Friday, 28 March 2014

The Man From UNCLE: The King of Diamonds Affair

This is an episode of TMFU that so badly tries to be The Avengers & misses the target in some subtle, yet dramatic ways. It begins with a woman in a hotel in London breaking a tooth on a rough diamond found in a tin of Pogue's Pudding.
Needless to say, no amount of putting red telephone boxes on the corners of a standard American street set won't turn it into a London street scene, & much of the charm of this one for me is the near-caricature of Britishness it presents. The accent of the woman who bites into the Pogue's pudding is good but not quite right to a British ear (it's overdone), there's a fire hydrant in one scene that is definitely more New York than London, & so on.
That said, I don't think the unreality of this show is really a shortcoming. It almost feels in season 2 of TMFU that they's picking up on something in the zeitgeist that The Avengers also picked up on, by attempting to create a world where you can really imagine someone recreating the Indian Mutiny in the potting shed. Where I think TMFU fails is that the unreality is a) overdone & b) becomes the point. This episode is only slightly unbelievable until the introduction of Raphael Delgardo: it is a mistake to attempt to merge reality & unreality: it shows up the unreality for what it is. Where the Avengers would have done this episode differently is that Mr Delgardo would not have appeared: the episode would have focused on the Pogue family probably. The crime plot would come from one of Steed's aunts who happened to write a story, rather than a real criminal. There are attempts to parody the mafia family (the use of umbrellas) but that element fails by introducing a different genre.
Nice Avengers-esque touches include the bone china teapot & cup in a prison cell, & the use of a manhole cover by the men from UNCLE. I love that Delgardo is smuggled out of Dartmoor prison in a laundry van!
Visually this show is also a mixed bag: the gangsters in the mist scene is very effective, the car chase with the identical blue cars is good. They're Hillman Imps, one of those cars with the engine at the back & always considered eccentric, thus a good choice for that scene in comparison to the more staid British cars of the time. The production is very evidently completely studio-bound, which I don't have a problem with. What idoes raise a question for me is the muddy colour palette chosen for the scenes, & even the clothes. Greys & browns predominate, creating an atmosphere of, well, chewing gum. The rare touches of colour come as a relief. I don't remember a TMFU striking me like this before, even the unrestored ones I saw repeated on the telly in the eighties. It gives an effect of sameness. I wonder frankly whether it was an attempt to ape the sets of The Avengers that failed abjectly.
So overall, I don't think I would object to this one if I didn't have The Avengers to compare it to! It tries to be several things so badly. It's probably also one of the few episodes that
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Saturday, 22 March 2014

