Saturday, 16 March 2013

Saturday 16 March 1963

Secret Beneath the Sea takes a turn for the Whodunnit this week, with Mark Bannerman nearly killed by a mysterious assailant when he follows Dr Deraad out on to the guyot (the underwater garden outside Aegiria), where the nefarious geologist has buried his stolen disc of phoenicium.  Who could this second treacherous character be? Even Deraad's surprised to find he has an accomplice.  Incidentally, the effect when anyone goes outside the city is charming - a tank in front of the camera fills up with water while the actor, in scuba gear, wobbles about to make it look like they're being submerged.

An aqualung is discovered in Professor Gordon's equipment cupboard.  The exasperated Scotsman denies all knowledge, and as Captain Payne's key to the cupboard's been stolen he may well be speaking the truth. Everyone's a suspect, even Janet.  The fact that Professor Soobiah is looking more and more suspicious, and is now accompanied by sinister music, inclines me to think he may be a red herring.

Dr Ellen Carey is Mark's prime suspect, though an explosion that destroys her lab shakes that theory a bit.  Fortunately she's only knocked unconscious, and very little damage is done to her hairdo.

We get another exciting glimpse of the Aegiria canteen this week, with different tea drinking extras for good measure.

The most enjoyable part of the episode comes when Captain Payne gathers everybody together (including the two old men from the canteen who we've never seen before) in Poirot fashion.

Payne informs them there's a would-be murderer in their midst, but sadly doesn't announce who it is.  Instead he informs them that due to the various dodgy events that have taken place, the UN are pulling out of Aegiria and their place will be taken by International Metals Ltd.  As this company's headed by Deraad's wicked employer Sir George Smith the reasons behind the sabotage suddenly become clear.

The episode ends with a great (if hackneyed) cliffhanger as Deraad enters his cabin to find the other spy.  But who is it? We'll find out in next week's final instalment.

"So... so, it is YOU!"
The last two weeks' episodes of Ghost Squad have been a bit out of the ordinary, and all the better for it.  This week we're back in rather more bog-standard territory.

"I have a feeling British science is about to lose one of its most respected figures," says one of Britain's most respected scientists, shortly before crashing his car, killing his wife and critically injuring himself.  His name is Sir David Andrews.

Sir David is the world's most distinguished intelligence scientist, and has been working on "the magic bullet" - a rifle bullet with a nuclear warhead.  However, some of the project's secrets seem to have leaked out - is it possible he could be a traitor? And was the car crash really an accident?

The Ghost Squad enlist the help of Sir David's brother-in-law Professor Baker, the president of the International Scientific Association.  He's enjoyably played by David Markham as the archetypal absent-minded professor - his reaction to the squad's plan for Nick Craig to go undercover at the association's convention as a Canadian scientist in order to find who could have got the information from Sir David is "Extraordinary minds you chaps have... is it really necessary to be so dramatic?"

The star of this scene, however, is Anthony Marlowe's spectacularly unruly hair.

Michael Quinn is again best in the episode's comic moments, doodling away during the long speeches at the conference and desperately trying to avoid any conversations relating to science in any way.

Craig discovers a shady trio of Central American scientists who seem likely suspects, led by Consuela Ibanez, played by the great Mary Morris as a dodgy, vaguely Hispanic version of her character from A for Andromeda (Morris's Andromeda co-star Maurice Hedley's also in this episode, as Sir William of the MOD).  We're told that Dr Ibanez is 38 - hopefully it's not too uncharitable to point out that Morris was 10 years older than this at the time, and certainly looks it.  Perhaps the implication is supposed to be that life as a Mexican scientist is a particularly gruelling one.  It's also implied that Craig is rather attracted to the distinctly butch Ibanez, which comes as a bit of a surprise.

It turns out (sorry for the spoiler) that Professor Baker is himself the traitor in league with Ibanez and chums, driven by insane jealousy of his to sabotage his brother-in-law's work.  David Markham's terrified facial expressions on realising he's about to be exposed are especially brilliant.

A nice thing about The Magic Bullet is that Jean Carter gets a lot more to do than usual.  She's also undercover, as a telephone operator at the hotel where the conference is taking place.  I love the extra who plays her colleague - looking exactly as you'd expect a 1960s telephone operator to - and the mysterious expression of disgust with which she greets the headset Jean hands over to her.

Rather wonderfully, Jean even gets to show her mettle as a Ghost Squad operative by coolly facing down the treacherous prof.

Last week's Arthur Haynes Show took an unexpectedly macabre turn, and I'm happy to say that the sketches this week carry on in much the same vein.

The show starts off with Nicholas Parsons visiting genial barber Arthur.  Nicholas is on his way to the big match between Rovers and Wanderers, and makes the terrible error of saying that he supports Rovers.

