Thursday, 27 March 2014

Friday 24 January 1964

With Anthony Brand and his machinations absent this week - he's at a function in Uganda - It's Dark Outside feels more like a standard crime series this week.  That may be because it utilises one of the most standard of all crime series tropes: the figure from the past stalking the detective, bent on revenge.  As regular followers might expect, It's Dark Outside has an especially grim take on this well-worn plot, and one that's considerably more gruesome than you might expect of TV in 1964.  I don't know if Mary Whitehouse ever saw More Ways of Killing a Cat.  It's safe to say that if she did she would not have been amused.

It's Sergeant Swift's birthday, and as he listens to the radio that he bought for himself, a sinister, gun-wielding figure (Emrys James) sneaks up on him.

Turns out this is just practical joke-loving Sergeant Jones, giving Swift his own special brand of birthday surprise.  A far more conventional present is provided by Inspector Rose: a box of liqueur chocolates (it's the sort of thing you can imagine Rose having a whole stack of, ready to dole out to slight acquaintances as necessary: as Swift points out, Rose still doesn't even know his first name).

Rose has brought up two other presents for Swift: there's a small one containing a bow tie from Alice Brand, the burgeoning relationship between she and Swift confirmed by a note telling him to come round so she can teach him to tie it.  The other, larger gift gives justification to anyone marvelling at the notion of the police blithely taking in wrapped packages: it contains an explosive device that nearly removes Swift's hand.  Also in the box is a photograph of a glowering man, with a message on the back.

Later, Swift visits Alice for his lesson.  It seems their unlikely relationship's not been consummated yet, but it surely can't be far off.  Swift notes that Alice's gift isn't in keeping with the current trend for the "dishevelled look": "Hobnail boots and trousers with built-in gravy stains".  "I like men shevelled," she tells him, meaningfully.

Before anything more can happen, Alice's cat (named, with the degree of pretentiousness you'd expect, Freud) starts crying to be let in.  By the time she reaches the door its throat's been slit, another message for Swift left beside it.  The bloodied lump of fur we see may not look much like a cat, but it's still a pretty shocking sight.

While Swift's been dallying with Mrs Brand, another package has arrived for him.  Taking no chances this time, Rose has it blown up.  Fortunately, it wasn't just a jumper knitted by Swift's gran, but another sinister message.

So what's it all about? Swift reveals to Rose that the man in the photo is Joe Hammond, who he's known since they were in an orphanage together.  Always a rather peculiar character, Hammond had a habit of calling his friends by the names of animals - the killing of poor Freud was a reference to Swift's nickname, White Cat.  Hammond was the Black Cat, and the pair of them used to steal from shops together.  On one occasion Hammond was caught, and Swift legged it, leaving him to take the sole punishment.  After this Swift had promised to help Hammond out if he was ever caught again, but on the next occasion Hammond got in trouble with the law, Swift was just starting as a police cadet.  The latest package from Hammond contains a tape recorded message for Swift, setting out his plan to wipe out all of the White Cat's nine lives.  "An unpleasant, monotonous voice," is Rose's assessment.

Hammond's recently been released from a mental home, supposedly fully cured.  Swift and Rose head there to see if they can find out his current whereabouts.  It's a grim place, full of hopeless cases like the endlessly muttering Arthur (Jack Woolgar), who the camera gets disconcertingly close to.

Dr Harvey (Gerald Jewesbury) tells the detectives that Hammond's main preoccupation at the home was reciting fairy tales, including one he invented himself - about a black cat and a white cat.  With mounting horror Swift reads the tale of the terrible revenge Black took on White after its former friend sided with an old woman from whom they once stole.  Swift takes the old woman as a metaphor for the law, but the story's denouement, with White turning to the old lady for help only to find Black's there waiting to take his final life, is just confusing.

Hammond had a particular friend at the home, Taffy (Wilfrid Downing).  When Swift approaches him for help, he gets a knife held to his throat.  It's all been planned by Hammond to eliminate another life.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Jones is trying to avoid the attentions of a tarty landlady (Diana Coupland, making the most of her brief screen time) as he investigates Hammond's former lodgings.

Sadly he's unable to avoid the attentions of Hammond himself, who comes up from behind and stabs him to death.  The sight of the detective spewing blood as he expires would be a bit much for an ITV drama series today, let alone one from 1964.

The next move Hammond (Kenneth Colley) makes is to turn up at Alice Brand's house with a gun (he's under the impression she's in love with Swift) and force her to accompany him to a dingy caff, where he subjects her to a stream of trite epigrams he got from a calendar.  She proves a terrible kidnapee, entirely unable to subdue her native sarcasm and superciliousness, even at gunpoint.  Fortunately for her she's too important to his plans for him to kill.  I absolutely love June Tobin, who plays Alice: her resonant voice, her facility for making her character both likeable and objectionable at the same time, and her striking look, which reminds me of nobody so much as cabaret artiste The Divine David.

