The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 6 – The Removal Men

Edina Ronay and Douglas Muir


Heady Europeanism, alcohol, jazz music and sexual licence are the watchwords of The Removal Men, number six in the second series. And Julie Stevens, appropriately, returns as Steed’s helpmeet in an episode set on the French Riviera, where a Bardot-like sexy French actress (played to the hilt by Edina Ronay, who went on to become a designer) needs protection from some thugs who want to kill her because of her outspoken political views on some far flung colony.

Don Leaver is in the director’s chair, and there are hints of The Third Man in his use of close-ups (which he’s always used to great effect), a mood compounded by the jaunty mitteleuropean tune we hear at one point in a jeweller’s shop, where fenced diamonds add another thrill.

But jazz is the main musical texture, unsurprisingly since Venus Smith (Stevens), is a nightclub singer who only works for Steed with some reluctance, a point underlined by the fact that the forward thrust of the story actually pauses for a song by Smith and The Dave Lee Trio (a real band) – “reminiscent of Bill Evans when he was playing with Miles Davis” opines a cop ruminatively at one point about Dave Lee’s pianistic tinkling.

Again Venus Smith is portrayed as a goodtime girl who enjoys sex with whoever takes her fancy, but really she’s more window-dressing than she was in episode 3, this time around more an act than an agent.

It’s Steed who does the work, again going undercover among the assassins who have the actress in their sights – Avengers villains do seem to accept a newcomer far too quickly for people engaged in the risk business, but I suppose them’s the breaks in a 50-minute self-contained episode.

Roger Marshall and Jeremy Scott’s screenplay is snappy, bantering and fast-moving and, as well as the observation on jazz, includes a scene in which Steed and his control One-Ten (Douglas Muir) gamely and with stomachs pulled in strip down to their swimming gear for a de-brief and make out they’re catching some rays on the Cote d’Azur, rather than staring into the lights of a studio just outside London.

The entire effect is like reading Elizabeth David’s run of books on Mediterranean cooking from the 1950s and early 1960s – this is clearly high-order stuff, even if the years have worn away the glamour a bit.

The 1950s dowdiness of series one still pervades, though, battling against the exotic setting, snappy dialogue and faint disapproval of alcohol which marked out the 1960s.

And we get to see Steed in a T shirt, a thick-knit aertex-style thing, but a T shirt all the same. Is there no end to the sartorial wonder?






The Avengers Complete – watch it or buy it at Amazon



© Steve Morrissey 2017




The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 5 – Mission to Montreal

John Steed and Dr King


Mixing it up yet again, episode five of series two – Mission to Montreal – introduces yet another sidekick in a story set on board a cruise liner heading for Canada.

Jon Rollason plays Dr Martin King and brings the number of Steed’s accomplices in this series to three (Honor Blackman and Julie Stevens being the other two). King is an echo of Ian Hendry’s Dr David Keel in that he’s a doctor, and also one only too happy to indulge in a bit of espionage and rough stuff if necessary – not exactly what you’d expect from a well paid follower of Hippocrates, but there you go.

In fact he’s more than an echo – he is Dr Keel in all but name, Rollason’s three appearances in this series all coming about because there were three unfilmed scripts left over from the first series, which were hastily repurposed after Hendry left to pursue a career in films.

Again, as in episode one (Mr Teddy Bear) of this series, there is a little bit of blindsiding meta-business as we’re introduced to key character Carla Berotti, killed off in her first scene, only for the camera to pull back and reveal that Carla is an actress and this is a film set. The action then shifts to the liner, where fragile, sexually loose, drunk, pill-popping but most of all ageing Carla is in a full tyrannical funk as the ship sets off on its voyage from Liverpool to Montreal and the star sets about falling apart while her entourage try to keep her together. Enter Dr King as a medic who can give her something for her nerves, or a slap across the face if she gets hysterical, which she does.

Quite what Carla has to do with a piece of missing microfilm secreted somewhere on board, and quite why Steed is in disguise as a ship’s steward is all revealed in the fullness of time in a screenplay by Lester Powell that gives plenty of air time to the handsome Rollason and presses heavily on the noir pedal. There’s even a villain with an eye patch.

Money has been spent on the set. You could almost believe that this episode wasn’t shot in a studio at times, and director Don Leaver understands how to pace a drama by using close-ups to add a bit of va-va-voom. Noir, again, is the inspiration.

