The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 9 – Legacy of Death

Ronald Lacey and Stratford Johns

 

“A bit crap,” is what I wrote in my notes towards the end of watching The Avengers episode Legacy of Death. Perhaps I was being too harsh. My memory of it now is of being a pleasingly entertaining episode, and that’s largely down to the work of Stratford Johns and Ronald Lacey, who do a knock-up and knockabout job of pastiching Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, Casablanca/Maltese Falcon era.

Pastiche is pretty much the watchword throughout, this being one of the banes of this farewell series (at what point did everyone realise that’s what it was?).

But on to the plot – written by Dr Who’s Daleks creator Terry Nation and opening with a man called Farrer (Richard Hurndall, who’d briefly play the time-travelling Doctor many years down the line) lowering himself into his coffin to avoid being killed by two assassins on their way in from the airport, according to his trusty aide Zoltan (John Hollis).

The men arrive – it is Sidney Street (Johns) and Humbert Green (Lacey) – but Farrer is already dead and Zoltan has hidden the dagger his master gave to him for safe-keeping before he croaked.

Soon, after a visit from the mysterious Zoltan, Steed has that same dagger, though he’s none the wiser about where it’s from. Tara arrives, keen to share some bubbly with her colleague. And soon after that the first of a string of rival comedy (ie foreign) assailants turns up, keen to relieve Steed of “the dagger of a thousand deaths”, as one of them puts it.

 

Tara King tied up
Tied up: manservant Winkler and his boss Baron Von Orlak are just two of the villains after the dagger

 

None really creates as much of an impression as Johns, who is excellent when pushed into caricature, as he is here, with much excessive mopping of his sweaty features with a hankie that was probably wrung out between takes.

The whole thing culminates back at the ranch (Farrer’s mansion) where the dagger is found to be the key to something eye-widening, which Steed and King will soon be getting their hands on if the villains, who have now all banded together, don’t get the dagger off them first.

Comedy is the intention, and everyone is overdoing it except Patrick Macnee, who has either taken it on his own shoulders to keep the brand pure, or has been instructed by director Don Chaffey to act as the pivot around which the carousel spins.

If you were to sum up the episode in a soundbite, it’s a case of an awful lot of people dying awfully casually. Yes, the law of diminishing returns does apply.

What’s it all about? The dagger leads to untold riches, or something. It doesn’t really matter, Nation fully understanding that this is an exercise in archness.

Things to look out for – a firm called Dickens, Dickens, Dickens, Dickens & Dickens (a sign that Brian Clemens was involved somewhere), a glimpse of Tara’s apartment (I didn’t know she even had one), and a late appearance of the Chinese water torture, which by this point in the 20th century had been done well and truly to death as a despicable way of extracting information (and of behaving, let’s face it). A relic.

Fans of Pink Panther style fist fights – no one looks like they’re getting hurt – will enjoy the finale, which also comes with an Agatha Christie-style reveal during which everything is explained.

Stylish enough, but with too much of an emphasis on a particularly arch sort of comedy. On second/third thoughts, still “a bit crap”.

 

 

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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 1, Episode 15 – The Frighteners

Doris Hare, Patrick Macnee and Ian Hendry

 

The 15th of 26 episodes in the first series is a story that Humphrey Bogart might recognise. A tale of a greasy heel sending his thugs around to put “the frighteners” on a society lothario who is wooing the impressionable daughter of a local business big noise, it looks and feels every inch like a film noir.

It’s something director Peter Hammond clearly relishes and, on a TV budget, he does impressive things with pools of shadow, out of which loom both goodies and baddies. Two levels of baddies, what’s more – the Deacon (Willoughby Goddard) is the sweaty and corpulently effete manager of muscle, while Sir Thomas Weller (Stratford Johns) is the sort of crook who pays to have his dirty work done for him, though he looks like he’d rather be doing it himself. And that’s not including the heavies themselves, the slightly rentamob Philip Locke and Godfrey James.

Steed and Keel both appear in this one, Steed first appearing in the back of a dimly lit cab to brief Keel on their latest job – taking out a pair of “massage demonstrators” who are plying their trade in London. Really? A couple of low-level fists for hire, that’s the gig? Indeed it is, and all the more mystifying is that Steed seems now to have become a kind of crime-fighting Fagin, with a network of cheery Cockney street operatives addressing him with an “Ere, Guv” wherever he goes.

If it asks a lot of unanswered questions about what organisation it is exactly that Steed actually works for – the Savile Row division of the CID is what it looks like – it doesn’t detract too much from the story, which is starting to move in what would later become the recognisable baroque Avengers way.

Preventing a silver-tongued lounge lizard (Philip Gilbert) from eloping with the breathy, silly daughter (Dawn Beret) of some magnate, and stopping him from getting a thorough beating first, yup, that’s it. But it’s efficient and, to an extent, quippily done, with Willoughby Goddard and Stratford Johns providing a lot of the acting wallop, while there’s a nice comic turn by Doris Hare towards the end. And nice to see Macnee beginning to stretch out in his first real lead role in a career that was already 25 years long. Hat fans – Steed wears a trilby, not a bowler. Looks dapper enough in it, though.

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2017