The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 26 – Honey for the Prince

Diana Rigg and Ron Moody smoke a hookah

 

Mystical, mad and rather weird, Honey for the Prince was the last episode in series four of The Avengers, in terms of both production and transmission, and puts an exclamation mark on what has been an increasingly unreal and self-referential show.

 

The script is by Brian Clemens, and in very Clemens style he layers eccentric characters over a plot that is ahead of its time.

 

The story opens with a couple of unfortunates breaking in to a house decorated in an Arabian style. Finding a “magic lamp”, one of them gives it a jokey rub and – alakazam – a genie appears, a genie with a machine gun to be precise, and shoots both men.

 

One dies, the other makes it to Steed and Peel’s place, barely alive. They’re just back from an all-night party and are behaving as if they’ve had a very fun night out, only to be confronted by a dying man whose parting words are “Genie” (though Steed and Peel hear “Jeanie”) and “Honey”.

 

The plot is set, and off the two go, Steed to the dead man’s house, where Patrick Macnee’s stunt double has a fight with the “Genie”, Mrs Peel to a honey seller’s shop, run by one Mr B Bumble, a Clemens eccentric dressed in striped bumblebee jumper and an apiarist’s veil.

 

The trail leads on, to Hopkirk, one of those bumptious moustachioed Brits who seemed to run everything back then, and played by the madly over-the-top Ron Moody.

 

He is the proud owner of a company called Quite Quite Fantastic, an outfit that designs and fulfils people’s dreams. This is the sort of idea usually ascribed to “visionary” authors (Philip K Dick was writing the similarly themed We Can Remember It for You Wholesale – which eventually became the film Total Recall – when this episode aired; Michael Crichton’s Westworld was still seven years in the future).

 

Of course the genie is all part of someone’s fantasy, and en route to the finale we also meet a cowboy, Napoleon Bonaparte and a mountaineer, all elements of other fantasies.

 

But these are all Clemens digressions/filler (take your pick). What the plot is really about is the putative assassination of an Arabian prince (Zia Moyheddin), which allows Clemens and production team to get every single cliché concerning the region out into the open – harems, sheep’s’ eyes, viziers, effendis, black factotums stripped to the waist, a multiplicity of wives and, eventually, the dance of the seven veils, as performed by Mrs Peel. A dance of six veils only, Steed informs the prince – who has a passion for cricket and is more English than the English – because Mrs Peel is “retarded”.

 

Prince Ali defends his wicket
Prince Ali defends his wicket

 

If you’re after an episode in which Diana Rigg is used more for her body than her brain, this is the one to go for – her physical charms are very much in evidence, though Clemens also works in an evil mastermind (George Pastell as Arkadi) who amusingly spends the entire show running his murderous business while being massaged by the splendidly gorgeous Carmen Dene, who also feeds him grapes.

 

Tongues are very firmly in cheek, accusations of crass sexism thereby defused, or that’s the idea. There is a go-for-broke sense of knockabout that’s hard to resist and some nice one-liners – “We don’t want to offend the effendi,” quips Steed at one point. And Moody’s Mr Hopkirk suggesting that Steed might want to, in a bit of fantasy role play, become a secret agent – “licensed to kill and all that” – is a nice bit of meta-jokery too.

 

A satisfying end to the last series in black and white.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 25 – How to Succeed… at Murder

John Steed and Emma Peel

 

Feminist or not feminist? That’s the question that hovers over the whole of How to Succeed… at Murder, a Brian Clemens script for The Avengers that first aired in March 1966.

 

Secretaries are what it’s all about, trusted right-hand women of busy gammon-faced male business titans, who are all dying in quick succession. Leaving the running of their companies in the hands of women formerly trusted with little more than jotting down and transcribing shorthand… because these Girl Fridays are the only people who understand the fiendishly complicated systems these men have devised.

 

Is this a good thing (see how capable a woman can be!)? Or the opposite (things are so desperate that a woman is now in charge!)? Clemens keeps us guessing, leading us this way and that with a lively script that’s full of his trademark casual plotting and eccentric characters.

