Mystical, mad and rather weird, Honey for the Prince was the last episode in series four of The Avengers, in terms of both production and transmission, and puts an exclamation mark on what has been an increasingly unreal and self-referential show.
The script is by Brian Clemens, and in very Clemens style he layers eccentric characters over a plot that is ahead of its time.
The story opens with a couple of unfortunates breaking in to a house decorated in an Arabian style. Finding a “magic lamp”, one of them gives it a jokey rub and – alakazam – a genie appears, a genie with a machine gun to be precise, and shoots both men.
One dies, the other makes it to Steed and Peel’s place, barely alive. They’re just back from an all-night party and are behaving as if they’ve had a very fun night out, only to be confronted by a dying man whose parting words are “Genie” (though Steed and Peel hear “Jeanie”) and “Honey”.
The plot is set, and off the two go, Steed to the dead man’s house, where Patrick Macnee’s stunt double has a fight with the “Genie”, Mrs Peel to a honey seller’s shop, run by one Mr B Bumble, a Clemens eccentric dressed in striped bumblebee jumper and an apiarist’s veil.
The trail leads on, to Hopkirk, one of those bumptious moustachioed Brits who seemed to run everything back then, and played by the madly over-the-top Ron Moody.
He is the proud owner of a company called Quite Quite Fantastic, an outfit that designs and fulfils people’s dreams. This is the sort of idea usually ascribed to “visionary” authors (Philip K Dick was writing the similarly themed We Can Remember It for You Wholesale – which eventually became the film Total Recall – when this episode aired; Michael Crichton’s Westworld was still seven years in the future).
Of course the genie is all part of someone’s fantasy, and en route to the finale we also meet a cowboy, Napoleon Bonaparte and a mountaineer, all elements of other fantasies.
But these are all Clemens digressions/filler (take your pick). What the plot is really about is the putative assassination of an Arabian prince (Zia Moyheddin), which allows Clemens and production team to get every single cliché concerning the region out into the open – harems, sheep’s’ eyes, viziers, effendis, black factotums stripped to the waist, a multiplicity of wives and, eventually, the dance of the seven veils, as performed by Mrs Peel. A dance of six veils only, Steed informs the prince – who has a passion for cricket and is more English than the English – because Mrs Peel is “retarded”.
If you’re after an episode in which Diana Rigg is used more for her body than her brain, this is the one to go for – her physical charms are very much in evidence, though Clemens also works in an evil mastermind (George Pastell as Arkadi) who amusingly spends the entire show running his murderous business while being massaged by the splendidly gorgeous Carmen Dene, who also feeds him grapes.
Tongues are very firmly in cheek, accusations of crass sexism thereby defused, or that’s the idea. There is a go-for-broke sense of knockabout that’s hard to resist and some nice one-liners – “We don’t want to offend the effendi,” quips Steed at one point. And Moody’s Mr Hopkirk suggesting that Steed might want to, in a bit of fantasy role play, become a secret agent – “licensed to kill and all that” – is a nice bit of meta-jokery too.
A satisfying end to the last series in black and white.
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© Steve Morrissey 2020