The woozy wonky actress trying to get her leg over is another echo of the 1940s but there are some very 1960s exchanges – talk of “squares”, the focus on having a good time and in particular a little speech by the chief engineer about tolerance and how “it can become a vice if not guided by a strong moral sense”. The chief engineer, spoiler alert, turns out to be a baddie in an episode that, really for the first time, moves The Avengers culturally into the 1960s and places it in the camp of the hip.

Nice to see John Bennett in his pomp as Carla Berotti’s minder, this heavy-lidded always busy character actor adept at playing intelligent serpentine tough guys more likely to cut you up with a stiletto than reduce you to a pulp with his fists.

And nice, too, to see Steed at the end, now out of disguise, restored to his bowler hat, the headgear becoming increasingly his signature and a sign that all is right in the world.







The Avengers Complete – watch it or buy it at Amazon



© Steve Morrissey 2017



The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 4 – Bullseye

Steed and Gale


Like one of those arcane “tontine plots”, the fourth episode of series two offers us a scenario where a string of people die so somebody in the same eco-system can ultimately benefit.

Julie Stevens womanfully did sidekick duty in the last episode, but Honor Blackman’s Cathy Gale returns this time round to help Steed unravel another mystery that yet again seems to be more a matter for the police than any covert organisation – an arms company resisting a takeover bid by pushy johnny-come-lately Henry Cade (Ronald Radd) finds its board members dying one after the other. Is Cade – already painted as the unacceptable face of capitalism (as if being in the arms business hadn’t already ticked that box) – responsible?

We meet Cathy Gale, after her series hiatus, newly installed as a shareholder with a 20 per cent stake in the Anderson Small Arms Company, asking searching questions at an extraordinary general meeting held to discuss the takeover bid, a supplementary frisson added by the fact that the chairman is already dead – shot, appropriately.

More of the board are to follow in what plays out like a classic whodunit, polished in British style by fine character actors and witty badinage between the leads.

Ronald Radd is a real asset as the bullishly rapacious takeover merchant angling after the Anderson business and there’s 27-year-old Judy Parfitt as a company functionary, a commanding presence whose bearing and skill marks her out as someone who’s going to be turning up on TV for decades (most recently seen in Call the Midwife).

Spilling round the edges of Eric Paice’s screenplay are vague digs at antique British business practices – the bufferish old major with stick-in-the-mud ways; the middle-aged lothario with an eye on the typing pool; the general air of the old boys club and so on.

It turns out that it’s not all about one businessman trying to take over another business. There is a bigger picture. This is all conveniently added, in what feels like a hasty addendum, in a quick exchange between Steed (who has financed Mrs Gale’s £50K holding, it turns out, but is otherwise barely in this episode) and Gale at the London Stock Exchange (stock footage, appropriately) – Anderson’s arms are heading for an unnamed African country on the verge of revolution.

Gale wears more Michael Whittaker gear – a  jaunty Spanish bullfighter’s hat and a tartan cape at one point. Steed is a symphony of Jermyn Street clobber – shirt and tie, jacket and coat, casual trilby hat. That’s how sensible chaps used to dress before central heating. He’s probably also wearing a vest.

Nice to see Mrs Gale’s martial arts skills – ka-rah-tay, they pronounce it – are coming along too.

Really, it’s a version of the well-made play that the theatre set would flock to see in London’s West End until Terence Rattigan and his ilk went out of style. Nothing wrong with that.






The Avengers Complete – watch it or buy it at Amazon



© Steve Morrissey 2017



The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 3 – The Decapod

Venus Smith sings


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 helpmeet 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 and 1960s and 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.






The Avengers Complete – watch it or buy it at Amazon



© Steve Morrissey 2017


The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 2 – Propellant 23

Gale and Steed


Set mostly in the airport at Marseille (a studio just to the north of London, apparently), this tight and fast episode gets underway with a passenger on a plane arriving from Tripoli getting very distraught and claiming he’s about to die. Without giving too much away, he does die, gratifyingly for the foreign spies who are after a flask of a highly volatile rocket fuel, Propellant 23. Unfortunately for them, the flask gets lost in the shuffle. Has it fallen down the back of a seat, been taken home by a light-fingered airport luggage worker, been drunk by the hotel barker who touts for business in the arrivals lounge, or been whisked away to behind the Iron Curtain?

