The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 9 – The Hour That Never Was

John Steed and Emma Peel on a deserted air base

 

Mrs Peel comes of age in The Hour That Never Was, the ninth episode of series 4 and a typical classic-era Avengers based on unlikely goings-on in locales almost devoid of people.

 

“Comes of age” because in this episode she is clearly smarter than Steed, being the first one to notice that time appears to have stood still – it was 11am when they crashed while pootling down a country road towards a reunion at Steed’s old air base, and it’s still 11am some time later as they wander around the base, which is now seemingly suddenly deserted.

 

She’s also dressed in a style that’s hipper than usual – low-slung trousers, big fat belt, a vest that shows off her toned shoulders to good effect. The production team have clearly twigged that Diana Rigg is a major asset in terms of both acting nous and physicality.

 

If Mrs Peel is an up-to-the-minute dolly bird, John Steed is the counterweight, a newly middle-aged man now recounting drinking stories from his youth with a gleam in his eye as if it were yesterday.

 

But where are they, all these drinking buddies? And why have they disappeared just as the base is gearing up for its farewell shindig, after which the personnel will be “scattered all over the globe… wherever we’ve got an airbase” explains Steed to Peel, unwittingly laying out the reason for the disappearances – dirty tricks by persons whose interests are unaligned with Britain’s.

 

Patrick Macne and Roy Kinnear
A moment of light relief courtesy of the failsafe Roy Kinnear

It’s an impressive episode, in plot and staging. Not only is everything frozen in time, which includes rabbits on the runway, a goldfish in its bowl, but at a certain point in the proceedings we get to see that opening accident all over again, the aftermath of which plays out in a completely different way. No Mrs Peel. The mess now full of chaps celebrating, Gerald Harper as the hail-fellow-well-met RAF bon viveur pressing drinks on a bemused Steed.

 

This idea – alternate timelines leading to wildly different outcomes – seems ahead of the zeitgeist. 2018’s Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch, famously used it to wild acclaim, but then writer/creator Charlie Brooker is heavily influenced by 1960s/70s mysteries (Tales of Mystery and Imagination, Tales of the Unexpected, The Outer Limits etc).

 

But there’s another modern resonance in this tale. Towards the end, as the mystery is solved and the culprits are revealed, they are referred to as “influencers”. Then, it’s malevolent foreign forces wreaking havoc on suggestible plastic minds who are the baddies. Now, it would be just as possible to point the finger at the liberal elite, mainstream media or deep state. Though, let’s face it, foreign forces working in secret have been known to gain traction in the West – Russia, China and Syria spring to mind.

 

But even more obviously, from the perspective of our Instagram/YouTube era of cheery stooges of capitalism, here’s The Avengers predicting the rise of influencers decades before it happened.

 

But never mind all that – there’s a good fight scene towards the end in a room filled with laughing gas (didn’t Adam West’s Batman do something similar?). And Roy Kinnear makes another Avengers appearance, this time as the only sentient human on the base, a vagrant who has made a career scavenging from RAF bases – “best dustbins in the business,” he exclaims, a moment of comic relief in a great episode that’s one of The Avengers’ standouts.

 

 

 

 

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2019

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 8 – A Surfeit of H2O

A man-shaped indentation in the ground

Undoubtedly a fancy episode when it first aired in late November 1965, A Surfeit of H2O manages to be whimsical, sinister, ridiculous and ingenious all in one go, with a good belt of fine character actors to help things along.

 

Water is what it’s about, as the title suggests, and before the title has even come up a poacher has died while out setting traps, drowned in an open field by a massive thunderstorm which appeared out of nowhere.

 

Decent special effects being a bit more than the show can afford, when Steed (dressed in absurd Edwardian hunting gear) and Peel arrive in a Mini Moke, there’s not a drop of water to be seen, which is odd considering how much you’d need to actually drown a man.

 

Quibbles aside, the eccentrics are soon arriving in droves – the dead man’s brother (Talfryn Thomas), who is convinced a mighty inundation is on the way, and a local by the name of Jonah Barnard (played by Noel Purcell, the go-to man when biblical hirsuteness and prophetic bellowing are required) so convinced this is true that he’s building an ark, and who informs Steed that he sees the same cloud in the same part of the sky every day.

 

There are even more oddballs, of a more sinister sort, over at the local “wine factory” – Grannie Gregson’s Glorious Grogs Ltd, makers of vegetable beverages – where Mrs Peel is soon exploring, dressed, appropriately in wet-look PVC.

