Danger Man 3.23 – Not So Jolly Roger

In the 1980s, one of the best channels in Atlanta was WVEU-69. The metro area had a couple of dozen different cable systems, and only a handful carried MTV at first. While their salesmen pushed and prodded and cajoled for spaces on networks, churches and parent groups pushed back against all that pre-verted rock music, delaying the inevitable in many communities for a couple of years. So Channel 69 snuck in on the UHF dial where nobody could stop it, and just played everything MTV would play, and probably more, starting in 1982.

But within about three years, say around Live Aid, everybody who wanted their MTV had their MTV, and nobody wanted the knockoff anymore. WVEU needed a new format to make it through the eighties, and that meant filling every timeslot with whatever they could find that was cheap. Happily, around 1986-87, that meant a whole freaking pile of ITC series.

Perhaps surprisingly, I didn’t take anywhere near the advantage of this that I could have. I was a broke teenager too lazy to keep an afternoon job and only had a little cash for then-pricy VHS tapes, most of which were used for Doctor Who, but this was a good time for a teen who was crazy for British television. We had pirate Avengers tapes in every Camelot, Record Bar, and mom-n-pop video store (as discussed here), we had The Young Ones and The Comic Strip Presents on that pre-verted MTV, we had The Prisoner, Monty Python, Butterflies, The Bounder, and everything on Mystery!, Masterpiece Theatre, Wonderworks, and Great Performances on our two PBS stations, plus we had a little something on WATL-36 I’ll tell you about next week.

And on WVEU, we had Space:1999, UFO, The Persuaders!, Man in a Suitcase, and The Champions. As I mentioned previously, these were pretty faded and beat up 16mm prints. The color was drab and lifeless, but we got used to it. One day a local shop got in eight episodes of UFO on laserdisc and our brains exploded at how colorful it was supposed to look.

And WVEU also had Secret Agent, and the last week has had me shaking my head at what a dumb teen I must have been to not have been watching this all the damn time. I know that I “watched” it twice, but probably while talking on the phone or reading comics at the same time, and also knowing that more people talked about The Prisoner, so the later program must have been better than this. I have no memory at all what those episodes might have been.

I also know I saw a third, the final black-and-white adventure, “Not So Jolly Roger,” because I taped that one, watched it a second time, agreed that it was really entertaining, but in that teen way, I didn’t follow up on it with more. But with a list like that above, can you blame me? That’s why I have no memory of eighties American television. I was watching all that stuff, plus trying to track down Sid and Marty Krofft and whatever Avengers we couldn’t find locally from tape traders.

Plus I had to make at least some room for MTV, although that ended up being pretty much just Sunday / Monday midnight to two.

One final thought before moving on from nostalgia to this evening on the sofa: despite everybody and their grandmother raving about The Prisoner, it remains the only ITC series that leaves me cold. (Although in fairness I have not actually seen any of The Adventurer.) As a teen, I “liked” it through gritted teeth, because I was supposed to, but I found it so frustrating to watch, because, after all, it is a series where the hero must lose every week. As an adult, I certainly admire it and love all the actors and the music, but The Prisoner is not fun and Danger Man absolutely is. Sorry, McGoohan, but I’d rather have had seventeen more episodes with John Drake and no pretentious critical essays about what it all means, man.

Anyway, to accompany the release of Doctor Who‘s “Fury From the Deep” last year, some of the actors and production crew revisited one of the locations from that story: Red Sands Fort, which was commissioned as an anti-aircraft base a few miles offshore in the Thames Estuary. I showed our son that part of the documentary this afternoon, ostensibly just to look at an amazingly fun-looking place we’ll probably never get to visit. Who filmed at Red Sands about two years after Danger Man did for its final black and white adventure in 1966, a gem of a story written by Tony Williamson, directed by Don Chaffey, and featuring the great Edwin Richfield as the main guest star.

Turns out my memories of this story had some holes in it. I’d completely forgotten the character of the drunk cook, but I remembered most of the plot pretty well. Enemy agents are using a pirate radio station to broadcast coded signals to a nearby submarine using a recording of “The Blue Danube” as cover for the real transmission. I really amused myself with this one. After showing him that bit of the documentary, I talked about pirate radio over dinner and let him know that a real pirate outfit, Radio 390, was actually using the Red Sands facility shortly before that Doctor Who was made.  It got a thanks in the end credits of this episode.

