Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Saturday 25 January 1964

The Doctor and his grudging companions have now been on the planet Skaro for six weeks (considering children are such a key part of the show's demographic it's worth bearing in mind that's the length of summer holidays, which seem at the time to stretch on and on forever), and the strain of keeping a storyline going so long is showing.  This week's episode is little more than 26 minutes of padding (highly entertaining padding though some of it is), agonisingly leading to next Saturday's final confrontation with the Daleks.

You may recall that last week's instalment finished with fairly anonymous Thal Elyon facing death at the appendages of some nameless thing emerging from the lake of mutations.  The thing remains unseen as well as unnamed, The Ordeal beginning with Elyon's companions discovering that he's already been dragged beneath the lake's inhospitable surface.

It's a shocking discovery for all of the team planning to attack the Daleks from behind, but especially for Antodus, such a nervous wreck from his previous visit to the lake that you wonder what on Skaro possessed his brother Ganatus to bring him along on such a dangerous mission.

Meanwhile, a second group, led by the Doctor and including Susan, Alydon and Dyoni, are planning to approach the Dalek city by the front door, but cause havoc for the metal-clad mutants along the way.  There's a welcome return appearance for the Doctor's amazingly pointless binocular spectacles, here demonstrated by Susan.

The relationship between Barbara and Ganatus seems to be coming on apace this week, the pair taking time out from fretting over the perils of their expedition to giggle together like a pair of schoolchildren.  Interestingly, they seem to have chatted extensively offscreen about manners: when they approach a narrow, hazardous-looking tunnel, Ganatus reassures Barbara that "We won't use one of the customs of your planet... ladies first!"  He also asks her, somewhat resentfully, "Do you always do what Ian says?" "No!" she vehemently protests.

The Doctor's very chuffed that his plan to block the Daleks' rangeoscopes (which enable them to track their attackers' movements) by getting a bunch of Thals to stand on a hill with big mirrors has been a success.  In fact, the challenge of defeating the Daleks has made the Doctor far jollier than we've yet seen him.  "We mustn't diddle about here!" he memorably admonishes Susan and Alydon as he trots off on his way to vanquish the baddies.  He seems almost to be addressing the camera as he chuckles to himself, "We'll teach them a thing or two!"

The Ian and Barbara-led party carries on stoically through various gloomy caverns, with only committed wet blanket Antodus letting the side down by begging to be allowed to go back.

The Doctor's thoughtfully brought along a great big club to gleefully bash all the instruments positioned on the walls of the city and play havoc with the Daleks's systems: "That'll teach the Daleks to meddle in our affairs!" (If we're being fair, it was actually the Doctor's crowd turning up at the Dalek city that precipitated all the trouble).

But despite the Doctor's blithe insistence that he can easily defeat the Daleks with "A few simple tools, a superior brain..." he seems rather less confident when the creatures themselves turn up to investigate what's going on.

The group in the caves comes to a crevasse they can only pass by jumping.  The ever heroic Ian makes it over without breaking much of a sweat, as does Ganatus, with whom he shares a tender moment...

Having, somewhat oddly, made their captives sit on the floor of their control room, the Daleks reveal to them their latest plan: having decided that making a neutron bomb was too much of a faff, they've decided to re-irradiate Skaro by simply exposing the planet to the contents of their nuclear reactors.  In the process of this revelation, they consolidate their catchphrase:

Doctor: That's sheer murder!
Dalek: No! Extermination!

Next, to make any Nazi analogies viewers may have picked up over the preceding weeks explicit, the Daleks raise their plungers in salute and announce: "Tomorrow we will be the masters of the planet Skaro!"

Barbara also makes it across the crevasse (Ian embraces her even more enthusiastically than he did Ganatus), and Kristas (who I imagine practically everyone had forgotten was there) does too.

Antodus, not surprisingly, goes into hysterics at the thought of jumping over the gap, and misses it.  In literal terms, it's a perfect cliffhanger, though it 's hard to see many viewers being especially bothered whether this deeply annoying character should survive or not.