Arthur-as-psycho is both hilarious and genuinely menacing.  The tension in the sketch is slightly dissipated though when, as they so often do, Haynes and Parsons manage to crack each other up.

Next, Arthur's attempt to make a crepe Suzette goes a little bit wrong.

At this stage, the rest of the show's usually got over pretty quickly, to allow for an extended sketch with tramps Arthur and Dermot - these sketches have by now become a mini-sitcom in their own right.  This week they've made their home in a belfry, where Arthur shows off to Dermot the new nutcrackers he managed to get off the National Health.

There follows a typically surreal conversation about their acquaintance Hairy Willy and his even hairier daughter, former circus performers.  Dermot finds the life of a sideshow performer an attractive one.

"I often wish I was a bit freakish looking"
The pair's conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Parsons, who intends to commit suicide by jumping from the belfry.  The tramps' initial reaction is horror that the ensuing investigation might mean they get turfed out of their new home ("He's selfish, that's his what's wrong with him, he's selfish"), but then Arthur realises he could get something out of this.  His eye on a new set of clothes, he manages to convince Parsons that he could show his scorn for an uncaring world even more successfully by jumping from the bell tower in just his underwear.

Once on the ledge, Parsons suddenly gets cold feet.  Arthur, bored with Parsons' hysteria by now, pulls the bell-rope and makes the decision for him.

It's a hilarious, pitch-black sketch, and I can only hope we see our hero committing similar ingenious murders in the forthcoming weeks.  This week's musical guest is Shani Wallis (later of Oliver! fame), whose set includes an especially emphatic rendering of Variety Show favourite "Let There Be Love" (written at a time when chilli con carne was considered an extravagant dish).  Never have the words "Let there be you, let there be me" sounded so much like a threat.

And now it's time for tonight's Avengers, the penultimate episode in the present series.

The six hands of the title belong to shipbuilding magnates Sir Charles Renniston (John Wentworth), Oliver Waldner (Guy Doleman) and George Stanley (Campbell Singer), a trio of patriots determined to make Britain a great industrial power once more, and driven to the murder of a rival in order to stop his deal with a French company.

The first act of Six Hands Across a Table feels very out of the ordinary for an Avengers episode.  Steed only appears briefly, and Cathy's involvement is a bit unusual: she's staying at Waldner's country mansion as his daughter's an old schoolfriend of hers (though she seems far closer to Waldner's age).  There seems to be a romance kindling between Mrs Gale and the shipbuilder, though it's a bit alarming when he calls her by his daughter's name ("I need you, Ros") in an intimate moment.  Cathy sports an interesting new hairdo and wears an astonishing dress, so it's not surprising Waldner's had his head turned.

It's not until the second act that we learn that Cathy's presence in the Waldner household and, by implication, her romance with Oliver, have been engineered by Steed, who's on to the shipbuilders' more nefarious activities.  He cheerily climbs in through her window, but she's no time for his hi-jinks this week: "Go back outside and come through the front door like a normal, civilised person", she snaps.  Steed quite callously mocks the genuine feelings Cathy's obviously developing for Waldner, referring to him as "your handsome Harry".

"It'll all come out in the wash, Mrs Gale"
There are some excellent performances in this week's episode, with Honor Blackman particularly fine as a Cathy in torment.  Cream of the guest stars is Philip Madoc (the most prolific Avengers guest, popping up for the second time this series) as the ruthless Julian Seabrook, the real brains of Waldner and co's operation, who coolly ruins everything for them by switching his allegiances to the rival firm they've been trying to destroy.  Here's Madoc in this week's inevitable microphone-in-shot shot.

Edward De Souza plays the son of the rival who's been offed, and is surely one of The Avengers' most abused characters, acts one and two both ending with him being discovered unconscious.

There's a particularly enjoyable "Ooh, look who it is!" bit part this week, with Stephen Hancock (the future Mr Emily Bishop) as a draughtsman, delivering his lines in an impenetrable Geordie accent.

With its boardroom shenanigans manipulated by a ruthless but increasingly likeable character who ends the episode smelling of roses, Six Hands Across a Table is reminiscent of the earlier Avengers episode Bullseye, although what makes it unique is its use of Cathy as a reluctant Mata Hari who ends up falling for her victim.  Cathy's deeply upset when justice catches up with Waldner at the end of the episode, though it doesn't take long for Steed to cheer her up.

Six Hands Across a Table is also interesting for its historical value.  Shown at a time when Britain had just been refused entry to the Common Market and the country was slowly coming to terms with the loss of its empire, Reed De Rouen's forceful script is unequivocal in its judgement that those who think Britain can continue as a great power by going it alone in the world are fatally misguided.

And, if nothing else, Cathy gets a decent fight for the first time in weeks.

Be sure to tune in next week for the last episode in the current series.

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