Tonight's Ghost Squad episode, The Man with the Delicate Hands, has a script by future crack Avengers scribe Philip Levene and direction from the imaginative Peter Sasdy - all good signs, and indeed for the most part it's excellent. We start off with an enigma that's pure Avengers - in Holland, a car's set on fire with an unfortunate chap still inside...
It turns out that the victim was Paul Lambert, an interpreter at the International Monetary Fund - or so all the evidence would suggest. However, Paul's sister Helen (the - from a 21st century perspective - unfortunately named Rosemary Dorken) is adamant that it can't possibly be him - he had delicate, beautiful hands while the corpse's fingers are all short and stubby.
Given that there are certain unscrupulous types who'd love to get hold of the top secret information Paul possessed on which countries intend to devalue their currency, the Ghost Squad decide to investigate the situation. Anthony Marlowe's Superintendent Stock's got yet another week off, and this week he's replaced by the very prolific character actor Basil Dignam (who doesn't suit a moustache at all).
In what would become an Avengers standby, an eccentric expert's called in to examine the corpse's tattoo, identical to one Paul picked up in Singapore while on national service. This fellow, Vaughan (Patrick Boxill) recognises the tattoo as the work of a Netherlands-based artist named Hans DeLarge - and it's only been done in the last week or so. Tony Miller's sent out to interview DeLarge about what's going on.
But on arrival, Tony finds that Helen Lambert's ahead of him, and trails her to DeLarge's shop. He turns out to be played by dear old Erik Chitty - practically the antithesis of how we think of tattoo artists these days.
DeLarge denies all knowledge of Paul, but Tony follows him to the mansion of the episode's baddie, amoral art dealer Peter Brenner (Derek Francis). Brenner is holding the real Paul captive and torturing him for his currency secrets. Francis plays him as a full-on Bond villain, complete with ever present pussy (actually, the cat-stroking Blofeld was yet to be seen on screen, making his debut in From Russia with Love, released in October '63).
DeLarge is, obviously, in Brenner's pay, but he's getting panicky now he knows someone's on to him. Which means, of course, that the poor old chap's not long for this world.
At first convinced that the corpse wasn't her brother's, Helen begins to be swayed by the medical opinion of Dr Arne (Anne Blake), who happens to have examined Paul both before and after his crash. But she's another of Brenner's henchpersons - he's blackmailing her over her part in Nazi concentration camp experiments - and is assisting in the attempts to get Paul talking.
Eventually both Tony and Helen end up in Brenner's wicked clutches...
The problem with The Man with the Delicate Hands is that throughout we're kept a few steps ahead of Tony and Helen in finding out what's going on. Rather than heightening the suspense, this just makes it a bit frustrating that they don't just hurry up and work out where Paul is and who's holding him captive. Other than that it's a far above average instalment.
Ghost Squad will be back next week, but it's the only one of the three shows on tonight's menu that will. Next up, it's the last ever Man of the World.
The show goes out on a high: The Prince (that's the title, I know you can barely read it) is easily the strongest episode this series, thanks mainly to exciting direction from Ealing alumnus Charles Crichton. In civil war-torn Loscha (near Burma), an old woman begs the American consulate to take in her little boy - who she claims is in fact Prince Tulan, missing since the assassination of the rest of the country's royal family six years ago.
Consul Forrester and his wife (Warren Stanhope and Ann Gillis) are a thoroughly unappealing pair: he's a drip and she's an exasperating bossyboots. But they take the child in. Now they need to find out whether or not he really is the Prince.
Man of the World Michael Strait, who went to Loscha to write a magazine feature on the royal family shortly before their assassination, is one of four people called out to help confirm or deny the child's identity. The others are his elderly former governess Miss Bentley (Enid Lorimer), the king's former financial advisor Count Maximillian Korvin (Geoffrey Keen), and Anna, the king's former mistress (Sylva Langova).
Anna's convinced the child really is the prince, and Korvin seems equally convinced he isn't. Miss Bentley claims she knows the only sure way to find out - by seeing if the boy can tell her the treasured possession he gave her before she left Loscha. Unfortunately she just ends up scaring the poor lad.
