Well written and brilliantly cast, The Hidden Tiger is also very neatly directed by Sidney Hayers, who starts the episode with a point-of-view shot of a butler being dispatched by forces unseen while he is putting out a bowl of milk for the cat.
In death the man lies draped in a tiger skin that was only moments earlier adorning the wall of the stately home – where else? – where he’s employed.
And, in a now familiar pattern, very shortly after Steed and Peel (back to being investigators of the oddball) get onto the case, posh, handsome Sir David Harper (Jack Gwillim) is also dead, another pov sequence having helped him shuffle off this mortal coil while Steed and Peel were sniffing around his experimental farm – a red herring or a red-hot clue?
Brian Clemens Eccentric number one arrives shortly afterwards, an extravagantly colonial hunter (a lip-licking John Phillips) who audibly salivates when he utters the word “meat” and joins Steed and Peel as they look into the theory that the beast on the loose is in fact a big cat.
One mysterious death later and the trail has led to P.U.R.R.R – the Philanthropic Union for Rescue, Relief and Recuperation (of cats) – a funeral home specialising in the interment of cats, run by a cat-mad Mr Cheshire (comedian Ronnie Barker, looking middle-aged before his time) and assisted by the feline Angora (Gabrielle Drake, sister of musician Nick, and later the focus of much teenage longing in the Gerry Anderson sci-fi adventure series UFO).
Cheshire asks Steed, in passing, what his “pussy” is called. Steed, elaborately double-taking, replies “Emma”.
Right, so we know exactly where we stand – well before the early-1980s watershed that diverted much of this sort of thing to an underground culvert.
The obvious sexism to one side, this is a mad, camp and very entertaining episode, thanks to Philip Levene’s brisk screenplay and Hayers’ fluid direction. Money has clearly been spent on the stylish sets too, and Laurie Johnson again has written some episode-specific accompanying music, dark bassoons huffing away quite pleasingly here and there.
What’s behind it all? Well, without giving the game away too much, let’s just say a mad megalomaniac scientist is trying to take over the world by weaponising an everyday domestic fixture. And that’s enough of that.
For fans of GPO dial telephones, this is your episode – they feature so heavily you’d shout “product placement” if you saw it today. But since the GPO was the only, monopoly, supplier of phones at the time, it seems unlikely.
One of the better episodes of the fifth season – a well played fugue of all the expected elements of The Avengers.
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© Steve Morrissey 2020