The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 24 – Fog

Nigel Green

 

London was still notorious for its fog in 1969 when The Avengers episode Fog aired, even though the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968 had largely consigned all-enveloping, life-shortening meteorological damp blankets to history.

No matter, fog is what’s called for and so fog is what we get, a thick pea-souper so dense that it seems to have transported the world back to the late Victorian era – an organ grinder, a blind man tap-tap-tapping his way through the street and a knife sharpener all turn up in the opening moments of an episode that’s actually about members of a disarmament delegation arriving in London, only to start turning up dead, one by one.

Hold on to that plot detail – members of a committee being killed – because Jeremy Burnham’s script seems to have trouble with it, instead focusing (in a woolly, foggy way) on the machinations of a strange secret society, the Gaslight Ghoul Club, whose members dress in Victorian garb, ride penny-farthings and gather to discuss the unsolved mystery of the Gaslight Ghoul, a Jack the Ripper-style killer.

Is he walking abroad again, this Gaslight Ghoul, laying low visiting foreign dignitaries? It certainly looks like it after one of the committee is murdered by a gentleman with a swordstick, who makes good his escape in a hansom cab.

No, it makes no sense, unless time travel is part of the plot. But, putting objections to one side for a moment, the familiar plot structure eventually starts to assert itself – it seems the killer has dropped his cape. A clue! Tara is soon ensconced with a dithery theatrical costumier (Norman Chappell), whose information leads her and Steed to the Gaslight Ghoul gang, whose president – known as The President – is played by Nigel Green, the star of The Ipcress File. He’s a fine edition to the episode, and a man who looks good in top hat, beard, cape and all the accoutrements of the Victorian gent.

 

A hansom cab in the fog
Giddy-up says the driver. The horse says neigh!

 

But back to the disarmament committee, who we barely meet. Steed tells us that another one of them has died – off camera, as if to rub home the point about the script being barely interested. Enter Mother, in a Mini Moke (the defining vehicle of the 1960s) driven by Rhonda, to drop a bit more explication into the episode.

Even this can’t quite yank the episode into the present tense though, or tie the visiting committee convincingly into what’s less a plot than a mood – fog does seem an appropriate metaphor here.

Whodunit? You won’t care, and nor does writer Burnham, who has to furnish his killer with one of those dastardly explains-it-all speeches which more or less introduces him to us, fills us in with a bit of his backstory and then reveals him as the murderer all in one fell swoop.

It is unsatisfactory on pretty much every level – even the fight stand-ins stand out. The fog doesn’t hide quite as many sins as perhaps director John Hough expects, especially on a remastered dvd.

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

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

 

 

 

***

The imdb refers to this as season seven. I’m saying six, along with most of the fan sites and Wikipedia, and in line with the pretty much definitive Studio Canal box set. The reason why the imdb and others say seven is because they’re taking the final block of eight Emma Peel episodes as a separate season. But since there were only eight episodes in that production block, lumping them together with the 16 episodes of what everyone agrees is season five brings the total up to 24, much closer to the usual Avengers run of about 26 episodes.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 23 – Take Me to Your Leader

John Steed and Tara King blowing wind instruments

 

Coined as a film-making term by Alfred Hitchcock collaborator Angus McPhail, the Macguffin (spell it anyway you like) is a simple plot device which doesn’t do much on its own, but acts as a string on which a number of scenes can be strung, lending an illusion of wholeness to something which, without it, would just be a jumble.

Take Me to Your Leader is the Macguffin idea at its purest, the driver of an effectively brisk and noticeably slick episode of The Avengers, written by Terry Nation and directed by Robert Fuest – pretty much the A team by this stage in the proceedings.

The device? A red briefcase, one that talks, or squawks when we first encounter it in the pre-credits sequence, when someone tries to steal it and another someone retaliates by killing the thief.

In this episode what the case wants the case gets, as it’s passed from one person to another, along a chain, destination: the leader.

Booby-trapped and containing a wealth of top secret codes and ciphers, the case of the errant briefcase is clearly a job for John Steed and Tara King, who are charged with reporting back on the Mr Big the case is ultimately destined for, as it is daisy-chained from one pair of hands to another.

 

An x-ray of the booby-trapped case
An X-ray of the booby-trapped case

 

I say Steed but in the initial scenes Tara King is paired with Captain Andrews (Hugh Cross), a hasty last-minute rewrite designed to cover Patrick Macnee’s absence from the set. Look out for the bit where Tara and Captain Andrews jump into a Messerschmitt bubble car for an absurd car chase – though trilby-wearing Andrews gets in, the second unit guys have clearly caught a bowler-wearing chap in footage they recorded earlier. No one will notice, will they? Course not.