I'm ashamed to note that I've only just realised the opening titles to Sergeant Cork have changed.  The tedious piece of film showing Cork arriving at Scotland Yard, mounting the stairs and sitting down in his office has been truncated so it ends with him going in the door (having written the above, I realise the hypocrisy of me describing anything else as tedious).

In what seems almost certain to be a nod to the recent Great Train Robbery, Cork this week investigates a daring raid on the night mail from Bristol to Paddington.  Tonight's episode also sees the culmination of the background plot that's been murmuring away since the start of the series, regarding the refit of the CID offices (I think it's safe to assume this was not the main reason for viewers tuning in).  This week we finally meet the new boss, Superintendent Rodway (Charles Morgan), a jovial Welshman who's been friends with Cork for years.  Cork is stunned to find that, despite his previous insistence on keeping his dingy upstairs office, Rodway persuades him to move to the modern officees below.  The Superintendent's modernising ways have seen the introduction of the new-fangled telephone device to the force, something permanently flustered porter Chalky White is having a devil of a time coping with.

Anyway, the case.  Cork and Marriott head to Paddington, where they're met by obfuscatory official Mr Little (Paul Dawkins) and wily railway policeman Mr Bilson (Lane Meddick), who Cork takes an instant shine to (much to a jealous Bob Marriott's resentment).

This episode has a larger than usual cast of characters, which, as most are male, means a larger than usual range of facial hair types.  The show seems at pains to convince us that no two men in the Victorian era trimmed their sideburns in the same way, and as such becomes almost a guide to what it's possible to have hanging off your face if you so desire.  A particularly fine moustache is sported by the episode's best character, railway guard Joseph Jenkins (Alan Foss), whose fanatical devotion to trains amounts almost to religious mania ("I work in the position God called me to and rest content," he tells Cork in his sonorous voice when the Sergeant questions why, after 27 years of working for the Great Western Railway, he's still a guard).  The highlight of the episode comes when a frustrated Cork questions Jenkins over the stops the train made.

Cork: Mr Jenkins, when I asked you if the train stopped anywhere except the five mainline stations you said it stopped nowhere.
Jenkins: Well that was true, Sir.
Cork: My information is that it stopped at Ealing for three minutes.
Jenkins: That wasn't a stop, Sir.
Cork: Well, what was it?
Jenkins: A delay.
Cork: Well the train stopped moving forward, the wheels stopped turning.  And that's not a stop?
Jenkins: Oh no, Sir.  Not as we use the term on the railways.  It was a delay.  A stop is at a station.

As Jenkins is at pains to inform the baffled detective, "Trains are special things, Sir.  You can't talk of them in ordinary terms!"

The most likely suspect seems to be one Tom Pocock, a former railway employee nursing a grudge since he was fired.  Mr Bilson heads off in search of him, interviewing his hypochondriac former landlady (Ann Way, best known as one of the victims of Fawlty Towers's Gourmet Night).

The discovery that someone made a copy of the key to the bag where all the money was kept on the train leads Marriott to a keycutter (William Forbes), whose methods should perhaps be brought back to make a branch of Timpson's a much more exciting place.

The keycutter reveals it was a Mr Little who came to him to have the key copied, but when he fails to recognise the indignant traffic controller in an identity parade it becomes increasingly clear that the culprit was Jenkins, collaborating with Tom Pocock in the robbery.  Despite his talk of resting content it's all down to Jenkins' burning resentment at the incompetent Little being promoted above him due to his contacts within the company.  "Do you know what he did the other day?" he fumes to his wife (Brenda Cowling).  "Sent out a dirty train!"

The rather dandyish Pocock (Jeremy Wilkin), turns up at the Jenkins residence for his share of the loot, accompanied by an avaricious doxy (Patricia Denys), who encourages him to take Jenkins' as well.  After beating the unfortunate railwayman to a pulp, he does so.

