I usually do my best to stick in one or two places but this week I have had to move around a fair amount so my ITV programmes are coming from ATV Midlands, Rediffusion, ABC and Granada. It’s all been worth it as there are some marvellous programmes on this week. I feel incredibly lucky.
I extended this time travel trip to one week and one day so I could arrive early to catch an edition of my regional news.
Today the Midlands’ local news programme is taking us around Birmingham’s Wholesale Markets. It’s an early start for the reporter who begins in a local caff. It’s all toast, tea and fags. We see one old fellow taking a couple of jugs out and back across to the impressive Smithfield Market building. Inside, you can see the names of all the traders over their pitches. Interviewees play over footage of the going-ons of the markets. They really make Birmingham sound fantastic. Fish caught in Torquay the day before can be in Birmingham before the shops have opened in Torquay. In fact, fish come to Birmingham from various countries and the punters rate the quality. In a time before motorways became so widespread, this seems quite an impressive feat for the Midlands.
There’s also affection for the jovial atmosphere of the place, with one young man commenting, “I love working down here – it’s fantastic. I wouldn’t work anywhere else now.” The interviewees are a mixed bunch as some have local accents while others are much more RP. It’s great to hear them as though regional accents are becoming more common, the Midlands still feels underrepresented. It would have been nice to see what they all looked like but there isn’t the time on this short seven minute feature.
The Avengers ‘Room Without a View’
The first half of series 5 has recently finished so Rediffusion has decided to repeat random episodes from series 4, although next week they will take a break for the Ice Skating World Professional Championships. While I had seen the odd episode, the True Entertainment channel’s decision to show ABC’s The Avengers from the beginning last year gave me the chance to become properly acquainted with the show. I grew fond of the charming, beautifully dressed Steed and the arse-kicking Cathy Gale. I’ve only seen as far as series 3 though, making this a step forward for me.
I hope 1960s’ audiences were able to appreciate the switch from videotape to film because for me it’s a huge difference compared to the earlier series. Not only is the picture better but the sound is clearer – I had had to strain, often struggling to hear some of the speech before.
The plot has people being kidnapped and brainwashed, believing they are somewhere in Manchuria. In fact, it’s a tape player and a couple of oriental guards through the back of a wardrobe in a London hotel. Steed plays the part of a food critic wonderfully, mentioning that a meal was ruined by the use of salted instead of unsalted butter. Mrs Peel is far too efficient a receptionist though and draws suspicion, resulting in her being gassed and waking up in ‘Manchuria’. When Steed discovers the false back to the wardrobe, he soon finds her cell but first must wrestle the two guards.
I described both the guards as ‘oriental’ because who knows what the one is supposed to be. 1960s’ television has shown me some dodgy make-up and blacked-up characters but this is the absolute champion. With a name like Romo Gorrara, the actor may not be of British heritage but he is definitely a white man and whatever they have done to his eyes does nothing to convince me otherwise. The production team were clearly struggling to find enough stuntmen because putting Gorrara next to Anthony Chinn, who is actually half-Chinese, makes it look all the more terrible.
George and the Dragon
I’ve seen ATV’s George before during my first visit to 1968. In this episode George and Dragon argue over the evening’s entertainment with George dismissing Dragon’s old fashioned records. Dragon protectively says they were her mother’s and she loves them. In a tussle, George tries to wrench them from her and they smash on the floor. There’s an audible intake of breath from the audience who were clearly as pained as this viewer. Dragon announces she’s leaving and we next see her at a bus station cafe.
A truck driver attempts to chat her up, only for each male member of the household to appear – George, Ralph the gardener, and their employer, John le Mesurier. The truck driver is astonished that she isn’t married to any of them and is increasingly impressed. As they convince Dragon to come home, he realises he doesn’t stand a chance so steps away and wishes her well.
I Spy ‘Bridge of Spies’
Unlike The Saint and other shows, I Spy doesn’t need to put a caption up at the beginning of the episode to tell us we’re in Venice because they’ve actually gone and filmed there it seems. The locations in this episode look fantastic. We are actually proper abroad! It’s so nice to spend some time out of a studio set for a change and they are such beautiful locations. The show really makes the most of them.
