Tag Archives: brian clemens

The Avengers 7.26 – Bizarre

The final episode of The Avengers has more holes in its plot than there are getaway doors in Mr. Happychap’s cemetery, but our son didn’t mind a bit. He chuckled almost all the way through this, shouting “This IS bizarre” with the opening shot of a barefoot woman in a nightdress collapsing in a snowy field and cheering on the final fight at the end, but mostly laughing over Roy Kinnear’s great performance as Mr. Bagpipes Happychap.

Poor Mr. Happychap’s services are being misused by the show’s last diabolical mastermind, Fulton Mackay, who keeps sending Happychap the supposed corpses of rich financiers and then spiriting them away to his underground pleasure palace, stuffed with fruit, wine, and cute girls. Brian Clemens basically rewrote his Adam Adamant Lives! adventure “The Terribly Happy Embalmers” as farce, and had the bad guys actually playing fair with their clients. I’ve honestly never enjoyed this story much at all before this afternoon, but my son’s right. Kinnear really is hilarious. I had a good time watching this with him.

The most bizarre moment, however, actually comes at the end, when Mother breaks the fourth wall and makes the quite indefensible statement to the viewers at home that Steed and Tara would be back. “You can depend on it.” Back in August, shortly after we started watching this final run, I explained the strange circumstances behind ABC’s order of these last 26 episodes. The Avengers spent the 1968-69 season in the bottom five of the Nielsens, mainly because of its competition, but also because by the spring of 1969, the spy craze was dead. It’s why George Lazenby declined to make any more James Bond films after his first one. People often mock Lazenby for that “mistake,” but look around at 1969. Can you blame him? Dean Martin’s entertaining series of Matt Helm movies had ended, and NBC even cancelled Get Smart. Like all the other secret agent stuff of the sixties, this show was yesterday’s news. There’s no way ABC would have ordered more, and the show’s producers had to have known that.

Without ABC’s money, The Avengers couldn’t have continued at the same budget. But it’s just as well it ended when it did. The series was running on fumes and goodwill by the end, and everyone involved needed a nice long break. Seven years would pass before Patrick Macnee would don his bowler hat again for the thunderously good first series of The New Avengers.

We won’t make our readers wait quite seven years to see what would happen next, but we are going to keep The New Avengers on the shelf for a few months while we look at some other things. I think we’ll meet Purdey and Gambit in the summer. Stay tuned!

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under avengers

The Avengers 7.25 – Pandora

For most of the early to mid-seventies, Brian Clemens was busy writing and producing an incredibly curious anthology series for ATV called Thriller. It’s a weird format of 65-minute episodes. Some of them – not very many, but some – are tremendously good, with twists that rival anything else from The Twilight Zone to a cracking Alan Moore Future Shock, but they are all hampered a little bit by the weird running time. The show was made for quick, cheap sales to ABC, who’d give each episode very, very long “movie of the week” credits and, with twenty minutes of ads, run them in a ninety-minute late-night slot.

What happens in a typical episode of Thriller is that the plot starts immediately, before we really spend any time getting to know the characters. And then the main character, frequently a woman, frequently the lone American in the cast, is stuck in a plot that usually has them kept in the dark by some villain for freaking ever until a darn-near-the-last-minute revelation. With good enough actors, I’m willing to sit still to see the bad guy’s plan through its conclusion and, often, its backfiring. The first episode of Thriller actually stars Linda Thorson, alongside Doomwatch‘s Robert Powell and Get Smart‘s Barbara Feldon. I’d probably watch the three of them read the phone book. Once.

But Thriller doesn’t have a lot of repeat pleasure, and neither does “Pandora,” the next-to-last Avengers episode from the original run, which is practically a pilot for Thriller. I found myself thinking that this could have been so much better with a wild fantasy element. There’s a glimmer of a chance that the criminals in this story have time-traveled to the present day from 1915 to kidnap Tara, but no, it’s far more mundane than that. Also, it requires that Tara be drugged into a stupor so that she’s a completely passive player in the bad guys’ story.

Our son absolutely loathed these villains, one of whom is played by Julian Glover in his umpteenth and final Avengers appearance. “I hope she punches them in the face!” he yelled. Bizarrely, she doesn’t get the chance. Steed arrives at the end, but he doesn’t quite get to make the rescue. It’s the villains’ story, and their greed ensures their destruction.

Robert Fuest makes it look terrific and he lines up his usual fun shots with mirrors and hidden characters, but it’s a very difficult story to watch without wanting to skip to the end. Several Thriller stories are like that, too.

3 Comments

Filed under avengers

The Avengers 7.23 – Requiem

Spoiler alert: When is a hospital not a hospital? When the villains are trying to get information from one of our heroes.

Like many episodes of The Avengers, time has blunted the “surprise” of “Requiem.” This is a plot that has been done many, many times since 1969. In fact, Terry Nation evidently enjoyed script-editing Brian Clemens’ story so much that he plundered elements of this hour as an episode of The Persuaders! about two years later, only it’s Roger Moore who wakes up in the fake hospital there instead of Linda Thorson. At least our heroine has the fine actor John Paul, a few months away from starring in Doomwatch, as her fake doctor.

