The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 8 – Second Sight

Villain prepares for operation

 

We’re finally arriving in upstream waters in Second Sight, first broadcast on Saturday 16 November 1963. “Upstream” means rarefied settings, no members of the public, posh accents, plots full of techy marvels and lots of improbable bullshit – ideal spawning territory for The Avengers.  

 

Corneal grafts are what it’s all about. Not that techy in 1963, since the first one had been carried out in 1905, but still rarefied enough, especially if you add in a mysterious Swiss clinic, a living donor (living people usually want to hang onto their eyesight) and a donee who has all the affectations and grandiosity of a Bond villain – Ernst Stavro Blofeld had made his first appearance in From Russia with Love just a month before and Marten Halvarssen seems to be cut from similar cloth.  

 

Steed and Gale fit into this how? He’s in Switzerland, where he’s been instructed to bring the precious corneas (or so he thinks) back to London, where Mrs Gale is posing as a doctor, waiting for the grafts to arrive. Why doesn’t the donee go to Switzerland, and cut out all this courier nonsense? That is all explained in a throwaway remark from the unsettling and blind Halvarssen (John Carson), but really it’s just to give the plot the impression of scale and movement, otherwise the entire episode would all be set pretty much in one room.  

 

Adding to that impression of scale, size, opulence is the plot turn that takes Mrs Gale off to Switzerland, with tame eye specialist Dr Spender (Ronald Adam), where she us subjected to the most breathtaking sexism – “You’re a woman after all,” says Spender at one point. “Please leave these things to me.”  

 

The plot, like these transitions between “London” and “Switzerland” are an attempt to bulk about what turns out to be a very thin screenplay by Martin Woodhouse. But director Peter Hammond directs with a minimalist flair, making good use of the camera’s limitations – tight angles, odd rakes, some impressionistic focus at one important moment.  

 

Also on the plus side, Carson is an excellent hissable bad guy, and Peter Bowles is on hand as an arrogant but smart smoothie co-ordinating things at the villains’ end – a career playing just such characters was about to take wing.  

 

Verdict? Not bad, though the “undercover in the underworld” angle is beginning to become a little tired by this point, whether it’s Steed or Gale doing it.      

 

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2019    

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 7 – The Gilded Cage

Honor Blackman and Edric Connor

Shown on 9 November 1963, just one day after five thieves had almost nabbed a king’s ransom of jewels and gold on the streets of Manhattan –they were thwarted because the getaway driver couldn’t work the manual gears of the heisted station wagon – The Gilded Cage is all about vast amounts of gold, which, it appears, Steed and Gale are trying to steal.

 

With a passing mention of Bretton Woods – the post-War economic order which pegged international currencies to the dollar, itself pegged to gold (hence the US Bullion Depository at Fort Knox as a common trope in this era) – it’s made clear that this isn’t just about the loot, but about the integrity of the British economy, or Western civilisation. Or something.

 

Patriotic credentials dusted off, we head into a hi-tech underground vault, air-con and CCTV, all very shiny and modern, where Mrs Gale appears to be the one who knows what’s what, while, this time around, it’s Steed who does the infiltrating, heading off to see if he can interest “crime broker” JP Spagge (Patrick Magee) in stealing the bullion. This master criminal is retired, or so he says, but Steed is given a gracious hearing, once he’s been once-overed by the man’s Jeeves’-like butler (Norman Chappell), who makes approving noises about the quality of Steed’s clothes.  

 

But before things can go much further, Spagge has been shot and Gale has been arrested for the killing, largely on the evidence of the murder weapon, a .25 Berretta – “ladies gun if ever I saw one” says the arresting cop. This is all part of a plot wrinkle that sees Gale playing an elaborate bait and switch with a gang of criminals who believe they are, in fact, hoodwinking her.  

 

It’s an interesting episode, and one that doesn’t rely on exotic locations – much of the drama takes place in a cell in Holloway prison, where Gale is offered spiritual comfort by a chaplain (Edric Connor), a black man with a Trinidad accent, both of which were fairly rare for TV at the time.

 

There’s a lot of cross and double-cross in writer Roger Marshall’s satisfyingly fast-moving screenplay, and less Avengers banter than we’re used to, though Gale still gets her big fight finish in full leather.

 

Couple of minor points. Gale and Steed’s plot to lure an old lag out of retirement does look a lot like entrapment and would probably not pass muster these days. And blond hair to one side, Honor Blackman looks uncannily like Jessica Brown Findlay, who wouldn’t be born for another 26 years.

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2019

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 6 – November Five

Cathy and Steed confer

 

 

Classic ass-backwards Avengers plotting is the hallmark of November Five, the sixth episode of the third series, which was first broadcast on Saturday 2 November 1963, three days before the Fifth of November (as it’s always called in the UK, in the same way that the Fourth of July is never July Four in the US). This is the day when Brits celebrate the thwarting of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 by Guy Fawkes and his cabal (or, depending on your political outlook, a celebration of the plot itself) by burning effigies of a “guy” on a fire.  

 

This fact has plot relevance because, as we see before the opening credits have even rolled, someone has only gone and assassinated a newly elected member of parliament, right at the declaration of his victory. In short order we cut to Parliament, where Steed is quizzing his local MP (David Langton) about the dead man. And in a bit of swift plotting, Mrs Gale is persuaded by Steed to stand in the election to find the man’s successor, and is despatched to a local keep-fit studio, which for some reason uses the services of the same PR company as the dead man.  

 

Back in Parliament, again, and Steed’s MP is getting mildly irritated at the fact that this bowler-hatted outsider keeps buttonholing him, all hail fellow well met and prying questions, not least about this shadowy PR company which, wouldn’t you know it, Steed’s MP is also involved with somehow.   Oh, and a five megaton warhead has also gone missing.   It turns out the dead MP knew something about the warhead, was about to go public with it, and died for his efforts. Mrs Gale, in an act of bravado, is shooting her mouth off to anyone who’ll listen that she also knows the same thing, and will also go public… Will this flush the killers out?  

 

Why is an MP concerning himself with a missing warhead, when this is the concern of the secret services? Like the fact that Steed and Gale know instantly that the PR company is the important lead to follow, much in this episode makes little sense. And the more you know about the workings of the British parliament – or any electoral system – the less sense it makes.  

 

Clearly written in an era when TV viewers had no idea how any of this politics stuff worked, this episode is also in thrall to the new notion of the fitness gym, where Iris Russell, as Fiona, is particularly effective as the darkly neurotic manager of this bright, cheerful and very modern place.  

 

It’s also nice to see Joe Robinson as Max, a heavy from the gym. He was Honor Blackman’s judo teacher in real life, gets a few lines of dialogue even, and if I can go off-piste for a second, you can find a nice story of him aged about 70 fighting off a gang of muggers in Cape Town if you look him up on the imdb. Don’t mess with Joe.  

 

Blackman gets into a lot of leather for her big finish – the more leather, the more lethal seems to be the idea – perhaps under the influence of Frederick Starke, who did Blackman’s wardrobe this time out. Leather apart, the clothes generally are a bit more Dior, more upmarket, and another sign that The Avengers is taking off.        

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2019