Special Branch – Short Change (19th November 1969)

The Troika affair rears its head again after Christine Morris (Sandra Bryant) escapes from an open prison. She’s swiftly recaptured, but it seems that she might end up in Russia anyway ….

The move to colour is initially a little jarring (mainly because it allows us to appreciate for the first time just how gaudy many of DCI Jordan’s shirt and tie combinations are). There’s also a rejigged title sequence, which is notable for the way it features the series’ two leading actors, Derren Nesbitt and Fulton Mackay (previously the images were of unknown miscreants).

We’re don’t see the initial meeting between Inman (Mackay) and Jordan (Nesbitt), but their first scene together sets the tone. Inman is clearly throwing his weight around a little by attempting to tighten certain areas of procedure that he feels have got too lax (Jordan, of course, bridles about this).  No doubt over time they’ll find an amicable way to work together, but this initial friction isn’t unpleasing.

An early hot topic of discussion concerns the hapless DC Morrisey, who stands accused of assaulting a protestor at a demonstration. Jordan (despite indulgently regarding Morrisey as a somewhat hopeless case) stands firmly behind him – he has no evidence either way, but is happy to close ranks as he instinctively knows Morrisey would never give way to violence. But since Inman doesn’t know Morrisey he requires something more than blind faith. Mind you, as Inman later establishes his innocence (by studying the film rushes of the alleged attack) he does seem to have the best interests of his officers at heart.

Sandra Bryant returns as the unsettling Christine Morris. Apparently an innocent pawn caught up in a spy web, her coolness under pressure (not even the prospect of being sent to Holloway prison fazes her) begins to set alarm bells ringing for Inman. After a little digging it’s discovered that the real Christine Morris died in infancy, so the woman masquerading as her looks to be a Russian agent.

A pity this wasn’t discovered the first time around, which is a mark against the recently department Eden ….

The irony is that Moxon had long suspected this and is more than happy for her to be sent back to Russia. Partly because she can be swopped for a British student arrested in Moscow for selling two jumpers from Marks & Spencer, but mainly because it’ll enable a British shoe factory to be built over there.  As Moxon discloses to the Deputy Commander (David Garth) not only will the factory net HMG three million pounds, it’ll also be of benefit to the Russians (who have terrible shoes, according to Moxon).

As so often with the series, justice has to take a second seat to political maneuvering (although it’s best not to assume this particular story has concluded).

At one point the Deputy Commander wonders whether Moxon’s air of infallibility is all just a mask. He, of course, demurs – but the episode leaves a few questions unanswered. For example, since it looks like the Russians went to considerable trouble to arrange the swop, why did they attempt to spirit Christine away from prison in a rather amateurish fashion?

Much more vigorous and active than Eden, Mackay makes an instant impression as Inman. Jennifer Wilson, as DS Webb, appears to have vanished without trace. She had a pretty thankless role, but it’s surprising that she didn’t carry over into the colour era of the series.

As often happened with ITV drama from this period, there’s a mix of OB VT and film used for location work. Christine’s escape from prison is shot on film whilst her departure from the UK is captured on videotape (possibly there were logistical reasons for this – maybe it was easier to move the more lightweight VT cameras around the airport).

Short Change isn’t a story with many shocks (for once we know exactly why Moxon does what he does, and it’s difficult to argue against him) but the episode sets up the new dynamic between Inman and Jordan very effectively.

Special Branch – Reliable Sources (12th November 1969)

The ninth episode of series one, Reliable Sources is something of a milestone episode as we bid farewell to Det. Supt. Eden. There’s been a serial element running through a number of these episodes, which continues here (and in the episode to follow). Eden – after an intense grilling from the security commission – is told that he’s been cleared of any wrongdoing in respect of his handling of the Troika debacle (as have his fellow Special Branch officers). But any jubilation proves to be short-lived ….

If Reliable Sources shows us anything, then it’s how the bluff, honest Eden is no match for the devious Moxon. Right from the start, when Moxon warns Eden not to poke around in matters which don’t concern him, it’s plain that Eden will come off second best.

A Russian spy called Alexandrov (heavily involved in the Troika affair) has defected to the West. This means little to Eden, who still has a warrant for his arrest and is keen to enforce it, but Moxon firmly warns him off. When the news of Alexandrov’s defection is leaked to the papers, Eden becomes a prime suspect – especially since he’s recently lunched with Clive Bradbury (Tony Britton), an experienced Fleet Street hack who specialises in security stories.

What’s interesting is that Moxon admits to bugging Bradbury’s phone, so the true culprit of the leak would already have been known to him (although he later shrugs this off). Why then did he make Eden feel so uncomfortable? Possibly Moxon, the arch manipulator, simply can’t help himself.

The twist in the tail – the man responsible for leaking the story meets with Moxon – shouldn’t really come as a surprise. But both Eden and Jordan jump to the wrong conclusion (Moxon is corrupt) rather than the right one (Moxon is laying a false trail to confuse the Russians).

Morris Perry is on top form today and it’s nice to see both Tony Britton and David Collings guest-starring. Collings plays Bradbury’s editor, who’s just as keen as he is for a scoop on the Alexandrov affair. Although the story that’s leaked to them via Moxon’s proxy (Alexandrov’s precise whereabouts) doesn’t sound that exciting.

The fact that Eden’s been totally outplayed from beginning to end is highlighted by the way he’s unceremoniously shunted out of Special Branch and into an important-sounding (but no doubt meaningless) job for the next twelve months until his retirement is due. It’s easy to imagine Moxon’s hand in this, although given how easy Eden has been to manipulate, maybe not – after all, the next man in the hot seat might pose more of a challenge.

