Saturday, 16 November 2013

Saturday 16 November 1963

There's a worrying development in the field of sentimental agency this week.  Our title character's nowhere to be seen, and even the opening titles have been altered to reflect this.

You may (or very well may not) remember John Turner in his role of Bill Randall a couple of weeks ago - a rather dull love interest for Susie Carter.  This week Bill turns up at Mercury International HQ to take her out for lunch - but on learning Carlos Varela's away in the US, he's running the show within minutes.  Neither Miss Carter nor Varela's loyal manservant Chin seem especially perturbed by the fact that this interloper's nominated himself as their new boss (a role which, presumably, he's not being paid for).  Bill immediately sets himself to solving Mercury's latest problem: the return from Transturkemania of a shipment of 30,000 horse blankets: something factory foreman Mac (Fred Griffiths) is extremely unhappy about.

As Transturkemanian minister Dr Abu (Marne Maitland) explains, one of the country's regular changes of government has meant its entire cavalry have been replaced with tanks - which don't have much use for blankets.

With the blankets taking up all the space in the warehouse there's no room for a shipment of vintage cars due to arrive for an American millionaire.  Bill, convinced he's an expert in salesmanship, is certain he'll have no trouble finding someone to offload them onto.  Although he's no substitute for the fabulously suave Carlos Thompson, John Turner shows a not inconsiderable comic talent as Bill sets about finding a taker for the blankets.  He's aided by a superb guest cast of Great British character actors, most of whom only pop up for brief cameos.  There's Judith Furse as the wily head of a riding school, who agrees to take a dozen blankets, knocks down the price, and then pays in vouchers for free riding lessons.

Noel Howlett as Mr Giddy of the RSPCA, who takes a few blankets as - to Bill's dismay - a donation.

And Anton Rodgers as your classic spiv, who scandalises Bill with the rock-bottom price he offers for the lot.

Much to Chin and Miss Carter's dismay, Bill stubbornly refuses this offer, determined to get a better one.  It's then that Susie decides a horse blanket could make a fabulous garment for a human being.

She and Bill take the idea to fashion wholesaler Sally Clare (Judy Parfitt), who's in the middle of negotiating an exclusive modelling deal with "England's Most Beautiful Girl", Jackie Fraser (Sue Lloyd, making her screen debut).

Sally and her business partner Lenny Pugh (Warren Mitchell again, adding Welsh to his repertoire of accents) aren't willing to take a risk on a new trend, especially with a royal wedding looming that's likely to affect what women will want to wear for the next year.

Jackie, however, falls in love with the blankets, and goes into partnership with Bill to sell them (it's strictly business: as Bill curiously observes, "We're not the marrying kind").  Jackie manages to convince royal couturier Vincent Frey (Dennis Price, appearing all too briefly) of how spiffing the blanket coat idea is, and he lets her model it for the royal bride - who chooses it for her going-away outfit.

Word gets out about the horse blankets, and to preserve exclusivity Bill and Jackie manage to get control of Britain's entire supply (with nary a thought for poor, cold horses).  Mercury International's entire premises are filled with wonky hairdoed women working away at sewing machines to  transform them into coats (poor Chin's requisitioned as tea lady).  And when the princess appears on TV in one of them they become a fashion phenomenon.

Written by Peter and Betty Lambda (the Pip and Jane Baker of their day?), The Height of Fashion is, for the most part, a load of old horse blankets.  Still, that guest cast isn't to be sniffed at, and it gives us an interesting (though not necessarily accurate) glimpse of the early 60s fashion business.  A couple of photos Jackie poses for perfectly capture the strange mix of modernity and nostalgia that characterised 60s pop culture in Britain.

Next tonight, it's a return visit to Café Ada.

There's no onscreen title for this week's episode, but as you'll be able to see if you've got your TV Times handy - it's called Teenage Terror.  The reason for that will eventually become apparent, but first we note a shift in the feelings of Alf and Ada Larkins toward their lodger, retired Major Osbert Rigby-Soames.  Initially hostile to the workshy scrounger, Alf's come to recognise him as a kindred spirit, while the well-rehearsed charm that initially bowled Ada over has been overridden by her desire for rent money that remains conspicuously unforthcoming.  As she's not owed any money by him, Hetty Prout's still bedazzled by the Major: "I reckon he's a smashing feller.  He's so... clean cut".  "Yeah," chimes in Alf, "When he's not half cut."

Ada sends Alf up to Osbert's room to demand the money - instead, the two enjoy a civilised drink and Alf suggests various plans to dodge the rent for a bit longer.  "If go I must, I will go in the glorious tradition of the Rigby-Soames," Osbert insists.  "Unruffled.  Unflinching.  Unconscious."

