Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Thursday 8 October 1964

Simon Templar is back back back - and his first adventure of the new series is directed with no little flair by Roger Moore himself.  It gets off to a cracking start at Waterloo station.  After Simon's usual address to the audience - this week he marvels at Londoners' love of queuing except in the matter of public phones, where it's "dog eat dog" (as he demonstrates by barking at a man racing him for a phone booth), there's an exciting scene with a frightened man (Edward Jewesbury) discreetly pursued across the station by a sinister pair of men (Robert Brown and Michael Standing).  The quarry, Franklin, bumps into Geraldine McLeod (Nanette Newman), a nurse who works at the same top secret establishment in Portland, Dorset (home to a real life spy ring in the late 50s and early 60s).  He slips a packet of tea into her bag, and is then killed with noxious gas in the phone booth next to hers.

Luckily, Simon's in the booth on Geraldine's other side and steps in to help - his first move, obviously, is to take her back to his.  There she discovers the tea packet, and £500 in notes within ("No wonder they call it the Miracle Tea," Simon notes).  Shortly afterwards, one of the thugs seen previously makes an attempt to recover the booty...

The basic idea of The Miracle Tea Party - villains smuggling secrets out of the country communicate via radio ads for tea - is quirky enough to have been the basis for an Avengers episode at the show's high camp peak, with Emma Peel narrowly avoiding being scalded to death inside a giant teapot, perhaps.  But here it doesn't develop far beyond dreariness.  The villains are an identikit sort of bunch: suave doctor Conrad Phillips, nervy draughtsman Charles Huston and sinister chemist Patrick Westwood (who offs Huston when he proves too much of a liability), taking their orders from generic burly foreigner Viktor Viko.  Simon's helpers this week are more inspiring: Newman's a spirited and extremely likeable damsel of the week, who wallops the smarmy Phillips as soon as she gets the chance, and Fabia Drake (who taught Roger Moore at RADA) is fabulously gung ho as her eccentric auntie, who throws herself into the case with aplomb.  Late in the episode Simon asks the old lady if she's nervous about what she's got herself into.  "I love it," she responds with near-orgasmic breathiness.

It looks like Moore had great fun with the extended final fight scene between Simon and an assortment of henchmen.

Finally, a couple of notes on bit parts in the episode.  Neville Whiting, who appears briefly as the treacherous Norton's life-drainingly tedious colleague Wilson, was Granada's Biggles four years previously.

And then there's this actress, who appears briefly in the chemist/health food shop, requesting "Sage and fennel paté, cornflower coffee, seaweed bread and dehydrated dandelion salad".  She's not credited, and I'd love to know who she is (I thought at first it could be Moyra Fraser, and I've had Peter Sellers suggested to me!).  If you recognise her, do let me know.  Thank you!

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