Thursday, 31 October 2013

Thursday 31 October 1963

It's All Hallow's Eve, though hardly anyone in Britain celebrated it back in 1963, and there's nothing especially horrific about the shows I'm featuring here tonight.  Though I suppose that's a matter of opinion, really.

I think I've bored you before with the information that I'm following the ATV run of Space Patrol, which is the same as its initial broadcast on ABC, except for the scheduling of this episode.  Intended as the introduction to the series, it didn't turn up on ABC until after plenty of other episodes were broadcast.  The Swamps of Jupiter consequently spends a lot of time dwelling on things we're already familiar with: the role of Space Patrol, decontamination prior to space flight, the operation of the Galasphere, the freezer, and Husky's bottomless appetite.  The latter two are linked here as the Martian crewman takes a cake into suspended animation with him so it'll be fresh for when he awakes.

There is one piece of new information, though: in later episodes the location of the city where Space Patrol has its headquarters is rather vague, but in the introductory narration here its explicitly stated that it's New York.  Perhaps Roberta Leigh, Arthur Provis and their colleagues thought that might be a bit alienating to British viewers.

Anyway, the plot in The Swamps of Jupiter is pretty perfunctory.  Dart, Husky and Slim head off to Jupiter to find out why there's been no contact from the scientific team based there.  Turns out its because they've all been killed by a pair of villainous Martians who've come to Jupiter to collect the skins of Jupiter's mangy doglike swamp creatures the Loomies.  "I never thought I could feel squeamish killing Loomies, but they're such pathetic-looking creatures," one of them notes.

It turns out the lead Martian is himself a scientist, who's discovered that the skins of Loomies are ultra-light and, if heated, remain warm for years.  "A permanent hot water bottle!" as Husky exclaims.  However, he and Dart are not happy with his fellow Martians' decimation of Jupiter's wildlife, and the whole thing culminates in a hilarious puppet punch-up, ending with the baddies plastifoamed up and ready to be taken away for some severe punishment.

Of course The Swamps of Jupiter also sees the introduction of the planet's most bizarre native, Joe the Jovian, and the beginning of his unrequited infatuation with Larry Dart.  "I wish you stay here and make home with me," he forlornly tells the captain as he prepares to depart.  Bold.

Recently I was informed that yet another revamp of The Saint is on its way to our screens.  I can't see where exactly the enduring appeal of Simon Templar lies.  Of all the shows I've watched for TV Minus 50, The Saint's probably the one I find the dullest.  Tonight's episode's a good example of how humdrum it generally is - though as with any 1960s TV programme there are still plenty of points of interest.

Simon's in Paris to visit an old friend, Juliette Grillot (Yolande Turner) (he manages to be even smugger than usual in his opening monologue, as he correctly predicts that an unassuming little man will shortly be carted off by the police thanks to the "brew of political unrest" that simmers under the city's gay facade).  Juliette's the sister of André Grillot (Alex Scott), a wine merchant in partnership with the decidedly dodgy-seeming Jean Bougrenet (John Bailey).

Bougrenet is indeed as dodgy as he appears.  He's involved with a group of Algerian freedom fighters (for the money, rather than due to any political convictions) and has incurred the wrath of one of their leaders, Major Quintana (Martin Benson), just out of prison.  He was supposed to be selling forged bearer bonds in various companies on Quintana's behalf, and hasn't done as well as the Major would have liked.  Bougrenet withdraws all of his company's funds and prepares to flee, but before he can manage it he ends up impaled on a paperknife by Quintana.

Fortunately Simon's around to help out André, the police's number one suspect in the murder of his partner.  He takes some bonds he's found to an old acquaintance, forgery expert Mére Lafond.  Played with great verve by Hazel Hughes, she's easily the episode's best character.  Her decidedly butch manner is mischievously alluded to in the script: "Monsieur, in 60 years I have made only one mistake... my husband."

Mére LaFond recognises the near-perfect bonds as the work of Vladek Urivetsky, the world's greatest forger.  Urivetsky's in the pay of Quintana, and played by a very excitable Hamilton Dyce.

Especially good bits include a thrilling bout of fisticuffs between Templar and Quintana's henchman Lt Prevost (Neville Becker) (the episode's directed by Peter Yates, whose skill with action would later be put to use in Hollywood films like Bullitt and (a personal favourite) Krull).

And there's one of my favourite things - a 60s party scene.  Templar has a lookalike on hand to don his costume for a bit while he heads off to sort out the baddies but avoid the beady eyes of the police.

But perhaps the highlight of the episode is provided by this remarkable tabard, sported by Bougrenet's housekeeper Marie (Miki Iveria).  Glorious.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Monday 28 October 1963

The great thing about The Plane Makers is that it works both as an ongoing series and as a series of individual playlets about the workers at the Scott-Furlong factory (as such it's an obvious forerunner to the BBC's Clocking Off of the early 2000s).  The star-studded, immensely fun Any More for the Skylark? is one of the most successful episodes so far in combining the two styles.