Public Eye: Works with Chess, Not with Life

I told myself I would resist blogging about the Birmingham-based episodes of Public Eye, so as not to get annoyed by fake Birmingham accents & the sixties scenery, so of course here I am blogging about one of those self-same episodes.
I like Miss O'Hara (Valerie Bell) enormously, she has none of the drama school melodramatics & clearly comes across as the floozy in search of a quick buck. As a prelude to the main part of this episode it offers the wonderful cameo of Marker wining & dining her, all in the name of duty, of course. The morals of this part of the episode are very clear-cut in comparison to the very complicated relationships of the rest of the episode. I like the structure of two stories related by their characters in a single episode: if the episode had been built solely on the adulterous doctor it would have lost some human interest & been a much more sui-generis private investigator story. Here, however, Marker's character really gets stretched & able to show different aspects of his personality.
I have one major criticism of this show, although I'm not actually sure that it is one. Some of the scenes seem to me over-acted - an example is when Mrs Skerrett dramatically collapses back in the bed yet is fine to talk to her husband one beat later. The reason I'm not sure this is really a criticism is that I'm also not sure whether it is a dramatic convention of the time - the scenes I'm thinking of definitely reek of set pieces in drama school - I mean the convention of treating television as if it were a theatre & the camera the audience. Against this is that there is none of this feeling in the earlier food-poisoning part of the show. I simply cannot decide on whether I'm misjudging this, but must come down on thinking that the sign of a good actor must be that the character they are playing takes over from the actor himself.
A further question I have about this show is to wonder just how racy it would have been in the 1960s - the adulterous doctor would be bad enough, but carrying on their dalliance in a church! I wonder whether it is for this reason that the church is plainly not real. The rest of the episode, while very clearly studio-based, gets the location right (try getting to Knowle, even today). The St Alban's church is a generic church, bearing no relationship to the Anglo-Catholic extravagance of St Alban's in Highgate. This episode also benefits from not having any 'locals' - at least none of the characters have Brummy accents for the actors to get subtly wrong.
I'm also undecided about the character of Skerrett. He is such an ambivalent & failed character that he almost constitutes a plot weakness at points for me. As a doctor he makes a terrible mistake at the point where he writes the prescription: I can only agree with Marker's frustration with this particular idiocy. In fact he's already messed it up before that by using a patient visit as his cover for seeing his mistress, already blurring a boundary which should have been left alone. He forms a weakness because he just makes you want to slap him - he is clearly the sort of man all women warn their daughters about because he's quite happy to go through life expecting everyone to pick up the pieces for him. I do like also the way most of the protagonists in this tangled story end up crying on Marker's shoulder at one time or another!
Surely I can be allowed one distraction from the plot to talk about how much I love the scenes of sixties Birmingham used in the titles? The scenes are so of their time: the joke is that the city council capitalised on the Luftwaffe's destruction to finish the job by bulldozing endless irreplaceable historical buildings to create the inner ring road (http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/lifestyle/nostalgia/carl-chinn-change-came-fast-3904203): you can see part of it in the Bull Ring in the titles. This is the best stroke of planning luck Birmingham ever had: it was placed too close to the city centre, but fortunately its out-of-fashion construction allows demolition & repeated redevelopment, impossible if the former buildings had been listed (yes, I even think Central Library should go: that bit of the city is permanently b*llsed up by that development). I never felt unsafe in the notorious underpasses, & they actually did what they were supposed to, creating one city for the pedestrian & another for the car. I liked the old Bull Ring. The modernist architectural agenda has completely failed, but all of these things were done with the genuine intent to improve people's lives. Within fifty years the new Bullring will be demolished (Selfridges will possibly be listed) & the new plan for the central library site is the same mistake again. People have this habit of repeating history. Anyway the point here is that the titles scenes encapsulate a previous Birmingham & I love them. Visually - particularly in black & white - the brutalist architecture, concrete textures & tile patterns of the underpasses are simply so effective. I especially love the scrolling 'Public Eye' on the side of the Bull Ring.
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Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Man From UNCLE: The Hula Doll Affair

After my post on The Off-Broadway Affair I had a doubt as to whether The Man From UNCLE could possibly be satirising American society as much as I thought it was. On the against side is that I am of course seeing this matter through the eyes of an outsider, & The Man From UNCLE is hardly heavyweight televisual social commentary.
However watching this episode I am confirmed in my view that there is at least a heavy streak of social satire, if not commentary, in this series. For one thing this episode continues the Thrush-as-corporation theme, with an at times advantageous comparison to UNCLE, right from the words of the man in the tailor's at the start: 'I bet Thrush ain't so cheap'. Additionally this episode satirises that great American institution of the family, through the medium of the Sweet family, who have made Thrush the family business. A more classic spy thriller theme is also added by the necessity for the UNCLE agents to rescue the M4 in a heatwave before it explodes. This is of course given a humorous - literally - overcoat with the gags about air conditioning.
The point of the satire is one that ought to have been very uncomfortable for any 'company man' who had the self-awareness to compare his own company with either Thrush or UNCLE. The bottom line is that Thrush's security is non-existent. Beyond the gimmicky trick of hiding behind a gents' outfitters - Thrush & UNCLE really are the same - they have an actual UNCLE agent in their boardroom posing as an (apparent) agent from Thrush Central with a deciding vote. Employing so many family members is asking for the sort of compromised characters that actually run the show in this episode. Nor is UNCLE actually run any better - since UNCLE doesn't seem to do anything other than fight Thrush, it is very poor management that they have *no* idea where Thrush headquarters is. Thrush clearly knows where theirs is, shown by the device of the blind pencil-selling little person. Thrush - only ever painted as the baddies - is shown operating by policies & procedures, showing the criminal fraternity is just like every other organisation. The point I am making here is that anyone working for a large corporation should watch this & compare these incidents to some of the cock ups in their own organisation. I feel this undercurrent of reflection on society may partly explain the unpopularity of series 3 - anyone with any self-awareness should be made uncomfortable by watching this.
I loooove the character of Mrs Sweet. The irony of course is that she is exactly the sort of compromised character that Thrush's human resources policies attracts & nurtures: I do however feel that her initial proclamation that she is a Thrush woman before a mother more convincing than her later statement to her sons that of course they will always come first. I love Kuryakin in the next door wardrobe giving a commentary on her preparing dinner to Mr. Waverley over Channel D.
What I like visually best about this episode is the Thrush board room. It is very obviously a set, with apparently no attempt to suggest anything outside the windows, but it has all of the attributes of 1960s luxury. There is a whole wall clad in stone, the carpet is deep pile: it would have been fabulously expensive to build at the time. I think one of the reasons I like it so much is that it is so of its time & so looks terribly dated now. The leatherette upholstery of the chairs would be uncomfortable at best to sit on. The wood looks as if it might be laminate. I assume those huge round things on the table are ash trays. There is even a bar. They don't make board rooms like that any more.
Unusually for me I don't really have a major criticism of this one, & I've even just watched it twice in close succession, always a sure test of a TV programme. Plot-wise it is a conventional spy drama of the time, given a Man From UNCLE veneer. It is capable of some deeper understandings. The characters are drawn with broad strokes but are not caricatures (except the pencil-seller, who was obviously intended to be very obvious). I like the pantomimic aspects, such as Illya appearing in no time with a taxi, & the sons' faces when they realise their own mother is 'Number 26'.
Best line:
Mr Waverley (on hearing over Channel D that Illya is with a woman): 'This is the sort of thing I expect from Mr Solo.'
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Friday, 14 March 2014

