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The Avengers 7.2 – Super Secret Cypher Snatch

Halfway through Tony Williamson’s “Super Secret Cypher Snatch,” the stuntmen put on one of my all-time favorite car chase scenes, albeit a criminally short one. The villains are in a window cleaning van with a long ladder and go after Steed, who’s driving an open-top 1920s Rolls Royce. The stunt team excelled themselves at several points in this story, including some terrific fights and a barely-connected-to-the-plot teaser pre-credits scene in which one fellow jumps off a motorbike to tackle another dude while a helicopter hovers over them, but that bit with the Rolls is my favorite. That’s terrific driving, speeding right on the lead car’s rear bumper while bringing a ladder down on its driver.

I’ve always liked this episode, in part because the guest cast is, as always, just so terrific. Recognizable faces this time: Allan Cuthbertson, Ivor Dean, Donald Gee, Simon Oates, and Nicholas Smith. Although Ivor Dean kind of lets everybody down by forgetting to hold his breath when he’s supposed to be playing a corpse. But it’s also just a fine story, structured well enough to give the audience plenty of clues how the villains are breaking into a top-security establishment while we wait for the heroes to figure it out.

Also this time: it’s the return of Patrick Newell as Mother, who we met in “The Forget-Me-Knot.” I think here’s one point where The Avengers starts to fumble. Steed and his associate do not need a boss. Back in the videotape days, Steed occasionally reported to a character called One-Ten, played by Douglas Muir. Another boss figure, Charles, appeared twice in season three. Steed reports to a colonel by telephone once in season four, and there was Major B, head of “the floral network,” in “Who’s Who???” For the most part, these characters only appeared when there was one of those very rare plots that dealt specifically with Steed’s organization. That’s the case when we first met Mother.

Unfortunately, we can blame the American network for Mother becoming a semi-regular. He appears in 19 of the last 26 episodes. Some muckity-mucks at ABC apparently decided that they really liked the character in “The Forget-Me-Knot” and asked the producers to keep him around as a semi-regular. Since ABC had, against expectations, renewed the series for a full run, I guess that humoring them and hiring Newell was the least the producers could do!

About those expectations… I’m a little overdue in talking about this here, but the renewal of this show really was unexpected. Next time, I’ll talk about the nearly unique set of circumstances that led to these 26 episodes being made at all… and why everybody kind of knew up front that they’d be the last episodes they’d make for quite some time.

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The Avengers 6.4 – Dead Man’s Treasure

In any fandom, there are myths and there is received wisdom, and it often turns out to be incorrect. An example that many of you might know comes from Doctor Who. The story, for years, went that the first episode of 1974’s “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” was mistakenly junked by the BBC because that episode was titled just “Invasion” and was confused with the 1968 story “The Invasion.” That isn’t true at all. It’s a fan myth, but everybody heard it from somewhere or other.

The strange finger of coincidence visited this blog last month. See, there’s a similar bit of received wisdom about these eight Mrs. Peel episodes. Four of them aren’t fantasy-oriented in any way. “Dead Man’s Treasure,” like “The £50,000 Breakfast” and the next one, “You Have Just Been Murdered,” could just as easily play as an episode of an ITC action show like The Saint or The Baron. The story went that ABC (the network) in America had asked ABC (the production company) in Britain to bring things back down to Earth and make the series a little more realistic. I remember hearing this in the eighties, either from some know-it-all at a convention or in one of the zines from the era (maybe something that John Peel wrote?), but when I glanced back at the claim years later, I couldn’t find any real evidence of it. Did ABC actually ask for the show to get more realistic, or did fans just assume that they did because that’s a safe explanation for why Steed and Mrs. Peel were suddenly investigating plots that either McGill or Simon Templar could have handled?

It’s not quite definitive, but just last month, blogger Mitchell Hadley posted some evidence that somebody in America actually was complaining about how fanciful and odd The Avengers could be. TV Guide‘s influential columnist Cleveland Amory devoted a story to moaning that the color episodes were not as “genuinely engrossing” as the black and white ones. I wouldn’t connect all the dots with permanent ink yet, but there might be a through-line here: in April 1967, America’s biggest TV critic argues the show needs to be more realistic, when the show resumes production in June and July, Associated British Corporation asks Albert Fennell and Brian Clemens to tone things down, and in September, Fennell and Clemens are taken off the show and an earlier producer, John Bryce, is reinstated.

But that’s getting ahead of things.

Well, it may not be Steed and Mrs. Peel’s wildest case, but Michael Winder’s “Dead Man’s Treasure” is certainly one of our son’s favorites. He absolutely loved this one, which should come as no surprise. All seven year-olds like fast-moving car racing stories, which is why Wacky Races will be popular with kids until the end of time. And this one even has a pair of cheaters a lot like Dick Dastardly. Familiar-to-us faces Neil McCarthy and Edwin Richfield appear as enemy agents, shown above. Arthur Lowe, Ivor Dean, and Valerie van Ost are also in this episode.

There’s not a lot of meat to this story about an auto rally with clues all around the countryside to bring the drivers to a hidden treasure. Our heroes get involved because a dying agent hid some important documents in the box before the race started. It’s just a madcap, fun, and very breezy little excuse to get some cars out on the roads around Hertfordshire and drive them past the camera really fast.

I thought it was a shame that the budget didn’t extend to a few more speaking parts so we could see more of the competitors instead of promptly paring the field down to three teams, but that’s quibbling. “Dead Man’s Treasure” is just plain fun, even if it might have been made with John Mannering and Cordelia instead of Steed and Mrs. Peel!

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