Jason King 1.23 – Chapter One: The Company I Keep

Well, that had some amusing moments, but it was borderline incoherent. I think it was filmed earlier in the batch and held back, possibly because it just wasn’t very good. One possible clue is that this has a lot more of Anne Sharp’s character of Nicola, Jason’s publisher, pestering him every six minutes for updates on his next book, than we typically see, as though this was introducing her. Anyway, it was written by Donald James, and features familiar guest stars Stephanie Beacham and Paul Whitsun-Jones. I thought, incorrectly, that it also featured a familiar location, but I had a quick look through the delightful Avengerland and Shardeloes House doesn’t seem to have been used in anything else I’ve seen.

But the giveaway is that Paul Stassino’s character of Captain Rizio is in this one. We met the character much earlier, toward the end of episode six, but this is actually the character’s introduction. It takes Jason a minute to realize that Rizio models his personal style on Jason, and gets his suits from Savile Row. Jason gives him a little hint about how he should fold his cuffs, which is delightful.

Fans haven’t unearthed and published – online, anyway – anywhere near the level of detail about Jason King‘s production as they have other, more popular shows from the era. The running order of these DVDs matches everybody else’s listed running order, which seems to be the sequence in which they were shown in the ATV region in 1971-72. As continuity errors go, this one wasn’t too egregious, but I would like to read more about the production order one of these days.

The other thing about this one is that Shardeloes House, doubling as a villa not far from Rome, is home to a periodic naughty party, where lots of government types with secrets to hide dance and frolic with cute girls. This is shown as quite a lot more risque than the family-friendly ITC usually went with, including topless-but-covered women in the villa, and several other ladies in their underwear throughout the episode. It was enough to make this dad blush a little, watching this with his kid. In a neat coincidence, though, we had a conversation last week about Inara’s job as a companion in Firefly, so we could explain things quickly as “sorta like that” and hopefully this odd world of adults made a hair more sense.

Jason King 1.20 – The Stones of Venice

Well, I certainly wish that I enjoyed this one more than I did, because it guest stars the great Roger Delgado, but I found myself nodding off about halfway through it. The story’s told in flashback from Jason’s jail cell, so there’s quite a lot of Delgado in the episode, it’s just not a very good one. I think it was likely made at some point between Delgado’s Doctor Who appearances in “The Daemons” and “The Sea Devils.” The script is by Donald James, and happily, the kid enjoyed it more than I did. Last time, Marie suggested that he enjoys it more when Jason King is getting into fights in warehouses than when he’s being cerebral and deducing weird crimes, and this one begins with an after-hours brawl in a jewelry store, so he was paying attention from the start.

The most interesting part of the story is how the girlfriend-of-the-week, played by Anna Gaël, makes sure that she gets Jason’s attention. She publishes a fake Mark Caine novel called The Stones of Venice that contains all the details of her twin sister’s recent kidnapping, and hires a pretty salesgirl played by Imogen Hassell to stock a sales kiosk with the phony books, making sure that our hero is outraged enough to get to the bottom of the crime depicted in the book and find out who’s getting crooked royalties off his name.

So how’d she churn out a novel that quickly? Simple, because this was the seventies, she just fed a bunch of his other books into a computer, which turned them into punch cards. She added her sister’s name and fed the punch cards into another computer that spat out an ersatz King novel, and sent it to a printer who could do it up – in English and Italian – in the standard King orange trade dress. There was a lot of that plot going around back in the day – The Avengers met a computer that churned out romance novels around that time, although The Avengers being The Avengers, theirs looked like a piano – but I’m amused by the in-universe ramifications. In Jason King’s world, original copies of the quickly-suppressed The Stones of Venice, which had only been sold in a single airport for a couple of weeks, must be his fans’ Holy Grail!

Jason King 1.14 – Uneasy Lies the Head

Watch closely, unlike our son, or you’ll miss a thing or two, just like he did. So Jason is laid up in Paris with a broken leg, and somebody who claims to be him shows up in Istanbul. He’s been summoned by the local police to assist with their inquiries. The real Jason has already turned down this assignment after the slimy Rowland tried to get him to help. But we’ve seen this guy before, haven’t we? Well, if we just blank out on faces like our kid does, we haven’t, but those of us who pay a little attention have seen him. He drove Jason to the airport in London*, and he posed as a telephone repairman in Paris, and he actually arranged for Jason’s accident. So who is this guy?

Unfortunately, the kid was lost, but I thought this was terrific. I was starting to question it a little in the middle. We’ve seen a few cases where Ronald Lacey’s character whines and prods and tries to get Jason to help, but this episode appeared to be all prodding until the big switcheroo in Istanbul. The story’s by Donald James, and it won me over completely once things got moving. Lance Percival plays the fake Jason, and Juliet Harmer seems to be in on the scam as well. I like a story that keeps you guessing.