The look on the kid’s face from that first establishing shot of the fort was priceless. So that’s why Dad was telling me all this stuff! He enjoyed this one and said that it was one of the best ones we’ve watched. “We ended Danger Man on a high note,” he said, and went off humming the theme again.

That’s the last of John Drake’s adventures that we’re going to watch for the blog, but stay tuned… we have another ITC classic coming in for a sample run next week!

Danger Man 3.12 – The Man on the Beach

Do you know why ITC started planning to shoot Danger Man‘s fourth season in color? It wasn’t because CBS told them that they were going all-color in September 1966. It was because of costumes like this dress.

But seriously, “The Man on the Beach” is a very good adventure, and I’m glad that the kid liked it more than the previous two. It was first shown in December 1965 in the UK and February 1966 in the US. Happily, it’s another winner from the pen of Philip Broadley. I mentioned last week that some of his later scripts for ITC left me a little cold, but he seems to have excelled in this series’ world of espionage and double agents. Our son was a little confused by a couple of things in the story, but he came around. It’s a great opportunity to see Drake cut off from any support. He’s been framed while allegedly working one assignment, but some much-higher-up had him secretly working another one. But suddenly the much-higher-up cannot be located, and the person with whom he has been staying denies all knowledge of him. This many lies required a little recap for our boy.

Anyway, if you’ve been following along, you’ll be disappointed to learn that this installment, unlike the previous two, does not feature any performers who were later in Moon Zero Two. Although, had I picked “Have a Glass of Wine” or “The Colonel’s Daughter,” we would have seen Warren Mitchell. No, this one features Juliet Harmer, who would star in Adam Adamant Lives! the following summer, and the great Glyn Houston. There’s one bit right at the end where Houston’s left eye starts twitching. Normally I can recognize an actor and it not take me out of the story at all, but just for a moment there, I was so amazed by Houston’s control of his facial muscles that I had no idea how the episode actually ended.

Danger Man 3.8 – The Outcast

I’m afraid this is another Danger Man that our son didn’t enjoy very much. He very diplomatically said “Overall, this isn’t really my favorite,” but he was heard humming the theme tune a little later. I can see why he wasn’t too keen on “The Outcast,” because it’s a psychological con job not unlike what we saw in the first episode we sampled, “Position of Trust”, or what the Mission: Impossible team would be pulling on CBS about nine months after this was first shown in America. Drake has to persuade a suspected murderer to confess to him before some nasties on the other side get to him. Complications pile up, and Drake’s improvisational skills are completely amazing.

Guest stars this time include Patricia Haines as well as Bernard Bresslaw as the killer on the run. This is two episodes in a row where one of the main roles was played by somebody we saw earlier this week in Moon Two Zero. I promise I didn’t plan this, and I’m not going to cheat and see who’s in Monday night’s story. Fingers crossed for a third cast member!

Danger Man 2.15 – Whatever Happened to George Foster?

Well, that worked out tremendously neatly. See, several weeks ago, I picked an episode called “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” to watch next, because its cast included Adrienne Corri, who, by chance, we saw just this past weekend in Moon Zero Two. But I was so pleased with the episodes that we’ve watched so far that I started reading in more detail about Danger Man for the first time, including Matthew Courtman’s terrific Danger-Man.co.uk and the American transmission information at The Classic TV Archive. And so I glanced ahead a little bit, and learned that “Lovegrove” really divides opinion quite sharply, and sounds like it might pose more of a narrative challenge for our ten year-old than other stories.

But that’s okay, because Adrienne Corri is also in “Whatever Happened to George Foster?” along with Bernard Lee as the villain and Colin Douglas as his main heavy, and I thought this was completely excellent. Lee plays a titled millionaire, Lord Ammanford, who is funding unrest and riots in a South American Nosuchlandia. Drake wants him to pull out, but Ammanford is quite aware of where his money is going and expects to see a considerable return. Worse, Ammanford is powerful enough to easily suggest that Drake’s boss’s boss – who Drake has never met – give our hero a month’s leave because he’s so overworked. Drake doesn’t spend that month relaxing. Drake gets a shovel and spends it digging. It is awesome.

