Saturday, 2 February 2013

Saturday 2 February 1963

The title card for this week's Ghost Squad seems to have gone astray, but it's meant to be called Interrupted Requiem.  Michael Quinn as Nick Craig is our leading man again this week, and for the third week in a row the episodes are broadcast in a thoroughly confusing sequence.  We've seen Anthony Marlowe's Chief Superintendent Stock running Ghost Squad for the last couple of weeks, but this is the episode where the character was meant to be introduced.  It turns out Sir Andrew Wilson (and his eyebrows) have been "shanghaied by the Foreign office", leaving Stark in charge.  We also meet his secretary Jean (Claire Nielson, probably best known for playing Mrs Hamilton in the "Waldorf Salad" episode of Fawlty Towers).

This week Stock sends Craig to the made-up Eastern European state of Ardania to investigate the mysterious case of Krystyna Brisac.  The supposedly dead daughter of Professor Brisac (future Good Old Days host Leonard Sachs), who defected from Ardania to the UK years ago, she's apparently now been seen alive by him.  Shady Ardanian elements are now blackmailing the prof into sabotaging his missile work at the RAF Research Centre (made up mainly of stock footage, most of it suspiciously American-looking) in order to keep Krystyna safe.

Craig's cover this week is as a representative of Winkie Dinkie Dinkum's Toys at an Ardanian trade fair.  For any fans of 60s ephemera the toys populating his stall are a delight to see, but even more delightful is Frederick Peisley as finicky, highly-strung fellow rep Mr Bowness.  In a parallel universe somewhere Mr Bowness spun off into his own sitcom, where the catchphrase "Just wait till Winkie Dinkie Dinkum's hear of this!" echoed across the land.

"Just wait till Winkie Dinkie Dinkum's hear of this!"
As if Mr Bowness wasn't comic highlight enough, Interrupted Requiem also features a guest turn from Derek Nimmo, being as Derek Nimmo-ish as ever as Craig's British embassy contact Prior, a textbook English Gent Abroad.

These two are a pleasant distraction from the episode's rather maudlin main plot, with Krystyna a victim of memory loss unaware of who she really is, her government official husband agonising over where his loyalties lie.  The couple are politely terrorised by the episode's splendid baddie, Norman Scace's Beyla, who exudes Sydney Greenstrret-type jolly menace and has a Rondo Hatton-lookalike sidekick.

Brilliantly, Mr Bowness eventually proves instrumental in helping Krystyna and her husband escape the  country, distracting the Rondo-alike henchman by shouting vaguely Russian-sounding gibberish down the phone at him.

And now, from Derek Nimmo being urbane to his Just a Minute colleague Nicholas Parsons being seriously perturbed.

In the world beyond the TV set the big news story this week was the failure of Britain's attempt to join the Common Market (50 years on and the question of Britain's place in the European Community still makes headlines).  Arthur's show tonight kicks off with a topical but lame joke about General De Gaulle's veto of the UK's application, then launches into a sketch that gives Parsons a rare chance to be very funny, rather than just providing Arthur Haynes with an opportunity to be.  He's a passenger sharing a train carriage with Arthur and his friend Les, who are carrying a large object that appears to be a body, which they're discussing chucking in the river.  Parsons' terrified reaction shots as he listens in to their conversation are priceless.

Ridiculously enough it turns out the body's actually a dressmaker's dummy Arthur can no longer bear to have in the house since his housekeeper left him.  It's unusually short for one of the show's long sketches, which means the second's able to go on for ages, but that's OK as it's an utterly brilliant one.  Arthur and Dermot visit an eerily deserted casualty department with Dermot's injured foot.  They reminisce about a down an out acquaintance of theirs who used to be a brain surgeon - a very dirty man who won't stop scratching: "no one'll go to him for some reason".   Arthur's not going to let any new-fangled ideas about hygiene prevent him from using surgical equipment to light up his pipe.