Brenda Cowling's performance on discovering the body is entirely apt, as it's as absurdly overdone as anything you might expect to see in a Victorian melodrama.

It all ends with Cork hiring a special train to catch up with Pocock on his way out of the country, collaring him in the best "You're nicked, Son" style.  By this time Jenkins has gone to ride the big choo-choo in the sky, so the charge is one of murder.

From the pen of Arthur Swinson, who also wrote this week's instalment of The Plane MakersThe Case of the Bristol Mail is a middling Cork, but was considered good enough to be translated into prose by Swinson, along with several other episodes, for the first of a pair of tie-in paperbacks.

The Arthur Haynes Show's format seems a bit restless at the minute.  Tonight's episode adds a new innovation, with sketches prefaced by mocked-up newspaper headlines.  Could it be an attempt to engage the nation's interest in satire, piqued by Beyond the Fringe and That Was the Week That Was? If so, it's a bit heavy-handed, particularly as the sketches themselves are pretty unimaginative, the show having done much better topical gags previously.

This montage of headlines (interesting as screenshots more for the snippets of genuine news stories surrounding them), accompanied by a mournful arrangement of "The Sunny Side of the Street", leads to a retread of the ancient price war gag, with neighbouring grocers Haynes and Parsons vying to undercut each others' detergent prices (strange image of someone going into a shop and requesting "Some detergents, please"), until Parsons' are so cheap that Haynes buys up the lot and sells it at full price.

Cleo Laine sashays on early to add a touch of class to proceedings.

Class of a different kind is central to the following sketch (it's a shame I wasn't around back then to write the TV Times billings), which features a rare sighting of Dermot Kelly outside his tramp guise (well, his outfit's different, the performance is just the same), as he and Arthur play shop stewards who've been elevated to places on a committee alongside factory owners Nicholas Parsons and Robert Mill.

It's bog-standard "A plague on both your houses" stuff, with the unions and the bosses depicted as equally corrupt, Haynes and Kelly resenting the owners' perks only as long as they can't get them themselves.  The sketch ends with the whole lot of them donning symbolic bowler hats prior to going for lunch at a swanky hotel.  The best lines revolve around Dermot's living situation, in a one-room flat with a wife and 15 kids.  "It's not my fault you have 15 children," says Parsons, condescendingly.  "He knows it's not," Arthur chips in.  "If he thought it was he'd have a lot more to say about it."

The final sketch this week sees Arthur and Dermot bothering housewife Rita "Ratbag" Webb in the midst of her window cleaning.  The way she's doing it looks like an accident waiting to happen, and indeed she's left at the tramps' mercy when she realises she's stuck.

The two are given carte blanche (well, obviously Rita Webb doesn't say carte blanche) to raid Rita's kitchen as long as they'll set her free.  They promise to do so, after they've had a good feed.  Though it's hard to imagine anything more likely to put you off your food than the face of Rita Webb glowering at you through a window.

But, as Rita eventually succumbs to Arthur and Dermot's manhandling, it becomes abundantly clear there are worse things in life than having your kitchen raided...

Tonight's episode of The Avengers brings us to the remote Cornish village of Tinby.  A funeral's taking place in the parish churchyard, and among the mourners is a rather perplexed John Steed...

After the funeral, three of the mourners, Dr Macombie (John Le Mesurier), Roy Hopkins (Philip Locke), and the deceased's son, John Benson (Robert Morris), meet up to discuss matters - principally the money Benson owes the other two for arranging his father's death.  It seems Macombie and Hopkins have built up quite a trade in getting wealthy relatives bumped off and buried in Tinby - something Macombie has a few niggling Hippocratic doubts about.  He wants to pack it all in, but Hopkins convinces him to accept one more client: "aspiring widow" Mrs Turner...

Aboard his floating home, festooned with women's discarded garments ("A visit from the YWCA"), young Benson receives an unexpected visit from Steed, a former comrade of his father's who suspects foul play in the old man's demise.  Benson, while rapturously sniffing an item of hosiery, assures Steed that it was all down to natural causes.

