Thursday, 28 February 2013

Thursday 28 February 1963

Written by Terry Nation, this week's Hancock, The Night Out, is a big improvement on the last couple of episodes I've looked at.  I'm happy to say I even laughed out loud a few times.  But while it's very funny stuff, there's also a a darker edge to it in retrospect.  Hancock's timing's as supernaturally brilliant as ever here but he looks shockingly old and tired (he was just 38 when this series was made).  Considering the episode concerns Hancock suffering from a massive hangover, though, this is probably quite appropriate - and we can even speculate that Hancock's new, short-cropped hairstyle (not in the least bit flattering) is the result of drunken decision making too.  Knowledge of Hancock's real life drink problems at the time the show was made can't fail to cast a shadow over The Night Out.

For a change, this week's episode begins not with Hancock hanging out in the street, but with him waking up, distinctly the worse for wear, in bafflingly lavish surroundings.

Unable to remember anything from the night before, a perplexed Hancock groggily explores the posh pad he's somehow fetched up in.

It's Mother Teresa.  Or ET.  You decide.
The opportune arrival of a waiter furnishes Hancock with the information that he's in the honeymoon suite at the Metropole Hotel - just making things even more confusing.  He only went out to celebrate his tobacconist's birthday.  Hancock reasons that if he's in the honeymoon suite there must be a bride (the fact that he's unaccountably wearing a high heeled shoe also helps with this conclusion), and eventually he finds a sleeping beauty he takes to be his forgotten new wife.  Especially with his newly shaved head, Hancock looks like a horror movie monster looming over her.

"Oi, Missus, wake up! Dearest? Mrs Hancock? It's hubby! Wake up!"
It swiftly turns out that the groom is not Hancock but a goofy young viscount played by Derek Nimmo, who met Hancock in a nightclub and suggested they all go back to the hotel together.  Hancock begs Derek to assure him that he didn't misbehave himself the night before.  The archetypal Hancock line "I can be a bit of a wag when I'm on the milk stout" may become a catchphrase of mine.

Despite Derek's assurances Hancock soon finds out that the previous night was not entirely free of embarrassment.  For one thing he's acquired a new outfit from one of the chaps at the Parakeets Club.

Hancock performs the "I'll Take You Home Kathleen Cha-Cha-Cha"
And what's more, he brought the club's entire cabaret troupe back to the hotel too.  He also seems to have got himself romantically involved with a gawky hotel maid (Patsy Smart, probably best remembered for giving her all to a brief role as a toothless ghoul in the Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng-Chiang).  She seems to have acquired some very peculiar notions about Hancock's identity: "The things I said and the promises I made you, they can never be, Anton... I can never go with you to your father's castle in Russia."
"Do I know you, Madam?"
Hancock starts to enjoy the high life with his new acquaintances... until it becomes clear that they're all under the impression they're his guests.  A horrified Hancock tries to convince the manager (It Ain't Half Hot, Mum's Donald Hewlett) there's been a mistake but he's expected  to pay the princely sum of £143 for 13 people staying overnight.  Hancock suggests a whipround to his guests...

... and quickly clears the room.  Hewlett's sent the heavies up and there's only one thing our hero can do...

One thing I haven't yet mentioned about Hancock's ATV series is the wonderful, jazzy, happy-go-lucky theme tune by Derek Scott.  Here's the long version released as a single, complete with interjections from the lad 'imself ("You cannot whack a bit of the old harpsichord!")

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Sunday 24 February 1963

This week, Space City dogsbody Lieutenant Ninety (no relation to Joe, they spell it differently) is in the spotlight as he attempts to achieve his astronaut's wings.  Confusingly, the stages a would-be astronaut needs to go through to get these wings are in reverse alphabetical order of difficulty, with Stage A (the solo orbit of the moon in a space capsule) being the final test.  Ninety (who looks a bit like Robbie Williams, but not as puppety) is understandably nervous about it all, giving us the unusual sight of a sweaty puppet.

Ninety's boss, Commander Zero, is far from confident about his ability to gain his wings.  These two are almost like an old married couple, and the harsh comments Zero makes about Ninety's abilities ("Ooh, that tootie lieutenant's gonna crash Fireball, I can feel it in my bones!") are clearly used to screen his anxieties about his other half (sorry, subordinate) becoming more confident and independent.

With Ninety flying Fireball XL5, Steve Zodiac temporarily takes over his job in Space City - leading to a mind-boggling exchange between him and the Commander.  "How does it feel to be a backroom boy, Steve?" Zero asks.  "Not for me, Commander - I'm strictly an action guy" Steve responds.

Zero continues to pour water on poor Ninety's attempts to better himself: "Yippee! I commanded a ship!" "OK, OK Lieutenant, pipe down".  But a scene of him smoking and drinking coffee late at night (yes, more smoking puppets) shows us he's really just deeply concerned about the youngster's welfare.

Eventually the day comes for Ninety's trip round the moon.  He's piloting the antiquated XL1, which doesn't have artificial gravity like XL5 and has clipboards flying round all over the place, meaning a risk of severe papercuts I would have thought.

