Mister Jerico (1970)

Well, what a fine TV series this might have made! And not just for Patrick Macnee’s colorful clothes, either!

I’ve mentioned before in these pages that our son has a very patchy memory, but he impressed me yesterday. I told him that this evening we’d be watching Patrick Macnee from The Avengers in an unsold pilot movie. “You mean like Madame Sin?” he asked. And yes, exactly like Madame Sin, because this was also made by ITC to test the waters for a potential series investment, the same way that the studio tested Leonard Nimoy in Baffled! and Chad Everett in The Firechasers, which was actually written and directed by the same duo who did this. And I’d happily have swapped the full run of The Adventurer or The Protectors (about which, a little bit more in October) for a season of any of these pilots.

So joining Macnee behind the scenes are some familiar names from The Avengers, which wrapped production about three months previously. Mister Jerico was filmed in the summer of 1969 and was produced by Julian Wintle, and the music is by Laurie Johnson. The script was by Philip Levene, who’d been writing for the series right until the end, and it was directed by Sidney Hayers, who’d done some of the color Mrs. Peel episodes, most recently “Dead Man’s Treasure”, and would work with Macnee again on several New Avengers.

This is a terrific vehicle for Macnee. Philip Levene knew exactly how to cater to his many strengths and created a fine character for him: Dudley Jerico is a con artist who works the lovely cities of southern Spain and France, and Malta, where much of this was filmed. His associate, driver, and diamond expert is Wally, played by Marty Allen, who was now a solo act since his decade-plus partnership with fellow comedian Steve Rossi ended the year before. Jerico has decided to target an old acquaintance, the filthy rich Rosso, conning him out of half a million for a phony diamond. Rosso is played by the great Herbert Lom, and his secretary by Connie Stevens, and Jerico soon gets in over his head when somebody else starts baiting Rosso with the same diamond.

Honestly, I’ll praise the kid for remembering Sin the way he did, but you’d have to be about ten to not realize that Stevens is playing both the secretary and the other diamond’s other owner, Claudine. That’s because her character is actually a legend-in-the-business called Georgina and she has been setting up her scam for months, and now has to bat off Jerico and Wally as well as work her scheme. To his credit, he did figure out that the secretary must have stolen Rosso’s real diamond before Jerico could; he just didn’t realize the secretary and Claudine were the same person. So diamonds get switched and swapped and switched again, and the hotel receptionist, played by Paul Darrow, spends his time unwittingly letting people do some of their swaps out of the hotel’s vault.

It all ends splendidly and not completely predictably, either. There is certainly a car chase, but nobody’s driving a white Jaguar so I felt confident nobody was going over a cliff. Jerico finally figures out that his opponent has two identities, and the three go off into the sunset, not quite half a million richer, but ready to work together and find their next mark. They make a fine team in the end, and seventies television is all the poorer for not having Macnee, Stevens, and Allen match wits with whoever ITC wanted to bring on to play the rich jerk-of-the-week and the henchmen. Honestly, whatever network dingbats at ABC, CBS, and NBC were considering pilots for the fall 1970 season should have been shot into orbit for not ordering a package of twenty-six hours of this. And Sin and Baffled! and Firechasers!

Jason King 1.26 – That Isn’t Me It’s Somebody Else

I told our son that this episode of Jason King would feature a plot that they’d used a couple of times before, although not smuggling Jason somewhere in a box. “Committing crimes based on the plots of his books?” he asked. He hasn’t got the finest memory in the world, but sometimes he pays attention.

No, this is another example of somebody posing as Jason, but this time out, it’s our hero Patrick Troughton! He and Simon Oates play some organized crime types who are trying to get to a deposed Mafioso bigwig who’s hiding out in a fortress, and who, conveniently, is a huge Jason King fan. Even more conveniently, Jason happens to arrive in this allegedly quiet area of Italy to get away from reporters for a while. So yes, this is remarkably silly, but it’s done with such panache. At one point, a police inspector notes the kingpin’s fandom as though Jason’s novels are the real problem. Jason replies that he isn’t responsible for “the dichotomy of my readership.”