There’s been whispers throughout the episode that Jordan is in line for the job. He certainly seemed to think so, as when the Deputy Commander breaks the news that Det. Supt. Inman will be taking over, Jordan’s face visibly falls.

The next episode is clearly a key one as George Markstein returns to write it. Plus there’s the fact that the series moves into colour, which – together with the arrival of Fulton Mackay as Inman – helps to give these later S1 episodes the feel of a new series launch.

The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder – The Strange Case (21st May 1969)

Lord Sellington (John Robinson) is estranged from his son, Sir Harry Carlin (Edward Fox). Harry is a dissolute spendthrift, desperate for money which his father refuses to supply. So when Lord Sellington is found dead, his son is the obvious suspect. But is he too obvious?

Well, yes – otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story. To be honest, the mystery part of The Strange Case isn’t terribly taxing as the list of possible suspects is quite small. So it’s best just to sit back and enjoy the story.

Robinson (the grumpy Quatermass) plays a rather grumpy Lord. Typecasting at work I think. Although to be fair to him, there’s a brief moment later on when he starts to unbend just a little (after Lord Sellington is reunited with his grandson). Robinson certainly does what he can to give the role some light and shade.

Edward Fox’s character spends most of his time blissed out on opium down a seedy Limehouse den but in the few moments when he’s lucid, Harry displays an arrogant charm. Incidentally, still reeling from the browning up in the last episode, today there’s the unforgettable sight of Denis Shaw as Wu Tong. It’s very much a “me velly solly” sort of performance.

John Malcolm (later very solid in Enemy at the Door) and Jennifer Wilson also feature. It’s one of the odd quirks of archive television watching that you can so often stumble across the same actors again and again – having just seen Wilson in an episode of Special Branch, she now reappears in this (as Harry’s estranged wife – now working as Reeder’s temporary secretary).

Reeder is initially a little reluctant to hire a member of the aristocracy, but he succumbs. The best comic moment of the episode occurs when Sir Jason Toovey discovers her true identity – nobody could splutter quite like Willoughby Goddard.

Once again, I have to say that whilst the story is a little thin, Hugh Burden manages to come up trumps. Reeder’s tangle with the baddy is great fun – Mr J.G. pulling a sword from his umbrella in order to do battle. So whilst the mystery is a little lacking, a series of strong performances from the main cast members helps to keep the interest levels up.

 

Special Branch – The Children of Delight (5th November 1969)

A cult orgainsation called The Children of Delight pique the interest of Special Branch. Are they simply a group of people who have found a better way to live or is there something sinister lurking beneath their tranquil façade?

Adele Rose’s sole SB script, The Children of Delight declines to answer this question directly – although there’s plenty of evidence to sift through. With Jordan and Eden remaining mostly office bound, it falls to Detective Sergeant Sarah Gifford (Sheila Fearn) to infiltrate the group. It’s a very decent guest role for Fearn (a pity her character didn’t return).

Sarah is welcomed by Mrs Bishop (Georgine Anderson), who seems reassuringly normal – a middle-aged woman who doesn’t look in the least brainwashed. But it’s not long before the first discordant note is struck – poor Mr Turner (Arnold Ridley) has transgressed their rules and is required perform manual work (scrubbing floors, etc) for a week. Anyone who could do such a thing to a nice old man like that must surely be evil.

Two cult members on the lowest of the three rungs – Mr Turner and Jimmy Cole (Wilfred Downing) – are given a chance to speak. Both seem happy and content, although we’re told that Turner has left his home and family whilst Jimmy’s mother, Mrs Cole (Anna Turner), is a constant tearful presence throughout the episode. Desperate to be reunited with her son, he nevertheless rejects her when the pair finally meet again.

The fact that John Abeneri (playing a character called Comber) is one of the Children of Delight’s higher ups doesn’t inspire confidence in their benign aims – he spends most of the episode lurking in corners, acting in a sinister way.

There’s an extraordinary scene just before the second ad break – Comber and Mrs Bishop attempt to initiate Sarah via a remarkably rough series of questions (is she a lesbian, has she committed incest, etc). Under such relentless abusive questioning she can’t help but break down and admit to being a police officer. This leads Moxon to later mutter that he knew it was a mistake to ask a woman to do this job.

For a short while it appears that a subplot – a key American scientist is one of the Children of Delight – will assume prominence, but that doesn’t really go anywhere. However, his suicide does get Jordan out of the office – his impatient conversation with a distinctly unimpressed uniformed sergeant (played by Tony Caunter) is a late highlight of the episode.

As touched upon earlier, there’s no closure to the story of the Children of Delight. They may be breaking up homes but Eden is prepared to let them be. After all, he maintains, they’re entitled to their freedoms just like everyone else. But Moxon – who initiated the investigation – bypasses Eden’s recommendations and gets the result he was looking for anyway. Sometimes you wonder why Moxon bothers to involve Special Branch, since he so often ignores their advice …

The Strange World of Gurney Slade to be released on BD – 30th November 2020

Network have just announced a BD release of The Strange World of Gurney Slade on the 30th of November, with some mouth-watering special features. The press release is below.

On 22nd October 1960 renowned singer and actor Anthony Newley crashed through the fourth wall in his weird and wonderful ATV television series The Strange World of Gurney Slade. To celebrate its 60th birthday all six episodes have been restored in HD from the original 35mm film elements and are now, sixty years to the day since their debut, available to pre-order on a Limited Edition Blu-ray packed full of rare special features exclusively from networkonair.com – this includes streaming of all six episodes via watch.networkonair.com.

