Adam Adamant Lives! 1.6 – The Terribly Happy Embalmers

Last year, when we watched the terrific Avengers episode “A Touch of Brimstone”, I noted that Patrick Macnee had a terrific swordfight with Jeremy Young, and that I didn’t think that Young used a stunt double. Well, the villains in tonight’s Adam Adamant Lives! were played by John Le Mesurier and Jeremy Young, and I’m absolutely certain Young didn’t have a double. Young and Gerald Harper have an absolutely magnificent swordfight here, and under the unflattering eye of the BBC’s “taped-live” format, there wasn’t a chance for doubles to be used.

(It’s very unflattering this week, in fact. Shortly before the fight, an actress, Ilona Rodgers, has to dash off the set for a quick costume change and one of the cameras is unfortunately positioned to catch her running away.)

Anyway, “Brimstone” had also been written by Brian Clemens, and it was made about six months before this was. I wonder whether, when Clemens pitched this story to the team at the BBC, he said something like “And I think there could be a part for an expert fencer, just in case Jeremy Young’s free to play him…”

Actually, now that I look closely at things, you remember that Three Musketeers series that I mentioned last month, the one with BRIAN BLESSED as Porthos and Jeremy Brett as D’Artagnan? Jeremy Young played Athos. So yeah, the guy definitely knew how to use a sword. You can’t be a Musketeer without one!

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.5 – Allah is Not Always With You

In the previous installment, I talked about effective makeup jobs. There’s an effective one in this afternoon’s episode of Adam Adamant Lives! as well, kind of. You watch British television from the sixties, you figure you’re occasionally going to run into a few cases where they smeared some shoe polish on the white skin of the actors so they can pass as “foreign.” That’s just the unfortunate way of old television. I wish I could show you the sheikh from this episode, though. It’s that fine actor John Woodnutt, but even the man’s own mother wouldn’t have recognized him with the giant fake nose they stuck on him.

After seeing Woodnutt’s name in the credits, I zipped back for a second look. Our son described the imitation hooter as “wet plastic,” so that led into a discussion of using things like “big noses” and “squinty eyes” as racial identifiers. I feel it’s important to point these out as we go. They’re good tools for learning.

As for the rest of the episode, the only other point to cause any eye-rolling was the recurring use of the flashback to Adam getting suckered by Louise and The Face in the first installment whenever our hero gets thumped on the head. Our son is pretty sick of the flashback and got up to sit behind the sofa with an exasperated sigh when it happened again here. Otherwise, it’s an entertaining hour about criminals trying to get their hooks into the son of the ruler of NosuchArablandia. Dad’s in London for surgery and Junior’s got some gambling debts. John Hollis plays one of the criminals, and I thought that George Pastell was in it, but I was mistaken.

Speaking of recurring themes, this is the second episode in a row where Miss Jones embarrasses Adam by donning a racy costume for her undercover work and enjoys the experience of making him uncomfortable. I figure it’s a fine little comeuppance for him assuming she was a prostitute in the first episode, but the joke’s got about one more airing before it gets tired. Let’s see whether they put it to bed or run it into the ground.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

Adam Adamant Lives! 1.4 – The Sweet Smell of Disaster

There’s a charming naivete to “The Sweet Smell of Disaster.” This story is about an advertising firm whose managing director has killed a chemist to get the secret for an addictive scent. The euphoric effects slowly fade and leave people desperate for more. Having conquered the soap powder market with giveaway blue plastic flowers that are laced with the scent, leaving a population unaware they’ve become addicted, phase two involves taking over the government.

Yet the only people in on this scheme are the managing director and his advertising executive, played by Charles Tingwell and Adrienne Corri, and possibly a bodyguard. Two of their salesmen figure it out and are outraged. Firstly, isn’t phase two of this operation going to require a lot more people willingly signing on for it to work? And secondly, unfortunately, we live in a world where big businesses are run by monsters who are much, much more ruthless and awful than these two. Just in case you missed it, earlier this week, we learned that Facebook deliberately inflated reports on the reach and influence of video on its platform, which directly led to the loss of hundreds of media jobs. Tingwell’s soap company is still in the nursery compared to the 21st Century.