Alf encourages Osbert to pretend to be sick until he's got money available to pay, but the thought of being nursed by Ada is simply too terrifying.  Alf agrees he'll try and find something to distract Ada's mind from the rent - but, as luck would have it, something's turned up to do just that.  It's a letter from Alf's brother (who both Peggy Mount and David Kossoff get confused and call Alf - it's later established he's actually called Ted), announcing that his wife Claire's had trouble with her nerves ("She hasn't got no nerves, she just gets on other people's" snorts Ada) and has had to go and stay in the south of France.  Ted, meanwhile has to go to Australia for work, and asks the Larkins to look after his teenage son Georgie, who's proved a major handful for his parents.  Ada's horrified by the idea, but even more so by the alternative, that the boy be looked after by Alf's awful sister Flo.

Ada rapidly warms to the idea of having a teenager to set on the straight and narrow, and gets in some preparatory reading.  Alf's doubtful how useful this will be on a 17 year old.  With people taking that attitude Ada's not surprised the boy's got an octopus complex

Hetty's less than keen on the idea: "Life's quite hard enough as it is without having a hulking great teddy boy around the place.  When the boy fails to show up at the appointed time, Alf assures his wife, "He's probably out enjoying himself somewhere, coshing an old lady or robbing a bank."  Suddenly, Georgie's arrival is announced with an ear-splitting crash.  But he's not quite what his relatives were expecting, appearing in the unassuming form of 24-year old Hugh Walters.

Georgie's a classic swot who prides himself on his repertoire of "5000 fascinating facts".  He's also horrifically accident prone.  After putting Alf off his fry-up (which he's managed to soak with milk) by informing him of the amount of germs carried by the blowfly sitting atop it, he proceeds to destroy the dining table.

More disasters follow, with Georgie's unintentional reign of terror a godsend to Osbert, his outstanding rent forgotten about amid all the chaos.

Eventually Friday comes and Osbert can pay his rent, but as Ada's forgotten all about it he decides to keep hold of it.  He's done his landlords a favour, though, sending Georgie on an army-style initiative test to find a 17 inch double-flow reverse-action panic bolt, which should keep him out of the house for hours.  Unfortunately, he finds one attached to the outdoor cellar flap...

We end with a chortlesome scene of domestic abuse.

Next tonight, an Avengers episode which takes the highly unusual step of venturing outside the bounds of this green and pleasant land...

This week John Steed's managed to get himself involved in the field of organ transplantation.  Cornea transplants, to be precise.  The recipient is to be blind millionaire Marten Halvarssen (John Carson).  The medical team aren't the most trustworthy: one of them, Dr Eve Hawn (the almost comically sultry Judy Bruce) is engaged to him yet carrying on right under his nose with Dr Neil Anstice (Peter Bowles).

But what's this all got to do with Steed? Well, in an unprecedented step, the corneas are to be taken from a live donor.  "I'm representing Her Majesty's government in the affair," Steed tells Cathy Gale.  "Does the government know?" she wryly asks.  Steed's due to fly out to the Swiss clinic where the donor is based to witness the removal of the corneas, and he instead suggests Cathy should attend, in the guise of an opthamologist (the poor woman had to be an expert in gold bullion last week: why she puts up with all this I don't know).  Incidentally, Steed appears to have had an entire wall of his flat mirrored, in order to facilitate disorientating shots like this:

Cathy's initial encounter with Halvarssen's dodgy docs is filmed in a similarly eye-catching way.

Halvarssen himself has proved elusive, but Steed sneaks in to his apartment to meet him face to face and find out why he wants the corneas brought to him, rather than taking the more obvious step of having the transplant in Switzerland.

Turns out the donor's Hilda Brauer, a former love of Halvarssen's, now dying.  Staying under the same roof as her would just be too painful for him.

Accompanying Cathy to Switzerland will be eminent eye expert Dr Spender (Ronald Adam, tetchy authority figure of countless British films).  An old friend of Steed's family, he disapproves of the way the young whippersnapper's turned out ("Never thought you'd become a Whitehall man, Steed!").  He also disapproves of female doctors and, by extension, women in general ("I suppose you're competent enough for a woman"), and what's more, he doesn't seem all that keen on Cathy's modish hat.

Gale and Spender's arrival at the clinic is pretty eerie, as they encounter a haunting portrait of Hilda Brauer and then the heavily concealed donor herself.

Doctors Hawn and Anstice (who Steed's convinced aren't doctors at all) are clearly up to something dodgy.  Whatever it is, he clearly finds it an absolute hoot.  She's not so sure.