This brilliantly inventive and startlingly surreal comedy was unlike anything previously seen on television. Audiences were flabbergasted to see this star on the rise in such an experimental series that deconstructed the fledgling sitcom genre and provided a platform for Newley’s unique stream of consciousness. It was ultimately dropped from its primetime slot after two episodes but not before it managed to take hold in the minds of fans, not least a young David Bowie who’s own breaking of the fourth wall and surreal characters took notes from his fascination and imitation with Anthony Newley and the bizarre Gurney Slade.

Carrying on from where radio’s The Goon Show left off in 1960, Gurney Slade’s influence on comedy was to be felt across the decades that followed – in the late Sixties and Seventies with the surreal sketches of Monty Python ‘s Flying Circus and Marty to the present day Peep Show. The Strange World of Gurney Slade is to television comedy what The Prisoner has since become to television drama – both firmly of its time and spectacularly ahead of it.

The series saw Anthony Newley star as an actor who walks off the set of a banal sit-com and into a fantasy world of his own imagination in a dreamlike odyssey through one man’s personal alternative reality. Talking to dogs, rocks and fairies and dancing with vacuum cleaners it is an unpredictable, absurdist fantasy created by Newley and written by comedy legends Sid Green and Dick Hills (soon thereafter to become key writers for Morecambe and Wise). The series features British stalwarts including Una Stubbs, Anneke Wills, Geoffrey Palmer and Bernie Winters.

This Limited-Edition Blu-ray is brimming with special features including three rare Saturday Spectacular shows from 1960 which acted as a testing ground for Gurney Slade’s internal monologue and feature Shirley Bassey, Peter Sellers, Lionel Blair and more. Also included is a commemorative booklet with contributions from Andrew Pixley, Dick Fiddy and Andrew Roberts and Anthony Newley’s 1963 beat influenced British crime feature film The Small World of Sammy Lee from writer/director Ken Hughes. Released on 30th November it is now available to pre-order exclusively from networkonair.com and includes streaming of the series’ six episodes via watch.networkonair.com – Network’s new streaming platform launched this July.

“Well, it was a noble effort, wasn’t it? You tried. I give you that, you tried. But the public is no man’s fool, you know. The public knows what it wants, and you had no right to even try and suggest something different. Anyway, the public doesn’t like anything… suggestive.”  – Gurney Slade #GurneySlade60

Special Features:

Three Saturday Spectacular shows from 1960 featuring Anthony Newley alongside Shirley Bassey, Peter Sellers, Janette Scott, Lionel Blair and others. These variety specials feature Newley’s initial attempts at building the “internal monologue character” that would eventually become Gurney Slade.

Original Gurney Slade promotional shorts.

Extensive image galleries.

The Small World of Sammy Lee: The classic 1963 British crime film starring Anthony Newley

The Small World of Sammy Lee special features: newly discovered archive film material featuring an alternative ending, textless titles and a promotional interview with Anthony Newley

Commemorative booklet with contributions from Andrew Pixley, Dick Fiddy and Andrew Roberts

Free streaming of the series’ six episodes from today only when you buy the limited-edition Blu-ray set

The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder – Sheer Melodrama (14th May 1969)

British actors browning up is an occupational hazard you encounter when watching television from the sixties and seventies. Today’s episode of Reeder has two prime examples – Michael Bates (as Ras Lal Punjabi) and Leslie Lawton (as Ram Bannerjee).

Bates, of course, would later don the brown make-up once again when he played Rangi Ram in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Bates’ performance in IAHHM is presumably one of the reasons why the sitcom no longer receives television screenings, which is a shame as Ram (as befits a Perry/Croft character) does have certain subtleties.

However, subtle is certainly something you couldn’t accuse Ras Lal Punjabi of being. The character is grotesquely over the top, but then – as per the episode title – that’s really the point of the story. Bates’ turn has an air of mockery, but it’s still somewhat difficult to take.

Elsewhere in the episode, a fresh-faced Ken Campbell catches the eye as Tommy Fenalow, an obviously criminal type. The suit and the moustache are both dead giveaways.

The story, such as it is, is not terribly gripping. But, as always, Hugh Burden manages to make something out of it. Reeder’s love for melodramatic theatre (he’s a devotee of the Sweeney Todd type of drama) is a nice little touch. Guy Verney’s direction is also quite noteworthy – he makes good use out of some strong production design (the high angles in the warehouse set, for example).

Having quickly skimmed through the original story, it’s interesting to note that Vincent Tisley’s adaptation was pretty faithful – especially the passage where Reeder explains to Margaret Belman exactly why he enjoys a decent melodrama.

Special Branch – You Don’t Exist (29th October 1969)

You have to feel sorry for Keith Washington. He might be the lead of this episode but that’s not enough to enable him to have his name on the opening credits (even though Jennifer Wilson – who only has a handful of lines – does).

Anthony Skene’s script is an odd one. His sole contribution to the VT era of SB (he’d pen another episode when the series was rebooted by Euston Films in the mid seventies) it’s pretty much crime free. Det. Con. Morrissey (Washington), working for the week at London Airport, has to tell Barbara Cartwright (Mel Martin) that she’s unable to enter the UK. Her country of origin, Rhodesia, isn’t recognised by the British government and so she’s persona non grata.