Public Eye: The Morning Wasn't So Hot

I have commented recently on the unreality vs reality dichotomy of sixties TV. For some reason Callan didn't do it for me, but Public Eye does, & so this post will mark a rare trip into realism TV on this blog. In fact this approach was intentional:
'Roger Marshall and Anthony Marriott were the creators of Public Eye.�Roger told The Daily Express (1.8.69) "I got fed up with series like The Avengers, sick to death of the camp and the champagne. The series was created as an antidote to that kind of phoney material. I felt it was time to get down to reality." He had�an idea for a show about an enquiry agent but found TV producers struggling to believe that such individuals existed, wedded to the traditional idea of the tough private eye fighting serious crime. However Anthony Marriott found such a real-life agent in Brighton and this helped to convince them. It does seem that this agent's experiences helped to inspire some of the stories, particularly the early ones.' (http://www.contquots.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/)
In fact I've deliberately chosen this episode to start with because it's one of the early ones not set in my native Birmingham - no matter how long the actors devoted to learning accents at drama school, they *never* get Birmingham right, so I've chosen a London one where I won't get distracted. Incidentally nobody from London ever understands the Midlands - I love the way Bridgenorth is calmly situated in the Black Country! I have the 'The ABC Years' two-disc box, although I have read that if you have all the other Public Eye boxed sets you don't need it because all the episodes are included elsewhere.
The theme of this episode is perennial: the runaway girl & the dangers & 'protection' she finds herself exposed to in the big city. There is also an interesting account of the lives led by the 1960s demi-monde. There is no way on earth anyone would have watched this as comforting escapist viewing after work - gritty doesn't begin to describe it.
Strangely, though, its realism makes this show much more dated than any of the 'unreality' shows I've blogged about before here. For a start it opens with a shot of a steam train - if a steam train appears on The Avengers it doesn't matter because we all take it as a shorthand way of referring to either British tradition or eccentricity. In Public Eye the appearance of the steam train merely serves to underline the *huge* gap in time between then & now - of course I mean in terms of development & technology. The realism bring this into sharper focus, for example the few possessions the runaway has, & Marker is paid �6/-/- (see, I can do old money) plus expenses. That wouldn't get him lunch now.
Similarly the time gap accentuates the difference in production values - here the sets look like sets & remind me of the way 1960s television treated its productions as if they were stage plays. I loooove the cafe - my dad would probably have called it a Milk Bar - & in fittings reminds me very much of the little old Druckers in Birmingham. The wonder here is that the frankly desperate world depicted here is actually created with a remarkable economy of actors in the scenes in the cafe, & an economy of sets. Any attempt to depict this sort of milieu nowadays would necessarily be accompanied by crowd scenes in clubs & bars, or street scenes requiring extras by the dozen. The approach here makes it *feel* as if you are actually listening in on a private conversation, because the focus is entirely on the key characters, without any further distractions. This is one of the things I like best about old telly, that it can do the kind of intimate scenes that you get in good theatre. Additionally, in this & subsequent episodes of Public Eye, sound effects are used to remarkable effect, at one point creating the image of Marker being taken off in a car, although being beaten up is implied.
I'm afraid I have a criticism which, depending on how it's taken, could be quite major, & which I've only just noticed despite having watched through a couple of series of Private Eye now. It is Alfred Burke's accent - I feel the accent is slightly too far back, I almost want to say too theatrical, for the character. I genuinely feel this was probably trained into him at drama school - he was born in Peckham & had jobs in railways & clubs after leaving school at 14, so probably wasn't as far back in accent originally. I also feel this may not be part of the conceptualisation of the character, but a convention of the time for how actors spoke. I have a feeling the accent flattened a little as the series progressed; I'll have to keep an ear out for this.
