ship sets off on its voyage from Liverpool to Montreal and the star sets about falling apart while her entourage try to keep her together. Enter Dr King as a medic who can give her something for her nerves, or a slap across the face if she gets hysterical, which she does.

Quite what Carla has to do with a piece of missing microfilm secreted somewhere on board, and quite why Steed is in disguise as a ship’s steward is all revealed in the fullness of time in a screenplay by Lester Powell that gives plenty of air time to the handsome Rollason and presses heavily on the noir pedal. There’s even a villain with an eye patch.

Money has been spent on the set. You could almost believe that this episode wasn’t shot in a studio at times, and director Don Leaver understands how to pace a drama by using close-ups to add a bit of va-va-voom. Noir, again, is the inspiration.

The woozy wonky actress trying to get her leg over is another echo of the 1940s but there are some very 1960s exchanges – talk of “squares”, the focus on having a good time and in particular a little speech by the chief engineer about tolerance and how “it can become a vice if not guided by a strong moral sense”. The chief engineer, spoiler alert, turns out to be a baddie in an episode that, really for the first time, moves The Avengers culturally into the 1960s and places it in the camp of the hip.

Nice to see John Bennett in his pomp as Carla Berotti’s minder, this heavy-lidded always busy character actor adept at playing intelligent serpentine tough guys more likely to cut you up with a stiletto than reduce you to a pulp with his fists.

And nice, too, to see Steed at the end, now out of disguise, restored to his bowler hat, the headgear becoming increasingly his signature and a sign that all is right in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers Complete – watch it or buy it at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2017