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.

 

 

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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 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 to the accompaniment of much scraping of metallic talons etc.

 

His son (Donald Pickering), more of a ditherer than his steely dad, is next, at which point Steed and Peel’s investigation takes on some urgency. Perhaps one of the publisher’s authors is involved. Enter Nigel Green, recently of The Ipcress File (and dead in real life only five years later at the age of 47), as Sir Lexius Cray, an eccentric climbing guru whose eccentricity is demonstrated by a speech about the propriety of eating a dog against, say, tucking into his butler.

 

The butler, Tay-Ling, is a comic-book Chinese in the Charlie Chan style – that is to say he’s played by a white guy made up to look oriental, with with a pigtail just in case his get-up (and the frequently dropped accent of the obviously Scottish John Garrie) doesn’t convince.

 

We could work up a bit of outrage at this sort of cultural appropriation, or the racial insult intended, intentional or not, etc etc, if this sort of wild, absurd characterisation weren’t exactly what The Avengers is all about. If there is a shitty stick going about, everyone gets whacked with it.

 

On we go to another bonkers side character, Jack MacGowran as Professor Poole, a slightly meatier, slightly less camp version of Carry On star Charles Hawtrey, a guy who flaps about in a Dracula-like cape who’s invented boots that enable the wearer to walk up buildings.

 

Emma Peel rests her chin on John Steed's shoulder
The sort of faces you pull when you’re in something this camp

 

“Meanwhile, back at the apartment,” Mrs Peel says, as Peel and Steed are having one of their “meanwhile back at the apartment” explicatory conversations. It’s not only a bit of meta-reference – increasingly common – but also a direct reference to the Adam West Batman, which had debuted the previous year (in the US). In fact the whole of series five of The Avengers owes a debt to Batman writer Lorenzo Semple Jr’s pop style of writing and his strict formatting of each episode (deployed more successfully by Semple than enthusiastic magpie borrower Brian Clemens).

 

A comic-book outfit called Winged Avenger Enterprises is behind the whole thing, with a pair of comic-book artists – inker Arnie Packer (Neil Hallett) and writer Stanton (the always brilliantly unsettling Colin Jeavons) – allowing The Avengers to make its most audacious segway yet, from live action to actual comic-book action.

 

It’s brilliant, it’s audacious, it’s years ahead of its time (think Tarantino in Kill Bill) and if only it had been yoked to a plot that had some drama in it, well…

 

However, the big fight finale, with Batman borrowings of the words “Pow!” and “Splat”, while composer Laurie Johnson does a fair vamp of the Batman theme, is either more cock-eyed hilarity or a terrible cultural cringe. Take your pick.

 

Most odd. But never mind all that. How do you rate such a melding of the downright dull (the content) with the utterly fascinating (the form)? Holy critical conundrum!

 

 

 

 

 

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