Ghost Squad: The Green Shoes

Before The Avengers. The Avengers. After The Avengers. That is largely my own description of the landscape of 1960s British TV. Regular readers will of course know that I see The Avengers as a high point, and everything else is rather an anticlimax, or under the show's influence, or imitating it. It is for this reason that I tend not to venture into the world before The Avengers very often (except in film terms - most of the films I watch are pre-Avengers). Ghost Squad is thus a rare departure for me - although still bang up my street because it is still an ITC show, which studio produced the majority of the rest of my favourite viewing.
Ghost Squad was never really going to appear here, until I came across the box set in a charity shop in Stratford upon Avon this week and took that as the universe's message to me. I'd read about it, of course and it tends to come up in my recommendations on Amazon, but I'd never really taken a fancy to it. I'm trying to put my finger on why, because actually I don't think think it is that different in scope to most other ITC shows - adventure, espionage, the classic formula.
What decided me that I had to write about this particular episode here was the scene in the nuclear reactor. Of course here we are revisiting the theme so common to Atomic Age TV, that technology is wonderful and dangerous at the same time. I can even more specifically describe what decided me to write about this episode - it was the safety costumes worn by the workers and visitors in the nuclear reactor. They look like inflated plastic bags, cut to the workers' size. I wondered how the actors breathed through these suits, although they are clearly inflated so there is obviously air in them. I also wondered how they stopped the suits steaming up from the actors' breath - such are the peripheral things I tend to think about when I watch TV. As usual I also wondered what wearing one of those suits would feel like, and came to the conclusion that it wouldn't be much fun.
Otherwise the nuclear reactor's security is the key to that part of the show, and this episode is very much a classic tale of east-west espionage in the Cold War. The Other Side are after our nuclear secrets and the Ghost Squad is responsible for recapturing the vanished radioactive material. Again this is a plot which is familiar from other shows of this age - I'm sure either Department S or possibly The Champions have an episode with a very similar plot. It is the fear of technology being misused by diabolical masterminds, which we find in a an 'unreal' sense in The Avengers, here writ large and very much in the real world.
Except it isn't the real world as we know it in 2017. This is very obviously a different world. The up to date technology looks marvellous outdated. All the men wear suits. The cars are wonderful. There is a maker of ballet shoes who makes them by hand and all his customers have their own lasts. Does that happen nowadays? I have absolutely no idea, naturally. The ballet slippers are the rather obvious clue as to what has happened to the purloined radioactive material. Well before the Polish Pope, Chernobyl, and Perestroika, this show really does depict a different Europe, one divided down the middle. It is easy to forget how the other side of the iron curtain was seen before things opened up, and this show rather brings it back. I had forgotten how the arts - here ballet - were one of few things which passed over the iron curtain, for example. And no doubt at the time, this show would have seemed bang up to date, with such things as a message being received on an airoplane. The sophisticated setting is further enhanced by the high class worlds of science and ballet in which this episode takes place.
The predictability of the conclusion is of course a plot weakness in this show. Once the Ghost Squad visit the ballet shoe maker's shop it is fairly obvious what will happen. While this is portrayed as a dangerous and risky mission - it is very obvious what will happen. It is a personal opinion but of course I'm not keen on the familiar actors who appear in a number of shows, who make an appearance here. The point is to watch the show, not to think about where you have seen the actors before. As I say, this is a personal dislike and other people won't dislike it.
Otherwise Ghost Squad is very much of its era, production-wise. I particularly like the way the studio shots of the ballet taking place on the 'stage' cut to stock shots of a huge audience. We notice the difference in film quality starkly now: I still can't work out whether people would even have noticed at the time, or just accepted it as the technology of the time. I like the restoration that's been done on this show enormously - the picture is crisp throughtout and the sound perfect. I have a suspicion that the available episodes in the Network box set may not be the whole of the original run, but the're still a good taste of what this show would have been like.


