The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 32 – Get-A-Way!

Steed pours vodka on his bowler

 

The penultimate Avengers episode actually goes right back to the early days of this series’ production run. There was over a year between the completion of Get-A-Way! in February 1968 and its transmission in May 1969.

It’s one of the ones produced (or started, at any rate) by John Bryce, whose short-lived attempt to take The Avengers back to some version of realism never really had enough time to gain traction before the old team of Clemens and Fennell were reinstated.

Invisibility (realism?) is what Get-A-Way! is all about. Invisibility at a high-security prison for enemy agents, run as if it were a monastery – the warders wear habits (again, realism?) – where high-status spy Rostov (Vincent Harding) simply vanishes from his cell. Only to re-appear suddenly, only to bash a bemused warder over the head, leg it down a corridor and vanish again.

Post-credits and we’re chez Steed, where he is entertaining two old spying pals, their lascivious eyes all over Tara, who is discussed entirely in terms of her physical attributes rather than spying credentials.

But the gods of feminism are smiling and scant moments later, one of the spy buddies is dead, murdered by the unseen hand of escaped spy Rostov.

In familiar Avengers style Steed and King split up. He heads to the monastery/prison, she to the ministry to interview a man who keeps chameleons as pets, animals so well camouflaged they’re impossible to spot in their tank (sound the klaxon for a clue).

At the prison Steed interviews Ezdorf (Peter Bowles), a charming foreign spy in a red tracksuit only too happy to spill most of the beans. One of their number has already escaped, says Ezdorf, the remaining two will soon be gone also, and each has been tasked with assassinating a British operative. Guess who is in Ezdorf’s sights?

 

Peter Bowles as Ezdorf
Peter Bowles, an expert at rotters and cads

 

And soon, Lubin (Robert Russell) has flown the coop, in similar “pfft… and he was gone” style, leaving behind no clues as to how he did it, though in his cell there is a well-thumbed natural history magazine containing a feature on camouflage. Again, sound that klaxon.

We have more or less guessed the what if not the how of this episode. All that remains is for Steed, in another very Tara-lite episode, to join up a few dots. And a trip to the company that makes the vodka enjoyed by these pampered detainees allows him to do just that… eventually.

Realism? Well it is raining when Steed heads off to investigate the mysterious vodka, which I think is a first for the series – for all its aliens, mind-swaps and killer robots, it’s been the driving of open-topped cars in the British climate that’s always been one of the series’ most fantastical elements.

You wouldn’t class a prison run on monastic lines as realistic either. More than that, even given the miraculous power of the prisoners’ vodka, the whole establishment does seem to be run with extreme laxity.

The person disappearing/reappearing trick would be the USP of the series Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) – aka My Partner the Ghost in the US – which would debut later in 1969, and which would partially help with the cravings of “spy-fi” junkies high and dry after The Avengers departed for ever the following week. It’s used well here and is an effective bit of simple in-camera magic.

Bowles is the reason to watch, an actor whose oily charm would make him one of British TV’s go-to loveable rogues is in his element jousting verbally with Patrick Macnee. He even brings a certain dignity to hackneyed speeches of the “we’re alike, you and I” variety.

The cliches don’t stop there. Look out for the classic empty-cardboard-box fight towards the end.

As for the finale – a fight between two invisible people – what the hell was everyone thinking?

 

 

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 5, Episode 3 – Escape in Time

Emma Peel and John Steed cower in a doorway

 

Escape in Time is a good chance to see what the great documentary maker John Krish can do when handed an episode of The Avengers to direct.

 

The results are a mixed bag: visually interesting but dramatically a little flat, though the premise – a time-travelling bolthole into another era to aid escaping master criminals – is a fascinating one if you’re on board with the whole time-travel idea.

 

And it gives the production team at The Avengers a chance to get the fancy-dress box out – a sure sign of a series that’s jumping the shark. On the upside, Peter Bowles is in it, and we meet him very early on after one of Steed’s colleagues has been whisked back in time (nice bit of Krish camera work) to the Elizabethan era, where he’s shot by Bowles, in ruff, Van Dyke beard and diabolical Bowles grin.

