Sunday, 4 August 2019

The Avengers: Could The Avengers Have Been Influenced by Bond?

Why haven't I thought of this similarity before? As I write this I am watching Never Say Never Again, and while fans will know some don't even think of this as a real Bond film, I have a weakness for the unloved and orphaned.
I see from t'internet that the first Bond novel by Ian Fleming was published in 1953 - although push that back to the middle of the forties if you believe that Fleming plagiarised Bond from another writer. The first film was in 1962, although again there was a Bond episode broadcast in the 1950s US TV show Climax! I am not convinced that UK scriptwriters on The Avengers would have been that likely to have seen that show, but of course you never know. The first Avengers episode was broadcast in 1961. In novel terms Bond has the head start but The Avengers was broadcast in the UK before the first Bond film.
This  page has a list of real people who could possibly have contributed to Bond's personally - I had no idea there were so many! But one thing will strike The Avengers fan - they are all out of the same stable (ha) as John Steed, the upper-middle or upper-class spies of the middle of the twentieth century. I suspect that spies would have had to be able to be gentlemen, so this is not really surprising.
My own opinion is that Steed (particularly the more louche early Steed) bears striking similarities to Bond. So let's think of some  Steed is a thorn in his bosses' side - simply by being the best but being unmanageable at the same time. He drinks like a fish, and while it's champagne, he has the same luxury taste as Bond. He can come across as louche, and we will all remember periodic comments in the show to the effect that he's a layabout. Above all Steed is a ladies' man, and will flirt with virtually any woman. Both use humour in situations really not calling for it. Finally the main similarity is I think both men would not be kept on as spies, because their faces wouldn't fit.
And then of course we have the girls, where a difference must be acknowledged, because there is no doubt that Bond slept his way around the world: while Steed might have liked to, and his flirtatiousness and the outrageous sexiness of the show for the time is undeniable, much of the chemistry of Steed and the Avengers girls comes from the fact that nothing sexual ever really happens. Despite the many writers of slash fiction who wish it would. I feel that Steed's gentleman nature is subtly different from Bond's - you could think that Bond was a cad, but never Steed. Incidentally I have read that Fleming really wanted David Niven to play Bond, which would make Fleming's own picture of Bond far closer to the Steed character.
The character crossover is of course continued by the tendency of Avengers girls to go off and become Bond girls, a process which reached its apotheosis (obviously I like the film, you would probably call it the nadir if you don't) in the 1990s Avengers film, when Bond, sorry, Connery, played Sir August de Winter, to dramatic effect.
The other show which is always mentioned in the same breath as Bond when it comes to TV, is The Man from UNCLE. Personally I think this similarity works best with the gadgets, of which there is a striking lack in The Avengers  It doesn't work as well with the sexual side of Bond - while UNCLE is a mixed organisation the men who are our heroes don't really have sexual conquests as a motivation. Actually Napoleon Solo might have, but Kuryakin's staidness brings him back to earth.
The other show is Get Smart, and I find it difficult to see a similarity there, Get Smart being too much of a spoof of the craze for all things espionage at the time. Which brings me nicely round to a conclusion, because while I think there are striking similarities between Steed and Bond, it is difficult to detect a direct influence but it is true to say that there was a huge fad for anything to do with espionage at the time, and it is that fad being parodied in Get Smart, in The Man from UNCLE, and the parody takes more and more acid as the sixties wear on.
Anthony Clarke has already said what I want to say, helpfully illustrated with a picture of Steed and Mrs Peel on the BFI website:
The 1960s witnessed a number of events that helped change the face of the industrialised world. These included deepening East/West tensions, an explosion in international travel, the growth of military technology and the establishment of a global communications network. Combined, these helped create the conditions for a worldwide spy craze.
The modern popularity of the secret agent began with the first James Bond film, Dr No (1962), but growing Cold War tensions and the accompanying shadowy propaganda further fuelled the public's appetite for espionage. TV was quickly teeming with globe-trotting government spies and hard-bitten private eyes. The US contribution tended to focus on the former - The Man from UNCLEI Spy and the humourous Get Smart - while the UK concentrated on the latter category.
Most of the UK's undercover operatives were created by ITCLew Grade's independent production company. These included a disgraced CIA agent - Man in a Suitcase (ITV, 1967-68) - a private investigator and his ghostly partner - Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (ITV, 1969-70) - a crime writer who helped out Interpol - Department S (ITV, 1969-70) - and NATO agent John Drake - Danger Man (ITV, 1961-67).
The decade's top rank of British detective talent was represented by two series, The Avengers (ITV, 1960-69) and The Saint (ITV, 1962-69). The debonair John Steed and his fighting female sidekicks, and international playboy Simon Templar came to epitomise a peculiarly 1960s' vision of Britishness. But not every '60s British private eye enjoyed the high life.
The brutal government agent Callan (ITV, 1967-72) and the down-at-heel private detective Frank Marker in Public Eye (ITV, 1965-75) lived a more grubby existence at the fringes of society, where morality is flexible and right and wrong are commodities. Interestingly, both these shows survived into the 1970s, a decade that was anything but swinging.
In my tradition of including pictures of myself in the summer, here's another one today. I was going to say that in Never Say Never Again Connery is running to moobs a bit, and that he looks like me, but I think I look more like Busty O'Toole!

