Saturday, 9 March 2013

Saturday 9 March 1963

Meddling kids Peter and Janet have been caught by a very sinisterly-lit Dr Deraad ransacking his room in search of the disc of phoenicium.

With this incident on top of the damage done to Professor Gordon's special camera, Captain Payne decides there's nothing for it but to kick Peter out of Aegiria all together.  Fortunately he's saved at the last minute when Mark notices a photo Peter took of a very confused-looking Prof Gordon holding his camera proves Peter couldn't have sabotaged it.

"It's quite a good picture, isn't it?" says the Prof
Mark learns from Professor Soobiah that two and three quarter miles below the seabed is the X-Layer, made up of an unknown metal, which Mark rapidly deduces is phoenicium.  But wait - the mining equipment's been sabotaged and Dr Deraad hasn't even been down to that part of the city.  Could it be there's another enemy agent in their midst? Could be stern Dr Carey? Or eccentric Prof Gordon? Or could it perhaps be Prof Soobiah, whose face takes on a hilarious evil look the second that treachery is discussed?

There are some wonderfully trippy "underwater" scenes in this episode as Janet and Dr Carey venture outside the city, and Dr Carey nearly dies due to her aqualung being sabotaged.

One of the most endearing things about Secret Beneath the Sea (and the other ABC children's adventure shows that came before) is the sheer unsubtlety of its educational content.  At one point Dr Carey explains in depth how an aqualung works, while later on Mark explains the concept of grid references to Peter.

There are various incidental details in this week's Secret I'd like to draw your attention to.  Firstly, Gerald Flood's hair, which seems to be rapidly approaching critical mass.

Then there's the exciting glimpses we get of the Aegiria canteen.  It's decorated with metallic walls and futuristic marine-themed paintings. but otherwise it's a comfortingly old-fashioned affair.

Sadly we only see the burly lady at the counter from behind (I'd like to hope there's a fag hanging out of her mouth), but I think she might be the same lady that we see in a couple of other scenes sat at a table and drinking a cuppa with the utmost deliberation.

Finally, as I seem to have got into the habit of recording any toplessness on ITV of a Saturday night, here's Stuart Guidotti changing into his pyjamas.

In contrast to last week's especially gritty episode of Ghost Squad, this week's steers the show in the direction of out-and-out comedy.

The title of this episode (not given on screen) is The Heir Apparent.  Julian Bond's script is an absolute hoot, and starts off with a scene that charmingly reinforces the rivalries between Ghost Squad's leading agents.  On the phone to Tony Miller in Beirut, Superintendent Stock mentions that Nick "Lofty" Craig's latest assignment is to go undercover as games master at a public school.  Cue deafening laughter from the other end of the line.

Stock and Miss Carter help Craig on with his rugby gear in preparation for his new position.  Being an American, it's a game he has absolutely no knowledge of whatsoever.  Stock outlines Craig's new persona: "You're a nice, clean living, uncomplicated guy".  "Character part," Jean adds sardonically, tantalisingly sketching in their relationship outside work.

Craig's new assignment will see him on the staff of obscure public school The Moorings, which has been chosen for the education of Crown Prince Karim, heir to the throne of a pro-British Middle Eastern country.  Craig's to keep an eye on him, especially as both the other masters at the school are suspected enemy agents.  They are the obsequious Belcher (Arnold Diamond) and rumpled Irishman Riordan (David Blake Kelly).  Dominating the episode with a magnificent comic performance is Frank Middlemass as the school's principal, a blimpish, pop-eyed ex-naval Commander with a pronounced dislike of young people.

The students with speaking parts all look well into middle age, including Prince Karim (Julian Sherrier) - he's the swarthy one.

Strangely, the boys seem to be interested in things other than Craig's star jumps.  But then, so is he.

When Karim and the boys vanish in the middle of the night, Craig finds his pupils carousing in the boathouse with local young ladies.  When the Commander finds out about his charges' orgy of twisting and light petting his response is typically restrained: "Scum! That's what you are! Scum!" (he makes  sure to pump Craig for information on what the girls were like, though).

Observing all of this from a distance is Karim's wicked uncle, the Soviet-sympathising Sheikh Ben-Ali (played by the marvellous Roger Delgado), who plans to get rid of the prince and seize the throne for himself.

Ben-Ali nearly gets his chance when Karim and friends escape to the swanky Blue Lagoon Club in the West End, where impromptu congas are the order of the day.  This one's being led by Carolyn Pertwee, niece of The TV Lark's Jon, who'd later enjoy a close working relationship with Delgado

Ben-Ali's at the club too, and uses his every-baddie-should-have-one ring full of poison in an attempt to get rid of the prince, but just manages to give poor Craig a nasty blackout.

Karim seems to have vanished off the face of the earth, but eventually turns up chained up in the garden of Carolyn Pertwee and her brother, due to a tantalisingly unspecified remark he made about her ("But in my country it's a compliment!").

Craig tracks him down, but is carrying an unexpected passenger (nice to see that despite his exalted position the Sheikh thinks nothing of clambering out of a car boot).