Steed returns around ten minutes in and from here on it’s the red case, Steed, King and one potential Mr Big after another. These include Penelope Keith as a character called Audrey (also her character name in the sitcom To the Manor Born), a teacher of ballet to little “monsters” who likes nothing better than a restorative scream when she’s alone after class is over.

Another link in the chain is Sally (Elisabeth Robillard), one of Audrey’s little monsters. To prise info about the ultimate destination or location of the case, Steed attempts to bribe Sally with sweeties. She’s having none of it and demands money. Ten bob (50p) suggests Steed. £25 counters Sally, the young actress’s trills a remarkably effective counterpoint to the silky-tongued Steed. It’s the episode’s best scene.

Events intervene, both end up thwarted and on the red case goes, spreading suspicion as it works its way up the chain. Could Tara be Mr Big? Could it be Mother? It’s a neat plot device slightly ruined by the fact that the real leader has been revealed fairly early on.

Glossily shot, briskly acted and well paced, with humour and jeopardy, smarts and the odd helping hand from the fates, it’s a good, almost cinematic episode with some standout moments – who doesn’t like a bubble car? Or a smart kid? And seeing faces that would later almost wear out their welcome on TV (Michael Robbins, of On the Buses fame, turns up as well as Penelope Keith) adds extra texture for those whose memories stretch back that far. If yours doesn’t, they’re gifted performers it’s worth watching anyway.

 

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

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

 

 

 

***

The imdb refers to this as season seven. I’m saying six, along with most of the fan sites and Wikipedia, and in line with the pretty much definitive Studio Canal box set. The reason why the imdb and others say seven is because they’re taking the final block of eight Emma Peel episodes as a separate season. But since there were only eight episodes in that production block, lumping them together with the 16 episodes of what everyone agrees is season five brings the total up to 24, much closer to the usual Avengers run of about 26 episodes.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 22 – Stay Tuned

Steed meets Father

 

Mind control as a plot driver became The Avengers go-to narrative, and it gets another outing in Stay Tuned, a fine example of the show’s ongoing attempts to recapture old glory.

It takes flight quickly – Steed with a ridiculous amount of baggage heading off on holiday. And then Steed some time later, also with a ridiculous amount of baggage setting off from his apartment to go on holiday again, only to be met by a bemused Tara, who tells him he’s been away for the past three weeks, and she’s got a postcard to prove it.

We know something is going on because a) that’s the way these things tend to work and b) we saw Steed being knocked out on his first attempt to get away. And flowers that were fresh and perky are now all wilted and sad in their vase. Time clearly has passed.

So, one of the country’s top agents is missing three weeks of his life. You’d have thought a flag of even a faint shade of pink would have gone up. But no, instead Steed visits a shrink under his own steam, only thinking to alert Mother and whatever agency he works for after he’s tried to kill both himself and Tara in an attempted death by car crash.

Keeping up the holiday theme, Mother is actually on leave, and so Steed reports instead to Father (Iris Russell), a blind woman – reinforcing the agency’s reputation for bizarre senior appointments with bizarre honorifics.

 

Kate O'Mara with a gun
Kate O’Mara, even deadlier with a gun

What Steed doesn’t know, but we do, is that Steed has been got at. We saw a man called Proctor (Gary Bond) knocking him out on his first attempt to go on holiday. And since then he Steed’s been wandering around in a state of post-hypnotic suggestion.

Fate, chance or poor plotting play a hand, nudging Steed and King towards a part of London where shady shrink Kreer (Roger Delgado), his moll Lisa (Kate O’Mara) and rented muscle Proctor (Bond) all hold the key to the mystery. But first, a fight – Tara and Kreer, followed by girl-on-girl action featuring Tara and Lisa, with more block-of-wood sound effects than are strictly necessary. Clearly someone’s been watching kung-fu movies.

The improbabilities of the plot to one side, it’s a decent enough episode, fast moving, thanks to a tight Tony Williamson screenplay, and with flavoursome support by Delgado (later the Master, Doctor Who’s nemesis), the relatively unknown O’Mara, who’d become British TV’s favourite vamp, and Bond (star of 1971’s cult Australian masterpiece Wake in Fright).