At first the pair are snippy towards each other, but Morrissey then takes pity on her and decides to give her a whirlwind tour of London (her return flight to Rhodesia isn’t until the next day). These scenes give us an excellent tourist snapshot of late sixties London – we take in fashionable boutiques, familiar landmarks like the Post Office Tower as well as a trip to Madame Tussauds (Barbara is something of a crime expert and is fascinated by the Chamber of Horrors).

There’s also a visit to a glorious VT nightclub where the dying embers of hippydom continue to burn.

This was Mel Martin’s television debut and she’s terribly watchable as the vulnerable Barbara – shocked that the country she’s always regarded as home has now rejected her. Barbara’s something of a dreamer – most of her knowledge of London comes from books and old films, meaning that Morrisey has to tell her that there’s no trams and no pea-souper fogs any more.

An unlikely romance quickly develops between them and just as quickly has to be extinguished. This episode certainly puts a bit of meat onto the bones of Morrisey’s character, although he still remains somewhat unreadable. Quite why he reacts so violently to Barbara’s wish to visit a hip and happening nightclub isn’t clear, for example.

Oh, and there’s also the chance to see Clive Merrison pop up in an early role (nice helmet, sir).

A little drama is generated by the fact that Morrisey is required to give evidence the following day at an important trial which has been unexpectedly brought forward several days. He, of course, is out and about with Barbara and remains totally oblivious to the fact that everyone is running around like headless chickens in an attempt to find him.

You Don’t Exist is certainly a change of pace for the series, but it has a travelogue charm.

Undermind – The New Dimension (22nd May 1965)

Drew Heriot (Jeremy Wilkin) and his sister-in-law, Anne (Rosemary Nichols), continue their quest to locate the “underminds” – brainwashed individuals intent on destabilising the country by whatever means necessary ….

A somewhat forgotten series (despite the fact it’s been available on DVD for a few years) Undermind certainly has some points of interest – not least the fact that it’s nice to see Wilkin (one of those actors who spent most of his career in supporting roles) take the lead for a change. Rosemary Nichols (later to play the third banana in Department S) also gets plenty to do, today’s episode especially.

The series’ writing team was a strong one. It was created (or evolved, according to the credits) by Robert Banks Stewart, with the likes David Whitaker, Bill Strutton, Hugh Leonard and Robert Holmes supplying episodes.

In this episode, Drew’s name is discovered on the client list of a murdered prostitute (along with the names of a great many influential men). Given that the Profumo affair would have been very fresh in the memory at this time, the character of Mr Beymer MP (Derek Francis) has an obvious satiric touch. He may profess to be an upright public servant, but it’s plain that there are some skeletons lurking in his closet. Francis gives a nice performance, although his stick on beard is a little distracting.

Best turn of the episode comes from Patrick Allen as Fenway, a shadowy type who gives Drew an intense grilling. At first it looks as if Fenway might be part of the undermind conspiracy, but he’s simply doing his job – ensuring that public confidence in the establishment isn’t destroyed. This is certainly a theme that’s as topical today as it’s ever been. Garfield Morgan, as Fenway’s no 2 (the suspiciously named Smith) also catches the eye, due to his habit of wearing dark glasses indoors.

Anne is very proactive today, posing as a former call girl in order to investigate a shady employment agency. She does pretty well, although it’s an initial shock to see the previously straight-laced Anne transformed into a short-skirted woman of easy virtue.

David Whitaker’s script does drag a little, so I can only give The New Dimension a cautious thumbs up. And that’s similar to my feelings of the series to date – three episodes in and whilst I’m happy to return for another installment next week, the series has yet to really grip me.

The Main Chance – With All My Worldly Goods (23rd July 1969)

The final episode of the first series, With All My Worldly Goods has an abrupt opening – an irate Main insistent that he won’t defend George Mynter (Brian Oulton) on a charge of murder. This turns out to be the secondary plot of the episode, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.

Both Henry and Margaret Castleton view Mynter with a bizarre indulgence – he may have viciously bludgeoned his wife to death, but since he’s a pillar of the community and apparently was provoked (returning home to find his wife in bed with another man) they’re prepared to give him a free pass. This is a little difficult to swallow ….

In Outlon’s handful of scenes he manages to exude an air of Crippin-like menace. There’s no closure to the case, but it seems more than likely that Mynter is insane (possibly he fabricated the story of another man in the house). This leaves Main and Margaret (who’s acting for him) with a serious dilemma – given Mynter’s glowing record of public service it’s possible he might only have to serve a token sentence, but  do they have the right to get him off so lightly?

The main plot of today’s episode initially seems a little unpromising. I find it difficult to be too concerned about the business travails of the wealthy Tim Cowley (Richard Wyler), partly because Wyler offers a somewhat wooden performance. The fact that he and his wife, The Hon. Fiona Cowley (Elizabeth Shepherd), then engage in a rapid and bitter divorce is more interesting, but the real bombshell is yet to come.

In open court it’s revealed that Cowley has been having an affair with Julia (Kate O’Mara), David Main’s estranged wife ….

It’s strange that Julia didn’t feature more during the first series (this one certainly gives her the most to do). What’s also odd is that by the end of the episode it seems plain that she still wants to be involved with him (even if they can’t live together). But With All My Worldly Goods would prove to be O’Mara’s swansong – possibly she felt that the character was unlikely ever to add up to much or maybe this decision was taken by the production team.