Kelly and Scott are a couple of agents playing at being tourists. Kelly is a tennis player, giving the pair reason to travel to various place but in this episode all their spy contacts keep dropping dead before they can speak to them. They struggle to figure out how the enemy is staying one step ahead. Well, maybe Kelly should have spent less time shagging tour guides who make deception plans with lines like, “I will combine high-level socialism with a low cut dress.”
I won’t skip mentioning the one thing that I Spy does, which is that Scott is black, played by Bill Cosby. It’s wonderful that it does go unremarked with no bearing on anything in the episode because the 1960s is not a great time to be black in the US. Only next month will the US Supreme Court will decide that state laws forbidding interracial marriage are invalid. Yet here he is in a starring role! Scott is very much Kelly’s equal and they’re genuine partners. They get on well and I enjoyed watching them together onscreen.
A lot of things about Trumpton seem familiar; the theme, the animation-style, Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grub. Yet I have no memories of watching Trumpton as a child and a crawl through BBC Genome says it was last repeated several years before my birth. In fact, the only source I can pinpoint for a definite contribution to my familiarity with any of Trumptonshire is Life on Mars. The BBC drama about a police officer trapped in the early 1970s promoted its second series with its lead characters of Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt in Trumptonshire form.
I thought Trumpton was terrific, something I hadn’t expected to find myself writing about a fairly simple young children’s programme. But it’s just so lovely. It reminds me of other children’s shows like Noddy, Postman Pat and Thomas the Tank Engine, which also exist in their own pleasant little towns. I want to get to know the townsfolk. I love that the carpenter is called Chippy. I love that the town has its own rag and bone man. This episode revolved around an old rocking horse that was going to be burned but the carpenter’s son rushed around to save it as he had hidden his savings inside. What a wonderful small drama for the day.
The Invaders ‘Moonshot’
Granada are also screening this show tonight, though they are a few episodes behind ATV Midlands. I’d been looking forward to The Invaders for some time as the TVTimes’ synopses always make it sound fantastic and several people had recommended the show to me. Aliens have invaded Earth but as they can shape shift to look like humans, hardly anyone knows about them. David Vincent saw them arrive though and attempts to thwart the threat, struggling to get people to believe him. In this episode, the invaders have infiltrated the space programme, replacing an astronaut with a copy. This was so tense, so exciting – it was just so brilliant. I will definitely be watching more.
The Baron ‘Countdown’
While I try to avoid repeating myself across the years, I’d been impressed enough with 1966’s episode of The Baron to want to come back for more, crossing the border into Granadaland after finding it in their schedule for this week. Both ATV London and ATV Midlands have finished their runs of The Baron, broadcasting the episodes in different orders after the first episode. For ATV London, this was the final episode, while ATV Midlands put it as the penultimate one. Granada have placed it as episode 22 out of 30. None of this actually matters as most episodes of ITC programmes stand completely independently and it’s rare to find any continuity woven in.
It was a strong start for me as the guest stars caption appeared with Edward Woodward and Philip Locke. Over the last couple of years I’ve become a big fan of Callan, the spy drama starring Woodward, and haven’t seen him in much else so I was looking forward to his appearance. This episode of The Baron was filmed shortly after he had finished an episode of Armchair Theatre, ‘A Magnum for Schneider’, that was also the pilot for Callan. Philip Locke’s name was also familiar to me, as he appears in the James Bond film Thunderball as a henchman who ‘got the point’ of a spear gun.
The Baron is on his way to meet a man called White who has some information for him. After he falls for the classic fake diversion trick, he’s trapped in a tunnel and gets kidnapped. In a marvellous twist on convention, it’s his female companion, Cordelia, who has to come to his rescue. Philip Locke as Compton poses as the Baron to go meet White but our hero turns up and smacks Compton, giving White the chance to make a run for it. Unfortunately White cops it anyway and the police tell the Baron that he had recently been working for Arkin Morley. The Baron knows Morley, who is a filmmaker as well as a fellow antique dealer. “Morley’s about the largest antique dealer in Europe, isn’t he?” says Codelia. “Yes and about the crookedest.” replies the Baron, which turns out to be a somewhat slanderous statement as the policeman says Morley has never been convicted of anything.