It’s also noticeably darker in terms of psychology. There’s genuine jeopardy here, with director Don Chaffey throwing in expressionist camera angles and lens distortion to indicate Steed’s increasing confusion about which way is up.

Consumer-electronics trivia side note. At one point Steed hands a cassette tape to Father. The format was only about four years old at the time and was just beginning to be taken up on a mass scale. Was this its first TV outing?

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

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

 

 

 

***

The imdb refers to this as season seven. I’m saying six, along with most of the fan sites and Wikipedia, and in line with the pretty much definitive Studio Canal box set. The reason why the imdb and others say seven is because they’re taking the final block of eight Emma Peel episodes as a separate season. But since there were only eight episodes in that production block, lumping them together with the 16 episodes of what everyone agrees is season five brings the total up to 24, much closer to the usual Avengers run of about 26 episodes.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 21 – Love All

Sir Rodney and Martha

 

The phrase “pale, stale and male” was still waiting to be coined when this episode was first broadcast on a dark February night in 1969. And you didn’t hear the term “misogyny” on TV much either, particularly not on a Saturday evening entertainment show.

But that’s where we are in The Avengers‘ episode Love All – no, no tennis is involved.

It’s a classically formatted 50 minutes – the setup, the briefing, the visits to various eccentrics and the dénouement, with a couple of bizarre murders thrown in along the way just to keep things moving.

The setup plonks us down in a briefing room full of white, ageing gents, all being told something about missiles – this being the department of Missile Redeployment – by big boss Sir Rodney (Robert Harris), who emphasises how very top secret this briefing is, and how no word of what they are discussing must be repeated outside those four walls.

And yet, scant moments later, there is Sir Rodney, eyes all dewy, mouth working overtime, spilling his secrets to his cleaning lady, a proper Mrs Mop called Martha (Veronica Strong).

There’s a leak in the department, Mother tells Steed, after Steed has dropped in (literally, through a manhole cover) to Mother’s HQ of the week, a subterranean space kitted out with cricket nets. And while Mother attacks balls bowled by the silent Rhonda, Steed is ordered to go off and do some plugging.

 

Close up of a computer console
The computer does all the work

 

Rodders, as Martha calls Sir Rodney, is the classic soul lost to love, going so far as to search for her out in the city when Mrtha’s  not at work. And he finds her, though she’s unrecognisable out of charlady attire, which is just a disguise, Rodders winding up dead shortly afterwards, guilty of both fraternising with the enemy and of slumming it with someone of the lower orders.

Being a classic episode, a Handy Clue has soon presents itself, the trace of a scent on Sir Rodney, which leads Tara to the English firm that makes it. Enter a Clemens Eccentric. He’s an anti-eccentric, in fact, a camp man called Bellchamber (Peter Stephens) who makes the bold claim that he has no personality “whatsoever”. Even more handily for a shortish self-contained episode, Martha just happens to be in the shop when Tara arrives, allowing the plot to get a move on.

Steed gets his own eccentric after following a clue found by Tara, to an outfit called Casanova Ink, a publisher of romantic fiction run by Thelma (Patsy Rowlands), a big bag of fluff clearly modelled on romantic novelist Barbara Cartland. Thelma reveals that the books aren’t actually written by her at all; a computer bangs them out in seconds, to a strict algorithm (another word never used on Saturday night TV back then). You could say the same about some episodes of The Avengers, of course…

And on we go, up the chain of social class, until we meet moustachioed smoothie Bromfield (Terence Alexander, specialist in long-limbed charm) and all is eventually revealed – subliminal messages transmitted by microdots hidden in the pages of the books are behind the cases of amour fou, though it could, let’s face it, have been hypnosis or drugs, anything whose effects were, to use a word frequently heard on 1960s TV, subliminal.

Along the way, yes, someone utters the word “misogynist”, and the pale, stale, male element is emphasised and re-emphasised, and then justified – men like this (boring, sexless) are in positions like these (powerful, well rewarded) precisely because they aren’t victims of impetuous emotional outbursts and won’t be seized by the desire to tell all to anything in a skirt.

This ambivalence about the “patriarchy” (as no one ever calls it) gives Jeremy Burnham’s screenplay a bit of dramatic undertow, and keeps the episode anchored in something real, even when things start getting ridiculous, as they do when everyone suddenly starts falling in love with Steed.

A good idea well executed that builds towards a strong finish, it’s one of the best examples of the Tara King-era Avengers.

