Just when you thought it was Steed and Gale, Macnee and Blackman, along pops Julie Stevens (later in the decade a regular on the children’s TV show Playaway) as a sidekick in the third episode of series two. What’s afoot? Clearly there were worries behind the scenes before the series got underway and, having lost their big star in Ian Hendry, a double whammy of Macnee and Blackman not quite taking with the viewing public was insured against by drafting in ancillary aid Stevens.
As Venus Smith, she plays a nightclub singer helping Steed get to the bottom of a murder after a pretty girl is murdered inside the “Balkan Embassy”. Cypriot, 1960s/70s rent-an-ethnic Paul Stassino plays the handsome representative of the ruling junta the British government sends Steed to protect. Or is that a cover for something more serpentine?
The foreigners are hilariously typical of 1960s TV – brutes, fools, lechers and criminals – and Steed has no trouble inserting Smith into the embassy as this visiting big noise’s new private secretary. Nor does he have any trouble smooth-talking Smith into taking the gig – patting a passing cigarette girl on the bottom after having done so as if to underline his caddish charm – with a vague promise of a tour of the Balkans and a big paycheck.
Like Emma Peel, Tara King and Cathy Gale, Venus Smith has the bi-syllabic first name followed by mono-syllabic second of Steed’s regular assistants. Except Venus Smith is a civilian – she’s not only a singer but she does in fact sing a number or two in the show (starting with You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me). You could argue that Gale is a civilian too, the various references to an outside life indicating as much, but Smith is clearly outside the circle of trust; Gale isn’t.
So what’s The Decapod? It’s the name of a wrestler, who we first espy killing the comely blonde in the opening sequence, before turning up later, fighting Georgi (Doug Robinson), one of the ambassador’s bodyguards, who goes under the fight name of The Beast of the Balkans. And it’s a typical piece of Avengers plotting – confusing, colourful and not exactly the quickest way of getting from A to B for anyone involved. And it later turns out there are two Decapods, in fact, as the denouement is upon us.
En (a circuitous and never credible) route we discover that Venus Smith is a feisty and mercenary young woman who doesn’t mind being pawed by a Balkan general, that The Avengers production team are prepared to slow down the action with not one but two songs by Smith, and that when you are shot and killed on a 1960s TV show there are no bullet holes and no blood.
It’s all highly enjoyable, in a ridiculous way, and with its focus on more arcane areas of society (both the foreign embassy and the wrestling ring), it foreshadows many Avengers storylines to come.
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© Steve Morrissey 2017