Secret Beneath the sea is the last in a series of ABC adventure serials for younger viewers starring the lantern-jawed Gerald Flood, stretching back to 1960's Target Luna. Secret's a direct sequel to City Beneath the Sea, broadcast just a couple of months earlier. Both shows are written by John Lucarotti and directed by Kim Mills. An Avengers stalwart, Mills demonstrates that he knows how to grab the viewer's attention from the off. This is the very first shot after the opening credits:
This poor fellow is helping to prop up a shabby carnival sideshow run by a decidedly un-Arabic looking chap in Arab gear, and shouting for all the world to hear that he's showing off the eighth wonder of the world.
Keen-eyed viewers of City Beneath the Sea will recognise him as Kurt Swendler (Denis Goacher), ex-Nazi submarine captain and one of that series' main villains. The wonder in question is a scrap of metal he calls phoenicium, named after the legendary phoenix because of its astounding heat resistant properties: you can expose one side of it to a white-hot flame and the other will still be cold to the touch. Most of the audience look thoroughly bored by the show (well it's not exactly a bearded lady, is it?), but a young hoodlum and a nervous-looking academic type in the front row seem a bit more interested, and after the show try to obtain the metal from Swendler by force, though he just manages to escape.
Meanwhile, a party's taking place to celebrate the publication of City Beneath the Sea, the new book by journalist Mark Bannerman (Flood) about his adventures in the underwater city of Aegiria (as seen in the TV series of the same name). Though for a real-life story about adventures in an underwater city, it has an outstandingly boring cover.
Bannerman signs a copy for aspiring young science writer Janet Slayton (Ingrid Sylvester), whom he manages to thoroughly patronise.
Janet: Will you sign this for me?
Bannerman: Yes of course, dear
(a short while later)
Bannerman: Aren't you the girl who won the first prize in the UNESCO competition?
Janet: Yes, that's right. I wrote an essay called The Underwater World.
Bannerman: Oh that's marvellous, I'd like to read it some time.
Janet's main function in the show appears to be as a love interest for Bannerman's sidekick, pimply teenage photographer Peter Blake, played by the very, erm, enthusiastic Stuart Guidotti.
Avuncular exposition machine Captain Payne (Peter Williams) reveals that Aegiria, formerly the stronghold of loopy Professor Ziebrecken (played by Aubrey Morris in City - his reliably outsize performance is missed in the sequel) is now under UN control and being used as a base to drill down to the earth's core to see what it's like.
Swendler, escaping his pursuers, leaves his chunk of phoenicium in the hands of a friendly Scouse sailor to give to Bannerman, and then ends up under the wheels of a lorry. The two men who were after him, Sanders (Murray Hayne) and Dr Deraan (Richard Coleman) have to explain everything to their boss, an enemy agent who calls himself Sir George Smith (Reginald Smith). Fat, bald, smoking jacket clad Smith is a perfect Bond villain type, all he's missing is the white cat.
Swendler, in hospital but looking remarkably good for a man who's been crushed by a lorry, has been calling for Bannerman. The journalist arrives at his bedside, but can he make out what on earth he's blathering on about?
Now on to tonight's Ghost Squad, which sees Nick Craig reluctantly back from holiday.
A dead tramp in Sydney turns out to have been a British millionaire who embezzled a great deal of money before disappearing. What's it all about? Scotland Yard's Inspector Monroe calls in the Ghost Squad. In a classic "it was another world, wasn't it?" moment, Craig and Stock enjoy a smoke with him after he's given them a slide show explaining the case.
Monroe thinks a shadowy organisation helped the dead millionaire out of the country with his money, and Craig goes undercover to see if he can get in touch with them. He holes up in a swanky Kensington flat and pretends to be a property developer who's sold his business and is living the high life on the proceeds. His exploits even make the headlines (the second story's especially enticing).
Stock sees to it that Craig becomes a member of the exclusive Reynolds Club, where he meets crooked solicitor Chapman (Terence Alexander), who runs a gang ferrying fraudsters out of the country.
Craig sounds him out about the possibility of disappearing abroad, and later receives a call from sultry-voiced Julia Wilson (Harriette Johns) who arranges to meet with him and explain what he needs to do to secure a new life abroad. It's all discussed in a posh restaurant over a meal of that classiest of all foodstuffs, scampi.
Julia and her team of experts (consisting of John Junkin and the wonderful, walrus-moustached Bill Shine) shabby up Craig's appearance so he can pass as a tourist on a coach trip to Rome, where he'll be ferried on to Singapore, given plastic surgery and then taken to Australia. Here's our view of his faked passport. I'm not sure what's funnier, the angry photo or the fact that he's supposed to be from Coventry.
Things don't go according to plan, for Craig at least, as the captain of the ship to Singapore works him like a dog and steals all his money, and, penniless when he arrives, he's forced to stay at a dosshouse run by gang member Rockhurst, a wonky-toupéed old soak played by the inimitably rumpled Hugh Burden. Throughout Craig's ordeal, the sight of a sweaty Michael Quinn clad in a tight t-shirt isn't an entirely unpleasant one.