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

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

 

 

 

***

The imdb refers to this as season seven. I’m saying six, along with most of the fan sites and Wikipedia, and in line with the pretty much definitive Studio Canal box set. The reason why the imdb and others say seven is because they’re taking the final block of eight Emma Peel episodes as a separate season. But since there were only eight episodes in that production block, lumping them together with the 16 episodes of what everyone agrees is season five brings the total up to 24, much closer to the usual Avengers run of about 26 episodes.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 20 – Wish You Were Here

Tara looks through the hole in a T shirt

 

After a couple of Tara-lite outings, a Steed-lite one for fans of Linda Thorson, who rises to the occasion in a fairly jokey episode, Wish You Were Here, which sees The Avengers doffing its hat to The Prisoner, whose 13 episodes had blazed across 1967 and 1968 (and continue to be talked about all these decades later).

The premise behind Tony Williamson’s screenplay is laid out neatly in the opening sequence – two men, Brevitt and Merrydale (played by David Garth and Liam Redmond) discussing what appears to be a jailbreak. But when the camera pulls back… ta daaa… it turns out they are in fact guests at what looks like a high-class boutique hotel. Or it does until Brevitt tries to leave, leading to an unfortunate “accident” which prevents him.

You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave is how the Eagles framed it in the song Hotel California eight years later. Here, director Don Chaffey doesn’t quite summon the atmosphere of dangerous decadence, more genteel restraint (in every sense of the word).

Plotwise, Wish You Were Here flits from this opening reveal, to Tara and Steed discussing her worries about her uncle (Redmond), before she heads off to check out the swank “hotel” he’s staying at. And, soon, she too is a victim of its no-checkout policy.

 

King with Steed
Tara King and John Steed discuss her uncle Charles

 

Steed, meanwhile, heads off for a few scenes with Mother in his HQ of the week, a jockey’s weighing-in room (faintly reminiscent of No 2’s nerve centre in The Prisoner), where a subplot consisting almost entirely of filler fails to hold the interest.

But it does lead somewhere: Mother’s nice but dim nephew Basil (Brook Williams), having infuriated his uncle, ends up at the “hotel” with Tara, where she is on the point of putting a stop to the incarceration shenanigans by attacking the place’s nerve centre – its kitchen.

It’s a woeful episode, done in the style of a second rate West End farce – pratfalls, slow comic turns, raised eyebrows, stumbles – complete with comedy incidental music by Howard Blake to nudge us in the right direction. Notice director Don Chaffey (who directed a lot of The Prisoner) attempting to squeeze four separate laughs out of Basil pitching a golf ball into Mother’s drink.

But at least Linda Thorson gets an episode of her own, right? Yes, though the suspicion lurks that it was from a necessity to speed up production, which had become badly behind schedule, rather than out of any great desire to give Thorson her head. Whatever the explanation, she grabs the episode with both hands and makes the most of it.

The Prisoner stuff? In spite of the fact that this episode’s working title was itself The Prisoner (thanks to The Avengers Declassified for that info), you could watch the entire episode blithely unaware that anything seriously parodic was going on. Certainly The Prisoner’s real gift to drama – that sense of psychedelic paranoia – is almost entirely absent.

A mixed bag, then. Linda Thorson’s mettle is tested – test passed! It’s just such a shame it was on an episode a bit light on bite.

 

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

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

 

 

 

***

The imdb refers to this as season seven. I’m saying six, along with most of the fan sites and Wikipedia, and in line with the pretty much definitive Studio Canal box set. The reason why the imdb and others say seven is because they’re taking the final block of eight Emma Peel episodes as a separate season. But since there were only eight episodes in that production block, lumping them together with the 16 episodes of what everyone agrees is season five brings the total up to 24, much closer to the usual Avengers run of about 26 episodes.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 19 – The Curious Case of the Countless Clues

Anthony Bate

If you had been watching The Avengers every week in 1969, you’d have seen Tara King effectively neutralised – warming the bench – in the two previous episodes, Killer and The Morning After. And at first The Curious Case of the Countless Clues looks like third time unlucky for Linda Thorson.

Tara has a broken tibia, it turns out, and is laid up at her apartment, forcing Steed to go it alone when a government minister is implicated in the murder of a man we’ve already seen dispatched in bizarre fashion, by a pair of “detectives” who appeared to have “found” the evidence of the man’s death before any crime has even been committed – lots of it.

