The Avengers Series 2

John Steed and Cathy Gale

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 1 – Mr Teddy Bear

Ian Hendry has left, Patrick Macnee has been bumped up to star and Honor Blackman has been drafted in as a sidekick who’s not just a pretty face. But there’s more than just those cosmetic differences – if they are just that – going on. In the opener for series two, it’s clear things have gone just a tiny bit self-referential too and that The Avengers is beginning to push against not just the envelope of its own founding principles, but also against those of television. The self-referentiality comes in the opening scene, set in a TV studio where a notable traveller and writer is about to be interviewed in some highbrow arts show … Read more

Gale and Steed

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 2 – Propellant 23

  Set mostly in the airport at Marseille (a studio just to the north of London, apparently), this tight and fast episode gets underway with a passenger on a plane arriving from Tripoli getting very distraught and claiming he’s about to die. Without giving too much away, he does die, gratifyingly for the foreign spies who are after a flask of a highly volatile rocket fuel, Propellant 23. Unfortunately for them, the flask gets lost in the shuffle. Has it fallen down the back of a seat, been taken home by a light-fingered airport luggage worker, been drunk by the hotel barker who touts for business in the arrivals lounge, or been whisked … Read more

Venus Smith sings

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 3 – The Decapod

Just when you thought it was Steed and Gale, Macnee and Blackman, along pops Julie Stevens (later in the decade a regular on the children’s TV show Playaway) as a sidekick in the third episode of series two. What’s afoot? Clearly there were worries behind the scenes before the series got underway and, having lost their big star in Ian Hendry, a double whammy of Macnee and Blackman not quite taking with the viewing public was insured against by drafting in ancillary aid Stevens. As Venus Smith, she plays a nightclub singer helping Steed get to the bottom of a murder after a pretty girl is murdered inside the “Balkan Embassy”. Cypriot, 1960s/70s … Read more

Steed and Gale

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 4 – Bullseye

  Like one of those arcane “tontine plots”, the fourth episode of series two offers us a scenario where a string of people die so somebody in the same eco-system can ultimately benefit. Julie Stevens womanfully did sidekick duty in the last episode, but Honor Blackman’s Cathy Gale returns this time round to help Steed unravel another mystery that yet again seems to be more a matter for the police than any covert organisation – an arms company resisting a takeover bid by pushy johnny-come-lately Henry Cade (Ronald Radd) finds its board members dying one after the other. Is Cade – already painted as the unacceptable face of capitalism (as if being in … Read more

John Steed and Dr King

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 5 – Mission to Montreal

  Mixing it up yet again, episode five of series two – Mission to Montreal – introduces yet another sidekick in a story set on board a cruise liner heading for Canada. Jon Rollason plays Dr Martin King and brings the number of Steed’s accomplices in this series to three (Honor Blackman and Julie Stevens being the other two). King is an echo of Ian Hendry’s Dr David Keel in that he’s a doctor, and also one only too happy to indulge in a bit of espionage and rough stuff if necessary – not exactly what you’d expect from a well paid follower of Hippocrates, but there you go. In fact he’s more … Read more

Edina Ronay and Douglas Muir

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 6 – The Removal Men

  Heady Europeanism, alcohol, jazz music and sexual licence are the watchwords of The Removal Men, number six in the second series. And Julie Stevens, appropriately, returns as Steed’s helpmeet in an episode set on the French Riviera, where a Bardot-like sexy French actress (played to the hilt by Edina Ronay, who went on to become a designer) needs protection from some thugs who want to kill her because of her outspoken political views on some far flung colony. Don Leaver is in the director’s chair, and there are hints of The Third Man in his use of close-ups (which he’s always used to great effect), a mood compounded by the jaunty mitteleuropean … Read more

John Steed in the dentist's chair

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 7 – The Mauritius Penny

  An episode about a missing postage stamp? Thou shittest. Indeed not. That is exactly what The Avengers are up to in the seventh episode of series two, a bizarre story that starts off in the genteel world of philately and ends up at a meeting of neo-Nazis, by way of a gun-running operation. But if that is really what it was all about all along – Nazis and guns – why didn’t Steed tell Mrs Gale that right at the outset, instead of making out it’s all about a missing and very rare stamp? It’s all very baffling but also pretty charming, an episode steeped in class distinction right from the off, as … Read more

The butler and Steed discuss bowler hats

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 8 – Death of a Great Dane

We’re now eight episodes into the second series of The Avengers and change is afoot. Even before Death of a Great Dane gets underway, something clearly sets this episode apart from the ones that came before. John Dankworth’s theme music has been perked up a bit – that 1950s-influenced jazz-inflected drone was sitting increasingly at odds with the increasing jauntiness of the series, largely thanks to Patrick Macnee’s playing of the dashing John Steed. And Honor Blackman gets a co-starring credit in the titles, where her face is featured prominently. Ever since Ian Hendry left at the end of series one, Patrick Macnee’s face alone had appeared. Blackman is also noticeably sleeker, more … Read more

