Sunday, 26 May 2013

Sunday 26 May 1963

As the title suggests, this week's is an especially dramatic instalment of Fireball XL5, tremendously exciting and as gloriously silly as we've come to expect.

Space City's communication systems have all ceased to work due to masses of interference.  Could it have anything to do with the huge, ominous cloud rapidly approaching the earth? Various XL spaceships have been sent to investigate...

...only to end up blown to bits.  Before the ships explode, a threatening voice speaking a strange, alien language (sounding like a bloke giving an extremely rough approximation off the top of his head of what "Japanese" sounds like) issues from their radio.  Commander Zero thinks it's a job for Steve Zodiac, but Steve and the Fireball XL5 crew are off on a medical mission, with Space Doctor Venus attempting to stem an outbreak of restamesia - and being sexually harrassed by a strange-looking puppet with creepily human arms.

The interference from the space cloud means Fireball is unable to get in contact with Earth - and what's worse, poor Zoonie has contracted restamesia! (Presumably so-called because it makes you want to rest a lot).

"All these injections and I forgot Zoonie!" cries Venus.  Yeah, "forgot".

Meanwhile, back at Space City, things are getting really serious as even Commander Zero's evening televiewing's being affected by the interference.  The Zero family appear to be in the midst of watching Juke Box Jury, with Space City music retailer Ma Doughty among the panellists, when the picture vanishes.

Playing footage of the exploding ships in slow motion, Steve Zodiac notices a missile being projected from the cloud.  And Matt feeds a recording of the alien voice into his handily-labelled Language Decoder and discovers that the cloud's mysterious inhabitants are bent on invading Earth.  Eek!

But what can our chums do about it? Venus for one is a bit frustrated.

Well would you prefer tea, dear?
Has Space City's Lieutenant Ninety been possessed by the cloud's sinister influence?

No, he's just showing Commander Zero that the interference has rendered all Space City's ray guns useless.  Hang on, that's worse! Finally the episode's baddies make themselves known.  Even by Fireball XL5 standards they're peculiar - in keeping with the dodgy Japanese influence they look rather like Samurai ducks.

And their spaceships look a bit... familiar.  Clearly it's not just Star Wars that shamelessly ripped off poor old Fireball.

The invasion force (all two of them) storm Space City.  Commander Zero, for one, is not especially taken with Earth's new masters.

In revenge for this shocking outburst, the aliens take Zero's creepy son Jonathan hostage.  I find it deeply reassuring that duffel coats will still be a familiar sight in 2063.

But suddenly, the aliens collapse, their invasion mysteriously halted.  Why could this be? Commander Zero tries to take the credit but it turns out that in true War of the Worlds style they've died from exposure to Zoonie's restamesia, the Fireball XL5 crew having just turned up.  Ho ho, good old pestilence-ridden Zoonie! Now I suppose there's just the question of what's going to happen to those huge alien spaceships.  Don't expect it to be resolved.

Invasion Earth is masses of fun, and the closest Fireball XL5 gets to an epic.  You can watch it here:

Now to music: the Beatles sit untoppled at number 1 for another week, and what's more Lennon and McCartney now have a second song in the top 10, their pal Billy J Kramer having reached number 3 with his version of "Do You Want to Know a Secret?"

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Saturday 25 May 1963

This week's Ghost Squad, titled Hot Money, but not so's you'd notice, is great fun thanks to a splendidly witty script from Louis Marks and some fantastic guest stars.  Chief among these is Lloyd Lamble as Granger, the hilariously sardonic brains behind a counterfeit money operation which hides behind the twin fronts of an exclusive nightclub (The Penumbra) and an import/export business.  The urbane Granger runs the club, while his younger, less classy associate Max (Michael Coles) handles the rest.  The pair are a wonderful double act and get some fantastic exchanges, like the following, as Max contemplates one of his more bizarre orders:

Max: What do they want with plastic tulips in Holland? You can't walk three lousy feet without
walking over a real one.
Granger: It's all to do with the common market, dear boy.  Don't lose any sleep over it.

It should also be noted that the pair have fantastic taste in wallpaper.

The Ghost Squad get wise to the pair's dodgy activities after a badly forged pound note's handed in at a bank by elderly art dealer Giuseppe Del Piazzo.  Mysteriously the note turns out to have the same serial number as one of a batch that were stolen two years previously and found burned in a fire.  The squad's Nick Craig chances upon Max demanding money from Giuseppe at the old man's shop, and traces him back to the club, which he joins.  "What does it mean?" he asks, intrigued by the club's name.  Max is a bit embarrassed to be put on the spot: "Ah, well, it means... well, it doesn't really mean anything.  It just means Penumbra, doesn't it?" Granger supplies a more definitive answer: "A penumbra may be defined as a slightly shady region, which aptly describes the club... we have the type of membership that believe enjoyment isn't real unless it's furtive."