In terms of its script (by Martin Woodhouse), Second Sight is the weakest episode so far this series.  What exactly is going on remains pretty obscure throughout, and the mystery's not engaging enough for us to be all that bothered.  So it's lucky that ace director Peter Hammond's on hand to make it the most visually interesting episode to date.  Especially brilliant is the scene where the unfortunate Dr Spender is bumped off, pushed 700 feet off a balcony by the bandage-swathed patient, risen from its bed like an Egyptian mummy.  The falling body's reflected in the dark glasses that it then removes along with the rest of the wrappings to reveal someone who clearly isn't Hilda Brauer.

Halvarssen thinks that what's being brought back from Switzerland are a pair of priceless diamonds.  But he's wrong.

Anstice and Hawn have, in fact, been using him to run a spy exchange.  They don't get away with it of course, and the whole thing ending in the usual ding-dong.

Next tonight, Espionage abandons its dodgy historical reconstructions of the last couple of weeks, and brings us with a literal bang into the modern world.  And the modern world of 1963 means one thing above all else: the bomb.

In a Paris bar,  patrons including Paul (James Fox) and his girlfriend Nicole (Heather Fleming) sit glued to a TV screen showing footage of atomic tests.  The stern figure of Professor Henri Moreau, head of France's nuclear weapons programme (Clifford Evans, the only member of the cast who doesn't bother to do the accent) announces that France now has its very own atom bomb.

Their loudly expressed anti-bomb sentiments see Paul, Nicole and their friend Jacques (David Buck) get into a fight with a pair of soldiers.  A young American GI, Bob Barrett (Michael Anderson Jr) aids them in escaping.

Bob joined the military purely as a way of travelling to exotic new cultures, and it's not difficult for the French youths to talk him round to their views.  But Paul, in particular, wants to do more than talk.  In a bar so hip that the barmaid wears shades, he announces his intention of kidnapping Professor Moreau with the intention of convincing him to quit the nuclear programme.

With Nicole posing as a friend of the Professor's daughter, they don't find it too difficult to get into his apartment.  Moreau knows Paul of old: he once taught him at university.  At the point of a gun, he's encouraged to go with his former student and his friends.

Moreau's driven to the abandoned country house where Paul was brought up, and shown footage of the horrible aftermath of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  It doesn't have much effect: not only has Moreau seen the film many times before, but he calmly assures the youths that the bomb now in production will be many times as powerful.  He patiently explains his position: "The bomb is a fact in the world.  Shrinking from it in a fit of sentimental revulsion won't make it go away... you said if you didn't have the gun, I wouldn't have listened to you.  That is correct.  That is why France must have the bomb!"  Paul's trump card (so he thinks) is to announce that the gun wasn't loaded.

It quickly turns out there's more than the bomb to the conflict between Paul and Moreau.  The professor announces to his kidnappers that Paul's animosity toward him stems from the fact that he denounced Paul's father as a Nazi collaborator, leading to the man's suicide.  An angry Paul insists this was all a lie to advance Moreau's career, but after handing the Prof a punch in the face, his gaze into a handily positioned symbolic cracked mirror tells us all we need to know.

Paul sends a letter to the papers telling them about the kidnapping, but it's not printed.  Convinced the government are trying to suppress the truth for fear of stirring up the great mass of French people who are against the bomb, the youths decide on another tactic: Jacques has a friend who hosts a talk radio station, and he plans to get on air and announce to France that they're holding the professor. An uneasy silence descends as Paul loads his gun and tells Jacques to take it with him.

"I didn't mean you should kill anyone," he insists, unconvincingly.  "But if you're stopped, a couple of shots in the air might help you get away."  Jacques doesn't take the gun but he is stopped, by a pair of gendarmes.  As he's driving Bob's car they arrest him for stealing it.

There's no word from Jacques, and the papers announce the professor has all along been on the Riviera with his daughter.  All his other plans frustrated, Paul decides there's just one option left to stop the Professor.

In the very room where Paul found his father hanged, Moreau urges the disturbed idealist to accept the fact that the both his father and Moreau himself, who Paul set up as a substitute father figure, are flawed human beings.  This last-ditch bout of Freudianism works, and as Paul collapses into Nicole's arms, the professor agrees to say nothing of what's happened if they let him go to the Riviera where he's supposed to be.

To the Very End is a decent 50 minutes of drama with terrific performances from Evans and Fox.  Some might think that depicting its advocate of the nuclear deterrent as a calm, reasoned, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger type and its chief opponent as a developmentally stunted hysteric is loading the dice a tad, though.

And finally, to this week's hit parade.  Gerry and the Pacemakers are still at number 1 with "You'll Never Walk Alone".  Up to number 5 this week, it's arguably the crowning achievement of the girl group sound.

1 comment:

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