 

Washed up in the river – back in the 20th century – the man is soon on a pathologist’s slab, where his wound is identified by Emma Peel as having been caused by a Tudor weapon. It turns out he was investigating the disappearance of a lot of villains and, according to man-from-the-ministry Clapham (long, lean Geoffrey Bayldon, later Catweazle) was about to make a breakthrough.

 

This is a handy bit of “no time for investigation” exposition by writer Philip Levene, who knows he’s got a lot to pack into this episode, and it conveniently sends Peel and Steed up the most fruitful avenue first.

 

Fruitful for our sleuth/spies does not necessarily translate as interesting for the viewer, though. For too much of this episode Peel is getting into scrapes of her own outside a barber’s shop (Steed visits the barber; Emma has a close shave! is the episode subhead) as she follows the comings and goings of Josino (Ricardo Montez), a villain who is probably going to time-travel his way out of trouble.

 

On the street outside the barber’s is a newspaper billboard. “Where is Blake” it shouts. This rare intrusion of external reality in The Avengers refers to Soviet spy George Blake, who escaped from Wormwood Scrubs in 1966 by climbing the wall and jumping down onto the roof of a waiting Ford Transit van – they raised the height of the walls after that – and stands as a counterweight to all the fantastical to-ing and fro-ing. A documentarist’s touch.

 

Emma Peel in the stocks
Did you say “socks” or “stocks”?

 

Thyssen (Bowles), after having killed a number of people in a variety of epochs, soon gets a visit from Steed, posing as a rich guy who needs to make a quick exit from the here and now. In short order Steed has been given a taster of an escape into the past, a trip to 1790.

 

For all its trips into the past, though, this is a very 1960s episode, psychedelically flavoured, full of blind alleys, weird stuff happening for no real reason and fashion that’s designed almost as a dare, it seems.

 

Krish shoots a lot of it almost like a silent film, which gives Bowles rein to play the Thyssens of various eras as men who are devious verging on the deviant. Judy Parfitt, as Thyssen’s right-hand woman, sadly doesn’t get much to do in her third outing in the show.

 

It should all work but it doesn’t – perhaps spies and time travel is just one bridge too far – and the obviousness of the studio sets doesn’t help very much.

 

But if you’ve ever wanted to see Steed’s brolly emitting gas – a Bond-like gadget! – this is for you. And Krish’s direction, and in particular his love of a wonky camera angle, is something to admire.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 10 – Dial a Deadly Number

Clifford Evans, Peter Bowles, Patrick Macnee

 

Set in the world of the well-to-do, the very satisfying Dial a Deadly Number first aired in the UK in the early days of December 1965 and returns to two regular Avengers fascinations – businessmen and undertakers.

 

In what sounds like the setup to a joke, there are these three business magnates sitting in a bar, bemoaning movements on the stock market. One of them gets bleeped, by an early manifestation of a pager, and heads back to the office.

 

There is no funny payoff, though, because en route to the boardroom, the bleeped man’s pager gets switched and he is soon dead of a sudden “heart attack” after being struck by some deadly force from within the gadget.

 

We cut to another gadget, as Steed admires his own musical pocket watch and we learn that the dead man is the sixth board chairman to have died in a year – and they all shared the same banker, Henry Boardman (name surely not accidental).

 

Steed and Peel split up. He hares of to question the banker Boardman (Clifford Evans), and while there also meets his business partner, John Harvey, played by a young Peter Bowles, looking a bit clean about the chops but already suave enough to furnish TV and movies with an entire career’s worth of cads and bounders, which is what he did. Peel, meanwhile, heads quickly to the undertaker’s before continuing on to the bleeper company.

 

Old school ways and cultural oneupmanship abound in this episode. After that pocket watch establishing the tone, Steed is later offered “sherry and biscuits” – not once, but twice, so this was the practice in certain social circles back then (or writer Roger Marshall thought it was) – before he and Mrs Peel meet again at another event denoting social rank, a cocktail party.

 

John Steed in a wine cellar
I don’t think he’s looking for a 92 Chateau La Tour

 

Things head even further into rarefied territory when the pair follow cocktails and a light grilling (given and received) with a wine tasting where things get very combative and Steed is forced to prove himself in a “duel”, a blind wine-tasting.

