Ah, well, we had to hit an episode that the grownups didn’t enjoy eventually. No series bats a thousand. At least Donald James’ “All Work and No Pay” starts out incredibly entertaining, with guest villains Dudley Foster and Alfred Burke playing very well-dressed brothers who are up to something. For a good chunk of the story, it was really entertaining trying to figure out what in the world they’re actually doing, and why they’ve targeted Jean with a fake poltergeist. But the truth isn’t so much disappointing as it is utterly nonsensical, and not even Adrienne Corri, playing an actress friend of Jeff’s who ends up in the villains’ clutches, can really save this one.
But on the other hand, our favorite eight year-old critic had a very different experience. There is one moment about half an hour in where the story seems to take a very uncharacteristically gruesome turn, and he didn’t like that at all. But the rest of the episode had him on the edge of his seat and smiling. He loved the villains’ fake poltergeists, even while his fuddy-duddy parents were squinting and asking “…how?” And when Marty saves the day by exercising a little previously unseen control over the output of power plants, he was in heaven. The closing revelation that things hadn’t ended so gruesomely earlier had him guffawing, because Adrienne Corri gets to ride home wearing nothing but a newspaper. That’s not sexy to an eight year-old, that’s just funny.
If the previous episode of The Avengers was heavy and dated, then this delightful comedy was just what we needed. Our son was very taken with it, which is encouraging, because it’s almost like the official template for the color series: lots and lots of dead bodies of unusually-named men in unusual circumstances, silly organizations formalizing a hobby led by a silly eccentric, grandiose crime, and great guest stars. It’s breezy and very, very fun.
Tackling the cast first, the big name here is the much-loved Bernard Cribbins as a fellow obsessed with knitting. His oddball knitting circle has the office next door to the baddies. Comedy star Liz Fraser plays Steed’s impromptu partner Georgie Price-Jones. She’s been hired to impersonate Mrs. Peel, who’s been kidnapped, and Steed brings her along to get to the bottom of it. There’s also the delightful Sylvia Coleridge, who we saw in an Ace of Wands installment, as a daffy old lady, and David Bauer, one of ITC’s deep bench of American actors, here playing an enemy agent from the eastern bloc. They never actually say Russian, of course. All part of the fantasy. Going back to the previous post about The Avengers and its unreality, even when Bauer’s character ends up in a jail cell, we never actually see a policeman on screen!
I really love the villainous enterprise this time. It’s called Art Incorporated and is led by Gregorio Auntie, played by Alfred Burke. Their shtick is they obtain the unobtainable for extremely exclusive clients and leave behind reproductions. Burke, who is best remembered for playing PI Frank Marker in the long running Thames drama Public Eye, is a really entertaining villain and he has a great scene opposite Macnee.
This template gets tweaked a little in the color series before it becomes pretty standard and, eventually, we have to admit, a little rusty. One positive change they’d make is letting the audience briefly meet the various oddballs with silly names before Steed and his partner find their bodies. Still, even though we have only the briefest acquaintance with John, Paul, George, and Fred Jacques (“the Starr Brothers”) in this outing, they’ll always be remembered.