Saturday, 11 May 2013

Saturday 11 May 1963

This week's Ghost Squad episode, titled The Grand Duchess, is scripted by Julian Bond, who wrote one of the most entertaining previous instalments, The Heir Apparent.  The Grand Duchess was actually made first, and while it's got its moments (and an excellent guest cast), it's a bit more humdrum - though it sees Ghost Squad moving into a new area we've not seen them deal with before - that of art theft.

Gallery owner John Barron unveils Goya's painting of the Grand Duchess Sofia Oregin to a sea of remarkable hats.  It's been lent by the government of a now-Soviet country that Britain's relations with are a little sensitive.

Barron's not the only familiar face at the gallery.  His business partner's played by John Ringham, while Michael Robbins has a tiny part as a waiter.

Unsurprisingly, the painting gets stolen, a reproduction put in its place (Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington was in reality stolen from the National Gallery in 1961, and that's referred to here).

What's a bit more surprising is that one of the thieves is Ghost Squad's Tony Miller.  It turns out he's undercover on the trail of the mastermind behind a series of art thefts.  Apparently he was in prison for six months in order to befriend fellow thief Garfield Morgan - which throws the chronology of other Ghost Squad episodes into doubt.

It turns out the man who's got hold of the missing masterpieces is Colin Douglas as Barron, a millionaire of working class origin who wants the paintings in order to assuage a chip on his shoulder. Much to the horror of his resident art expert Voyce (a young, dandyish William Gaunt), he's not even that bothered about hanging them: "Just having them makes me feel good," says Barron.  "You sound like a man trying to justify silk underwear," drawls a pained Voyce.

Julian Bond gives Barron a fantastic speech where he vents his frustration with the British class system and explains his need to acquire great works of art: "I have to do business with men who are better read than me, better bred than me, more sophisticated.  And don't they let me know it!  I've seen them, thrilling at my gaffes, nudging each other when I don't know what to do with a fingerbowl.  I've sensed their smiles when they ask me to admire a Raoul Dufy they've picked up, or what I think of their Brancusi.  Young man, against that this is my armour.  I can sit and watch them sneer and say to myself, all right, I don't know a Barbara Hepworth from a hole in the wall, but I've got a Goya all to myself -that's more than you've got or ever will have!"

But it turns out that the Goya that's been pinched is itself a reproduction (not surprising really, as it looks rubbish).  The real one was stolen an elderly waiter working at the gallery do (the wonderful Arnold MarlĂ©), who disguised it as a tray.  An exiled aristocrat, he's an Oregin, descended from the Grand Duchess, and believes the painting to be rightfully his - proudly showing it off to a flabbergasted Miller when he manages to track him down.

Oregin threatens to destroy the painting rather than return it, but our plucky agent manages to get it away from him.  The episode ends in ridiculous comedy fashion as Miller tries to replace the picture without the ambassador who presented it to the gallery realising it's been stolen.

Next, making its TV Minus 50 debut, ITC adventure series Man of the World returns to TV for a second run of episodes.

The Bandit's pre-credits sequence features an unfortunate chap getting shot, but after the titles we realise he's actually an actor on an Italian film set.  How crafty! The film's being directed by Gertan Klauber, who does a lot of shouting.  Sam Wanamaker as Nicola, a labourer on the set, looks incredible with pipe and massive moustache.  Blink and you'll miss Nigel Hawthorne as the megaphone-wielding assistant director (Gertan Klauber doesn't need a megaphone).

Things go awry when Wanamaker and his associate John Woodvine kidnaps the film's star, Maria Marcos (Natasha Parry), intending to issue a ransom demand.  All three of them have ridiculous phoney Italian accents and all three give massively oversized performances - Woodvine in particular.

A far more restrained performance is provided by the show's star Craig Stevens (best known for playing the title role in US series Peter Gunn, now remembered mainly for its theme tune).  In Man of the World he plays Michael Strait, a photo-journalist who regularly finds himself in credulity-stretching dramatic situations all over the world (hence the title).

After a run-in with an officious traffic policeman (Robert Rietty, the only genuine Italian in the cast) Strait stumbles across Nicola's hideout, a suspiciously rickety-looking ancient temple, which he's made all homely.

Strait's imprisoned by Nicola and his gang, and before trying to escape finds time for a spot of romance with Maria - "I'm sorry they caught you, but glad too.  Do you understand?" she says, before they snog each other's faces off.

Eventually honourable bandit Nicola lets the lovebirds go when they win a bet against him.  I'm willing to bet there'll be a new love interest for Strait next week, the tart.  It's a pretty entertaining episode, though perhaps not in the way it was intended to be.

Avice Landon, a splendid but undervalued actress who regularly popped up in film and TV of the 60s, is in the spotlight for this week's Human Jungle.  She plays Lady Shaw, the wife of a famed barrister, who, somewhat embarrassingly, is caught shoplifting.

I think I've written before about how fantastic the episode title screens are for The Human Jungle.  This week's is an absolute masterpiece and should really be used as an album cover.  The episode isn't a sequel to William Castle's film 13 Ghosts, you may be sorry to learn.

Lady Shaw's family are notified of her lapse.  They consist of the gorgeous Justine Lord as her daughter, married to a bohemian artist (William Marlowe), and the great Andre Morell (who can surely do "gruff" better than any other actor who's ever lived) as her horrified spouse, Sir Desmond.  When the family go to collect her from the police station we get to see some splendid 60s crime awareness posters.

It turns out sexy psychiatrist Jimmy Davis is an old friend of Lady Shaw's son-in-law, and he brings her case to the attention of his boss, Dr Corder.

Lady Shaw's problems seem to stem back to her childhood, when her father showed no interest in her, and the demands placed on her by her husband ("anything short of perfection in human behaviour is despicable to him") is driving her to unruly behaviour when she's away from him.  Their home life is distinctly awkward.

Tyrannical Sir Desmond disapproves of his wife seeing a psychiatrist.  In fact, he disapproves of practically everything - not least his daughter and her feckless husband: "a ne'er-do-well, a bohemian addicted to loose, aimless living!" he froths.  Eventually he goes completely beserk and attacks his son-in-law, with Dr Corder only just managing to prevent somebody being hurt.

Helped out by an old friend of Sir Desmond's who now loathes him (Peter Bathurst), Corder discovers the root of the barrister's treatment of others: during the first world war he accidentally caused the deaths of 14 men, and he's been haunted by the ghosts of the title ever since - his guilty conscience demanding flawless behaviour from himself and others: "his hatred of gaiety or self-indulgence became  almost obsessional."  When Corder confronts Sir Desmond with all this he descends into a sobbing wreck.  This seemingly solving all his problems, the soundtrack provides some hilariously over-sentimental piano music as he and his wife reconcile.

It's a brilliant episode with a brilliant cast - once again The Human Jungle is class all round: 14 Ghosts even ends with Corder quoting Proust.  A couple of incidental details I'd like to bring to your attention: an intriguing sculpture in the Corder home...

...and Corder's daughter Jennifer performing some unusual dance moves: "The Charleston, the Madison and the twist - all mixed up together!" "I suppose each generation must have its own tribal rites," her father drily remarks.

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