With Neil Wilson and Hamilton Dyce both appearing, this is almost like a dry run of Spearhead from Space (well, sort of, there’s no meteorites or shop-window dummies).  It’s also good to see David Lodge again (playing Det. Sup. Guthrie).  Guthrie’s sometimes strained relationship with his old pal Sidney Bulmer (the always immaculate John Arnatt) is something that could have been developed a little more.

If the episode is a bit of a slow burn to begin with, then the final twenty minutes or so (Main goes off the rails, gets drunk several times, beds a lovely young lady and defends himself against a charge of professional misconduct) is definite recompense.

Revisiting series one has been rewarding, so now it’s onwards to series two and colour ….

Currently Watching (6/10/20) – Special Branch and The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder

Special Branch – A New Face (22nd October 1969)

Today’s episode sees Tom Chadbon and Nicola Pagett play a couple of student revolutionaries. Sean (Chadbon) is the type to crack heads, smash windows and apologise (or not) later whilst Margot (Pagett) is a more peace-loving type, but equally keen that the voice of youth should be heard on the streets.

To begin with, it looks like the episode will revolve around Special Branch’s attempts to keep them under control, but the plot soon changes direction after it’s revealed that a new recruit to the cause, Peter Harris (Andrew Bradford), is the son of a senior Special Branch detective ….

As usual, Det. Supt. Eden (Wensley Pithey) stomps about the office in a thoroughly bad mood whilst Det. Chief Insp. Jordan (Derren Nesbitt) entertains himself by giving the hapless Det. Con. Morrissey (Keith Washington) a hard time. And Morrisey is being particularly hapless today, faffing around with a typewriter much to Jordan’s disdain.

Today Morrisey seems to be mainly used for comic relief, for example later on he gets into a discussion with Eden about pipes and tobacco (ending when Eden pinches some of Morrisey’s tobacco!)

Elsewhere, Morris Perry is his usual polite and deadly self as Charles Moxon, the liaison between Special Branch and the security forces, whilst the likes of John Levene and Frances Tomelty can be seen lurking in the background.

Was Harris genuinely interested in student power or was he simply along for the ride (and a relationship with Margot?). His true motivations aren’t made clear, although by the end of the episode he’s become estranged not only from his parents (decent types, keen to maintain the status quo) but also from his new revolutionary pals (who are convinced that he’s a police informer).

The actions of the Special Branch (raiding Margot’s home and forcing her and her friends to submit to humiliating personal searches) convinces both Margot and Sean that the innocent Harris has sold them out. Since Morrisey and Det. Sgt. Helen Webb (Jennifer Wilson) don’t seem to find anything, was the whole exercise designed simply to create this impression?

If so, it worked – although the unfortunate side-effect is that the students, already convinced that all police are fascist pigs, now have their prejudices confirmed ….

The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder – The Green Mamba (7th May 1969)

Mr Reeder crosses swords with crime kingpin Mo Liski (Joe Melia) ….

Complete with a flower in his buttonhole and a spiv moustache, Liski attempts to radiate menace, but you know (even though we’re just three episodes in) that the mild-mannered Mr Reeder will be more than a match for him.

Melia, as you might expect, gives an entertaining performance as does Hugh Burden (their sparring relationship is the episode’s highlight). A number of familiar faces pass through – including Harry Towb, Hildegard Neil and Pauline Delaney. Towb has a cough and a spit role as Sullivan, a low friend of Liski, whilst Hildegard Neil has the slightly more substantial part of Marylou Plessy. Neil is delightfully vampy as the wife of a forger sent to prison by Reeder. She vows vengeance, but ends up in the clink herself, once again thanks to Reeder.

Pauline Delaney sports an outrageous French accent as Madame Lemaire, although there’s a reason for this (she’s only a faux Frenchwoman). She attempts – on Liski’s instructions – to lure Reeder into an illegal drinking and gambling den, but Reeder (of course) remains several steps ahead. I do like the fact that the gambling club only seems to play one record  (the theme to The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder).

All the threads of the convoluted plot tie themselves together in the end, with the result that the unfortunate Liski will be out of action for a considerable amount of time, thanks to the mamba-like Mr Reeder.

One rather odd thing about the episode is that several times a newspaper story (concerning a jewel robbery) is prominently displayed on screen long enough to make it clear that all the words, apart from the headline, are gibberish. Hard to believe it was a genuine mistake, so presumably it was some sort of obscure in-joke.

The Champions – Autokill

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Throughout the series many have tried, but nobody has been able to beat the Champions. Who could? Possibly only another (reprogrammed) Champion ….

The pre-credits sequence opens with a Nemesis agent, George Brading (Richard Owens), returning to HQ. So far so normal, but this doesn’t last as once inside he pulls out a gun and shoots Colonel Coulston (Bruce Boa) multiple times. It’s an orgy of violence that teeters on the ridiculous – the Colonel wobbles but he won’t fall down as Brading continues to fill him full of lead.

Tremayne gets a slap from Brading as he tries to stop his rampage and then a whole phalanx of Nemesis agents get involved. This short scene helps to finally flesh out Nemesis quite agreeably (for once we see that Richard, Craig and Sharron aren’t the only people who work there).

Like the shooting, the fight scene is choregraphed in a hyper-real way and concludes a pulsating pre-credits teaser that promises the audience fifty minutes of high-octane comic strip action.

Post credits, we drop into a faintly swinging party, where Richard and Sharron are handing round the nibbles and alcohol. Richard eyes a pretty girl, but another chap clearly wants her all to himself, so he decides to trip Richard down the stairs (a tad unfriendly that). Thank goodness for Richard’s cat-like acrobatic skills.  Mind you, the way he manages to keep his tray of drinks intact even after a highly athletic somersault is pushing the bounds of credibility somewhat.

