Tag Archives: dennis spooner

The New Avengers 1.6 – Target!

If you’re as much a fan of familiar actors from the seventies as I am, then Dennis Spooner’s “Target!” is an absolute pleasure. You’ve got Keith Barron and Deep Roy as the villains, and Frederick Jaeger, John Paul, and Bruce Purchase in supporting roles. There’s a hint of the old Avengers spirit at play when Deep Roy disguises himself as a little kid on a tricycle, hiding a lethal hypodermic behind a bunch of balloons.

Our kid doesn’t care about actors, but there was plenty for him to enjoy in this one. The diabolical masterminds this week have rigged a shooting gallery survival course with darts filled with poisonous curare. Since The Avengers is very rarely about gunplay, or kill-or-be-killed shootouts, this is a pretty atypical story, not least in the sound department. It takes our heroes an eternity to figure out the link between all these apparently random agents, but the visuals of the survival course make for a hugely fun story to watch, and our son was on the edge of his seat.

My favorite moments were when Gambit kills two of the bad guys. He murders their inside man entirely by accident, thinking he’s just playing a cruel prank, but Deep Roy later gets one of the all-time great Avengers death scenes, and he totally had it coming.

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The New Avengers 1.5 – Cat Amongst the Pigeons

I’ve always thought it was interesting that writer Dennis Spooner only contributed one episode to the original run of The Avengers, probably because he was extremely busy writing for every other action-adventure program on British television in the late sixties and the man had to sleep sometime. But by 1976, he had enough time available to write several installments of The New Avengers. John Hough directed this one and he crams in more visual references to Hitchcock than any other hour I can think of. But everybody’s on board with this creepy little homage; the script even references that bit in The Birds where the chimney provides an unexpected hole in the defenses.

And talking of creepy, I don’t think I’ll be forgetting Vladek Sheybal’s downright twisted performance in this story anytime soon. Zarcardi is not like the typical grandiose and talkative villains that the Avengers face. He’s an isolated loner with an almost supernatural control of birds. (Well, there’s an explanation, but “any sufficiently advanced technology” and all that.) Familiar faces Peter Copley and Kevin Stoney are also here for a scene apiece, and an actor named Matthew Long has a very unusual role as an agent from another department who has a very antagonistic dislike of Steed’s blank check to do what he likes.

It’s all done with enough intensity to have kept our son worried. He really got into the spirit of things and curled up next to his mom for safety. He really loved the wonderfully entertaining climax, in which Steed and Gambit both have the exact same ideas, execution, and dumb jokes, and glare at each other for daring to steal the other’s thunder. The revelation of what those ideas are is a real treat.

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.1 – My Late Lamented Friend and Partner

Disaster struck this afternoon. I’d been looking forward to finally digging into ITC’s famous Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) for ages and ages. I sent the kid upstairs while I put the disk in to make sure nothing in the menus or anything gave away the surprise that not only is the Hopkirk of the title deceased, he’s also a ghost. That’s right, our son may well be the first viewer in TV history that didn’t know that Marty Hopkirk is a ghost.

And I gingerly popped the DVD out of its spindle and the blasted disk snapped with a crack.

So since this is a show where the setup is a big part of the fun, we watched a copy on YouTube, and then – assuming disk two doesn’t snap (and here I pause to check… whew) – we’ll skip ahead to episode five next and circle back to the others once I get a replacement set! The YouTube copy was pretty crummy – it reminded me of what I could have expected from a third or fourth gen copy had I got this in a tape trade in the early nineties – but it did the trick. I’ve been wanting to watch this forever and it was worth the wait. This was such fun!

Assuming that the second, third, and possibly fourth viewers in TV history who didn’t know about Marty Hopkirk’s afterlife are reading this blog, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) is a detective show where Jeff Randall, played by Mike Pratt, is a private eye and his partner Marty, played by Kenneth Cope, is murdered. As a ghost, Marty comes back to help his partner solve the murder and make sure that his beloved wife Jeannie, played by Annette Andre, is provided for. Marty stays out of his grave too long and gets on the receiving end of a century-long curse for ghosts who don’t follow the rules. This show was made in the spring of 1968, so Marty has another 49 years stuck here with us before he can return to the afterlife.