Another thing that I'm finding difficult to envision in this show is how people would have watched it at the time. I'm finding it very difficult to put it in the 1960s context of the fear of the changing society that drove people like Mary Whitehouse. Would people have watched this show & felt fear of the tide of depravity which funded the apparent prosperity of city life? Or would it have been seen as the perennial tale of country mouse & city mouse? This is about me rather than the show, but I'm really finding that difficult. It is further complicated by the relative ambivalence of Marker's character, saying to a pimp, 'We're professional men, aren't we?' I feel this may be an indicator of this show's quality as drama - that it is capable of being understood on different levels. It would doubtless have pressed buttons in people. What parent watching this who had a daughter away in London would not have got on the phone? I also have the feeling that if a prostitute were watching it between clients it would either have elicited scorn or amusement, at the sanitised view of the game. There is probably also more agonising about things than would really have been entertained by its subjects. In fact the audience is clear - an at least fairly comfortable audience looking to lose themselves in a gritty drama. Despite what I said earlier, I suppose it may lend itself to one form of therapeutic television - that of seeing how the other half (supposedly) live & in this case coming away thinking that your life could be much worse! This was of course the era when the unskilled could still work, you could still get a council flat & things were both better & much worse. This is also seen in the shoe shine man with a string of medals: he is the 'moral' counterpart of the girl: she earns megabucks by selling herself, he has a respectable trade, carried out in all weathers, which means he has retained his respectability but earns a pittance.
There is an interesting reference to the approach to prostitution in the classical Greek world in this show - there it was the only way for a woman to gain independence & power over her own life, by capitalising on her, ahem, assets.
A familiar face to me - although not a distracting one - is Roland Curram. He brings to his role here exactly the sort of chilling calmness he brought to his role in The Avengers episode Honey for the Prince. In fact it's just struck me that the cold calculating remorseless killer should seem out of place in The Avengers, but perhaps he comes across as more deranged there.
My favourite line:
'Mr Marker, last week I earned �300. Did you?'
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Monday, 10 March 2014

The Man From UNCLE: The Suburbia Affair

Oh dear, I'm starting to heap up the draft posts (& ideas for posts a bit, but since I'm watching Series 3 of TMFU, & this one came on, I just had to post about it. Like The Off-Broadway Affair, I feel this episode is best watched as a satirical comment both on suburban life (perhaps in a similar vein to the way Bewitched satirised suburban life) & the spying industry.
Of course the nature of the satire is that Peaceful Haven is crawling with power-crazed megalomaniacs & spies. Of course they're deranged. Of course the plot is deranged. Of course the attempts to kill the UNCLE agents are deranged.
There are two familiar faces - to me - in this show, & just for a change they're not the usual round of actors who appeared in every British series in the sixties. Victor Borge - we had some of his records when I was a child - does a surprising turn as a 'straight' actor, although clearly with a nod to his normal self, since he plays a musician. Reta Shaw makes a wonderfully megalomaniac baddie: 'You're too old for a spanking.'
This show is also (perhaps unintentionally) a comment on what happens when the American dream goes wrong, almost in the vein of certain X-Files episodes thirty years later. Even fifty years later what most strikes my British eyes about Peaceful Haven (sounds like a retirement home, or even cemetery) is how prosperous it looks, & particularly how large everything is. This is pre-oil crisis American dream at its best, & the irony is that it's rotten to the core.
Visually the episode looks just like so many other 1960s series (to me, don't forget). This is relieved by the sheer eccentricity of the characters & unlikeliness of the plot. You don't need scenery that's a riot of colours when you have the cast playing this one. Even the scenes of domesticity, with Solo & Kuryakin acting like an old married couple within hours of setting up home, sparkle with a chemistry that isn't in every Man From UNCLE episode.
I have one criticism of the plot. Once you know there's a musician around, the plot falls flat on its face, since to me it is so obvious that musicians are often mathematicians also. The fact that he is also Danish is every so slightly a giveaway.
I have two favourite bits. The first is Solo pulling the estate agent's caravan with an ice cream van, still playing the music. The other is the two patrolmen sitting down to watch the 'old film' on television, which is actual torture broadcast by CCTV from within the house they are in.
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Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Man From UNCLE: The Off-Broadway Affair

