Wednesday, 25 March 2020

The Avengers: Man-Eater of Surrey Green

In theory I am working from home but surprisingly can't get on to remote working and have done nothing for two days. I have additionally been offered another job, and since my manager couldn't be bothered to acknowledge my notice or speak to me, I am not minded to be helpful! The perfect opportunity to write a blog post.
I don't know why I have never noticed that this Avengers is one of those which spoof a whole genre of film, in this case the dangerous plants theme which is a sub set of 1950s creature features. It is suitable for the Avengers  which so frequently refers to the 1960s love and fear of science, which at the same time was mirrored by a love and fear of nature.
One of the things I find interesting about this is that in theory the action leaves Avengersland completely, going as far as Denbigh, which is in Wales. There are also other distances involved, by means of rockets and what have you. There is therefore a sense in which this show is an exception to the normally constrained world of the Avengers.
Unfortunately this far-ranging ambition doesn't pay off as far as the plot is concerned. My advice would be not to watch this too critically, as is often the case with The Avengers, but to sit back and enjoy it. When it is watched like that it holds together, but if you subject the plot to too much scrutiny it rather falls apart. I have read that many or all of the scientific references and names of plants are fictional or just plain wrong, which of course would be annoying for specialists.
What did they think they were doing? I cannot believe the Avengers was only aimed at people with no knowledge of the science mentioned at all, but I also don't want to make out there was a slapdash failure to check facts. I am going to take the view (on no evidence at all) that the fictional science and nonexistent facts were deliberate, and therefore can only have been intended to give the knowledgeable the message that this isn't real, which is well in line with the approach taken from series 4 on. It is easy to find other examples of unreal nations, people, events in the series, and the Avengers deals in broad brush strokes and stereotypes rather than facts.
As always, writing these blog posts teaches me things and apparently this Avengers is strikingly like the Dr Who adventure The Seeds of Doom, which was also written by Robert Banks Stewart, in a hurry as a replacement script.
Apparently there is some dispute amongst the fans as to whether Steed puts poison on Mrs Peel so that it's taken up by the plant, or whether he poisons the plant. Obviously he's poisoning the plant directly!
So to summarise: not one which takes too much scrutiny, but does have many of the recurrent themes of the time.
My favourite moment: Steed revealing the cactus hidden under the blanket in his car.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Avengersland: The Wrestling Parson

I am accustomed to saying that the world depicted in The Avengers is not real. Until now. British Pathé did a series of films on eccentric vicars and this one (from 1963) is straight out of The Avengers. Many a clergyman must have been involved in wrestling or boxing, but working in Canada  buying a horse from 'the gypsies' and giving the horse beer to drink take it to the next level. And that wrestling match in the open surely wasn't set up for the camera was it?

Monday, 2 March 2020

Minder: Gunfight at the OK Laundrette

How have I managed not to pass comment on Minder up to now? Despite being a series which IMHO went on too long, I love the gritty depiction of 1970s London in the early episodes. This is the same world shown in The Professionals and The Sweeney, just seen from the underside.
This episode is based on real events  of the Spaghetti House Siege in 1975, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Minder script. Three black men attempted to steal the week's takings from an Italian restaurant in Knightsbridge, but wound up taking the staff hostage. Surveillance techniques were used by the police, the hostage takers made rather confused attempts to pass the robbery off as a political act, the press nobly agreed to help the police manipulate what was happening by their headlines, and one of the hostages developed what later became known as Stockholm Syndrome. 
The episode also deals with another issue of the time, namely immigration, by cleverly juxtaposing the concerns of Italian immigrants, who are bothered that their children no longer identify as Italian and can barely speak the language, with the concerns of black criminals who try to pass off their theft as a political act. The Spaghetti House robbers demanded a plane to Jamaica despite the guy who wanted it actually being from Nigeria.
My frank thought about this is what a horrendous life it is being a 'minder' - or rather general odd job man, usually for jobs which require some intimidation or muscle. Minding the owner of the launderette as he gets the money out of the machines being a case in point. It is striking that nobody in this is exactly prosperous (I don't think stripping brings in that much money), but despite that the characters are not miserable and Minder avoids the bleak despair characteristic of so much seventies TV. 
If I have a criticism it is that it feels a bit claustrophobic and drawn out once the siege starts, but of course that's the point. Of course we all know that the siege has to end OK for the protagonist and I suppose that is one of the things which makes TV comforting rather than traumatic. 
Perhaps I had better end with the disclosure that I have a bit of a thing about launderettes, I find them absolutely fascinating and apparently the one featured in this show is still there if anyone wants to visit.