The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 16 – The Little Wonders

Steed and Gale kiss

 

Whether it’s spelt Bibliotek, Bibliotech or Bibliotheque, the crime organisation at the centre of The Little Wonders is a brilliant creation by writer Eric Paice, an international, centuries-old outfit whose members go around dressed as clerics.

 

Hence the funny pre-credits sequence of the Bishop of Winnipeg (David Bauer), a man with a dodgy heart visiting a doctor (Tony Steedman) and, on stripping down for an examination, revealing a gun in a holster. Not your average clergyman’s accessory. The fact that he’s accompanied by a female assistant, Sister Johnson, would raise barely half an eye if Johnson weren’t played by Miss Moneypenny herself, Lois Maxwell (a Canadian national, hence the Winnipeg, perhaps).

 

Villains established, the plot shifts quickly to an airport, where the luggage of missing (because dead) Reverend Harbottle’s turns out to contain a gun, plenty of ammunition and an antique doll. Here the plot splits, to rejoin later on, Steed heading off to infiltrate the gang of dubious clerics, Gale chasing up the antique-doll lead, heading off first to a doll hospital, run by a sinister German called Gerda (Rosemary Dunham) and a big blond bruiser (stuntman Frank Maher) in dark glasses, again not exactly what you’d expect.

 

En route to the convocation that’s meeting to elect a new bishop, Steed learns from a garrulous doctor that the old bishop doesn’t have long for this world. Apprised, he heads into this cabal of frock-coated gents, all brilliantly cast – boxers faces, street accents – as clerics with names like Fingers, Big Sid and The Coalman. Steed, meanwhile, is passing himself off as the Vicar of M’boti, aka Johnny the Horse.

 

This mismatch between ostensibly upstanding men of the cloth and the hard-boiled villains they really are gives this episode almost all of its considerable charm, and writer Paice has to do quite a lot of compression to get a lot of plot – including a bit of cross and doublecross in the gang itself, there being no honour among thieves – into a 50 minute running time.

 

But there’s still time for plenty of fun interplay between Gale and Steed, and there’s even a surprise plot development when Lois Maxwell gets the sort of action scene that Miss Moneypenny never got.

 

The idea of a centuries-old clandestine organisation that’s guiding (or interfering in) the affairs of humanity is just the sort of notion that would fuel conspiracies around the Illuminati or a Dan Brown novel.

 

But perhaps more important than that, and also for those who have a cast of mind that compels them to build overarching theories from scant shreds of evidence, there is the screen kiss between Steed and Gale – the only one they shared – when Steed has to prove to the assembled villains that Mrs Gale is his wife/partner/whatever.

 

Are the actors enjoying it more than their characters? A diplomat and gent to his fingertips, Patrick Macnee would never be drawn on who his favourite Avengers co-star was.

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2019

 

 

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 15 – The White Elephant

Judy Parfitt

 

For the first episode of 1964, broadcast on 4 January, the day that Auburn University in Alabama accepted Harold A Franklin as its first black student (accompanied by three US marshals and 100 state police to keep the mob at bay), John Steed and Mrs Gale are on the case of a missing albino elephant in an episode unsurprisingly titled The White Elephant.  

 

The beast has been stolen from a private zoo which supplies mainstream zoos, run by upper-class English chap Noah Marshall (Godfrey Quigley) – modelled on John Aspinall (gambler, zoo-owner, anti-Semite and the man who allegedly facilitated murderer Lord Lucan’s escape from the UK).  

 

Why this is of interest to more than the local police is because it’s not the first time this has happened, and soon Mrs Gale is undercover at the zoo, posing as a hunter (which is what her character once was, so no real stretch there) where brisk, efficient Judy Parfitt (in her second Avengers outing) is the right hand woman to the boss at Noah’s Ark.  

 

John Lucarotti’s script is elegant, subtle and has some depth – and the sight of Steed and Gale doing yoga at home also brings a fresh 1960s new age-y feel which we’d more associate with the Mrs Peel era.   In many respects, though, Lucarotti’s focus is on class, in an episode full of characters bridling against being stuck with a person of inferior status, as Parfitt’s Brenda Paterson is when she’s forced to consort with gopher Conniston (Scott Forbes). And when we finally meet Lawrence (another great baddie turn by Edwin Richfield), the mastermind behind the animal disappearances, he too is clearly put out by having to hobnob with gun craftsman Fitch (Bruno Barnabe) and oily rag Joseph (a quietly excellent Toke Townley).  