The Sheikh corners the unfortunate prince, but in the nick of time the Commander blunders in, oblivious of what's going on, and knocks a wall down on top of him.  "Extraordinary people you do see about nowadays," he remarks, noticing he's managed to knock a man in full Arab regalia out cold.

The Heir Apparent is wonderful entertainment, and Michael Quinn's sheer bewilderment at the various bizarre things going on around him is glorious to witness.  He's far more suited to this than he is to actual serious crime fighting.

The first half of Arthur's show this week is given over to a sketch that's both extremely funny and genuinely disturbing.  Arthur and Nicholas Parsons share a train carriage, with Parsons initially unaware that Arthur is the dangerous "split mind man" who the police are after.

On seeing the back of his paper Parsons is naturally terrified, although Arthur tries to reassure him that he can't possibly be the man in the photo as he's wearing a hat.  Arthur's erratic behaviour is at first just comically contrary, with him asking if he can open the window then making a great fuss of how cold it is.
"Let's cuddle up for a bit of warmth, shall we?"
Arthur insists Parsons take off his clothes in order to help him keep warm, then turns aggressive and insists Parsons' paper is his.  And then he accuses Parsons of staring at him (he's genuinely threatening here): "A busybody are you? A nosey parker? You're staring at me.  You seem to stare a lot."  And then his behaviour gets even more worrying.

"Why must you spy on me?"

"It's not like me now, is it?"
In the way a dream can be, the sketch is hilariously absurd and deeply disquieting at the same time.  The ending is especially nightmarish, as Arthur - suddenly perfectly normal - cheerfully takes his leave of Parsons, now a blubbering nervous wreck, and departs the train.  But Parsons barely has time to catch his breath before Arthur re-embarks and begins his reign of terror all over again...

Part Two sees Arthur and Dermot in the dock, accused by downstairs neighbour Rita Webb of causing noise nuisance and of being peeping Toms.  Her claim "I don't like getting undressed at night for fear of their peeping eyes staring at me through the cracks" leads to much ungentlemanly banter regarding Rita's appearance: "If a woman wants to be a woman, she ought to look like one."

"Here, hark at Old Sexy over there"
Arthur's reaction to magistrate Nicholas Parsons trying to keep order is much as you might expect: "Oh, it's silence now, is it? It wasn't silence when I won the VC".  A quick examination of this medal reveals it was actually awarded in the Crimean war.  Arthur patiently explains that this is why he's also got a long service medal.  It's another cracking sketch, and finally descends into hysteria on all sides when an especially vigorous bang causes the end of Parsons' gavel to shoot across the set.

Tonight's musical guest is the sultry and very expressive Miss Patsy Ann Noble.  Her pop career never really amounted to much and she'd later reinvent herself as actress Trisha Noble, becoming a regular presence on US TV and eventually playing Natalie Portman's mother in Star Wars.

And finally tonight, we bid a fond farewell to Miss Venus Smith (well, I'm fond of her, anyway), making her final appearance in The Avengers - and indeed her final appearance in anything.

It's our second underwater-themed ABC show of the night: in Greece, grumpy One-Six calls in Steed (looking very dashing in nautical fashions) to investigate the mysterious drowning of a member of the Frogs, a group of reckless young agents.

It's all got something to do with a liner belonging to millionaire Archipelago Mason (ubiquitous big, sweaty foreigner Eric Pohlmann), where mysterious scientific research seems to be going on.  Steed has had the foresight to arrange for Venus to perform aboard the yacht, where she finds herself dodging the attentions of both Mason and cocky young Risto (John Carson, a bit too old for the part but charismatic as always).

We can tell from his pendant that Risto is another member of the Frogs, on board with his fellow agents to find out what happened to their colleague.  Steed, stowing away aboard the ship and sweet-talking Venus into hiding him in her cabin, lets the Frogs know he's a professional who'll stand for no nonsense from them: "If you get in my way I'll tan your hides!"

Sweet-talked she may have been, but Venus is getting increasingly fed up with Steed using her for his own ends, and gives him a good talking to, even threatening to get him thrown off the ship.  The chemistry between Steed and Venus is very different from that between Steed and Cathy, but it's equally fun - where Cathy's sharp, Venus is cheeky.

Mason is a dodgy character, who's employed hugely bespectacled scientist Dr Pitt-Norton (Frank Gatliff) to construct a midget submarine, hidden in the ship's hull.  However, the real villain of the piece is stereotypical Chinese Dragon Lady Anna Lee, who's taken over the project for her own nefarious ends and is killing off the Frogs as they get in her way.

Overall A Chorus of Frogs isn't the most gripping of episodes, and it's a shame that Venus doesn't get a proper exit from the show.  She does get a particularly barmy final number though, giggling her way through vaudeville song "The Lips That Touch Kippers Shall Never Touch Mine".

And here's our final sight of Miss Smith - the back of her head as she shares a joke with Steed.

Steed and Mrs Gale will be working together on a weekly basis now, while in Julie Stevens' future lie Playschool and Carry On Cleo.  And here is that final number.

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