*After this sequence, I wound back and watched it again, pausing a couple of times and tried pointing out a little of how TV is made to the kid. The Heathrow sequence was a good opportunity to show how one film crew would film Percival and Peter Wyngarde in a mocked-up cab with the familiar brown brickwork of the Elstree Studios behind them, and mixed it in with footage of a black cab arriving at Heathrow. There’s not much of it, but there’s a little bit here of interest to people curious how Heathrow’s terminals looked in the late 1960s or whenever it was originally shot, with the old names of the Oceanic and Europa Terminals on the buildings.

Jason King 1.8 – A Red Red Rose For Ever

A few nights ago, I introduced our son to the legendary story of “The Party” at Hyperbole and a Half. If you’ve not read it and don’t feel like clicking the link, it’s the story of someone who really wants to attend a party just a couple of hours after being put under for major dental surgery. We laughed like hyenas of course, and it must have stuck with our son, because in tonight’s episode, Isla Blair’s character has had far too many glasses of cognac and stumbles across the room to answer the door. Our son quietly riffed “Parp, parp,” understanding this much of the episode perfectly.

The rest of it was a bit too dense for him. I think it’s an absolutely fine script by Donald James, but I think it juggled a few too many things for him to really understand, including a secret Nazi document, mistaken identities, Swiss bank security, stroke victims, assassins, and Ronald Lacey’s weasel of a character pushing King into another ugly situation.

And what a freaking cast! The good guys include Isla Blair, Christopher Benjamin, and Derek Newark. The baddies are Alan McNaughtan and Barbara Murray, who have hired a top assassin played by Mike Pratt, who is sporting some unbelievable sideburns, to kill her husband, who seems strangely in on the deal and very, very willing to stand in place long enough to get shot. Hard to believe that with all that going on, the kid takes away a drunk scene, but these things happen.

Department S 1.12 – The Shift That Never Was

This story by Donald James begins with an amusing setup: every worker at a chemical plant, both on the floor and in the office, phones in sick for a day. Only two didn’t phone in: the secretary, who can’t be found, and the fellow who never, ever called in to miss a shift, who is found dead in the river. The setup is a fine start to an intriguing scheme, but I thought it was done without any sense of urgency or wit. Annabelle gets more to do in this story than most. Watched over by a thug played by Leslie Schofield, she is resourceful, cunning, and cool under pressure, and calmly uses psychology to get the upper hand. She’s the best part of this episode, which doesn’t happen often.

Department S 1.2 – The Pied Piper of Hambledown

This one’s terrific. I enjoyed it a lot and it’s easily my favorite so far. It’s the one with the ghost village, where everybody has disappeared. It’s so reminiscent of a Doctor Who they did seven years later called “The Android Invasion” that I was expecting to see its writer credited. It’s actually written by Donald James, who of course was turning out lots of quality scripts for ITC in the late sixties. It’s a really entertaining mystery that kept me guessing, and I still hadn’t figured everything out by the end. About the only thing I could guess was that we’d see a couple of actors enter the story again after the script tried to tell us they weren’t important. But ITC typically didn’t hire people like Richard Vernon or Jeremy Young for single scenes.

Department S was in production at the same time as Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), so I was expecting to see some locations and sets used between the two shows. This episode uses the village of Latimer and a pub called The Duke of Cumberland. The crew from Randall and Hopkirk was back here a few months later to shoot their installment “The Man From Nowhere”.

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.25 – Somebody Just Walked Over My Grave

Well, maybe emphasizing the comedy wasn’t necessarily the best idea that the producers of Randall and Hopkirk had, because Donald James’ “Somebody Just Walked Over My Grave” is completely ridiculous. Mike Pratt injured himself really badly after a day’s shooting had concluded, breaking both his legs in a fall. This necessitated using a pretty obvious stand-in for a few scenes, but I wonder whether this also meant that they had to rework the script and give the two comedy bad guys more to do. There’s a lot of material filmed at Knebworth House – where The Champions had shot the year before in “The Night People” – which is just pure farce, as they try and fail to deliver a ransom note. It really does go on for a long, long time.

There’s also the matter of the new Lord Mandrake’s errant son, an agoraphobic dropout who doesn’t dig the establishment and just wants to paint, man. Underneath the most over-the-top hippie ‘fro that the ITC costume department had ever built, that’s Nigel Terry of all people. Other familiar faces this time out: Patricia Haines, Michael Sheard, and Cyril Shaps. It’s a clever story, and we enjoyed trying to guess how all the disparate parts would eventually fit together, but is it ever silly.

Actually, the biggest double-bluff that the show pulls is having the new Lord Mandrake help a freshly-trounced Jeff to his feet, take him back to his estate, make him an extremely curious job offer… and it not be part of the criminal scheme that the show has let us glimpse. It’s all set up to be really suspicious, but Lord Mandrake’s being perfectly honest. He stumbled across a detective and figured that maybe he could help him out with his rotten kid. Crazy, man.

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.20 – Could You Recognise the Man Again?