The Scott-Furlong Sovereign is being prepared for its trial flight down to the south of France.  A technical crew of 10 will be aboard, and by longstanding tradition the remaining 60 seats will be occupied by factory employees.  Competition for a place on the flight is likely to be stiff, and managing director John Wilder has assigned the task of allocating the seats to deeply unwilling sales manager Don Henderson.  Henderson, in turn, has decided to give the job to some other idiot: in this case clueless PR man Michael Fletley (Peter Myers).  Jack Watling is especially wonderful as the sardonic Henderson, who clearly spends most of his working life exasperated by the stupidity of those around him.  When Fletley protests "But I don't even know the right people to ask, Sir!" he's met with a stupendously weary response:  "Well let me assure you, we're not the least interested in their social status, merely that when they sit down the weight of their bodies exerts the required gravitational pull... don't allow anybody aboard who has a tendency to float three or four inches above the surface of the ground... apart from that it it's up to you... you're a public relations man aren't you? Well go and relate to the public!"

Fletley repeats these words almost verbatim (though with a good deal more pomposity) to his subordinate Tim Ormiston (Rodney Bewes, poring over a copy of Lord Denning's report on the Profumo affair when we first see him) who he passes the job on to.

With no subordinates of his own, Ormiston just has to get on with it.  But how exactly are the seats to be allocated? First come, first served? "Oh good heavens, man!" cries a horrified Fletley, "You can't do things like that... there are channels." (As Ormiston later observes, "You know what usually happens in channels - mud goes down them slowly").

While the PR department are trying to decide who's worthy of a trip to the Med, several employees are getting ideas of their own.  Jack-the-lad/sex pest (delete according to opinion) craftsman Hammy Hopkins (Victor Maddern, whose remarkable mugging throughout shows he'd have cleaned up on the gurning circuit had he ever decided to jack in acting) is desperate to be up to his neck in little French dollies (his words), and hatches an elaborate plan to ensure he is, sweet-talking Mr Campbell (Malcolm Hayes), head of Scott-Furlong's amateur dramatics group, to organise a talent contest - which he manages to talk Ormiston into providing four seats on the plane as prizes for (in fact, two of them will be prizes - Hammy's snaffling the others for himself and a bird he wants to take with him).

The acts Hammy rounds up to take part in the contest include Scott-Furlong's very own beat group, the Gustos, and Marlene Canter (a pre-Carry On Barbara Windsor, who truly sounds common as muck), who works in the paint shop by day and a strip club by night (I suppose you could call her a paint stripper).  The none-too-bright Marlene's convinced by Hammy that Mr Campbell's a talent scout for a national chain of night clubs: "Does he want me to do my strip? Cos if he does I'll have to take my teddy bear."

Also planning to get hold of a seat is young draughtsman Willie Cooper (Terry Palmer), who plans to give it to a love rival in order to get him out of the way for his girlfriend Shirl's (Madeleine Mills) birthday party.

And then there's Fletley's immediate superior James Nett (John Woodvine), who demands a couple of seats for himself and Rosalind Perry (Isobel Black), a new girl at the factory he's trying to get his end away with.

Rosalind's not especially interested in this sleazy old married man, though - when she meets Tim Ormiston the pair very swiftly fall in love.  Their budding relationship is very sweet - he takes her out for a drink and they share their disillusionment with the majority of their respective opposite sex.  Tim's never had much luck with women: "All I've got is a television set and a copy of the Kama Sutra," he sighs (racy stuff for 1963).  "Did you enjoy the Kama Sutra?" Rosalind asks.  "No, I thought it was daft, really."  Bewes and Black are both adorable.  There's a cloud on the horizon, though, in the form of Nett, who swiftly moves in to separate them, sending Ormiston back to the office on some stupid pretext.

An angered Ormiston goes to cross Nett off the list, only to be told by Fletley that there won't be a list: Wilder, never a fan of tradition (or his workforce, for that matter), has decided that instead of employees the empty seats will be allocated to journalists.  Incensed by the amount of work he's put in for nothing (not to mention the loss of a holiday with Rosalind), Ormiston recklessly heads off to confront the top man.  He's forthright to say the least: Don Henderson chokes on his drink when the young man flatly tells Wilder he's made a bad decision.  Wilder's face is a picture.

But, in the way of film and TV bosses, Wilder's initial incredulity shades into admiration for Ormiston's chutzpah.  When he tries to counter Ormiston's insistence on the importance of tradition to staff morale with a condescending "It's a ridiculous tradition, Mr Ormiston," Tim rocks him back on his heels with the astute "Yes Sir, but it is a tradition."

"You can almost feel that breath on the back of your neck already, can't you?" Wilder says to Henderson once Ormiston's left.  "We'll have to watch him."

