So we arrive at The Correct Way to Kill, a rewrite of the series 3 episode The Charmers, and a frank admission that The Avengers has pretty much run out of ideas.
Or, since we’re being generous, that it’s taking a prize episode out for a well deserved second airing – The Charmers was excellent, though in no small part because it featured Fenella Fielding.
She’s not visible here but the bare bones of the plot remain the same – someone is killing enemy agents on British soil, putting Steed in the frame. Enemy agent Ivan (Philip Madoc) has been sent to dispatch Steed but, after listening to Steed’s protestations of innocence, buys into the idea that a third party is involved and coms up with a suggestion himself – the two men swap partners just to make sure the other really is on the level.
This is how Ivan and Mrs Peel end up being a double act in this episode, while Steed is paired with Olga (Anna Quayle), a comedy Russian with a severe and possibly lesbian take on her job (“I will fight to the very last man, figuratively speaking”).
One new element – the actual murderers are a pair of very proper Brits. One of them (Graham Armitage) in fact such a stickler for protocol that he won’t address the man he’s about to assassinate until he’s been formally introduced.
One old element, though with a new name – SNOB (Sociability, Nobility, Omnipotence, Breeding Inc), an academy turning out spies, or at least assassins, run by a man called Ponsonby (Terence Alexander), whose emphasis on the correct use of bowler hat and rolled-up brolly places him squarely in the Avengers tradition.
Mrs Gale went to the dentist’s first time out. This time Mrs Peel is at the chiropodist’s, a final haunt of one of the dead agents, where she is separated from Ivan, who ends up in a consignment of umbrellas at a shop specialising in them, where Steed and Olga find him in a crate.
SNOB is where all parties are headed for the big showdown, but en route there has been much fun at Olga’s expense – she finds Steed impossibly decadent; he’s responded by positively ladling on the charm. And Percy and Algy, the two proper Brits, have been great value as the very well mannered killers, Peter Barkworth’s Percy over-enunciating to such a degree you wonder how often he cracked up while working on the episode.
Charles Crichton directs, though there’s less sign of his fabled light touch until it comes to the fight finish when the nicely choreographed camera movements catch the eye.
In fact all of it is nicely done. But if you can take the degraded black and white image, shot on galumphing TV cameras, the series 3 original is crisper, more menacing and – thanks to Fenellla Fielding – a lot funnier.
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© Steve Morrissey 2020