Patrick Macnee and Frank Gatliff

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 9 – The Sell-Out

  Just as the keel of the series had started to lift, floating at last in its own water, episode nine of series two plonks it back on the sea floor. The Sell-Out is a throwback to series one, which itself harks even further back – to the film noir genre which originally originally inspired the series. The trenchcoats, the respect for authority, the sense of white knights in a dark world. As The Avengers moved away from this founding idea, noticeably less and less actual avenging got done. In a plot set at the United Nations, Jon Rollason is back as Macnee’s sidekick, displacing Honor Blackman as the producers use up another … Read more

Cathy Gale and John Steed

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 10 – Death on the Rocks

  The tone is light and bantery, a set of the features that would become permanent eventually, but in other respects this tenth episode of series two is one of the weaker entrants so far in the Avengers canon. Nothing wrong with any individual bit of it – a plot about Steed and Mrs Gales setting up home together (I say!), the better to pose as husband and wife, so they can infiltrate some diamond gang that’s trying to muscle in and control the trade by swamping the market with gems. And before you can say “takeover”, Steed has become a partner in a near-moribund diamond trading company, from where he will outwit the … Read more

Richard Leech and Honor Blackman

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 11 – Traitor in Zebra

  In its heyday – Emma Peel era, shot on film, in colour, with the Laurie Johnson theme music – The Avengers became famous, notorious even, for its plots taking place in a nearly depopulated world. All very necessary, the better to maintain the suspension of disbelief – the outrageous storylines and arch characters simply wouldn’t stand up to exposure to the cold light of reality, so the theory goes. There’s nothing like that going on in the 11th broadcast episode of series two, Traitor in Zebra, which is thick with characters and stiff with “real life” situations. Patrick Macnee goes undercover as Commander Steed, a naval shrink investigating whether one of her majesty’s men … Read more

Tony Booth plays cards

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 12 – The Big Thinker

    Things go technological in the 12th episode of series two – The Big Thinker – a tale of a big brain computer called Plato and the scientists who minister to it like Delphic virgins in white lab coats. Hanging on like grim death to the notion that Britain was still at the forefront of things cyber in the early 1960s, the plot turns on the demise of a scientist – frozen to death after getting caught inside the workings of an electronic beast that gives the UK a crucial lead in tech and spying – at which point Steed and Gale are sent in to investigate. I say Steed and Gale, but … Read more

Steed and One-Ten

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 13 – Death Dispatch

  John Steed and Cathy Gale’s party trick, a duet working variations on the theme of the invincibility of the British upper class, really comes into its own in Death Dispatch, the 13th broadcast episode of series two. We’re off in the sort of colonial landscape described by Graham Greene – of swarthy thugs, Freudian dictators and minor functionaries of the Empire, a place where life is cheap and death is pitiless, as we see in the opening shots of this story where a low-level envoy newly in from Washington is quickly despatched in his hotel room in Jamaica. Cut to Steed, ogling women from his Caribbean sun lounger and meeting his control, … Read more

Dr King and John Steed

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 14 – Dead on Course

  The Avengers might just as easily have been called The Amateurs, since that was the original premise of the show – a bunch of freelance helpmeets called in to assist gangmaster John Steed in the solving of various cases too tricky to be handled by the usual agencies. No, it makes no real sense, but in Dead on Course, which was the 14th episode to be shown in series two, the concept remains vibrant and Jon Rollason’s Dr Martin King is the amateur called upon to help Steed work out why an experienced pilot would steer a plane into the sea off the coast of Ireland. Steed and King are there not because … Read more

Mrs Gale and the Intercrime gang

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 15 – Intercrime

  Twelve high level robberies in the last few weeks “and not one of them the work of an Englishman,” Steed says in the opening minutes of Intercrime, both the title of this episode and the name of a criminal outfit, a dark flipside of Interpol organising nefarious goings-on “all over Europe”. This case for Steed and Mrs Gale, the 15th to be broadcast in the second series – and the first to go out in 1963, the year of JFK’s assassination –  is a busy affair, with more than its fair share of ridiculousness. For example, to extract information from Hilda Stern (Julia Arnall), the German representative of Intercrime newly arrived in … Read more

Steed is briefed by One-Ten in a steam room

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 16 – Immortal Clay

  By a gigantic stroke of luck, it seems, while Mrs Gale is being given a guided tour of a ceramics atelier, she stumbles across a dead body in the room where the raw clay is kept. Doubly handily, it seems that the company is engaged on cutting edge research to produce an indestructible tile to be used in the nose cone of a British rocket – what days, what days – and the dead man in question is one of the researchers engaged in its development and production. Of course, Gale – in deliberately ass-backwards Avengers plotting – isn’t at the factory/studio/lab/atelier (Teddington Studios, in fact) by accident, and, by way of explanation, we … Read more

Smith and Steed examine a box

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 17 – Box of Tricks

  A thin, confusingly plotted and frankly rather dull episode is only emphasised by the terrible picture and sound quality (on the old box set I’m watching this series on, anyway). And it’s a Venus Smith episode, which means a song from the chanteuse, but not until after the opening credits. Before they roll, we watch as a magician in the night club does the disappearing lady trick. Glamorous assistant enters magic box covered in spangles. Magician utters the magic words. Glamorous assistant exits magic box covered in spangles and blood – dead. We cut to a seemingly unrelated story, set in the house of a senior military gent (Maurice Hedley) in a wheelchair, … Read more