Overall, I think I enjoyed the Jason King series more than I enjoyed Department S, even though some of the S episodes, particularly “The Pied Piper of Hambeldown” and “One of Our Aircraft is Missing”, are better than anything in the solo run, and there was never an S episode as lousy as “Zenia”. The kid agrees, but only because he didn’t immediately remember the name Department S, and thought it was a superhero show for a minute. What was I saying about his memory?

Honestly, neither show is as good as I would hope, thanks in large part to so many downright ordinary hours penned by Philip Broadley across both series. But the more Wyngarde the better, I’d say. At their best, both shows gave us excellent examples of these fun romps, and for the most part, when they weren’t thrilling, they were usually at least competently-made and intelligent, with very good guest actors, and I enjoyed them overall. Good stuff.

I had such fun introducing our son to the entertaining world of ITC that we’re going to have some sampling mini-seasons of five other shows from the company for the blog a little later this year. We’ll start with a few episodes of Danger Man in August. Stay tuned!

Jason King 1.25 – An Author in Search of Two Characters

When this one ends, you can’t help but boo. “It was all a dream” endings stink, we expect much, much better of writer Dennis Spooner than that, and the stakes were low enough that it seems incredibly unnecessary. “It was all a dream” should be reserved for Cloudbase getting blown out of the sky by the Mysterons or something awful like that, right? But this actually works, if you’re willing to do a little work. The villains’ big scheme is to intercept a bunch of under-the-table tax-free money that Jason is accepting for rewrites on an action-adventure series being filmed at Elstree Studios. You know why Jason dreamed this whole adventure? Guilt. Guilt for being a big dirty tax cheat. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

And why am I willing to give Spooner the benefit of the doubt when I’d give it to… um, pretty much nobody else? Because the episode is a loopy joy, absolutely full of familiar and much-loved performers from the period. There’s Ivor Dean, Liz Fraser, Dudley Foster, Roy Kinnear, Sue Lloyd, and Neil McCarthy, all of whom appeared at least once during the filmed years of The Avengers. There’s also Aldenham Grange, which was in “The Hidden Tiger” and the Aldenham Park Bridge, from the Tara King “suits of armor” title sequence and about five other episodes, so the whole shebang’s like they made this episode specifically for Avengers fans to watch with big dumb grins on their faces. Plus Elstree Studios actually appears as Elstree Studios, and not the back of every warehouse in Europe.

The kid mostly enjoyed it, particularly a subplot in which – wait for it – Jason gets to impersonate an Irish actor who is trying to impersonate Jason and steal the money. And this isn’t even the last time we’ll have somebody dressed up as Jason. Tune in Saturday for the thrilling conclusion!

Jason King 1.24 – Zenia

Sadly, that’s just got to be the worst episode of the series. I thought two things were interesting, and our son thought no things whatever were interesting. One was that the character of Zenia was played by actress Zienia Merton. I wonder which came first, the script or the casting.

The other interesting thing is that for a moment, this appears to be a sequel to an episode of Department S. Jason recognizes a man on an airplane as an internationally-wanted assassin, sparking a very short dialogue-free clip of the three leads from the earlier series, as though this was a villain who once got away. I hardly know that series inside and out, but since the assassin gets killed unceremoniously maybe six minutes later, it’s probably not an actual loose end from that show, and instead just a quick way to get Jason in front of the president of this week’s Nosuchlandia to tell him that his life is in danger.

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.

Space: 1999 1.8 – Dragon’s Domain

Well, here’s a surprise. I figured since the kid insisted we watch Space: 1999 from time to time, I’d do up its most infamous child-scaring episode right, and we watched it together late at night with all the lights out. “Dragon’s Domain” is the one with the great screaming tentacled monster with the headlamp eye that skeletonizes its victims. But our boy is a much older boy than the boy who was once so very bothered by many of the monsters we’ve seen together. He was flatly and firmly unimpressed. So nine’s too old. You got kids of your own? Throw this at ’em earlier.

