Jason King 1.8 – A Red Red Rose For Ever

A few nights ago, I introduced our son to the legendary story of “The Party” at Hyperbole and a Half. If you’ve not read it and don’t feel like clicking the link, it’s the story of someone who really wants to attend a party just a couple of hours after being put under for major dental surgery. We laughed like hyenas of course, and it must have stuck with our son, because in tonight’s episode, Isla Blair’s character has had far too many glasses of cognac and stumbles across the room to answer the door. Our son quietly riffed “Parp, parp,” understanding this much of the episode perfectly.

The rest of it was a bit too dense for him. I think it’s an absolutely fine script by Donald James, but I think it juggled a few too many things for him to really understand, including a secret Nazi document, mistaken identities, Swiss bank security, stroke victims, assassins, and Ronald Lacey’s weasel of a character pushing King into another ugly situation.

And what a freaking cast! The good guys include Isla Blair, Christopher Benjamin, and Derek Newark. The baddies are Alan McNaughtan and Barbara Murray, who have hired a top assassin played by Mike Pratt, who is sporting some unbelievable sideburns, to kill her husband, who seems strangely in on the deal and very, very willing to stand in place long enough to get shot. Hard to believe that with all that going on, the kid takes away a drunk scene, but these things happen.

Department S 1.13 – Who Plays the Dummy?

I knew I was going to like this one. The DVD menu revealed / spoiled that we’d see ITC’s white Jaguar going over the cliff for the third time at our blog, and then the credits showed that Tony Williamson wrote it. He was one of the greats! There’s a heck of a lot of great stunt driving in this episode, and sure, some of the moving-between-cars stuff is faked in the studio, but it’s still exciting since we just don’t know how this story’s going to play out. Of course the kid had a great giggle when I reminded him what car Jason and Annabelle are driving, even if he couldn’t quite remember the make. “These shows love to have that white Tiger crash!”

Joining our heroes this week, there’s Kate O’Mara in far too small a part, and George Pastell in a bigger role, maybe making up for only using him for a couple of lines in episode eight. Alan MacNaughtan is the main villain. I’m inclined to enjoy watching bad guys who oversee their schemes from a helicopter.

I was glad that Wyngarde and O’Mara got to share a little screen time. I’m sure I mentioned somewhere before my silly idea that in some parallel world, Wyngarde shoulda played the Master opposite Tom Baker once or twice. I’m perfectly prepared to amuse myself by using the way the actors appeared in this scene to illustrate a fic-in-my-brain of the Master and the Rani having some argument in Madrid, 1969.

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.26 – The Ghost Talks

I was explaining to our son that one reason British TV shows typically make fewer episodes per year than American shows is that American shows have crews that work lots and lots of overtime hours. Sixteen hour days are not uncommon. That usually doesn’t happen in Great Britain. It took ITC something like fourteen months to shoot 26 episodes of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), and then during the production of the 25th, Mike Pratt went and broke his legs.

So to get one last episode in the can, they didn’t do a clip show, mercifully, but had Marty tell Jeff a flashback story from back when he was still alive, and worked a case with Jeannie while Jeff was in Scotland. This meant that Kenneth Cope and Annette Andre actually got to actually interact in front of the cameras for the first time in more than a year. That must be unique in television, mustn’t it? I can’t think of another case where you go to work five days a week and are actually onstage with an actor for much of that time and not actually make eye contact with each other for more than twelve months.

“The Ghost Talks” is pretty amusing. Our son grumbled that this one wouldn’t be fun without Marty being supernatural, but there were some surprises and a few moments of good humor. Marty takes a hush-hush assignment from a government type played by Alan McNaughtan who is not entirely honest about the job and things go very amusingly wrong. It may not have been the sort of “final episode” that modern TV viewers might hope for, but it pleased us.

Sadly, Lew Grade wasn’t able to sell the series to an American network. Retitled My Partner the Ghost, it appeared in a few markets in direct-to-station syndication, but it didn’t clear enough of the country to warrant resuming production. That’s a darn shame, because I’d have loved to have seen more of this.

But we WILL see more of it… sort of. Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) – now with an ampersand in the title card – returned as a remake thirty-some years later, and we’ll be looking at its first series next month. And for ITC fans in our audience, there’s another show from that great gang that we’ll watch several months from now. Look out for our take on Department S in 2020!

The Champions 1.28 – The Final Countdown

“The Final Countdown” is a good story with a terrific trio of villains – Alan McNaughtan’s in charge, with Norman Jones and Derek Newark as his thugs – but the main event is the ITC White Jaguar going over a cliff for the second of at least four times that we’ll see at this blog.

“I am NOT going to buy a white Jaguar when I grow up,” our son sagely observed, “because it’ll just go over a cliff and crash!”

The Avengers 7.19 – Who Was That Man I Saw You With?

As we get closer to the end of The Avengers, there’s a definite feeling of the wind leaving the sails. Jeremy Burnham’s “Who Was That Man I Saw You With?” isn’t really bad, but it’s just an ordinary espionage story that could have played on any other spy program. We’ve been here before, during the tail end of the Mrs. Peel years, but those adventures mostly still had that distinctive Avengers sparkle and wit, even if the villains weren’t grandiose or weird. This is just by-the-numbers, and a little dull. The very likable Alan MacNaughtan has a small role, but I found myself wishing he had played one of several other parts.

