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.

 

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***

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 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 name, TV shows on both sides of the Atlantic making up much of his CV.

 

The Superlative Seven has cinematic ambition, though, and director Sidney Hayers does as much as he can in the confines of a studio to suggest scale, movement and the passing of time in a plot that sees the action move from a fancy-dress party on a plane to a big old house where the seven invitees are set against each other, six oven-ready coffins indicating the ultimate destination for most of them.

 

The introductions are done swiftly – Sutherland on a technicolor red set as the dojo of a martial arts school, Steed in an admiral’s uniform, full red (again) jacket and cockaigne hat, Rampling one of the other guests Steed meets when he first gets on the plane where the party is taking place.

 

“I’m Wild,” she purrs. “Hana Wild.” Rampling looks anything but, a slip of a girl at 19, she looks half afraid of the camera, but it’s a decent enough attempt at corny humour by writer Brian Clemens.

 

John Steed in admiral costume
Admiral John Steed is piped aboard

 

Last man on the plane is Blessed, dressed as an executioner, complete with big chopper – a gag Clemens leaves in his box. This rum gang – a pretend bullfighter and big game hunter among the generally not-very-PC partygoers – soon learn that each has been invited to this party by a different host. When they go to ask the pilot what’s going on… there is no pilot. The plane is being flown automatically. Hi-tech whizzbangery to impress the 1967 viewer.

 

Soon the plane has touched down on a mystery island, where Steed and fellow invitees have to kill each other in order to avoid death themselves – that’s the Hunger Games bit. Sutherland, he’s the bad hat controlling the “game”, and watching everything play out via CCTV (more whizzbangery).

 

Diana Rigg has clearly been given the week off, with Mrs Peel only turning up right at the end, in the nick of time as luck would have it, to save the day. She’s also dressed in red actionwear (athleisure, we’d probably call it today), this being the key colour of the episode.

 

This is the sort of plot that Clemens could churn out in his sleep – eccentric characters in a half-borrowed scenario with a sprinkling of paranoia to add spice.

 

That it works so well is largely down to director Hayers, who’s determined to keep things moving, helped by art and costumes departments who are all pushing in the same cinematic direction.

 

That’s reinforced when you watch the episode on the Canal Plus restored discs I’ve got. The colours zing, the image is pin sharp. Too sharp at times – Patrick Macnee is replaced by a stunt double every time the action gets going. It’s something you wouldn’t have noticed on TV at the time, but 50+ years on, on a big high-resolution TV, it’s glaringly obvious.

 

 

 

 

 

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