Peter Arne as Cosmo Gallion

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 18 – Warlock

Woo hoo, the suggestion of nudity and all sorts of pagan goings-on are all over the screen in the opening sequence of Warlock, as groovy hipsters gyrate themselves into a frenzy around a photo of… a middle aged man. All is soon explained as we join John Steed, arriving at the home of scientist Peter Neville (Alban Blakelock), where the housekeeper is as bright as a button but the man himself in a bug-eyed catatonic funk. Hooray – mind control, the big theme of The Avengers (and much 1960s cultural output) in years to come – has finally berthed, the idea being that the scientist’s mind has been somehow stolen by a group … Read more

Steed, Gale and Dr Ashe

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 19 – The Golden Eggs

  Because The Avengers were not broadcast in production order*, you do get the odd anomaly. The getting-to-know-you dialogue between Steed and Mrs Gale in Warlock, the 18th (broadcast order) episode of series 2, makes more sense when you know this episode was designed as the Series 2 opener, introducing Steed’s new sidekick. There’s another incongruity in the follow-up, which sees actor Peter Arne again playing a baddie, as he had done the previous week (if you were watching in 1963). Then he was the eponymous warlock. This time he’s playing Redfern, the toff at the peak of a criminal pyramid which has pulled off the feat of stealing a pair of golden … Read more

Venus Smith and John Steed

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 20 – School for Traitors

    Mrs Gale takes a rest and Venus Smith gets another outing in an episode set at an elite Oxbridge-style university and kicking off with a death (again) before the credits (again). Steed is sent in to find out what happened to the man he was meant to have been keeping an eye on, after a briefing from a different control, One-Seven (Frederick Farley), a ridiculous throwback complete with cigarette holder and winged collar. A much chattier, gamine Venus Smith is introduced early on. Smith just happens to be gigging at the university’s rag week, which is handy for Steed, who has soon also inveigled his way into the grove of academe … Read more

Mrs Gale reads a children's science book

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 21 – The White Dwarf

A top astronomer dies before the opening credits in The White Dwarf, the 21st episode broadcast in series 2 of The Avengers. Turns out that a large astral body might be heading towards Earth and if it does in fact arrive, we’re all toast. And Professor Richter was the only man who knew absolutely for sure whether it was coming this way or not. Who would want such a man dead? It’s a good sci-fi premise which sees The Avengers edging further into the world they would eventually dominate – the esoteric. And off we go to some science facility in Cornwall, Mrs Gale undercover as usual, as Dr Gale, checking into the … Read more

Venus photographs a dead man

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 22 – The Man in the Mirror

  At this stage in the game – we’re at episode 22 now – we more or less expect someone to be dead before the opening credits have rolled. But Man in the Mirror rings the changes a touch – there’s a dead body in the opening shot. The plot is slight and utterly fanciful and centres on Venus Smith – in a stripy t shirt and wearing that 1960s hat faintly modelled on the soldier’s shako (funny how the lovin’ decade loved its military regalia) – visiting a funfair with her dog. She takes some snaps and, when they’re developed, it turns out that in one of the shots is the dead man, alive … Read more

Steed throttles a clown

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 23 – Conspiracy of Silence

  Tight direction is the saving of Conspiracy of Silence, episode 23 of the second series of The Avengers, a mix of the confusing and the humdrum. Why, for example, is Steed being targeted by a killer while he’s out walking his dog? The imdb brief description tells us it’s because he interrupted a drug-trafficking op run by the Mafia. So, assuming you are the Mafia, why not just kill him in one of the more usual ways, rather than deploy an innocent, Carlo (Robert Rietty), transformed into an automaton killer by a trigger phrase in a redundant mind-control subplot? Perhaps The Avengers were just warming up the idea for future episodes – mind … Read more

Shima, Stevens, Pohlmann and Macnee

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 24 – A Chorus of Frogs

  A mix of the familiar and the exotic in A Chorus of Frogs, the 24th episode in the broadcast run of series two of The Avengers, and another chance for Julie Stevens’s Venus Smith to do her wide-eyed naive thing. It’s a useful character trait, since there is plenty of explicatory work to be done in an episode that kicks off with a frogman dying of the bends, before taking in a group of the dead man’s fellow divers (and, it seems, spies) called the Frogs, a large yacht that’s home to a Bond villain fattie (Eric Pohlmann) and a head-in-the-clouds scientist (Frank Gatliff) who hasn’t quite realised that the diving technology … Read more

Gale and Steed

The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 25 – Six Hands across a Table

  As I write, the UK is drunkenly stumbling towards its exit from the European Union. Rewind 55 years and Six Hands across the Table, the penultimate episode of the second series of The Avengers, is having a discussion similar to the one the country is having right now, a “whither us” debate about Britain – is it better going it alone or heading towards a more European version of the future? The drama opens at a meeting of a shipbuilding cartel, part of an industry in trouble. (For those too young, that “industry in trouble” idea is why the country signed up to the European project in the first place.) Digression aside, … Read more