Steed's unconvinced: young Benson insists his father was buried in Cornwall to honour a dying wish of his Cornish mother, but Steed knows full well the old man couldn't stand his wife.  In order to enlist Mrs Gale's aid in getting to the bottom of General Benson's death Steed shows Mrs Gale a newspaper article.  "Joey, a king penguin at Edinburgh Zoo, spent 56 days trying to incubate a currant bun."  Of more immediate interest is the story on the other side of the clipping, giving notice of a funeral in Tinby.  Steed shows her several more from recent months.  As Tinby's a ghost town these days, and all the deceased resided in London, it all seems very mysterious.

Cathy pays a visit to Tinby, taking photos of the most recent gravestones, and all the while being watched by a sinister sexton (wrestling star Jackie Pallo).

George Benson (not the soul singer) is hugely engaging as the jolly vicar, epitome of the ecclesiastical eccentric.  He rejoices in the almost Carry On name of Reverend Whyper ("There's been a Whyper here ever since Queen Anne!" he boasts).  It's clear that Cathy's utterly charmed by him (and he makes the only passing reference to the episode's title when he tells her of the legend that there's a screaming mandrake root in the churchyard).

Cathy hangs around long enough to meet Hopkins, who's visiting the church with Mrs Turner (Madge Ryan), to select a suitable plot for her husband.  Philip Locke's an actor whose face was certainly his fortune, the unique arrangement of his eyes making him look shiftier than just about anyone else who's ever appeared on TV.

Outside the church Cathy overhears Hopkins and the sexton (a recent arrival from London, pining after saveloy) discussing the possible need to get rid of her...

Later, Hopkins and Macombie interview Mrs Turner about dispatching her husband.  Hopkins clearly takes a very keen interest in his new client.  Sexist though the camera's drooling focus on Mrs Turner's legs may be, it's at least refreshing to see a woman in her 40s shown as sexually desirable (Mrs Turner's described as being 43 but looking younger, Madge Ryan was 45 and doesn't, especially).  In a few months Ryan would originate the role of Kath in Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr Sloane, which was rather less kind about the charms of older women.

For £10,000 the sinister pair provide Mrs Turner with a tasteless, scentless poison that will get rid of her husband within an hour.  Her willingness to get rid of the man she's married to doesn't seem to deter Hopkins, who very clearly wants to take his place.

Cathy shows Steed the fruits of her visit to Tinby; he has a wonderful time annoying her by clicking his fingers to request a change of slide.

Taking Cathy's brief encounter with Hopkins as a lead, Steed checks the phone book and finds just two Roy Hopkinses listed in London: one an account, one the owner of a Christmas cracker factory.  Perhaps sensing it's the more Avengers of the two prospects, Steed heads to the shop attached to the cracker factory, where he encounters the lovely Judy (Annette AndrĂ©), who shares her sandwiches with him after he helps her with an especially heavy.  The chemistry between these two is so fantastic that it's a shame it was a one-off appearance for AndrĂ© (aspiring actress Judy would've made a great replacement for Venus Smith).  In the kind of scene that would become the show's meat and drink, Steed poses as a buyer of crackers for an old people's home ("They mustn't crack too loud"), and the pair try out crackers that bang at various different keys.

When Judy tells Steed that her boss inherited the business from an uncle who died in Cornwall, we know he's on the right track.  Patrick Macnee's facial expression as he's asked if he wants anything else is a picture (this scene's also notable for a reference to "Lsd", which at this time meant pounds, shillings and pence to viewers and nothing else).  

Cathy determines to pay a visit to Dr Macombie's London practice.  "What shall I have wrong with me?" she asks Steed.  "I can offer any amount of bruising."  In the end she opts for a tale of being hit in the eye with a hockey stick.  Her visit proves a success when the doctor reacts with stark terror to her claim that she lives near Tinby.