It turns out that Swift and Rose were wrong: the old woman of the story wasn't a metaphor for the law but an actual old lady, a schoolteacher who favoured Swift over Hammond.  Swift's summoned by Hammond to their old school for the final showdown, where Alice is being forced to play the role of the teacher (Alice being forced at gunpoint to treat Swift like a naughty schoolboy adds a new layer of kink to their relationship).

As the Black Cat prepares to take the White Cat's final life, Alice takes the initiative and, departing from the script, scolds Hammond for his actions in her most schoolmarmish tone.  And that's all it takes for him to collapse in a sobbing heap.

The danger over, Alice marvels at the grottiness of her surroundings: "So this is where you went to school?" In his distress it's not surprising that Swift misses this flashing sign warning that her interest in him is purely an interest in slumming it.  Hammond, for his part, retreats back inside his mind...

Thursday 23 January 1964

Professor Zephyr's picked up what seems to be a message of some kind, emanating from Alpha Centauri.  Spacecraft in 2100 are a long way off being to travel so far, but coincidentally the message comes just as experiments are under way to make ships that can travel up to two million miles an hour.  General Smith has to halt a test flight when a mysterious figure is seen on the launchpad.  It turns out to be Area (well that's what it sounds like, anyway), an inhabitant of the planet Delta in Alpha Centauri who's come to pay a visit to Space Patrol.  Area's extremely odd looking, which is par for the course for Space Patrol aliens.  What's much odder is Colonel Raeburn's astonishment at receiving a visitor from so far away, considering he had someone in from Betelgeuse just the other week.

Area's people (apparently they like to be called "Deltees" rather than Deltans) don't need spacecraft to travel, as they have the power to teleport themselves any distance.  As such, it seems a bit strange that Area should offer to help find a way for the Space Patrol ships to travel faster than light (apparently he's able to fill up tanks with "Delta energy").  Sure enough, with Area's aid rockets are able to travel so fast that they become invisible.

Larry Dart and his crew are assigned to the first manned faster-than-light trip, heading to Delta accompanied by Area.  In contrast to the general excitement, Professor Haggerty pooh-poohs the notion of Galasphere's travelling so fast, insisting the metal they're made from wouldn't be able to take it.  Raeburn dismisses these objections as mere jealousy of Area, and he's not entirely wrong.

We never meet any of the other Deltees Area promises to show his Earth friends off to - instead the Galasphere crew's time on Delta is almost entirely spent lounging around in Area's living room (conveniently, the planet has exactly the same atmosphere as Earth).

When the crew embark aboard ship to take a tour of this strange new world they discover to their horror that Professor Haggerty was right: the unit containing the Delta energy has collapsed under the strain of travelling so fast, and now it'd take centuries to get home.  Just as things look unutterably bleak the episode heads off in the kind of barmy direction we've come to expect of Space Patrol.  In Area's house, Slim notices what looks like the claw of an enormous beast.  Area confirms that this once belonged to a giant Kallaloya lizard (that's the closest approximation I can get to what he says, anyway).  Dart hits on the idea of obtaining another of these claws and carving a new Delta power unit out of it.

Accompanied by Area, Larry embarks on an expedition to Delta's north pole to slay another lizard (note that Area doesn't offer the use of the claw decorating his house).  The beast's appearance is woeful: a pop-eyed crocodile head poking out of a hole.

The creature proves difficult to kill, but eventually Larry shoots it enough times to extinguish any life.  There's a moment of unintentional comedy brilliance as Larry walks up to the creature's limp head (the only visible part of its body) and announces that its claws will do just fine.  It's abundantly obvious that the script proved too ambitious to realise, but that nobody considered this a good enough reason for changing it.

Husky fashions a perfectly serviceable Delta power unit out of the claw, and the Galasphere crew are off on their travels once more.  Will there be further adventures in Alpha Centauri? Well, Professor Haggerty's working on a metal that can withstand light speed travel, so watch this space (Space? You know, space? Oh, never mind).

As always on a Thursday evening it's The Saint next - a show which is always at its best when it's either very serious or very silly.  Tonight's episode, I'm happy to see, falls firmly into the latter camp (and camp is as good a word to describe it as any).

Things start off sensibly enough, with Simon Templar waiting at London airport for the arrival of an old friend (yes, another one).  This is Bill Harvey (David Hedison), accompanied by his wife (the beautiful Suzanne Lloyd, whose character is stuck with the decidedly unglamorous name of Doris).