Speaking of the spring of 1968, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) was made by many of the same talents and crew who had made The Champions the previous year, and who were making Department S at the same time as this. It was created by Dennis Spooner and produced by Monty Berman, and we’ll see lots of the same writers, directors, locations, and guest actors, including Frank Windsor and Ronald Lacey in this one. The script for this first episode was by Ralph Smart.

And it’s huge fun. I really enjoyed watching this with our son. He was admittedly a little restless at first, watching what appeared to be an ordinary detective show. I confess to having fun with the program’s name. He asked a few days ago why it had this name and I reminded him of Miles Archer’s death in The Maltese Falcon, and how Sam Spade might have chosen to rename his business Space and Archer (Deceased). He didn’t make the mental leap to “ghost,” of course, but he probably grumbled inside that this was going to be another moody program for grownups who’d have to explain everything to him.

He came around in a big way once Marty started figuring out his powers, and we all got a huge laugh when Ronald Lacey’s character tries to surprise Jeff, not knowing that our hero has a pretty amazing early warning system. Our son was in such good spirits (ha!) and enjoyed it so much that he was cracking jokes over the end credits, asking why they got a guy named Innocent – Harold Innocent – to play an assassin. If the rest of the show’s just half as entertaining as the first episode, I’ll be very pleased. Does it live up to the legend? So far, absolutely!

Photo credit: Stuff Limited

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The Champions 1.18 – The Interrogation

Well, this was not the best episode to watch when we were running very, very late and didn’t even press play until after our favorite eight year-old critic’s usual weekend bedtime. He didn’t like this at all; it’s the only episode of The Champions that he hasn’t enjoyed.

Dennis Spooner’s “The Interrogation” is a season cheapie. It’s almost entirely Stuart Damon engaged in a sweaty battle of wits with an unnamed interrogator, played by Colin Blakely, who wants details on his latest case. The interrogator has pumped our hero full of drugs, so in the way of old TV, Craig can hallucinate a few minutes’ worth of clips from other episodes.

Ha. I say “old TV,” but wouldn’t it be funny if they still did that? For future generations, I’m writing this post a couple of nights before the final episode of Game of Thrones. I don’t know what happened on that show last week, but people have been pissed off about it for five days now. Imagine how much angrier they’d be if they’d wheeled out a clip show instead.

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The Champions 1.14 – The Search

Some editor at Wikipedia said we’d see the submarine set again, and here it is in the next episode, in a story written by Dennis Spooner where a sub with four nuclear missiles gets stolen. Cutting every corner, they reused some of the same stock footage and some of the same miniature work as last time as well. I know that older shows were designed to have minimal continuity because television stations back in the “classic TV” days couldn’t be trusted to transmit these in any order other than random, but you’d think that they’d have spaced these out by more than seven days on the original broadcast! Patricia English, Joseph Furst, and John Woodvine are among the guest stars. At least none of these actors were in the previous episode.

I enjoyed watching this one because Spooner is more interested than the other writers in having our heroes talk about their powers and their limitations. Craig has a clairvoyant hunch that the stolen sub is docked at a German island called Heligoland, where a sea fortress and sub pens had been housed during World War Two. When it looks like he’s wrong, he and Sharron briefly discuss whether the flip side of their powers means that they can be far more wrong than usual. As it turns out, the sub is at Heligoland, but not at the pens.

Our kid enjoyed the more traditional fisticuffs and humor. Sharron kicks a gun out of one thug’s hand, Richard punches another guy out a window to his death on the street below, and Craig escapes captivity and prowls around the sub eating the ham sandwich that his jailer had brought him. You can tell that the main bad guy means business when he slaps the sandwich out of Craig’s mouth. What a creep!

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The Champions 1.1 – The Beginning

During the 1960s and early 1970s, the ITC studio experimented with a few “international-friendly” formats to sell their shows around the world. The Champions featured a familiar grouping of secret agents: an American, an Englishman, and the posh, nebulously European woman. Or, as The Preventers, one of the funniest half-hours of television ever made, would put it a quarter-century later, “vaguely foreign.”

The Champions was created by Monty Berman and Dennis Spooner and produced in 1968. The 30 episodes were written by many of the same veterans who worked on most of Britain’s adventure TV shows of the day, and it starred Stuart Damon, William Gaunt, and Alexandra Bastedo as agents of a UN-affiliated agency called Nemesis based in Geneva. There were lots of these kinds of shows in the late sixties, but The Champions had a twist that really set it apart, and which I didn’t tell my family about: these secret agents have super powers.

