The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 24 – A Chorus of Frogs

Shima, Stevens, Pohlmann and Macnee

 

A mix of the familiar and the exotic in A Chorus of Frogs, the 24th episode in the broadcast run of series two of The Avengers, and another chance for Julie Stevens’s Venus Smith to do her wide-eyed naive thing.

It’s a useful character trait, since there is plenty of explicatory work to be done in an episode that kicks off with a frogman dying of the bends, before taking in a group of the dead man’s fellow divers (and, it seems, spies) called the Frogs, a large yacht that’s home to a Bond villain fattie (Eric Pohlmann) and a head-in-the-clouds scientist (Frank Gatliff) who hasn’t quite realised that the diving technology he’s working on is actually a mini-submarine that’s intended as a vital bit of military kit.

Talking of not quite realising, this is Venus Smith’s sixth outing as Steed’s sidekick and she still hasn’t quite sussed that she’s working for the British Secret Service (or some associated body). Still, that is part of her charm, as is the obligatory song – she’s a professional nightclub chanteuse, dammit – which I must admit I could have done without this time around.

However, it is all part of the plot, since Smith is working on this large yacht out in Greece, having been planted there by Steed, who obviously knew in advance that some skulduggery was going to be afoot – we know not how, nor, in the scheme of things, should we care too much.

As well as a key role for Julie Stevens, there are also strong females in the shape of Colette Wilde, one of the Frogs concerned that this latest death isn’t the accident it at first it appears to be, and Yvonne Shima, who starts off as the plaything of millionaire baddie Mason (Pohlmann) but develops more character and dramatic weight as the story progresses – she’s more than just a pretty face.

Money has been spent, clearly, on the sets, which are lavish by usual standards, and the sense of a series steering deliberately away from British villains and mundane crimes is strong.

The exotic setting, side characters and plotlines of Martin Woodhouse’s screenplay combine to give a taste of things to come, but also of things viewers might just have been considering for themselves – the era of the European summer holiday was just dawning and this neat bit of aspirational television fits right in.

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2018

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 23 – Conspiracy of Silence

Steed throttles a clown

 

Tight direction is the saving of Conspiracy of Silence, episode 23 of the second series of The Avengers, a mix of the confusing and the humdrum. Why, for example, is Steed being targeted by a killer while he’s out walking his dog? The imdb brief description tells us it’s because he interrupted a drug-trafficking op run by the Mafia. So, assuming you are the Mafia, why not just kill him in one of the more usual ways, rather than deploy an innocent, Carlo (Robert Rietty), transformed into an automaton killer by a trigger phrase in a redundant mind-control subplot?

Perhaps The Avengers were just warming up the idea for future episodes – mind control became a standard trope eventually. Or perhaps I wasn’t concentrating properly. What I did get was that the whole plot focuses on that 1960s staple, the circus, where Italians are the norm and Mrs Gale has soon been sent undercover – she’s a journalist writing a big story, they’re told – and is billeted with Rickie (Sandra Dorne, one of those blonde British bombshells who each got a handful of years of steady work before being replaced by the next one).

As I say, it’s the direction here that’s the standout, Peter Hammond keeping things tight and crisp, especially in outdoor sequences shot on film of a shocking standard (normal practice on British TV in the 1960s) and with the sound post-dubbed. He even gets a touch imaginative out in the woods, letting the camera suggest panic, frenzy and threat as Steed is shot at, and gives chase.

Hammond is also good at conjuring atmosphere in the circus – this is one of those dead-on-its-arse outfits that TV was killing, full of troupers whose “let’s go on with the show” attitude was really the only thing keeping things going.

Hitman Carlo is one of those troupers, a clown who, along with Rickie, circus manager Gutman (Roy Purcell) and the Professor (Willie Shearer, one of 1960s TV’s go-to guys when a midget was required) are just a handful of the slightly too many characters chasing not quite enough action.

The sound doesn’t help. It’s awful to the point of inaudibility on the DVD I watched and we’re reminded again that these are not transfers of the original videotapes, all of which were wiped for series one, two and three, but 16mm telerecordings (aka kinescopes), so a second generation of a poor original.

I say the direction saves the day but perhaps I’m being unfair – the interplay between Macnee and Blackman is also rather enjoyable, each trying to make the other corpse with eccentric line readings and what I’m guessing is frequent improvisation.

 

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2018

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 22 – The Man in the Mirror

Venus photographs a dead man

 

At this stage in the game – we’re at episode 22 now – we more or less expect someone to be dead before the opening credits have rolled. But Man in the Mirror rings the changes a touch – there’s a dead body in the opening shot.

The plot is slight and utterly fanciful and centres on Venus Smith – in a stripy t shirt and wearing that 1960s hat faintly modelled on the soldier’s shako (funny how the lovin’ decade loved its military regalia) – visiting a funfair with her dog. She takes some snaps and, when they’re developed, it turns out that in one of the shots is the dead man, alive as you like, reflected in a mirror.

Steed, meanwhile, late for a briefing, has been busted down to office duties after mounting a magisterial defence of his tardiness and is set to work on the case of a ciphers clerk who might have been selling secrets to the enemy. No prizes for guessing that the clerk and the dead man and the guy in the photograph are one and the same.

Being a Venus Smith episode, a song or two is in order, and we soon get one as we cut to a studio where the chanteuse is laying down some tracks with a jazz combo.

If Smith’s songs seem unnecessary, Steed’s demotion is also an odd detail. It’s thrown in as if it’s going to be pivotal, but in practical terms he seems unaffected by it and is soon carrying on pretty much as usual, visiting the funfair, interacting with Venus Smith and setting about cracking the case.

It’s a dog’s breakfast of an episode, relying on luck for its breakthroughs rather than detective work or insight, but there are some bright points. Ray Barrett is in it, for starters. A familiar face on 1960s/70s TV, the Australian Barrett was a go-to actor who brought a thoughtful edge to the various bruisers he played. Here he’s a heavy at the funfair.

Writers Geoffrey Orme and Anthony Terpiloff seem quite interested in the relationship between the funfair owner (Julian Somers) and his disgruntled girlfriend/potential wife (Daphne Anderson), and there’s a fair bit of Armchair Theatre-style badinage/bickering between the two of them. More usually in The Avengers, the back-and-forth is between Steed and his female companion.

Talking of which, the women in this episode – the dead man’s spiky wife (Rhoda Lewis) excepted – tend to be of the doormat variety, which isn’t The Avengers way at all.

It all feels as if it’s been cobbled together in a hurry, right down to the hall of mirrors finale which the script seems to be setting us up for.

Mark this one down as missable.

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2018