 

Christopher Benjamin as Hooter
Hooter to the rescue!

 

After an intro that sees men in suits meeting their makers sooner than anticipated – the first of them dying after his secretary has pulled out a comedy detonator and pressed the plunger, having first covered her typewriter and donned a tin hat – Steed and Peel arrive and are soon chasing clues.

 

Which takes us to proper eccentric number one, JJ Hooter (a very fruity Christopher Benjamin), a parfumier Peel buttonholes, hoping he can help her track down a scent from the murder scene. From the name alone we know what sort of character Hooter is. But in case we hadn’t twigged, he keeps his nose sheathed in what looks like a bandage-y condom to prevent his super-sensitive olfactory system from becoming overwhelmed by everyday niffs.

 

Also for those who haven’t twigged, shortly after the visit to the parfumier Steed explains to Peel the danger of important men leaving their businesses in the hands of women.

 

Are we applauding or hissing here? It isn’t quite clear, but as the action shifts towards a conspiratorial cabal of women (Sarah Lawson and Angela Browne among them) at a keep-fit class, radical feminism is obviously in Clemens’s viewfinder. So radical is this group’s politics that it would even be tempting to suggest that Clemens has read Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto (Solanas always denied that SCUM stood for the Society for Cutting Up Men) except it wouldn’t be published until the following year.

 

Jerome Willis as Joshua Rudge, an external accountant with connections to all the dead men, plays a go-between role in a story that takes a decidedly bizarre turn once he works out who is behind the nefarious goings-on – no spoilers, but let’s just say that the idea of women seizing control isn’t wholeheartedly embraced.

 

Direction is by Don Leaver, who has a real eye for the boxier TV format of the 1960s and is a keen user of the close-up and Laurie Johnson’s incidental music seems to be anticipating Brian Eno’s ambient experiments of a few years.

 

It’s all quite progressive, in other words, if you choose to see it that way. However, Diana Rigg in tight gym gear undercover at a secretaries’ keep-fit class? Perhaps not so much.

 

A fascinating episode which, regardless of its ultimate social/political destination, at least gives us a rare tour of the territory en route.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 24 – A Sense of History

Patrick Mower and Patrick Macnee

 

Fifty years before a referendum determined that the UK wanted to leave the EU, the subject was tackled in this Avengers episode called A Sense of History. But Martin Woodhouse’s screenplay doesn’t call on Winston Churchill or the Second World War to help invoke British exceptionalism. He goes further back… to Robin Hood and Merry England.

 

Things kick off when an academic heading for a conference about Europia (a Utopian vision of a future Europe) is killed en route, by an arrow in his back, launched, possibly, from the bow of a student from the local St Bode’s college (the actors are mouthing “Bede” but in the post-dub it comes out as “Bode” – doubtless a lawyerly adjustment).

 

In go Steed and Peel, she as some kind of undercover student, he as an academic, to see what’s going on. It isn’t long before they encounter Duboys (Patrick Mower), a Flashman-esque in-yer-face right-wing zealot with considerable clout at the college and enough front to call one of his lecturers an idiot to his face.

 

Out in the woods, Richard Carlyon (Nigel Stock), the right hand man of the dead academic awaits developments, while inside the college John Barron (when he still had hair) as Henge (Stone Henge to the students, on account of how boring he is) represents the fogey-ish end of the academic spectrum, John Ringham’s Professor Acheson – a man in constant motion much given to comedy isometrics – the more progressive end.

 

Diana Rigg in doublet and hose
Doublet and hose make a comeback!

 

Who’s the baddie – the liberal or the conservative? How does Duboys fit in to it all? All is eventually revealed but before we arrive at the destination there is much to keep the interest sparking. Both Steed and Peel have to face down groups of students, whose unruliness and unwillingness to kowtow to authority foreshadows the events of 1968 – he does it simply by facing them down, in the way that men who have seen and done things in wartime often can. She does it by being disarming, as she needs to be when Duboys makes a move on her.