As ever, there’s plenty of familiar faces to spot in the episode. Paul Eddington has already turned up in the teaser whilst Harold Innocent appears shortly afterwards.  Innocent is Dr Amis, a Nemesis doctor who favours dark glasses even when inside (well it helps to make him stand out and also hides the nasty bruise on his eye). Since the bruise is never mentioned you have to assume it was a genuine shiner and not applied via make up.

Brian Clemens’ second script for the series has a different tone from most of the series. Along with The Interrogation, it’s an episode where the stakes feel higher than usual (possibly because the series’ regulars are placed under maximum stress).  The only Geneva based story, it’s also of interest for the way that Tremayne is brought more into the centre of the episode.

After the initial orgy of action, the episode settles down for a while as the Champions play detective, doggedly retracting Brading’s steps. But there’s also an ominous feel developing as Klein (Eddington) sets out to target another operative and this time he’s aiming high by selecting Tremayne.

Klein is masquerading as a policeman (Eddington’s accent is interesting). You have to say that Tremayne is a little foolish to go off with him (hasn’t he ever heard about the dangers of accepting lifts from strangers?). Although in his defence, the baddies’ operation is clearly well funded since they’ve been able to take over a building and transform it into a police station. Complete with a pretty young woman holding a vase of flowers (although what she’s doing bringing the flowers out of the charge room is anybody’s guess).

A rogue Tremayne, now that’s a wonderful concept. A pity that the moment when the three Champions are forced to exercise maximum restraint against their boss is so short, but it’s still highly entertaining as stuntmen fling themselves around the office with wild abandon.

It’s nice to see that Sharron is the most forceful of our three leads. Whilst the boys are sitting back and almost admitting defeat, she’s keen to examine each and every angle, secure in the knowledge that Tremayne – now confined to a hospital bed and sinking rapidly – would do everything in his power to help them if the position was reversed.

Eric Pohlmann is Barker, the man behind the scheme to bring Nemesis to its knees.  We never discover why though – as happens often with The Champions, villains operate in a villainous way because that’s what villains do ….

The stakes are raised even higher when Richard falls into enemy hands. Pohlmann is good value as Barker pumps Richard full of drugs and begins to program him. His target? Craig of course.  Goodness knows where Barker was able to get those high quality b&w stills of Richard and Craig though.

The climax of the episode – Richard and Craig go multiple rounds against each other – is considerably more bloody than we’re used to.  Sharron isn’t left out of the action either (although Alexandra Bastedo’s stunt double is painfully obvious at times). I do like the little smile Sharron gives when she holds Richard steady for Craig to administer the knock out blow. Was this as scripted or an acting choice by Bastedo I wonder?

There are a few little things I could quibble about, but since this is the final episode (in Network DVD viewing order anyway) I’ll finish off this 2020 Champions rewatch on the most positive note and award Autokill five out of five.

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The Champions – Desert Journey

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El Hami is a small North African state which has become an important pawn on the international scene thanks to its bountiful supplies of cobalt. The Champions attempt to restore the Bey (Jeremy Brett) to the throne, but he’s reluctant to leave his decadent life in exile. Eventually (thanks to Sharron’s persuasive strong arm) he’s en route back to his people – but there are many dangers to overcome along the way ….

Yes, the story does feature a character called Major Tuat (Tony Cyrus). No sniggering at the back please.

Post credits, Sharron (in a swimsuit – sigh) takes an impressive dive off a high board and then enjoys a lengthy swim underwater. Several pool staff look on admiringly. Well you would, wouldn’t you?

Ooh, Sharron’s getting the pulse racing today – after her swimming antics she then turns up in Tremayne’s office wearing a very foxy outfit (Tremayne, Craig and Richard can only gape whilst the slinky saxophone on the soundtrack hammers the point home).  The reason for Sharron’s garb is obvious – if they can’t bribe the Bay to return, then Sharron will use other methods to persuade him.  Crumbs.

Jeremy Brett as the Bay. Now that’s a piece of casting which catches the eye. We first meet him at a swinging Rome party – it’s an absolute hoot, featuring loads of beautiful people jiving around in a decadent manner (or as decadent as you’d expect to see in an ITC series).

When Sharron turns up the fun really starts and although her role in this story initially seemed to be a sexist one, she acquits herself well – foiling an assassination attempt and duffing up Dave Prowse (anything’s possible when you’re a Champion). Sharron’s proactive day continues when she knocks out the Bay and carries him off. The carrying occurs off camera, which is probably just as well.

There’s a number of familiar faces in this story. Some, like Rudolph Walker, are uncredited, whilst the likes of Reg Lye and Roger Delgado are credited but don’t have terribly interesting roles. Always a pleasure to see Delgado of course, just a pity that he’s not playing a baddy today.

After Sharron gets the Bay aboard a small plane (Craig is piloting) her hair suddenly grows in a very impressive manner. She does look even more gorgeous with long hair, it has to be said.

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Desert Journey features a rather simplistic take on international politics, something which was fairly common in ITC adventure series of this era.  Nemesis seem quite content to organise a regime change in El Hami, no matter what the outcome might be, whilst the notion that once the Bay is restored to power all will be well seems a trifle optimistic.

Some stock location shots are mixed in with the studio desert action. I’m not sure where they came from, but it features three people who resemble Craig, Sharron and the Bay. The woman in the location footage has big hair, so that explains why Sharron has suddenly become so hirsute – presumably they wrote the story around the available footage.

