The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 16 – Small Game for Big Hunters

John Steed in the jungle

  Two weeks after a coup in the Central African Republic, one day after a forcible change of regime in Nigeria, Small Game for Big Hunters had something of the topical about it – and the tropical – when it first went out in mid January 1966.   Prime Minister Harold Macmillan made his Wind of Change speech in 1960 after a monthlong tour of the African colonies. It still had enormous currency two prime ministers down the road when this episode aired. In fact you’ll hear the phrase used at least once, possibly twice.   But we’re not in Africa. Instead, TV budgets being what we are, we’re in the Home Counties … Read more

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 15 – Room Without a View

Mrs Peel behind bars

  The title of EM Forster’s novel is parodied in Room Without a View, for reasons which never really became clear to me, but then on looking back over my notes to this episode I realised I could remember barely any of it.   Some things I do remember, though, such as the bare bones of the plot, which are standard formula stuff – a scientist (Peter Madden) back from a mysterious disappearance attempting to kill his wife (Jeanne Roland), having been brainwashed and broken by the Chinese. Which is presumably why the overwrought man is trying to kill her, since she’s oriental (Roland was born in Burma).   Is “oriental” a PC … Read more

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 14 – Silent Dust

Emma punts, Steed relaxes

  Silent Dust first aired on New Year’s Eve 1965 and from a 21st-century vantage point has all the makings of a very prescient episode of The Avengers. In what starts out as an obvious parody of a nature documentary, we first observe birds nesting in the trees, then watch as the birds start dropping off the branches.   The second eco-themed outing for Steed and Peel (see A Surfeit of H2O) owes a debt to Rachel Carson’s massively consequential 1962 book Silent Spring. Carson was the first to bring to public attention the doubts that many scientists had been harbouring about the effects of widely available insecticides such as DDT, and detailed the … Read more

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 13 – Too Many Christmas Trees

Patrick Macnee surrounded by cutout Christmas trees

  Time magazine’s Swinging London issue appeared in April 1966 and made “official” what had been obvious for some time – something was going on in the UK capital.   To find out what that looked like at the time, you could do worse than examine Too Many Christmas Trees, the Christmas Day episode of The Avengers from 1965, a very swinging, very British mix of the modern and the antique.   Very mind-control-oriented too, the whole thing kicking off with a kitsch dream sequence – Steed in silk pyjamas and bowler hat wandering through a land of fake snow and cutout Christmas trees towards a wrapped Christmas gift with his name on … Read more

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 12 – Two’s a Crowd

Steed dead-ringer Gordon Webster

  Tricks are what Two’s a Crowd is about, and the 12th episode of series four starts with two quite good ones. First up, a shot of a plane. It’s not a real plane, but a model, and the trick is that the model plane is meant to be a model, not – as was so often the case back then – a model masquerading as a real plane.   Trick number two is played when Emma Peel arrives at Steed’s apartment to find him out unconscious on the floor. He’s not really out cold, it’s a test for Emma, which she passes with flying colours by attacking the mystery man who suddenly … Read more

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 11 – Man-Eater of Surrey Green

Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg

  Man-Eater of Surrey Green is the perfect Avengers episode title. Camp, corny, a bit sexy, a lot parochial, it sums up the series perfectly. And this episode, which is a mix of scientific blah blah and a lot of eccentric bombing about.   Things kick off when two lab-coated scientists in love (Gillian Lewis and William Job) put their moist-eyed interchanges on hold when she suddenly hears a funny noise – it’s that 1960s mind-control noise created by someone furiously twiddling the knobs of an oscilloscope. Off she heads, in glassy-eyed “I hear and obey” fashion, to a Rolls Royce waiting to whisk her away.   Steed and Peel are soon on … Read more

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 10 – Dial a Deadly Number

Clifford Evans, Peter Bowles, Patrick Macnee

  Set in the world of the well-to-do, the very satisfying Dial a Deadly Number first aired in the UK in the early days of December 1965 and returns to two regular Avengers fascinations – businessmen and undertakers.   In what sounds like the setup to a joke, there are these three business magnates sitting in a bar, bemoaning movements on the stock market. One of them gets bleeped, by an early manifestation of a pager, and heads back to the office.   There is no funny payoff, though, because en route to the boardroom, the bleeped man’s pager gets switched and he is soon dead of a sudden “heart attack” after being … Read more

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 9 – The Hour That Never Was

John Steed and Emma Peel on a deserted air base

  Mrs Peel comes of age in The Hour That Never Was, the ninth episode of series 4 and a typical classic-era Avengers based on unlikely goings-on in locales almost devoid of people.   “Comes of age” because in this episode she is clearly smarter than Steed, being the first one to notice that time appears to have stood still – it was 11am when they crashed while pootling down a country road towards a reunion at Steed’s old air base, and it’s still 11am some time later as they wander around the base, which is now seemingly suddenly deserted.   She’s also dressed in a style that’s hipper than usual – low-slung … Read more

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 8 – A Surfeit of H2O

A man-shaped indentation in the ground

Undoubtedly a fancy episode when it first aired in late November 1965, A Surfeit of H2O manages to be whimsical, sinister, ridiculous and ingenious all in one go, with a good belt of fine character actors to help things along.   Water is what it’s about, as the title suggests, and before the title has even come up a poacher has died while out setting traps, drowned in an open field by a massive thunderstorm which appeared out of nowhere.   Decent special effects being a bit more than the show can afford, when Steed (dressed in absurd Edwardian hunting gear) and Peel arrive in a Mini Moke, there’s not a drop of … Read more

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 7 – The Murder Market

Emma Peel in a coffin

  The Murder Market is one of the episodes first shot with Elizabeth Shepherd playing Mrs Peel, then reshot with Diana Rigg in the role after it was decided that Shepherd didn’t fit the bill. Hence the two directors on the imdb credits – Wolf Rilla shot the original, Peter Graham Scott this version, which eventually was broadcast on 12 November 1965, a Friday night, rather than the usual Saturday (in the London region at least). Order was restored the following Saturday.   The title is a weak pun on “meat market” since the plot revolves around a dating agency with a natty sideline in murdering people – as established in the opening … Read more