 

Mower, at about 28, is far too old to be playing a student, but then there was nothing odd about old-for-young back in the 1960s, still goes on today. But Mower’s big lion’s head, brutal looks and charisma mean he is well cast otherwise. Look out among the students for Jacqueline Pearce, later a member of the cast of the very 1970s, very cultish Blake’s Seven, but here in Juliette Greco-style eye make-up applied with trowel. (Digressive but bizarre fact: both of Pearce’s ex husbands went on to marry the actor Felicity Kendal.)

 

Less incidental but perhaps not exactly essential to know is what writer Woodhouse is doing with the names of his characters, so many of which have Robin Hood connections – Duboys refers to Robin Du Bois (literally “Robin of the Wood” as he was often known), John Pettit (Little John), Millerson (Much the Miller’s son), Allen (Alan a Dale) and of course Jacqueline Pearce as Marianne (Maid Marian). While out in the woods is Richard Carlyon (Richard Coeur de Lion aka the Lionheart), as offstage here as he was in the original tales. Thanks to dissolute.com.au for that observation, which had sailed over my head.

 

Is it any good though? The wrong-headedness about students of the time and their political leanings as regards Europe (violently against) is fascinating, as is the denouement concerning a shadowy elite engineering political change for its own ends. And the Robin Hood stuff adds another, debatably necessary, layer. But there are too many characters in it, too much plot, and Diana Rigg dressed as Robin Hood in the fancy dress finale, while striking, isn’t enough to compensate, though she does come close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 23 – The House That Jack Built

Mrs Peel with an illuinated mask

 

John Lennon’s declaration that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus” had gone public just the day before The House That Jack Built aired in the UK on 5 March 1966. Not that this episode of The Avengers has anything to do with religion or popular music, or anything like that, but it swims in the same backward-looking yet progressive waters as the Beatles, and with a plot heavy on the paranoia, with suggestions of psychoactive substance use on the part of the writer, Brian Clemens, it couldn’t be more 1960s.

 

Patrick Macnee more or less gets a day off this time out, and once he’s set the plot in motion – with a bit of waffly nonsense involving a key in Mrs Peel’s possession registering as a distinct silhouette on the photographic prints Steed is developing – he’s absent for most of the rest of the plot, leaving Mrs Peel to head off to a mansion that she’s just been left by a dead uncle.

 

En route she picks up a hitch-hiker, a man dressed in a scoutmaster’s uniform. He’s a birdwatcher, he tells Mrs Peel. “I’m immensely fond of birds,” he says. Mrs Peel gives him the “Ooh, matron” sideways glance, not least because he’s as camp as a scout jamboree and you wouldn’t have counted him among nature’s most hetero of sexuals.

 

Like the Steed business, this stuff with scoutmaster Withers (Michael Wynne) is really just throat-clearing. The real plot gets going when Mrs Peel arrives at the house she has supposedly inherited (though Steed, back in London, has already discovered she has no uncle and has not inherited anything at all), allowing Clemens to launch one of those haunted house plots, in a building full of stuffed owls and much other Victoriana.

 

John Steed on the phone
To the rescue: Steed discovers Emma’s inheritance isn’t what it seems

 

Things quickly take a mind-fuckery, yeh baby, very 1960s turn, with much running around, wonky camera angles, Bridget Riley-inspired maze-like sets and doors which keep taking Mrs Peel back to the place she has just left.

 

Mrs Peel is not losing her mind, rather the house is sentient. It’s a smart house decades before there was any such thing in reality, since a dead scientist – whom Mrs Peel, in a too-convenient backstory about a previous existence when she ran a tech company (!), once fired – has uploaded his mind into the house to take his revenge on the woman who refused to acknowledge that the future was all about machines, machines I tell you, not human beings.

 

It’s all very Terminator and, in its notion of someone being menaced by unseen forces, foreshadows our own era of internet trolling rather well.

 

The whole house, we learn, runs on “solar energy and frictionless bearings”, which also seems very now, though the rampant paranoia is very much of its time, as are the special effects which, though they’ve clearly had money spent on them, won’t wow a modern audience.