The trek across the desert is quite effective, although fairly low on tension (you know that the Bay isn’t going to get killed mid way through the story). The slow transformation of the Bay – from hedonistic playboy to concerned ruler – works well, with Brett managing to overcome the limitations of the character he’s been given.

When the three stop to take some rest, Craig entertains himself by ogling a belly dancer whilst Sharron looks after the injured Bay (he’s taken a bullet in the shoulder from a sniper). I assume that Craig’s wild enthusiasm at her charms was a Stuart Damon ad-lib.

Desert Journey does drag a little towards the end, but Ian Stuart Black’s sole Champions script is still a good one. Partly thanks to the strong role for Alexandra Bastedo, I’ll give it four out of five.

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The Champions – Happening

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Richard is in Australia, having infiltrated a mysterious group who are doing dodgy things with an atom bomb that’s due to be tested soon. His attempt to round them up doesn’t end well, with the result that he loses his memory. Luckily he eventually comes to his senses, only to realise that he’s sitting right next to the bomb and the clock is (once again) ticking ….

We open in the Simpson Desert, which is apparently comprised of red sand (the ITC studio desert has a much more golden hue though). I rather like the cold opening – Richard confronting a group of baddies in a helicopter – although since he does so in such a smug way you know that something bad is going to happen to him. And so it does – they overpower him and he falls out. Ouch!

Post credits, Richard – cool as a cucumber – is shown demonstrating his super powers by jumping out of a burning building without hurting himself. This is a tad unfortunate as it makes you wonder why he couldn’t do that when he took his helicopter tumble.

Monty Berman always had a good eye. Apparently the fire was a real one that occurred just round the corner from the Borehamwood studios, so a crew was set out to take some shots and pop William Gaunt into the middle of the action.

Richard has gone it alone, not confiding in Tremayne, Craig or Sharron about exactly what he’s up to. Given he’s venturing out to the middle of nowhere that seems a little silly.  Still all three (yes all three) set off to Australia, partly to track him down and partly to observe the bomb test.

This is a bit of a red letter day – Tremayne getting out of the office for once. A pity it hasn’t happened before, and indeed it’s a shame that Anthony Nicholls hasn’t really been used more. Tremayne has generally functioned either as a device for moving the plot along or as comic relief (puzzled time and again by the incredible antics of his three top agents).

Happening doesn’t have a particular large guest cast, but Grant Taylor as General Winters and Michael Gough as Major Joss are both welcome additions.  For me, Taylor will always be the no-nonsense General Henderson in UFO (his General here isn’t a million miles away from his UFO character, albeit a little less grumpy).

Winters is looking forward to the bomb test – it promises to be incredibly powerful, but also ‘clean’ with very little radioactive fallout (this is presented to the audience as a good thing although Tremayne does sound a pessimistic note).

As we’ll see later, the faceless baddies have been doing things to the bomb, with the result that it’s now considerably dirtier than it was before. Odd that there doesn’t seem to be any sort of security around the bomb. That’s a tad careless.

Major Joss is the leader of the black hats, stranded in the desert after his helicopter is damaged. Although it’s not specified, given the accent of his superior (who breaks the news that they’re not going to send another helicopter in to rescue him) it seems that the Russians are behind this dastardly business. Mind you, it’s fair to say that Joss’ boss has the sort of accent that teeters on the edge of parody.

Jack MacGowran may not be a household name, but this Irish-born actor had quite the career (he’s possibly best known for his association with Samuel Beckett). MacGowran might not have been the obvious choice to play Banner B. Banner, an Australian prospector, but he gives an entertaining, if rather odd, performance.

Banner meets up with a still dazed and confused Richard, but their relationship seems fated to be a brief one after Richard succumbs to a snake bite. Richard then telepathically links with Sharron – was she the one responsible for bringing him back to life? It’s a striking scene – Richard in a hastily dug grave, getting covered with sand by Banner, before springing back into life and crawling out ….

Happening is an strange sort of story. The studio desert isn’t terribly convincing and Banner B. Banner apart, the guest roles aren’t very well developed.  Given that it was a Brian Clemens script you do expect a little more, but it’s still very watchable – Richard’s attempt to diffuse the bomb especially – so I’ll give it a rating of three out of five.

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The Champions – The Final Countdown

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Field Marshall Von Splitz (Alan MacNaughtan) is released from prison after twenty five years, but repentance for his war crimes is the last thing on his mind. Still a fanatical Nazi, he immediately sets out to locate an atomic bomb which was jettisoned from a Heinkel during the dying days of WW2. Von Splitz plans to detonate it, thereby triggering a war between East and West. Can the Champions locate the bomb in time? The clock is ticking ….

The way the incidental music swells to highly melodramatic when Von Splitz makes his first appearance gives you an early indication that he’s a wrong ‘un.  The Nazi salutes proffered by Dr Neimann (Wolf Frees), Kruger (Derek Newark) and Heiden (Norman Jones) towards him is another subtle clue.

Actually, subtlety is not really a key part of this episode – you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride whilst not worrying about the plot specifics too much (although that won’t stop me of course).

Post credits, there’s a lengthy sequence of children playing in the snow. All very nice, but where are the Champions? Eventually we see Richard, attempting to dig his truck out of the snow, who dashes over to stop a young child from blowing himself up with a bomb. No, I’ve no idea what the bomb was doing just lying around in the field.

