The Avengers 6.7 – Murdersville

I’ve never been completely on board with Brian Clemens’ “Murdersville,” despite its many charms. I think I’d just seen the trope of the Little Town With a Big Secret one time too many before finding this episode*. The only thing this one does that actually aggravates me is doing an equally tired trope of introducing a childhood friend of one of the main characters just in time to get killed. If you’ve known Mrs. Peel since she was just six or seven, you’re a dead man.

In its considerable defense, the location that they used for the delightful village of Little Storping-in-the-Swuff is incredibly charming. They’d driven through it just a couple of weeks previously, in “Dead Man’s Treasure”, actually! It’s got a few actors I enjoy in small roles, including Tony Caunter and Robert Cawdron. There’s also a great bit where a character played by Andrew Laurence – in a very, very small role – is all set to shoot a man in cold blood, until the village librarian reminds him that he shouldn’t make noise in a library.

Our son was pretty annoyed on Mrs. Peel’s behalf as she comes to realize that it’s not just one or two villagers who are up to no good. He became restless and I could see his lip curl as he figured out that the problem wasn’t just that nobody believed her, but that she didn’t have any help available. Things improved for him by the end, and while the concluding fight scene is deeply silly, even for this show, he enjoyed the mayhem. Villains and diabolical masterminds should know better than to leave a table of custard pies where a fight is likely to break out.

The Avengers 4.21 – A Touch of Brimstone

Yes, I know, you were expecting a picture of Mrs. Peel in her Queen of Sin getup. Instead, here’s a picture of every man in Christendom upon seeing Mrs. Peel in her Queen of Sin getup. Enjoy!

The story goes that ABC declined to show this episode because of the Queen of Sin’s costume, along with the climactic fight with Peter Wyngarde, in which he starts lashing at her with a whip. I’ve contended all along that this episode wasn’t going to get shown on national American television before we got that far. There’s a scene with Wyngarde and Carol Cleveland pawing each other in bed, for starters, in an era when 99% of married couples on American TV had separate, single beds. (Gomez and Morticia Addams were the only exception I can think of, and while they were television’s most passionate couple, you may recall that they only ever kissed while standing up!)

Then we get to the “do what thou wilt being the whole of the law” ethos of the Hellfire Club and their incredibly bawdy parties, with drinking and “wenching.” They worship evil and women exist only as vessels for (sexual) pleasure. Writer Brian Clemens was pushing an envelope here.

There simply weren’t enough weeks in the calendar for ABC to show all 26 episodes from season four before they went all-color in the first week of September of 1966, so some of them weren’t going to be shown. “A Touch of Brimstone” was allegedly rejected on content grounds, and, that content spoken of in whispers, it immediately made the rounds of bootleg film prints. Some independent stations around the country bought the black and white package for local broadcasts, and some are said to have edited out most of the whipping scene. In short order, this episode became quite notorious. When I was a video trader in the mid-to-late eighties, you would occasionally see this one in lists and catalogs with notations like RARE AND UNCUT!!

At some point in the seventies, comic writer Chris Claremont landed a copy. He loved peppering his scripts with in-jokes from British film and TV, and, in 1980, reintroduced the Hellfire Club as characters in The Uncanny X-Men. One of the members looks like Peter Wyngarde as his later character, Jason King, and the evil women in their order wear variations on the Queen of Sin costume. In their 18th Century formal wear and their lingerie, they’ve been pestering the heroes of the Marvel Universe ever since, and were seen as the baddies in the 2011 film X-Men: First Class. (Though perhaps my favorite Claremont in-joke was using the Hobbs End tube station from the movie version of Quatermass and the Pit as a location for an issue of an X-Men spinoff comic.)

Our son didn’t understand this much at all, mercifully. It started with the great promise of bad guys who use exploding cigars, sneezing powder, whoopie cushions, and collapsing chairs, and then deteriorated into a lot of dumb men yelling and spilling their ale while smooching women in old-fashioned clothes. At least we can agree that Patrick Macnee, Jeremy Young, and their stunt doubles had a completely amazing swordfight. I’m not sure that Young even had a double. Colin Jeavons and Robert Cawdron are also in this one. Along with Wyngarde and Cleveland, it’s a great cast for a terrific episode: ABC’s audience in 1966 may or may not have been scandalized, but they definitely missed out.