Heading back to the village, Cathy has something of a contretemps with the gravedigger, culminating in her pushing him into an open grave.  Famously, Jackie Pallo was genuinely knocked out at the climax of this fight, later grumbling, "I want it to be made clear that this was an accident.  I have never been beaten by a woman and never intend to be."

Recovering from her bout with the sexton, Cathy's shocked to discover the charming old vicar pointing a gun at her...

Prior to the death of the unwitting Mr Turner, Hopkins treats the prospective corpse's wife to a champagne lunch.  Despite wearing an unflattering scarecrow-wig hat, Mrs Turner comes across as an unexpectedly sad figure, entreating Hopkins not to quibble if they've been overcharged: she's endured too many years of her husband arguing about the price of brussels sprouts.

Meanwhile, Steed's checked the medical record Dr Macombie supplied for General Benson, which he knows full well is a fake due to being on assignments with the dead man at times he's supposed to have been ill.  Steed's at his most dangerous when he threatens Benson Jr, obtaining the information that Hopkins picks up clients for his scheme by hanging out in every club in London.

We're left hanging for long enough after seeing Rev Whyper point his pistol at Cathy for it to come as a delicious double-bluff when we realise he's on the level after all, and is absolutely horrified to learn how Macombie and Hopkins have used him.  All he got was a few guineas to help his brother's missionary work in Congo: "Good heavens - Congo children educated on blood money! This is an evil business, Mrs Gale!" With the Rev's help, Cathy gets to the bottom of the villains' scheme: as it's near an old tin mine, Tinby's soil is infused with arsenic - which would make the poison impossible to detect in any body that was dug up.

Cathy suggests the vicar's pistol as a means for rounding up the crooks.  He confesses he confiscated it at choir practice.

After promising Judy a leg up in her acting career by taking her  to a top restaurant in Soho ("The smell of garlic wafting from the kitchen..." "But I don't like garlic." "Some of the best known theatre producers eat there." "Well, I don't actively dislike it") Steed proves unable to deliver.  Steed promises they'll meet again, however...

Mr Turner now having been offed, the widow and her helpmates gather for the funeral in Tinby, with Hopkins' hopes comprehensively crushed by Mrs Turner's assertion that "As far as I'm concerned, Mr Hopkins, you're just another tradesman."  Both are equally crushed, as is the doctor, by the arrival of Steed and Gale, announcing that the coffin contains two bags of sand, the real body having been taken for an autopsy that has confirmed arsenic poisoning.  The villains are ushered off by the sexton, who gives Mrs Gale a wink.  Turns out she's given him £100 to change sides.  "You could have given him 50," winces Steed.

You just need to read a synopsis of Mandrake to know it was written by star Avengers writer Roger Marshall.  It might not be his wittiest script, but the lines are delivered so splendidly by its wonderful cast that it hardly matters (admittedly Jackie Pallo was probably not cast for his facility with lines).  My own favourite is delivered with heavy irony by Madge Ryan during Hopkins' cack-handed attempt at seducing Mrs Turner: "Lunching with a prominent cracker manufacturer anything is possible."  An absolute delight.

Next tonight, Espionage, a show whose lead actors have included such internationally famed performers as Dennis Hopper, Fritz Weaver, Martin Balsam and Ingrid Thulin.  Tonight there's an unlikely but very welcome new addition in George A Cooper, future caretaker of Grange Hill.

Cooper plays Leo Winters, renowned during the war for his daring exploits as a Royal Navy diver, but whose life in Civvy Street has consisted of a series of dead end jobs and a rented room (we first see him telling his landlady's sons about his wartime adventures - in his version he was solely responsible for the allied victory).

Learning that his former commanding officer (Cyril Luckham) has been promoted to the admiralty, Winters goes to see him, to take up his offer of being recommissioned.  But that offer was made nearly 20 years ago, and the admiral has to inform a distraught Winters that he may be as good a diver as ever but, at 45, he's on the scrapheap as far as the navy are concerned (Cooper was in fact only 39 at the time, but looked like he was in late middle age for the entirety of his decades-long acting career).  But after Leo leaves, the admiral clearly has a thought, and calls a colleague to announce that in Leo he thinks he's found the perfect man for a job they've got going...

