Saturday, 23 March 2013

Saturday 23 March 1963

ITV's gone John Lucarotti potti! All three drama shows on tonight's menu are scripted by the writer now best remembered for his historical Doctor Who adventures.  He hasn't managed to oust Johnny Speight from writing for Arthur Haynes, though if he had the results might have been interesting.

Mr L's first course for us this evening is the final episode of the thrilling aquatic adventure series.  You may remember that last week's show ended with Dr Deraad's tantalising discovery of his fellow conspirator.  Well, look away now if you don't want to know who that conspirator is...

Yes, just as clever old Mark Bannerman suspected all along, it's Dr Ellen Carey - she blew up her own lab to dispose of incriminating evidence, and knocked herself out with an injection in order to divert suspicion, the crafty madam.  Of course, this leaves us the even bigger mystery of why Professor Soobiah has been acting in such a conspicuously sinister manner for the last few weeks, but sadly that's one that must remain unsolved (now he's been exposed as a red herring he starts acting normally - or as normally as a browned-up chap with a dodgy Indian accent ever can).

While Deraad's making his shock discovery, Mark convinces Captain Payne to carry on with drilling down to the X-layer to prove how important the discovery of phoenicium is - before the dastardly International Metals Ltd takes over Aegiria.  It's rather like a corny Hollywood musical, with our heroes deciding to give it their all for one last go before surrendering the old underwater city to the blackhearted villains.  It's a shame they didn't throw in a few songs - but then I suppose it would have been quite difficult to find a rhyme for phoenicium.

Blackhearted villain Dr Carey's taken charge of the baddies' operations in Aegiria, bossing the spineless Dr Deraad into tricking his way down to the mining centre and halting the operation by force.

Meanwhile, Professor Gordon's spectroscopic camera's been fixed and is taken down to the mining centre, though the Prof himself can't go with it as he's still under suspicion.  Robert James is thoroughly endearing as the old fusspot, clucking over his invention like a mother hen and grief-stricken that it's going off without him.  Some of James's mannerisms (and his scruffy attire) are similar to those Patrick Troughton would bring to the lead role in Doctor Who (and, by chance, James guest starred in Troughton's first story).

Anyway, Peter Blake accompanies Dr Deraad down to the drillhead, and we get a lovely shot of a cute little model bathyscape.

Deraad pulls a gun on Peter, threatening to shoot if the drilling isn't stopped (it would be a tough decision to have to make).  Brilliantly, the gruff Northern sailor (Michael Darlow) who's hung about in the background for the last few episodes, gets a brief turn in the limelight as he mouths off to the cowardly Scandinavian.

Heroic Mark manages to sneak behind the Doc and disarm him - but dastardly Dr Carey's blown up the bathyscape controls, meaning they're all trapped far beneath sea level.  Well actually they're not, as it's quickly established there's a button that'll make the bathyscape automatically rise back up to Aegiria.  Phew.

Dr Carey's involved in a life-or-death struggle outside the dome with young Janet Slayton, but Mark comes to the rescue once more and apprehends her (it turns out she's actually the niece of International Metals chief and enemy agent Sir George Smith).  We get some wonderful wonky "underwater" visuals (including much use of bits of transparent plastic waved in front of the camera), and a great Scooby-Doo moment for our villainess.

"If it hadn't been for YOU I might have succeeded!"
The serial ends in gloriously cosy fashion with the goodies all gathered round to watch Peter demonstrating the amazing powers of the phoenicium.  "Mission accomplished!" chortles Captain Payne in his avuncular way.  Everybody laughs.

Next in our Lucarotti line-up, it's tonight's visit to the Ghost Squad.

Tonight, Tony Miller poses as a showbiz agent handling the visiting Bassrai State Dancers.  Here they are in their delightful national costume, and here's Tony getting a wolf-whistle from one if them - this is obviously in the script but still manages to throw Neil Hallett off his stride "Well, that was infra... individualistic, anyway."

As Bassrai's a Soviet state there's obviously some skullduggery connected with the dancers, and the skullduggerers-in-chief are Olaf Pooley as impresario Kobelik (looking as much like a Soviet impresario as it's humanly possible to) and Harry Towb with a ridiculous toupee (and even more ridiculous "baddie" facial expressions) as Bassrai embassy official Feyer.

They have a plan to lure errant Colonel Radiv (George Pravda), who now lives in London and is a friend of Ghost Squad's Geoffrey Stock, back to Bassrai to stand trial by convincing him the daughter he's believed dead for years is actually still alive.  They do this by putting the dancers' interpreter, Ilse Virany (Anneke Wills lookalike Jacqueline Ellis) up to reading out certain key phrases to him over the phone.

The Menacing Mazurka's great fun, and Lucarotti supplies plenty of twists and turns to keep it interesting, the most dramatic being the revelation (spoiler, sorry) that Virany actually is the Colonel's daughter, while the dancer who's been begging Miller to help her escape from Kobelik's clutches is in fact a Bassraian government agent.

Stuntman Ray Austin turns up again, this time as a karate chopping henchman of Feyer, and this means Neil Hallett gets into another terribly exciting fight with him.

My favourite guest character this week is the all-too-briefly-seen society matron Mrs Marquand-Forster (Ruth Lodge), a scatterbrained patron of the arts who takes rather a shine to Superintendent Stock (though she regularly refers to him as "Mr Spock").

