The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 14 – Something Nasty in the Nursery

John Steed in a toy shop

  Clive Dunn, Paul Eddington, Yootha Joyce and Penelope Keith – four of the biggest names in 1970s British TV comedy – were relative unknowns when Something Nasty in the Nursery aired in April 1967. But their presence is further proof, if any were needed, that The Avengers had slewed well towards the lighter end of the entertainment spectrum. Writer Philip Levene’s Avengers scripts are often concerned with class at some level. That proves to be the case in a story about men – not just any men but powerful men “from the best family; they’re British to the core” as a defence chief tells Steed and Peel – reduced to infantilism by some … Read more

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 13 – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station

Diana Rigg and John Laurie

  The Stephen Sondheim musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum – a hit on Broadway in 1962, in 1966 a film directed by Dick Lester and featuring Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers and Buster Keaton in his final role – is the obvious inspiration for the title of this episode, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station. But beyond the title, there’s not really any sign of the musical in this story, no shred of Forum’s plot about a slave helping his young master to navigate the waters of true love.   So, that diversion tackled, let’s get on to the episode itself, a very good … Read more

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 12 – The Superlative Seven

Charlotte Rampling and Diana Rigg

  Charlotte Rampling, Donald Sutherland and Brian Blessed are the standout names in The Superlative Seven, a title suggesting this episode is going to borrow heavily from The Magnificent Seven of seven years before. In fact it’s more a reworking of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, with a bit of Hunger Games thrown in (appropriately, since a five-decades-older Sutherland would be prominent in that).   Blessed was probably the best known of the three at the time, having been a key cast member of the hit UK show Z Cars, though Rampling was close behind, Georgy Girl having made her a name the year before. Sutherland? More a familiar face than a big … Read more

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 11 – Epic

Mrs Peel surrounded by a halo reading a ZZ Schnerk Production

When writers run out of ideas, they either start cannibalising their own old ones (see the episode from two weeks’ prior – The Correct Way to Kill), they duck into comedy (no refuge for a series that already has its tongue boring a hole through its cheek) or they reach for genre parody. Epic dips its toe in the water of the third option in an episode that parodies old-school Hollywood excess. Kenneth J Warren, Isa Miranda and Peter Wyngarde are the guest actors drafted into play a trio of archetypes, arch types, even – Warren is an Erich Von Stroheim stripe of director, all monocle, bullet head and high-flown notions of the importance … Read more

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 10 – Never, Never Say Die

Diana Rigg, Patrick Macnee and Christopher Lee

  Christopher Lee! Christopher Lee of Dracula fame, intelligence operations during the Second World War, later a Bond villain, Saruman of Lord of the Rings and a heavy metal artist in his 90s, yes, that’s the man, lumbering about like Frankenstein’s monster (another role) the first time we see him, and shot from below, again Frankenstein-style, by director Robert Day as this episode of The Avengers kicks off with a car accident which renders the guest star dead.   Surely not? Surely so. But this episode isn’t called Never, Never Say Die for no reason, and no sooner has he been pronounced dead by a doctor at the hospital than he rises again, … Read more

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 9 – The Correct Way to Kill

Olga reveals an arsenal under her coat

  So we arrive at The Correct Way to Kill, a rewrite of the series 3 episode The Charmers, and a frank admission that The Avengers has pretty much run out of ideas.   Or, since we’re being generous, that it’s taking a prize episode out for a well deserved second airing – The Charmers was excellent, though in no small part because it featured Fenella Fielding.   She’s not visible here but the bare bones of the plot remain the same – someone is killing enemy agents on British soil, putting Steed in the frame. Enemy agent Ivan (Philip Madoc) has been sent to dispatch Steed but, after listening to Steed’s protestations of … Read more

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 8 – The Hidden Tiger

John Steed with pet cat

  Well written and brilliantly cast, The Hidden Tiger is also very neatly directed by Sidney Hayers, who starts the episode with a point-of-view shot of a butler being dispatched by forces unseen while he is putting out a bowl of milk for the cat.   In death the man lies draped in a tiger skin that was only moments earlier adorning the wall of the stately home – where else? – where he’s employed.   And, in a now familiar pattern, very shortly after Steed and Peel (back to being investigators of the oddball) get onto the case, posh, handsome Sir David Harper (Jack Gwillim) is also dead, another pov sequence having … Read more

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 7 – The Living Dead

John Steed pecks Mrs Peel on the cheek

The zombie movie was sleeping fitfully in its crypt – George Romero would wake it in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead – when The Avengers episode The Living Dead first aired in February 1967. Steed and Peel, it seems, are now ghosthunters as well as murder investigators, industrial-decline consultants and everyday spies, and are called in after stage drunk Kermit (Jack Woolgar), stumbling home one night espies the lid of a tomb opening and a man in white ascending from it. “The Duke!” Kermit exclaims. Was it the first duke, of 17th century vintage? Or one only recently deceased – “a real man”, according to one local – who died in … Read more

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 6 – The Winged Avenger

Emma Peel in cartoon form being menaged by a giant bird

  The Winged Avenger, self-referentiality to one side, is a comic-book title and a comic-book episode – look at the framing throughout – and intriguingly suggests that The Avengers now has another genre reference point, having conclusively ditched noirish crime fiction as a motherlode even before Honor Blackman left the show at the end of series three.   Hold on to that hard because this episode is in dramatic terms dead in the water, flat, lacking interest. Though all starts well as a gigantic, semi-feathered (and entirely ridiculous) bird kills an ageing magnate (William Fox), who turns out to be the fourth publishing nabob in a row, the creature having scaled the company building … Read more

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 5 – The Bird Who Knew Too Much

Diana Rigg and Ron Moody

  Even being kind The Bird Who Knew Too Much is a fairly crap episode of The Avengers, a half-hearted rewrite of an Alan Pattillo story by Brian Clemens.   But it gets off to a quirky enough start – a man on the run is shot and, instead of shedding blood, gives out a little trickle of bird seed. Steed Fancies Pigeons: Peel Gets the Bird is what the irritating subhead card reads before action recommences after the credits with another one of “our” gang – a pigeon keeper (a “fancier” in the terminology) – winding up  backwards in a tank of wet cement. “He was a pretty solid sort of man,” … Read more