Whether it’s spelt Bibliotek, Bibliotech or Bibliotheque, the crime organisation at the centre of The Little Wonders is a brilliant creation by writer Eric Paice, an international, centuries-old outfit whose members go around dressed as clerics.
Hence the funny pre-credits sequence of the Bishop of Winnipeg (David Bauer), a man with a dodgy heart visiting a doctor (Tony Steedman) and, on stripping down for an examination, revealing a gun in a holster. Not your average clergyman’s accessory. The fact that he’s accompanied by a female assistant, Sister Johnson, would raise barely half an eye if Johnson weren’t played by Miss Moneypenny herself, Lois Maxwell (a Canadian national, hence the Winnipeg, perhaps).
Villains established, the plot shifts quickly to an airport, where the luggage of missing (because dead) Reverend Harbottle’s turns out to contain a gun, plenty of ammunition and an antique doll. Here the plot splits, to rejoin later on, Steed heading off to infiltrate the gang of dubious clerics, Gale chasing up the antique-doll lead, heading off first to a doll hospital, run by a sinister German called Gerda (Rosemary Dunham) and a big blond bruiser (stuntman Frank Maher) in dark glasses, again not exactly what you’d expect.
En route to the convocation that’s meeting to elect a new bishop, Steed learns from a garrulous doctor that the old bishop doesn’t have long for this world. Apprised, he heads into this cabal of frock-coated gents, all brilliantly cast – boxers faces, street accents – as clerics with names like Fingers, Big Sid and The Coalman. Steed, meanwhile, is passing himself off as the Vicar of M’boti, aka Johnny the Horse.
This mismatch between ostensibly upstanding men of the cloth and the hard-boiled villains they really are gives this episode almost all of its considerable charm, and writer Paice has to do quite a lot of compression to get a lot of plot – including a bit of cross and doublecross in the gang itself, there being no honour among thieves – into a 50 minute running time.
But there’s still time for plenty of fun interplay between Gale and Steed, and there’s even a surprise plot development when Lois Maxwell gets the sort of action scene that Miss Moneypenny never got.
The idea of a centuries-old clandestine organisation that’s guiding (or interfering in) the affairs of humanity is just the sort of notion that would fuel conspiracies around the Illuminati or a Dan Brown novel.
But perhaps more important than that, and also for those who have a cast of mind that compels them to build overarching theories from scant shreds of evidence, there is the screen kiss between Steed and Gale – the only one they shared – when Steed has to prove to the assembled villains that Mrs Gale is his wife/partner/whatever.
Are the actors enjoying it more than their characters? A diplomat and gent to his fingertips, Patrick Macnee would never be drawn on who his favourite Avengers co-star was.
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© Steve Morrissey 2019
© Steve Morrissey 2019