 

Mrs Peel’s pluck will, however. It’s still fairly rare for a woman to get this much agency, and to be seen to be triumphing against unseen male forces – call it the patriarchy if you like – though let’s not fool ourselves, it’s Steed who arrives to save the day.

 

The Prisoner would later take this paranoid attitude and make a cult TV series out of it – endless running, wonky angles, scientific surrealism and thwarted escape attempts were co-creator/star Patrick McGoohan’s stock in trade for the 17 episodes which went into production just six months after this episode aired. He must have been watching.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 22 – What the Butler Saw

Steed at the school for butlers

 

What the Butler Saw is an episode about what the butler did rather than saw, though it does kick off with John Le Mesurier – tongue doing at least half of his acting as usual – handing his employer a gun and looking on as a minion asking for too large a cut of an ill-gotten gain is murdered.

 

What the butler actually saw, in the soft-porn flickerbook images of the Victorian Mutoscope machines, was his mistress disrobing. Appropriately, the reference points in this episode are Victorian – the 1949 Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets (set in Victorian times) in particular.

 

Which is why Steed, aiming to find out which of a number of potential leakers is spilling state secrets to the enemy, dresses up, Alec Guinness-style, in one disguise after another in an attempt to flush out the mole. All the suspects are men, all have butlers.

 

Screenwriter Brian Clemens indulges his love of the florid eccentric in a series of encounters between Steed (dressed in full beard and naval uniform) and Admiral Willows (Humphrey Lestoq); Steed (now as an army man) and Brigadier Crawford; Steed (in RAF outfit and panto moustache) and Group Captain Miles (Denis Quilley).

 

The first two present no real challenge, but the skirt-chasing Miles is hard to get at, Steed instead having to make do with Squadron Leader Hogg (Leon Sinden), Miles’s number two, whose moustache rivals Steed’s for ridiculousness. Cue an amusing scene of the two men exchanging acronym-thick banter at tally-ho volume.

 

Along the way we meet butlers one (Le Mesurier), two (Norman Scace) and three (Thorley Walters, once a fine Watson to Christopher Lee’s Sherlock Holmes).

 

Where’s Mrs Peel? Not much in evidence, initially, though she’s eventually brought in to the story to break through to the unreachable Group Captain, Steed quite explicitly instructing her to use all her wiles to reach Miles since the fate of the nation is at stake. Diana Rigg loads up her voice with irony as she accepts what is basically a #MeToo assignment.

 

Emma Peel and Group Captain Miles
Emma Peel fends off Grope Captain Miles

 

And while Peel sets off to act as the honey in the trap, Steed heads for the Brighter More Beautiful Butling school, where gentlemen’s gentlemen learn how to polish shoes, iron shirts and all the rest of it.

 

No one quite knew where to position the armed services in the 1960s. The Second World War was a vivid if infrequently mentioned event, and a grateful culture was not about to dismiss its warriors out of hand, even though the hierarchies of the armed services were out of keeping with more meritocratic times. Gentle ribbing rather than outright ridicule is the approach Clemens takes, and he applies the same comedic brush in his depiction of the school for butlers, again, a reminder of uncool class-based structures.

 

Mrs Peel, meanwhile, is dealing with the sort of seduction scene that plays all the clichés – champagne, etchings, log fires, low lights – for laughs, even though what Miles is doing as he pursues his quarry amounts to harassment on an almost Weinsteinian scale.

 

The budgets are noticeably bigger in this episode – the producers have even sprung for a helicopter – and Bill Bain’s direction is lavishly cinematic. As Steed and Peel exit in the chopper, “going up” are the last words we hear. It’s a hopeful exit line by Clemens, who was perhaps aware at some level that his show (and it really was his show by now) has peaked.

 

 

 

 

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The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 21 – A Touch of Brimstone

Emma Peel as the Queen of Sin

 

And so we come to A Touch of Brimstone, an episode that didn’t make it onto US TV screens in 1966, thanks to the bondage gear that Mrs Peel eventually gets into in the final scene.

