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.
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Anyway, here, Healy plays a CIA guy whose information is a little out of date, because he thinks Jason is still working with Department S. Jason gets unwittingly dumped into the middle of a story of gun runners and secret police in a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.
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.
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.
Before we got started with tonight’s episode, I cued up an early episode of MacGyver that we’d watched a few years ago to give our kid a little context. They were, then, in the habit of using a heck of a lot of library footage to beef up their stories, and in “Deathlock”, they built a scene around footage culled from the film of Len Deighton’s Funeral in Berlin. This gave me the opportunity to remind our son of what we’d discussed before about spy series often dealing with people trying to get out of the Eastern sector, and also who Len Deighton was.
So this episode, written by Tony Williamson, is an absolute gem. Suddenly, to get somebody out of East Berlin, every spy in Europe wants to know exactly how Jason King did it in his novel A Page Before Dying, and whether it will work in the real world. Soon, all eyes are on him, because he gets smuggled into East Berlin against his will, and doesn’t have any choice but to work the scheme while the other side’s intelligence agents are watching him like a hawk. It’s already a hugely entertaining story with lots of wit and putdowns and surprises, and ends with a delightful twist. Our son enjoyed it a lot, I’m glad to say. It’s among the character’s very best outings.
This is the first of a few appearances by Ronald Lacey as a “Whitehall worm” called Ryland who whines and manipulates our hero, and it also features small roles for familiar faces Olaf Pooley, Michael Sheard, and Philip Madoc. Plus, it’s the first appearance of an unbelievable “action” costume for Jason that I’ll have to show you some other time: skintight motorcycle leathers and an ascot. Have to say I prefer his jackets and neckties.
That problem of using a recognizable actor for a “dead before the credits” moment rears its head again. We see this a lot in shows from the period, including, just last month, the Department S story “Dead Men Die Twice”. This time, it’s the great character actor John Barron, who gets skeletonized, somehow, in the back seat of a Rolls Royce.
I have to say that it’s a remarkably good hook before the credits, but even the great Tony Williamson can’t make this one work. Somebody went to a lot of trouble to make the police believe that the bones are indeed that of the victim, but even in 1969, the investigators surely would not buy this, and even if they did, they’d keep digging remorselessly to find out how and where the mysterious super-weapon that killed them was introduced. The show tries using the logic that this is somehow going to make less of a ruckus than kidnapping their targets without leaving a skeleton behind. The main villain is played by John Carson, and he’s pretty awesome, at least.
The kid really enjoyed this one – the skeletons certainly helped, because he’s nine, and, like nine year-olds, thinks skeletons are cool – and I had one great big laugh. Jason apparently spends all day getting out of the room where the bad guys locked him. Annabelle asks how he did it and he tells her to read the next Mark Caine book to find out. That feels a little bit like this episode’s writer just not wanting to bother any longer, but it is nevertheless in character.
There was one other interesting moment. Briefly, Stewart flies to New York to follow up a lead, and it occurred to me that for a globetrotting adventure, this show never really went to the United States. To be fair, this isn’t something that ITC had the resources to do with a great deal of credibility – their color library film of New York City for the establishing shot is, shall we say, not very contemporary – but it might have helped them sell the show to an American network if they could boast a couple of reasonably big-name American guest stars. ITC didn’t even need to cast from their bench of Canadian or American actors (Damon, Maxwell, Healy, Bishop, Rimmer, etc.) to play the diplomat; the character doesn’t even have any lines.
There have been a few episodes of this show that I’d heard of long before I saw it. The one where the village disappears. The one where everyone on the Tube train is dead. And of course this one, the one with the dead spaceman. When a show goes for these bizarre hooks, they get reputations. This one was written by Tony Williamson and deserves all the great things people say about it. It’s a good story where the clues keep coming, and even once we get part of a line on why a safecracker known to London’s gangland has suffocated in a spacesuit on a Soho street, we’re lost in what the target could possibly be. Our son and I really enjoyed this. Guest stars include Wanda Ventham, Tony Selby, and Duncan Lamont. Our son saw Lamont again just last week when he rewatched “Death to the Daleks” for some inexplicable reason, but, in keeping with tradition, the kid didn’t recognize him despite his incredibly distinctive voice.
If you’re a regular reader of this dopey blog, you’ve certainly run across me saying that Peter Wyngarde shoulda played the Master at least once opposite Tom Baker. Usually when I say something like this, I’ve got a silly illustration to “prove” my point. See, here’s Wyngarde along with Anthony Ainley. He’s one of several familiar faces this time with teeny little parts, including Juliet Harmer and Neil McCarthy. I wonder whether Harmer is meant to be playing the same character she played in the first episode.
Michael Gwynn is also here, in a variation of the “photo of the recognizable actor” problem we talked about in the previous episode. There’s also a recognizable location. The country club where the villains all gather is the Edgwarebury Hotel, which shows up in all sorts of adventure programs from the day, most obviously as the escape-proof hotel in the Avengers episode “Wish You Were Here”.
Tony Williamson’s script is a complete cracker, one of the best so far. The villains are using ultrasonics to brainwash their victims and wipe memories. This is definitely the sort of larger-than-life wild criminal scheme I enjoy in this kind of show, with the added plus that these are very clever villains who are ahead of the heroes for most of the story. This comes to a head in a great scene where Stewart and Jason return to Paris having no idea that they’re even on a case, much less who put the whammy on them the day before.
I knew I was going to like this one. The DVD menu revealed / spoiled that we’d see ITC’s white Jaguar going over the cliff for the third time at our blog, and then the credits showed that Tony Williamson wrote it. He was one of the greats! There’s a heck of a lot of great stunt driving in this episode, and sure, some of the moving-between-cars stuff is faked in the studio, but it’s still exciting since we just don’t know how this story’s going to play out. Of course the kid had a great giggle when I reminded him what car Jason and Annabelle are driving, even if he couldn’t quite remember the make. “These shows love to have that white Tiger crash!”
Joining our heroes this week, there’s Kate O’Mara in far too small a part, and George Pastell in a bigger role, maybe making up for only using him for a couple of lines in episode eight. Alan MacNaughtan is the main villain. I’m inclined to enjoy watching bad guys who oversee their schemes from a helicopter.
I was glad that Wyngarde and O’Mara got to share a little screen time. I’m sure I mentioned somewhere before my silly idea that in some parallel world, Wyngarde shoulda played the Master opposite Tom Baker once or twice. I’m perfectly prepared to amuse myself by using the way the actors appeared in this scene to illustrate a fic-in-my-brain of the Master and the Rani having some argument in Madrid, 1969.
This is more like it! This is the first of five episodes written by Tony Williamson, who was working on all sorts of programs I enjoy from the late sixties. Assuming you can believe in the idea of a jumbo jet having an automatic landing system, then you can believe in the mechanics of this strange mystery, because a Boeing lands in London with all the passengers and crew missing and no signs of violence. It turns out that somebody was onboard who wasn’t supposed to be, and several powerful industrialists, including guest star Anton Rodgers, want to keep that a secret.
Honesty compels me to say that I don’t think for a minute this criminal plot would possibly work in the real world, because there are just too many moving parts. If three can keep a secret if two of them are dead, this is going to require a lot of bodies piling up. Our son was a little stumped by the criminals’ motives as well – market manipulation – so he was a little less than satisfied, but it’s got lots of intrigue and weirdness, plus Jason King wining and dining his way to the answers, so it was fun to watch even if it wouldn’t stand up to much critical scrutiny.