In Dennis Spooner’s “The Beginning,” our heroes’ getaway plane crashes somewhere in the Himalayas after heisting a bacterial weapon from a Chinese laboratory. Days later, they wake up, their wounds healed and their minds and bodies improved somehow. They have fleeting memories of a secret city, ancient mystics, and technology far beyond our own. There was a lot of this in the sixties, and the old man flatly looks like he walked right out of a Steve Ditko-drawn issue of Strange Tales. So, with telepathy, enhanced senses, heightened reflexes, and super strength, our heroes overpower the soldiers sent to capture them and wonder how they’ll keep their powers a secret while serving the greater good. Guest stars in this installment include Joseph Furst, just to keep all the stuff in Geneva appreciably international, and Burt Kwouk and Anthony Chinn, who ITC had on speed dial whenever they needed Chinese soldiers.

I really enjoyed watching our son realize where this was going. Except I fumbled a little. I hinted that this would be a show kind of like The Avengers and Adam Adamant Lives!, forgetting that when you say Avengers to this kid, he immediately thinks of those other, lesser Avengers and all their movies and Lego sets. So he was expecting super heroes, and wondered what was up with these normal humans and all the machine guns! But he liked it, and it did have a fine little fight at the end, and I hope he continues to enjoy it.

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The Avengers 6.15 – Look – (stop me if you’ve heard this one) But There Were These Two Fellers…

The brilliance of The Avengers is that it is said to be a program where absolutely anything can happen. So here, the veteran writer Dennis Spooner, who had contributed to Doctor Who and several of the ITC adventure series, decides to test that hypothesis and pushes the show farther into weirdness and farce than it had ever been before. It still doesn’t break. Now having said that, you can probably see the boundary from here. This is a deeply, deeply silly and hilarious episode, but it honestly doesn’t need to get any sillier than this.

If you’ve never had the great pleasure, “Look – (stop me if you’ve heard this one) But There Were These Two Fellers…” concerns a gang of “resting” vaudevillians who are targeting the board of directors of the Caritol Land and Development Corporation, a big firm that has just landed an extremely important government contract. But among their holdings is a defunct chain of music halls and palladium theaters, and a crooked Punch and Judy man who knows more than he’s letting on seems to have convinced the gang that by wiping them out, they can open the curtains on their old shows again. Jimmy Jewel and Julian Chagrin play the lead killers, and familiar faces Robert James and Talfryn Thomas are among the other “resting” artistes.

Not one line of this is played straight. Getting to the hilarious final fight, we get to enjoy some of the all-time great television death scenes. Years ago, I watched this one with my older kids, and my boy just about stopped breathing with laughter when Jimmy Jewel introduces some puffed-up aristocrat to his magic carpet trick. John Cleese plays a civil servant tasked with painting the copyrighted faces of clowns onto eggs, and Bernard Cribbins plays a gag writer who comes up with far, far more duds than winners, and they both meet hysterically gruesome ends. Both actors just had me in stitches before they met their grisly deaths. Cleese, in particular, is a delight in the role of a put-upon government worker who desperately wants to avoid letting any member of the public into his office.

Of course our son loved it. He laughed like a hyena in places. This would be a terrible introduction to The Avengers, but I can’t imagine anybody in the world not liking this. For a hour about one sick-in-the-head murder after another, it’s just so darn joyous, which makes it even more amazing that this could very well have been the program’s final episode! I don’t believe that ABC had renewed the show when this was made in March 1968.

As I mentioned last month, in the US, The Avengers was running opposite Lost in Space, and NBC’s The Virginian, which was crushing both programs. CBS gave the ax to Space, and in the usual sort of Nielsen circumstances, there was really no reason to expect that ABC would ask for more Avengers. By the spring of 1968, the spy craze was ebbing, Diana Rigg had moved on, and the ratings were dropping. But ABC did order a full 26 episode season of the program anyway, because something was going to happen in the fall of 1968 that was totally unlike the usual sort of Nielsen circumstances… but more on that another day.

That’s all from The Avengers for now, but Steed and Tara King will be back in August for more adventures. Stay tuned!

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