 

Most fascinating, perhaps, is Lucarotti’s decision to give a big “I’ve had enough” kind of speech to Mrs Gale towards the end of the episode, when she lays into Steed in no uncertain terms, accusing him of being indolent, of winging every assignment on charisma and, essentially, not doing enough work. It’s a speech aimed not just at Steed but at the whole old boy network, we suspect, and it’s even more interesting because filming would start on Goldfinger, in which Blackman played Pussy Galore, in about five/six weeks, and everyone involved must have known at this point that Blackman was leaving. This is the speech that delivers the motivation when she announces her departure all of a sudden in eight episodes’s time.  

 

But back to the matter at hand, and it’s no spoiler to say that the whole thing is about ivory smuggling. In fact it barely matters what it’s about, because the plot details of this episode aren’t really that fascinating. The class focus to one side, the really noteworthy thing is how much money has been spent on the production – the zoo is full of animals, and at times they make so much noise that the human action is eclipsed. The big fight finale, for instance, is bedlam.  

 

Director Laurence Bourne’s camerawork, too, looks like a lot of thought and choreography has been lavished on it. It’s agile and particularly quick to respond in the sequence where Steed and Gale are being shot at.  

 

Recorded, as it happens, on the day JFK was assassinated, for all its exotic feathered and furry friends, impressive spend and psychologically and socially astute script, this is just an OK episode rather than an actually good one. And, most disappointingly, no pachyderms ever make it onto the screen. Which you could call the elephant in the room, if you like a weak gag.      

 

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2019        

 

 

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 14 – Dressed to Kill

Leonard Rossiter as Robin Hood

 

So here we are, at Christmas 1963 (the 28 December, to be exact), with Dressed to Kill, a special seasonal episode written by Brian Clemens, who gets everyone into pantomime mode by setting the action on a train heading for a fancy dress party.  

 

Steed is on board, dressed in Wild West gear, and why he’s there isn’t explained immediately by the pre-credits sequence – a man lugging a big piece of equipment across war department land and setting off a Cold War nuclear attack siren deliberately.  

 

But back to the train, and we learn that the passengers are strangers meeting on the train for the first time, and they’re all off to a New Year’s party. Notable among this bag of social allsorts are John Junkin as a lottery winner eager to impress his social superiors as a sheriff whose gun unfurls a big “bang” pennant when he pulls the trigger. And there’s Leonard Rossiter, a self-made man also uneasy about his social position – a prototype of his sweaty, over-eager Rigsby (of 1970s sitcom Rising Damp) character clearly visible in his absurd leering Robin Hood.  

 

The last script of Clemens’s that had been broadcast was a loose re-working of the Old Dark House idea. Here, it looks like he’s dusting down Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. That’s until the train comes to a premature halt and, before you can say TV studio, we’re at a secluded location, a very old world railway station. Here, after a bit more drinking and fannying about, Clemens’s actual inspiration becomes clear as people start dying one by one and the bones of another Christie story, Ten Little Indians, become visible. These people aren’t accidentally on this train together, they have been gathered by forces unknown for some kind of grisly payback.  

 

Exotic, ridiculous, in odd costumes and set well away from everyday life, this is The Avengers as it is remembered – camp, bizarre and fun, if you find random death fun.  

 

Bill Bain’s direction is as assured as Clemens’s script and Bain uses close-ups to good effect to concentrate our focus on important details and characters. There are few wide shots; Bain is also a dab hand at using TV’s square Academy ratio to good framing effect.  

 

Mrs Gale? She arrives incognito once this very Steed-flavoured episode is well advanced, in time to get busy in a fight scene that reinforces the feeling that what Clemens really wanted to be in life was a writer of jokes – at one point Gale hurls a man into a speak-your-weight machine, which pipes up, “You are six stone two and have a strenuous day ahead.”  

 

One more Clemens tendency reasserts itself at the end, after Steed and Gale have established just why this trainful of characters have been assembled, as they sip champagne and discuss its vintage – “45, the liberation of Paris and a very good year,” says Steed. Here, again, Clemens is trying to nudge Steed and Gale into the boozy, quippy territory of another whodunit writer – The Thin Man’s Dashiell Hammett. Why not? The repurposing of sleuthing boozers Nick and Nora Charles worked for Hart to Hart.  

 

Thoroughly enjoyable.        