Our son got seriously worried during a scene where Adam and Miss Jones creep around the company’s boardroom in the dark, and while some of this sailed over his head, he enjoyed it, particularly when our heroes and the two villains have a fight in a room overfilled with foaming soap bubbles. That divide between scenes shot on videotape and film spoiled the surprise for me, I’m afraid. I’ve watched enough British television from the sixties to know that when a corridor that we’ve seen on videotape a few times is suddenly on film, that means that this scene was shot separate from the rest, remounted in a different studio where the BBC’s foam machine could roar into action.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

Adam Adamant Lives! 1.3 – More Deadly Than the Sword

So this is the episode where Adam flies to Japan to exchange some microfilm for a compromising photo of a top government minister. It’s 1966, so it’s the Japan of geisha hostesses and distressingly incompetent “samurai,” not unlike You Only Live Twice on a BBC budget.

By far the best part of the story comes at the beginning, when some ministry toff tries to get Adam to understand the importance of getting this photograph back. It’s possible that the public still had the three year-old Profumo Affair still fresh in mind when this was made. At least I think so; I swear once upon a time we were still capable of holding a grudge against our elected officials for doing something stupid for many years. These days, there’s so much ministerial / senatorial / presidential insanity we can’t remember what happened last month, let alone three years ago.

Anyway, Adam doesn’t see what the problem is. He says that if a man went canoodling with somebody other than his wife, then he should be horsewhipped, and the blackmailer should publish and be damned. It takes a desperate appeal to queen and country, and a reminder that social mores have changed a great deal since 1902, to get Adam to treat this with the gravity demanded. It’s a hilarious scene, and honestly it was pretty unlikely the story would possibly live up to it.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.2 – Death Has a Thousand Faces

Another couple of oddball coincidences tonight: part of the action in the second episode of Adam Adamant Lives! is set in a chamber of horrors wax museum, just like the one we saw in the episode of The Avengers we watched last night. And in the cast, there’s Michael Robbins, who we saw in an episode of The Avengers just three days ago. We’ll see Robbins again in Doctor Who in about three weeks. He’s best known for his role as Arthur in the sitcom On the Buses, a part he played for many years, but he was in practically everything.

So “Death Has a Thousand Faces” is again written by Tony Williamson, and it’s just terrific. It’s set in Blackpool, where Adam and Georgina have followed an unlikely clue that’s led them to a plot to blow up the coastal city’s entertainment district, the “Golden Mile,” in order to increase the value of some land just north of the strip.

But the plot takes a back seat to two things: first, the story has an incredibly generous amount of location filming, and it’s just fascinating to look back in time 52 years and see all this footage of the city as it was. I’ve never been to Blackpool myself, but I was just riveted by what was there. Adam and Miss Jones even pop into an amusement arcade and the camera lingers on some of the old-fashioned games, almost as though the director wanted to ensure that the couch potatoes in other countries five decades later could see what was there for tourists to enjoy.

And speaking of Blackpool, there’s a great little revelation that Adam actually formally opened the Blackpool Tower in 1894, after doing the city the service of foiling the plot of some scoundrels to blow it up. He did this by throwing the ringleader off the top of the tower. That’s called foreshadowing. Michael Robbins’ character almost immediately reveals himself – a mysterious man in an overcoat eavesdropping – as if to tell the viewer “I’m next.”

The other great thing is that this introduces Jack May as a superb character called Simms, the third member of the team for most of their forthcoming adventures. Simms had previously been “in service,” as they say, as a valet, and had also worked the boards as a stage actor, but he’s down on his luck in Blackpool and working as a Punch and Judy man. It’s impossible to dislike Simms; he’s an incredibly upbeat, optimistic, and downright fun character. When the trio first compare notes together in a restaurant, he offers Georgina a cigar, and, much to Adam’s horror, she accepts.

