The Saint 3.10 – The Imprudent Politician

Hey, it’s Jean Marsh and Michael Gough! Reckon they’re up to no good? Just look at them.

Back when I first started watching The Saint in 1986-87, “The Imprudent Politician” became one of my favorite episodes, in part because of the story and in part because Marsh and Gough were in it and I knew who they were from their roles in sixties Doctor Who. In time, I’d come to recognize most of the great guest cast, including Anthony Bate, Moray Watson, and Mike Pratt. And in the spring of 1988, after reading a little bit about the Profumo Scandal of 1961-62, I caught that guest star Justine Lord is being a little bit Mandy Rice-Davies in this story about blackmail that involves an accidental death and a country house full of suspects.

So no, for the small number of you hoping our kid would recognize Lord after seeing her in another episode just four days ago, he didn’t. This one took a little more work, and a little backtracking after we got started, than I would have thought. It seemed simple enough: a politician’s being blackmailed because he has a cute mistress and once passed her some insider stock information. I overlooked the reality that the kid has only a vague idea of what a mistress is or why anyone would want one, and no clue at all what insider trading is. But I wasn’t going to let this one collapse because he didn’t understand it, so we got it all cleared up and once he understood there’s a big country house full of brooding visitors who don’t seem to like each other, he said “Okay, it’s like Clue,” and he was good to go.

Mike Pratt plays one of the blackmailers in this, and you’ll remember how, as Jeff Randall, the poor guy lost just about every fight he got in? He coshes Simon Templar from behind about halfway through this story, and that’s it for his luck. He gets thrashed to within an inch of his life later on. When Monty Berman and Dennis Spooner were putting together Randall and Hopkirk, they might’ve looked at this episode and said “That’s our man!”

The Champions 1.19 – The Mission

Two of our heroes are sporting remarkable makeup in this morning’s episode of The Champions. Written by Donald James, “The Mission” has a former Nazi doctor working as part of an underground network to provide criminals new identities through plastic surgery. Patricia Haines and Anthony Bate are the villains, and Craig and Sharron get to pose as a New York gangster and his dame. Harry Towb has a small role as well. He played “the guy who gets killed by the villains first thing” at least two other times I can remember. If you needed somebody to get shot or stabbed or eaten by an inflatable chair before the opening credits in the sixties and seventies, Towb was your man.

It’s called “The Mission” because the criminals run a charitable mission for drunks and down-and-outs in order to keep a supply of spare parts going. While Craig and Sharron get to dress nicely and pretend like they’ve got two million bucks in syndicate money to spend, Richard infiltrates the other end of the chain and befriends an Irish alcoholic. At the end of the episode, the trio gift their boss a bottle of the Irishman’s special 180 proof blend, which Tremayne spits out after one sip, much to our son’s delight. He enjoyed the episode much more than the previous one, with the closing gag providing a good laugh at the end, even if he wasn’t entirely certain why Tremayne spit out his drink.

“It’s because that was basically moonshine,” Marie said.

“Ahhhh,” our son replied.

“Do you know what moonshine is?” I asked.

“Well, all I know is that it’s some kind of beer,” he said.

My dad had a source for “white whiskey” once. I think I probably did a spit take like Tremayne when I had a sip, too.

The Avengers 6.11 – The Curious Case of the Countless Clues

Almost at the same time that the producers were making “The Forget-Me-Knot”, they were also working on Philip Levene’s “The Curious Case of the Countless Clues,” and I noticed that Linda Thorson is only in scenes that are set in Tara King’s apartment. It does seem a little odd that they’d sideline the new character so early in her tenure, and so I hypothesize, ahead of the facts, that they may have had one crew shooting Diana Rigg’s material on one set while a second was filming Thorson’s. Is that a reasonable deduction?

There’s a heck of a good cast in this story. Peter Jones, who would later be the immortal voice of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, plays a… well, Steed never actually gets around to telling us who Sir Arthur Doyle is, just that he likes to pretend to be Sherlock Holmes. Our villains are a gang of blackmailers named Erle, Stanley, and Gardner, played by the very familiar faces of Anthony Bate, Tony Selby, and Kenneth Cope. It looks like Cope began work on Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) about five months after making this episode.