Thursday, 18 July 2019

The X-Files: The Erlenmeyer Flask

Apologies for my hiatus in posting: life has been rather busy and very stressful! I have restarted a watch - through of The X-Files, and where better to post than on one of the great X-Files mythology episodes.
Before I write one of these posts I usually look round online to get a feel of what everyone else is saying about it, mainly because I like to say something different. That exercise of looking around can often be quite informative, and in this case an awful lot of what is on the Internet is purely descriptive. And appreciative, because I don't want to imply that this episode is rubbish when I start criticising it...
...which will start now. The reason the commentary on this episode is descriptive is because you need a commentary to keep up on everything happening. It's a bit difficult to think of parts of the X-Files mythology which don't get a mention, but I suspect Samantha escapes without being brought into this. Otherwise it's a riot of aliens, conspiracies, and shifty characters, ending in the X-Files getting shut down, which can really come as a surprise to no-one.
I particularly like Scully's role in this, in addition to being the mystified scientist she really goes out on a limb after discovering that the substance Mulder gets her to have tested shouldn't exist, by stealing an alien. Like you do.
As always, writing about TV programmes illuminates them and after all these years I am rather embarrassed to find that Deep Throat is based on a real person(and also to be reminded of the reason his name always sounds like a sex act to me):
Deep Throat was first introduced to the public in the February 1974 book All the President's Men by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, which was adapted as a film two years later. According to the authors, Deep Throat was a key source of information behind a series of articles which introduced the misdeeds of the Nixon administration to the general public. The scandal eventually led to the resignation of President Nixon, as well as to prison terms for White House Chief of Staff H. R. HaldemanG. Gordon LiddyEgil Krogh, White House Counsel Charles Colson, former United States Attorney General John N. MitchellJohn Dean, and presidential adviser John Ehrlichman.
Howard Simons was the managing editor of the Post during Watergate. He dubbed the secret informant "Deep Throat", alluding to both the deep background status of his information and the widely publicized 1972 pornographic film Deep Throat. For more than 30 years, Deep Throat's identity was one of the biggest mysteries of American politics and journalism and the source of much public curiosity and speculation. Woodward and Bernstein insisted that they would not reveal his identity until he died or consented to reveal it. J. Anthony Lukas speculated that Deep Throat was W. Mark Felt in his book Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years(1976), based on three New York Times Sunday Magazine articles, but he was widely criticized. According to an article in Slate on April 28, 2003, Woodward had denied that Deep Throat was part of the "intelligence community" in a 1989 Playboy interview with Lukas.[1]
On May 31, 2005, Vanity Fair revealed that Felt was Deep Throat in an article on its website by John D. O'Connor, an attorney acting on Felt's behalf. Felt reportedly said, "I'm the guy they used to call Deep Throat." After the Vanity Fair story broke, Woodward, Bernstein, and Benjamin C. Bradlee, the Post's executive editor during Watergate, confirmed Felt's identity as Deep Throat.[2] L. Patrick Gray, former acting Director of the FBI and Felt's boss, disputed Felt's claim in his book In Nixon's Web, co-written with his son Ed Gray. Gray and others have argued that Deep Throat was a compilation of sources characterized as one person in order to improve sales of the book and movie. Woodward and Bernstein, however, defended Felt's claims and detailed their relationship with him in Woodward's book The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep ThroatSource
The perfect period and identity for an informer in this show.
So to conclude: way too much going on, but one of the all time great episodes of the X-files.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Dick Emery: Legacy of Murder