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2019  

 

 

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 13 – Death a la Carte

Mrs Gale with Steed in chef's whites

 

First broadcast on 21 December 1963 – a more obviously Christmas-y episode would go out the following week – Death a la Carte is pretty much The Avengers as usual. Which means: exotic foreigners, death served up in unusual ways and a bit of stealth undercover work for Steed and/or Gale.  

 

Both are incognito this time around, Mrs Gale as some sort of fixer/hostess trying to make life easy for a visiting emir, Steed as a chef in his kitchen. Yes, cheffing is just one of his talents.   We learn pretty much straight away that the emir is in the UK for his annual health check, which looks less straightforward than usual this time around, and, from an early tight camera shot of some hands tampering with some mushrooms, we are already assuming that death by poisoning is what’s in store for the potentate if Steed and Gale fail in their mission.  

 

Quite why they are acting as undercover security isn’t exactly made clear, but by now we just accept that British interests are being protected somehow.  

 

Food, drink and comedy are the focuses of TV stalwart John Lucarotti’s script – from the glass of champagne Mrs Gale offers the emir welcoming him to his temporary penthouse home (this Arab clearly isn’t a Wahaabi), to the bickering among the three top chefs in the kitchen – a Frenchman, an Italian and Steed’s Sebastian Somethingorother – about whose country’s cuisine is the best. This is all done in cliched chef style, though some of the comedy accents and national stereotyping on display is satisfingly explained/excused by the time the closing credits have rolled. As for the executive chef, a camp Ken Parry, and dolly-bird bottlewasher Josie (Coral Atkins) – who seems to have been hired on the shapeliness of her legs – that’s just more of the same.  

 

This kind of clownish fun had at the expense of foreigners, “the gays” and women would never be acceptable today, but even worse than this, to modern eyes, is the fact that the emir is played in brownface by Londoner Henry Soskin (aka Henry Lincoln). No, “but it’s just a bit of fun” doesn’t get you very far when it comes to an argument either.  

 

Perhaps more important dramatically is that the whole thing is a bit ramshackle, rough around the edges, with quite a lot of characters – the emir and his heavies, the doctors attending him, the kitchen staff including Steed, Mrs Gale – jostling for screen time in a rather small space. This could not be emphasised more obviously than by the moment when a camera – probably dodging to avoid one of the actors – bangs obviously into a drinks table.  

 

Whether the emir is going to get poisoned, and who’s going to do the poisoning, is the sturdy axle this plot turns on, and it’s enough, just about, to take us through the 50-odd minutes.  

 

Roll on the Christmas episode.      

 

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2019    

 

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 12 – Don’t Look Behind You

Ola with a lighted taper

 

Don’t Look Behind You is Brian Clemens’s second script for this series of the Avengers, and his fourth to date. And it’s a cheeky lift of the Old Dark House story.

 

In other words there is no typical Avengers setup of a corpse before the episode title has come up, and little in the way of bantering exposition while Steed and/or Gale fiddle with something, drink something or parade around the flat they seem increasingly to share.

 

Instead it’s a story about characters gathered together in “an old dark house”, where forces known or unknown set about their malevolent business. Here things have a modern resonance, because before Steed drives Mrs Gale in his new Lagonda – this is otherwise a very Gale-centric episode – to spend the weekend at the stately home of some aristocrat, we have seen a mystery hand cutting Mrs Gale’s picture out from a magazine, and then cutting the picture into bits. This hand clearly belongs to the 1960s incarnation of a vindictive troll, one with perhaps a #MeToo interest in Cathy.

 

Steed leaves Gale to her own devices once she arrives at the big house, allowing Clemens to do what he seems to love best: write eccentric characters.

 

First up is Ola (a rather good and appropriately scenery-chewing Janine Gray), a melodramatic proto-hippie who is the adopted niece of the absent aristo and who claims to be studying to be an actress – she wants to be able to make mannequins cry with her performance, she says (and not with laughter).

 

Later, fulfilling her duties as a hostess, Ola makes something to eat and shows her disconnectedness from the world of etiquette and manners by offering Gale red wine (“blood red”) to go with the fish. The very idea.

 

One nutjob is clearly not enough, and Clemens soon whisks Ola offstage, to replace her with Kenneth Colley, as a young man claiming to be a film director, dressed in hipster shades, leather and regulation dark gear. His car is out of fuel, he says, and we’re left wondering if this is the mystery man who cut up Cathy’s picture.

 

Without spoiling things too much, another man later arrives on the scene, claiming to be an ex of Mrs Gale’s, who even now carries a torch for her and wants, well, we’re not sure what, but Maurice Good as Martin Goodman makes it three fruit loops in a row for Clemens, and Good gives back in spades the juicy lines that Clemens has written for him.

