John Steed and Cathy Gale’s party trick, a duet working variations on the theme of the invincibility of the British upper class, really comes into its own in Death Dispatch, the 13th broadcast episode of series two.
We’re off in the sort of colonial landscape described by Graham Greene – of swarthy thugs, Freudian dictators and minor functionaries of the Empire, a place where life is cheap and death is pitiless, as we see in the opening shots of this story where a low-level envoy newly in from Washington is quickly despatched in his hotel room in Jamaica.
Cut to Steed, ogling women from his Caribbean sun lounger and meeting his control, One-Ten (Douglas Muir), by a pool, before being briefed about the death and sent off on his mission, towards a nameless South American country where Miguel Rosas (Richard Warner), a dictator of Peronist stripe holds sway, advised by a shady American wonk (David Cargill).
Then cut again, right down Honor Blackman’s cleavage, for the moment Cathy Gale is introduced, more casual sexism in a series unafraid of it.
The two spend the rest of the episode bouncing, like skimming stones, from one flaky country to the next, avoiding murderous brown-skinned men on airport runways as they advance on Rosas and the answer to the plot’s McGuffin – who killed the courier and why? Along the way they banter like a pre-sex couple while in South America the petty potentate glowers, rages and explodes with the sort of fury that delineates insecure tyrants everywhere.
There is a wrinkle in the otherwise off-the-peg character of Rosas – he has an innocent daughter who spends her time riding horses and enjoying the benefits of dictatorship, all the while blithely unaware what sort of man her father is, or where his vast ill-gotten wealth comes from – she’s both his weakness and his human side.
More minor psychological sketching in the script by Leonard Fincham comes in the character of Gerald Harper’s Foreign Office flunkey, a smooth Brylcreemed posh boy trying to maintain his status while doing what he clearly considers to be skivvy work.
Though slightly absurd, with a baddie not a million miles from central casting, it’s a nice, neat tale told rather well, with enough curlicues to give it interest, and with a recognisable 007 dynamic – the Americans in the wings are the real force, the Brits carry on superficially as if they still have an Empire (after all, we’re only six years after the Suez Crisis – the moment when the Brits realised it was game over), though the relentless supercilious quippery tells a different story.
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© Steve Morrissey 2018