Today a show I was delighted to discover on YouTube (unfortunately the channel I downloaded the episodes from has gone now, so unless they are elsewhere online the only option is one unofficial DVD release): I love Dick Emery and while he plays several characters, this series is different from the sketch shows I remember him from, because it is an actual story in which Emery stars as a shambolic private eye who is hired with his assistant to locate six people connected with the estate of a deceased aristocrat. The fact that Emery plays most of the characters he seeks is not cheap, but in the grand tradition of Kind Hearts and Coronets.
Here is the history of the show, lifted from here
In 1979, Dick Emery had jumped ship to ITV, a year later in 1980 he returned to the BBC with his popular Dick Emery Show.  By 1982 Emery was growing tired of the existing format of his BBC show and wanted to find new avenues to explore.
Using a new format and character, Jewish private detective Bernie Weinstock, Emery had found a new avenue, producing two series of comedy thrillers under the banner Emery Presents.  These aired on the BBC between 1982 and 1983.  The first series of Emery presents was entitled Legacy of Murder, whilst the second was entitled Jack Of Diamonds, which was broadcast six months after the star’s death.
The show is peopled with all the familiars from Emery's world - the vicars, the old ladies, eccentric aristocrats and what have you. In my own opinion this world is delightful. If you can't find this show you can see into the same world in his TV sketch shows and the film Ooh You Are Awful, all widely available. The only proviso would be that his humour is distinctly old fashioned in its attitudes, and hence unfashionable but never malicious.
The sidekick also has an important role (Tony Selby stars as the sidekick in the other series, and he will be familiar to readers of this blog, in fact I posted a picture of him in The Sweeney a few weeks ago). In this series the sidekick is Barry Evans who may be familiar to viewers from Mind Your Language, but is probably better known for starring in 1970s sex comedies in the Adventures series. I see that Evans is one of the tragic figures of the TV world, and ended up as a cab driver before his untimely death.
The only thing I don't like about this series is that it has a laughter track, but of course that is personal taste.
Finally Emery delights me by using a uniquely Birmingham idiom in this show, when a milkman says that it's black over Will's mother's. That is a Birmingham idiom which means it's going to rain and the clouds are gathering over Stratford upon Avon before coming and dropping rain on the city. Will is of course Will Shakespeare.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

The Sweeney: Jackpot

Apologies for the hiatus in posting. I have temporarily been watching some films and some less cult TV. Regular readers will know that I don't shy away from difficult subjects but even I find it difficult to know how to write about the Charlie Chan films in the twenty first century! Similarly I have been watching the Confessions films starring Robin Askwith and frankly while I am not embarrassed to reveal my liking for 1970s sex comedies, writing about them here could get rather wearing for you. Nonetheless we remain in the seventies because my manager has developed a habit of saying 'Shut it' ... referring to whatever the staff member thus addressed is working on. She is also pregnant and actually commented that she hadn't got any dinner because she'd eaten it by 11 o'clock. There is no point telling her about a TV show made well before she was born so here I am to ramble on about an episode of The Sweeney.
Jackpot begins with extended footage of the delicate treatment of suspects for which our constabulary were so famed in seventies, and since. The opening scene feels both ridiculously old fashioned (because of the vehicles, clothes and the way the suspects are told to take off their braces when they arrive at the nick) and incredibly postmodern at the same time because the scene is being filmed by a copper. We see the scene through the lens and Regan breaks the fourth wall when he tells the camera to get out of his way. I particularly love the bit where Regan is hauled over the coals for managing to lose a bag of money. The actor Morris Perry could have been born for those sort of boss roles, and I don't mind that he appears in so many shows because he turns into a sort of symbol for the establishment.
Regan of course represents all that is maverick, and much of the point of this episode is the conflict between the maverick and the establishment. This conflict largely underpins this episode: as long as he captures all the crooks Regan doesn't mind how he gets there. His bosses want him to play by the rules. Ironically I have a feeling that the establishment couldn't cope without characters like Regan, but don't know how to deal with him. My own opinion is that the only way to deal with Regan is to keep him inside pissing out, because who would want Regan against them? Ironically it is of course Regan who is the person who cracks the problem of where the missing money has gone.
The visual equivalent of this disagreement about ways of seeing is that this episode also revolves around what is seen, particularly in the form of the film of the action. For the sake of the story I think the viewer should ignore the rather strange situation that one police officer with, presumably, a cine camera has somehow managed to film the raid from multiple angles and the film has managed to be edited into a smooth record of events, which looks exactly as if it was made for television! The different ways of seeing things show fault lines in the flying squad which begin to widen under the strain of this case.
In common with all Sweeney episodes this one is superb because of the seventies milieu alone. I have been surprised to find mixed reviews on the internet, with people describing it as strange and finding it flawed because of the camera plot element. Perhaps I just like TV to be unreal because I can fully see that this episode wouldn't hang together in reality but if TV was strictly real it wouldn't be an escape would it?