 

How we get there is pretty interesting too. The whole thing opens very cinematically with a lovely shot of the back of an armchair advancing towards the camera. It’s being pushed by Peter Wyngarde, no sign of the luxuriant moustache that made him a household name in Department S and its Wyngarde-focused spin-off Jason King, though he is sporting fancy shirt cuffs and links, a foreshadowing of King’s sartorial style.

 

Wyngarde’s character, John Cleverly Cartney, is at some press conference where an East European somebody is making a warm speech about increasing friendship between his country and the UK. He lights a cigar. It explodes in his face.

 

“Very childish, but very damaging,” is how Steed describes it later to Mrs Peel. It being the latest in a line of diplomatically unfortunate practical jokes of a similar tenor.

 

And, once a theatre seat has given way beneath a visiting oil sheikh, thus losing the UK a contract worth a lot of money, Steed and Peel are sent in to investigate pdq.

 

Suspecting that Cartney is somehow involved, Mrs Peel arrives at his house posing as a high-end charity fundraiser seeking a donation. Wyngarde plays Cartney in characteristic man’s-man, ladies-man, man-about-town style – as a lecher, in other words – who makes a move on Mrs Peel the second she’s over his threshold.

 

As further hints that Cartney is behind the mischief, we meet Darcy (Colin Jeavons, brilliantly shifty), a man Cartney has in his pocket, and Sara (Carol Cleveland, later of Monty Python fame), a bosomy bird and one of Cartney’s treated-mean-and-kept-keen conquests.

 

Cartney, it turns out, runs something called the Hellfire Club, an association whose members all pledge to undertake challenges, when they’re not “wenching” and wining, all dressed in 18th-century garb.

 

Peter Wyngarde (right) in mask and hood
Ready to steal the entire episode: Peter Wyngarde (right)

 

 

The previous week, in The Danger Makers, it was Mrs Peel who infiltrated a secret society by going through its initiation ceremony. This week it’s Steed, at the Hellfire Club, where he drains a vast amount of booze in short order and then delights the assembled members by immediately asking for more. He’s most definitely in! But first, a slightly more dangerous test…

 

And so we head towards the finale, the last third of the episode being taken up with the Hellfire Club’s big night of the year, The Night of Sin. Which vaguely explains Mrs Peel ending up snake-draped and dressed in leather boots, basque and a leather choker studded with nails. “Uncommon handsome” is how Steed describes “The Queen of Sin”, getting into the period lingo. And so she is.

 

For all the sexy gear, it’s not that exciting an episode. There is too much emphasis on the period clothes and the dubious thrill of eavesdropping on a secret society comprising immature rich layabouts.

 

However, there is Wyngarde, who steals the episode. His flamboyant style of acting, flirting with the camera in a way that’s reminiscent of Peter O’Toole or Alan Rickman, is the reason why he became, for a while, one of TV’s biggest stars. The Marvel supervillain Jason Wyngarde is based on him. And Mike Myers has also claimed that he based Austin Powers on Wyngarde in his late 60s pomp. Yeh, maybe.

 

 

 

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The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 20 – The Danger Makers

Emma Peel plays a deadly beat the buzzer game

 

The Danger Makers is the 13th episode of The Avengers written by Roger Marshall, the amazingly prolific writer of scripts for everything from 1959’s William Tell to 1992’s London’s Burning by way of Public Eye, The Sweeney and Lovejoy. And it’s a bizarre and fascinating story, of men doing massively foolish things in an attempt to put the fizz back into an existence made flat by the advance of technology.

 

All this Marshall summarises neatly in an opening sequence about a man trying to commit suicide on a motor bike by engineering a crash. We know it’s a suicide attempt – or looks like it – because when he fails the first time, he has another, more successful go at it.

 

The deceased man is a general and is the latest in a line of top brass army chaps who have killed or maimed themselves in suspicious circumstances.