The Baron heads off to see Morley and I find it incredibly strange to hear Woodward (who’s taken 27 minutes to turn up) being so well-spoken. Throughout the episode, when he’s spouting particular venom, the refinement slips for a moment to reveal a much dirtier character beneath. Morley and Mannering exchange some banter and Morley gives away that this is all about a valuable sword, which previously fetched a quarter of a million dollars.
Everything starts to move a lot faster as the Baron and Cordelia head off to a house in search of the sword, but Morley and Compton have followed them. It feels like they have cheated a little by turning up with guns. They lock the Baron and Cordelia up for a bit. Yet it all goes terribly wrong for Morley after he asks Compton to shoot Mannering. Despite having a perfectly clean line of sight with his victim cornered, for reasons we will never know Compton decides to walk within a foot of the Baron, who takes the opportunity to knock the gun away. Morley legs it.
Steve Forrest has several inches on Edward Woodward and once the latter’s poorly-aimed bullets run out, it isn’t looking good. “I’m taking you in,” Mannering tells Morley, though I’m not entirely sure what for. Morley has committed unlawful imprisonment and attempted murder, but the Baron has no evidence of any of this. Also, the Baron knocked Compton about a fair bit before leaving his body on the floor underneath a large stone coffin lid so he could easily be up for manslaughter himself. I’d started to quite like Morley, who has far more witty lines than Mannering and had been a rather cool, cold villain. This last section of the episode has flown by and while I’m enjoying The Baron, I don’t find John Mannering a particularly compelling character – there just isn’t much to him. So far, it’s the plots and the guest cast that are bringing the quality to this show.
Danger Man ‘The Outcast’
I last saw Danger Man back in 1962 and like then this is a repeat from two years earlier. Though I have seen a number of the 25 minute episodes, this was my first of the later 50 minute ones. I’ve enjoyed the half-hour episodes because the action moves so quickly, yet there are some episodes where I’ve felt the plot would benefit from being drawn out. There is a new title sequence too but I really don’t like the music. The other change is that someone has stolen John Drake’s American accent. Maybe he had just spent too long away.
Drake heads off to Spain to befriend a sailor who has gone AWOL from Gibraltar. He is suspected of murdering a WREN who gave away signals intelligence. The sailor, Leo, is played by Bernard Bresslaw and oh gosh he’s just so lovely that I can’t believe he’s done it. Drake pretends to be a slightly dodgy character who is planning to leave for South America, that favourite lawless land so beloved by Nazis and criminals the world over at this time. To show just how awful he is, Drake stages a shooting so that Leo believes he’s murdered a guard. Leo is absolutely horrified but it works as Drake uses it as leverage to get Leo to confess. When Leo finds out who Drake really is, he confronts him with a gun. It soon becomes clear he won’t use it though and it’s rather a sad, pitiful ending.
What you could have won – missing and unavailable
Here are some of the listings that intrigued me but I was unable to watch this week.
MISSING Those Two Fellers – After several years of writing for other people, Dick Hills and Sid Green have their own series with different guest stars each week. Two comedians they have written plenty for over the last few years are Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, who are among the guests this week. Only one series was made and no complete episodes exist.
UNKNOWN Wheelbase – The world of motoring. This episode explores how to manage abroad with the limits of taking currency out of the country, which at the time was capped at £50. While not an insignificant sum, after travel and hotel costs, it probably didn’t leave holidaymakers with a great deal of spending money.
MISSING The Likely Lads ‘Friends and Neighbour’ – Although several episodes of The Likely Lads do exist, this repeat isn’t one of them, making it your last ever chance to see it. I first met Terry and Bob through the radio adaptations of the sequel series, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, before moving on to the same TV series. I’d love to get to know the earlier incarnations of the lads.
MISSING Armchair Thriller ‘The Snares of Death’ – The details given in TVTimes about this episode, starring Alfred Burke, are tantalising. An undertaker’s business is struggling and he ponders what can be done about it. He ‘thinks he has solved his troubles but the plan takes a macabre twist’. There are some colour promo photos with Burke posing over a coffin. His slightly offbeat expressions intrigue me even more.