The detectives are played by Anthony Bate and Kenneth Cope and after they have killed their first victim, who falls neatly into an outline already neatly chalked out on the floor, Steed is sent to investigate by a man in deerstalker, tweeds, the full Sherlock Holmes, with the great Peter Jones playing sleuthmaster Sir Arthur Doyle (ho ho).

The clues at the scene of the crime, meanwhile, all point to one obvious suspect. But since that man has an absolutely watertight alibi…

This being a story by Philip Levene, it’s a criminal racket behind it all, the two men essentially acting as fancy extortionists using “evidence” of an upcoming murder to put pressure on a future suspect. If the target plays along, an alibi is also furnished. If not, that’s where the plethora of clues come in.

 

Tara King stuck at home
A bit of Rear Window for Tara King

 

It’s actually a rather neat old-school case, more Cathy Gale than Emma Peel – everyday criminals rather than criminal masterminds being the nub on which the plot turns.

I’ve already mentioned Jones, superbly ridiculous as a man who fancies himself as a latterday denizen of Baker Street. Bate and Cope are interesting too, Bate because he brings such a massive amount of oily menace to the role – he’s one of many reasons why 1979’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy can be rewatched countless times.

Bate is also instrumental in reviving the old Avengers class-based hierarchy of villainy. He is posh and therefore issues the orders, Cope is middle class and therefore facilitates those wishes. And further down the food chain – we later learn – is the man who actually carries the orders out, the oily rag, played here by Tony Selby as a grimy mechanic.

The men’s surnames are Earle (Bate), Stanley (Selby) and Gardner (Cope) – Earle Stanley Gardner being the author of the Perry Mason stories, and The Case of… being the formulaic title Gardner gave to each of his tales.

Tracy Reed is another interesting addition to the cast. Introduced as an old flame of Steed’s her Janice looks at first like being another of the tryouts as a Linda Thorson replacement. But this is one of the Bryce episodes – the second one produced in this final series – and Thorson was Bryce’s girlfriend, so perhaps that’s a theory too far. In any case, after a bit of mild flirting, Janice fades into the background and King, though stuck at home, does start to become more involved in the storyline, to the extent that the episode begins to resemble one of those Barbara Stanwyck thrillers about endangered women. Let’s not forget that part of the Bryce remit was to return the series to the way it was – Steed and his amateur helpers.

Midweight movie director Don Sharp gives it a glossy sheen, even throwing in a couple of visual references to Hitchcock’s Rear Window while Tara languishes at home, and successfully racks up the tension as the focus moves from Steed to King.

A pretty good episode, which only leads to the speculation as to what shape the whole series would have taken if Bryce hadn’t lost the gig to Clemens and Fennell.

 

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

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

 

 

 

***

The imdb refers to this as season seven. I’m saying six, along with most of the fan sites and Wikipedia, and in line with the pretty much definitive Studio Canal box set. The reason why the imdb and others say seven is because they’re taking the final block of eight Emma Peel episodes as a separate season. But since there were only eight episodes in that production block, lumping them together with the 16 episodes of what everyone agrees is season five brings the total up to 24, much closer to the usual Avengers run of about 26 episodes.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 18 – The Morning After

Peter Barkworth, Brian Blessed and Patrick Macnee

 

Peter Barkworth, Joss Ackland and Brian Blessed fortify The Morning After, a decent “abandoned town” caper with an egregious USP – Tara King isn’t in it.

It’s insult added to injury, given that the previous week Linda Thorson had been substituted by obvious try-out replacement Jennifer Croxton. This week Clemens has two stand-ins, Peter Barkworth and Jennifer Horner (attractive, blonde, posh), taking the place of King, who spends the entire episode “asleep”, thanks to some knockout gas administered by shifty quadruple agent Merlin (Barkworth) and which he unintentionally also falls victim to, along with Steed and King.

If we’re being kind, it’s Clemens returning to an earlier idea of The Avengers – Steed with a succession of amateur helpers.

But never mind that. Back to the plot. Steed and Merlin awaken “the morning after” to find the town they fell asleep in transformed. It’s abandoned and under martial law – anyone caught on the streets will be shot by a detail led by a barking Sergeant Hearn (Brian Blessed’s roar put to good use here), under the direct orders of Brigadier Hansing (ditto Ackland’s knack for portraying duplicity).

Steed and Merlin have soon been captured, leading to an escape that’s got to be up there in the all-time top ten. Up to now the episode has twinkled brilliantly, Macnee and Barkworth bouncing dialogue off each other like master farceurs, which is what they both are.

