Saturday, 15 November 2014

Sunday 15 November 1964

Tonight, we join Stingray out and about, pursued by a funny little submarine that fires a torpedo at it, causing much perspiration for Troy Tempest and Phones (I thought I'd show you a picture of Phones sweating this week, for a change).

The torpedo scores a direct hit, but it turns out that it was just a test, the other craft being piloted by...

...also known as Jacques Jordan (and that's the World Navy, in case you were wondering.  Jordan is French, which means, of course, that he's a devil with the ladies.  And that he pronounces Navy "Nay-VEE".

Atop a high cliff not far from where the tests are taking place is the hideout of the silver-skinned Peter Lorre impersonator Agent X20, who reports to his boss Titan (you may remember these two from the show's first episode) that "The missile would be an invaluable asset in your war against Troy Tempest and Stingray."  X20 determines to get hold of it.

Meanwhile, back at Marineville, Atlanta Shore is assisting Marina in planning a dinner party.

The guests are Phones, Troy and Jordan, who spends the whole evening smooth-talking Atlanta, much to Troy's ire (it's his own fault for paying more attention to Marina, if you ask me.

Even Marina's new outfit and hairdo don't break the tension.  Eventually, Troy decides he's had enough: "We're with it in the WASPs too, you know!" he yells, before angrily driving off in his snazzy sports car.

The next day, Marina receives a modest bunch of flowers from Troy to apologise for his behaviour the previous eveming.

Atlanta, meanwhile, gets an enormous one from Jordan.  There is nothing about the below image that isn't amazing.

During the next round of tests, Jordan's ship is hi-jacked by Titan's henchcreatures, who force him to arm his torpedo prior to sending it after Stingray.  He tries to warn Troy about what's happening via the medium of bad puns: "FIRED is the right word, Tempest.  This one is going to be DEAD on arrival."

The warning proves a bit too oblique, but luckily, Stingray manages to swerve the torpedo this time.  Troy threatens to blow up Jordan's sub and the Aquaphibians scarper, making it look like Jordan acted alone.  Commander Shore prepares to court-martial him, but Troy and Phones arrive to clear him, having spotted the fishmen's craft and blown it up.

Jordan may be exonerated of trying to murder Troy, but Commander Shore nonetheless brands him a coward for surrendering to the Aquaphibians' request (it's hard not to read a World War Two subtext into this), and Atlanta decides she prefers Troy to that dandified braggart after all.

Next tonight, a special Armchair Theatre production of one of the best-known plays in the English language.  I'll assume that my readers are familiar with its complexities of plot and felicities of dialogue, and focus on the specifics of this version.

The Aubrey Beardsley-inspired images that accompany the opening titles are reflected in the paintings which cover every wall of Algernon Moncrieff's abode.  Patrick Macnee as Algernon and Ian Carmichael as Jack "Ernest" Worthing give exactly the performances you'd expect them to, and as such are great fun.  So is Pamela Brown, giving a subtle, unmannered performance as Lady Bracknell (her delivery of "A handbag?" is a gasp of astonishment) - a much more attractive figure here than the gorgon she's usually depicted as.  Fenella Fielding seems like ideal casting as Gwendoline: for one thing she's as close a vocal match for Joan Greenwood, who played the character in the 1952 film, as you could get, and for another she resembles Pamela Brown enough for the script's hints that she'll turn out exactly like her mother to hit home.  Unfortunately, her performance in the first act is far too broad, overshooting the archness required by the text and coming to earth squarely in the realms of panto.  Happily, she calms down in time for Gwendoline's glorious verbal duel with Susannah York's Cecily.  York is fantastic, giving the role the exact combination of innocence and worldliness it requires.  We first see her on film, romping about in the countryside in images of pastoral loveliness sadly marred by the poor quality of the surviving print.  Also unfortunate is the decision to shoot the early scenes at Jack's country property on film - the combination of Wilde's consciously artificial dialogue and the real outside world just doesn't work.  What's more, Irene Handl, as Miss Prism, has a nightmare with her lines, at one point referring to "political comedy" instead of "political economy".  Her performance throughout is disappointingly stiff, as is Wilfrid Brambell's as Dr Chasuble.  Charles Lloyd Pack is cast as Merriman, which means he has little to do except look pained.

Sadly, the combination of cast and play sounds a lot better than it actually turns out to be.

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