The Girl from Auntie this episode is called, a nod to The Man from Uncle, which had debuted about six months earlier on US TV and become an instant hit with its sexy spies, gadgets, 007 goofery and strong sense of the ridiculous, having clearly drunk from the same well as The Avengers.
All that said, sadly this is not a great episode, though it is stuffed with good things. It’s also not particularly heavy on Emma Peel, who was perhaps off talking to the Bond people – Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore having made waves – or just enjoying a bit of a break when the episode was in production.
She turns up in the opening scene, in a bikini, then again towards the end. In between, the female sidekick role is taken by Liz Fraser, a familiar 1960s face who specialised in dizzy blondes and doesn’t disappoint as a character whose mouth is in motion at almost all times.
The plot: someone (Fraser) is impersonating Emma Peel. Why? Something to do with the forgery of famous paintings, which are stolen and the forgery inserted in their place, so no one’s the wiser. Why is someone impersonating Emma Peel, though? Coughs, mumbles, hurriedly moves on.
It’s a double-act affair, Steed and Georgie Price-Jones (Fraser) moving from one locale to the next, just in time to find another crop of dead bodies (big body count in this episode), always one step behind a mysterious, hypodermic-wielding old lady on a bike. Is this Auntie? Oh, it might be, though Alfred Burke also turns up later in the proceedings as someone called Gregorie Auntie, though he’s obviously not a “girl”, so lethal biddy it probably is. And her name is Aunt Hetty, so…
But before we meet Gregorie Auntie and the people behind dodgy business Art Incorporated, we meet the occupants of the business next door, Arkwright’s Knitting. This is an outfit that teaches knitting and, as played by Bernard Cribbins, is run by a man with a wrist surely too limp to keep a pair of needles in productive action.
Roger Marshall’s script is full of in-jokes and running gags (the taxi driver having a lot of fun both with Steed and the various bits of sporting gear Steed keeps loading into his car), Laurie Johnson’s score this time out is more in Randall and Hopkirk (aka My Partner the Ghost in the US) jangly harpsichord territory and Roy Ward Baker’s direction is brisk and tries to keep an overstuffed screenplay moving, which he manages.
Why is Mrs Peel in a bikini early on and in a near-invisible (on 405 lines 1960s monochrome TV for sure) body stocking later on, making her appear naked? Salacious sexism is the only answer that can really be offered, and there is a clear tendency in this episode to treat women as chattels and objects of fun (whether meekly riding bicycles or sitting in knitting circles), not an accusation you’d usually level at a series that has championed smart independent women from the off.
Like I say, good stuff is in here – Fraser, Burke and Cribbins are all fun, there’s a distinct Swinging London vibe (look out for the John, Paul, George and Fred joke) and I really enjoyed watching Steed and Peel exiting the show in a Messerschmitt bubble car, one of the more idiosyncratic vehicles of the era.
I am an Amazon affiliate. Clicking on the link earns me a (vanishingly small) commission
© Steve Morrissey 2020