The Avengers: The Secrets Broker
The first thing I have to say about The Secrets Broker is that despute being black and white it is *so* visually effective. I suppose there may be a similarity to black and white photography which is always more 'artistic' than boring old colour. In the case of this episode the visuals are also very effectively chosen. The opening scene of the pretend seance in the cellar literally can't put a foot wrong, since it ticks every horror film box ever. The next scene, in Mrs Gale's flat, also can't go wrong, since it is very apparent that Mrs Gale's flat was designed for visual effect rather than comfort. One of the things I love best about Avengers of this era is Mrs Gale's wardrobe, also very visually effective.
I like the subject matter of this series 3 episode. At base it is a classic detective story about blackmail, and as a classic detective story it rather swims against the flow of many of the preoccupations of 1960s people as seen in their TV programmes. We see them so often here - the preoccupation with the future, with progress, with technology, with science and the knowledge and power which goes with it. Usually there is an ambivalence about the future or the technology, and a fear of weak humans' ability to use these things safely. The blackmail in this episode is based on scuppering part of the dream future because it is gaining knowledge about the activities of a research establishment. And yet the fear is not the future, what is being protected is the research, rather the blackmailers are using people's vulnerability in the very 19th century guise of the seance, as the cover for their activities. And their activities are also covered by a wine merchant's business - surely an elite operation, and yet one in which Steed is obviously completely at home. The Secrets Broker therefore uses the paraphernalia of the past as the cover of an attempt to scupper the future, which is normally seen as the scary thing in TV of this era.
Steed and Gale are both in their absolute elements in this one. Mrs Gale as the envoy into the research station and Steed as the spy into the wine merchant's. So far so good. My criticisms begin when an affair is mixed in to this. I genuinely can't think what the writer was thinking of - unless it was either to interest those who like that sort of thing or as a red herring. Anyway, in my humble opinion it could have been handled much better by not giving the love affair the relative prominence it gets, and just mentioning it as one of the causes of the blackmail. I was going to criticise this episode as rather difficult to follow but I think that if you take the sequences about the affair out of the picture, the plot hangs together much better. There are some further plot weaknesses in that by the halfway point it is very obvious exactly what is happening and who is responsible, and also how it will end, this being a TV show. In my opinion this show's endearing qualities, wonderful atmosphere, and witty dialogue make up for any plot deficiencies.
Obviously I mix in the wrong circles but I have never been to a wine tasting in my life, and have what Steed calls the 'depraved taste' of preferring spirits to wine. I must be Not Our Sort of Person. Nonetheless one of the things which strikes me about this is that it is touching on some very high (or at least wealthy) life indeed. The box of wines with which Steed walks out of the wine merchant's must have cost a small fortune.
The absolute high point of this one is where Steed 'falls' into a vat at the wine tasting, revealing the dark room hidden within. This is such an Avengers moment. In fact I htink in many ways this episode is one of the ones which shows the way the Avengers was feeling its way towards its future at this point. So many of the elements which make The Avengers The avengers are there in bucketloads - diabolical masterminds, elements of British tradition which are subverted, elements of the modernistic future which is here at risk. One element of The Avengers' later series which rarely appears this early is the magical omniscience with which the show just begings on its mission with next to no explanation. The explanations are actually there, but they are such a minor element that they are easily missed, which gives this show a feeling of some of the later series.
My conclusion on The Secrets Broker is that it remains one of my favourites atmospherically, but it has some plot weaknesses when seen under the microscope. It has however clarified one thing for me. Tomorrow I'm going to Selfridge's. I'm in search of orange bitters for cocktails and have so far completely failed to track down a bottle of Creme de Violettes. What I need is a wine merchant, obviously.