Anyway, while this is again a story that won’t confound people who’ve watched much television already, our son took it all at face value, and when Tara starts realizing something was funny, he sat up straight and just had his little seven year-old mind blown. And he had such a hard time putting the pieces together at first. “There’s a hospital above Steed’s apartment?!” he bellowed. Seconds later, he added “Oh! Em! Gee! It’s a FAKE!” As always, it’s much more fun to see something like this through the eyes of a child.

Leave a comment

Filed under avengers

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

1 Comment

Filed under adam adamant lives!

The Avengers 7.13 – The Morning After

Linda Thorson’s vacation continued into the production of Brian Clemens’ terrific “The Morning After.” She seems to have only been present for a single day’s filming, leaving Steed to carry the story in the company of his prisoner, a quadruple-agent called Merlin. Our heroes and Merlin slept for twenty-four hours after a grenade of sleeping gas went off in their faces. The next day, Tara is still out cold, and Steed and Merlin find the streets of this “middle English town” completely deserted, except for angry troops who instantly convene firing squads to execute any “looters” on sight.

I think this is one of the most interesting episodes of the series. It’s a huge departure from the sort of stories that The Avengers usually tells, but it’s played straight instead of going for spoofs and parodies like, say, “Legacy of Death.” This isn’t a by-the-numbers adventure at all, there are lots of surprises and twists as the story unfolds. It’s shot beautifully. Lots of it is on a backlot, of course, but they did a huge amount of location filming in the town of St. Albans in Hertfordshire, whose residents happily cooperated for a couple of days and left their roads vacant to play the abandoned city. The scenes with Steed and Merlin walking the silent streets are downright eerie. Merlin’s a great character, by the way. It’s a shame he only made this one appearance.

“The Morning After” sports one of the show’s best guest casts. There are three big names that just about everybody in the UK would have recognized when this story first aired in 1968. Merlin is played by Peter Barkworth, who had been one of the stars of the hit drama The Power Game. The brigadier in charge of the evacuation is the legendary Joss Ackland, and a particularly bloodthirsty sergeant is none other than BRIAN BLESSED, who had left the cop show Z Cars after a hundred-some installments a couple of years before and had played Porthos in a couple of Three Musketeers series for the BBC in 1966-67. We’d seen BLESSED in the season five episode “The Superlative Seven,” which had been made between the two Musketeers series. Interestingly, Ackland took over the role of D’Artagnan in the second series from Jeremy Brett. Plus there’s Penelope Horner, who was never a big star, but she made guest appearances in everything in those days.

Our son loved it. The fights and the action and the real sense of danger and mystery kept him intrigued and excited. I’m glad that he enjoyed it so much, so I felt kind of bad telling him we’re going to take a short break from The Avengers and rotate a couple more shows in to keep things fresh. We’ll be back for more at the end of the month, so stay tuned!

Leave a comment

Filed under avengers

The Avengers 7.9 – They Keep Killing Steed

It’s funny how the same episode of The Avengers can present two completely unbelievable and ridiculous scenarios and I process one of them as just part of the anything-can-happen nature of the program and the other as something going wrong with the suspension of disbelief. In “They Keep Killing Steed,” written by Brian Clemens and directed, brilliantly, by Robert Fuest, some villains invent an “instant plastic surgery” that, with the right mold, can change your appearance into anybody else’s. So we’ve got four lookalikes of Steed infiltrating a peace conference at the same time. So far, so good.

But the same show has Mother’s goofiest headquarters yet. It’s at the bottom of a lake. It doesn’t rise to the surface, you have to swim down to it. It’s kind of dumb. Well, so’s the “instant plastic surgery” idea, but I guess because that’s the plot and the business with Mother isn’t, I can excuse one and not the other.

Actually, they were on to a really good idea in “False Witness” to have Mother’s headquarters be a city bus. They should have kept that instead of trying to come up with a new location every time Mother appeared.

As for the guest stars this week, that’s Ray McAnally and Norman Jones in the photo above, and isn’t that just an amazing composition? Robert Fuest and his DP, Stephen Dade, were on fire this week. McAnally and Jones play the villains, and they’re really kind of forgettable, honestly. Both had done better work as baddies. Strange Report came up in the comments the other day, and McAnally plays a cult leader in one of my favorite episodes of that show, and Jones, of course, played a very different kind of cult leader as the awesome villain Hieronymous in the Doctor Who serial “The Masque of Mandragora”. One of my favorite character actors, Bernard Horsfall, also has a small role, but the story is really dominated by Ian Ogilvy playing a baron with an awful lot of local girlfriends. Ogilvy’s hair is an unfortunate peroxide blond, but he radiates star potential in every scene, just waiting for ITC to make him the lead in an adventure series. It only took the slowpokes nine years to cast him as Simon Templar in Return of the Saint, but in fairness, Roger Moore was still Templar when this episode was made!

