The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 15 – Intercrime

Mrs Gale and the Intercrime gang

 

Twelve high level robberies in the last few weeks “and not one of them the work of an Englishman,” Steed says in the opening minutes of Intercrime, both the title of this episode and the name of a criminal outfit, a dark flipside of Interpol organising nefarious goings-on “all over Europe”.

This case for Steed and Mrs Gale, the 15th to be broadcast in the second series – and the first to go out in 1963, the year of JFK’s assassination –  is a busy affair, with more than its fair share of ridiculousness.

For example, to extract information from Hilda Stern (Julia Arnall), the German representative of Intercrime newly arrived in the UK, Mrs Gale poses as a criminal and ends up in Holloway prison sharing a cell (and confidences) with Stern (a faint foreshadowing of From Russia with Love‘s Rosa Klebb, who would arrive on screens later that year), who has been picked up on some passport irregularity. Enter the warden: “Why aren’t you in bed yet?” she asks Mrs Gale. Mrs Gale: “I was just finishing my cocoa.”

It’s all very twee, even more so in Honor Blackman’s barely disguised cut-glass accent, but there is a point to the cocoa reference – Gale has drugged Stern’s and is soon out and about trying to pass herself off as the German hardwoman to the London representatives of Intercrime (boss Kenneth J Warren and right-hand-man Alan Browning).

There clearly being no honour among thieves, the plot turns on the fact that Intercrime itself is being sold down the river by one of its number, and the London franchise co-opts “Hilda” to take out the miscreant.

Enough of the plot, which twists and turns a bit more, enjoyably, and gives Honor Blackman plenty of opportunity to seethe, which she is particularly good at – Mrs Gale isn’t annoyed because she’s not brave, but because she is a feminist wondering why she’s always doing the dirty work, or so Blackman’s face suggests.

The men are in charge of the criminal operation but dramatically there’s a lot of meat for the women, including the unusual sight of a gunplay standoff between two women towards the end. No prizes for guessing which two.

Look out for a door accidentally swinging open to reveal one of those gigantic TV cameras being hastily wheeled out of shot – makes you realise how intricately these teleplays must have been choreographed when you see one of those lumbering beasts.

Though Steed features heavily in early scenes that get the whole Intercrime plot strand rolling, it’s undoubtedly Gale’s episode. Was there a more important female character in 1960s British TV?

 

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2018

 

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 14 – Dead on Course

Dr King and John Steed

 

The Avengers might just as easily have been called The Amateurs, since that was the original premise of the show – a bunch of freelance helpmeets called in to assist gangmaster John Steed in the solving of various cases too tricky to be handled by the usual agencies.

No, it makes no real sense, but in Dead on Course, which was the 14th episode to be shown in series two, the concept remains vibrant and Jon Rollason’s Dr Martin King is the amateur called upon to help Steed work out why an experienced pilot would steer a plane into the sea off the coast of Ireland. Steed and King are there not because of the crash itself, but because it has happened before, and Doctor King is involved – flimsy reason – because he is some sort of expert in dead bodies.

Flimsy or not, King is soon on the case, up at the convent where the dead bodies have been taken and quizzing an order of nuns – and it’s a silent order, as it so often was in the 1960s.

It’s a subtle episode, nicely written by Eric Paice, who gives secondary characters more depth than is often the case – the Irish crash investigator bridling because his expertise is being called into question by these johnnie-come-lately Brits, for instance.

The whole set-up allows British TV to indulge in a bit of flagrant Oirishry, in fact, with Donal Donnelly giving particularly good value as a garrulous eejut who works at the local pub (again the pub) where Steed and King are staying.

As for the nunnery, it doesn’t take an eagle eye to spot that one of the sisters appears to be a mister. But is it going to be part of the big denouement, or did they just run out of actresses?

There’s a lot of plot to get through, and quite a lot is made of the difficulty of getting the Catholic Church to behave in the way that everyone else in Ireland would – legal jurisdiction seems unclear (not that it’s mentioned at all, but this is exactly how the sexual abuses and various baby-farming ops run by the Church in Ireland went unchecked for so long).

Patrick Macnee is, as ever, a marvel, using little dollops of theatrical technique to overcome the odd fluff, letting giving full booming throat when he’s conscious that the microphones are in danger of rendering his voice too tinnily.

It’s noticeably a very studio-bound episode, though that’s offset by snappy writing and fast line readings by all involved.

Not bad at all, and the combination of nuns and planes is a fairly unusual one, outside of Airplane and the disaster movies it was spoofing.

 

 

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