This week's Ghost Squad is another one missing its on screen title. It's actually called The Retirement of the Gentle Dove. Written by Philip Levene (later behind some of the most brilliant Avengers episodes), it's a workmanlike whodunnit notable for giving the lead role to Anthony Marlowe as Ghost Squad chief Geoffrey Stock for once.
A resident of Green Bay House retirement home has died of an overdose of medication. It's a sad story, but Stock suspects foul play - principally because the late retiree was Sir Charles Ingram, a former head of the British Secret Service, staying at Green Bay House as he'd discovered it was home to the Gentle Dove, a double agent whose treachery led to the death of Ingram's son in World War 2. Deciding the Dove was behind Ingram's death, Stock decides to track the agent down himself by going undercover at the home. To this end, he agefies himself (a bit) to become George Pearson, a former clothes wholesaler from Cardiff - a foolhardy decision as his accent's all over the place. Still, let's just count ourselves lucky we don't have to hear Nick Craig (posing as Pearson's nephew) attempting it.
Unfortunately, despite spending years tracking the Gentle Dove down Ingram wasn't able to find out the double agent's age, gender or nationality, meaning there are seven possible suspects at the home - all behaving equally suspiciously.
There's the hideously snobbish Miss Reeves (Olwen Brookes) - "I can't abide tradespeople"- forever reminiscing about her time working as a governess for families in Germany.
The apparently friendly Mr Tresilian (Philip Ray) - secretly the owner of Green Bay House and livid that Pearson's come to live there without his permission.
Anna Klein (Ilona Ference), the furtive German housekeeper.
Mrs Lister (Valerie White), the home's shifty matron, secretly married to Liever (Fawlty Towers' Ballard Berkeley), a mentally disturbed Austrian concert pianist.
Lonely Mrs Every (Margaret Vines), who may not be as blind as she pretends.
And gruff Major Stone (Carl Bernard) - could his frequently expressed distaste for foreigners (and Germans in particular) be a smokescreen?
While Stock's checking out this cast of eccentrics, a nattily attired Craig's happily getting to know Anna's beautiful daughter (or is she?) Siegrid (Mia Karam).
The retirement home setting's an unusual one for an adventure series, and appropriately enough The Retirement of the Gentle Dove's a more sedate affair than some of the other Ghost Squad adventures. It's also unusually thoughtful in its treatment of older people and their various ways of coping with loneliness.
The opening sketch in Arthur's show this week steals a march on the prestigious new show launching later this evening by featuring Arthur as a psychiatrist. As you might expect, he turns out to be far more disturbed than stressed executive Nicholas Parsons, who's come seeking his help: "You come in here, you pester me with your soppy little problems, just because you're a little bit overwrought... I have to sit here and listen to all this drivel that you people come out with every afternoon. It's ridiculous! And I suppose you're National Health, are you?" Dr Haynes becomes slightly more accommodating on learning Parsons is a private patient, and tries to get him to relax.
|Arthur demonstrates "limp"|
|"GO TO SLEEP!"|
|"I HATE YOU!"|
|"You brazen hussy!"|
The sketch develops with the arrival of a doctor (Parsons) who's come to visit a pair of sick men in the house. It turns out they're sleeping in a cupboard at a rate of ninepence a week. Parsons' horror at the disgustingly squalid conditions that the house's tenants are living in injects a surprising tone of moral seriousness into the sketch, though Arthur and Dermot claim it doesn't bother them.
But once the doctor's gone to call an ambulance for the seriously neglected pair of men, Arthur decides he likes the sound of a week or two in hospital with fresh food and clean clothes. So he and Dermot shove the dying men under the bed and take their place, ready to be taken away by the ambulancemen. It's pretty dark stuff.
