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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.5 – You Can Always Find a Fall Guy

Deeply weird coincidence alert: I broke disk 1 of this set the other night, and so we started the second disk tonight. That means that this morning and this evening we happened to watch two separate programs that were filmed on the grounds of Grim’s Dyke Hotel. It appears in several episodes of The Champions, including “The Mission,” and was also the villain’s stately manor in the Avengers episode “Game.” I kept thinking to myself “Man, this big house looks familiar.” Well, that’s because you just saw it ten hours ago, Holmes.

I deliberately don’t know a great deal about Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), but I’ve read many times that Jeff Randall gets clobbered more than your average TV hero. In Donald James’s “You Can Always Find a Fall Guy,” he gets one heck of a beatdown, not a simple club on the back of the head like Simon Templar often received. Amusingly, Jeremy Young plays a character who owns the houseboat where Randall gets the daylights thrashed out of him, but he’s an effete dandy who cowers against the wall when the real bad guy storms in to do the business. Since we’ve seen Young cast as a villain and give a good account of himself in so many other programs, usually with a sword in hand, I found that funny.

Joining Young this week are several other familiar faces, including Patrick Barr, Juliet Harmer, Garfield Morgan, and Tony Steedman. None of these actors took me out of the experience nearly as much as a throwaway sign on a grocery store window. The episode is packed with lovely location filming on the streets of London, and in one scene, finished back in the studio with rear-screen projection, Mike Pratt and Garfield Morgan are having a conversation in a parked car. There’s a sticker on the grocers’ window for Findus. I don’t know that Findus products were ever sold in North America; I only know them as the purveyors of fish fingers with a crumb-crisp coating. Takes me right out of the action when I’m replaying Orson Welles commercials in my head. At least I didn’t subject my family to my poor Welles impression.

It’s a great story with some really amusing ghost business. Our son really enjoyed the scene where Marty puts the frighteners on a pair of guard dogs, but I most loved the moment where Marty visits several hospitals in London looking for just the right surgical situation. I think this would be a fine little show even if one of the detectives wasn’t a ghost, but since he is, the writers are finding a lot of humor in the situation.

Numbering note: Not that I imagine anybody’s all that bothered, but we’re watching The Champions in broadcast order and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) in production order because I have no idea what The Champions’ production order is, and there’s a downright terrific R&H site that you should visit and bookmark that confirms the Network DVDs have the episodes in the sequence that they were made.

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The Avengers 7.24 – Take-Over

I have to say that our son has taken to The Avengers far more than I first thought. I did worry that he was a little young at first, but he’s really enjoyed the show a lot. There have been a few exceptions, but none have aggravated and frustrated him anywhere near as much as Terry Nation’s “Take-Over.” I think Nation might have been inspired by the 1967 film Wait Until Dark, but honestly, just about the entire genre of “home invasion” horror films came after this, so I think it’s really ahead of its time, and very atypically unpleasant for The Avengers.

Worse still, Steed gets a more serious injury than I think we’ve ever seen before. He was shot once in season four, but he never spent an entire day unconscious in the forest, feeling the wound like he does in this episode. Even when he occasionally gets clobbered, Steed typically remains superhuman. Here, he suffers. Our kid didn’t start growling, but he really, really didn’t enjoy this one.

Honestly, I’m not much of a fan of this one either, but I have an irrational soft spot for it for a dumb reason. When A&E was running the Tara King stories in the early 1990s, unlike their very nice prints of the Mrs. Peel years, they had a big batch of old, zoomed-in 16mm prints to work from. I remember “Take-Over” being one of maybe three that came from a fresh source and it looked so good. It does feature some marvelous cat-and-mouse dialogue between Steed and the main villain. He’s played by Tom Adams, who had found international B-movie fame as super-agent Charles Vine in a trio of 007 cash-ins, and who we’ll see again in Doctor Who in about a month. Garfield Morgan takes another turn as one of the henchmen.

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The Avengers 7.1 – Game

Quick little recap: We subscribe to the heretical-but-factual breakdown of The Avengers into seven seasons. For this final run, we will use the UK broadcast order, omitting the installments that had already been shown in America. That said, I have to agree that the admittedly more sensible people who watch and write about the show in production order have one big advantage: the first episode that was made after “Look – (stop me if you’ve heard this one) But There Were These Two Fellers…” was not actually shown in either the US or the UK until very nearly the end of the run. It is called “My Wildest Dream” and it was literally shelved for an entire year in Britain.

