Ghost Squad's probably one of the lesser-known shows I'm going to be rambling on about here so maybe it could do with a bit of an introduction. Disappointingly, it's not actually about a squad of ghosts: it's an early entry in the long run of crime/spy type shows produced by ITC. The Ghost Squad of the title are, basically, agents who spend most of their time undercover. The show focuses mainly on the adventures of operative Nick Craig, played by US import Michael Quinn. Quinn's a handsome enough leading man (I especially like his nose), but he's instantly forgettable (probably quite handy if you're a secret agent, not so good if you're starring in a TV show). More memorable is theatrical knight Donald Wolfit, top-billed as Craig's boss Sir Andrew Wilson, who pops up for a few minutes in each episode to irascibly bark orders. Despite his lack of screen time, Wolfit's frankly astonishing eyebrows justify both his billing and his knighthood.
Here's Wolfit with his amazing eyebrows and Quinn with his amazing nose, plus Angela Browne as Sir Andrew's secretary, with her not all that amazing notepad:
Ghost Squad's plots are pretty much interchangeable with those of The Saint, Danger Man, etc. and a great deal of the fun of each episode comes from seeing which character actors of the era are going to pop up that week. Given the exotic settings favoured by shows like this you'll more often than not see a number of familiar British thesps coping gamely with swarthy makeup and unplaceable accents. However, Catspaw, with its standard plot about, er, a plot against the president of a South American banana republic, draws its cast of conspirators from actors whose careers were largely spent as all-purpose sinister foreigners in British films and TV: George Pastell, Paul Stassino, Bill Nagy, Guy Deghy and Alec Mango. Here's the particularly ubiquitous Pastell in a fetching toupee as the chief of police along with Deghy as the head of the military, looking like he's come straight from panto:
Meanwhile Moira Redmond sounds suspiciously Scottish as a local air hostess involved in the plot and Michael Goodliffe as the president himself can't be bothered with an accent at all. And is that a young Brian Blessed in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it part as a military policeman? Unfortunately the role's not credited so I can't say for sure. Certainly looks like the man then better known as Z Cars' Fancy Smith though.
Catspaw's highlights include Craig getting trapped inside a giant freezer (enabling Michael Quinn to do some sterling "I'm very cold" acting), ridiculous comedy police, and some lovely early 60s banana and peanut advertising.
|Note cool banana and peanut ads on wall|
Meanwhile, Britain in January 1963's not much warmer than the inside of that freezer.
Written and recorded closer to transmission than any of the other programmes here, Arthur Haynes' show was able to incorporate the freakishly cold weather into its sketches. Haynes' writer was Johnny Speight, later famed for creating Till Death Us Do Part. Haynes' habitual character in the show can be seen as a distant, less overtly bigoted cousin of Alf Garnett, but with the same desire to set the world to rights (and at the other end of the political spectrum). Haynes' main schtick was driving an authority figure of some description (usually played by his regular straight man "Nickle-arse" Parsons) into fits of rage and frustration with his sheer working class bloody-mindedness. This week's show has a couple of perfect examples. The first's a rejigging of Haynes' most famous sketch, where he attempts to get a grandfather clock onto a bus. Here the vehicle's a tube carriage and the unwieldy item's the front wall of Arthur's hen house. He manages to get it on but immediately clashes with city gent Parsons as well as a large female passenger, who Arthur is staggeringly (but hilariously) rude to.
|"I bet every time she comes on this tube train she interferes with other people's convenience!"|
Later, Arthur plays a newspaper seller giving the benefit of his (unsolicited) wisdom to editor Glyn Houston (reprising his role from ITV drama Deadline Midnight). He's particularly unimpressed with the paper's reporting of the freezing weather.
|"Don't you think the people who buy these papers know that? They're walking about in it all day long!"|
A moustachioed Parsons pops up, channeling Leslie Phillips as the paper's fashion columnist, who goes under the nom de plume Audrey Anne Martin. The ensuing gender confusion leads to an alarming story from Arthur about his brother, who he later discovered was his sister when she had twins.
|"What you dressed like a man for?"|
This being a 60s sketch show, there has to be a musical guest on the bill. This week's long-forgotten performers are the Kaye Sisters, who are much the same as the Beverleys, but distinguished by the especially maniacal-looking one on the right:
And now, back to the world of crime-fighting:
Intercrime's one of a few early Avengers episodes written by Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks, both best known now for the roles they'd play in the development of Doctor Who. It's a fairly bog-standard second series adventure that starts off with Cathy Gale behind bars in Holloway Prison. Steed's sweet-talked her into going undercover there to make contact with Hilda Stern, the German executioner of Intercrime (Interpol in reverse, basically), currently detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure. Sadly for viewers excited at the prospect of Mrs Gale in a women's prison, Cathy doesn't stay banged up for long. On learning of a plot to spring Hilda she takes her place and escapes to infiltrate the British Intercrime gang, who run a shooting gallery as a front (luckily none of Intercrime's UK operatives have ever met or even seen a photo of Hilda before). Funnily enough, Honor Blackman's German accent's considerably stronger than the one adopted by Julia Arnall, who plays the real Hilda.
|Cathy, being Stern (get it? Oh, never mind)|
Intercrime is a crime syndicate organised like a respectable business - and sadly this makes for lots of graphs and rather dull villains. The main baddies are played by stalwart TV guest actors (Kenneth J Warren, Jerome Willis and Alan Browning - later one half of ITV's own Taylor and Burton with fellow Coronation Street star Pat Phoenix) but none of their characters really come to life. Halfway through, the episode wanders into an incredibly tedious and pointless subplot involving a mock-trial where Cathy/Hilda has to defend an Intercrime hood against charges of stealing from the gang's ill-gotten gains. Her next, more interesting, assignment is to bump off the gallery boss's girlfriend Pamela, who knows too much about the gang: she's played by Angela Browne, making her second TV appearance of the evening and looking considerably more glamorous than she did in Ghost Squad:
The scenes of a smitten Steed trying to convince the highly sceptical Pamela of the threat to her life are brilliant fun, and far more engrossing than anything going on at Intercrime HQ - except for the unscheduled appearance of a camera operator trundling past an open door (which discreetly closes as he passes):
|Spot the camera|
Eventually, of course, the real Hilda turns up, leading to an almighty catfight, with Cathy not even having time to get her leathers on.
|Hilda v Hilda|
Intercrime would turn up to plague the Avengers again in the ill-fated Tara King episode The Great Great Britain Crime. But that's another story that must be told another time.
You can see Intercrime for yourself here: