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 fiancée, 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.

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