 

Emma Peel in the rain
Wet, wet, wet: Mrs Peel gets a soaking

 

Eccentricity is what this episode is most about, rather than credible plotting, and Steed has soon joined the party. Posing as Steed of Steed, Steed, Steed, Steed, Steed and Jacques, wine merchants, he visits Grannie Gregson’s (whose amusing logo is an old lady in a rocking chair proudly showing off a rather phallic cucumber), where he tries to charm information out of a company employee (Sue Lloyd of The Ipcress File and, later, TV soap Crossroads fame), while in the background hovers a lab-coated Geoffrey Palmer, marking time until his extraordinary run of TV success arrived.

 

Are they manufacturing bad weather at Grannie Gregson’s? Well let’s just say that the guy in charge there is called Dr Sturm (Albert Lieven), and Emma Peel gets to utter the line “You diabolical mastermind, you!” before the episode is done.

 

A lot of the good work is undone by a chaotic closing fight scene, which features a lot of indistinguishable men in white lab coats fighting against Steed, Peel and the bellowing Jonah (biblical name obviously deliberate), who has proved to be one of the many little joys of this episode.

 

It’s a very 1960s affair – the ancient (Steed’s get-up) hard up against the modern (the Mini Moke, the same one used in the Dave Clark Five film Catch Us If You Can, apparently) – with a very liberated Emma Peel making more strides for women in clothes that must have been murder to wear and also gladdened the sex-starved of the era.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2019

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 7 – The Murder Market

Emma Peel in a coffin

 

The Murder Market is one of the episodes first shot with Elizabeth Shepherd playing Mrs Peel, then reshot with Diana Rigg in the role after it was decided that Shepherd didn’t fit the bill. Hence the two directors on the imdb credits – Wolf Rilla shot the original, Peter Graham Scott this version, which eventually was broadcast on 12 November 1965, a Friday night, rather than the usual Saturday (in the London region at least). Order was restored the following Saturday.

 

The title is a weak pun on “meat market” since the plot revolves around a dating agency with a natty sideline in murdering people – as established in the opening scene in which a much older man (Edward Underdown) meets a young woman (Suzanne Lloyd) on a pre-arranged date and winds up dead.

 

We cut to Steed’s pad – or is it Emma’s? – for Diana Rigg’s first ever scene with Patrick Macnee. And Rigg is a little wobbly, hasn’t quite established the permanently-raised-eyebrow performance that would soon come to characterise one of the 1960s TV’s most iconic characters.

 

After a bit of bantery to-and-fro, off Mr Peel is sent to talk to the dead man’s widow, where she also meet’s the dead man’s brother (John Woodvine, lurkingly sinister). Steed, meanwhile, launches himself onto the dating scene by signing up to Togetherness Inc, where the dead man had also been registered.

 

Togetherness Inc is a study in 1960s camp, where everyone dresses in morning suits, confetti tumbles from the air and the refreshments on offer are champagne and wedding cake. Diabetes for the main course.

 

Patrick Cargill and Patrick Macnee
Camp, moi? Patrick Cargill with Patrick Macnee and Peter Bayliss

 

It’s all a little (a lot) over the top, but then so is the man running it – Lovejoy (camp moniker), played to the hilt by Patrick Cargill, whose faintly supercilious air is exactly what the role requires, and whose verbal sparring with Patrick Macnee gives the episode a lot of its fizz.

 

Steed passes himself off as a bachelor with an inconvenient family member standing between himself and a large inheritance. Sure enough, Lovejoy has soon taken the bait and is discreetly offering a Strangers on a Train-style arrangement – Steed kills someone else’s bugbear and that someone else kills his. The wrinkle being that Steed’s assignment is to kill Emma Peel, who has in the interim made a nuisance of herself by having eyeballed the killer.

 

As an introduction to Mrs Peel it’s all very fine (though an entire year passed between the episode being shot and it being aired), though, as said, Rigg hasn’t quite got the character nailed – touches of Cathy Gale’s brusqueness towards Steed remain; the fully fledged Emma Peel deployed wit and charm to manage her partner in crime-fighting.

 

In one scene we see Mrs Peel playing a tuba while Steed practises golf – kooky 60s banter bouncing between them. Other 60s touches include the Joe Orton-esque fascination with funeral trappings – hearses, coffins and so on. And there’s a scene at a photographer’s studio in which a David Bailey-style photographer gives it the full “make love to the camera, darling” performance.

 

It’s all very swinging, and briskly, stylishly directed by Scott, who can’t hide the fact that Rigg hasn’t learned to fight yet. But Tony Williamson’s script (his first for The Avengers) compensates with plenty of zippy dialogue – between Rigg and Macnee, and Macnee and Cargill, whose drawling, quizzical, irony-rich delivery had made him a stage farceur rarely out of work. And, fanciful notion perhaps, might Cargill’s performance have influenced the direction Diana Rigg would take Mrs Peel?

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

I am an Amazon affiliate. Clicking on the link earns me a commission

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2019