Saturday, 1 June 2013

Saturday 1 June 1963

In a hot, dusty city in the Middle East, an old man is dying.  He's played by Gerald Lawson (brother of Wilfrid), and he's survived a helicopter crash and a trek across the desert, but he can't hold out much longer. Unexpectedly, he uses his last ounce of strength he to attack the woman who's nursing him (Elvi Hale) when she examines the film in his camera.  Then he drops dead.  It's all frightfully gripping.

At Ghost Squad HQ in London, these strange goings-on are explained by Clive Jessel-Cave (David King), a Foreign Office official who looks the very epitome of the chinless wonder civil servant.

The old man was Dr Philip Morrow, an eminent archaeologist sent on a secret mission to confirm or deny rumours that the sands of the Middle Eastern region of Kavar are rich in sorium, an element used in nuclear fission.  The woman he attacked was his secretary, Sazi Keller - half Kavari, half Swiss - who now has hold of his film and notes.  Nick Craig's sent out to Kavar to get hold of these - and to find Morrow's mysteriously vanished assistant, Tim Casey.  Accompanying Nick on his mission  for once is the lovely Jean Carter, who knows the language.  We don't get to see her speaking it, however, or indeed doing very much at all except being menaced by various Kavari heavies and chatted up by dissolute American journalist Dwight Sherman (Al Mulock).

Kavar's shrewd Emir (Martyn Wyldeck) is determined to get the most out of any sorium discovery that's made, and intends to keep Ms Keller in the country by making her one of his wives.  When this doesn't go terribly well, he trumps up some cases of plague and has the whole of Kavar placed under quarantine in order to prevent anyone leaving.  The Emir's will is enforced by his cousin and chief of police Major Syid, played by the wonderful Roger Delgado, who frequently dons an enormous pair of sunglasses.

Quarantine at Kavar's a diverting enough Ghost Squad instalment, but by far the most memorable bit of the episode is when Delgado stomps angrily out of a scene, only to collide with a table that's been inconsiderately placed in his path.  His irritated straightening of it as he skulks off is hilarious.

Also guest starring this week, and being excellent, is Maurice Kaufman (Mr Honor Blackman at the time) as an irritable but dashing and ultimately heroic local doctor.

Eventually Craig manages to locate Tim Casey (John Carlin), who's living it up as a guest of the Emir.  He's surrounded by beautiful women carrying out his every whim, which is a bit surprising as he's one of the most outrageously camp characters I've ever seen on TV.  His dialogue doesn't help matters: "Phil was a giant among men.  A gentle giant.  Nobody ever worked for him who didn't love him."

The impish Casey merrily reveals that there wasn't any sorium after all.  But Sazi Keller's jealously guarding the evidence of what Dr Morrow found.  So what is it? Well, I'm glad you asked - it turns out he actually discovered some magnificent prehistoric cave paintings, and rather than trying to sell the information to the highest bidder Sazi's actually been trying to get inform the British Embassy.  The twist that the discovery's one of historical rather than military importance is an especially satisfying one.  Oh, and rather than the Emir, who's just a wily chancer, the baddie of the episode turns out to be Dwight Sherman, who's a (boo hiss) enemy agent.

Next tonight, move the little marker on your TV Minus 50 map (I presume you have one) from the generic Middle East to generic South America for tonight's Man of the World.

There's another vaguely clever double meaning in this week's title.  Yes, our hero, photojournalist Michael Strait is on a mission to the jungle; but also there's a Mission in the jungle.  Run by nuns.  We all love a good nun, and these ones are in the full-on white Black Narcissus garb.  But we see disappointingly few of them, and only a couple (Isobel Black and Mother Superior Noelle Middleton) even get any lines.  Deep in the jungle where they work, their nearest neighbours are the Hivaro Indians, who hate white people and will shrink their heads if they get the chance.  But the Hivaro leader's entrusted them with the care of his young son, infected with a possibly fatal snake bite.

Meanwhile, Michael Strait's on his way to the jungle in the company of the belligerent Colonel Perez (Paul Maxwell, voice of Steve Zodiac and future husband of Elsie Tanner - here Hispanified with swarthy makeup and droopy moustache) and his men.  Perez is after Pablo Padron, who's some sort of rebel leader or something, while Strait wants to write a story on him.