When the child runs off, Miss Bentley starts to follow, only to be hit by a stray bullet from the fighting taking place outside the consulate. Now she's out of the way, how can the boy's identity be confirmed?
Strait cunningly gains the child's confidence and gets him to admit he was put up to pretending to be the Prince by the decidedly dodgy Korvin. Michael Sirr, as the little boy, is a cute enough kid but not the most talented of child actors - and his distinct Cockney accent jars a bit.
Strait confronts Anna, and finds out that Korvin's paid her a load of money to confirm that the boy's the prince, in the hope that he can control the throne of Loscha. What Strait's also been able to work out (though it's not entirely clear how) is that, by coincidence, the boy chosen for the masquerade really is the prince. Confronted with this information Anna feels utterly ashamed of herself. Sylva Langova is a highly glamorous and tremendously camp figure, and the episode gets about 50% more entertaining whenever she's on screen.
When Strait confronts Korvin, the villain ends up shooting poor Anna, seemingly for no reason other than that she's annoying him.
The ensuing fight scene between Korvin and Strait is brilliantly staged, but the highlight is the extremely campy shots of a very slowly expiring Anna, as she reaches for the gun and finally, with her last ounce of strength, dispatches Korvin.
You see? Very exciting stuff. With Strait's encouragement young Tulan remembers it was his ceremonial earring he gave Miss Bentley, he's reinstalled as Prince and the country's troubles are on their way to being eased. Hooray!
Now it's time for the last in the present series of The Human Jungle, which has an especially appropriate title.
After a worrying period of radio silence, experienced test pilot Mike Barclay (Ian Bannen) crashed his plane, managing to eject first. Aircraft manufacturer Mr Black (Eddie Byrne) is determined to find out whether it was plane or pilot at fault, and enlists the help of a reluctant Dr Roger Corder to find out if Mike's mentally disturbed in any way. Black's trying to nudge Corder into concluding that Mike was attempting suicide, so the production of the plane won't be held up, but as ever Corder insists he'll make up his own mind.
Mike's recovering in hospital with support from his wife Vera (Zena Marshall).
And look who's playing Mike's nurse!
Yes, it's The Avengers' Venus Smith herself, Julie Stevens. It's a shame to see her playing such a tiny role, particularly as she's credited as "Second Nurse" in spite of appearing on screen ages before "First Nurse" (Ilona Rodgers).
Mike keeps rambling the word "Honey", which Corder soon works out is a reference to his secretary Honey Benson (June Barry), with whom he's been having a long affair.
Conflicting stories arise: Honey claims she and Mike were planning to move to San Francisco together (and indeed Mike did buy airline tickets there), but Vera insists the affair was just a stupid fling and she'd talked Mike out of leaving her. What's more, Honey paints a picture of an utterly fearless Mike while Vera insists he was always terror-stricken prior to flying, and she's spent their entire marriage helping him with his nerves. It's all very confusing, and Corder decides the only way to get to the bottom of what happened is to reconstruct Mike's last flight.
Creating a mock-up of Mike's cockpit, Corder hypnotises the pilot into reliving the flight. It turns out that, with the need to decide between two women burdening his mind, Mike's flight fears overwhelmed him and he flipped out. Few people have ever been able to flip out quite as entertainingly as Ian Bannen, who throughout the episode gives us a quite remarkable display of bonkersness.
The crash was caused when Mike attempted to land the plane -but pressed the wrong button because they were so close together! Mr Black's happy that he knows what to do to make the plane safer, and Mike and Vera are happy as they decide to give it another try. Honey's not best pleased, but we get the feeling she'll find another pilot to ensnare before too long.
In contrast to last week's multi-plotted episode, Over and Out focuses purely on Mike's rather twisty tale, and gives us a full-length portrait of a troubled mind. As such it's a highly satisfying end to the series. The episode ends with an interesting new sartorial decision from Corder, who's taken to wearing his overcoat like a cape.
Perhaps he's attempting to prepare us for the show moving into his timeslot next week: there'll be capes aplenty as ATV's Sergeant Cork investigates the seamy side of Victorian London. The Human Jungle will return, but not for a while yet, I'm afraid.