I’d say that this story is completely timeless, because – for the benefit of anyone who finds this down the road – this is the week the United States finally decided that the Afghanistan debacle wasn’t worth the investment any longer. The rich and the powerful continue to get richer and more powerful whenever they can find any spot on the map that can be destabilized to their advantage. It will happen again soon.

However, it wasn’t quite as timeless as I thought, because of all things it was the old tech in the episode that baffled our son. He’s certainly seen rotary phones in dozens of old shows and films, but he’s never actually worked one himself, and when Drake holds down the little button in the cradle and pretends to have a conversation, the poor kid didn’t know what he was doing or why. He was also a little stumped by some of Ammanford’s henchmen framing Drake for driving drunk and causing an accident, probably because he’s too young to read any novels where cops in Los Angeles do that to Philip Marlowe or Lew Archer. I still think this went over better than “Lovegrove” would have, but I’ll watch it myself before long.

Danger Man 2.8 – The Battle of the Cameras

So Danger Man finished its run of 39 episodes and that, as they say, was that. Except that United Artists started making James Bond movies, and those films started defying everybody’s box office expectations. With advance word on the third film, Goldfinger, indicating it was going to be the biggest one yet, Danger Man went back into production as a one-hour show, with John Drake now formally an agent for British intelligence instead of some nebulous office of NATO.

The numbering I’ll use is the British broadcast order, which, as is standard with ITC series, never had any connection to the order they were actually made. “The Battle of the Cameras” was made twelfth and shown eighth in the Midlands region, in December 1964. But in America, it was selected to lead the run in April 1965. Given a new name, Secret Agent, and a brilliant theme song by Johnny Rivers, the show aired on Saturday evenings on CBS.

It was a midseason replacement for The Entertainers, a forgotten variety show that can’t have been bad; Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett were the hosts! But the show somehow failed despite an incredibly sweet slot between Gilligan’s Island and Gunsmoke, which any hour-long show would kill for, and Secret Agent caught the attention of younger viewers and all those people who were crazy for spies and, well, secret agents. I should note that it wasn’t quite the first off the block for this new fad in the US, though. NBC’s Man from UNCLE beat it to American airwaves, but there’d be another three or four similar programs, including the fourth season of The Avengers, on the air within a year.

The American broadcasts of this series were reasonably close to the British ones, which is remarkable considering the period and how fast these had to be made to make CBS’s dates. There were 22 made in the first production block. 21 of these aired in America from April to September 1965, along with two from the second production block of 23, before CBS gave the show a three-month break. It came back in December to replace The Trials of O’Brien, which CBS moved to another night to fill in a different hole.

The kid squirmed a bit at the beginning, but he settled in and said he really enjoyed this. I thought it was excellent, and I was very glad to see that such an entertaining story was written by Philip Broadley, because as those of you with long memories may recall, I was kind of hard on the writer for penning some disappointingly ordinary episodes of Department S. But this was amusingly twisty, with each side getting ahead of the other, and it had some nice fight scenes. Guest stars include Dawn Addams as the femme fatale, Niall MacGinnis as her boss, and Patrick Newell as a bumbling cohort from Drake’s office.

I’m not sure what the contemporary reviews were like, but if I’d have been around in 1965, I’d have watched it every week. Did CBS have anything remotely as good as this in 1965? Well, yes, The Dick Van Dyke Show, but nothing else.

Danger Man 1.32 – Under the Lake

This was easily our son’s favorite of the four half-hour Danger Man installments that I picked. It starts with a murder, and then Drake tails a suspected counterfeiter by train and has an adventure in the Alps. There’s a tense scene in a cable car where it looks like somebody’s going to get thrown to their death, and then a cat-and-mouse game with Drake hiding from a gang of thugs in a hotel.

Among the thugs: Roger Delgado and Walter Gotell, so you know I was going to pick this one. Hermione Baddeley has a small role as well. It’s a really good half-hour of adventure TV, and I think I’m going to add this set to my afternoon rotation because this is clearly an even better show than I had heard. I’ve seen a few of the hour-long ones, which we’ll start Tuesday night, but these were the first of the punchy thirty-minute versions that I’ve seen and I liked all four a lot.

