Mister Jerico (1970)

Well, what a fine TV series this might have made! And not just for Patrick Macnee’s colorful clothes, either!

I’ve mentioned before in these pages that our son has a very patchy memory, but he impressed me yesterday. I told him that this evening we’d be watching Patrick Macnee from The Avengers in an unsold pilot movie. “You mean like Madame Sin?” he asked. And yes, exactly like Madame Sin, because this was also made by ITC to test the waters for a potential series investment, the same way that the studio tested Leonard Nimoy in Baffled! and Chad Everett in The Firechasers, which was actually written and directed by the same duo who did this. And I’d happily have swapped the full run of The Adventurer or The Protectors (about which, a little bit more in October) for a season of any of these pilots.

So joining Macnee behind the scenes are some familiar names from The Avengers, which wrapped production about three months previously. Mister Jerico was filmed in the summer of 1969 and was produced by Julian Wintle, and the music is by Laurie Johnson. The script was by Philip Levene, who’d been writing for the series right until the end, and it was directed by Sidney Hayers, who’d done some of the color Mrs. Peel episodes, most recently “Dead Man’s Treasure”, and would work with Macnee again on several New Avengers.

This is a terrific vehicle for Macnee. Philip Levene knew exactly how to cater to his many strengths and created a fine character for him: Dudley Jerico is a con artist who works the lovely cities of southern Spain and France, and Malta, where much of this was filmed. His associate, driver, and diamond expert is Wally, played by Marty Allen, who was now a solo act since his decade-plus partnership with fellow comedian Steve Rossi ended the year before. Jerico has decided to target an old acquaintance, the filthy rich Rosso, conning him out of half a million for a phony diamond. Rosso is played by the great Herbert Lom, and his secretary by Connie Stevens, and Jerico soon gets in over his head when somebody else starts baiting Rosso with the same diamond.

Honestly, I’ll praise the kid for remembering Sin the way he did, but you’d have to be about ten to not realize that Stevens is playing both the secretary and the other diamond’s other owner, Claudine. That’s because her character is actually a legend-in-the-business called Georgina and she has been setting up her scam for months, and now has to bat off Jerico and Wally as well as work her scheme. To his credit, he did figure out that the secretary must have stolen Rosso’s real diamond before Jerico could; he just didn’t realize the secretary and Claudine were the same person. So diamonds get switched and swapped and switched again, and the hotel receptionist, played by Paul Darrow, spends his time unwittingly letting people do some of their swaps out of the hotel’s vault.

It all ends splendidly and not completely predictably, either. There is certainly a car chase, but nobody’s driving a white Jaguar so I felt confident nobody was going over a cliff. Jerico finally figures out that his opponent has two identities, and the three go off into the sunset, not quite half a million richer, but ready to work together and find their next mark. They make a fine team in the end, and seventies television is all the poorer for not having Macnee, Stevens, and Allen match wits with whoever ITC wanted to bring on to play the rich jerk-of-the-week and the henchmen. Honestly, whatever network dingbats at ABC, CBS, and NBC were considering pilots for the fall 1970 season should have been shot into orbit for not ordering a package of twenty-six hours of this. And Sin and Baffled! and Firechasers!

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