The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 2 – The Fear Merchants

Annette Carell, Patrick Cargill and Garfield Morgan

“Steed puts outlight; Emma takes fright” runs the subhead to The Fear Merchants, second episode of the fifth series of The Avengers, and its belly-flop rhythm makes it apparent that this novelty is already not a good idea.

But on with the episode, which starts well with a man who stands alone inside an empty football stadium, frightened to the point of insanity though there is nothing there to terrify him.

He’s not the first, either, apparently. In fact he’s the latest in a line of top British ceramics experts driven to the edge of reason by nothing in particular – a mouse in the case of Fox (Bernard Horsfall), who gives Steed a lead to the top-end ceramics outfit he used to work for.

What’s going on? And is an organisation called the Business Efficiency Bureau (BEB) involved? Well it’s headed by a man called Pemberton, played by the silken Patrick Cargill, a character who wears sunglasses indoors. And Pemberton is ably assisted by the Rosa Klebb-like Dr Voss (Annette Carell, a specialist at these sort of roles)… so there’s a good chance.

Also working at the BEB is Gilbert (played by Garfield Morgan, later of The Sweeney), a psychologist (dodgy) who wears those nicotine-tinted shades beloved, in screen dramas, of child murderers, war criminals and sexual deviants.

A large flashing sign bearing the word “villain” would be more subtle but at least we know where we are.

Also in the mix is Raven (Brian Wilde, later of Porridge), a go-getting industrialist of Elon Musk stripe who has called in the BEB to help him streamline the industry (put it entirely under his control, in other words) using Gilbert’s psychological profiling to get the measure of his rivals and scare them off (or to death).

It’s a welcome return of an Avengers standby subject – shaky British manufacturing struggling to come to terms with open markets after the loss of its empire – given a paranoid Brian Clemens update (the excellent script is by Philip Levene, though Clemens’s tweaks are evident – Mrs Peel’s take-up of avant-garde sculpture looks like one of his).

A latex-gloved hand near some surgical instruments
You don’t need to be phobic to be afraid!


It’s a very techy episode – gadgets abound, with sliding doors, lie detectors and a box that prefigures a 3D printer featuring prominently.

Production values are high, in other words, with the whole thing much more in keeping with glossy shows from later in the decade (The Prisoner, Randall and Hopkirk, The Champions). Cinematography (by Wilkie Cooper and Alan Hume) is dynamic, while the overall direction (by Gordon Flemyng) aims for the visual drama of cinema, with an increased use of Laurie Johnson’s incidental music particularly effective.

This all culminates in a tense finale, where Steed (or Patrick Macnee’s body double, to be more accurate) is menaced by a digger in a quarry.

A word about German-born Annette Carell, who is particularly effective as a sadistic henchperson. She’d be dead of a barbiturates overdoes only months after making this episode and I suspect that her menacing presence, as well as the super-suave Cargill, is what drives Diana Rigg’s particularly perky, snarky, bright and blasé performance this time out.

Cargill and Carell as a Blofeld/Oddjob combo – what might have been.

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© Steve Morrissey 2020

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 7 – The Murder Market

Emma Peel in a coffin

 

The Murder Market is one of the episodes first shot with Elizabeth Shepherd playing Mrs Peel, then reshot with Diana Rigg in the role after it was decided that Shepherd didn’t fit the bill. Hence the two directors on the imdb credits – Wolf Rilla shot the original, Peter Graham Scott this version, which eventually was broadcast on 12 November 1965, a Friday night, rather than the usual Saturday (in the London region at least). Order was restored the following Saturday.

 

The title is a weak pun on “meat market” since the plot revolves around a dating agency with a natty sideline in murdering people – as established in the opening scene in which a much older man (Edward Underdown) meets a young woman (Suzanne Lloyd) on a pre-arranged date and winds up dead.

 

We cut to Steed’s pad – or is it Emma’s? – for Diana Rigg’s first ever scene with Patrick Macnee. And Rigg is a little wobbly, hasn’t quite established the permanently-raised-eyebrow performance that would soon come to characterise one of the 1960s TV’s most iconic characters.

 

After a bit of bantery to-and-fro, off Mr Peel is sent to talk to the dead man’s widow, where she also meet’s the dead man’s brother (John Woodvine, lurkingly sinister). Steed, meanwhile, launches himself onto the dating scene by signing up to Togetherness Inc, where the dead man had also been registered.

 

Togetherness Inc is a study in 1960s camp, where everyone dresses in morning suits, confetti tumbles from the air and the refreshments on offer are champagne and wedding cake. Diabetes for the main course.

 

Patrick Cargill and Patrick Macnee
Camp, moi? Patrick Cargill with Patrick Macnee and Peter Bayliss

 

It’s all a little (a lot) over the top, but then so is the man running it – Lovejoy (camp moniker), played to the hilt by Patrick Cargill, whose faintly supercilious air is exactly what the role requires, and whose verbal sparring with Patrick Macnee gives the episode a lot of its fizz.

 

Steed passes himself off as a bachelor with an inconvenient family member standing between himself and a large inheritance. Sure enough, Lovejoy has soon taken the bait and is discreetly offering a Strangers on a Train-style arrangement – Steed kills someone else’s bugbear and that someone else kills his. The wrinkle being that Steed’s assignment is to kill Emma Peel, who has in the interim made a nuisance of herself by having eyeballed the killer.

 

As an introduction to Mrs Peel it’s all very fine (though an entire year passed between the episode being shot and it being aired), though, as said, Rigg hasn’t quite got the character nailed – touches of Cathy Gale’s brusqueness towards Steed remain; the fully fledged Emma Peel deployed wit and charm to manage her partner in crime-fighting.

 

In one scene we see Mrs Peel playing a tuba while Steed practises golf – kooky 60s banter bouncing between them. Other 60s touches include the Joe Orton-esque fascination with funeral trappings – hearses, coffins and so on. And there’s a scene at a photographer’s studio in which a David Bailey-style photographer gives it the full “make love to the camera, darling” performance.

 

It’s all very swinging, and briskly, stylishly directed by Scott, who can’t hide the fact that Rigg hasn’t learned to fight yet. But Tony Williamson’s script (his first for The Avengers) compensates with plenty of zippy dialogue – between Rigg and Macnee, and Macnee and Cargill, whose drawling, quizzical, irony-rich delivery had made him a stage farceur rarely out of work. And, fanciful notion perhaps, might Cargill’s performance have influenced the direction Diana Rigg would take Mrs Peel?

 

 

 

 

 

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I am an Amazon affiliate. Clicking on the link earns me a commission

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2019