Ormiston's plea proves successful.  He and Rosalind are getting their romantic trip, Nett is apopleptic with rage on learning there's no seat for him, Willie is gobsmacked to learn there are seats for him, Shirl and Shirl's other bloke, and Hammy decides to forsake his potential ladyfriend in favour of his mate Bluey (Ken Wayne).  And it's just possible that John Wider's beginning to think of his workers as human beings.  Marlene, meanwhile, is offered a seat by a smitten Mr Campbell, whose wife suddenly isn't feeling too well...

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Sunday 27 October 1963

Space Magnet was the last episode of Fireball XL5 to be broadcast in the show's original run, but it was only the fourth to be made so we can hardly expect a spectacular finale (anyway, we've already had that with the gloriously odd Space City Special).  However, it's such a humdrum episode that I can't help being disappointed that this is the last time I'm going to be writing about Steve Zodiac and his chums.

As he waits for his patrol shift on Fireball XL5 to begin, Steve reads about the interplanetary league spaceship race, which, apparently, was "real boss".  Professor Matic's quite excited about too - he's keen to enter XL5 at some point.  "Oh professor, can't you stop thinking about flying for once?" Venus chides him.  "Well, what else is there?" he asks.  Venus's response gives us a disappointing picture of the role of a female Space Doctor in the latter half of the 21st century: "Well, I find plenty to do: sewing on buttons and doing the laundry for crusty old bachelors like you and Steve!" Good grief.

Before Godfrey Blooms everywhere can get more excited about this vision of future female drudgery, our attention's drawn to Zoonie the Lazoon, who's acting very strangely.  More so than usual, I mean.  He's quivering and shaking all over the place.  Apparently he's got a special sensitivity to danger (first I've heard of it), and he senses something bad's coming.

Could this be in any way connected to the fact that Fireball XL7's suddenly spun out of control during a routine patrol, inexorably drawn forward by a mysterious force? (You may have noticed that inexorable forces pulling at spaceships have been a regular feature of the last few weeks' Fireballs).  Steve and the gang head off to investigate.  During their voyage we get a glimpse at Matt Matic's Wallace & Gromit-esque tea-making machine, connected to an antiquated alarm clock from 1962 (is Fireball XL5 set in some dread parallel universe where the teasmade was never invented?)

Venus is distinctly unimpressed with Matt ruining one of her retorts by using it in his contraption.  There's a bizarre concentration in this episode on Matt's love of hot drinks.  It's such a key element of the episode that it seems certain it'll play a major part in the conclusion: perhaps he'll defeat an alien by accidentally scalding it with hot water.  But no, it proves to have absolutely nothing to do with anything.

Reaching the spot XL7 was last seen, the XL5 crew are amazed to find it's not there.  And even more unexpected, the moon seems to have disappeared as well.  Eventually it pops up again, but it seems to be much further away than normal, so Steve chases after it.  XL5 gets pulled forward by the mysterious force at a speed that sends everything in the ship haywire (a situation that would be almost exactly repeated in the later, but already broadcast, episode Faster Than Light).

The crew lose consciousness: when they awake Matt works out that they're heading for the planet Magneton. "The magnetic planet - of course!" Venus exclaims.  Something's vastly increased the planet's magnetic force, and it looks like our heroes might be about to find out what.  Just about managing a safe landing, Steve, Venus and Matt head out to investigate (despite presumably being made largely of metal their hoverscooters seem unaffected by the magnetic force).  Eventually they discover an enormous power plant generating the magnetic force and fuelled by scrap metal drawn to the planet - including the remains of XL7.

Making their way inside, they encounter the Solars, a race of those most budget-friendly of all aliens: invisible ones.  Their leader, the Super Solar, crows about his plans to draw the moon into Magneton's orbit in order to make the planet a bit lighter.  And there's nothing Steve can do to stop him! Oh, turns out he can, actually: he just whips out his gun and starts firing randomly, apparently killing all the Solars off.  Whoops.

But wait, the moon's still heading straight for the planet? Could disaster be on its way?

No, it's OK: Matt switches something off, sending the moon back to its rightful place.  Phew.

A great deal of fannying about on XL5 and a truly ridiculous conclusion help make Space Magnet one of the very worst Fireball XL5 episodes (which could be why it took so long to show it).  However, the final scene's not that bad a way to end the series, depending on your tolerance for romance: Steve and Venus nuzzling outside her beach house and gazing on the newly restored moon, the theme song kicking in as the camera pulls back.  It's quite sweet, really.

Right, that's the very last time Fireball XL5 will be featured around these parts, I'm sorry to say: it's been one of the most consistently fun shows to write about of all those I've featured at TV Minus 50.  Luckily, Mr Gerry Anderson and his team are cooking up something rather special for next year...

You can watch Space Magnet for yourself here.  Preferably with a hot drink: