The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 13 – Death Dispatch

Steed and One-Ten


John Steed and Cathy Gale’s party trick, a duet working variations on the theme of the invincibility of the British upper class, really comes into its own in Death Dispatch, the 13th broadcast episode of series two.

We’re off in the sort of colonial landscape described by Graham Greene – of swarthy thugs, Freudian dictators and minor functionaries of the Empire, a place where life is cheap and death is pitiless, as we see in the opening shots of this story where a low-level envoy newly in from Washington is quickly despatched in his hotel room in Jamaica.

Cut to Steed, ogling women from his Caribbean sun lounger and meeting his control, One-Ten (Douglas Muir), by a pool, before being briefed about the death and sent off on his mission, towards a nameless South American country where Miguel Rosas (Richard Warner), a dictator of Peronist stripe holds sway, advised by a shady American wonk (David Cargill).

Then cut again, right down Honor Blackman’s cleavage, for the moment Cathy Gale is introduced, more casual sexism in a series unafraid of it.

The two spend the rest of the episode bouncing, like skimming stones, from one flaky country to the next, avoiding murderous brown-skinned men on airport runways as they advance on Rosas and the answer to the plot’s McGuffin – who killed the courier and why? Along the way they banter like a pre-sex couple while in South America the petty potentate glowers, rages and explodes with the sort of fury that delineates insecure tyrants everywhere.

There is a wrinkle in the otherwise off-the-peg character of Rosas – he has an innocent daughter who spends her time riding horses and enjoying the benefits of dictatorship, all the while blithely unaware what sort of man her father is, or where his vast ill-gotten wealth comes from – she’s both his weakness and his human side.

More minor psychological sketching in the script by Leonard Fincham comes in the character of Gerald Harper’s Foreign Office flunkey, a smooth Brylcreemed posh boy trying to maintain his status while doing what he clearly considers to be skivvy work.

Though slightly absurd, with a baddie not a million miles from central casting, it’s a nice, neat tale told rather well, with enough curlicues to give it interest, and with a recognisable 007 dynamic – the Americans in the wings are the real force, the Brits carry on superficially as if they still have an Empire (after all, we’re only six years after the Suez Crisis – the moment when the Brits realised it was game over), though the relentless supercilious quippery tells a different story.


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The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 12 – The Big Thinker

Tony Booth plays cards



Things go technological in the 12th episode of series two – The Big Thinker – a tale of a big brain computer called Plato and the scientists who minister to it like Delphic virgins in white lab coats.

Hanging on like grim death to the notion that Britain was still at the forefront of things cyber in the early 1960s, the plot turns on the demise of a scientist – frozen to death after getting caught inside the workings of an electronic beast that gives the UK a crucial lead in tech and spying – at which point Steed and Gale are sent in to investigate.

I say Steed and Gale, but the most notable thing about this episode is that it’s dominated by Honor Blackman’s Cathy Gale. It was a rare thing for a woman to take pole position in TV shows at the time, and perhaps came about because Blackman was getting “honorary male” status, as a holdover from the show’s original conceptual idea, which was to have Steed partnered with a fellow male.

Talking of males, Anthony Booth (father of Cherie, the future wife of PM Tony Blair) plays Dr Kearns, a wayward scientist, possibly half-modelled on Alan Turing – brilliant, hectoring, troubled and with an eye on the ladies (so not entirely modelled on Turing), and a bit of a gambler, which takes Kearns and Gale into town, where the scientist gets into a spot of gambler’s trouble.

Mrs Gale is ahead of him, of course, and helps him out in one of many displays of debonair noblesse oblige, a role that usually falls to Steed.

Booth, a left wing firebrand in real life, deploys what he probably thinks is a radical chic acting style to counter the cool aristo posing of Blackman. It’s highly erratic in terms of line readings, vocal inflection and physical gesture. It probably infuriated the other actors and whatever its motivation it’s highly off-putting here, though it does at least add energy to a story that seems to be going out of its way not to be involving.

There’s banter aplenty, and at least the sparring between Gale and Kearns helps bridge the chasm of ennui that threatens to open up at any minute.

It’s Honor Blackman’s episode, Patrick Macnee wandering in here and there as if to remind us that he’s the titular star of the show more than for any real plot advancement. And she acquits herself well, carrying the show in much the same way as she flips an assailant over her shoulder, with ease.



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