It turns out Padron's being sheltered by the entirely apolitical nuns.  He's played by handsome Alex Davion, who anyone who's ever seen Valley of the Dolls will always think of as Ted Casablanca, who is not a fag.

Jungle Mission is really very boring for the most part.  Unless you like shooting.  There's lots of that, as Perez and Padron's men have a little contretemps that feels like it goes on forever.

And as if all that wasn't enough, rumour gets out (via an Indian helper at the mission) that the chief's son is dead (he's not really).  The chief isn't very happy, and it looks like an all-out assault by the tribe's on the cards...

If I hadn't taken these  photos of Jungle Mission I'd find it very hard to remember what happened in it.

Far, far more memorable is tonight's edition of The Human Jungle.  Dr Roger Corder is once more called on to work out what's troubling a frustrated housewife.  But this time, there's a fiendish twist

Tonight's episode is brilliantly directed by James Hill, who serves up a compelling opening sequence showing a dinner party being prepared in a wealthy household.  The maid fusses about under the lady of the house's direction, but the camera stays focused on the table setting, the characters' heads tantalisingly out of shot.

After the maid's been sent home,  her mistress calmly gathers up all the glassware and takes it away.  The camera switches to showing people's faces as curious husband Geoffrey (Frank Lawton) follows his wife Eleanor (Jeanne Moody) into the kitchen, to find her staring into space while grinding the glasses up in the waste disposal unit.  Compelling stuff.

It turns out Geoffrey is both an MP and a neighbour of Dr Roger Corder at his country residence.  The baffled husband begs Dr C to take his wife on as a patient.  Our hero complies - and Eleanor shyly admits at their first meeting that she and Geoffrey have never been "properly man and wife", which is likely the root of the whole problem.  Geoffrey, on the other hand, claims there's never been any problems with their sex life.  While we digest this curious puzzle, Eleanor goes even more bonkers and shoots some swans.

Even more of a worry is Eleanor's inappropriate behaviour at her sessions with Dr Corder: she invites him out to dinner and makes it clear she wants more than a doctor-patient relationship (it turns out this week that Dr Corder's not short of female admirers: "He sends me! Those eyes!" sighs a giddy student nurse after one of his lectures).

During his weekend in the country, Dr C gets a call from an apparently suicidal Eleanor.  Heading over to her place, he finds her behaving like the archetypal femme fatale.

Unmoved by Eleanor's advances (we know Corder's a widower, but it's hard to imagine him ever giving in to any kind of sexual urge), Corder insists on taking her in a cab to the country club where Geoffrey's giving a speech.  When they arrive, she rips her dress, smears her lipstick and runs out crying rape.

The rest of the episode revolves around Corder's attempt to clear his name.  Investigations into Eleanor's past reveal she's previously attempted suicide and was visited in hospital by a mysterious man in evening dress.  The mystery man turns out to be eminent conductor Sir Francis Leigh Brooke (Robin Hughes), a horribly narcissistic git who treats his meek wife (Rosalie Crutchley) like dirt.

Sir Francis is a former client of Corder, who advised him at the time to end the affair he was having.  The doctor realises with horror that his lover was Eleanor, who's faked her strange compulsive behaviour purely in order to get him in a position where she could take revenge.  Sir Francis could help Corder, but flatly refuses.  However, after a pleading phone call from Corder's daughter Jennifer, Lady Leigh Brooke decides she's had enough and heads to court to give her husband's dirty laundry a public airing.  Confronted with the information that she was just one of many girls the conductor dallied with, Eleanor loses it for real.

Yes, she really is completely unstable after all.  Her case collapses, and Dr Corder politely declines to treat her again.

Like several other Human Jungle episodes, A Woman with Scars' attitude toward women is more than a little bit dodgy.  But if you can look past that it's a satisfyingly twisty episode, and it's really interesting to see Corder in jeopardy for once.  There's also a wonderful performance from the great Rosalie Crutchley, making the most of her limited screen time by turning the downtrodden Lady Leigh Brooke into a wholly believable character.  Her facial expressions are a sight to behold.

And finally, I'd like to leave you with this glimpse of an especially terrifying pair of clients who feature briefly in the episode, having clearly travelled all the way from Midwich to visit the doctor.

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