  1. Chicago Calling (Direct From The DVD Wall):

    As soon as I saw that this week's entry was Ghost Squad, I dug out a "collector's edition" DVD set (OK,bootleg) that I bought a while back at a nostalgia show here in Chicago.

    All I knew about this show was that the top-billed star was Sir Donald Wolfit, as the supervisor of the Squad.
    All I knew about Sir Donald Wolfit was that he was one of the leading Shakespearian stage actors of his time, famed (and knighted) for his years of barnstorming tours of the provinces.
    Which brought up the question: what's a titled Shakespearian doing playing in a filmed cop show?

    Watching Wolfit barking orders at the Handsome Leading Man (whose name I can't call to mind right now - sorry) brought to mind the nearest US equivalent I could think of: Highway Patrol, starring Oscar-winner Broderick Crawford as the supervisor of the Patrol.

    Highway Patrol was an early hit in US syndication in the latter half of the '50s.
    I've been watching my official DVDs of Patrol lately, and the similarities in production style to Ghost Squad hit me squarely: Apparently, Sir Lew Grade must have seen many of Ziv's US series like Patrol when he was setting this up, hoping for international sales (especially in the US - although that didn't happen, at least with Ghost Squad).

    Sir Donald Wolfit was plainly a Major Get for ITC, as Broderick Crawford was for Ziv.
    The major difference between the two shows was that Ghost Squad was an hour-long show, while Highway Patrol was a half-hour.
    Ziv used to film two half-hour Patrol episodes simultaneously on a five-day shooting schedule; I'll make the guess that Ghost Squad had a somewhat looser schedule for its hour.

    Anyway, as I said, I have the DVD set (seasons 1 and 2), so I'll be looking at it some more as time goes on.

    Happy Whatever-the-British-equivalent-of Thanksgiving is ...

    1. Thank you for your best wishes. Of course we don't have an equivalent of Thanksgiving... We don't need a reason to Wolfit!

  2. After all these years I can still whistle the early part of the theme tune. I haven't caught up with the show t all, but would probably find it slow and stilted compared to modern programmes. I've been watching 'Virgin of the Secret Service' recently, and find that very wooden, of its age.
    Perhaps the difference in film quality you mentioned may not have been so noticeable on the television sets of the day. Remember, we have had years of improvement, while the programmes are usually left.

  3. Chicago Calling II (with a general observation):

    Several times here, I've noted your observation that British viewers don't much care for seeing "... all the old familiar faces ...' in your episodic series.

    Based on my viewing of US TV from the '59s onward, I can tell you that we Yanks hold the exact opposite attitude - we love the "familiar faces" - and the more of them, the better we like it.

    From the beginning, US TV shows issued "Guest Star" billing to many actors and actresses, of all ages and levels, leads and characters, serious, comic and in-between - and many at the top of the show.
    And we in the audience loved it!

    I don't know how familiar you are with the American TV Guide, which came out every week, with program listings for the week following; so many of us would get the new issue each Tuesday, and go through the listings, looking to see which leading ladies and character actors would be turning up in this series or that -TV was like a giant repertory company back then.
    As kids, those of us who had parents who went to Saturday matinees when they were kids - we loved to watch the old movies in the afternoons, and then often see the same character actors in new TV shows at night; this is what we shared with our folks - it was part of the fun of TV.
    I suppose the peak came in the '60s, when Quinn Martin started making his various series, with an off-camera announcer booming out the names of the Guest Stars and Special Guest Stars, so we in the audiences could match up names with faces. Again, for us this was the fun of TV - becoming Buffs - and when we would see TV faces in the movies that we started to go to, even more so.

    These days, that doesn't happen as much, and I'm not sure why; I'm not sure I want to know, either ...
    ... just another reminder that I'm getting older, I guess ...
    ... and on that cheery note ...

    1. Oh I don't know - I think it's a personal thing not a British thing. I know a lot of people do like actors they're familiar with.


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