The mildly aggravating thing about that is “My Wildest Dream” was actually the first episode of the show directed by Robert Fuest, who I think is by leagues the most interesting visual stylist in a show just full of very good directors. This sort of messes up a goofball claim I’d made a time or ten, that “Game” was almost a statement of principles by a vibrant and stunning new director. That simply isn’t true. He wasn’t to know that his first effort would collect dust for a long time.

Strangely, even though it was made sixth in this batch, “Game” looks and feels like it was planned as an almost modern season premiere. It’s a very entertaining, simple, and straightforward story full of familiar faces like Alex Scott, Anthony Newlands, and Peter Jeffrey, but it’s visually amazing. I love the sets and the giant props, and some of Fuest’s camera tricks are just wild. There’s one great shot in a playground where Steed and Tara discover the first of several bodies. They go to a swingset, and the cameraman is sitting on one swing and the actor playing the corpse is in the one next to him, and the swings are moving at different speeds. It takes my breath away every time. Our son really enjoyed this one, especially the fantastic fight at the climax.

Here’s a very weird coincidence for you: earlier this year, I confessed that I once had screenwriting aspirations, and pilfered the villains from “The Fear Merchants” for a series I was trying to develop. Well, I also needed a lot of practice and experience in actually writing scripts, and along with my own humble fumbles, I was writing episodes of defunct programs, to see whether I could ape their formats successfully. I figured very early on that what Richard Harris was doing with his script for “Game” was basically writing an episode of Batman, and so I cut to the chase and rewrote “Game” as a Batman script using a villain called Mr. Monopoly. (I actually have a Monopoly-themed jacket and vest, made from fabric intended for children’s bedsheets. It’s kind of a fragile suit, but I haul it out every odd Halloween and sneer like Vincent Price – or Peter Jeffrey – at trick-or-treaters and co-workers.)

Anyway, I won’t say whether I thought my script was any good or not, but I learned a lot from the effort, and disappointed myself some time later when I realized it was pretty darn close to the first Mad Hatter story, “The Thirteenth Hat.” But here’s the weird coincidence: I stole from The Avengers twice as I was trying my hand at writing, and both of those episodes I robbed feature Garfield Morgan as one of the villains!

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The Avengers 5.2 – The Fear Merchants

A quarter of a century ago, when I was young and had stars in my eyes and wanted to be a television writer, I daydreamed of making a very off-key and off-kilter cop show called Department of Murder. I spent a lot of time devising characters and plots, and one thing I definitely wanted to do was bring back these villains: the Business Efficiency Bureau, a trio of psychologists and experts who can be hired to literally eliminate the competition. They do so by identifying phobias and driving business rivals out of their minds.

About the only thing you can say against Philip Levene’s “The Fear Merchants,” which introduced the baddies for what would sadly be their only appearance – The Avengers was rarely a show for return engagements – is that it needs one more bit of oomph to make their villainy work. When they learn one target has agoraphobia, they just dump him in Wembley Stadium and that’s it, he’s incapacitated permanently. The episode needed a fear gas or a some sort of mental programming to really push people over the edge once the villains work their efficiency magic to make the episode both a little more believable and sinister.

Otherwise, it’s just so fun! Our son needed a little help following this one, and he had no idea why I collapsed in laughter over one of the all-time great sight gags, where the camera is following somebody dressed like Steed, until Steed and Mrs. Peel come around a corner and it starts following them instead. He also didn’t understand that the Business Efficiency Bureau changes its business from a monthly retainer into a monthly blackmail payment. In his defense, not only is he still very young, but Levene’s script is delightfully subtle about how the hired firm suddenly becomes the dominant partner. But he absolutely loved the great fight that Steed has with Garfield Morgan, who’d later play DCI Haskins, Regan’s boss in The Sweeney. They brawl in a pit with a bulldozer teetering on the edge above them!

In the cast, Patrick Cargill, who we saw in last season’s “The Murder Market,” is the main villain, and the wonderful Brian Wilde is the businessman who bought a lot more trouble than he bargained for. In smaller parts as Wilde’s rivals, there are the familiar-to-us faces of Edward Burnham, Bernard Horsfall, and Andrew Keir, who would star in Quatermass and the Pit later the same year. Sadly, Annette Carell, who was a frequent guest star in British adventure shows of the period, passed away about nine months after this was shown.

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