Saturday, 9 February 2013

Saturday 9 February 1963

East of Mandalay begins with a lovely montage of London nightspots, including a plug for a show produced by ATV boss Lew Grade's brother Bernard Delfont.

In the swanky toilets of the Embassy Club, the chairman of the British Eastern mining company (played by Ian Fleming - not the Bond author but the silver-haired actor who played Watson in some 30s Sherlock Holmes films) is approached by a large, sweaty man (a situation I can sympathise with all too well).

Said sweaty chap burbles on about British Eastern selling defective weapons to rebels in Ceylon, and the thoroughly baffled Sir Charles takes his concerns to Ghost Squad's Superintendent Stock.

You may remember Ghost Squad agent Tony Miller, played by Neil Hallett, who turned up a couple of weeks ago.  Well, East of Mandalay was intended as his introductory episode, but again the broadcast order was messed up.  Nick Craig turns up briefly to introduce Miller to Stock before buggering off on holiday (the most interesting aspect of Craig's character is that he clearly hates his job - he's forever going on about how he wants to go on leave).  This seems a worryingly casual way for a supposedly top secret organisation to carry on.

Stock sends Miller off to Ceylon (I must admit I didn't realise before watching this that it was pronounced like a Battlestar Galactica baddie) to find out what's going on out there.  A rather humdrum adventure follows.  As was standard for 60s TV episodes set in Eastern parts, the incidental characters are played by actual Asian actors, while the more significant parts mainly go to white actors in unconvincing makeup with peculiar accents.  Japanese arms dealer Hoyoto is played by Wolfe Morris, an actor from my home town of Portsmouth who spent a fair bit of his career in yellowface (also seen in the below photo is Brian Haines as British Eastern representative Burton, who later gets shot dead but continues to have a very lively Adam's apple).

Leading a band of guerrillas out in the jungle is warty-faced Denis Shaw, a frequent bit-parter in Hammer films  Rather than making him look Asian, his eye makeup just gives him a look of Hattie Jacques.  Perhaps he was a bit embarrassed, as he's mysteriously uncredited despite having a decent-sized part.

When Shaw and Morris appear on screen together towards the end of the episode it's like an amateur dramatic society doing Aladdin.  The only major character in East of Mandalay played by a genuine Asian actor is half-Dutch rebel Sara Van Niekerk, who is memorable for two reasons: 1) she wears a knife in her garter belt 2) she's played by an actress named, brilliantly, Jacqui Chan.

But undoubtedly the best thing about East of Mandalay is that it shows us Anthony Marlowe as Superintendent Stock is even more adept at bellowing down the phone than his predecessor, Donald Wolfit.

And now, (intentional) comedy.

This week, Arthur and regular sidekick Leslie Noyes get to stretch their acting muscles by playing a butler and his aristocratic master.  Although it's probably just as well that Les doesn't get any lines before Arthur shoots him.

The next sketch, with Arthur and Les as heating engineers disturbing Nicholas Parsons' lie-in, is notable chiefly for it's decor, particular Parsons' splendid horsey curtains, which you can just make out here:

A struggle getting out of his dressing gown leads to Parsons nearly managing to smash his bedroom set up:

And the sketch ends with the surreal image of a telephone receiver emerging from a toilet bowl.

A brief sketch with Arthur as a lollipop-sucking policeman (clearly the inspiration behind Kojak) gives us a glimpse of some nice 60s confectionery ads:

This week's show ends with a brilliantly bizarre sketch featuring tramps Arthur and Dermot contemplating the best way to get to the moon before anyone else in order that they can then flog it on.

Arthur's initial idea is to jump to the moon ("It gets very near some nights") but Dermot's attempt is a miserable failure despite Arthur's sensible suggestion "When you get to the end of the jump, try and jump again on the end of the jump".

Fortunately there's an infallible back-up plan: to use a succession of saplings, strategically positioned  along the way, as catapults.  Foolproof.

