As mentioned briefly in the previous post (and explained much more fully on the Avengers Forever website), there was a brief interregnum in the final series of The Avengers, when John Bryce took over as producer, only for Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell to return to save the day after Bryce got hopelessly bogged down.
So in this series we’ve got a bunch of Bryce episodes and a whole lot more with Clemens as showrunner. Easiest way to distinguish is Tara King’s hair – if it’s blond, it’s Bryce.
Super Secret Cypher Snatch is not one of those blond episodes. In fact Clemens and Fennell made quite sure that it was “their” Tara who got onto screen first when they resumed control and so the second full-fat Tara King episode was the 12th to be made, when Clemens and Fennell had their feet firmly back under the table with the whole production running smoothly.
Though Tony Williamson wrote the episode, little bursts of Clemens stud this episode, right from the opening shot – a little old lady cycling across a field turns out to be a burly enemy agent heading towards a helicopter (imagine that in the Cathy Gale era!), which, mere seconds later, is spiriting super secret cyphers out of the country.
At first Steed and King are not brought in. Instead MI12 get the case – Steed and King’s noses severely out of joint. But then, after ballsing things up badly, MI12 is forced to hand the case back to Steed and King when one of their men is killed on the job while MI12 fellow agents else stood around glassy-eyed, seemingly hypnotised. If you want to see this as a fictional reworking of the Bryce/Clemens fiasco, please feel free.
Two meetings follow. One has the hallmarks of writer Williamson, the other of Clemens. The first is between our freewheeling agents and MI12 boss Ferret – played by Ivor Dean in full (and brilliant) bumbling cop mode, a role road-tested on The Saint, later perfected in Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased).
Against this real-world encounter (Cops?! In The Avengers?!) we have the clearly Clemens-inspired scene which takes place in one of Mother’s many eccentric makeshift HQs. This one is a field in the countryside, Mother in his modern Bentley, Tara King in her maroon AC Frua, Steed in his vintage Roller, while non-speaking assistant Rhonda (Rhonda Parker) hovers in the background. A strange “office” by any reckoning.
Anyhow, all this flim-flam and preamble out of the way, Steed and King are soon on a case that dives up another eccentric avenue as a team of assassinating window cleaners – who dress in what you’d call a Clockwork Orange-inspired outfit of white bowlers and jumpsuits if Clockwork Orange wasn’t three years in the future – are soon fingered as the vector of the leak.
In Tara goes as a dolly-bird typist at Cypher HQ, while Steed looks into Classy Glass Cleaning, an outfit run by a dithery man called Lather, and played by Nicholas Smith, a brilliant physical comedian best known for playing Mr Rumbold in the TV series Are You Being Served?
In short order the gig is up in an episode that for all its pluses in terms of character actors and locations, all its Avengers staples (British countryside, eccentrics and spycraft) lacks a certain spark, both in the exchanges between Steed and King and more generally.
Some of this is just bad decisions – having Steed as the sudden man of action while King is relegated to the role of glamorous assistant is a particularly bad idea if your leading man is beginning to creak a bit. Macnee even looks a bit stiff getting into and out of a car, for god’s sake.
And the plot fulcrum – paralysing psychoactive gas, hypnosis, amnesia – is too well flagged early on to really pull us through scenes that don’t shine on their own.
But, big plus, director John Hough has noticed Linda Thorson’s really quite remarkable grey eyes. Something’s sparkling at least.
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The imdb refers to this as season seven. I’m saying six, along with most of the fan sites and Wikipedia, and in line with the pretty much definitive Studio Canal box set. The reason why the imdb and others say seven is because they’re taking the final block of eight Emma Peel episodes as a separate season. But since there were only eight episodes in that production block, lumping them together with the 16 episodes of what everyone agrees is season five brings the total up to 24, much closer to the usual Avengers run of about 26 episodes.
© Steve Morrissey 2020