On the other hand, these villains absolutely infuriated our son. The plot this time is that some enemy agents are piling up circumstantial evidence to frame Tara as being in league with somebody from the other side. The more the evidence mounts, and the more Mother believes it, the angrier our son became, and as the bad guys gloated, he growled, furious and unhappy. Being reminded that Tara will get out of this didn’t quell the fury.

The Avengers 4.1 – The Town of No Return

You might make a fair case that six is a little young to start watching the adventures of John Steed, top professional, and Mrs. Emma Peel, talented amateur. On the other hand, there are a hundred-odd episodes of this show to see, and I want to watch them again, along with my boy.

You might also make a fair case that we could have not only waited a little, but also started with the earlier, less well-known episodes, instead of going with the ones that Americans know best. That’s fair. Generally, I don’t enjoy the second and third seasons quite as much, despite some great moments. My favorite episode of the entire show is a Tara King one, but my second favorite is “Brief For Murder,” from season three. But we have so many things to watch and so little time, and so I passed on picking up the first two sets from Studiocanal / Optimum last year. I think I made the right choice; as soon as I got the sets of the film series from Amazon UK, one of the many missing installments of the first series, “Tunnel of Fear,” was found. Maybe when I have a little more disposable cash, and somebody issues “Tunnel” on a new box set, I’ll buy that edition!

Anyway, The Avengers was made by the Associated British Corporation, one of the many different commercial television companies in the UK. ABC broadcast in one of Britain’s TV regions from 1956-68 before merging with Associated Rediffusion and becoming Thames TV. Many of these companies were looking for international sales and ABC approached the American networks with The Avengers, which was made, as most British TV programs were at the time, as a mix of videotape interiors and black-and-white 16mm film exteriors. They got some positive interest, but were also told that they really needed to make the program entirely on 35mm film if anybody in America was going to buy it.

Every TV company in Britain was told this. Very, very few listened. Associated British, in one of the greatest television decisions of the decade, decided to go all-in. They were in the process of recasting and rethinking anyway, as Honor Blackman, who played Steed’s principal co-star Cathy Gale – there were three others as well – had left the series, and they needed a new actress with M-Appeal, somebody who looked stunning in black leather fighting evil henchmen twice her size. Elizabeth Shepherd originally won the role of Emma Peel, but after several weeks of filming, having completed “The Town of No Return” and most of a second episode, the producers agreed that she was not right for the role after all. Diana Rigg became the new Emma Peel, and she was rushed in for retakes of the second episode. “Town” was left abandoned for several months, remounted midway through the block of 26 stories, and chosen to launch The Avengers‘ fourth season, in September 1965.

I should pause here and note that The Avengers has one of the most confusing and remarkable production histories of any TV drama from its era. The current school of thought is that the correct order for the series should be the original production order, as the various British TV broadcasters showed the series in different orders, on different days of the week, and the American order was different still. But this is my silly blog and we’re going to watch them in the order that I got to know them, which is the broadcast order… until we get to the arrival of Tara King and things got real weird, anyway.

And yes, there is an American order! It doesn’t matter all that much for now, because the black-and-white Avengers was made for British television and sold to the ABC network later, but its sale is super-important. The Avengers was not quite an all-conquering ratings giant like we’d like to imagine it was, but ABC bought it as a midseason replacement for the medical series Ben Casey, which was cancelled after five years. ABC also picked up ITC’s The Baron as a replacement for Burke’s Law at the same time, so in 1965 there was definitely some financial interest in looking overseas for programming that was less expensive than making new shows in Hollywood.

This seems to have been started by CBS, who jumped on the sixties spy bandwagon by purchasing ITC’s Danger Man and giving it the new name of Secret Agent, and would continue here and there for the next six years or so, with The Saint, The Champions, The Persuaders! and other British dramas all showing up in the prime-time schedules, usually programmed against something that was going to win the night no matter its competition, but The Avengers lasted longer on American television than any of the others. US broadcasts began with the third episode of season four, “The Cybernauts,” on March 28 1966. “The Town of No Return” didn’t screen here until September; it was the last of 21 episodes (five weren’t shown), while the first of 26 in the UK.

I’ve written a lot and didn’t leave myself much time to talk about the episode. Our son, happily, enjoyed it, especially the fight scenes. I paused with each commercial break to ask him a few questions to keep him focused. Where did he think all of the people are? Why are the village schoolchildren all on vacation in the middle of the year? This wasn’t a very complicated story, and a good one to start on. It has a pretty small cast of very recognizable faces, including Patrick Newell (later to play a regular character in this show), Juliet Harmer (who would soon play the sidekick in Adam Adamant Lives!), Alan MacNaughtan (The Sandbaggers), and Terence Alexander (a regular guest star face in darn near every British show from the period). The director was Roy Ward Baker, and the story was written by Brian Clemens, who we’ll hear a lot about as this blog goes on. But a thousand words is plenty for now. We’ll see another episode next week.