Saturday, 2 November 2013

Saturday 2 November 1963

The Sentimental Agent's greatest asset is its leading man, and Meet My Son Henry suffers greatly from a glaring lack of Carlos Thompson, who only appears in a couple of bookend scenes.  It's Clemence Bettany, as Carlos Varela's secretary Susie Carter, who finds herself in the spotlight this week (sadly the extra screen time doesn't help her to become any more of an interesting character).  Mercury International's latest client is a millionaire relocating from the US to Switzerland (John Phillips, an English actor frequently cast as Americans), and Miss Carter's task is to escort his boy genius son (Stephen Loegering) to his new school in Lucerne.  The Milkybar kid lookalike youngster is, unsurprisingly, a huge pain in the arse, and I spent much of the episode speculating over whether he turned out like that other child prodigy, James Harries.

But of course, a pleasant trip to Lucerne wouldn't be all that dramatic, so a gang of crooks are thrown in to spice things up a bit.  Heavies Derren Nesbitt and Glynn Edwards have stolen some top-secret jet engine plans.  And on the sabbath as well, the cads!

Their employer, foreign agent Vladek Sheybal, decides to hide these plans in a book binding, to be surreptitiously planted in a bookshop and then bought at the counter by a courier.  To ensure nobody else buys the book, he's chosen an out-of-date edition of Basic Calculus.

Unfortunately for the baddies, this is precisely what young Henry wants for his travel reading.  In a lovely touch, John Glyn-Jones reprises his role from a couple of weeks ago as a befuddled bookshop manager, here mediating between Henry and the hapless female agent sent to buy the book.

Henry successfully acquires the book and, insufferable know-it-all that he is, soon realises the import of what's hidden in its pages, and that Edwards and Nesbitt are on his and Miss Carter's trail.  Fortunately they've got Henry's father's agent Bill Randall (John Turner), who Susie rapidly falls for, to protect them.  Unfortunately he's dull as ditchwater and no substitute at all for Carlos Varela.  And goodness knows why Miss Carter finds him such a dreamboat - he looks like Karl Malden.

Eventually the villains kidnap Susie from outside a glamorous French eaterie.

Sheybal (whose prissy hatred of violence is about the only thing that distinguishes this week's baddies - well, that and Glynn Edwards' intermittent accent, which could be American, Irish or goodness knows what) demands the jet plans back in return for Susie - and Henry gives them to him.  He had them replaced with plans for an electronic poker machine, you see.

So that's about that, really.

The Avengers is often described as a quintessentially English TV show.  Clich√©d as that view is, it's hard to argue with.  Even before the show became a pop art caricature of the ways of our little island it was producing what few other shows have ever bothered with: yes, a bonfire night episode!

We begin on election night in South East Anglia, where Michael Dyter (Gary Hope) is promptly executed upon being announced as the new MP (as Steed and Gale note, it's the shortest political career on record, lasting all of one and a half seconds).

On  visit to the House of Commons to speak to his local MP, Major Gavin Swinburne (David Langton), about Dyter's murder, John Steed is accosted by a pair of elderly ladies (one's Aimee Delamain, the other's sadly uncredited) who, despite his conspicuously clean-shaven chops, seem to be of the belief he's Sir Gerald Nabarro.  After Swinburne proves thoroughly unhelpful Steed sets the aged pair on him.

Swinburne, it emerges, is in an uneasy alliance with opposition MP Arthur Dove (David Davies - you can tell he's Labour because he's Welsh and wears a bow tie) - to find out the truth about a government scandal which Dyter had planned to expose upon being elected.  The two have been brought together by image consultant Mark St John (Ric Hutton), who was Dyter's publicity manager, and who has the most remarkable early 60s modernist office.

Steed, it goes without saying, knows what all the fuss is about: a nuclear warhead which rather embarrassingly went missing in some fog.  His plan to find out where it went is a bit unexpected: he wants Cathy to contest the same seat Dyter was running for.  "I'll pay your deposit - I'll even kiss a few babies for you if you like!" (In 2013 kissing babies seems more likely to lose someone an election than win it).

Cathy reluctantly agrees to go along with Steed's plan (the idea of a spin-off series featuring a leather-clad, karate-kicking Honor Blackman in parliament is irresistible - surely it's not too late?), and a rather surprising choice of first place to visit in her nascent political career is upmarket ladies' fitness club the Slimorama.  Could this be the same Slimorama mentioned in last week's episode, which society flibbertigibbet Lady Cynthia Bellamy set up then got bored with? Either way, it's now run by the shifty Fiona (Iris Russell), whose clientele include Arthur Dove's salt-of-the-earth wife (played with great gusto by Betty Marsden lookalike Ruth Dunning), who comes there mainly to flirt with allegedly dishy trainer Max (former professional wrestler "Tiger" Joe Robinson).

Robinson was a contributor to Honor Blackman's Book of Self-Defence, so it's no surprise the two of them have a pretty elaborate tussle here, prior to Steed and Gale discovering Major Swinburne's body crushed beneath an exercise bike.

In his role as Cathy's campaign manager Steed pays a visit to Mark St John.  Before their meeting he has a good snoop round the publicity man's offices (in his role as a secret agent he suspects him of having something to do with the missing warhead), giving us a good look at designer Douglas Jones' very modish set.

Steed offers St John £10,000 to be Cathy's publicist - but the image consultant's clearly riled when Steed announces that his client plans to expose the scandal before she's elected.  Meanwhile, said client is trying to sound out Arthur Dove over dinner, and elegantly slapping down his attempt to make a pass at her.