 

Off, in their different directions, Steed and Peel go – he to the barracks where the recently deceased general was stationed, she to the hospital to visit a bedbound patient, another member of this odd coterie of self-harming men.

 

At the barracks Steed questions Robertson, a military man played to the hilt by Nigel Davenport (father of Jack). Robertson is a bluff “jolly good chap” kind of fellow who, the instant Steed leaves, picks up a gun and starts playing Russian roulette with it.

 

At the hospital the same thing – the man Peel wants to talk to being more interested in easing himself out the window the moment everyone’s back is turned.

 

The Avengers loves a mind-control plot but this goes one beyond that – it’s about men in the grip of an ideology. Their danger-seeking is self-willed. They’re in a club, the Danger Makers Society, which exists to put a bit of spice back into life and have a plan to do just that by pulling off a massively improbable heist.

 

Nigel Davenport with a gun to his head
One way to liven things up: Nigel Davenport

 

And when Mrs Peel apparently indicates approval by not dismissing Robertson out of hand when he makes a grand speech explaining his theory of danger, risk, excitement and technology’s emasculating effect (how very resonant), she, too, is invited to join the club. As the episode starts to wind towards its conclusion, she is initiated into the club via a life-threatening ordeal.

 

Though I don’t generally go a bundle on Steed and Peel’s more military-themed adventures, this is a fine episode, stacked with the sort of supporting character actors the UK has always been great at producing. A frictionless Douglas Wilmer is a persuasively smooth shrink in the George Sanders mould, Fabia Drake is a fabulous stuff-and-nonsense hyper-posh dowager, Moray Watson the convincingly deranged plot lynchpin conveniently accoutred with a black eye patch, just in case we hadn’t twigged.

 

Charles Crichton directs with typical economy, wringing from one well-placed camera what lesser directors would only achieve with several set-ups and/or edits.

 

Fans of clothes might be able to confirm that Diana Rigg is dressed in Chanel at one point, I thought. Certainly upmarket tailoring is involved.

 

And fans of comical stand-in action will enjoy the big fight finish – Steed’s fencing double is taller than him; Peel is obviously being doubled by a man for the more bruise-inducing rough stuff. Didn’t they have stuntwomen back in those days?

 

 

 

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The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 19 – Quick-Quick Slow Death

Mrs Peel listens in as John Steed is spirited away

 

Lean, arch and fast, Quick-Quick Slow Death is high-church Avengers, with barely a normal person in it. Instead a busload of eccentrics power a plot that starts odd – a full-grown man in evening dress and bearing a “Lucille” tattoo on his arm being disgorged from a baby’s runaway pram after it’s crashed at speed – and keeps getting odder.

 

Steed and Peel are soon on the case of the dead “agent” – the series has also finally decided how to describe the line of work that Steed and his various partners are in – with Peel off to a tattoo parlour to pursue the “Lucille” line of enquiry, while Steed heads to the tailor who rented the dead man his suit.

 

After the chatty Northern (and so automatically funny) tattooist has been mined for information, Peel is off to a shoe shop, where Northern is swapped out with Italian and more comedy blood is squeezed from the stone as shoe-guy Piedi (David Kernan) rhapsodises about Peel’s feet in an accent that keeps slipping disastrously, and amusingly.

 

While Steed heads to a bank where the dead man seems to have closed his account on the day he died – suspicious! – Peel heads to a dance class run by Eunice Gayson – aka the woman who first prompted Sean Connery to say “Bond. James Bond.” All cut-glass accent and with a bracingly no-nonsense manner, Gayson plays a woman called Lucille. The plot thickens.

 

Steed and Peel ready for ballroom dancing
A nicely colourised Steed and Peel in ballroom gear

 

At bottom it’s a variant on the Avengers standby – the “doubles” plot – with Mrs Peel soon meeting Peever (James Belchamber), one of the dead men (another agent has since died, and his body has been whisked away by undertakers – like that ever happens), who seems very much alive. Only for Steed to also meet Peever and confirm that he is in fact an impostor. Turns out enemy agents are being infiltrated into the country and swapped out with single men whose absence won’t be noticed.