 

Steed? He does return at the end, just to remind us that he’s the star of the show, though he’s done little to nothing this time out – as this episode was shot in July 1963, maybe Macnee had a couple of days summer holiday. As it happens, the ever-gallant Macnee at one point claimed this was his favourite episode.

 

Production-wise, though it’s still mostly shot “as live” on tape, things are moving into classic Avengers territory. More use is made of John Dankworth’s incidental music, which seems to be episode-specific now, and there’s a creeping sense that Dankworth been listening to John Barry’s work on the James Bond films.

 

Director Peter Hammond’s camera is less rigid than we’re used to, and there’s even some proto-psychedelic camera trickery towards the end, as Mrs Gale finally works out what her mystery “admirer” wants from her.

 

It’s a mad cat-and-mouser, really. But nicely written, well played and well made. The excellent Avengers Forever website says that the episode was reused almost word for word in the Emma Peel era, as The Joker. I look forward to watching it.    

 

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2019          

 

 

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 11 – The Golden Fleece

John Steed on the phone

 

After the camp fun of the previous week’s episode, The Grandeur That Was Rome, a bit of a bump as we touch back down on planet Earth for a much more realistic Avengers episode – The Golden Fleece.

Warren Mitchell gets the first word, only three years from starring in the series that would make his name, Till Death Us Do Part, and looking a generation younger, he’s one of a bunch of soldiers at an army camp in Aldershot discussing the unusual financial situation of a small amateur club, The Golden Fleece, which seems to have riches out of all proportion to its activities.

We cut to a Chinese restaurant, where hostesses welcome visiting business noise Mr Lo (Robert Lee). Steed and Gale also just happen to be there and, having enjoyed a meal of Peking duck, jasmine tea, melon seeds, lychees and whatnot, they leave, Steed “accidentally” going home with the wrong coat, that of Mr Lo.

Mr Lo is, of course, a wrong’un and is involved somehow in a gold smuggling racket. And before you can say “undercover assignment”, Mrs Gale is down in Aldershot working as a cataloguer at an army museum, and listening in as many a crusty old officer, clearly finding it difficult to adjust to a world where the US is top dog, waxes bufferishly about the days of imperial glory.

What have Mr Lo and this dusty museum to do with each other? And how does Steed know there is a connection? Either I missed that detail or writers Roger Marshall and Phyllis Norman, in Avengers tradition, didn’t think it was strictly necessary to explain everything.

The phrase Bretton Woods Agreement is uttered again in this episode, as it was a few episodes back, in The Gilded Cage (also scripted by Roger Marshall), a reference to an actual transnational political and economic arrangement that helps ground the episode in something resembling reality.

As does a trip to a garage where a former army man is now working as a mechanic in overalls almost entirely covered in oil. Perhaps also as a nod to realism (of a sort, as I say) is the unusual sight of Steed handling of a gun. And he does it in good old Humphrey Bogart fashion, pointing it from down at the waist, like a man who means business.

Peter Hammond directs with style and is innovative in his choice of shots (new lenses too?) – one very nicely done death is shown entirely from the point of view of the perpetrator. Perhaps Hammond was a fan of Michael Powell’s 1960 slasher pic Peeping Tom.

Though there is some morally complex motivation behind the financial chicanery that almost saves the episode, there’s no denying that the whole thing is a bit flat.

The two ends – Mr Lo’s and the army’s – don’t really tie together, no matter how much the denouement insists they do.      

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2019    

 

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 10 – The Grandeur That Was Rome

Mrs Gale is held by Roman soldiers

 

As prescient as a hot button shop, The Grandeur That Was Rome is also proper Avengers stuff – arcane, bonkers, camp, with implausible undercover work and mad hair. Even before the opening credits have flipped into view (and no pre-credits murder this time, thankfully) we’ve been treated to Roman senators, gladiators, toasts uttered in Latin and drunk in wine, plus a vague threat to destroy Western civilisation – just like the Romans, er, didn’t.  

 

After the credits we’re in a different milieu, another dreadful British company captained by a glib posh chap (Ian Shand) which is not doing quite as well as he says, and run by an ineffectual number two (Kenneth Kealing).   The plot – and here things do foreshadow future developments – concerns a feed company being used as a front to introduce poisons designed to kill off specific eco-systems (no earthworms equals, down the line, no food) with a view to forcing society to turn on itself in a series of ugly food riots. After which a strong man steps in to clean up, is the big idea.  