The kid said that he liked precisely two things about it. Recovering from getting clobbered the second time by the “Saint George” character who insists on fighting his dragon, Alan asks “What’s that guy got against me?” And among the models in the spaceship graveyard, our son spotted the same ship used by Julian Glover’s people in the previous episode, “Alpha Child.” That’s it.

But I thought this was the best of the first eight by a mile. I really like its scope. Much of it is a flashback to an incident in 1996-97 where “Saint George” takes off on a 14-month flight to visit a new planet in the solar system, along with Michael Sheard and two women. They find a graveyard of other spacecraft, but “Saint George” can’t get out of the cockpit while Sheard and the ladies are horrifically killed by the monster. The dude escapes, jettisoning the bulk of his ship, makes it home, and nobody believes him. 800 days into Moonbase Alpha’s journey, in between galaxies and nowhere near anything, “Saint George” has a nightmare of the monster again, because the big dude got hungry and parked his spiderweb of spaceships in the moon’s path. Seems a bit unlikely that a big dude powerful enough to do that could get whipped by an axe to the headlamp, but there you go.

Here’s the other thing I really liked, and it’s the show that Gerry Anderson and Lew Grade should have given us instead of this silly series. Douglas Wilmer plays the commissioner of Earth’s unified space program, and there’s a hell of a show here about putting together the funds to explore our own solar system, and finding seven or eight derelict alien spaceships on the other side of Pluto, with or without a big space monster. It’s somewhere that Anderson kind of looked at five years previously in his strange feature film Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, but abandoned in favor of weird post-Kubrick metaphysics and philosophy about the strangeness of space. There’s even a little cameo by Bob Sherman, who’d later play the CIA guy in The Sandbaggers, as a newsreader for a show about the space program. I just think it’s a huge missed opportunity, because honestly, the nuts and bolts of how Moonbase Alpha got started is far, far more interesting to me than black suns and space rocks and rules of Luton.

But maybe I wouldn’t be focused on that had the big monster scared the pants off our son like it was meant to.

Jason King 1.22 – Every Picture Tells a Story

Happily, for the benefit of regular readers wondering whether our son was going to enjoy this show again, the kid liked this one much more than many of the previous episodes, and that’s even with us pausing a few times to discuss the racism and the unflattering stereotypes in this tale written by Robert Banks Stewart and set in Hong Kong. While on a layover, Jason finds a weird error in the local version of the syndicated Mark Caine comic strip, and learns that it is being used to send messages to a local hit squad to ferret out foreign agents.

There’s really nothing wrong with the script, but the production is very, very much of its time, which means that Wyngarde gets to haul out a number-one-son accent a couple of times. Also, sadly, while some familiar faces from the period like Bert Kwouk make up the ranks of the gunmen and the lieutenants, the major roles are played by British actors like Clifford Evans in yellowface. So yes, we had a lot to talk about. Allan Cuthbertson also appears as a British intelligence agent.

As part of my decluttering, I’ve been giving my set of Titan Books’ reprints of James Bond newspaper strips one final flip-through and moving them on. Honestly, I paid $13-14 apiece for these things, read them once, and forgot what happened in every one of them. I’m so stupid sometimes. Anyway, the strip carried on long after they’d run out of Ian Fleming novels and short stories to adapt, with writer Jim Lawrence and artist Yaroslav Horak coming up with all sorts of outlandish plots and reasons for people to take off their clothes. So these were fresh in my mind as we looked at the episode and its talk of international newspaper syndication, with Jason acknowledging that he does not write the strip, but approves what happens in it and is familiar enough to recognize problems or replacements.