Max has been romancing Giuseppe's granddaughter Mina for two years now, though he secretly depises her.  She's played by the luminous Samantha Eggar, and on hailing a taxi outside the club she manages to pick up Craig instead - he claims to be a representative of a wallpaper company who want to use old Italian engravings for a dead trendy new line.

Regular Arthur Askey co-star Max Bacon plays Sam the barman

After a heart-to-heart in a coffee shop, Mina and Craig return to her grandfather's shop, unaware that Granger's sent Max to get rid of the unfortunate old man: "It's regrettable, I know, but it comes to us all in the end," the villain drawls.  Mina and Craig find a shop full of gas, and a corpse.

Back at Ghost Squad HQ, Superintendent Stock causes his secretary Jean much consternation by setting fire to her week's wages as he tries to get the bottom of the money mystery.  It's a wonderful little scene in which Stock briefly changes from grumpy boss into eccentric detective.

Once the baddies have been dispatched at the episode's end there's a cute little comedy coda with Jean ecstatic about getting her money back.  As she heads off to spend it, Craig sums up by observing "There are all sorts of hot money, some of it hotter than others, but women are better at burning it than anybody!" Oh dear.

And there's more woman trouble tonight for Michael Strait in Man of the World.

The episode's title's quite a clever little pun.  The Communist state of Groznya is ruled by an 87 year old Field Marshal who parades outside his residence for the public daily.  But fuller public appearances are suspiciously absent, and those not in thrall to the Marshal's personality cult have begun to suspect the man who does the parading is really a double.  Who they want to expose.  Get it? Strait's sent on the job, sneaked into Groznya as the new chauffeur of rich elderly widow Mrs Rosewall (Cicely Courtneidge in battleaxe mode), who visits the country for the legendary health-giving properties of its water.

You may recognise Communist Official Marshall Jones as the evil Communist Superman from crazed 1969 sci-fi horror Scream and Scream Again
Briefly leaving the car on entering the country, Strait returns to be confronted with Trina Voldikov (Erika Remberg), an official translator he's been assigned whether he likes it or not.  She's a regulation cold-but-beautiful-and-ripe-for-converting-to-the-ways-of-Western-decadence type.

Trina's close to wicked colonel Nigel Davenport, who plans to get a lot closer.  On learning she's escorted Strait to the Field Marshal's residence, where he's taken unauthorised photos, the colonel tries to blackmail her into marrying him.

But of course, before you can say Ninotchka, Strait and Trina are getting very pally - she lets her hair down, dresses "like a girl", as Strait would have it, and he's working out a way to get her out of the country.  All the stuff about the double is forgotten and left unresolved as we head into dizzy romcom territory (although the rom element's not very convincing as we know full well Strait will find another girl in another part of the world next week).  Mrs Rosewall turns out to be a game old bird who's keen to help out with a spot of intrigue, and works out a cunning disguise for the errant translator.

Trina comes out of the closet

Possibly ready to go back in the closet
The foolproof plan is for Trina to pretend to be a poorly Mrs Rosewall and escape the country in the old lady's car.  And indeed her disguise as an old lady with measles is near impossible to see through.

But the fly in the ointment is the new translator Strait's assigned, a far less glamorous Rosa Klebb type (Dorothea Phillips), who might not let the fleeing lovebirds get far...

Now let's find out who the angst-ridden citizen on Dr Roger Corder's couch is this week.

We start off with a young man (Jeremy Spenser), the worse for a few beers, paying the barman so he can keep the bottles.  Next thing we see, he's lining them up on a wall, and throwing them at the upper window of a house, terrifying the female occupant.  The police are called and he's carted off to the station, where it emerges that the house was in fact his own address...

The young man is Jan Zapotski, who lives in the house with his wife Rita, who we saw earlier (she's played by Catherine Feller, Oliver Reed's leading lady in The Curse of the Werewolf), but also both their sets of parents: Polish immigrants who are more than happy to live in each other's pockets.  The whole crowd descend upon the police station to find out what on Earth's wrong with Jan.  His dad's played by Meier Tzelniker, his mum by Survivors star Hana-Maria Pravda and the in-laws by ubiquitous character actor Arnold Diamond and Dear John star (and sister of Lilli Palmer) Irene Prador.  They're all brilliant at conveying the various well-meaning waysin which they're systematically suffocating the young couple.

Jan's irascible father, determined to get to the bottom of his behaviour, takes the entire clan off to Dr Corder's office, where he's just finishing up with patient Miss Carmody (Rosamund Greenwood) who comes along to get her sexual fantasies off her chest.