Danger Man 1.24 – The Relaxed Informer

Duncan Lamont and Paul Maxwell are the guest stars in this interesting little story about stolen military secrets and, of all things, a cult. Drake learns that a translator at a NATO facility in West Germany is somehow involved in making recordings of conferences and top secret information. But the recordings are not the actual fed-to-the-conference live wire; they were made later. She spends her weekends with a little religious community where everybody’s on a first-name basis and the people practice humility, woodworking, marionettes, and the sort of 1960s super-hypnotism that ITC’s adventure heroes often had to deal with.

The kid had to come around to this one. He was briefly baffled by the archaic tech and the way the live translation worked, but it’s a good story and once Drake gets to do some snooping around and unpack some gadgets, it was more like the sort of thing he could follow and enjoy. It’s definitely a story that would have benefited from the hour-long format, though. This was kind of all plot and no character, and not enough time for a dead end or hunch that proved mistaken.

Danger Man 1.8 – The Lonely Chair

I know that you, dear reader, won’t find this as amusing as I do, but I have always enjoyed watching some of these TV series where I’ve just selected some episodes based on a guest star – MacGyver, The Twilight Zone – and then letting enough time pass for me to have no idea why I picked it, and we get to the climax and I find myself asking “So who’s gonna be playing the boss of these kidnappers?” Then Patrick Troughton shows up.

And my kid! My boy recognized him! He may not have known the famous faces in the last two Ray Bradbury Theaters that we had watched with a reminder practically on top of the show, but he said “The second Doctor?!” within seconds and I was so pleased. Then again, the Doctor probably stands right behind Garfield the cat as just about his favorite fictional character, so I shouldn’t be too ridiculous with praise.

Overall, he liked this a lot more than the previous episode that we saw. It’s Drake versus kidnappers instead of Drake convincing somebody to get some backbone and do the right thing. For a ten year-old viewer, this episode had some more meat on its bones.

Danger Man 1.7 – Position of Trust

I had a story to tell with this blog, and as I began scheduling its final year, I realized I was either going to run out of story to tell or it was going to become an exclusively Stargate blog with a movie every weekend until we got to all the films I wanted to write for the blog. I needed something more to give a little extension, and realized that I’d been having a lot of fun with the ITC adventure series that I enjoy so much, and which seem to keep the kid satisfied. So we’re going to look at some samples from five more programs from Lew Grade’s efforts to entertain the world, starting with nine selections from Danger Man.

Danger Man, which was created by Ralph Smart, starred Patrick McGoohan as John Drake, who, in the first 39 half-hour episodes, was an agent for NATO. This gave ITC an early opportunity to show off their talent to look like they’re trotting around the globe while never leaving Hertfordshire. ITC successfully sold the package to dozens of countries around the world. In the United States, CBS bought the run and showed many of the episodes – although, I think, not all of them – in the spring and summer of 1961. They weren’t originally interested in more, but that would change in a couple of years.

I had never seen any of the half-hour episodes before tonight. I bought Timeless’s collection earlier this year, and chose four by the guest stars. “Position of Trust” features Lois Maxwell and Donald Pleasance, both of whom McGoohan might have worked with again on the big screen had he accepted the offer of James Bond. But McGoohan famously turned down that role because he didn’t like the character’s womanizing. John Drake only has eyes for the mission, and in this one, he needs to get an expat living in a middle eastern Nosuchlandia to cough up a list of wholesalers who are buying opium and moving it on to big organized crime outfits.

This wasn’t a very successful outing for us, because our son was a bit lost by the plot. It’s a bit too subtle for a ten year-old, but the key is that Pleasance’s character quietly pretends like he is a big shot in a position of trust, but the Ministry of Health just employs him as a modest file clerk. Drake gets to wheel and deal and con him into turning, but since Pleasance underplays his part so well, he doesn’t look or feel even remotely villainous, just a put-upon little Walter Mitty getting caught up in something far larger. The two could have easily acted the same way in a script where McGoohan was the villain and Pleasance needed Jason King or the Champions to get him out of this mess. I like how fast the story moved, but I can understand why the kid was baffled. Hopefully the next ones will be more his speed.