 

Does the plot matter? Not really. This episode is really a series of sketches loosely hung together, all brimming with eccentricity, directed at speed by James Hill (who also did the Castle De’Ath episode) with an eye for an appealing angle. It’s written with real zip and a drole touch by Robert Banks Stewart, who would go on to create two cop series – Shoestring and Bergerac – with a similarly dry MO.

 

It’s also a vehicle for dressing up. There’s a lot of it in this one: evening dress, undertaker’s outfits, ballroom attire, Mrs Peel more the fashion sophisticate than the usual dolly bird, while Steed swaps the bowler for an admiral’s hat at one point, and later gets into full white tie for the finale set at the dance studio of Lucille, an obvious bad hat.

 

It’s a fairly breathless example of The Avengers getting it just right – walking the entertaining/plausible tightrope skilfully – and is a lot of fun.

 

 

 

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The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 18 – The Thirteenth Hole

Patrick Allen and Patrick Macnee

 

The Thirteenth Hole sees Steed and Peel in action at a golf club where golfers seem to keep dying. Once again, it’s an episode with a needlessly elaborate plot about an international consortium of bad hats getting up to skulduggery. But instead of prosecuting their roguery from an office or a warehouse out on a sensible industrial estate, they choose an idiosyncratic and public location – this time a golf club – which out here in the real world would provide over-easy access for any number of potential thwarters of their enterprise.

 

Or perhaps I’m taking the whole thing a bit too seriously.

 

The plot, when it finally fully reveals itself, is all about gaining access to the satellites in the sky used for relaying television signals – the first of these having been launched only four years earlier, in 1962.

 

Backtracking a bit, things get going when a golfer on the course swaps his 3 iron for a 303 rifle and shoots a fellow golfer. At the 13th hole, of course. However, a custom-made golfball at the dead man’s house gives Steed and Peel the clue they need to start an investigation that will lead to…

 

Three “voice of” supporting stars give this episode a bit of lift. Patrick Allen, commanding voiceover on numerous adverts, the infamous Protect and Survive UK government information films about what to do in the event of a nuclear attack (later repurposed by Frankie Goes to Hollywood in their Two Tribes song) and eventually a large number of Channel 4 station idents. Francis Matthews, suave voice of Paul Temple and Captain Scarlet on TV, and of any number of adverts requiring sophisticated reassurance. And Peter Jones, original voice of the Guide in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on TV and radio and another advertising voiceover legend.

 

As befits his craggy looks, Allen plays one of the club’s flintier golfers, Matthews the club secretary keen to keep the riff-raff out and Jones (dressed in pebble specs and a beret which make him look uncannily like Peter Glaze of children’s TV show Crackerjack) is another gullible scientist lured to the club, where his specialist knowledge on satellites or his life (or both) will soon be winkled from him.

 

A golf club was still an aspirational place in those days, and the producers stick with that thought, dressing Diana Rigg in some very on-trend clothes (hip-hugging tight trousers, white boots with a zip up the front) and having her made up to look foxy as hell, which wasn’t very hard.

 

A golf club was/is also traditionally both a site of entrenched male power and male absurdity. We see the former when the club captain (Donald Hewlett) offers to show Mrs Peel “a couple of strokes, either on or off the course,” bantery innuendo to the max.

 

The latter comes in the shape of Steed, passing himself off as a golfer in an outfit consisting of silly trilby, turtleneck sweater, trousers tucked into long socks, and carrying a variety of gadgets to ascertain wind speed, weather, incline and so on (including a sextant). The golf game that follows is a neat collection of all the old golfing sight gags – stuck in the bunker, balls in the rough, obvious cheating, nail scissors to snip the grass, and so on. Meanwhile, Laurie Johnson reinforces the comedy (or reminds us that this is comedy, if you’re not entirely convinced) with a soundtrack featuring parping, farting wind instruments.

 

Underground on the golf course
Meanwhile, in the golf… er… bunker

 

And after all this – dead scientists, rogue golfers, quaint outfits, comedy interludes and so on – the essence of the plot does finally announce itself.

