Man in a Suitcase 1.15 – The Sitting Pigeon

Wow, what a lot of cops! That’s James Grout, Mark Eden, George Sewell, and Garfield Morgan joining Richard Bradford in this office. That’s Strange from Inspector Morse, Parker from Lord Peter Wimsey, Craven from Special Branch, and Haskins from The Sweeney. This might be taken down and used as evidence that I’ve watched a heck of a lot of British TV detective shows. Also joining in on this tale of coppers and villains trying to stay out of Wormwood Scrubs, Carol Cleveland and David Garfield. And a lot of slang.

This is the first time in I don’t know how long that our son tuned out, not because he couldn’t follow the plot, but because he couldn’t follow the words. Patch? Porridge? Pigeon? He missed that the villains have brought in a fixer from Liverpool who the local police don’t know. I did try and help him along, because I thought it was a very good episode absolutely packed with lovely location filming all around London, wrapping up with a visit to the gorgeous Syon House Gardens. I mean, you want to see what the city looked like in early 1967, this is for you. It’s an even better travelogue than the great-for-location-spotting Avengers episode “Take Me to Your Leader”. I think it was just a little too subtle for him in places, prompting several interruptions.

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.3 – For the Girl Who Has Everything

I like the decor in Jeff’s apartment. Actor Mike Pratt was a musician himself, and decided that when he’s not working cases, Jeff is also a musician, of the “Eastern mysticism” school. He encouraged the set dressers to include a guitar and some Ravi Shankar records and some posters on the wall that look like he’d gone to Rishikesh with the Beatles and that Maharishi dude six months earlier. I’ve never heard any of his music – most of it seems to have been collaborations with Tommy Steele in the early sixties – but I was actually familiar with his son, Guy Pratt, before I’d ever heard of Randall and Hopkirk. Guy has been an in-demand session player for decades, and co-wrote a great song, “Seven Deadly Sins,” with Bryan Ferry in 1987.

And speaking of sixties decor, Carol Cleveland has a small part in this one, and with her stacked hair and patterned mini-dress, it looks like she’s about to start singing “Rock Lobster” with Kate and Cindy.

Lois Maxwell and Freddie Jones are also in this one, which Donald James wrote and which we all enjoyed a lot. Jones plays a ghost hunter who can’t see Marty, but that’s okay, because somebody else in the village can. They close the resulting loophole – that there’s somebody on the outside who Marty can get messages to whenever Jeff’s in trouble – in an epilogue that’s somehow both bittersweet and very funny.

The Avengers 4.21 – A Touch of Brimstone

Yes, I know, you were expecting a picture of Mrs. Peel in her Queen of Sin getup. Instead, here’s a picture of every man in Christendom upon seeing Mrs. Peel in her Queen of Sin getup. Enjoy!

The story goes that ABC declined to show this episode because of the Queen of Sin’s costume, along with the climactic fight with Peter Wyngarde, in which he starts lashing at her with a whip. I’ve contended all along that this episode wasn’t going to get shown on national American television before we got that far. There’s a scene with Wyngarde and Carol Cleveland pawing each other in bed, for starters, in an era when 99% of married couples on American TV had separate, single beds. (Gomez and Morticia Addams were the only exception I can think of, and while they were television’s most passionate couple, you may recall that they only ever kissed while standing up!)

Then we get to the “do what thou wilt being the whole of the law” ethos of the Hellfire Club and their incredibly bawdy parties, with drinking and “wenching.” They worship evil and women exist only as vessels for (sexual) pleasure. Writer Brian Clemens was pushing an envelope here.

There simply weren’t enough weeks in the calendar for ABC to show all 26 episodes from season four before they went all-color in the first week of September of 1966, so some of them weren’t going to be shown. “A Touch of Brimstone” was allegedly rejected on content grounds, and, that content spoken of in whispers, it immediately made the rounds of bootleg film prints. Some independent stations around the country bought the black and white package for local broadcasts, and some are said to have edited out most of the whipping scene. In short order, this episode became quite notorious. When I was a video trader in the mid-to-late eighties, you would occasionally see this one in lists and catalogs with notations like RARE AND UNCUT!!

At some point in the seventies, comic writer Chris Claremont landed a copy. He loved peppering his scripts with in-jokes from British film and TV, and, in 1980, reintroduced the Hellfire Club as characters in The Uncanny X-Men. One of the members looks like Peter Wyngarde as his later character, Jason King, and the evil women in their order wear variations on the Queen of Sin costume. In their 18th Century formal wear and their lingerie, they’ve been pestering the heroes of the Marvel Universe ever since, and were seen as the baddies in the 2011 film X-Men: First Class. (Though perhaps my favorite Claremont in-joke was using the Hobbs End tube station from the movie version of Quatermass and the Pit as a location for an issue of an X-Men spinoff comic.)

Our son didn’t understand this much at all, mercifully. It started with the great promise of bad guys who use exploding cigars, sneezing powder, whoopie cushions, and collapsing chairs, and then deteriorated into a lot of dumb men yelling and spilling their ale while smooching women in old-fashioned clothes. At least we can agree that Patrick Macnee, Jeremy Young, and their stunt doubles had a completely amazing swordfight. I’m not sure that Young even had a double. Colin Jeavons and Robert Cawdron are also in this one. Along with Wyngarde and Cleveland, it’s a great cast for a terrific episode: ABC’s audience in 1966 may or may not have been scandalized, but they definitely missed out.