The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 5 – The Bird Who Knew Too Much

Diana Rigg and Ron Moody


Even being kind The Bird Who Knew Too Much is a fairly crap episode of The Avengers, a half-hearted rewrite of an Alan Pattillo story by Brian Clemens.


But it gets off to a quirky enough start – a man on the run is shot and, instead of shedding blood, gives out a little trickle of bird seed. Steed Fancies Pigeons: Peel Gets the Bird is what the irritating subhead card reads before action recommences after the credits with another one of “our” gang – a pigeon keeper (a “fancier” in the terminology) – winding up  backwards in a tank of wet cement. “He was a pretty solid sort of man,” Steed later explains to Peel as the two get their sleuthing into gear. “Still is,” quips Peel back at him. Terrible joke.


Bird-themed death number three is the “partner” of the “solid” dead man Frank. Whether it’s a life or business partner we never get to find out because he too is soon dead, but not before he’s pointed the finger of suspicion at one Captain Crusoe, or it might be Caruso, depending on who’s speaking (the imdb says Caruso – “uncredited”).


John Steed does some modelling with a blonde woman
John Steed supermodel!


Peel heads off to a shop specialising in birds, to meet a man called Twitter (John Wood), a Clemens eccentric with a sidekick (which is as good an indicator of villainy in The Avengers as a black hat used to be in the westerns) played by Anthony Valentine, shockingly youthful if your memory of him is as the louche Raffles in mid-1970s TV.


Steed meanwhile is at the studio of a photographer (Kenneth Cope), a vague relation of every David Bailey-like 1960s snapper – chirpy, demotic, not over-burdened by any artistic imperative – where he is soon doing a bit of impromptu modelling, thanks to a mix-up. Mrs Peel gets her turn later.

Mr Caruso is a parrot – and I’m going with Caruso: he sings, like the operatic tenor, though the spelling Crusoe works too, if you’re thinking Robinson Crusoe. This is a plot twist I’d not normally give away but it’s so obviously flagged that you wonder what on earth they were thinking. Caruso is implicated in aerial photography of a clandestine sort. Er… the end.


It’s not much of a plot, with no real surprises. But there is joy to be had from the supporting characters. Look at the expression on Diana Rigg’s face every time she has a scene with Ron Moody, playing the owner of Mr Caruso, an eccentric professor who teaches birds to speak – she looks absolutely delighted, as if the two are old friends catching up.


Kenneth Cope is bang-on as the swinging photographer, more or less warming up his “deceased” role in Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), which would go into production a year down the line. And Anthony Valentine, long streak of piss though he is, does manage to spin a bit more Raffles suaveté into his performance as the episode wears on.


Look out for what might be called the Clemens Moment – this is the point when a highly trained and hugely competent, smart and alert operative does something utterly stupid, simply to move the plot along. In this case Emma goes back to the photographer’s to steal the parrot and, hearing a noise in the darkroom, investigates, as if offering herself up for a chloroforming.


Roy Rossotti, in his directorial debut in any field, applies lush cinematic touches he must have learned as a second unit director for David Lean on the ravishingly good-looking Dr Zhivago, and it really helps unify an episode whose separate parts – the bird, the photographer – don’t quite gel.





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The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 26 – Honey for the Prince

Diana Rigg and Ron Moody smoke a hookah


Mystical, mad and rather weird, Honey for the Prince was the last episode in series four of The Avengers, in terms of both production and transmission, and puts an exclamation mark on what has been an increasingly unreal and self-referential show.


The script is by Brian Clemens, and in very Clemens style he layers eccentric characters over a plot that is ahead of its time.


The story opens with a couple of unfortunates breaking in to a house decorated in an Arabian style. Finding a “magic lamp”, one of them gives it a jokey rub and – alakazam – a genie appears, a genie with a machine gun to be precise, and shoots both men.


One dies, the other makes it to Steed and Peel’s place, barely alive. They’re just back from an all-night party and are behaving as if they’ve had a very fun night out, only to be confronted by a dying man whose parting words are “Genie” (though Steed and Peel hear “Jeanie”) and “Honey”.


The plot is set, and off the two go, Steed to the dead man’s house, where Patrick Macnee’s stunt double has a fight with the “Genie”, Mrs Peel to a honey seller’s shop, run by one Mr B Bumble, a Clemens eccentric dressed in striped bumblebee jumper and an apiarist’s veil.


The trail leads on, to Hopkirk, one of those bumptious moustachioed Brits who seemed to run everything back then, and played by the madly over-the-top Ron Moody.


He is the proud owner of a company called Quite Quite Fantastic, an outfit that designs and fulfils people’s dreams. This is the sort of idea usually ascribed to “visionary” authors (Philip K Dick was writing the similarly themed We Can Remember It for You Wholesale – which eventually became the film Total Recall – when this episode aired; Michael Crichton’s Westworld was still seven years in the future).


Of course the genie is all part of someone’s fantasy, and en route to the finale we also meet a cowboy, Napoleon Bonaparte and a mountaineer, all elements of other fantasies.


But these are all Clemens digressions/filler (take your pick). What the plot is really about is the putative assassination of an Arabian prince (Zia Moyheddin), which allows Clemens and production team to get every single cliché concerning the region out into the open – harems, sheep’s’ eyes, viziers, effendis, black factotums stripped to the waist, a multiplicity of wives and, eventually, the dance of the seven veils, as performed by Mrs Peel. A dance of six veils only, Steed informs the prince – who has a passion for cricket and is more English than the English – because Mrs Peel is “retarded”.


Prince Ali defends his wicket
Prince Ali defends his wicket


If you’re after an episode in which Diana Rigg is used more for her body than her brain, this is the one to go for – her physical charms are very much in evidence, though Clemens also works in an evil mastermind (George Pastell as Arkadi) who amusingly spends the entire show running his murderous business while being massaged by the splendidly gorgeous Carmen Dene, who also feeds him grapes.


Tongues are very firmly in cheek, accusations of crass sexism thereby defused, or that’s the idea. There is a go-for-broke sense of knockabout that’s hard to resist and some nice one-liners – “We don’t want to offend the effendi,” quips Steed at one point. And Moody’s Mr Hopkirk suggesting that Steed might want to, in a bit of fantasy role play, become a secret agent – “licensed to kill and all that” – is a nice bit of meta-jokery too.


A satisfying end to the last series in black and white.






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© Steve Morrissey 2020