Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Avengers: Who's Who?

Can you detect a pattern emerging here, that before I do another episode of The Prisoner I do some other things that are related, at least in the strange way my brain relates things, to the next Prisoner episode? In this case my brain isn't half as strange as the ones in this Avengers episode, where personalities are swapped so that agents of a foreign power can kill their way through our security network, with nobody suspecting them, since they look like Steed & Mrs Peel.
Reading around this Avengers episode I realise that I've never fully appreciated it, probably because it is definitely one of the more light-hearted ones. But I'll have to add it to my list of episodes that reference feature films, in this case The Ipcress File (1965). I didn't spot this because I haven't watched it (derp), but it references visuals & plot elements:
'A top scientist called Radcliffe is kidnapped and his security escort killed. Harry Palmer, a British Army sergeant with a criminal past now working for a Ministry of Defence organisation, is summoned by his boss, Colonel Ross, and told that he is being transferred to a section of the organisation headed by Major Dalby.
'Ross suspects that Radcliffe's disappearance is part of a deliberate plot: sixteen top British scientists have inexplicably ceased to function, leaving their jobs at the peak of their careers. He tells Dalby that his position is precarious, and that Dalby's organisation will go if it can't get Radcliffe back. Palmer is then introduced as a replacement for the dead security escort.
'At his first departmental meeting, Palmer befriends Jock Carswell. Dalby briefs his agents on the Radcliffe kidnapping, saying that they suspect Eric Ashley Grantby, codenamed "Bluejay", and his chief of staff, codenamed "Housemartin".' (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ipcress_File_(film))
It is so Avengers to turn this setup into a secret department called Floral, in which all the agents are named after flowers & represented by the relevant flower in a vase on the chief's desk!  I also didn't realise that this is the last to use the Avengers subtitle officially, so that all the others are unofficial, & also the set-up of the gun with a rose is an in-joke: the reason that if that doesn't bring The Avengers nothing else will, was it was the logo for the show at the time (http://www.dissolute.com.au/the-avengers-tv-series/series-5/516-whos-who-other.html). And surely I don't need to comment that Steed's library is where it should be here, namely in 3 Stable Mews?
This episode is actually a superb bit of television, it drew me in to the extent that I actually started googling when the technology needed to perform the swap shown here became available! - I think I may possibly be spending too much time in Avengerland. And this one is classic Avengers, touches in addition to the flowers theme include the use of a stilts factory as a setting, the opportunity to see Patrick Macnee (*biting* the end off a cigar, can you believe it?) & Diana Rigg behaving completely out of character, & the public service announcement-type explanations of who is who. The episode also embodies Avengerland to perfection: there are no other people around at all, it is plain that the set is just that, it is so obviously a set it could never be mistaken for a real place, which is the essence of The Avengers's world, it is not real.
It also epitomises the use of the magical omniscience in The Avengers. After Hooper is shot, we cut straight to Mrs Peel's flat, with no explanation of how Steed got in or how he knows about Hooper. This lack of explanation makes a teleplay move much faster, without waiting for these things to be explained.
The plotline, of course, is ridiculous, almost a parody of all those B-movies with mad scientists who plot to take over the world. There is, though, a sinister touch in the (German?) Doctor's comment that he experimented in the war on unlimited guineau pigs, but this makes this an Avengers episode where the enemy is safely posited somewhere far away.
I'd have to give a special mention to Patricia Haynes playing Lola: she's an actress capable of playing divergent roles, even in this episode moving from German spy to jazz fiend, even talking like Mrs Peel when she is in that role. She has appeared in other Avengers episodes, but it may be an indicator of her quality that she hasn't noticeably so. You don't think, oh that's so-and-so. In fact she was an ITC regular:
'Not many people know that Patricia Haines was Michael Caine's first wife, during his years of struggle through bit parts and touring rep productions in the 50's. They parted before he attained superstardom, and most of her career was in TV guest roles, especially in ITC's filmed series. Examples include The Baron, "Epitaph for a Hero" (1966), The Saint, "The World Beater" (1969, the last episode ever in some Saint running orders) and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), "Somebody Just Walked Over My Grave" (1970). She also turned up as a bitchy, fur-clad inmate in Within These Walls, a popular 70's women's prison series. Guest spots on the lighter side included Steptoe and Son, "Is That Your Horse Outside?" (1965) as a wealthy housewife with an eye for rag-and-bone men, and Up Pompeii!, "Jamus Bondus" (1970), as Pussus Galoria (yes, really!). In his autobiography What's It All About?, Caine blamed himself completely for the marriage break-up, stating he was too immature; he also gave a vivid account of being arrested for non-payment of child maintenance, when still broke, and Haines turning up in court expensively dressed, by contrast. He then added that, "I never saw Pat again. I am sorry to say that she died of cancer in 1977."' (http://theavengers.tv/forever/pnote-haines.htm)
I'm actually finding it quite difficult to find major fault with this episode, *if* it is approached as a typical Avengers jape. Someone approaching it with a more serious mentality will of course recognise that the major plot element is that the whole set-up of Floral is plainly not terribly secure. On the basis of 'Steed' appearing, he's let in. I'll grant you this is nit-picking, on account of the baddies looking like the goodies, but I've had to resort to it in this case! There is also one glaring continuity error with the bowl of flowers, which change in different shots, held by the fake Mrs Peel.
All in all, stonking good television. I can't determine whether this idea of swapping minds was a 1960s sci-fi preoccupation, but it certainly appears at least twice in The Avengers, as well as in The Prisoner.
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2 comments:

Mike Doran said...

Chicago Calling (very out-of-order):

Right this minute, it's 1:30 am in Chicago, and I'm looking at a 1963 Avengers episode titled "White Dwarf" - black-and-white, 408 lines (looks like a '50s vintage American kinescope), and the cable station I'm watching it on cuts off the credits.

I was scrolling through your Avengers posts, hoping to find this one; alas, not there.

However, I happened upon this write-up for "Who's Who", a show I remember seeing during the ABC(US) run in '67.
The American TV Guide ran cast lists back then, and I learned the names of many British actors who turned up in the imported shows that way.
In later years, when I would see British movies, I'd try to spot players whom I'd seen in Avengers and other TV episodes in the past; I try to do that to this day.
"Who's Who" features Freddie Jones as the spy who "trades places" with Steed.
Mr. Jones turned up in many British films I later saw (he was a Hammer semi-regular, at least), and even came to the US for an engagement or two (Firestarter, for one).
But what I found out most recently is that Freddie Jones is the father of Toby Jones, who in the last couple of years has become omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, in both film and television.
Among Toby Jones's many roles in the US was a cable-tv movie in which he did a dead-on portrayal of Truman Capote (I unfortunately can't recall the title). Many critics believe that the Jones portrayal is superior to Philip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-winning turn in a theatrical movie in the same year.
Since then, whenever I see Toby Jones's name connected to any project, I know I'll be getting "value for money", as you say over there - same as his father.

OK, it's irrelevant (sort of), but since it came to mind here, I thought I'd send it along.

John said...

Oh I absolutely agree about Tony Jones. And White Dwarf is one of my favourites. I'm just more surprised you don't say value for money!