Monday, 13 May 2019

Thriller: Killer with Two Faces

I must start this post by correcting something I said, ooh, two or three blog posts ago, which was that I thought the episodes ran on to play a bit again, on the Network DVD box set. This was completely wrong and in fact the way the shows are arranged on the DVD is to show the whole episode as originally seen in the UK, and then there are the opening and closing titles as made for the US market. Very complete indeed, but a bit confusing for a bear of little brain like myself. Personally I would have preferred the US titles put separately as an extra, because I can't find a way of watching the whole DVDS episodes through without seeing different titles over and over.
Here in the UK we got the ATV In Colour titles as seen above. What memories those titles bring back for me - one of these days I am going to get round to writing the post I keep talking about, about UK regional TV stations, not least because it will force me to get the matter finally clear in my own head. Then after the ATV thing we're straight in to Ian Hendry's hairy chest without a pause. I love the way he sucks his gut in while talking to the doctor about how his clothes would fit him!
This episode is what it is. It would be wrong to expect too much of it, since the (spoiler alert) twin device is a plot device which is genuinely ancient. This episode attracts valid criticism that it is always easy for the audience to tell which twin is which. They could have had the good twin in league with the bad twin, or had the bad one murder the good one, or whatever. The real problem is that once you know there are twins it becomes obvious how this will end.
Stellar performance, though.
I am slightly disappointed to find that the box set doesn't include some cut scenes, which are nonetheless available on t'internet:

Monday, 6 May 2019

Thriller: One Deadly Owner

A haunted car. What a twentieth century variation on the staple of ghost stories, the haunted this, that, and the other. The use of the plot device gives this episode a lift to a more established folklore milieu from its otherwise completely 1970s setting. The use of a car also has the advantage over other haunted items, because having wheels the car can seem to develop its own sentience and move on its own. A further classy touch is given by the fact that the car isn't just any old car but a Rolls. Ironic that the one in this episode was bought for seven grand which seems nothing for a car now, and I see that a 1970s Rolls can be got for two grand now. How the mighty are fallen! - however I'm sure maintaining an elderly luxury car is never cheap. Personally I prefer the MGB GT which also features in this episode, but not in the characteristic 1970s orange colour scheme.
I started watching this show while cooking - of course I was listening, not watching, and I was very surprised to find that it does not star Peter Wynegard. I was sure he played the male lead, and I was even more surprised to find I didn't recognise the actor at all. I was yet more surprised to find that the actor was Jeremy Brett, who I felt I should have recognised from Sherlock Holmes. He both sounded and looked different. I have done some poking around on the internet and found that by the time Brett made Sherlock Holmes he was already mentally and physically ill and in fact his Wikipedia page comments on his changing appearance. I didn't realise he suffered from bipolar disorder, requiring inpatient treatment several times before his death. My surprises hadn't ended, though, because I discovered he had relationships with both men and women. I would tend to put the fact I mistook his speaking for Peter Wynegard, down to a similarity of theatrical enunciation taught before this show was made. Of course part of the reason he isn't recognisable is the quite different look from Holmes, who I'm sure would never have been seen dead with an open shirt.
Visually this episode doesn't go wrong anywhere, this is despite the fact that most of it was very obviously made in a studio. Those of us who remember the seventies will find many details nostalgic. I particularly like the decoration of the flat, and the wonderfully tacky restaurant they eat at. Foreign food, probably.
Unusually for me I don't really have a criticism of this one. The plot has a wonderful twist at the end, which I won't spoil. My only wonder is that this episode doesn't get a better rating on the internet, appreciation hovering around 60 to 70%. Perhaps it's me and my liking for weird stuff...

Friday, 3 May 2019

The Famous Five, 1996

Image source
Yes, this is certainly among the more recent shows I am ever likely to blog about, but if you like the England depicted by Agatha Christie you will probably like this series. There are actually two British series of the Famous Five, the first was made in the 1970s and was made contemporary. This one was made in the 1990s and set firmly in the fifties. The first series is apparently more popular, or at least easier to come across here. This series has episodes on YouTube, and some episodes have been released on DVD. If you want the whole series you have to buy a Dutch release (called De Vijf - De complete verzameling, although the audio is in English) or there looks to be a Spanish release, but I can't speak for what that's like. 
I have an ambivalent relationship with Blyton myself, because the head mistress of my infants school thought her writing was of poor literary quality and banned her books from the school. The result was of course that reading them was an act of rebellion. One which was rewarded with the rather priggish attitudes of the four and the dog.
I suspect this show was too late for its own good, since the Famous Five were already old fashioned when I was a lady. The attitudes and life style tend to be of the period they were written, although I find this series is more reminiscent of old school stories than I remember the books. 
Where this series succeeds is in the creation of an unreal world. It's sort of the children version of the Avengers world, because I don't think it ever really existed. Was there ever really a time when children were allowed just to go off? I doubt it, even after experiencing my own mothers ridiculous fear that something terrible was about to happen at any moment. As a child I thought the kids in Sesame Street were very sophisticated because they could play in the street - that was out because our street was a short cut between two main roads so lorries would come thundering down it. My mother then made the tactical error of getting me a bike and I was off. Definitely not overnight and while I went a lot of places which would have given her a fit, I didn't have an island or a castle to explore, sadly.
One of the things I notice about this show is that it doesn't put a foot wrong. The pace is just right, the props are perfect, it depicts England as if the 1960s never happened. Apparently if you look closely the continuty tends to fall apart, but it's wonderful escapism.