Our son really liked this one as well, until we reached the scene where the villains have the upper hand and have our heroes captive in the wax museum’s torture chamber. He was so enraged by the bad guys that he broke out his trusty finger pistols and started shooting at the screen again.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

Adam Adamant Lives! 1.1 – A Vintage Year for Scoundrels

So there’s this absolutely perfect little shot right at the end of the first episode of Adam Adamant Lives!, and as we watched it tonight, I said to myself: “There! That’s the picture for tonight’s blog post!” As I do. Then I put the disk in my Region 2 external drive and watched it tell me I’d bought an Australian copy. So, as with The Secret Service and a small chunk of Thunderbirds are Go which we watched on my multi-region player before I bought a separate external drive for Region 2 disks, we’ll just have to make do with a pic of the DVD box.

But then again, my history with Adam Adamant Lives! has long been one of the world’s different television formats conspiring to exasperate me. Back in the VHS tape trading days, I struggled through some incredibly ropey copies of the first six episodes, with tape hiss that was so incredibly loud that, until I actually bought this two years ago, I honestly thought that the party guests in the first scene were dancing to silence. The music in the scene is quiet, but the hiss was so loud it masked it completely. And yet it was worth the struggle to watch and listen, because the show is just so fun.

Adam Adamant Lives! stars Gerald Harper as an incredibly famous and successful gentleman adventurer from the turn of the century. In 1902, he vanished on his final case, trying to track down a Moriarty-type foe called The Face. But Adam’s first encounter with the villain saw him betrayed by his lady love, and frozen in suspended animation, left in a block of ice for “eternity.” The world never learned what happened to Adam Adamant, until his frozen tomb was uncovered in 1966.

Bizarrely, Adam’s icy resurrection is incredibly like the way that Jack Kirby and Stan Lee handled the return of Captain America in issue 4 of The Avengers, published a little over two years before this was made. Even more bizarrely, if you flash forward to the epilogue to 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, then it’s so much like Adam escaping from the hospital in 1966 that you’ll do the same double-take I did when I saw the movie seven years ago. Adam is dazed by the sights of Picadilly Circus, while it’s Times Square that stops Cap in his tracks, but they’re awfully similar. At least Steve Rogers had the advantage of knowing what an automobile is, mind.

Adam is assisted by Georgie Jones, played by Juliet Harmer, a longtime fan of Adamant’s who lets him recuperate in her flat, much to our Victorian-era hero’s embarrassment at her social situation: dressing like a boy and allowing men to sleep overnight in her home. He doesn’t understand the slang of the present day, much like how people in the 25th Century don’t understand some of Buck Rogers’ patois.

Adam Adamant Lives! was devised by Sydney Newman and produced by Verity Lambert, and the first episode was written by Tony Williamson, Richard Harris, and Donald Cotton. So there’s lots of behind-the-scenes talent from the worlds of Doctor Who and The Avengers, which is why so many fans of those programs eventually check this one out. Having some familiar faces from the UK’s deep bench of character actors active in the 1960s helps; Joby Blanshard is a police inspector with a single scene in this one.

Our son wasn’t blown away or anything, but he liked it. The criminals in the first episode are a dreary trio running a common protection racket, nowhere as grandiose or weird as the show’s villains would become, and the story lingered a little too long on them for our son to be happy. They have the upper hand for far too long, basically, but these criminals don’t realize that Adam Adamant comes from a world where the villains die at the end of his sword stick, and he doesn’t wait around for Dixon of Dock Green to calmly make an arrest.

The scenes of Adam staggering around mod London, weakened and semi-conscious, horrified by the noise and the lights and the – surely that sign doesn’t say “striptease” on a city street?! – prurient nightmare of the contemporary world are really effective, and our kid enjoyed that scene a lot. I marveled at just how great the restoration of this print is. You’ll have to take my word for it, but the film sequences look like they were made just yesterday. The studio stuff is, like a lot of programs its age, a little variable, but it’s so nice to see Adam Adamant Lives! as it was meant to be seen… and hear it as it was meant to be heard!