Leave a comment

Filed under avengers

The Avengers 6.12 – Split!

The six episodes that followed “The Forget-Me-Knot” were originally shown in the United States with this fun and silly title sequence with a cartoon crosshairs following our heroes around an orange room. They were later removed and replaced with the second Tara King sequence, the one with the suits of armor in a field. For some reason, they missed out on “Split!”, and it has the correct opening sequence. Sadly, the closing credits are the ones with the hands doing card tricks that should only be on the ends of the 26 suits of armor episodes. One of these days, somebody will get all these right on DVD.

Incidentally, there’s a third title sequence – well, third-ish – that is even more common to American viewers. Somebody cut the fifty second suits of armor sequence down to twenty-five seconds so that the ABC network could cram in one additional commercial. When A&E was running the Tara King episodes in the early nineties, we always sat up when we got the full version. We knew instantly that we were in for a better experience. Most of A&E’s copies of the Tara King stories were grotty, beat-up old 16mm prints, but there were a few that came from a fresh 35mm source and looked comparatively glorious. I remember that “Take-Over” was one of these. They all still had between one and three minutes of edits, but while they weren’t uncut, at least the full version of the credits let us know that it was going to look great.

As for tonight’s content, Brian Clemens’ “Split!” is a very entertaining story about a supposedly dead enemy agent who still seems to be active more than four years after Steed shot him through the heart. The cast includes familiar faces like Bernard Archard, Christopher Benjamin, Nigel Davenport, and Julian Glover, and the villains are so diabolical that our son got incredibly ticked off and outraged about their plans for Tara. He insists that he knows that she wasn’t in real trouble, just that these bad guys are much more cruel than he is used to seeing.

Leave a comment

Filed under avengers

The Avengers 6.9 – The Forget-Me-Knot

Let’s recap the story so far. The producers of The Avengers had signed Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg up to make 26 color episodes of the show, but the American network ordered just sixteen one year, followed by fifteen more the next. Diana Rigg declined to sign on for five more episodes, so the role of Mrs. Peel would need to be recast.

And then the production company didn’t like the eight episodes – the ones that some of us call season six – that Albert Fennell and Brian Clemens had produced in the summer of 1967. They elected to replace Fennell and Clemens with a veteran named John Bryce, and somebody decided that they might as well cast the new actress while they were changing. So while Rigg technically owed them two more installments, she was thanked for her time, and Bryce cast Canadian actress Linda Thorson as Tara King. We meet Tara in this episode, although John Bryce did not end up producing it.

A pause before continuing: it’s never, ever been fair to Thorson that Tara was introduced in the wake of one of television’s all-time greatest characters. She’s always suffered by comparison, and it’s undeniably true that a novice and inexperienced agent is a definite retrograde step. It’s also true that she got to appear in far too many complete clunkers, where she’s the best thing about the hour. However, Linda Thorson is a very, very good actress, there are some downright fantastic Avengers stories ahead of us as well as those few turkeys, and her character improves massively over time, with several standout moments. Mind you, it’s not an absolutely straight line of trajectory, and Brian Clemens’ work in the 1970s on Thriller, with one damn woman in jeopardy after another after another every week, suggests more that Mrs. Peel was a lucky break instead of the work of a keen eye for strong female characters.

Oh, did I mention Clemens? Well, they got him back pretty quickly. Bryce and his team were responsible for three stories in various stages of completion before the company realized the show was in serious trouble and was better left in Fennell and Clemens’ hands, especially since they had about two months to get the first of the episodes with Thorson to America to finish their order of fifteen. One of the first things they did was recall Diana Rigg, who was still under contract for another couple of weeks, and do a story bridging the two characters, who briefly meet at the end of this episode, “The Forget-Me-Knot.”

Clemens wrote this story in an amazing hurry and they still had to cast it and build sets, and it’s a wonder that it works as well as it does. Really, it’s just here to introduce Tara and give Mrs. Peel one last sendoff, and one last opportunity to kick a thug square in the face and send him head over heels across a sofa. We get a new boss for Steed – at least his third, although we’ll see this one again – played by Patrick Newell, and the reliable Jeremy Young is back as the villain.

I wish that the episode had been more about Mrs. Peel, and that our heroes shared more screen time together, but Diana Rigg’s farewell scene makes up for it. Their simple and quiet goodbye has always just broken my heart completely.

Mrs. Peel and Miss King get to meet very, very, briefly, criminally briefly, on the stairs, the only time that any of Steed’s partners get to share any screen time together. And they act like strangers. Shouldn’t they have met, without the audience present, during the cleanup of the villains at the Glass House? Well, Clemens did have to write this one in less than a week. It probably didn’t have many drafts. But Mrs. Peel gives Tara a valuable piece of advice and a smile, and rides off into history.

So it’s the end of a fantastic era, but, ra-boom-di-ay, Tara is here, so there’s no time to be sad.

3 Comments

Filed under avengers