The last possibility seems unlikely as there is a lot of continuing interest in this seemingly unimportant missing object by people who wouldn’t normally be that bothered, among them Geoffrey Palmer as suave ladies man Paul Manning. The airport police are also interested, since the dead passenger is now in their jurisdiction.

Enter Steed and Gale, who seem to be already in France, bantering as they set off in a sports car for a through-the-night drive to Marseille. As part of this to-and-fro we learn a bit more about the imperious, mysterious Mrs Gale – that she has some sort of interest in feeding the starving children of Africa. A humanitarian? An anthropologist? The queen of a foreign land? We’re not entirely sure.

At that airport we’re introduced to the various characters who work there – Laure (Katherine Woodville), the woman running the airport cafe, Jacques (Trader Faulkner) the drunk hotel barker she has a soft spot for, the various police, among them a French police lieutenant known as Curly (John Crocker) by his mocking colleagues – he’s battling hair loss with the latest in what is probably a long list of quack remedies.

And that’s it – with the flask as a McGuffin, the action moves between suave Paul, drunk Jacques, sweet Laure, the dead body, Steed and Gale and a mystery man in a hat with the sort of sweaty, swarthy complexion that was shorthand for Soviet Spy in 1960s TV.

The tone sits somewhere between the movie Casablanca and the British TV series ’Allo ’Allo – exotic ruffians in foreign climes and a lot of people with very odd accents. Jonathan Alwyn directs in a brisk manner and needs to because Jon Manchip White’s screenplay fits a lot of people and plot into the 50 minutes. It’s an enjoyable, studio-bound spy caper that manages a few moments of real tension. Only the hair-loss comedy subplot could do with a trim.

Fans of Doctor Who might enjoy seeing Nicholas Courtney (later Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart) as the plane’s captain.



The Avengers Complete – watch it or buy it at Amazon



© Steve Morrissey 2017


The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 1 – Mr Teddy Bear

John Steed and Cathy Gale


Ian Hendry has left, Patrick Macnee has been bumped up to star and Honor Blackman has been drafted in as a sidekick who’s not just a pretty face. But there’s more than just those cosmetic differences – if they are just that – going on. In the opener for series two, it’s clear things have gone just a tiny bit self-referential too and that The Avengers is beginning to push against not just the envelope of its own founding principles, but also against those of television.

The self-referentiality comes in the opening scene, set in a TV studio where a notable traveller and writer is about to be interviewed in some highbrow arts show (by genuine TV face Tim Brinton). But instead of speaking, the imperially-moustached Colonel Wayne-Gilley dies dramatically on air, eyes bulging, leaping upwards before falling to the ground where a camera swings down to watch him hit the floor. But is it the camera shooting the TV show that’s followed him down, or is it the camera shooting this episode of The Avengers, or are they the same thing?

That, and the arrival of the jokey episode title – Mr Teddy Bear – indicate we’re really in new territory. No more small beer. The case is high-profile, for starters, the killer is of international renown, and the method – cyanide pills activated by a tiny clockwork mechanism inside the capsule – arcane. We’re also introduced to Steed’s organisation, in the shape of One Ten (Douglas Muir), a desk-bound boss with whom much exposition is done in short order. Damn useful these desk-bound bosses, as the Bond series would find out with its own version – M.

“Anyway, Steed, get him. That’s as near an order as I can make it,” One Ten says to Steed, slightly mysteriously – is he his boss or isn’t he? And off Steed heads, back home, where we meet Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), smoking a cigarette in a holder and trading banter as Steed lays out his plan to ensnare the assassin Mr Bear by getting Gale to pose as a woman who wants to buy Mr Bear’s services – to kill Steed.

There’s a lot more spy stuff – disembodied voices down the phone, meeting in exotic locations, surveillance by camera, pursuit by person or persons unknown – but most notable of all is the fact that the villain remains hidden the entire time. We know whodunit but we’re not quite sure what he looks like, another enduring Avengers theme.

And Steed and Cathy Gale. Do they live together? What is the exact nature of their relationship? It has the same prickly wham-bam quality that Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd would later borrow for Moonlighting, or William Powell and Myrna Loy had in The Thin Man.

Teasing. Conceptually a very important idea in this series.




The Avengers Complete – watch it or buy it at Amazon



© Steve Morrissey 2017