“The Trojan Tanker,” the first of ten episodes written by Philip Broadley, is the only episode of the series that I’d seen previously. I’d read a little about this one, thought it was a great hook, and was a little disappointed when I saw it. It promises a great, weird mystery but delivers a pretty ordinary crime story with Patricia Haines and Simon Oates planning a huge heist. Ordinary’s not necessarily bad when it was made by ITC in the period, because they did it better than anybody, but I was hoping for more. Our son enjoyed it, particularly when Oates and Joel Fabiani have a brawl, but he suggested that the biggest mystery is what the S in Department S stands for. Special? Strange?
Critics would sneer at ITC churning out action-adventure kid stuff, but this episode is kind of overt in being intended for older audiences. Apart from all the drinking and smoking, Joel Fabiani is shirtless in a couple of scenes, Rosemary Nicols tries nude tanning under a lamp, and one of Peter Wyngarde’s ladyfriends might not be wearing anything either. And yet it doesn’t make me wince like Jack of All Trades often did because it all seems so tame and innocent. Even with Nicols showing more skin here, and in “Six Days”, than any other ITC lead heroine, it never feels prurient.
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.
Two of our heroes are sporting remarkable makeup in this morning’s episode of The Champions. Written by Donald James, “The Mission” has a former Nazi doctor working as part of an underground network to provide criminals new identities through plastic surgery. Patricia Haines and Anthony Bate are the villains, and Craig and Sharron get to pose as a New York gangster and his dame. Harry Towb has a small role as well. He played “the guy who gets killed by the villains first thing” at least two other times I can remember. If you needed somebody to get shot or stabbed or eaten by an inflatable chair before the opening credits in the sixties and seventies, Towb was your man.
It’s called “The Mission” because the criminals run a charitable mission for drunks and down-and-outs in order to keep a supply of spare parts going. While Craig and Sharron get to dress nicely and pretend like they’ve got two million bucks in syndicate money to spend, Richard infiltrates the other end of the chain and befriends an Irish alcoholic. At the end of the episode, the trio gift their boss a bottle of the Irishman’s special 180 proof blend, which Tremayne spits out after one sip, much to our son’s delight. He enjoyed the episode much more than the previous one, with the closing gag providing a good laugh at the end, even if he wasn’t entirely certain why Tremayne spit out his drink.
“It’s because that was basically moonshine,” Marie said.
“Ahhhh,” our son replied.
“Do you know what moonshine is?” I asked.
“Well, all I know is that it’s some kind of beer,” he said.
My dad had a source for “white whiskey” once. I think I probably did a spit take like Tremayne when I had a sip, too.
This afternoon’s episode of Adam Adamant Lives! was written by Tony Williamson and guest stars Patricia Haines, and actually addresses the question of all the bodies that pile up in Adam’s wake. Our hero is visited by a man from the ministry with the problem of the week, and Sir Nigel requests that this time out, if he could leave some of the villains alive, Her Majesty’s courts would like to see justice done properly. The phrase “cutting them down like daffodils” is used.
The criminal scheme this time was a bit over our son’s head, as was the escort agency that the villains work from, but it’s basically an inversion of the traditional stock market advice. The villains are selling high and then buying low. They spend an afternoon making big sales, then murder the head of the company they’re selling that night, causing the shares to plummet. They scoop up the devalued stock over the next day and deliver those to meet their commitments. I have a feeling that’s not the sort of scheme that would work at all these days, but maybe 53 years ago, the financial market wasn’t quite so instantaneous!
(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)
The bodyswap episode is a pretty common trope in fantasy TV, as well as some sillier sitcoms, but I contend that The Avengers’ version is the best of all of them. In fairness, it’s very, very slow by contemporary standards. The idea was pretty outre for 1967, and this assumes that nobody in the audience has ever seen anything like this before. On the one hand, I adore the two “important announcements” at the commercial breaks, explaining the setup to viewers just tuning in, but on the other hand, getting there takes forever.
This works because the acting is just so darn good. Freddie Jones and Patricia Haines’ characters, Basil and Lola, are just caricatures, enough for Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg to adopt their mannerisms quickly and have fun doing something new. Everybody loves watching the villain with Mrs. Peel’s face chewing gum while dancing to trendy jazz. Lots of TV shows have done that, but what few have been able to enjoy are actors as good as Jones and Haines playing the leads. They do absolutely perfect imitations of Steed and Mrs. Peel, from their body language to their diction, you never doubt that these two are our heroes.
I love this one because its so fun, but I’m afraid that in my hyperbolic way, I oversold it to our son. I told him that it would knock his socks off, but while he enjoyed this so much that he jumped up and danced in place during the car chase and whooped at the fight scenes, he made sure to show me that his socks did not actually leave his feet. I’ll make sure he knows the next one’s more down to earth.
I always get this episode confused with “The Danger Makers” for some reason. This is the one where geniuses are being hypnotized into devising impossible crimes. It’s another extremely well paced mystery, and while grownups are probably going to figure it out without much strain, it’s certain to tax the brains of six year-olds. Fortunately there’s enough going on to keep the story fascinating for him, and he followed along, with a little help, quite well!
Of note, there’s one of the rare scenes in the series where Steed gets incredibly angry with someone. A character played by future Monty Python’s Flying Circus producer Ian McNaughton kills someone while under post-hypnotic suggestion and it looks like Steed’s going to make sure he’s next. Other parts in this story by Robert Banks Stewart are played by Bernard Archard and Patricia Haines, who we’ll see in a very memorable role in the first color series down the line.