This hasn’t been our son’s favorite day of watching old TV with his old parents. Following this morning’s Stargate, which he found disastrously dull, he had a great day of food and Xbox and pinball and pizza, and then we watched this unbelievably slow and subtle Jason King. It’s so subtle that he may not have even realized until the finale that there was a criminal scheme anywhere at all. Ingrid Pitt and Patrick Mower are among the criminals who have targeted our hero for reasons not divulged until the very end. Jason’s aware that something is up and plays along, but I think the storytelling and the acting were so underplayed that it just looked like an hour of romance and sightseeing and driving around Greece and Italy. He’s much more interested in what I’ve told him we are watching tomorrow.
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.
Super-hypnosis was a standard of action-adventure shows from the sixties and seventies, and we’ve certainly seen some silly examples from ITC already, but this one’s got an amusing little twist. The criminals who are using super-hypnosis, including Geraldine Moffat, to arrange the theft of a very old book run into a fun obstacle: the owner of the very old book is planning on running a con of his own to double-cross them. Naturally, Jason gets caught in the middle. Clive Revill plays the book’s shifty owner, Anne Sharp, Charles Lloyd-Pack, and Richard Hurndall have small roles. Our son enjoyed this one a lot; it’s a fanciful story with an outlandish premise and lots of complications.
“Uh-oh,” I said, and Marie asked our son “Can you see why he said ‘uh-oh’?” and our son said “Ohhhhhh, yeah, it’s a white Jaguar!” And within a couple of minutes, it goes over the cliff for the fifth time in two years of this blog. That’s not the only bit of recycled footage in this one. At one point, a character played by Felicity Kendal is watching an old gangster movie on TV, and it’s the 1930s Chicago shootout scene from the Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) episode “Murder Ain’t What it Used to Be”. Or maybe she was watching Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased).
Anyway, this episode introduces Anne Sharp as Nicola Harvester, Jason’s publisher. She appears in seven episodes. She tries to be sympathetic as Jason falls for a (modern day) gangster’s girlfriend. Peter Wyngarde gets to stretch and be a little sad, and Kieron Moore gets to throw his weight around his gang, one of whom is played by Tony Beckley. But any story where the Jaguar going over the cliff is the high point isn’t going to be a favorite of mine. My heart has started to sink when I see that Philip Broadley has written today’s episode.
The other day, I noticed that a film crew had followed several guest actors in “All That Glisters” around Paris, but not Wyngarde, and wondered whether they scheduled the shoot for the same time he had a smaller crew following him around Vienna. I think I might be slightly wrong, because in this episode, we see Wyngarde doing some shopping, without any guest stars, at some fashionable Parisian shops like Hermes, Cartier, and Christian Dior.
I was talking last time about ITC’s deep bench of American and Canadian actors, most of whom popped up once in each of the programs they made. This time, it’s David Healy’s turn. He’s actually the reason I realized such a “bench” existed, because Marie and I watched Jason King in late 2015 and came to this episode at the same time we were enjoying Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons for the blog, and it was driving me nuts trying to figure where I knew his voice. He provided the voices for random American generals or policemen in most of Scarlet‘s episodes.
Anyway, here, Healy plays a CIA guy whose information is a little out of date, because he thinks Jason is still working with Department S. Jason gets unwittingly dumped into the middle of a story of gun runners and secret police in a Caribbean hotspot. Nobody knows who is working for who, and after we paused the show to help our son connect the dots early on, he really enjoyed this one. Tony Williamson’s scripts seem to be more twisty than others in the series, but the kid caught on and liked this one a lot, and found lots of good lines of dialogue to amuse him.
Back in 2015, I was wondering where I’s seen or heard David Healy before. This time, I was curious about Hildegard Neil. The year before this, she had played the villain in the very first Ace of Wands serial, which Thames destroyed soon after. In December 2018, the TV research organization Kaleidoscope found an 18 second clip from this story, which may have Neil onscreen as well as guest star David Prowse, who passed away recently. I don’t think they’ve put in on YouTube or anything for anybody to see yet though.
Well, this was an interesting production, just not an interesting story. Philip Broadley wrote the only two-part storyline for Jason King in either this series or Department S, and King is effectively a supporting character in it. There’s a lot of location filming in Paris, and proper location filming with a real crew and most of the guest cast, although not Peter Wyngarde. Maybe he was off doing the “home movies” guerilla filming in Venice for other episodes while Clinton Greyn, Lee Patterson, Anton Rodgers, Johanna Dunham, and Michael Gwynn were in Paris for this one. Madeline Smith gets the girlfriend part in both episodes, but she didn’t get to go to Paris either.
The strangest thing about it is that the lead character is an American PI named John Mallen, played by Clinton Greyn, and he’s overdubbed. In earlier posts about ITC productions, I’ve referenced ITC’s deep bench of American and Canadian actors who they’d employ, people like Paul Maxwell, Ed Bishop, David Bauer, or Stuart Damon, but instead of using one of them, they gave this part to Greyn, who was Welsh. Perhaps Greyn tried to do the accent of a private eye from Santa Monica and the producers decided later on that they’d erred, and so they called in Shane Rimmer to overdub him. Rimmer isn’t credited. He often wasn’t in his long career – he provides a voice in the Michael Caine movie Billion Dollar Brain without a credit as well, to give another example – but it kind of makes you wish they’d have just called Rimmer in to play the part in the first place. Even the guy who plays the client is overdubbed. That sounds like Bauer, but I wouldn’t swear to it.
