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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.9 – Sing a Song of Murder

It’s been about seven weeks since we last saw an episode of Adam Adamant Lives!, but that hasn’t been long enough for our son where one element of this fun program is concerned: the silly flashback scene. It may only be about fifteen seconds long, but whenever our hero gets conked on the head, he “remembers” that last trap from 1902 and the voice of the woman who betrayed him saying “So clever… but oh, so vulnerable…” You’ve never seen such eye-rolling. The kid slumped into a death pose, face to the ceiling, saying “Come on, this again?” Otherwise, he enjoyed this one!

So anyway, we’re back in 1966 for the last nine surviving episodes of this very fun series. This afternoon’s episode, “Sing a Song of Murder,” concerns a pair of villains played by Jerome Willis and Alex Scott who have perfected “hypersound,” which is a hypnotic beat hidden within a pop record. It’s the centerpiece to one of the most naive and ridiculous criminal schemes in any old show we’ve run across. It’s all done with flair and wit, and the squabbling between Willis’s dandy and Scott’s taciturn scientist is entertaining, but this really has got about as much understanding of the music world as an episode of Josie and the Pussycats.

In the real music world, the hypnotic tune, “This is the Moment,” was performed by a group by the News, and was one of two singles that the group released on Decca in 1966 before disbanding. Neither 45 seems to have troubled the charts very much.

(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.)

Photo credit: https://excusesandhalftruths.com

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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.8 – The Last Sacrifice

Tonight’s very entertaining episode of Adam Adamant Lives!, written by Richard Harris, is mostly set around a ginormous country estate. The villains are blackmailers who hide behind a supposedly Satanic coven, promising their targets an evening of debauchery and disgraceful behavior.

Like quite a few BBC programs of the era, this story suffers from really cheap, cardboard sets, with walls that shudder when they shouldn’t, and staircases in stately country houses that are allegedly hundreds of years old but wobble as the actors walk on them. But tonight, our son provided a perfectly wonderful explanation when Adam smacks his assailant into a dungeon wall and the entire side of the set trembled. He said “He hit him so hard that he made the wall shake!”

We paused to give our son a quick explanation of the postwar economic situation that hit the gentry and aristocracy with astonishingly high estate taxes and forced many lords to choose between selling their gigantic country homes or finding some way to make money from them. We also reminded him of Lord and Lady Collingford from the second series of Catweazle.

Adam, knowing nothing of the tax issue, is shocked and appalled to find a stately old home that he had known from his previous life turned into a tourist attraction, with a zoo, carousels, an antique rail car ride (just like the Hanson Cars at Six Flags Over Georgia) and a Royal Navy helicopter. These scenes were filmed at Woburn Abbey, which had in reality also been converted into a tourist attraction by the 13th Duke of Bedford in the 1950s. Nevertheless, I’m assuming that Great Britain’s economic situation had been totally reversed by 1966, because this is about the fifth time in eight episodes that Georgie Jones has been able to get a job, training, and a uniform in the time that it takes for Adam Adamant to have a glass of claret with the villain.

I absolutely love the way that Adam does not play by TV hero nice guy rules. He disarms an opponent at one point in this story and then goes ahead and runs him through with his sword anyway for daring to pick the fight. None of this namby-pamby “oh, if I kill you, I’ll be no better than you” nonsense. Nobody else in 1966 was so delightfully ruthless!

As we’ve now watched eight of the surviving seventeen episodes, we’ll take a short break from Adam Adamant Lives! and come back to it at the end of the year, to keep things fresh. We have several other great shows to finish up between now and then, so stick around and stay tuned for more!

(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! 1.7 – To Set a Deadly Fashion

Tony Williamson’s “To Set a Deadly Fashion” is less like The Avengers than it is Batman. Colin Jeavons plays the bad guy, and he’s about as highly-strung as your average Batvillain, not to mention just a little too self-consciously camp. In part that’s to be expected; he’s playing a fashion designer who pronounces “Roger” as “Roget,” when he’s not placing microphone – slash – anti-pacemaker “bombs” in the dresses of the wives of diplomats, only to have his skittish henchmen keep blowing them up.

As always, the Victorian values provide the most hilarious scenes. Adam decides to infiltrate the enemy’s headquarters while posing as a buyer for a large boutique in New Zealand, and arrives just as they’re beginning a show of the season’s newest swimwear. Poor Adam, coming from a time when showing off one’s ankles at the beach would cause a scandal, just about dies from embarrassment. Really, Adam, it’s only girls in bikinis. I don’t think the camera lingered on even a single libidinous ankle shot.

(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! 1.6 – 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.)

Photo credit: https://excusesandhalftruths.com

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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.)

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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.)

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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.)

Photo credit: https://excusesandhalftruths.com

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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.)

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