However, I’m sorry, but the images that make it onto the screen do not look even remotely professional, and nothing at all like a strip that would have ever seen print in any newspaper anywhere. At least when The Avengers did something a little bit similar, they had the good sense to hire Frank Bellamy to do the comic strip illustrations. Honestly, ITC, couldn’t you have phoned Yaroslav Horak?

Jason King 1.21 – A Royal Flush

“I have seen this Jason King in the newspapers… always a different woman!” Yes, and this time it’s Penelope Horner.

Well, I was saying last time that the kid runs hot and cold on King, and this was another very, very cold one. Quizzing him afterward, his main objection to this story by Philip Broadley was that neither he nor Jason had any idea what was going on. Jason is trying to enjoy some kissy time with the girlfriend-of-the-week – which our son didn’t like either – and is oblivious to British and Russian intelligence storming around Italy trying to swipe a cigarette lighter from a chain of Mafia types. Eventually, we paused to ask why he couldn’t concentrate on the story. “I don’t understand why everybody wants the lighter,” he said, and we replied that we didn’t either; the story hadn’t yet told us. “But there’s probably microfilm in it,” Marie added, guessing correctly.

I’ll agree that this was not a particularly strong outing, and I can see the kid’s point. It is a really odd adventure in that Jason is so removed from the action. Earlier in the run, in the story “As Easy as A.B.C.”, the difference was more obvious: we were watching the villains as the main characters in that episode. In this outing, the time is split equally between the Mafia pipeline and their business, and Jason doing his romancing, so he was front and center most of the time, but unaware of the situation. In fact, we knew much more about it than he did until the last eight or nine minutes.

Five more to go; I really think he’ll enjoy the final one, but I hope he gets some satisfaction from at least a couple more.

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 1.19 – It’s Too Bad About Auntie

This was certainly our son’s least favorite episode of Jason King so far. It’s a very slow story in which a desperate and very stupid criminal, guilty of some awful elder abuse, murders a vacuum cleaner salesman for unclear motives. Norman Bird, Sylvia Coleridge, Dinsdale Landen, and Fiona Lewis all appear, and Lewis is wonderful as the girlfriend-of-the-week who can get Jason to cross the Channel for her with the help of a well-placed lie in the newspapers, but the only scene that our son honestly enjoyed features Jason advertising a hideous breakfast food that “tastes like rancid yogurt,” thinking better of it, and refunding the money.

Jason King 1.18 – A Thin Band of Air

If the previous episode of Jason King was a little too familiar with its script ideas, this one might be a little too familiar with its locations. The back of the studio and the car park feature again, but you know, there’s comfort in recognizing the places where films and TV shows are made.

Last night, we watched episode three of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Atlanta’s much-loved Krog Street Tunnel, which we made sure to drive through on our trip home last month after enjoying a snack at the nearby Fred’s Meat and Bread, was doing duty as a late-night destination on the Nosuchlandia Marvel island nation of Madripoor. Sure, it takes you out of the narrative, but only for a happy little moment.

The same is true for much-loved actors. John Hallam, Cyril Shaps, and T.P. McKenna all put on French accents in this story of a criminal who has been released from prison after a kidnapping went sour seven years before with revenge in mind. And you enjoy happy little moments as you recognize each of these fine actors.

After we watched “A Thin Band of Air,” I made an honest attempt to enjoy the 1995 adaptation of Persuasion with Marie. The only thing that I did enjoy was spotting the awesome David Collings in a small role. I gave up after forty-odd minutes; I do want to like Austen, but the people who make these adaptations seem to make them exclusively for the Janeites, like Marie, who know the stories inside and out already, and take some devilish glee in casting actresses who look exactly like other and dressing them in identical white frocks. I spent half an hour thinking that the characters were in the city of Bath, then Marie informed me that the two sisters-in-law we’d been watching since we got to the Musgroves’ farm were not the same two young women we met in the opening scene with Collings. No wonder this movie didn’t make a lick of sense.

Maybe I’ll track down the 1971 Granada adaptation – Richard Vernon plays the admiral! – and give it another try.