 

Financing all this is a retired oligarch (Hugh Burden), who now fancies himself as a modern Caesar and goes by the name of Bruno. His money also finances a modern fascist party, run by aide-de-campe Marcus (John Flint). Dirty money, contaminated food, a spoiled eco-system, the well of political discourse poisoned, populist right wing parties, how very 20-teens. And if you want to see Bruno’s mad scheme – of spreading “the grandeur that was Rome” – as a kind of European Union in utero idea, that’s there for the picking too.  

 

Having spent time together looking down a microscope while discussing cereal production, ergotism (a disease caused by infected rye), the role of the press in fanning up a scare and so on, in detail modern TV shows would consider excessive, Steed and Gale are soon in their usual undercover poses – she at the feed company from where mad Bruno is hoping to initiate armageddon by means of the botulinus toxin, he inside the cod-Roman fortress itself (though god knows how he got there) flattering the would-be emperor with all manner of camp chat.  

 

There is good and bad in this episode – an entertainingly fruity idea is slightly ham-fistedly brought off, and it’s really not helped by various fluffs by the cast, some of them being better at ad-libbing their way out of trouble than others. Burden and Flint boom away like men who have shouted at the back wall of provincial theatres for too long. And there’s a great giggle to be had when the script calls for an orgy. In the 1960s version of bacchanalia girls are chucked under the chin, a grape is peeled, a goblet quaffed, it’s all very decorous.  

 

The concluding fight – men in togas hitting each other with blunt objects – is refreshingly different, and the episode finishes with a flourish as Gale and Steed trade epithets in Latin.  

 

Vigorous and nutty, though with no real sense of peril, it’s not a bad episode at all.    

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2019        

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 9 – The Medicine Men

John Steed and artist Frank Leeson

 

The Medicine Men first went out on 23 November 1963, the day after the assassination of President Kennedy in the USA, and on the same night as the first episode of Doctor Who (also created by Avengers creator Sydney Newman). Of course none of this is reflected in the episode, which was made a couple of weeks earlier. Instead it’s a periodic obsession of The Avengers that gets an airing: the state of British industry.

 

In a plot that’s been chopped up a bit because, I suspect, it was a bit on the boring side, Steed and Gale investigate the murder of a woman in a steam room, a murder which leads them to a vast black market enterprise that’s making cheap copies of British goods and flooding the market with them. This is turned into a story that Steed and Gale might plausibly be involved in with the addition of a pinch of foreign spice – someone is planning to ruin the reputation of the UK by selling poisonous hooky cosmetics with an ostensibly British provenance to an important overseas market – it’s another of those oil-rich Middle Eastern sheikdoms.

 

Steed and Gale both go undercover – he as a member of the Overseas Exports Board advising a cosmetics company run by Geoffrey Willis (Peter Barkworth), she as a sales efficiency expert, all very in keeping with the Buy British sentiment of productivity-obsessed 1960s Britain. Running as a theme throughout is the notion of a company (and therefore country) that’s being outdone by Johnny Foreigner, by crooked means. Yet the company’s name is Willis-Sopwith, the faint echoes of the Second World War in that name carrying a suggestion that the country is relying on the past too much, giving ground through complacency, and that self-sabotage is a bigger threat than any malign foreigner. Well, that’s my take on Malcolm Hulke’s screenplay.

 

Over on the other side of town, meanwhile, an artist (Harold Innocent) in a black roll-neck sweater is getting girls to daub themselves in paint and then, action-painting style, press themselves against a canvas. He is somehow worked into the dodgy exports story, though the feeling persists that he’s been bolted on (by Brian Clemens?).

 

Mind you, it gives Steed a chance to play an Icelandic art dealer, complete in fur coat, Cossack hat, big cigar and a highly implausible accent. It’s all most amusing.

 

For the most part, though, it’s quite a female-centric episode, starting out with the camera lingering on Mrs Gale’s kinky boots in the introductory shot of her, but also making much of her no-nonsense style. And secretary Miss Dowell (Joy Wood) is also a formidable piece of work.

 

All in all it’s a bit meh in terms of plot, but you can’t fault Kim Mills’s pacey direction, which keeps the action bowling along as the action cuts from the cosmetics company to the artist’s studio, from Steed to Gale. And there’s a noticeable increase in the frequency of edits. For sure it still has the feel of a largely live shoot, but those early trundling camera days are long gone.      