We take a break now from the writings of Mr Lucarotti as Mr Johnny Speight provides more chortlesome adventures for Messrs Haynes and Parsons.

Since the bizarre, brilliant train sketch a couple of weeks ago the standard format for the show's opening sketch has Arthur as a strange man terrorising Parsons.  The setting for this week's variation on the theme is a hotel room, where a newly arrived guest...

The watching eye is, of course, Weirdo Arthur's.  He bursts in and demands to know if the hotel staff have been talking about him.  He insists they should have, as he has a compulsion to borrow money from other guests and not pay it back, read their mail, and flirt with their wives (Nicholas doesn't have a wife but "if you must know, I have a lady that I write to").  Arthur shows off how flexible his nose has become from years of being punched by angry husbands.

He also has the keys to every room.  And what's worse, he's found a photo of Parsons' lady friend:  "Blimey! Ain't she ugly? Her nose is spread all over her face, look!".
The pattern on those curtains is Calyx, by Lucienne Day
The sketch ends with Arthur luring Parsons into looking through a keyhole, at which point he reveals he's actually the hotel detective and hauls his befuddled straight man off.  It's enjoyable enough  but really just a replay of the train sketch - only missing the genuine menace that made it so brilliant.

The closing sketch is even more bizarre.  Arthur and Dermot have headed to the beach for a spot of busking.  The conversation, naturally, turns to their brains.  A psychiatrist once told Arthur he had a very big one, but he's doubtful Dermot's got one at all.  Dermot insists that he simply doesn't use his brains, as he might need them for an emergency.

The tramps get thruppence from an old lady they then scare off, but it's quickly taken by the deckchair attendant.

"What am I gonna do with this bit of paper?" asks Dermot, waving his deckchair ticket about - Arthur responds with a deeply meaningful glance.

For some reason there's a great big unexploded mine on the beach - Arthur suggests they should try and earn a bob or two by selling it to a country that wants to start a war.  Dermot suggests selling it to the IRA.  Initially Arthur's patriotism won't allow this, but Dermot manages to convince him it would be more patriotic than selling it to China: "My sister went out with an Irish bloke once, so I suppose I do have a bit of Irish blood in me," he muses.  It's not to be, however, as the sketch unexpectedly ends with Arthur and Dermot managing to blow it, and themselves, up.

I'm hoping that next week's show will continue the tramps' adventures in heaven, with them winding up various stuffy, Nicholas Parsons-shaped celestial authority figures.  It doesn't seem very likely though.

Tonight's musical spot is occupied by Kathy Kirby and her famously glossy lips.  She certainly gives her lungs a good old workout.

Now back to Lucarottiland for the final programme of the evening and the last in the present series of The Avengers.  As well as its writer, this episode shares Secret Beneath the Sea's director, Kim Mills - ABC's clearly getting good value out of the pair of them.

Uniquely, this episode has its own title card
As with The Menacing Mazurka, John Lucarotti has plotted Killer Whale superbly, piquing our interest straight away but taking a while to fully explain what it's all about.  We start off by finding out that Steed's invested in a boxing gym run by Sam "Pancho" Driver, who we can tell straight away is a dodgy character because he's played by the great Patrick Magee.

Pats Magee & Macnee
Magee gives quite a low-key performance by his standards, though as usual even when he's silent his incredible eyebrows do the talking for him.

Next, Steed encourages Cathy to become manager to aspiring boxer Joey Frazer, one of the  nice young men she's been teaching judo to down at the local youth club  (the idea of Cathy surrounding herself with athletic young men is a startling but strangely attractive one).    She and Joey (Kenneth Farrington, Coronation Street's Billy Walker) seem to have quite a close relationship - a series of adventures with these two akin to Steed's with Venus Smith might have been fun.

I've been documenting TV toplessness quite assiduously up to this point but with all the boxers in this episode there's far too much for me to keep up.  There's a young man on the right here who especially caught my eye, though.

Anyway, so far it's an enjoyable sporting drama, but why on Earth are the Avengers involved? Pancho's anger at Joey using a very strange-smelling bar of soap adds to the intrigue, as does Steed's visit to couturier/perfumier Monsieur Fernand (John Bailey).  Steed hastily insists that the ladies' outfits he's interested in purchasing are for his niece.

The connection between Fernand and Pancho turns out to be that Pancho's an ambergris smuggler (for anyone not in the know, ambergris is a substance pooed or occasionally puked out by whales that's used in perfume-making), and Fernand - who has an illegal perfume-making business - is his client.  Well, it makes a change from secrets being smuggled out of the country again, at any rate.

One of my favourite things about Killer Whale is Cathy's amazing new flat, complete with sliding front door that she can open with the touch of a button.

Another is Monsieur Fernand's assistant/girlfriend Angela (Julie Paulle) with her very dramatic hair and makeup and underwritten illicit romance with perfume lab technician Christopher Coll.

I'll leave this series of The Avengers with an image of Cathy Gale doing what she does best: tossing a bloke around.

The Avengers will return in the Autumn.  Next week sees the start of an exciting new series from ABC, The Human Jungle.


  1. Great stuff as usual. Anything else notable to look forward to?

  2. Lovely. The Human Jungle is a fascinating show, with a great John Barry theme tune.