 

It’s a jolly if pretty silly episode, the silliness being the eventual undoing of the show, once the shark had been well and truly jumped.

 

What’s really noticeable by this point in The Avengers development over the years is how often both Macnee and Rigg pull the not-quite-to-camera “thinks” face, Rigg particularly. She’s also now on equal if not dominant footing with Macnee, occasionally even going so far as to talk slightly over him, especially on his bantery exit lines.

 

There’s a big fight at the finish and the excellent Avengers Forever site points out that you can clearly see stuntman Ray Austin in it. I didn’t, but then I’m not too sure what Ray Austin looks like. But I had noticed that the stand-ins were more stand-outs – way too obvious. Kind of symptomatic of the whole episode.

 

 

 

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 17 – The Girl from Auntie

Liz Fraser, Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg on set

 

The Girl from Auntie this episode is called, a nod to The Man from Uncle, which had debuted about six months earlier on US TV and become an instant hit with its sexy spies, gadgets, 007 goofery and strong sense of the ridiculous, having clearly drunk from the same well as The Avengers.

 

All that said, sadly this is not a great episode, though it is stuffed with good things. It’s also not particularly heavy on Emma Peel, who was perhaps off talking to the Bond people – Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore having made waves – or just enjoying a bit of a break when the episode was in production.

 

She turns up in the opening scene, in a bikini, then again towards the end. In between, the female sidekick role is taken by Liz Fraser, a familiar 1960s face who specialised in dizzy blondes and doesn’t disappoint as a character whose mouth is in motion at almost all times.

 

The plot: someone (Fraser) is impersonating Emma Peel. Why? Something to do with the forgery of famous paintings, which are stolen and the forgery inserted in their place, so no one’s the wiser. Why is someone impersonating Emma Peel, though? Coughs, mumbles, hurriedly moves on.

 

It’s a double-act affair, Steed and Georgie Price-Jones (Fraser) moving from one locale to the next, just in time to find another crop of dead bodies (big body count in this episode), always one step behind a mysterious, hypodermic-wielding old lady on a bike. Is this Auntie? Oh, it might be, though Alfred Burke also turns up later in the proceedings as someone called Gregorie Auntie, though he’s obviously not a “girl”, so lethal biddy it probably is. And her name is Aunt Hetty, so…

 

Murderous Aunt Hetty
Best avoided: hypodermic-wielding Aunt Hetty

 

But before we meet Gregorie Auntie and the people behind dodgy business Art Incorporated, we meet the occupants of the business next door, Arkwright’s Knitting. This is an outfit that teaches knitting and, as played by Bernard Cribbins, is run by a man with a wrist surely too limp to keep a pair of needles in productive action.

 

Roger Marshall’s script is full of in-jokes and running gags (the taxi driver having a lot of fun both with Steed and the various bits of sporting gear Steed keeps loading into his car), Laurie Johnson’s score this time out is more in Randall and Hopkirk (aka My Partner the Ghost in the US) jangly harpsichord territory and Roy Ward Baker’s direction is brisk and tries to keep an overstuffed screenplay moving, which he manages.

 

Why is Mrs Peel in a bikini early on and in a near-invisible (on 405 lines 1960s monochrome TV for sure) body stocking later on, making her appear naked? Salacious sexism is the only answer that can really be offered, and there is a clear tendency in this episode to treat women as chattels and objects of fun (whether meekly riding bicycles or sitting in knitting circles), not an accusation you’d usually level at a series that has championed smart independent women from the off.

 

Like I say, good stuff is in here – Fraser, Burke and Cribbins are all fun, there’s a distinct Swinging London vibe (look out for the John, Paul, George and Fred joke) and I really enjoyed watching Steed and Peel exiting the show in a Messerschmitt bubble car, one of the more idiosyncratic vehicles of the era.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

I am an Amazon affiliate. Clicking on the link earns me a (vanishingly small) commission

 

© Steve Morrissey 2020