The flight's jeopardised when XL1's helpfully labelled atomic reactor starts to smoke and eventually comes loose.

This eventually leads to the ship exploding, and it looks like Ninety's gone with it.  It's an emotional scene, with more wet puppets.

Steve Zodiac doesn't cry of course, that would be a ridiculous idea.

It's always a pleasure to see Venus's outlandish medical contraptions (sorry, space medical contraptions), and we get a couple of classics in Flight to Danger.  Here's her equipment for carrying out pre-flight medical checks and her remote medical checking device, with which she can take Ninety's essential readings even when they're in different spaceships.

But perhaps the most memorable (and by memorable, I mean deeply disturbing) moment in this week's show is the brief appearance of Zoonie the Lazoon, playing with a gun (during a "musical relaxation evening" at Venus's beach house).  I think it's probably meant to be a toy, but it conjures up images of him going on a Martian Delight-fuelled killing spree, chanting "Welcome hoooooome" after each slaying, which are simply chilling.

If you want to be chilled and thrilled in equal measure, here's Flight to Danger for you.

Now for this week's pop charts: Frank Ifield's "The Wayward Wind" has climbed to number 1, but I featured that here last week, so here's Bobby Vee at number 4 with "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" (sadly not an adaptation of Cornell Woolrich's gothic crime novel of the same name).  You can see the full chart here.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Saturday 23 February 1963

Time for another instalment of the exciting(ish) undersea adventure (it does actually go undersea this week).  We start off with greasy hoodlum Sanders (strangely cute in his clearly faux-Cockney way) clonking Mark Bannerman over the head and making off with his chunk of phoenicium.  Back at Baddie HQ, Sanders gets to test the metal's amazing heat resistant powers.

Fortunately for the audience Sanders is a complete idiot, so Sir George and Dr Deraad spell out the science of the metal in very simple terms.  Sir George plans to use it to make space capsules for the enemy.  This week we get some big, queasy close-ups of the wicked foreign agent's considerable jowls, as well as a good look at his absolutely horrible teeth when actor Reginald Smith has serious difficulty spitting out the word "Aegiria".  Those of a nervous disposition, look away now.

Mark Bannerman and Peter Blake manage to wangle a trip to Aegiria on the submarine Siana along with Janet Slayton (clearly deeply in love with Peter, for some reason) and the treacherous Dr Deraad.  Captain Payne's not able to spare any of his men to help them investigate the mystery of the phoenicium, and actor Peter Williams deserves major kudos for making the line "I operate an underwater laboratory for the United Nations, not a private detective agency" sound like something someone might actually say.  

Bannerman's still got essential notes on the phoenicium, so Sir George sends Sanders off in a tug captained by a bloodthirsty old sea dog to ram the sub and force it back to land.  Sanders gets very seasick and the Siana ends up with a slightly damaged panel on its hull.

Peter and Janet are starting to annoy dastardly Deraad (or "Odd Olaf" as they like to call him) by poking their noses into his sinister business, and he hits on a plan to get rid of them by locking them up - he doesn't seem to have thought much further than this, but fate provides a solution as the weakened panel on the hull collapses and water floods in...

Here's an "ooh, look who it is" moment from this week's episode: a young, uncredited Garfield Morgan as a crewmember standing around behind Bannerman and Payne.

The programmes I've looked at this week have given us a good example of how certain prolific writers could often be found in this period working on various different shows in different genres.  You may remember on Sunday we saw an episode of Fireball XL5 written by Dennis Spooner, and then on Thursday a Hancock co-written by Spooner and Richard Harris.  Well now here's an episode of Ghost Squad scripted by Harris (they're all ATV shows, you note).

As well as a writer, The Last Jump shares a guest star with this week's Hancock.  Thomas Heathcote (a very familiar face but a practically unknown name) turned up earlier in the week as the hardware shop owner who had to endure Hancock's custom.  Here he's playing Colonel Trent, CO of a parachute regiment.  Trent has to deal with the double blow of the demise of one of his men thanks to a parachute fault, and the discovery that the dead man was smuggling secrets from a research facility near the army camp out of the country.  Heathcote's performance is really excellent, his reaction to the news that there are traitors in his regiment a mixture of incomprehension, frustration and barely suppressed rage.

I love the picture of the Queen on a horsey
Trent calls in the Ghost Squad, and Tony Miller goes undercover at the camp as the replacement for the dead soldier.  It looks like there are still spies about, and Tony sizes up the suspects.  There's Captain Roly Holstead (Jack Watling), depressed and with an unstable temper as a legacy of his experience as a Korean prisoner of war; the very shifty Lt Blandford (John Bonney, a future star of Australian soap Sons and Daughters), and Holstead's fiancĂ©e, Sarah Glindon, who runs the parachute store (despite being played by the matronly Margaret Courtenay, Sarah seems quite the lust object in the camp, presumably due to the lack of any other women - mind you, none of the men are up to much either).  And then there's the camp's medical officer, Major Naismith (played by Denis Thorne, who has one of the most remarkable noses I've ever seen).

