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?

 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

Wake in Fright

Donald Pleasence and Gary Bond in Wake in Fright

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

19 April

 

Captain James Cook spots Australia, 1770

On this day in 1770, the British captain James Cook’s ship Endeavour became the first recorded European vessel to catch sight of Australia.

Cook had been commissioned to travel to the Pacific Ocean by the Royal Society, who were collecting data on the transit of Venus across the sun, during which the planet appears as a black dot against the solar disc. It is a rare occurrence and the Royal Society hoped the measurements Cook’s ship collected would add to the sum of scientific knowledge, as well as helping to calculate longitude, which was still difficult to work out in those days before accurate marine timepieces.

Cook also had a secret mission, which he embarked on once the (not particularly successful) collecting of data on Venus was complete: to seek out and locate the rumoured land of Terra Australis Incognita (the “unknown land of the south”).

Cook sailed from Tahiti westward and eventually reached New Zealand, which was already a known quantity. Having mapped the entirety of New Zealand’s coastline, Cook continued west, and eventually came across Australia, finally making landfall at a place now known as the Kurnell Peninsula, Botany Bay, New South Wales.

 

 

 

Wake in Fright (1971, dir: Ted Kotcheff)

Remarkable on many levels, director Ted Kotcheff’s “lost” film is the story of a slightly effete schoolteacher John Grant (Gary Bond) who, instead of getting a Christmas holiday full of physical rest and cultural recuperation spends five days of booze-soaked extreme masculinity in the Australian Outback.

Telling its story at speed, the film shunts us from the broiling schoolroom on the last day of term, to the flyblown local hotel, then on to a train packed with people steaming through the booze (our fastidious hero turning down the offer of a drink), then into a hick town called Bundanyabba (“the Yabba,” as the taxi driver calls it, “best place in Australia”) where Mr Grant is to spend a night before travelling on to the city. A journey he’ll never make.

The Yabba is where his ordeal of trial by “aggressive hospitality” takes place, first at the hands of local copper (Chips Rafferty) who plies our guy with drink, buys him a steak dinner and shows him the sights, and finally ending up in the company of Doc Tydon (Donald Pleasence) – “I’m a doctor of medicine, a tramp by temperament. And an alcoholic” the doctor (surely disbarred) tells him.

The five days are marked by drink, raucousness, rough friendship, sex, gunplay and more drink, the whole thing coming across like The Wicker Man (made two years later) with a lot more sunshine and a lot more lager.

Bond is not a great actor but he’s good enough, his big Peter O’Toole head and shock of blond hair making him the right choice to play a prissy snob who’d actually rather be a journalist and would dearly love to be anywhere else but right here right now. The rest of the cast deliver salty masculinity by the stained shirtload – Rafferty is ocker blokeishness in a cop uniform and a revelatory Pleasence hops about like an antipodean sprite.

The whole thing culminates in a bloody kangaroo hunt that was done for real, Kotcheff only able to use a few shots from the gruesome footage he shot.

Strangely, the film is often lumped in with Picnic at Hanging Rock, mostly because it is a key work in the Aussie New Wave. Stylistically it has nothing in common with Peter Weir’s gauzy film, Kotcheff and DP Brian West going for an almost expressionist use of camera, with wild angles and odd framings, to suggest Mr Grant’s increasing distance from terra cognita.

It’s a complete one-off, a total success on its own terms, doesn’t put a foot out of place, and uses the dusty locations with the anthropological eye that you see in Get Carter (shot the same year and bristling with similar skuzzy energy).

So why did the film disappear? Possibly because the picture it painted of Outback maleness was out of keeping with the image that Australia wanted to project to the world – these were still the days of the cultural cringe and the  jibe about the only culture available in Australia being a in a pot of yoghurt.

Kotcheff went on to direct Sylvester Stallone’s first Rambo movie, First Blood, and the comedy Weekend at Bernie’s, both very different but full of the off-centre energy on display here. Bond kept plugging away in supporting roles until his early death in 1995. But at least he made this… What a film!

 

Why Watch?

 

  • The director of Rambo: First Blood’s surprising history
  • A classic of Australian cinema
  • Great dilapidated Outback locations
  • Brian West’s remarkable cinematography

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Wake in Fright – at Amazon