This week's Ghost Squad treats us to the classic "hero gets stuck with a beautiful but unpleasant woman who slowly softens up in the face of adversity and they fall in love" routine (there's probably a snappier way of putting it). Nick Craig's assigned to escort Princess Nadia of Isman from her Swiss finishing school to Omar, another made-up Middle Eastern state where she's due to marry Crown Prince Hassan, and so prevent some kind of international incident. Obviously there are nefarious enemy agents out to stop them, including one played by Honor Blackman, making an unexpectedly early appearance in ITV's Saturday night schedule.
Her character's as different from Cathy Gale as can be imagined: not only is she a baddie with an American accent (sort of), she also proves to be useless in a fight. Also, she apparently has brown hair and brown eyes (I know it's in black and white so it'd make no difference if her colouring was sky-blue pink, but it still seems a bit odd). Another 60s TV icon who pops up in Princess is Warren Mitchell - the actor who, perhaps more than any other, is guaranteed to turn up at some point in an early 60s crime show of this kind. Before he became forever associated with the role of Alf Garnett, Mitchell's TV work mainly consisted of playing funny foreigners, of pretty much any nationality you can think of. Here he's a bit more serious than usual as the more squeamish of a couple of hitmen who are after the princess. The gung-ho sadist of the pair is played by rent-a-shifty-foreigner Marne Maitland.
Eventually Craig and Nadia are involved in a plane crash and stranded in a stock footage desert. As the vultures circle (in a different aspect ratio), and it looks like the end is near, the pair grow ever closer.
Eventually, of course, they're rescued, and just like in that episode of The Simpsons where Apu gets married it turns out that Prince Hassan, who Nadia hasn't seen since he was an awkward adolescent, is comprehensively gorgeous. Poor Craig's left out in the cold.
Donald Wolfit gets a bigger part than usual in this one as Sir Andrew, frantically trying to locate the crashed pair - as does Angela Browne as his secretary Miss Winters. In his extra screen time Wolfit gets to do more of what he does best: shout into a telephone. Here's some of his best bits:
If this blog were some kind of cross-decade TV Burp it would end with Wolfit and Browne making a guest appearance in the studio duetting on Saint Etienne's He's on the Phone. But it's not, and I'll just have to accept it.
This week Arthur's show kicks off with a mini-Tales of the Unexpected where he returns home to find his wife in bed with another man and shoots them (all discreetly out of shot, of course), only to find he's come to the wrong house. Next it's a Richard Littlejohn column come to life as Arthur plays a burglar who returns to the scene of the crime to demand compensation from householder Nicholas Parsons for being savaged by his dog.
|"Compensation mate, I want compensation!"|
Finally, Arthur's most celebrated character, one of a pair of tramps (the other played by Dermot Kelly) has managed to get hold of some splendid new winter togs, but eventually, after much soul searching, leaves them in exchange for a pair of burglars' £20,000 stash that he stumbles across:
|"That'll keep your chest warm"|
And now for our second engagement of the evening with Ms Blackman, as Steed and Mrs Gale investigate murder and international intrigue in the cut-throat world of pottery:
Renaissance woman Cathy Gale's at Marlings ceramics factory in Staffordshire gathering information for a book she's writing on fine china (it's not a cover this time, she really is writing one), when the body of an employee's found submerged in a tank of clay. Meanwhile, Steed's coincidentally being assigned to the case by his ever-gruff boss, One-Ten. They meet in a sauna, so we get to see them both unclothed, whether we want to or not. A topless Patrick Macnee's not an uncommon sight in early Avengers episodes, unthinkable as it might seem once Steed develops into the perfect English gentleman of later series.
To go undercover at the factory, Steed's given 24 hours to become an expert on ceramics, with only the latest issue of industry journal Form to help. I'm very keen on its modernist design.
It turns out that factory boffin Alan Marling has invented an unbreakable ceramic, which the dead man was in league with the slimy, chocolate-munching Mr De Groot to sell to the Eastern Bloc. De Groot's a splendidly camp character played with relish (though not total recall of his lines) by Steve Plytas,best known as the drunk chef in love with Manuel in Fawlty Towers. And he supplies us with yet more slightly disturbing nudity.
What makes Immortal Clay a particularly strange and memorable episode is the way it combines the OTT villainy of De Groot with the mundane world of factory life. The way it delves into the lives and loves of Marlings' thoroughly ordinary employees feels weirdly un-Avengersish: at times it's more like watching an enchantingly drab 60s soap opera set in a pottery (I would have called it Fragile Lives). Chief among the everyday factory folk is archetypal little man Harry Miller (James Bree, sounding like a depressed Northern Dalek), whose need for money to impress the object of his obsessive lust, would-be beauty queen Myra (Didi Sullivan), sees him falling into De Groot's expertly manicured paws.
This week's "gosh, isn't he young there?" guest star is Paul Eddington, as factory boss Richard Marling. And gosh, isn't he young there?
If Immortal Clay sounds like something that might interest you, you can watch it here. It's got French subtitles so it's educational and everything: