Tonight's Ghost Squad gets off to a fantastic start with a chap (Robin Hughes, the philandering conductor from last week's Human Jungle) entering a building, snooping about, and being confronted with the unmistakable figure of David Lodge. "Evening, sweetheart, looking for something?" asks Lodge, cheerily, then promptly shoots the interloper dead.
The title of this week's episode (not given on screen) is The Golden Silence, and it's another good'un from the pen of John Lucarotti. It turns out the man we saw die was Ghost Squad operative Dave Welford, who was on the trail of a gold smuggling ring. Dave, it seems, was loved by all his colleagues - especially the distraught Jean Carter. This assignment's now personal, and Tony Miller's the man on the case. Substituting for Superintendent Stock as Miller's boss this week is Mike Ferrers, played by Gordon Jackson - who even gets his name in the opening credits, despite doing little more than standard anxious chief stuff. Jackson, of course, would much later play a similar role in The Professionals.
Miller heads out on the track of the gold smuggling gang. Max (Lodge) is the heavy of the group, but also the most memorable thanks to a fantastic performance. Ever smiling, ever cheerful, Max is still an obviously dangerous and terrifying man. Rather than making him seem effeminate, his habit of calling other male characters, like hapless courier Tom Didcot (Patrick Blackwell), "sweetheart"makes them seem effeminate in comparison to his towering presence. "Go get yourself a cup of tea at the caff on the corner, steady your nerves, all right love?" he says to Didcot with an intimidating mixture of chumminess and condescension, knowing full well he'll shortly be putting an end to his life.
The brains of the operation is rogue treasury official Arthur Blakeson, played by the cadaverous David Garth.
The third key member of the gang is a travel agent named Midge Carbury (the splendidly named Myrtle Reed, who sounds exactly like Glynis Johns), who arranges smuggling trips to the far east for various expendable fools like Didcot. Midge's shop contains some superb 60s travel brochures, as well as a poster for my very own stomping ground of Brighton. Miller decides to worm his way into the heart of the gang by romancing Midge, which is far from the least pleasant job he's ever had.
It turns out that as well as her duties as secretary to whoever's in charge of Ghost Squad that week, Jean Carter's regularly called upon to redecorate the agents' homes so they're in keeping with their undercover identity. She turns up at Tony's flat (quite cheery considering her boyfriend's just been killed) to give it a 60-minute makeunder to look like the sort of hovel a small time crook seeking work with a gang of smugglers might reside in. I'm very taken with the wallpaper outside Tony's front door.
But despite these precautions Blakeson soon realises Tony's not who he claims to be, and, sensing the jig is up, sets about offing his accomplices before they can drop him in it. The late Mrs Carbury makes for an especially picturesque corpse,her astonishingly erect breasts vying for attention with her interesting carpet.
|Not smiling now, are you sweetheart?|
Ghost Squad at its best, The Golden Silence does, however, lose a few points for its horrendously cheesy ending - yes, once again, everyone has a good old laugh as the picture fades out...
Oh dear. Well, wiping a tear of mirth from my eye, I shall now move on to tonight's next programme, which is written by a certain Mr Brian Clemens.
We're in another fictional Eastern European dictatorship, but a more benign one than most. In fact, In the Picture's unusual in sympathising with the Communist government against greedy aristocrats trying to seize control of the country once more. The country's ruler, President Ruschek (Wensley Pithey), is a charming fellow and an old friend of Man of the World Michael Strait. In fact, much to the distaste of the more po-faced members of the government (including Peter Madden, even more cadaverous than David Garth), he's invited Strait to the country to host an exhibition of his photos.
One of the first visitors is young Maria (hamster-cheeked Nadja Regin), a fellow photographer and huge fan of Strait's work (pictures on display include images from recent episodes such as Isobel Black as a nun and John Hollis in yellowface). Strait, is of course, instantly charmed. It doesn't take much.
But there are those with more than just a fan's interest in Strait's pictures, specifically the wicked Count Troyan (Albert Lieven), who desperately wants to get hold of one of the photos in particular. Troyan's a typical Clemens villain: suave, polite, and a huge snob. A memorable exchange that's pure Clemens:
Butler: There are two gentlemen to see you, Sir.