Change is in the wind though. Dynamic duo Steed and Merlin encounter an investigative TV journalist known only by her first name, Jenny (Penelope Horner) and her cameraman Yates (Philip Dunbar), known only by his last. And soon an outline of the truth is being hazily sketched, thanks to Merlin having spotted a man he insists is a foreign spy (if you can believe a quadruple agent) and Jenny and Yates filling in the background – the unexploded nuclear bomb the media are insisting has led to the evacuation of the town is in fact a front for something more sinister: the arming of a partially finished nuke, which Ackland and crew are going to use as part of some diabolical evil-mastermind plan.

That’s quite a lot to digest.

 

Yates and Jenny
Cameraman Yates and reporter Jenny

 

Swapping horses midstream, Clemens’s script throws Steed and Jenny together for some knockabout flirtatious interaction in an obvious on-screen audition to be Linda Thorson’s replacement.

None of which mattered, of course, because the series was in trouble in the US, where it had been scheduled against Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In and was being hammered in the ratings – make of Steed’s use of the expression “Sock it to me,” (a Laugh In catchphrase) what you will. Thorson would survive because there was no point in re-arranging the deck chairs once it was clear the ship was going down.

Poor Linda Thorson. You have to admire her perkiness, in what screen time she gets.

This injustice to one side, it’s a good episode, making great use of the empty streets of Hatfield (apparently), the town littered with old Triumph Heralds, Austin 1100s and Ford Anglias, and even better use of Barkworth and Horner.

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

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

 

 

 

***

The imdb refers to this as season seven. I’m saying six, along with most of the fan sites and Wikipedia, and in line with the pretty much definitive Studio Canal box set. The reason why the imdb and others say seven is because they’re taking the final block of eight Emma Peel episodes as a separate season. But since there were only eight episodes in that production block, lumping them together with the 16 episodes of what everyone agrees is season five brings the total up to 24, much closer to the usual Avengers run of about 26 episodes.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 17 – Killer

Tara King and John Steed examine a clue

 

Were showrunner Brian Clemens, fellow producer Albert Fennell and the rest of the production team trying to get rid of Linda Thorson? She had been introduced during his brief interregnum by producer John Bryce and when Clemens and Fennell returned, they were stuck with her.

Killer is an episode bursting with agents – who die one after the other and wind up gift-wrapped in plastic – but Thorson’s character Tara King is notably absent, having told Steed in dialogue that protests a bit too much that she is off on holiday and there is nothing he can do about it… so there.

Instead Steed is paired with Lady Diana Forbes-Blakeney – referred to as “Forbes” by the instantly flirtatious Steed and played by the elegant Jennifer Croxton, who behaves throughout like someone who knows she’s stepping on someone else’s toes.

Tony Williamson’s plot sees one agent after another being lured to what looks like a deserted film set (which is what it is – either Elstree or Pinewood) where they are summarily dispatched before winding up shrink-wrapped and as clean as a whitle in a cemetery. No forensic clues for Clarke (Richard Wattis, in trademark bottle-bottom glasses and twittish accent), the agency’s crime scene investigator, to work on – “He’s even had a manicure,” says Clarke to Steed.

The plot runs on that mid/late 1960s staple, psychological torment, with one agent after another “cracking” before meeting his maker, a succession of characters breaking another Avengers rule about keeping the numbers down. The suspicion rears its head that Fennell and Clemens might be putting in the foundations of a new show, one built on the idea of a team of agents (see Mission: Impossible in the US, or Department S here, co-created by Clemens’s old friend Dennis Spooner).
Or, in Croxton, we can see the beginnings of a later TV figure – Purdey in The New Avengers, Croxton being very much in the svelte, slinky Joanna Lumley mould.

 

Jennifer Croxton
Lady Diana Forbes-Blakeney on the case

 

Musings to one side, the very Prisoner-like plot follows one agent to his doom, repairs to the cemetery for some explication, then jumps back to the film set where another agent is about to meet his maker. Harry Towb takes a significant role, as does Charles Houston and William Franklyn’s Brinstead is introduced early on.

The running joke – agent arrives on scene, asks Franklyn where “Remak” is, Franklyn looks about conspiratorially – is lost on anyone who doesn’t remember Franklyn as the face and voice of the “Schh… You Know Who” spy-spoof advertising campaign, for Schweppes tonic water, which ran from 1965-1973 and made him a household name.

It’s a case of payback – the Schweppes campaign owed its joky tone at least to The Avengers.