Considerably less dark (though perhaps no less disturbing) are the act who occupy tonight's musical slot, Welsh-Scots husband-and-wife country duo Miki and Griff, who certainly look very pleased to be on the show.
|Oh, excellent facial hair, Sir|
From the very start of the show, with Bernard Ebbinghouse's swirling, instantly memorable theme (played by John Barry's orchestra) accompanying a shadowy Herbert Lom puffing elegantly on a fag and settling down behind his desk, The Human Jungle is obviously a class act. Made for ABC by Julian Wintle and Leslie Parkyn's Independent Artists, whose prestige productions included Lindsay Anderson's This Sporting Life (and who'd later take over production of The Avengers), it's gorgeously shot on film. This means it resembles ITC's action-adventure series (The Saint, the early episodes of Ghost Squad), but it's far more interesting than just another crime/espionage series. The show depicts how psychiatrist Dr Roger Corder (the always wonderful Lom - here the absolute embodiment of suavity) unravels the problems of his patients: but there's more to it than that. The Human Jungle's a show symptomatic of the early 60s, a time when the end of Empire and the decline of British industry led to Britain becoming a more insecure, introspective nation than it had been in living memory. The problems Corder analyses aren't just those of individual patients, but those which were seen as the problems of society as a whole.
It's the problems of British industry that are central to The Vacant Chair, which is written and directed with great panache by Bill McIlwraith and James Hill respectively (it makes an interesting companion piece to the Avengers episode Six Hands Across a Table from a couple of weeks ago). It also has a top-drawer cast of character actors.
|Ronald Leigh-Hunt and Edward Evans|
|Lloyd Lamble and Keith Pyott|
|John Horsley and a ridiculously young Gemma Jones|
The first time we see Corder he's treating a disturbed young boy, Arthur. It's implied that Arthur isn't an especially lucrative client, but the doctor's integrity's established by the fact that he's clearly far more interested in treating everyday folk like this than the phoney business people who've engaged his services at great cost. Corder clearly has nothing but disdain for their machinations (his eventual decision of who should become managing director is downplayed and it's obviously a matter of little interest to him), and on hearing that Arthur's in distress he drops everything to head back down to London at night to visit him.
The show's other regulars are equally likeable. Corder's colleague Jimmy Davis (Michael Johnson) is humorous and dreamily handsome, while his daughter Jennifer (Sally Smith) at first just seems a petulant teenager but is revealed to be a highly capable and self-determined young woman.
An enjoyable subplot sees Jennifer strike up a teen romance with George Hunter's son Peter (Jonathan Burn) - here they are twisting away, as was the style at the time.
Eventually Peter takes Jennifer for a drive, only to abandon her in the middle of nowhere. Apparently forgiving him, she joins him for another drive - specifically so she can dump him this time. Corders Senior and Junior have an instantly believable father-daughter bond, chuckling together over their contempt for the shallow crowd they've been mixing with.
It's the female characters in The Vacant Chair that are most vividly drawn - specifically the candidates' wives. Brenda Hunter (Hazel Hughes) is a bitter alcoholic who's spent years trying to ignore her husband's less than discreet affairs with a string of secretaries, while the glamorous Anne Phillips (Delphi Lawrence) tries to use her considerable charms to sway Corder's opinion. The pair, predictably but entertainingly, loathe each other. "Anne Phillips says she was a model," Brenda observes, "A word, judging from the newspapers, that seems to cover a multitude of sins."
|I don't have the words to express how much I love that deer ornament|
Bill McIlwraith's talent for writing venomous women would find its ultimate expression in his play The Anniversary, filmed by Hammer with Bette Davis. He certainly leaves himself open to charges of misogyny, as this closing exchange between Corder and Davis indicates, with Corder dismissing the notion that the wives in any way affected his decision:
Corder: I don't believe that women play a dominant role in the higher strata of big business.
Davis: Oh, but in America, Dr Corder...
Corder: This happens to be England, Jimmy, and not America.
Here's that ultra-cool theme tune and opening sequence in full. Look - he's got a tape recorder! Swish!