The best thing about The Last Jump is that Superintendent Stock gets the chance to leave his office and get involved in the story for once.  Fed up with how long Miller's taking to find the traitor in the camp, Stock turns up there himself, disguised as a crusty old Brigadier complete with comedy crusty old Brigadier moustache.  He doesn't get much more to do than order people about as usual, but it's nice to see him doing it in a different location.

And now, a comedy interlude between tales of espionage.

Tonight we find Arthur exposing his most treasured possession to Nicholas Parsons.

It's a heavyweight boxing champion's belt, and Arthur, down on his luck, tries to sell it to the bowler-hatted boob.  Luckily Parsons is a massive boxing fan and agrees to loan Arthur a tenner for the chance to look after the belt for a while.  He notices that it has the name of famed boxer Freddie Mills on it, but Arthur manages to convince him he is Freddie, after extensive plastic surgery to improve his chances of getting married.  Parsons' gullibility does not go unpunished when the real Freddie Mills turns up.

In our weekly catch-up with tramps Arthur and Dermot, they're attempting a new money-making scheme.  It stands to reason that as he's Irish Dermot must have some sort of occult powers, so Arthur's encouraged him to go into business as a medium.  His first client's their landlady, Patricia Hayes, who's promised five bob if he can get in touch with her former lodger Bert Smith and find out he intends to pay her the rent he owes now he's dead.

What's that knocking in response to Dermot's questions? Could it be a visitor from beyond? No, it's Rita "Ratbag" Webb as the downstairs neighbour in search of a cup of sugar.

Eventually Bert does indeed manifest himself - he's been hiding in the loft for two months as he couldn't afford to pay his rent.  Hayes is indignant to say the least: "You wrote me a letter saying you was dead!"

Our musical guest this evening is Dickie Valentine, who gets the unprecedented opportunity to sing three songs, though in one of them he has to contend with being upstaged by Arthur himself.

Tonight's Avengers is the second programme of the evening directed by Secret Beneath the Sea's Kim Mills, who once again demonstrates his ability to grab the audience's attention straight away with a point-of-view tracking shot through a funfair ghost house that's creepy and tatty in equal measure, eventually revealing...

Our first sight of Steed this evening is outside a strip club eyeing up some photos of scantily-clad young ladies.

The club is, however, a front for the base of operations of Steed's latest boss, the tetchy One-Six (Michael Gover, probably best known as the equally tetchy Arthur Russell in Survivors), who's clearly not keen on our bowler-hatted hero.  He sets Steed the task of finding out whether civil servant Victor Trevelyan, trusted with the kind of secrets pertaining to national security that always play such a key part in these shows, really killed himself or whether something more sinister's afoot.  Run-down amusement park Wonderland seems to have something to do with the case, and Steed sends two of his best friends - his dog Sheba and the even more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Venus Smith - to go and have a look at it.

Larking about as is her wont, Venus takes a photo of herself in the hall of mirrors, but manages to capture something more significant - the not-quite-so-late Victor Trevelyan.

Apprehended by Mr Strong (not the square, red one but a heavy in the pockmarked shape of Ray Barrett), Venus and Sheba only just make it out of the ironically named Wonderland in one piece.

This week, rather than working some dodgy gig Steed's managed to get her, Venus is actually in the recording studio (her producer's Fireball XL5 voice artiste David Graham).  I'm very fond of her little glances to camera as she sings.  Not sure if I'd buy her album though.

Man in the Mirror feels like a filler episode, really - but it's memorable for a few reasons.  There's Mills' direction, as noted, and Anne Spavin's production design, which deftly mixes the shabby and the downright bizarre.

Don't have nightmares
Nice to see you, to see you nice!
Horror fans may notice that, as is the way of crappy funfairs, this picture's ripped off from the Universal horror film Werewolf of London
Man in the Mirror also benefits from a wonderful little performance from Rhoda Lewis as Trevelyan's wife, perhaps one of the most convincing characters in any Avengers episode.  Confronted by Steed with proof her husband's alive she admits she knew her husband faked his death in order to defect, but insists her love for her husband's more important than anything else to her: "I'd rather be married to a live traitor than a dead hero".

Later on we find that Mrs Trevelyan's part in her husband's plan is more active than we were led to believe.  Here it's worth comparing Man in the Mirror with tonight's Ghost Squad.  When the traitor's unmasked in The Last Jump he launches into a hammy tirade about the superiority of his side's ideology to that of the west.  In Man in the Mirror Mrs Trevelyan explains that she and her husband are selling secrets for the most mundane of reasons: to make ends meet.  The best moment in the episode comes when Mrs Trevelyan tells her husband there wasn't really any money in an envelope she gave Strong's henchwoman Betty in order to see him: "When did we ever have £500?" she sighs, her tired, resentful tone telling us all we need to know about their relationship and what's brought them to where they are now.

Oh, in case you were worried there wouldn't be a microphone visible in tonight's episode at any point, this should ease your fears:

It's a Ghost Tunnel.  They couldn't afford the train.
And to finish with, here's an incredibly cute shot of our three heroes.

If you think Man in the Mirror is something you'd like to see, here you go.