It was series three that made the Man from UNCLE lose popularity, supposedly because of the introduction of high-camp elements, which, as I have noted here before, were actually there from the beginning in my humble opinion. One of the things I find interesting about this episode is that the opening scene is so visually derivative of The Avengers: the step ladders reminiscent of Mother's only-used-once office, & the red phone box. It is rather a misdirection because (to my eyes) it leads to the wrong impression.
However I personally am not disappointed by the rest of it. I *love* the idea of Thrush operating from a theatre. I love it, I can't describe how much I love that idea. It's almost a parody of UNCLE operating out of a tailor's shop, & shows which parody themselves have to be careful how they do it.
I can see where it went wrong here: espionage fans would be very disappointed by this episode & others in this series, it's quite a change in direction the series takes here. It seems to me this show is also parodying corporate America: by this stage the two agencies are relating almost exactly like two corporations. You're either a 'Thrush man' or an 'UNCLE man'. This is actually a recurring gag in the series, the major difference being that you get a pension from UNCLE but Thrush kill you.
The awfulness of the musical disguises that the whole show thumbs its nose at so much American culture. Don't get me wrong, this is only an undercurrent at best, but this episode satirises both corporate America & the entertainment industry. Once again a sixties show - of course produced as part of the entertainment industry of corporate America - is postmodern enough to satirise its own medium. Of course much of the point is that the theatre & musical here are both a front, but The Man From UNCLE always manages to keep one foot in reality (to the extent of always thanking UNCLE for its co-operation in the credits), which is enough to suggest that the situation depicted here could be a real possibility.
Solo & Kuryakin remain firmly in role here. Kuryakin purely espionage man & Solo gets to chat up the girl. The thin plot is often criticised, but I don't personally find it a problem because there's a lot going on in characterisation & good touches to distract. The finale, where a fight between UNCLE & Thrush agents takes over the stage during the performance is good. For my favourite bit of this one I have reluctantly abandoned the scene where Illya is pretending to be a plumber for the scene where he puts on a turban & performs 'A Man is a Horn'.
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Monday, 3 March 2014