Craig quickly realises the set-up's a scam to part gullible millionaires from their money, but how can he escape before he ends up on a mortuary slab? There's only one word that adequately describes Escape Route, and that word is rollicking.
Arthur's show tonight begins with the bizarre sight of a gangland massacre taking place in his house as he listens to Children's Hour.
Next, Arthur gets to play a character some way up the social scale from his usual repertoire, a member of a gentleman's club. You may remember that a gentleman's club also featured in tonight's Ghost Squad, and indeed, what with the two shows both being from ATV, they both use the same decor. Notice this painting that appears in both programmes.
Anyway, Arthur might be posher than usual here but he's as belligerent as ever, insisting upstart Nicholas Parsons (he's only been a member for five years) vacate the chair he's traditionally sat in for 15 years. Parsons of course refuses, and the affair degenerates into a hilarious playground fight. "You Fascist, you!" screams Arthur at one point, still a meaningless insult of choice for many.
It's a brilliant sketch that moves outside the usual format but continues in the show's spirit of making the privileged classes look ridiculous. Only here they don't need a proletarian character to show up the daftness of their rituals, they do it themselves. It also ends with a fantastic punchline that while not entirely unexpected, is perfectly delivered by Haynes.
|"This isn't my chair"|
Threats to throw himself under the next train don't lead to much either, except an argument with city gent Parsons over whether he would actually do away with himself ("you can't just throw yourself under the first train that turns up, you have to build up to it"). Finally, Arthur and Dermot are reduced to the old "trip back to Ireland" routine, which involves Dermot writhing about on the floor on the pretext of being ill and needing money to get back home. They manage to get thruppence.
Tonight's musical guest is Janie Marden, who belts out "The Boy Next Door" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses" accompanied by facial expressions usually associated with heavy drug use, in a bizarre set that looks like a minimalist space prison.
And finally, it's the end of the world as we know it.
From the Tor Point observatory in Cornwall, astronomer Professor Richter (Keith Pyott) is due to confirm whether a white dwarf he previously observed heading toward Earth is still on course to destroy the world. Unfortunately he's murdered by an unseen assailant before he has the chance. Obviously it's up to Steed and Cathy to investigate. Cathy explains the science of the matter for us: the white dwarf's the remains of a dead star, and if it's drawn towards our sun it'll take Earth with it (well something like that, it all sounds much more compelling when delivered in the bewitching tones of Honor Blackman). Whether the world's really in its last few days or not remains uncertain, but Steed's preparing himself to have a good time while he still can.
There are quite a lot of characters in The White Dwarf, so I'll introduce you to a few. These are the astronomers at Tor Point, a cosmopolitan bunch led by Philip Latham in a lovely cardie as Professor Cartright, and including lady American Dr Fuller (Vivienne Drummond) and, from India, Dr Rahmin (Paul Anil).
The scientists, along with Luke Richter (George Roubicek), the late professor's moody son and boyfriend to Dr Fuller, are all staying at the Tor Point guesthouse, run by eccentric health food enthusiast Miss Tregarth (Constance Chapman) (on the menu: carrot soup, herb omelette and baked bananas). I think the guesthouse's Art Nouveau decor was meant to look horrible to early 60s eyes, but nowadays it seems very pleasant, especially the Edward Gorey-ish painting in the background here.
The villain of the piece is Maxwell Barker (future Grange Hill caretaker George A Cooper in a less plebeian role than usual), a millionaire financier who's pumped information about the white dwarf from his brother Henry (Peter Copley), private secretary to the Minister of Science, and is planning to exploit the resulting scare about the end of the world to buy up half the stock exchange.
Cathy goes undercover at Tor Point as astronomer Dr Gale (she never bothers to actually change her name when undercover) to try and track down the murderer and find out whether the world actually is in danger. Meanwhile, Steed works on finding out what Barker's up to. At the heart of the episode is the relationship between the Barker brothers. It's an unusual thing for a story featuring the potential end of the world to emphasise, but human drama in the face of catastrophe is a hallmark of writer Malcolm Hulke's work. Peter Copley is especially brilliant as the fragile Henry, unable to keep the secret of the world's potential end to himself, but who finds that the brother he trusted in has exploited the information to his own ends.
There are some wonderful incidental bits in the episode. We see a lot of the new set for Steed's flat, which looks marvellous. I especially like the microphone dangling from the ceiling.
There's a lovely moment when Cathy (in a fascinating leopard skin waistcoat) finds the source of the surprising astronomical knowledge Steed's shown throughout the episode, her little smile reflecting the affection creeping into the pair's relationship after its prickly start.
But the star of the episode is Steed's dog Sheba, who we don't see anywhere near enough of in the show (she's replaced by a dalmatian next year). Here she is, being thoroughly adorable. Aaaah.