The Persuaders! 1.9 – The Old, the New and the Deadly

Naturally, I picked the Persuaders! episode with Patrick Troughton. He’s one of the villains, along with Derren Nesbitt. I hoped that the kid would recognize him, and he did, but the white wig threw him. “Is that William Hartnell? No, it’s the second Doctor!” In an earlier scene, Nesbitt is wearing the sort of frilly shirt that Jon Pertwee was wearing at the time. Well, it was 1970-71. I was waiting for somebody to show up in a really long scarf. Nobody did, but Juliet Harmer was rocking quite a black hat…

So yes, this is another Persuaders! full of fine guest actors, also including Anna Gael and Frederick Jaeger. The script is by Brian Clemens and it’s incredibly silly. You’d think that Gael’s character would avoid lots of trouble with her new husband if she’d just admit that she’s being harassed by somebody who is willing to clear her family name by selling her a macguffin that Troughton’s character badly wants. Then again, the new husband gets to misunderstand everything and deck Danny a time or three.

It’s a really farcical and ridiculous story. I love Juliet Harmer’s femme fatale, who comes on to her old pal “Sin” – short for Sinclair – and insists that while she’s not that kind of girl, she wishes that Sin would try to turn her into one. There’s another scene set in a totally fab Parisian nightclub full of hippies and guys wearing single-feathered headdresses. Nesbitt fits right in with his frilly shirt. Groovy, baby. How 1971 is this? Totally.

Speaking of 1971, a couple of years ago, I wrote about how ABC had purchased the final 26 episodes of The Avengers because they had an impossible death slot coming up that season between two of the biggest shows on television and needed the least expensive program to air as a sacrificial lamb. The Persuaders! didn’t actually start that way in the 1971-72 season, but it turned into one.

The American run began with our heroes in a dead slot: Saturday nights at 10, opposite season six of the aging Mission: Impossible on CBS and films on NBC. But after a few months, ABC moved it to the sacrificial lamb spot: Wednesday nights at – get this – 9:30 pm. ABC was in such a mess that they actually gave the 10:30 slot back to their affiliate stations for whatever they could find for thirty minutes. And ABC knew they had some bad programming holes that season: they’d also purchased the sitcom Shirley’s World and the wild sketch comedy Marty Feldman Comedy Machine from ITC. Anyway, The Persuaders! was up against the top 20 Medical Center and the Columbo / McCloud / McMillan & Wife Mystery Movies for thirty minutes, and then against the huge hit Mannix and Night Gallery for the next thirty. It wasn’t quite as bad as what The Avengers had to deal with in 1968-69, but it was a pretty poor way to treat such a fun series.

Jason King 1.20 – The Stones of Venice

Well, I certainly wish that I enjoyed this one more than I did, because it guest stars the great Roger Delgado, but I found myself nodding off about halfway through it. The story’s told in flashback from Jason’s jail cell, so there’s quite a lot of Delgado in the episode, it’s just not a very good one. I think it was likely made at some point between Delgado’s Doctor Who appearances in “The Daemons” and “The Sea Devils.” The script is by Donald James, and happily, the kid enjoyed it more than I did. Last time, Marie suggested that he enjoys it more when Jason King is getting into fights in warehouses than when he’s being cerebral and deducing weird crimes, and this one begins with an after-hours brawl in a jewelry store, so he was paying attention from the start.

The most interesting part of the story is how the girlfriend-of-the-week, played by Anna Gaël, makes sure that she gets Jason’s attention. She publishes a fake Mark Caine novel called The Stones of Venice that contains all the details of her twin sister’s recent kidnapping, and hires a pretty salesgirl played by Imogen Hassell to stock a sales kiosk with the phony books, making sure that our hero is outraged enough to get to the bottom of the crime depicted in the book and find out who’s getting crooked royalties off his name.

So how’d she churn out a novel that quickly? Simple, because this was the seventies, she just fed a bunch of his other books into a computer, which turned them into punch cards. She added her sister’s name and fed the punch cards into another computer that spat out an ersatz King novel, and sent it to a printer who could do it up – in English and Italian – in the standard King orange trade dress. There was a lot of that plot going around back in the day – The Avengers met a computer that churned out romance novels around that time, although The Avengers being The Avengers, theirs looked like a piano – but I’m amused by the in-universe ramifications. In Jason King’s world, original copies of the quickly-suppressed The Stones of Venice, which had only been sold in a single airport for a couple of weeks, must be his fans’ Holy Grail!