When they eventually get in to see the doctor Dermot proves too shy to remove his clothes in front of a nurse of the female persuasion.

"He wouldn't strip off in front of her.  He wouldn't mind if she stripped off in front of him."
It turns out the reason for his reticence is his extensive body art.  His back's tattooed with the names of the decent shelters he's stayed at, and his chest's emblazoned with the logos of the AA and RAC "in case we break down".  Proof if it were needed that what says "tramp" in one decade says "hipster" in another.

"The bad ones are down below."

Arthur's musical guest this week's rather special: it's the much-loved Ms Alma Cogan.  She gets proper star treatment, her name spelled out in lights, and drags a frightened looking man up to dance with her from the side of the set (I think he's meant to have come from the audience but he's just sort of hanging around by the cameras).

After a charming version of "Fly Me to the Moon" Alma has a bit of a break to tell us all how much she loves Arthur, the show, and just about everyone and everything else.  Then it's on to her latest single, a cover of The Exciters' "Tell Him" that she's apparently been inundated with requests to perform.

Sadly, popular performer though she still was, Alma's hit-making period was long behind her by this point, and it would be the younger, trendier Billie Davis who'd take "Tell Him" into the UK charts.

The Golden Eggs grabs our attention by showing us Steed and Cathy in domestic bliss.

For some unexplained (unless I missed it) reason, Cathy's had to move out of her flat, and Steed's letting her use his temporarily in exchange for her feeding him.  The Golden Eggs is, for the most part, a solo adventure for Cathy, Steed only appearing in back-at-the-flat scenes.  But they're especially witty and charming back-at-the-flat scenes written, like the rest of the episode, with a great deal of skill by Martin Woodhouse.

Eccentric virologist Dr Ashe's laboratory has been broken into.  He claims nothing's been stolen, but we know that the burglar made off with the mysterious pair of golden eggs of the title.  Her suspicion raised by the story of the break-in, Cathy visits Ashe in the guise of a journalist for the new science magazine Galileo ("seems rather an improbable name for a magazine", the doctor - who's clearly on to her from the start - cattily remarks).  I love the way that, just before she goes in to see Ashe, Cathy slips on a pair of brainy specs to disguise her as a science expert and then sheepishly slides them off again the second she realises her cover's blown.

Donald Eccles' Dr Ashe - elderly, wilful, alternately charming and crochety, and incongruously dressed in Victorian garb (which Steed makes fun of - a bit rich considering some of the get-up he can be seen in), could almost be a dry run for a certain doctor who'd turn up on the BBC later in the year.  He and Cathy make an excellent double act.  In between bouts of verbal sparring Cathy manages to winkle the secret of the eggs out of Ashe - they're contaminated with the deadly virus Verity Prime - "myxomatosis - only us instead of rabbits", Cathy grimly muses.  The eggs have got to be found and safely disposed of.

In a strange accident of scheduling Peter Arne plays the episode's main baddie for the second week in a row.  However, as evil clockwork toy obsessive Julius Redfern Arne's been made up to look as different to Warlock's Cosmo Gallion as possible.  Redfern's behind the theft of the eggs, which he expects to fetch him a hefty profit.

The actual burglar, Leon De Leon (Gordon Whiting), meanwhile, finds himself coming down with the deeply unpleasant virus.

He's convinced the ambulancemen who turn up to take him to hospital are henchman of Redfern's come to dispose of him, but in a decent twist it turns out they're genuine, and they die along with him in a car crash arranged by Redfern's real henchman.  Said henchman gets his just deserts later when Cathy gets her hands on him.

The Golden Eggs is another superb Avengers with some particularly good characterisation.  Redfern's an engagingly odd character and the episode has a pair of especially well-drawn female characters in Leon's wife Diana (Irene Bradshaw) and Ashe's treacherous but conscience-stricken assistant Elizabeth (Pauline Delany).

Here it is for you to see, if you so desire.

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