In 1963, trad jazz seemed poised (in some people's imaginations at least) to be the new rock 'n' roll.  Tonight's musical guests Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen show us what it's all about.  I'm a bit in love with Kenny's spivvy moustache, and the KB crest the band all wear on their blazers.

As if to prove its (brief) popularity, our next programme tonight also kicks off with some trad jazz, goofily danced about to by some very irritating student types during rag week at Cambridge.

This week Cathy Gale's able to get on with whatever her latest worthy project is in peace as Steed teams up once more with songbird/dollybird Venus Smith.  He's arranged for her to sing on campus during rag week - as usual to get her to help with his investigations without her even really knowing what she's doing (trad trivia: Kenny Powell, whose band back Venus, was also "musical associate" - whatever that might be - on The Arthur Haynes Show).  The dodgy-goings on Steed's come to university to look into are a blackmail gang and a series of mysterious suicides.  His orders this week come from bemonocled One-Twelve (Frederick Farley, who also popped up in The Plane Makers this week).  You can tell it was originally meant to be One-Ten in School for Traitors as One-Twelve utters his characteristic warnings against Steed bringing in amateurs.

What makes School for Traitors such an entertaining 50 minutes is a great cast playing interesting characters: not least the villains of the piece, Reginald Marsh (boss of both Paul Eddington in The Good Life and Terry Scott in Terry and June) as seedy pub landlord Higby, and Melissa Stribling (Mina in Hammer's Dracula) as bohemian artist Claire Summers, who loves to fondle her reptilian pets in true Bond villain style.

Claire's your classic femme fatale, who lures promising young students to their doom by making them fall in love with her and then convincing them to forge a cheque on her behalf (it's a long story).  The cheque's then used to blackmail the lovestruck fools into representing the interests of Foreign Powers in their future roles as pillars of the establishment (it's not massively plausible if you think about it as there's no infallible evidence it was they who forged the cheques, but we won't worry too much about that).  Students who rebel and try to turn the tables on the blackmailers have a habit of ending up dead.

Also giving splendid guest turns in School for Traitors are John Standing as a likeable would-be love interest for Venus, future boss of The Champions Anthony Nicholls as a concerned don, and Frank Shelley as the eccentric Professor Aubin.  One of these innocent looking three is the brains behind the blackmail operation.

But the best thing about School for Traitors is Venus herself.  Her character's taken a while to be established (the fact that she's only in the show once every few weeks doesn't help), but by this point Julie Stevens is really in the swing of things.  Venus has become a charming, vivacious character whose innocence is a sweet contrast to Cathy's experience - but while it's hard to picture her throwing a man over her shoulder she's got enough backbone to avoid becoming just a bimbo.  She's getting ever more regional too - in this episode her accent's noticeably stronger and we learn that she's from Derby, also she's developed the habit of calling Steed "love", which is something I can't imagine any other Avengers woman doing.  Also adorable is Venus's enthusiastic attempt to teach experienced secret agent Steed how to break into a flat "What you do is you get a bit of brown paper..." If School for Traitors doesn't make you fall a bit in love with Venus then I'd suggest you have no heart.  What's more she also wears some especially snazzy outfits around the campus.

In the bottom picture she's unexpectedly breaking into song in an moment that sees The Avengers temporarily becoming a musical, the screen suddenly filled with students come from nowhere to accompany her.  Oh, and on the left in that photo is an unrecognisable young and handsomeish Richard Thorp, who later spent years as Woolpack landlord Alan Turner in Emmerdale.  He's also in the episode's most enjoyable scene, which sees Julie Stevens throwing Patrick Macnee off his stride by messing up an introduction.  The pair's heroic attempts to steer the scene back on track are an absolute delight to witness.  In fact the larks Stevens and Macnee seem to be having together in School for Traitors are enough to make me wish they'd got to work together on a full series.

"Just call me Bert"
Here's Venus's impromptu musical number:

No comments:

Post a Comment