Even the usually unflappable psychiatrist has trouble coping with the family's warm-hearted but exasperating pushiness.  He finds himself unable to refuse their invitation to dine with them that evening, however much he might want to, and brings his daughter Jennifer along too.

But Jan, fed up with his family's customs, refuses to attend the meal.  After dinner, Dr Corder visits he and Rita in their charmingly furnished upstairs flatlet, where the frustrated young wife shows the psychiatrist how her husband's taken to self-harming.

It's obvious that his inescapable family are the root of Jan's mental problems, but what can Dr Corder do about it? He starts off by sending Jan and Rita to a group therapy session run by 40s film star Joy Shelton.

Best known as a child actor (his roles included the young Dennis Price in Kind Hearts and Coronets), Jeremy Spenser later did a terrific line in moody, maladjusted but polite young men, and he and Feller are both brilliant in The Wall as a pair of shy young second-generation immigrants caught in the gulf between the ways of their parents and those of the only homeland they've ever known.  Their nervous giggling and shy attempts to reach out to each other at the group therapy session are adorable, and deeply touching.

The Wall's investigation of the immigrant experience is fascinating, and John Kruse's bittersweet script is wholly believable.  The eventual solution to Jan and Rita's problems is both simple and heartwarming, and manages to speak volumes about the episode's characters (I'm not telling you what it is - if you like classic British TV you owe it to yourself to buy The Human Jungle on DVD and find out for yourself).

Friday, 24 May 2013

Friday 24 May 1963

King Dickie's still in Austria, trying to evade the minions of his sworn enemy Duke Leopold.  It's getting harder though, word having got out that he's travelling as lowly Dickon, squire to Lord Hugo and Lady Marta.  The slow-witted Hugo (who is, in reality, the King's squire) makes things worse with his complete inability to wrap his head round the idea that the King is travelling incognito.  The three pitch up at an inn, where Marta is startled by the entrance of a strange man (Peter Reynolds) into her bedchamber, having apparently mistaken her for a thieving chambermaid.

The stranger turns out to be Sergeant Michael, right-hand man of grumpy local bigwig Count Rolf (Elwyn Brook-Jones).  Having been told to "look out for a man with a sword twice the size of other men's", he reports back to his master that the King of England's in their midst.  Rolf relishes the opportunity to capture Richard and curry favour with the duke, as well as his requisite big villainous close-up.

Count Rolf decides to set a trap for Richard, sending Michael and his men to kidnap Marta, which they achieve very simply by just carrying her off.

Richard dashes to Marta's rescue ("Chivalry will be his downfall," proclaims Rolf) only to find himself captured by the Count's waiting men.  The scene featuring the capture of the title is excellent stuff, superbly directed by Ernest Morris, with Richard venturing out into the streets to find soldiers lurking in every corner.

Count Rolf hastens to Duke Leopold to report that the Lionheart is in his clutches.  The dastardly Duke's played by Francis De Wolff, no stranger to the role of a black-hearted villain.  What is incredibly strange is seeing De Wolff without the enormous bushy black beard he normally sports.  It's just not right, I tell you.

Leopold wants Richard executed without delay, and without any fanfare.  He's worried about the consequences from the English King's powerful friends if it were known he'd been put to death, and insists it be announced he's just a lowly thief.  But salvation is on its way in the form of minstrel, Blondel De Nesle (Iain Gregory - a warbler for Joe Meek and star of kitsch classic The Yellow Teddybears) - a faithful servant of Richard's (and more than a close friend in some retellings of Richard's story).  When we first meet Blondel, he's playing "Greensleeves" to some shepherds.  This is, of course, the moment where anyone optimistically expecting any degree of historical accuracy from the show will completely give up the ghost, "Greensleeves" having been written (not by Henry VIII) roughly 400 years after Richard the Lionheart is nominally set.  It's the equivalent of a musician at the court of Elizabeth I performing a Cliff Richard number.

Disgusted sheep turn their backs on the gross historical inaccuracy of it all
"You have a fine, manly voice," says one of the shepherds (Harold Lang).  Admittedly it's not much of a chat-up line, but then he does spend most of his time with sheep.

Blondel chances upon Hugo and Marta at the inn and they tell him about Richard being captured.  Quick as a flash the young minstrel pops over to Count Rolf's castle and starts singing under the window of the King's cell.  It turns out "Greensleeves" is a favourite of Richard's (clearly his musical taste is far ahead of its time), and the two of them have a little sing-song together.

The king's imprisonment confirmed, Blondel gallops off to broadcast the news to the world.  Duke Leopold's plan is in ruins, and Richard's life is safe.  But what will happen to him next? Find out in a couple of weeks, liontarts!