The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 1 – Brief for Murder

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Whoop de doo, it’s season three of The Avengers and to celebrate its continuing success, the opening credits have been given a bit of a makeover – they’re much more Saul Bass now – there’s more money being spent on the production, the camerawork is more filmic and the editing is noticeably snappier.

Brian Clemens has also arrived as a writer. In fact Clemens had contributed two scripts (his first, Brought to Book, co-written with Patrick Brawn) for the first series but those episodes have now disappeared, so this is his extant debut, if there is such a thing.

And Brief for Murder has the Clemens fingerprints all over it – a tricksy plot, misdirection and smart dialogue. Take the establishing scenes here – a man who is obviously guilty of treason is acquitted in court in what is an obvious case of corruption or miscarriage of justice. Cut to a local pub where the wrong’un is celebrating, and if that isn’t his star witness John Steed buying him drinks and wishing him god speed. Mrs Gale enters, lips pursed, brows beetled and makes a scene, accusing Steed of consorting with traitors and perverting the course of justice. They fall out. We suspect this is a ploy, because this is The Avengers, but Clemens has us hooked all the same.

Another Clemens standby, archness, rears its head in the following scene, as we cut to two old lawyer brothers cackling malevolently over their legal chicanery in getting this miscreant off and drinking brandy out of the most gigantic glasses. And then we’re off to a yoga class, Clemens realising that scenes set in old world pubs and lawyers’ chambers work much better when juxtaposed with something altogether more modern. I forgot to mention that the brandy-quaffing brothers also use quill pens and dress in a ridiculously old-fashioned manner. It’s all a bit of a pantomime, another Clemens trait.

Quite why the two lawyer brothers have different accents is never explained, but John Laurie and Harold Scott’s mugging and Michael Gambon-style thespian knavery gives the episode a real boost and gives Macnee a bit of a rest – usually it’s just him doing the colour work.

But back to the plot. Having publicly declared that Mrs Gale should die, Steed then kills her and ends up tried for murder, the bowler hat he left at the scene of the crime being all the evidence the prosecution needs.

I will say no more, except that there’s an interesting OJ Simpson style twist to come.

The end credits, too, have been jazzed up a bit. The cadences are still falling, which might suit a 1950s noirish policier, but are beginning to sound very out of step with the more ironic, camper Avengers on offer. To compensate, composer/arranger John Dankworth has laid on more horns and exotic percussion, all of which bang away merrily, a trope new composer Laurie Johnson (not Laurie Holloway, as I originally wrote – thank you, Jamie) would run with when his new theme arrived, with a new co-star, in series four.

This episode, then, is a harbinger of things to come, but a satisfying little mystery in its own right too.

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© Steve Morrissey 2018

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