Dove: Seems a shame to spend the evening talking politics.
Cathy: What would you like to discuss?
Dove: Well - you've met my old woman.  What do you think?
Cathy: I got on very well with her.
Dove: Yes.  Yes, er, I didn't mean to suggest anything else.

We're given a splendid end-of-second act twist with the murder of St John at the hands of... Michael Dyter!

Yes, Dyter faked his death and is in fact the mastermind behind the theft of the warhead.  He was happy just to blackmail the government for its return, but now he's had a better offer from a foreign power who want him to set it off and destroy London - which he plans to do on Guy Fawkes' night.

And talking of Guy Fawkes, here's Steed in a mask of the Catholic rebel which is, frankly, terrifying.  That ubiquitous V for Vendetta looks pathetic in comparison.

Steed and Cathy, of course, bring the baddies to justice just in time to prevent "the biggest bumper Guy Fawkes' night in history", though Steed's final confrontation with Dyter has nothing on the spectacle of Mrs Dove beating big Max with her handbag.

November Five is, by most other shows' standards, fantastic stuff - but this series of The Avengers has been so brilliant so far that it just seems a bit blah in comparison.  However, it does have some fantastic hats.

And now from Guy Fawkes we segue seamlessly to some Catholic rebels of another era, with Espionage's take on the Easter Rising.

Ireland, 1916.  Dour Tralee publican John McBride (Patrick Troughton), along with associates Matt Youghal (Jack McGowran) and Gorman (T P McKenna) await the arrival of a submarine carrying Sir Roger Casement, who's spent the past two years in Germany gathering support for an Irish revolution and - more importantly -arms that will help make that revolution happen.

When the police appear, the three reluctantly return to McBride's pub, leaving Casement (Andrew Keir) and his companions Robert Monteith (Maurice Good) and Bailey (Maurie Taylor) to make their own way.  The undersea voyage from Germany's taken it out of Casement, and he rests alongside Bailey in a ruined, roofless barn while Monteith heads to Tralee for help.

As the rain begins to fall Monteith makes it to McBride's pub, but is shocked to learn that the landlord won't risk being seen by the police, even to save a hero like Casement from death at the hands of the elements ("It's a revolution I'm running, not a home for the weak and feeble!").  McBride is fanatically determined that nobody must jeopardise the planned rising, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering wife Doreen (Billie Whitelaw).

While the revolutionaries debate whether or not to rescue Casement, the man himself is betrayed by the weaselly Bailey, who decides he's not that bothered about the revolution after all, and decides to strike out on his own.

Bailey doesn't get far before he's captured by the police, who he happily tells all about Casement's whereabouts.  By the time McBride and his men go to search for Casement he's in the police cells, being tortured.  A horrified Monteith is determined that the planned uprising must be halted, and insists on taking the message to rebel leader Patrick Pearse in Dublin.  But the message to stop the rising is in a code known only to McBride, who earns a savage beating from Monteith for refusing to tell.

Doreen steps in to convince McBride to reveal the codeword to Monteith, and he finally does.  But when Monteith arrives in Dublin to tell Pearse it turns out he's unwittingly giving the word for the rising to go ahead...

He Rises on Sunday and We on Monday isn't  a great deal of use as history (more on that below), but works superbly as a domestic drama.  Whitelaw and Troughton give astonishing performances as a bitterly disappointed wife and a husband who, unbendingly devoted to his cause though he is, remains human enough to feel deep regret that he's no passion left to spare for the woman who loves him.  And for fans of The Omen it may seem especially bizarre to see the pair of them kiss.

"I've lain in a bed with you on the one side and me on the other, and Ireland in the middle like the slattern she is, and you lavishing on her what love there is in you, and gazing up at the ceiling thinking of springs of life drying up in me," cries Doreen, at the play's most emotional point.  But McBride's tied his revolutionary fervour in with his religious beliefs, and as such it's beyond all reason: "Christ rises on Sunday and we on Monday, and that's what it will be.  And as sure as Jesus will rise on Easter we will rise on the next day.  And as sure as no power on this earth will prevent His rising, none will prevent ours."

The play ends with McBride facing the guns of the police, knowing the rising will fail but determined he and his men will achieve martyrs' deaths.  And so they do, leaving the stricken Doreen surrounded by corpses.

Powerful drama it might be, but He Rises on Sunday and We on Monday is a long way from historical accuracy.  The real John MacBride was not a country publican, and his wife was W B Yeats' muse Maude Gomme - who, far from wringing her hands over him in Tralee, was separated from him and living in Paris.  And far from being an organiser of the Easter rising, he was deliberately kept in the dark about it as his republican zeal was judged to be too well known to the authorities.  He joined in once the fighting started, though, and afterward was executed alongside Pearse and Casement.  And in actual fact the rising was initially planned for Easter Sunday - it was the delay in getting arms which put it back a day.  Whether all this is important or not is in the eye of the viewer.

As a final aside, it's interesting to note that three members of the cast of He Rises on Sunday (Patrick McAlinney, Liam Gaffney and Desmond Perry) also starred in last week's Ireland-set episode of The Sentimental Agent.

Anyway, to the hit parade now.  Gerry and the Pacemakers have managed to top the chart with the plaintive "You'll Never Walk Alone".  A few places down at number 4, here's a double A-side from the Big O.

1 comment:

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