I enjoy watching old TV for lots of reasons, but one of them is learning little conventions about life in the past or in other countries. It might not be all that important, but look at how this police lineup is staged, compared to the indoors / behind windows lineups that you see in modern crime and detective TV. Even more remarkable, the uniformed policeman in charge of the lineup actually calls his two witnesses by name to step outside and make their identification.

As it happens, this particular criminal’s gang already knows who the two witnesses are – they’ve sent a pair of thugs played by Dudley Sutton and Norman Eshley around to rough up Jeff, in case you spotted his black eye in the photo above – but man, is this ever a good bit of evidence why this procedure has evolved over the years. Police lineups have to keep the witnesses anonymous.

Donald James’s story is strangely down-to-earth for this show. There aren’t any treasure hunts or larger-than-life baddies or vengeful relatives bent on inheriting everything, and certainly no robots like last time. It’s about two warring protection rackets and the jargon and understated threats required me to pause the episode and explain to our son what the characters in the opening scene were talking about. I figured out where the gang had stashed one of the witnesses and enjoyed challenging our son to solve the puzzle. “Do YOU know where she is?” I asked. That got him thinking, and he was initially disappointed when he turned out to be wrong, and pleasantly surprised by the neat revelation once Jeff and Marty stumble upon the answer.

It’s a good enough story for a detective show, but the best episodes of Randall and Hopkirk have a few funny scenes. Because the last one was so absurd, they were probably due for something more mundane, and I guess it’s hard to fit some screwball comedy in something this ground-level.

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.19 – Just For the Record

I’m sure I’ve mentioned – many, many, many times – that our son is that age where the sight of anybody smooching drives him batty. Tonight’s episode really had him sympathizing with Marty. Donald James’ “Just For the Record” features Marty stumbling upon the silliest and least plausible robbery ever, involving a pair of spectacles with a hidden blade, a beauty contestant being photographed by paparazzi, a robot, and a highfalutin’ claim by some fellow in a Rolls to be the rightful king of England. It is the most ridiculous thing ever, and blasted Jeff has to have a gorgeous girl in his apartment now of all times.

Marty. Chill. This can wait a minute.

Anyway, this episode does feel a lot like they’re running out of money – you can always tell when the villains mock up a fake test room that is somehow precisely like the real room they’re going to rob – but we all laughed a lot, especially when Marty is dumbstruck by the unlikely sight of the robot reaching across the room. But there was one great use of savings toward the end of the story. I’d enjoyed hearing the tale, in the documentary about The Champions on its DVD, of how producer Monty Berman had arrived at the Elstree Studios where ITC worked just as the fire department had been called to battle a burning warehouse across the street. Berman grabbed a camera and filmed the blaze, and used the footage in the episode “Happening.” As soon as the bad guys in this story start a fire in a warehouse, I knew exactly what was coming next. I wonder whether any warehouses get set on fire in Department S… ?

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.17 – Vendetta for a Dead Man

He didn’t complain aloud, but our son really didn’t enjoy tonight’s episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) all that much. Guest star George Sewell plays an escaped con who is unable to take revenge on Marty, the man who put him away, so he targets his widow. The criminal’s just too mean and violent, and Jean, while occasionally possessed of quick wits, is one of the least resourceful regular characters we’ve seen on any TV series that we’ve watched together. She’s simultaneously being romanced by an old friend who has taken her in with a lie about being a widower himself. I wouldn’t say that it’s always nice to see Annette Andre take center stage when Donald James’s story makes her a double victim.

On the other hand, Kenneth Cope is so entertaining to watch that his selfish jealousy over Jean thinking about moving on is really amusing. And it’s nice to see Jeff win a fight. Unfortunately, the fight he wins is with a supporting character. Once George Sewell’s brute gets his paws on Jeff, he doesn’t last very long.

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.16 – The Man From Nowhere

A powerhouse trio of fine actors playing villains in tonight’s episode. That’s Patrick Newell, Neil McCarthy, and Michael Gwynn, and the story keeps us delightfully in the dark for almost the whole of the episode wondering what on earth they’re up to. It really was a joy watching this story unfold, as a criminal acquaintance of theirs tries to con Jean into believing that he is the reincarnation of Marty for some reason or other. Unfortunately, the question of why in the world did he go to all that trouble – I mean, an enormous amount of trouble – to get such a simple question answered is a plot hole so mammoth that Jean and Jeff actually wonder aloud about it at the end of the show, and they can’t find a satisfactory answer.

Also, Jeff wins a fight for once. He almost wins two!

Our son wondered about Marty’s powers, noting that in ghost stories that he’s read, ghosts typically do have the power to possess people, which makes the scam sound almost plausible. But Marty doesn’t actually have that power, probably because it would be far too easy a crutch for a show like this. He was also curious about Michael Gwynn’s character being so polite by gently touching his hat with greetings and goodbyes. He asked us to pause the show so we could talk about the lost art of men’s hats and the body language that came with wearing them. He’ll probably pay more attention when we watch the next episode of Brisco County Jr. in a couple of nights, or how Steed greets people when The New Avengers returns to our lineup next month.