The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 26 – Homicide and Old Lace

Gerald Harper with the Crown Jewels

 

An episode written by Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks, and then rewritten by Brian Clemens when he returned to the series. It was Clemens who inserted the framework narrative device – Mother visiting a pair of aged aunts and spinning them yarns about legendary feats of Avengers derring-do.

The Great Great Britain Crime was the original title, under producer John Bryce. Clemens renamed it Homicide and Old Lace. And the old dears are rather good fun, a pair of bloodthirsty old broads who love nothing better than a wallow in gory tales of yore, keen on Cagney-era slang (“gats”, “rods” etc) and handy with a gun – they’re ready to shoot Mother the second he comes through their door (setting us up nicely for Rhonda’s quick-draw two-gun riposte).

Hulke and Dicks hated the finished product, so does much of the blogosphere. I suspect it’s because it cuts a bit too close to the bone – not only is Clemens signalling that the show is literally recycling past glories (with footage from Emma Peel episodes) but the old dears (Joyce Carey and Mary Merrall) are rather given to passing funny-but-true comments about the absurdity of the plotting. The silent-movie soundtrack of tinkly piano only rubs salt in the wound.

 

Tara King with sub machinegun
Tara King says it with lead

 

It’s also very light on Tara King, who doesn’t feature at all in the usual bantering outro. Instead, Steed remarks on Rhonda’s persistent silence, cueing up one of the rare funny exit interchanges of this series.

Hulke and Dicks’ original plot was doing its share of recycling too: the international criminal organisation Intercrime is revived in a story featuring Gerald Harper as the dim military man entrusted with safeguarding decent copies of the nation’s priceless works of art, copies of which will be exhibited in place of the real items in the event of impending invasion.

Their neat original idea (preserved by Clemens) involves a switcheroo – using Steed as a go-between – with Intercrime making off with the originals, leaving the fakes behind. Who’ll know the difference? Small matters like the difficulty of fencing huge quantities of world-famous art are not gone into – this is Saturday night TV after all.

Patrick Newell, as Mother, has been a beacon in this series, a twinkling, ridiculous but very welcome presence and he is given his head here, and lays it on as thick as he can as he relays the convoluted story to two feisty but aged women fascinated by the mechanics of death and the availability of red-eye whiskey.

According to the excellent Avengers Forever site, it’s The Bird Who Knew Too Much, Murdersville, The Fear Merchants and Never, Never Say Die that have been cannibalised for old footage. Over there they take a dim view of Homicide and Old Lace – and they do have a point. This isn’t really an Avengers episode at all, really.

But for audacity you have to hand it to Clemens. Faced with material he couldn’t or wouldn’t use and with a deadline looming, he got creative. I cannot think of another show of the era which would have or could have re-used its own archive. And commenting on your own show’s plot and characters as you plunder the past is all very meta, too.

 

 

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 1 – The Forget-Me-Knot

Patrick Macnee and Lind Thorson

 

Exit Diana Rigg, enter Linda Thorson.

Out with the old, in with the new in The Forget-Me-Knot, a handover episode that saw Diana Rigg leave The Avengers and Linda Thorson join it.

Much has been said about Thorson – a good overview can be found here at Avengers Forever – and I’m not going to add to it here, except to say that I reckon she makes the best of what looks like a very bad situation. Departing/returning showrunner (all also detailed at Avengers Forever) Brian Clemens is clearly angling to ditch her as soon as he gets his feet back under the table and throughout this series again and again brings in obvious try-outs while “ill” or “injured” actionwoman King is forced to sit out one episode or another.

But on with this one. Steed and Peel, still, just about, and a story about amnesiac spies, with things getting going as Steed and Peel are about to enjoy an Irish coffee while doing a crossword. Enter a befuddled agent (Patrick Kavanagh) who remembers enough to have found the apartment but doesn’t really know much more than that, apart from the fact that a traitor is at work in the department.

Off Steed heads to HQ, to visit Mother, his wheelchair-using, fat, eccentric superior – a man (Patrick Newell) playing someone called Mother being a sign that there’s life in the series yet – pausing only to deflect an attack by an over-enthusiastic trainee (it’s Tara King) as he passes through the spy school.

Mrs Peel, meanwhile, is trying to shake loose some memories from the amnesiac’s mind, only to have her own compromised when a pair of thugs arrive and do to her what they’d done to him, rendering her blank too.

And that’s about it for her. Most of the rest of the episode Mr Peel spends locked up.

Emma Peel with gun
Farewell Emma Peel – cheekbones as deadly as her gun

 

Steed too ends up being struck by an amnesiac dart – three in fact, just for good measure – and wakes up in hospital where the doctor concludes that the man in front of him in the hospital bed has had a few drinks too many. Considering that Steed drinks in Mad Men fashion, that’s not a bad diagnosis, albeit the wrong one.

So who’s the traitor? Well, Tara King to one side, and assuming it’s not Mother, that leaves the only two others we meet – played by Jeremy Burnham and Jeremy Young. Choose your Jeremy.

Without detailing the entire plot, Tara does help save the day and order is restored, only for Emma Peel to discover that her husband has been found alive and well. And, too hastily to be credible (and surely that’s because this stuff was shot AFTER Rigg had actually left the series and she was doing everyone a favour by turning up at all for reshoots), Peel is gone, bidding Steed a touching farewell, Steed addressing her as “Emma” rather than Mrs Peel, the sudden drop of formality going off like an emotional depth charge.

Emma’s parting shot is to cross Tara on the stairs as Tara arrives, where Emma passes on some sexist information about the way Steed likes his tea.

And so a new chapter begins, with Tara King presented as an agent making up in pluck what she lacks in experience.

Notice Patrick Macnee’s physical bearing in this episode. He’s moving in the way you associate with an ageing stage farceur – the appearance of being lively rather than liveliness itself. Technique filling in the gap opened up by sadness – just a thought.

Another thought. Thorson pretty good. Acquitted herself well. Rigg a tough act to follow.

 

 

 

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 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