Troyan: What are their names?
Butler: They didn't say, Sir.
Troyan: No names? Then how do you know they are gentlemen?
Troyan is waiting for the country's anti-Ruschek element to assassinate the president, so he can step in as the natural choice of new leader. The photo he's after, taken from a helicopter, shows an explosive device at the top of a newly built bridge set to go off when the president performs the opening ceremony. In an example of the mordant humour that would be par for the course in The Avengers under Clemens' guidance, Troyan watches the opening ceremony on TV. As the reporter announces that the president "looks definitely moved", Troyan dryly observes "not half as moved as he will be".
The seemingly sweet Maria turns out to be one of Troyan's lackeys - which means, of course, she's not long for this world, ending up accidentally shot by Strait as he dashes off to save the president's life.
Lots of familiar faces pepper the cast of In the Picture: Maurice Kaufman (last seen in last week's Ghost Squad) plays the president's security chief, complete with wonky moustache.
Veteran film and TV bit-player Bartlett Mullins (probably best known as the newsagent in Peeping Tom) makes a brief appearance as the owner of a photo-processing factory Troyan's men set fire to.
And I don't know who this uncredited elderly actor is, but he gives one of the most entertainingly ridiculous performances I've ever seen as a man who gets run off the road by Troyan's heavies.
A final word, about Michael Strait's car: yes, those top-opening doors look ever so cool and futuristic, but aren't they really just terribly impractical?
And now, a delve into the criminal mind in tonight's The Human Jungle, featuring a star turn from Melvyn Hayes of It Ain't Half Hot, Mum fame, giving a terrific performance as a sensitive young burglar with a peculiar obsession.
We first see Bert Morgan (Hayes) breaking into a house with an older accomplice (Warren Mitchell). As he's about to leave he notices a clock on the mantelpiece and is unable to resist picking it up and fiddling with it - waking the householders (familiar TV faces Geoffrey Chater and Pat Keen, both uncredited) when he makes it chime. As he runs for the getaway car he falls and is knocked unconscious...
Bert awakes in St Damien's Hospital, domain of Dr Roger Corder, with a broken arm. Bert's been unsuccessful in every robbery he's ever attempted due to his regular compulsion to try and fix broken clocks. Dr Corder's immediately interested in Bert's case, but the young robber's resistant to his attentions: "I'm not mad, am I? I mean, everybody's got some kind of kink". Well,quite.
|Melvyn just can't get enough clock|
Bert turns up on Corder's doorstep with a gun, demanding to know what's wrong with him: "Why do clocks mean so much to me?!", but gets scared off when Corder's daughter Jennifer calls the police. Inspector Gerald James (an actor who always looks terribly pained) is thoroughly unimpressed by the doctor's insistence that Bert needs help rather than punishment.
Corder's determined to get to the bottom of Bert's compulsion, and visits his hideout to bring food and analyse him. The houses he breaks into are always big, mock-Tudor affairs. "What do you feel when you see one of these houses?" asks the doctor. "It's like a gorgeous bird saying yes when you least expect it," replies Bert. Bert was adopted as a toddler, and Corder sends Jimmy Davis off to an unsentimentally named children's home to try and find out about his origins.
The matron of the home (Fabia Drake) initially seems just as blunt as its name, but eventually thaws enough to let Jimmy see the details of Bert's parentage.
Learning Bert was born in a small town in Hampshire and that his parents were killed in an air raid in 1943, Corder rifles through old newspapers to piece together the full story: though it's blatantly obvious the papers he's looking at are not from 1943.
As Bert comes up before the magistrates, Corder gives an impassioned account of the childhood trauma that led to the young thief's obsession: his parents were out at the cinema when it was hit by a bomb, killing them. The young Bert, alone at home in his cot, awoke just as the clock in his room stopped: from that moment on he subconsciously associated the stopping of the clock with his parents' deaths, and has been compelled to try and fix broken clocks as a way of bringing them back. A hefty slab of this must be pure guesswork, but it's convincing enough to get Bert a suspended sentence.
Time-Check's interesting for casting Corde more in the role of detective than usual. Fascinating too is the episode's ending, with the inspector's scorn for the excuses of psychiatrists contrasted with Corder's horror at the police's lack of human understanding.