Bill's come to manage the new London branch of the bank he works for - but he's far less interested in finding a place to live than he is in painting the town red, with Simon as his guide.  So he's less than distraught when Doris is almost immediately called to the side of her pregnant sister in Paris.  The hotel's head porter, who aids Bill in seeing his wife off in style, is played by John Woodnutt, later to become one of Doctor Who's most prolific guest performers.

Simon accompanies the Harveys to the airport, his facial expression when Bill promises to be good in Doris's absence the first hint of the out-and-out lunacy to come.

Further evidence of the episode's especially wacky tone can be seen when Simon (under instruction from Doris) drags Bill to the trooping of the colour.   Simon, for some reason, is dressed in full city gent regalia, and whispers in Bill's ear the name of the beautiful young woman he's getting excited about: "Oh yeah? Well why isn't she wearing a crown?" (it's Princess Margaret, if you didn't get it).

As well as being hugely entertaining in its own right, Luella's notable for foreshadowing Roger Moore's future career in a number of remarkable ways.  His double act with David Hedison (sardonic Brit and excitable Yank) is almost a premonition of his teaming with Tony Curtis in The Persuaders!, while Hedison himself would later play Felix Leiter to Moore's James Bond.  The fun continues with Bill eventually persuading Simon to take him out on the town, where he promptly wins £3500 at a roulette wheel, and decides to go have the wildest night out ever.

Picturesque chaos ensues, culminating in Bill accidentally throwing ice cream on to the chest of an uncredited actress, and then attempting to spoon it out.

The following day sees a chastened Bill nursing an enormous hangover.  In his jaded state he's unable to put up much resistance to the alluring Luella (Sue Lloyd, no relation of Suzanne), who he meets in the hotel bar.  Luella drops into conversation that she has a flat she's been desperately trying to rent out.  Remarkably enough it sounds just like what Bill's supposed to have been looking for, so he agrees to accompany her there.

Having had a few hairs of the dog, Bill proves to be putty in Luella's hands...

...but just as they snog, out pops the enraged Matt Joyson (Aiden Turner), Luella's husband, accompanied by a camera-wielding private detective.  Matt claims to have been seeking evidence of his wife fooling around for ages - and plans to enlist Bill as co-respondent in his divorce case.  But Bill, for whose marriage and career this would be a disaster, convinces Joyson, in exchange for the remaining £2000 of his win, to wait until he finds Luella with another fella.

When Bill returns to his hotel, he's horrified to witness the arrival of Doris, back from Paris early.  He enlists the aid of a bellboy (played by a very young Julian Holloway) to keep her distracted.

But before long, she finds a handkerchief embroidered with the name "Luella" in Bill's jacket pocket, and he falls victim to her impressive right hook.

Bedroom farce is new territory for The Saint, but it's all tremendous fun, with Lloyd and Hedison a hugely likeable pair of leads (below we see them enacting the classic "blocking the wrong exit" gag).  Roger Moore, for his part, seems fabulously bemused at becoming a supporting character in a domestic sitcom.

Simon does, eventually, get something to do, though: convinced that Bill's fallen victim to a scam, he determines to bring Luella and her accomplices to justice.  He's right, of course: Bill was fingered as ideal prey for the Joysons by their crony, the hotel's head porter.  We visit the couple in their flat, congratulating themselves on hooking Bill so perfectly.  Matt concedes that Luella's performance was "much better than anything you ever did in repertory", but pours cold water on his wife's dreams of fame: "You might have been a lot of things.  A great star is not one of them."

Simon enlists the aid of horsey Miss Hill (Jean St Clair), concierge at the Joysons' block of flats, by whispering who he is in her ear - whoever it is, it's seemingly someone affiliated with MI5 (Luella, he confides, is "one of them")...

Simon's next step is to disguise himself as an American millionaire (something he does on quite a regular basis), in the hope of hooking Luella by making her think she's hooking him.  It works, of course...

...and before long "Samuel P Taggart" is accompanying Luella to view the flat that would be so perfect for his family.  But this time, at the exact moment that Joyson leaps out, Doris (posing as Mrs Taggart), does too.  Realising the jig is up, the Joysons prepare to clear out, only to fall foul of Simon's prowess with fisticuffs (actually Luella ends up accidentally knocked out by her own henchman).

All ends happily, with Luella and Matt brought to justice and Doris and Bill preparing to move into the flat they've vacated.  It's all thanks to Miss Hill, who, it turns out, has been under the impression that she's been aiding James Bond.  Although that's not the case just yet, it looks like Simon's real identity isn't a disappointment (yes, that halo really can be seen by others).

Gloriously silly stuff.   Part of me wishes The Saint was like this every week, and part of me's glad, for the sake of my sanity, that it's not.