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.

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.

Jason King 1.17 – If It’s Got to Go – It’s Got to Go

And now back to 1972 and we resume Jason King in a somewhat overfamiliar scenario. We took a break in February on a very nice high point, but this is one of Tony Williamson’s weaker ideas. King and his associate from West German Intelligence, played by Jennifer Hilary, are investigating a health clinic, where supermodels feed on occasional prunes, which is actually a cover for bad guys running their espionage scheme right under everybody’s noses. The villains, including John Le Mesurier, get to wonder whether our hero is really here to lose some weight or if he knows something. Lots of hypnosis, too. If you watch pretty much any adventure TV from about 1965-75, you’re going to run into this story, although this one does have a couple more cute girls in bikinis than most, I suppose.

Jason King 1.16 – A Kiss for a Beautiful Killer

“So, wait, where are they?” our son asked.

“The back of Elstree Studios,” I said.

“No, no, I mean where are they in the story,” he clarified, and I answered Nosuchlandia. This time it’s in South America. Sometimes Nosuchlandia is in eastern Europe, usually some tiny Warsaw Pact nation. But yes, the backs of those Elstree Studios warehouses appear, as does the underground car park, and of course the stock footage of this house, which I swear we’ve seen at least four times before:

Joining Jason in this story of political intrigue, revolution, and the sort of totalitarian despot that UNCLE, Simon Templar, the IMF, and everybody else in the sixties and seventies routinely overthrew when they went to Nosuchlandia, it’s a great cast including Alex Scott, Maurice Roëves, Roger Lloyd-Pack, and of course Kate O’Mara, who has a considerably meatier role than she did when we saw her opposite Wyngarde in an episode of Department S. It’s probably a better story than you might think from me teasing it, but the cost-cutting charms of ITC’s series are part of the reason people adore them.

The house and the car park aren’t the only things we’ve seen before. The story opens with O’Mara’s character planning to send Jason from Paris to Nosuchlandia in a crate if he doesn’t go willingly. “Again?” our kid interjected, for indeed Jason had been shipped in a big box across the Berlin Wall in one story and to Moscow in another. Fortunately, the story plays against our expectations; in Nosuchlandia, they open the crate and find the guy who was supposed to stuff Jason in it. Jason arrives in town the proper way: first class, with a beautiful lady on his arm.

That’s all from Jason King for now. We like to mix things up to keep the shows fresh, but we’ll be back for more from this fun series at the end of March. Stay tuned!

Jason King 1.15 – Nadine

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.