Saturday, 2 March 2013

Saturday 2 March 1963

Regular viewers may recall that when we left the submarine Siana last week water was flooding in and our juvenile leads Janet Slayton and Peter Blake were on the verge of being drowned.  It's an urgent situation and it calls for urgent acting.  As Captain Payne, Peter Williams rises to the challenge with a truly superb display of dramatic phone-shouting.

Fortunately, the youngsters manage to escape the flooding cabin in time, though in a rather peculiar fashion.

It's ever more obvious that Janet's hopelessly in love with Peter from the gormless looks she keeps casting in his direction.  They make a nicely complementary pair, the complete indifference Ingrid Sylvester brings to her lines balancing out Stuart Guidotti's exhausting over-eagerness.

Captain Payne decides the Siana will just have to continue on to Aegiria and get patched up there.  In the underwater city we get to meet some of the scientists working on taking a gander at the earth's core. By far the most entertaining of these is the wildly camp Professor Gordon (Robert James), who automatically becomes the show's most engaging character.  He's consumed by his work on a spectroscopic TV camera that will be able to see through to the centre of the earth, but it takes second place in his affections to his beloved homeland of Scotland.  James was a hugely prolific actor on TV, often seen in fairly small parts, and it's wonderful to see him get the chance here to dominate the screen with his unique physiognomy and splendidly theatrical voice ("a tug rrrrrrrrrrrammed the Siana").

As well as Prof Gordon there's  Dr Ellen Carey (Delena Kidd), who we don't see a great deal of this week.  She's described in inevitably sexist terms as "as charming as she is brilliant".

And working on the excavation is Professor Soobiah, from India, played by the not conspicuously Indian-looking David Spenser in a silly hat.

Mark Bannerman only just decides to believe Janet and Peter's story that the perpetually worried Dr Deraad's a baddie who's got hold of the missing chunk of phoenicium, but when he does he decides to drop some seriously unsubtle hints to the geologist: "I'm sure we could find at least ONE metal that would interest us, aren't you, Doctor?"

The episode's sidetracked into an in-depth discussion of undersea mining which is no doubt very educational but not exactly edge-of-the-seat stuff.  It picks up when Deraad breaks Gordon's photographic equipment and the blame falls on camera-obsessive Peter.  Robert James gets his most splendidly flamboyant moment as he demands Peter and Mark be removed from Aegiria forthwith: "Eitherrrrrr they go orrrrr I do!"

Well, we must go now as we've got an appointment with the Ghost Squad.

For me, the most interesting Ghost Squad episodes are those set in London because of the wealth of background detail that can be seen in the real-life locations used.  Polsky is especially successful because a lot of it's shot on film in real locations and - unusually for a later Ghost Squad episode - the filmed sections even feature sound.  Here's an example of Polsky's exceptionally good outside shooting (the girl in the phone box is Fernanda Marlowe, known to enwhosiasts for a couple of brief appearances in the Pertwee years as UNIT's Corporal Bell).

The episode as a whole also feels much grittier and more hard-hitting than most other Ghost Squads, not quite The Sweeney (which writer Tudor Gates would later work on, in between various sex comedy assignments), but edging closer to it.

The plot sees Tony Miller infiltrating an international crime syndicate operating out of a grotty London garage in the guise of Nyziac, a Polish ex-con known to those who can't be bothered to pronounce his name as Polsky.  Here he is in his new guise, which I think rather becomes him.

In a wonderfully grim-looking café he makes contact with dodgy garage owner Hicks (Ray Barrett, last seen being dodgy in last week's Avengers), who offers him a job.

Miller/Polsky is enticed into the gang's criminal activities, and Miller finds his identity becoming submerged in the role he's assumed.  The centrepiece of the episode is an unexpectedly full-throttle fight scene choreographed by Peter Diamond and excitingly directed by Dennis Vance that occurs when "Polsky" has the temerity to ask for a bit more money.

The murky feel continues with the ethics of the Ghost Squad being called into question when Hicks and his gang (including Ray Austin, Patrick Macnee's stunt double in The Avengers), suspicious of their new recruit, kidnap the father of the real Polish ex-con whose identity Miller's borrowed and torture him.

Of course, what would a criminal gang in a 60s TV series be without a smoking jacket-clad, cigarette holder-clutching mastermind behind it? Here said mastermind is Edward Minto (Gerald Cross) a wealthy industrialist with a nice line in acid putdowns: "You, with your exquisite genius for for putting your foot in it," he spits at Hicks.

Polsky was one of the last few Ghost Squad episodes to be made (although there are plenty yet to be broadcast), and by this stage there's a charming camaraderie between Neil Hallett as Miller, Anthony Marlowe as Supt Stock and Claire Nielson as Jean.  And also Michael Quinn as Nick Craig, who makes a surprise cameo appearance halfway through the episode to gloat that he's off to an assignment in Bermuda while Miller sweats his guts out in the garage.

But there's a satisfying comeuppance for the smug American when Stock breaks the news to him that he's going to be working as a stoker on a tramp steamer (all that's missing is a "Wah Wah Waaaaaaah" noise on the soundtrack.

Now let's see what the nation's favourite comedian's up to.

Tonight's show begins with a sketch about couples growing to look alike that ends with the unforgettable (try as you might) image of Arthur Haynes in drag.  And to make things all the more disturbing he's dubbed with a woman's voice.

That nightmare-haunting scene is followed by a charming sketch with Arthur and Dorothy Dampier playing the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his wife as nosey neighbours upset that the PM hasn't invited them to the swinging party next door.  It's a sweet idea, although in reality the Chancellor at the time was Reginald Maudling, far more likely to be the one hosting the party.