As if the episode didn’t have enough characters in it, there is one Clemens eccentric thrown in for good measure (Michael Ward as the very camp Freddie), who helps Steed home in on the death-dealing nemesis, which turns out – no spoiler here, it’s flagged up early on – to be a computer, Remak standing for Remote Electro-Matic Agent Killer.

A busy episode it may be – Anthony Valentine also turns up, and I haven’t mentioned Mother or Rhonda, who also feature – but the finale is a good one, the artificially intelligent Remak setting Steed a series of challenges to the death. Does Steed win through? Well there are roughly another 16 episodes in this season to go, so… Steed’s brolly, bowler and heavy coat all doing sterling support work here.

Director Cliff Owen’s camera is noticeably tighter on the action than previous directors’, Steed’s bowler is noticeably smaller, sits more jauntily on his head. In fact with Croxton – physically a bit stiff but a passable fighter and a decent actor in an invidious situation – and the multiplicity of characters, there’s a suggestion of a show renewing itself.

All that said, however, Macnee and Thorson are reunited for a smart, bantering epilogue scene that’s one of the best, involving an inflatable liferaft doing what it’s designed to do inside the confines of Steed’s apartment. Perhaps Clemens and Fennell were feeling guilty.

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

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

 

 

 

***

The imdb refers to this as season seven. I’m saying six, along with most of the fan sites and Wikipedia, and in line with the pretty much definitive Studio Canal box set. The reason why the imdb and others say seven is because they’re taking the final block of eight Emma Peel episodes as a separate season. But since there were only eight episodes in that production block, lumping them together with the 16 episodes of what everyone agrees is season five brings the total up to 24, much closer to the usual Avengers run of about 26 episodes.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 16 – Invasion of the Earthmen

Tara surrounded by people all dressed the same

 

Here we are, Invasion of the Earthmen, the first Tara King episode shot by returning showrunner John Bryce, one of three he managed to get in the can before Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell again resumed control of The Avengers.

This is not Bryce’s vision of the episode. Clemens has had a hack at it, and who knows what the Bryce version was originally like, but there’s a reason why this was slipped out 16 episodes into the final season, let’s just say.

Star Trek is the obvious inspiration – from the clothes to the polystyrene boulders – and writer Terry Nation (the Dr Who writer no stranger to sci-fi) sets up an interesting WTF premise from the off, as a man snooping in the grounds of a large house gets his foot caught in a man-trap and is then attacked by a giant snake.

The snake is fake, laughably so, but it’s symptomatic of everything that’s wrong with this episode: it makes no sense on any level.

I forgot to mention that the entire man/trap/snake scenario is watched over by three clean-limbed people who look like they have just beamed down from the Starship Enterprise, and react as if the man’s distress has been laid on for their entertainment.

Roll opening credits.

It being the first episode, Tara King sports bleach-blond hair – for the Clemens reshoots she wore a blond wig, which makes a “who did what?” investigation easier. Steed meanwhile is in a fancy modern car rather than some absurd vintage crate that would have meant he was wet half the time. He’s in full mentor mode; she is scared of everything, even cobwebs at one point.

Process all that as we move into the episode proper, as Steed and King arrive at the Alpha Academy (Knebworth House, apparently) posing as a married couple who are looking for a school for their son.

 

Someone in a space suit floats by the window
Spacewalk with wooden chairs: a study

 

They’re given the tour by Brigadier Brett, a headmaster whose charges are all unsmiling and stiff, and include Warren Clark, later of A Clockwork Orange (and TV’s Dalziel and Pascoe) but here still in his sleek, svelte and fairly pretty years, before the entering the angy bulldog phase of his later career.

“Young men and women at their physical peak,” is what it’s all about, which to 21st-century ears sounds like the blurb from the advertising rate card for a busy porn site. The words are spoken by our madman of the week, who has a plan to populate the galaxy with Aryan astronauts who, until the technology is fully ready, must lie in cryogenic slumber.

Think Dr Who and you’re pretty much there – Steed as the Doctor, Tara (referred to as “Miss King”, echoing “Mrs Peel”) as the game but wet-nellie assistant, corridors, rushing about, silver foil as the sci-fi material of choice. Though why Linda Thorson is dressed as a pantomime principal boy is a mystery.

The sci-fi mood is emphasised by the whistling Theremins on the soundtrack and, at some level, you can see what producer Bryce is after – the late-era Cathy Gale episodes which managed to weld tech and espionage into something much more satisfying.