Edward de Souza, who was in just about everything in the sixties and seventies, is one of the blackmailers’ victims, and his sister is a former – slash – occasional girlfriend of Steed’s, played by Tracey Reed, who had so memorably played General Turgidson’s secretary, as well as “Miss Foreign Affairs,” in Dr. Strangelove. Incidentally, rather driving home the point that British adventure film and TV was so much a man’s world in the sixties, other than the sidelined Thorson, Tracey Reed is the only actress in both this episode and in Strangelove.

But having said that, while Tara looks to be so incredibly sidelined that she appears helpless with a broken ankle in this episode, and this is emphasized by the decision to spend time with her desperately trying to lock the doors of her apartment, I like how she’s more than able to defend herself in the end. She fights off and apparently kills one of the villains. Steed rushes to rescue her, but he isn’t needed. Good choice! It was fine for he and Mrs. Peel to rescue each other regularly, but the audience still has to see Tara as competent on her own at this stage.

Our son was pleased with this one. It is a straightforward adventure with a clear scheme, hissable villains, and a few good fights. Certainly not as pleasing to him as those other, lesser Avengers, but I’m glad he enjoyed it all the same.

The Avengers 1.20 – Tunnel of Fear

I’m going to say something a little heretical. I’m honestly not a big fan of the videotaped Avengers. There are moments of greatness across those three years. “The Wringer” is incredible. “Brief For Murder” might be the very best episode of the show. Good scripts, good characters, fabulous actors, but I won’t linger on why I don’t love it like I do the filmed years. It’s best to just appreciate where it gets it all very right. “Tunnel of Fear,” which was recovered from a private collector in late 2016, is mostly very right.

It’s the 20th episode of the first series, and one of only three stories to survive in full from that year. The Avengers was designed and developed as a vehicle for Ian Hendry, who stars as Dr. David Keel, a man who we have retrofitted into being the first “talented amateur” that John Steed conscripts for his investigation into crime. All of the other episodes, sadly, were junked and are believed lost for good.

In the first series, the world of weird crime hadn’t yet developed, and Brian Clemens hadn’t arrived with his rules about the fantasy of the series. Keel and Steed were “two against the underworld,” and theirs was the London that anybody could visit, a London – or a Southend – populated by uniformed policemen and escaped convicts. John Kruse’s script for this story is remarkably ordinary and down-to-earth. The emotional core of the story – imagine an Avengers with an emotional core at all – is the convict on the lam desperate to clear his name learning that his girlfriend had a baby with another fellow while he was away. The convict is played by familiar face Anthony Bate, who guest starred in everything in the sixties.

Our son was remarkably attentive given the primitive and stagy world of the videotaped days of the show. He honestly didn’t enjoy it very much, and I didn’t expect him to, which is why I decided against watching series two and three with him. I appreciate his patience. This isn’t the Avengers we’ve watched; it’s two incarnations removed from what he knows. For an archaeological look back at classic TV, it was a good one-off for him.

For me, it was better than that. It does have the teeth-grinding limitations of black-and-white videotape, where the actors and the microphones are rarely in the same place twice and the pre-filmed 16mm material was done without a microphone at all, just Johnny Dankworth’s deeply dull lounge jazz, but this a pretty good story with some good actors, and it shows that Steed had that twinkle in his eye from the beginning. Ian Hendry is very entertaining in the role of a crimefighter who deeply cares about people and is willing to get in way over his head to help this guy. He just radiates charisma and a real passion for Dr. Keel’s work beneath his cool exterior. Hendry was a great actor. You can see why the show was built for him, even if they let Patrick Macnee come in and steal the program out from under him.

Studiocanal released “Tunnel of Fear” by itself on a Region 2 DVD last month along with a few bonus features and a fabulously thick booklet full of photographs and even a reprint of a comic strip from the 1962 TV Crimebusters Annual. Unfortunately, Studiocanal being Studiocanal, they managed to not include the advertised PDFs of the surviving season one scripts, but apparently they’ll email them to you if you buy the DVD. I’m glad I purchased this!

We’re going to take a short break from The Avengers now, but stick around! Steed and Mrs. Peel will return in a few weeks!