Meanwhile, life goes on for Leo much the same as ever.  He leaves his current job as a furniture salesman - as he has so many jobs beforehand - because he's fed up with it.  His long-suffering girlfriend Janie (Rhoda Lewis) despairs.

Leo manages to get work in the amusement arcade owned by Janie's brother, an old shipmate of his, but Admiral Bond and Secret Service mandarin Roger Upton (Ronald Adam) are formulating other plans for him.  Upton sends his underling Davenport (Peter Madden) to make contact with the former diver.  Director Robert Butler is clearly fascinated by his actor's faces - the grisly visages of Adam and Madden in particular are presented to us in the most unsparing of close-ups.

Leo spends most of his time in the pub, and it's here that Davenport approaches him with an offer of government work.  Suspicious at first, it's not long before he leaps at the chance to serve his country once more (and, more importantly, show the world he's still got it).  Davenport whisks him away to Portsmouth Harbour and instructs him to take photographs of an American vessel.  The Brits and the Yanks are the best of friends, of course - but it doesn't hurt to keep close tabs on your friends as well as your enemies.

The assignment goes tits-up when a fault with his oxygen supply forces Leo to the surface, where he's spotted by the Americans.  A potential scandal is in the offing, and Upton decides the best way to deal with it is to hide Leo altogether for the time being.

To his extreme bemusement, Leo finds himself a prisoner in a Portsmouth hotel, with Davenport his gaoler.  Despite his forbidding looks, Davenport turns out not to be so bad, even fixing up an old radio to keep Leo entertained.  The two eventually bond over the fact that they both lost both parents in an air raid.

In London, Janie's sick with worry about Leo's disappearance.  Rhoda Lewis gives a wonderful performance as this woman who can still see the hero in the self-aggrandising wastrel she loves.  Her appearance, and her acting style, make her seem remarkably like a dowdier Barbara Murray (in fact, at first I thought she was Barbara Murray, stripped of her usual glamour).  Robert Butler's clearly very interested in her careworn face too (Janie's meant to be 38, but Lewis herself was only 30 when she appeared in this).

Eventually Janie talks to the press, forging exactly the link between Leo's disappearance and the mystery frogman that Upton was trying to avoid.  The official story given out is that Leo was indeed the diver spied but the Americans, but that whatever he was doing was totally unconnected with the government.

Receiving curt instructions from Upton about what he must do next, a heavy-hearted Admiral Bond goes to see Leo in the hotel, where he explains to the bewildered diver how problematic it would be to have him roaming around.

"What do you want me to do?" Leo asks, incredulously.  "Go back and drown myself?" He's even more incredulous when he hears the Admiral's response: "Yes".

The Admiral hastens to add that he's speaking figuratively: the thing is, the press have been told that Leo's dead.  The best solution might be to send Leo to the Falkland Islands for a couple of years, until the whole thing blows over...

An epilogue, set a year later, sees Upton meeting up with an American admiral for a drink and a chortle over the Portsmouth Harbour Affair: it turns out there was nothing special about the ship Leo snapped - the whole affair was intended to draw attention away from another one, that had a new nuclear propeller.  Thanks to the furore over Leo, the tests on that one went ahead without anyone knowing.  Leo, you see, was given faulty breathing apparatus on purpose.  And where is he now? Happily settled in Santa Barbara with Janie.

Whatever Happened to Leo Winters? may lack an American lead, but both writer and director are natives of the US.  The script's by Art Wallace, later to become best known for his work on cult gothic soap Dark Shadows.  Robert Butler went on to direct the pilot episode of Star Trek, as well as Disney comedy The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.

Anyway, music now.  The Dave Clark Five are still number one, but snapping at their heels with a remarkable 20-place leap to number 6, here are the Searchers with their version of a Sonny Bono-penned classic.

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