The show ends with a sketch that seems grimly topical at the moment, with Arthur and Dermot (the archetypal "shirkers" of Tory rhetoric - Arthur thinks the only way National Assistance could be improved is if they stopped going on about work all the time) having their clumsy attempts at benefit fraud exposed by steely Nicholas Parsons - who's unmoved even by Arthur's war stories: "Up to me neck, mate, in muck and bullets... I had half me head blown off.  The doctor said, you're bound to get headaches later on".

The musical spot this week is amply filled by the rather hefty Anne Shelton.  Like most other female vocalists on the show (or so it seems, anyway) she begins by belting out "Everything's Coming Up Roses".  This is followed by a cover of Skeeter Davis's "The End of the World" that replaces the original's quiet sadness with the foghorn delivery characteristic of British singers of this era.  In between numbers Arthur turns up (in smoking jacket and cravat) to present Anne with a token of the UN's gratitude for her taking part in a charity album.  It's a copy of the album.  Anne's expression doesn't exactly say "thrilled to bits".

And now on ITV...

Conspiracy of Silence, with its circus setting, follows perhaps a little too closely on the heels of last week's Avengers, with its funfair setting.  The grotesque imagery is definitely similar.

Steed finds himself in the unusual position of being the object of an attempted murder by a clown.  The clown in question is Carlo Bennett (Robert Rietty), whose past associations with the Mafia mean they choose him to remove the inconvenient English agent.  A rather lovely scene on film shows Steed taking Sheba for a walk in the park and Carlo failing to dispose of him.

Steed's investigation into who his would-be assassin is leads to Gutman's Circus, where Cathy, as usual, goes undercover as an investigative journalist.  Carlo's disappeared but Cathy meets a host of suspicious circus folk, including friendly but sinister clowns Leggo and Arturo, and the Professor, a walking encyclopedia of circus traditions (played by the alarmingly named Willie Shearer).

Then there's Carlo's wife, Rickie.  She's played by 50s B-movie starlet Sandra Dorne, a kind of bargain basement Diana Dors.  She shares the more famous actress's brassy voluptuousness, as well as her quick-to-fade beauty.  Dorne gets a really good dramatic opportunity with the meaty role of Rickie, who knows exactly where her husband's hiding and is contemplating doing away with Steed herself just so she can stop the Mafia sharks circling and get on with her life.

Conspiracy of Silence's greatest strength is its setting - its always excellent writer Roger Marshall is clearly highly knowledgeable about circus life and makes the world of the performers believable, engaging and even educational.  The Mafia also makes a pleasant change from shady agents from the East as adversaries of the week.

I'm afraid there aren't any cameras sneaking into view this week, but in an attempt to make up for it here's a close view of the elaborate mullet sported by Sandra Dorne.


  1. The Famous Stars of Independent Television 1963 are sadly no longer with us anymore,Anne Shelton,Ray Barratt,Neil Hallett,Patrick Macnee,Arthur Haynes and Herbert Lom.

    Sandra Dorne at one time as British B-Movies from The Fabulous Fifties & The Swinging Sixties and she was born in Keighley,Yorkshire since 1925 and sadly when passed away on Friday December 25th 1992 at the age of 67 years and I Won't forget the great original British Actress icon is The late Sandra Dorne.

    Terry Christie,from Sunderland,Tyne & Wear.

  2. 1963 With Beatlemania swept Britain,John Fitzgerald Kennedy is murdered by Lee Oswald,Harold Macmillian resigned as Prime Minister to be replaced by Sir Alec Douglas Hume,Bad Winter with the snow and ice also the football,race meetings,rugby matches are called off,Merseysounds took over the British Charts with The Beatles,Gerry & The Pacemakers,The Swinging Blue Jeans,Billy J Kramer with The Dakotas,The Merseybeats,The Big Three,The Dennisons,Rory Storm & The Hurricanes,Tommy Quickly and The Remo 4,Cilla Black,The Searchers,The Mojos,The Escorts,The Fourmost also in Manchester & London with The Hollies,Freddie & The Dreamers,The Dave Clark Five,Manfred Mann also in Birmingham,The Midlands with Mike Sheridan & The Nightriders and Pat Wayne with The Beachcombers.

    BBC Television Sports Programme Grandstand introduced by The late David Coleman at Lime Grove Studios in London Keeping the close eye for the teleprinter with the classified football results read by The late Leonard Martin and The Horse Racing,Rugby League,Rugby Union and The Sports News Service read by John Langham and the famous commentators in the early days are sadly no longer with us anymore,Peter O'Sullevan,Harry Carpenter,Peter West,Kenneth Wolstenholme,Bill McLaren,Eddie Waring and Max Robertson.

    Shane Fenton & The Fentones,Johnny Kidd & The Pirates,Cliff Richard & The Shadows,Elvis Presley,Adam Faith,John Barry Seven,Frank Ifield made the great records and also with Mike Sarne,John Leyton,Eden Kane,Marty Wilde,Mike Berry with The Outlaws,The Ex-Shadows Jet Harris & Tony Meehan.

    Professional Wrestling on Independent Television Sports Programme with the grappling stars including Billy Two Rivers,Johnny Kwango,Jackie Pallo,Les Kellett,Mick McManus,Steve Logan,Colin Joynson,George Kidd,Ian Campbell,Johnny Yearsley,Johnny Czeslaw,The Royal Brothers and Brian Maxine and the famous voice of the late Kent Walton.

    Juke Box Jury with the late David Jacobs who voted a hit or miss also with Thank Your Lucky Stars with Brian Matthew and Ready Steady Go with the late Keith Fordyce and the famous slogan,The Weekend Stars Here.

    The Great Memories of BBC & Independent Television Programmes of 1963.

    Terry Christie,from Sunderland,Tyne & Wear.