 

It’s all fabulously old school and, even better, Roger Marshall’s script is full of wit and dash. He not only revels in all the public-school dick-measuring of “name that vineyard” games but also has a lot of fun with some bantery dialogue in which Steed and Peel joust playfully – “Agreeable, well-rounded, a little on the flinty side” says he, offering her a glass of wine. “Venerable, devious, a little ambivalent,” she counters, tasting it while looking straight at him.

 

En route we’ve learned what a put-option is in stock market terms – making money when a share price drops (making the death of a prominent businessman a potentially lucrative business) – and been given an impression of what old-school British stock market trading was all about – insider trading, in all but name.

 

So who is distributing the deadly bleepers? You know, it barely matters, since the fun of this episode is in its depiction of social situations most viewers will never experience first hand (or want to, most likely), but the initial thought – it’s the dead men’s banker – is not too far from the truth.

 

Roger Marshall addresses the high-society focus of this episode towards the end by putting a justifying explains-it-all speech into the mouth of Fitch (John Carson), the oily rag who’s been doing all the grunt work of switching and secreting deadly bleepers, recovering the incriminating evidence from dead bodies, tidying up loose ends etc. It’s an unusual thing to do – it’s usually the evil genius who gets that perk, not his oddjob man.

 

Clearly Marshall is trying to even things up a bit.

 

And look out for David Niven’s schoolchum Michael Trubshawe*, who gets a credit surely off the back of Niven’s name, since his character, The General, is not given enough to do for Trubshawe to really justify one.

 

 

 

*Trubshawe also turned up in minor roles in four of Niven’s films. And his name turns up regularly in Niven films even when he’s not in them – in A Matter of Life and Death, doomed pilot Niven’s co-pilot (played by Robert Coote) is called Trubshawe. And a “Trubshaw” (played by Robert Griffiths) also turns up in the fairly disastrous The Elusive Pimpernel (which Niven hated).

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 8 – Second Sight

Villain prepares for operation

 

We’re finally arriving in upstream waters in Second Sight, first broadcast on Saturday 16 November 1963. “Upstream” means rarefied settings, no members of the public, posh accents, plots full of techy marvels and lots of improbable bullshit – ideal spawning territory for The Avengers.  

 

Corneal grafts are what it’s all about. Not that techy in 1963, since the first one had been carried out in 1905, but still rarefied enough, especially if you add in a mysterious Swiss clinic, a living donor (living people usually want to hang onto their eyesight) and a donee who has all the affectations and grandiosity of a Bond villain – Ernst Stavro Blofeld had made his first appearance in From Russia with Love just a month before and Marten Halvarssen seems to be cut from similar cloth.  

 

Steed and Gale fit into this how? He’s in Switzerland, where he’s been instructed to bring the precious corneas (or so he thinks) back to London, where Mrs Gale is posing as a doctor, waiting for the grafts to arrive. Why doesn’t the donee go to Switzerland, and cut out all this courier nonsense? That is all explained in a throwaway remark from the unsettling and blind Halvarssen (John Carson), but really it’s just to give the plot the impression of scale and movement, otherwise the entire episode would all be set pretty much in one room.  

 

Adding to that impression of scale, size, opulence is the plot turn that takes Mrs Gale off to Switzerland, with tame eye specialist Dr Spender (Ronald Adam), where she us subjected to the most breathtaking sexism – “You’re a woman after all,” says Spender at one point. “Please leave these things to me.”  

 

The plot, like these transitions between “London” and “Switzerland” are an attempt to bulk about what turns out to be a very thin screenplay by Martin Woodhouse. But director Peter Hammond directs with a minimalist flair, making good use of the camera’s limitations – tight angles, odd rakes, some impressionistic focus at one important moment.  

 

Also on the plus side, Carson is an excellent hissable bad guy, and Peter Bowles is on hand as an arrogant but smart smoothie co-ordinating things at the villains’ end – a career playing just such characters was about to take wing.  

 

Verdict? Not bad, though the “undercover in the underworld” angle is beginning to become a little tired by this point, whether it’s Steed or Gale doing it.      

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2019