Anyway, the story itself is long, long, padded, and short on action. There’s a surprising twist near the end, when the story moves to a Paris-Rome express train and somebody’s going to come to a grisly and unexpected end, that I liked. But this is the sort of production where impatient men keep checking their handguns for no other reason to let the audience know they’re packing.
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.
The kid didn’t enjoy the last couple of Jason King installments, so I’m glad that he had a ball with this one. It’s another Tony Williamson story, and this time there’s a weird case that echoes back to his time with Department S. Three men in an elevator in Russia were incinerated somewhere between the tenth and ground floors, leaving just smoking piles of ashes and briefcases. Soviet intelligence doesn’t want to waste time with telegrams or asking permission, they just kidnap him and burden him with a gorgeous interpreter, played by Pamela Salem, and three police detectives. Meanwhile, other branches of the Russian spy network want to either assassinate King or catch him in a filmed honeytrap, but King’s willing to work for them in return for finally getting some royalties from local editions of his novels. It’s a really playful and silly story, with Wyngarde being hilariously outraged and lots of funny situations.
More home movie footage, this time from Vienna and Venice. In fact, a few seconds of Peter Wyngarde climbing the steps of some old cathedral or other and catching sight of a pretty blonde was used in the previous episode. It’s part of the delightful charm of ITC shows when they go to the back of the same studio buildings and use their own underground parking lot for every hotel parking lot in Europe, but you know, that Jaguar’s only going to go over the cliff just one time in each series.
In fact, there’s probably more of Wyngarde in this blobby 8mm film this week than there is new footage at Elstree. Tony Williamson’s “As Easy as A.B.C.” feels like a budget saver; the main characters are two villains played by Nigel Green and Michael Bates who have started copycatting the absurdly detailed and improbable robberies in Jason King’s novels. At one hilarious point, they hire a young lady played by Ayshea Brough to be his escort and steal his newest plans and notes. These three actors are in the studio at Elstree inside a restaurant, while Peter Wyngarde is in Venice dining on the patio. Paul Stassino also shows up, right at the end, as an Italian police inspector who hopes to dress as well as Jason King does.
Also here this time is a squeeze-of-the-week played by Yutte Stensgaard, and she really should have been a semi-regular. Her character is an expert in judo, and by far our son’s favorite scene had her flinging one of the villains around. It was a terrific little fight scene. Jason probably wins a few more brawls in his own show than he did in Department S, but he could definitely use someone like her around more often. Overall, this installment made a lot more sense to our son than the previous one, and he liked the fights. He really wasn’t completely taken with it, probably because it spends more time with the baddies than he’d prefer. I think Williamson had to overlook a couple of huge plot holes to make the story work, but Green and Bates are entertaining enough that I didn’t mind much.
This blog’s meant to be about sharing experiences with my kid more than it is me, so let’s be very, very clear on this one: the kid barely tolerated Philip Broadley’s “Variations on a Theme.” This is a murky, shadowy spy story with nobody telling anybody much of anything, and the only actress who does want to tell somebody something is – in that way of damsels in distress in the fiction of days gone by – “too scared” to talk. He was restless and bored and the only time he brightened up was when a VW Beetle or hippie van showed up on screen, which was constantly, because the streets of Vienna were full of them in 1971.
From a production standpoint, though, I thought this was fascinating. I wonder whether the script was actually finished before they shipped Peter Wyngarde off to Vienna with what appears to be a single cameraman, and a few reels of what looks like 8mm film, with the ambient sound of crowd noises and music dubbed on later. So you’ve got Wyngarde outside the Vienna airport with all the resolution of somebody’s home movie, and actors in London watching him in 16mm.
The other interesting thing about the production is, of course, all the great guest actors. Ralph Bates is here as the spy who can’t quite come in from the cold yet, and Alexandra Bastedo is a Russian agent posing as a Swedish journalist, and Julian Glover, who our kid saw earlier this week when he watched The Empire Strikes Back again, is a British spy who really should have been used in other episodes beyond this. No, the kid still couldn’t recognize a face, but when I said “You saw him as the AT-AT commander the other day,” he replied “Well, you told me then that he was in everything, guess you’re right!”
Tonight’s episode was a very good one written by Tony Williamson. He’d written a few adventure shows prior to this – “Killer” for The Avengers comes to mind – that suggest he was very interested in the possibilities of computers. Fifty years on, and Williamson’s ideas seem really quaint, but that’s just because technology has marched on so much. Ronald Lacey’s weasely character of Ryland is back, getting Jason King involved in a crime that Whitehall can’t solve. Some criminal organization seems to be tapping in to Scotland Yard’s room of mammoth reel-to-reel computers and diverting police away from crime scenes. Joanna Jones guest stars as one of the computer operators.
Our son smirked, as you’d expect a nine year-old to smirk, when I pointed out that this was made fifty years ago, and to imagine how much more power is in his little tablet than all the computers in the room. But then I asked him to imagine what the technology fifty years in the future will look like. What will his children – or grandchildren – be using to play their edition of Plants vs. Zombies when he is fifty-nine? The mind boggles. My mind boggled when about six minutes of screen time passed with Jason undercover, hunched over, with big-frames glasses and a beard, before he realized who it was. Good disguise, I suppose.