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2019

 

 

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 8 – Second Sight

Villain prepares for operation

 

We’re finally arriving in upstream waters in Second Sight, first broadcast on Saturday 16 November 1963. “Upstream” means rarefied settings, no members of the public, posh accents, plots full of techy marvels and lots of improbable bullshit – ideal spawning territory for The Avengers.  

 

Corneal grafts are what it’s all about. Not that techy in 1963, since the first one had been carried out in 1905, but still rarefied enough, especially if you add in a mysterious Swiss clinic, a living donor (living people usually want to hang onto their eyesight) and a donee who has all the affectations and grandiosity of a Bond villain – Ernst Stavro Blofeld had made his first appearance in From Russia with Love just a month before and Marten Halvarssen seems to be cut from similar cloth.  

 

Steed and Gale fit into this how? He’s in Switzerland, where he’s been instructed to bring the precious corneas (or so he thinks) back to London, where Mrs Gale is posing as a doctor, waiting for the grafts to arrive. Why doesn’t the donee go to Switzerland, and cut out all this courier nonsense? That is all explained in a throwaway remark from the unsettling and blind Halvarssen (John Carson), but really it’s just to give the plot the impression of scale and movement, otherwise the entire episode would all be set pretty much in one room.  

 

Adding to that impression of scale, size, opulence is the plot turn that takes Mrs Gale off to Switzerland, with tame eye specialist Dr Spender (Ronald Adam), where she us subjected to the most breathtaking sexism – “You’re a woman after all,” says Spender at one point. “Please leave these things to me.”  

 

The plot, like these transitions between “London” and “Switzerland” are an attempt to bulk about what turns out to be a very thin screenplay by Martin Woodhouse. But director Peter Hammond directs with a minimalist flair, making good use of the camera’s limitations – tight angles, odd rakes, some impressionistic focus at one important moment.  

 

Also on the plus side, Carson is an excellent hissable bad guy, and Peter Bowles is on hand as an arrogant but smart smoothie co-ordinating things at the villains’ end – a career playing just such characters was about to take wing.  

 

Verdict? Not bad, though the “undercover in the underworld” angle is beginning to become a little tired by this point, whether it’s Steed or Gale doing it.      

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2019    

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 7 – The Gilded Cage

Honor Blackman and Edric Connor

Shown on 9 November 1963, just one day after five thieves had almost nabbed a king’s ransom of jewels and gold on the streets of Manhattan –they were thwarted because the getaway driver couldn’t work the manual gears of the heisted station wagon – The Gilded Cage is all about vast amounts of gold, which, it appears, Steed and Gale are trying to steal.

 

With a passing mention of Bretton Woods – the post-War economic order which pegged international currencies to the dollar, itself pegged to gold (hence the US Bullion Depository at Fort Knox as a common trope in this era) – it’s made clear that this isn’t just about the loot, but about the integrity of the British economy, or Western civilisation. Or something.

 

Patriotic credentials dusted off, we head into a hi-tech underground vault, air-con and CCTV, all very shiny and modern, where Mrs Gale appears to be the one who knows what’s what, while, this time around, it’s Steed who does the infiltrating, heading off to see if he can interest “crime broker” JP Spagge (Patrick Magee) in stealing the bullion. This master criminal is retired, or so he says, but Steed is given a gracious hearing, once he’s been once-overed by the man’s Jeeves’-like butler (Norman Chappell), who makes approving noises about the quality of Steed’s clothes.  

 

But before things can go much further, Spagge has been shot and Gale has been arrested for the killing, largely on the evidence of the murder weapon, a .25 Berretta – “ladies gun if ever I saw one” says the arresting cop. This is all part of a plot wrinkle that sees Gale playing an elaborate bait and switch with a gang of criminals who believe they are, in fact, hoodwinking her.  

 

It’s an interesting episode, and one that doesn’t rely on exotic locations – much of the drama takes place in a cell in Holloway prison, where Gale is offered spiritual comfort by a chaplain (Edric Connor), a black man with a Trinidad accent, both of which were fairly rare for TV at the time.

 

There’s a lot of cross and double-cross in writer Roger Marshall’s satisfyingly fast-moving screenplay, and less Avengers banter than we’re used to, though Gale still gets her big fight finish in full leather.

 

Couple of minor points. Gale and Steed’s plot to lure an old lag out of retirement does look a lot like entrapment and would probably not pass muster these days. And blond hair to one side, Honor Blackman looks uncannily like Jessica Brown Findlay, who wouldn’t be born for another 26 years.

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2019