Friday, 10 November 2017

The Avengers: Quick-Quick Slow Death

Let me get two things out of the way before I start on this actual show. The first is that I have been watching Honor Blackman play a probation officer in the show of the same name. The only reason the show won't get a post here is that it isn't really my sort of thing - but if you like shows with legal-type settings which are note police procedurals or court room dramas as such, you may very well like it.
The second thing is that I prepared for this blog post by *listening* to the episode rather than watching it, and what I listened to was the version produced by Springbok Radio in South Africa in the 1970s. I have all the remaining episodes of that show which I downloaded from the website about it and they are jealously backed up on two laptops, my google drive and a CD-Rom: they're not getting away from me anytime soon. I have previously commented here that the website devoted to the South African radio Avengers series no longer seems to allow the shows to be downloaded. I am pleased to announce that the shows (I'm not sure whether by the agency of somebody else) now seem to be on youtube, and the first episode of the Saffer version of this one can be found here.
Back to the show. I love this one. It's one of my favourites. It's absolutely bonkers and if transported to the real world would be completely unconvincing. I love the music played in the opening scene of the man with a pram. It really completely disarms the viewer. At this length of time it is also completely of its age - the pram is huge and old-fashioned, the street of shops is far from the collection of chain stores the street would probably be now, I love the touch of a hole being dug in the street, and of course the red phone box makes the setting perfect. I love the comedic pacing of the man chasing the pram, and the scene is made perfect by the discovery that the pram contains (impossibly) the dead body of a grown man and the emphasis is on his tattoo.
Last night I was talking to a friend about the Avengers, and commented on Lily Savage's parody of the show, in which she comments that Steed is 'bevied' and she's too pissed to fight because they're always drinking champagne. I only mention this a propos of the number of empty beer cans Steed has to hand to shoot at in the next scene. As well as a full one for his lunch time refreshment. Certainly the amount of booze The Avengers get through is staggering by today's standards. Would a secret agent really have a can of beer (and mild at that) at lunch nowadays? WOuld they then? Probably - it seems the whole department was permanently sozzled.
I love the room in which Willie Fayre is being guarded or looked after. I think I recognise the fireplace from other Avengers episodes, but I love the implication that Willie is being kept in a grand old house where a room with such a grand fireplace can be turned into a bathroom. The room is truly *huge* and if that is the bathroom, you can get some small idea of what the other rooms must be like!
Of course if such a grand house is being used by the organisation it has fallen on hard times. And one of the themes of this episode is that very few things are what they seem, at least as far as standing goes. We have the dancing school, one of the traditional ways in which people would try to give themselves some polish. We have the suit hire firm, the way in which people who don't automatically have evening dress to hand in the wardrobe can look as if they are made to it. And finally we have the world of tattoos, which at this time would have been the province of sailors and the underclass generally. These settings provide the episode with an underlying theme of people (who are probably criminals) pretending or aspiring to higher standards than they were born to - witness Piedi's false accent. This is actually quite different to the true high society who usually populate the world of The Avengers.
What stops this being a social commentary is the strong streak of Avengers unrealism that runs through it. Piedi, for example. While many a man would probably have loved to play with Mrs Peel's feet in the 1960s, Piedi is so unreal that he is one of the type of characters we find in The Avengers, who if placed in the real world, would stand out like a sore thumb. In the world of The Avengers, he is just another eccentric with a passion for shoes. Mackidockie Street is another example. I googled its name just now and discovered that it actually comes up on Google as a suggestion, so many a viewer must have wondered whether it's real. Of course it isn't. And Mackidockie doesn't sound right to my mind anyway - it's a vaguely Scottish name invented for a location in Avengerland (it's reused in Escape in Time, of course). Incidentally, I don't often spot bloopers but there's something very wrong with the sequence in Mackidockie Street, which is that if you look closely as Steed enters the building, to the right of the wall the sign is fixed to is a window which reveals a row of men standing there. Presumably the real office workers in the building who wanted to see the TV show being made? Once again it is incredibly improbable that a modern office building would just have an open door on the ninth floor leading to nothing, but hey, the unreality is the point.
But the height of unreality is attained in the dancing school. I love the music which accompanies the scenes here. I love that the band consists of cardboard cut outs and an alcoholic. I love the absolutely hopeless people it takes on. I love Lucille and have suddenly conceived an ambition to learn ballroom dancing.
I have just a couple of criticisms of this episode. One is inherent in the plot, which is that when you give several characters the same wonderful name of Mr Peever, it's bound to get confusing. Another is that the extreme improbability of the plot frankly makes it rather implausible as a story. In fact it isn't so much plotted, as a series of characteristic Avengers situations loosely thrown together and tied together with a tattooist, a dancing school, a garlic sausage and a pram. You have to like the Avengers thing to like this episode, I think - at one point Mrs Peel is teaching dance steps completely different to the ones Lucille as told her to teach. Realism  - or indeed any narrative coherence or plausibility - have been sacrificed here with a vengeance. Of course this isn't really a criticism, more a statement of fact.
Because as a series 4 episode of The Avengers, this one is superb. Pacing is superb, and attention is maintained. The scenes in the dancing school are perhaps rather drawn out, but the heaps of Avengers touches maintain interest. It has the whole Avengerland atmosphere in buckets. Just don't expect it to stand up to too much scrutiny as a spy story about a dance school as a cover for infiltrating foreign spies into the country. Definitely Stonking Good Television.

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