Whether the Clemens reshoot/recut/rewrite is responsible for what is one of the weakest episodes of the entire run is moot. One thing we can say for sure is that, while wresting this back from Bryce and co, Clemens and co didn’t manage to slather on any of The Avengers special sauce – the wit, the banter, the humour.

Both Patrick Macnee and Linda Thorson look like they’re having a hard time of it. And, most tellingly, neither King nor Steed seems that smart.

 

 

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

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

 

 

 

***

The imdb refers to this as season seven. I’m saying six, along with most of the fan sites and Wikipedia, and in line with the pretty much definitive Studio Canal box set. The reason why the imdb and others say seven is because they’re taking the final block of eight Emma Peel episodes as a separate season. But since there were only eight episodes in that production block, lumping them together with the 16 episodes of what everyone agrees is season five brings the total up to 24, much closer to the usual Avengers run of about 26 episodes.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 15 – The Rotters

Tara King holds a lock but the door's disappeared!

 

What do you get if you draft in a comedy writer to pen an episode of The Avengers? The answer is The Rotters, by Dave Freeman, a prolific writer for TV comedy from the likes of Benny Hill, Terry Scott, Roy Hudd and Tommy Cooper.

The shape of the episode however – opening shocker, call Steed and sidekick, say hello to various eccentrics as a particularly obvious clue is followed, meet mad mastermind before the big fight finale – that’s pure Brian Clemens.

Things get off to a by-the-book start. A man is being chased somewhere in the Department of Forestry Research. Seeking refuge, he locks the door of his office, only for the door to suddenly disappear. The man is soon no more, dead at the hands of Kenneth (Gerald Sim) and George (Jerome Willis).

Has the door been rendered invisible? Has it been shrunk? This being The Avengers, either is likely, but in fact it’s neither. And we get a kind of reverse clue as we cut to Mother’s HQ of the week, a vast space filled entirely with transparent plastic furniture, some of which the indefatigable Rhonda is inflating with a floor pump while dressed in a see-through PVC mac.

Mother briefs Steed and King about the killing, a matter of national importance etc etc. The action moves back to the killers Kenneth and George, prototype versions of the Bond henchmen Mr Wint and Mr Kidd. In other words they are camp, given to verbal flights of fancy and hover closer to each other than you expect in a pair of hired killers.

They’re from an outfit called Wormdoom and are soon working their way through members of the Institute for Timber Technology. As are we, since the timber experts are all eccentrics, none more so than a man called Palmer (John Nettleton), who is camped out among the mighty redwoods (saplings, in fact, but just think forward a few hundred years!). This died-in-the-wool Clemens eccentric is ripped from the pages of British Empire yarns, a man downing huge amounts of alcohol in an attempt to avoid “the white man’s grave”.

 

Steed and King find a man under a huge bell
Steed and King find a man under a huge bell

 

While Tara deals with Palmer, John Steed is at the Department of Forestry Research witnessing a pencil crumbling to dust in his hand, before heading off to meet another eccentric, Pym, an expert in death watch beetle he meets in belfry.

In a series relying heavily on a “this, then this, then this” structure of one damn thing after another, Steed and King work their way through more eccentrics than seem necessary – an antiques faker, a man already dead and in his coffin – before winding up at the BBC, British Burial Caskets, an organisation selling coffins that are guaranteed never to rot. Never.

And on we go to the end? Not quite. Steed has one more, slightly unnecessary encounter to get through before the veil is pulled back to reveal the criminal mastermind, who wants to hold the world to ransom for a thousand million pounds or he’ll spray it with dry rot (quite where he’s going to go once the entire planet’s ecosystem has collapsed is not divulged).

Shunted together rather than smoothly crafted, it’s a serviceable episode that feels not quite finished, in spite of the usual high-gloss direction by Robert Fuest. A lousy fight sequence towards the end reinforces the feeling. A real mixed bag – the eco disaster element, pungent henchmen and florid eccentrics really save it.

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

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

 

 

 

***

The imdb refers to this as season seven. I’m saying six, along with most of the fan sites and Wikipedia, and in line with the pretty much definitive Studio Canal box set. The reason why the imdb and others say seven is because they’re taking the final block of eight Emma Peel episodes as a separate season. But since there were only eight episodes in that production block, lumping them together with the 16 episodes of what everyone agrees is season five brings the total up to 24, much closer to the usual Avengers run of about 26 episodes.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2020