Department S: A Cellar Full of Silence

In my own rather constrained world-view there are two opposing tendencies in the television of the 1960s & 70s, realism (Callan & Public Eye: this tendency came to the fore in the 1970s in The Professionals & The Sweeney) on the one hand, & on the other hand unreality (The Avengers & most of the shows I really like). Normally Department S would be in the unreality side of the divide, but for the first 11 minutes of this episode it has a creditable go at being a gritty tale of shady dealings in London's underworld.
The episode gets off to an excellent Avengers-esque start with the image of the masked men arriving at the building site. I mean, this is so Avengers it is almost a pastiche. In fact it feels very much like the show is a pastiche of first The Avengers & then the gritty detective genre before coming to as a Department S episode. Fabiani does an excellent hard man/Bond role: it starts off Bond in an exotic location before becoming hard-man-using-his-fists in a Londond street market. It is also evident that he is well known to the set-up he's dealing with. The room full of Nazi memorabilia also ensures we have no sympathy for Kyle.
This gritty approach ends abruptly the first time we see Petunia Winegum lolling around a mortuary doing a crossword. Sorry, I meant to say Peter Wyngarde, but his acting profession nickname just suits him so much better. Forgive me if I've already talked about this, but after Department S Wyngarde got his own spin-off series, playing Jason King as the lead. I don't personally like it as much as Department S - it lacks the strangeness & comes across as being a vehicle for Wyngarde's flamboyance. In the bleak 1970s Jason King must have constituted escapaist viewing, with his flamboyant clothes, luxury diet, women swooning over him, in (for the time) exotic locations. In retrospect it is extraordinary that the Jason King character kicked off a phase of Wyngarde's life when he was a sex symbol, actually mobbed by female fans at the time. Wyngarde was homosexual himself - what brought this dizzy phase to an end was his two arrests for cottaging: he attributed the first to a misunderstanding & the second to a 'mental aberration', although you can't keep on alleging that these things just happen to you. Despite Jason King's continual womanising it is blatantly obvious to me that he is also gay: what I find particularly interesting in this episode is his comment when dressed up in the outfit pictured here, that he can't understand what 'leather queens' see in it. Not only is his motorcyclist's outfit a kind of fantasy motorcyclist's outfit rather than the real thing, but how explicit does King's homosexuality have to be made? I find that an interesting occurrence in a series where the heterosexual role is otherwise reinforced, although I still feel any woman with any sense would detect that there was something wrong there. Later in the episode King gets to reprise the hard man role when he goes round to get the baton: do I need to say that he does it in his own particular style, even commenting that carrying a weapon would spoil his clothes?
This Department S episode has at least two references to the technology of the time. The wire from the baton which turns out to be recording tape is the obvious one. The other one actually appears behind King in the illustration to this post: the all-figure telephone numbers were a 1960s innovation, replacing an earlier system of letters & numbers (the telephones of the time had both letters & numbers round the dial. These vanished in the 1970s before reappearing in the 1990s).
Some familiar faces appear in this one. Paul Whitsun-Jones must be familiar to anyone who watches sixties British television. I didn't realise he played a journalist in The Quatermass Experiment, nor that he played Colonel Dedshott in a now-lost television version of Norman Hunter's Professor Branestorm books, which I loved as a child. In fact it seems he was a much more versatile actor than the dodgy characters I normally associate him with - the Nazi memorabilia-collecting character he plays here being a perfect example. I also didn't realise that Edward Brayshaw was in Rentaghost - am I dating myself down to at least the decade here?
I have one major criticism of this show: the plot is wildly confusing. Of course this may be at least partly deliberate, but the connections between the different plot elements are anything but clear. It may just be me but I'm writing this watching it for the third time in the past few days & finding it very dense. In fact at times it feels like this episode is deliberately caricaturing the conventions of the spy genre, far more than other Department S episodes do. No bad thing in itself, but it may have bitten off more than it could chew. This does not sit well with the banter of Department S, & let's face it, any show featuring Jason King has to be very careful what background he is put against, & an unreal one is better than anything approaching realism.
And I think it is the realism of this episode that means it doesn't work for me. It is still enjoyable as a Department S episode, but the contrast between the attempt at gritty realism & the odd vision of Jason King is just too much. It also prevents the sort of uncritical viewing based on getting into the atmosphere of a show, that I talked about in my last post. That's the real problem with this one: it isn't a Bond, it isn't a pastiche of spy films & Britishness, it isn't a last sixties psychedelic romp, it tries to be all of these things & because of that fails.
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Saturday, 1 March 2014

Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased): The Man From Nowhere

I am beginning to think that these eccentric sixties tv series are a cultural genre unto themselves that must be approached in a particular way. They have to be watched in a relatively unquestioning way, & enjoyed for what they are without picking holes, because they're not built for any great analysis. This episode is a perfect example of that: I have watched it countless times, aware that the entire basis of this episode is wrong. The problem is is that it is obvious from the start that what is going on is a confidence trick of some sort. I can only assume that Randall's head was so turned by talking to his dead partner that he did not ring the police there & then. That is what anyone sensible would do faced with the scenario delineated here.
This - rather major - plot failure isn't the only hole in this plot, which when you examine it looks like an old-fashioned string bag. The fake Marty's plot wouldn't have worked, because of the simple fact that most women faced with a man claiming to be her dead husband would ring the police. His plot is doomed. Nonetheless I would rate this Randall & Hopkirk *if* it is watched in a way that does not subject it to an analysis it can't support.
Perhaps the way these series (I would probably include virtually all of the series I have written about here so far, but I'm using this episode to support a theoretical way of viewing for a whole genre) should be watched in a way that is dictated by their strong points. I have commented several times that one of the underlying characteristics of TV programmes of this age is that they were never intended to be viewed (usually) more than once. The domestic viewer saw them once, with no pausing or repetition at all, & that was it.
These series are therefore probably better watched in that way, & their strong points that would dictate this way of viewing are perfectly embodied in this Randall & Hopkirk episode. It is essentially a whole stable of vividly-drawn, almost caricatured, characters. Other series didn't usually explicitly use The Avengers's principle of unreal characterisation, but it clearly applies here. I mean, is any character played by Patrick Newell ever really anything other than a caricature? Hopkirk himself is the unreal character that allows all sorts of things to happen in this show that would otherwise be impossible. The barman at the hotel is also a stock character. It is important therefore not to subject these characters' actions & emotions to too much scrutiny.
Similarly, the flawed plot of this episode acts as a vehicle for an atmospheric jaunt through a variant on Avengerland, which may perhaps be best called Randall & Hopkirk Land. It differs in that in addition to the wholly upper-class milieu of The Avengers it adds what is supposed to be a gritty poverty. Once again it is unreal - I will grant you that the sixties were a different time from now, but I do not see the up-to-date furnishings of Randall's flat as indicative of a real hand-to-mouth existence. Jeannie maintains her apartment as well, despite Randall not paying her at times. Where this is similar to The Avengers is that it is not real, there is no real discomfort here, it therefore remains escapist viewing, since the threat of poverty is never a real threat.
And these people are at liberty to just drive off to a palace for a visit. Like Mrs Peel being woken up by Steed in her car, where she's having a nap in the country in the middle of a case, the actual business of the detective agency is just dropped at the drop of a hat to allow Jeannie to get to know the fake Marty better, & for Randall to investigate him. The villains in the piece can suddenly be digging up a road here. *None* of this is a reflection of real working life lived by anyone then or now, & suggests that this show & a whole stable of sixties TV programmes should be watched in a way that approaches them as a merry romp. They should be watched for the atmosphere, for the escape, for an opportunity to sympathise with unreal characters experiencing a threat which is no great threat, & these are the things I love best about these shows.
This episode has made me make an exception to my normal policy. Normally I would be writing that it is a distraction, since not only is this show a feast of familiar faces, but all of the familiar faces are of such quality that you notice their roles rather than thinking, 'Oh, that's so-&-so.'
The most obvious familiar face is Patrick Newell. It is an indicator of his quality of an actor that I do not think of Mother appearing in Randall & Hopkirk for some strange reason. In fact he is such a good actor - although I can't begin to visualise what he'd be like as a thin person - that I really question whether he needed to do his famous plan of getting fat to get work at all:
'We were a bumper crop in my year at RADA," he explains.  "Peter O'Toole and Albert Finney - and me.  I looked at them and I saw talent.  I looked at me - and thought fast.  I decided it was a question of getting fat or going home to Suffolk for keeps."
'He paused delicately.   "As you may see for yourself, I chose the former course."  Not the most orthodox way to theatrical distinction but a highly effective one.  At 36 he's one of the best-known heavies in the business.' (TV Times, 1968. http://deadline.theavengers.tv/mother.htm)
A second familiar actor is Neil McCarthy. It is only now I discover his appearance was as a result of a disease, & he also died an absurdly early death: one of the things I wanted to do by keeping a weblog was to be forced to go deeper into elements of the TV programmes I love. I am unsurprised to discover that contrary to the roles his appearance forced him into, McCarthy was quiet & unassuming in private life. His TV career, however, reads like a star cast list from classic 60s independent television.
Michael Gwynn is best known to me personally from The Avengers episode Takeover, but he is best known to the world from Fawlty Towers. Ray Brooks may now be better known for Eastenders but I had no idea that he was the narrator of Mr Benn. All four of these actors appeared in cult tv series, the first three in The Avengers at one time or another, but in the case of this episode they don't crowd it with reminders of other series. It's quite a relief for me to discover that I don't always get irritated by these returning faces.
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