MacNaughtan was an actor of considerable presence. Von Splitz is something of a cliché character – the ice-cold Nazi – but MacNaughtan is still very watchable in the role. Derek Newark is entertainingly over the top when delivering his handful of lines whilst very decent actors like Basil Henson briefly feature (he suffers that most memorable of ITC fates – death by white car hurtling over a cliff for no particular reason). You really can’t grumble about the cast in this one as it’s also nice to see the likes of Morris Perry and Hannah Gordon.

Amazingly, Wolf Eisen (Henson), managed to survive the death crash (at least for a few hours) and so before he pegs out there’s just time for Richard to interrogate him. This seems a little harsh, although Tremayne later tells us that everybody else – the German police, Interpol, etc – has already had a go at him. Quite why Eisen’s ‘accident’ should have generated so many flags with the authorities is a slight mystery.

The notion that that Germans had developed an atomic bomb by the close of WW2 sounds a little far-fetched, but still credible. That it’s ended up lying quite happily in a German lake since 1945, maybe less so. The way the nasty Nazis manage to locate and extract it with embarrassing ease also requires some indulgence on the part of the viewer.

This is a story where the Champions’ superpowers only come into play late on. To begin with Craig, Richard and Sharron are all operating as ordinary detectives – interviewing suspects and doggedly following up clues – whilst  Von Splitz remains several steps ahead of them. The Final Countdown is also one of those Champions episodes which doesn’t feature a lot of quipping from the leads – fair enough, since there’s an atomic bomb floating about it’s probably not the time for merry jests.

A small piece of trivia – I think this is the first time we discover that Tremayne has a secretary (we don’t see her, just hear a disembodied voice on the intercom).

Craig is captured and given a thorough working over by Heiden. After slapping him around for a few minutes, Heiden asks him “who are you? Who are you?” which (thirty five minutes in) were Norman Jones’ first lines. Before then he’d just been called upon to loom menacingly in the background.

Richard rescues Craig (Sharron is forced to stay outside – which seems a little unfair). I love the entertaining punch up between Richard, Craig and the Nazis, even better is the way they both crash through the windows to confront Dr Neimann, who’s standing over the ticking bomb. Stuart Damon seems to go a bit Jimmy Cagney when Craig confronts Neimann.

Richard once again attempts to send Sharron away – is he afraid for her life or is he just a bit of a male chauvinist?

Their superpowers are no use when it comes to defusing the bomb so Craig has to use skill, ingenuity and some syrup. It’s a tense scene which concludes a very decent episode. Although it’s a shame that the Nazis are dealt with rather abruptly (Craig and Richard pulverise them in double-quick time) there’s not too much else to grumble about, so I’ll give this episode four out of five.

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The Champions – Nutcracker

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After a visit to the dentist, Lord Mauncey (David Langton) almost steals a file containing vital defence secrets from a secure Goverment facility. Although unsuccessful, the attempt raises several immediate concerns – such as why the previously upright Mauncey did something so out of character as well as the need for added security.

Major Duncan (William Squire), head of M7, enlists the Champions – asking them to steal the file, thereby proving that the current defence procedures are inadequate. Richard doesn’t take it out of the building, instead he memorises its contents. This then makes him a target ….

As so often, the ultra secret defence establishment we see today is hidden inside an apparently innocuous building – in this case a clothing store (Mauncey gains admittance by purchasing the correct tie!). Luckily, security is more watertight after that – he has to input a complex code on a keypad and then plays a nifty little tune on a keyboard before finally gaining access to the vault.

All of this, plus the fact that after he’s got the file in his hands the shutters come down and he’s gassed, do suggest that security’s fine as it is. But had that been so then we wouldn’t have had much of a story.

Post credits, Craig is a togged up as a cowboy and demonstrates his sharp-shooting skills. He of course comes out on top and can’t help but display a certain air of smugness.

William Squire would later have a lengthy stint in security (as the fourth ‘Hunter’ in Callan).  Duncan is therefore good training for him (the offhand way he says that Mauncey is undergoing interrogation and eventually will tell them the truth hints at the ruthless way the Section also operates).

Given that Mauncey was one of a select group of people to have the correct security clearance to enable him to access the file, asking the Champions – who don’t have this knowledge – to break in does seem slightly pointless. While Richard and Craig glumly discuss how they’re going to break the bank (neither are keen on the job) Sharron nips off to speak to Mauncey. He seems rather taken with her (no doubt the fact that she possesses a very pretty face is the reason why she was chosen for this mission).

Security at M7 doesn’t seem to be that good – considering that Mauncey is later murdered in his cell. Perhaps Duncan needs to stop worrying about the security of his top files and instead concentrate on a root and branch review of the entire department ….

The boys toss a coin to decide who will break into the vault (Richard loses and has to do the job). Sharron is excluded from this, much to her disgust, but you can sort of understand why – given that the ‘password’ involves purchasing a tie.  The break-in scene is a fairly tense one, although it can’t help but feel slightly like padding – now it’s been established that someone is keen to get their hands on these secrets, the story won’t advance until we meet them.

Richard is lifted immediately after leaving the vault. How did the black hats know where he was and what he was doing? Given that we’ve only met one member of M7, this particular mystery doesn’t seem that taxing (Nutcracker is a spy story told in a very linear way).

Right from the pre-credits, it looks obvious that the dentist – Warre (John Franklyn Robbins) – is decidedly dodgy, and although this isn’t confirmed until the close of the story, the reveal therefore won’t come as a surprise.  Warre’s brain-washing techniques are a story element that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in The Avengers.

It’s always nice to see David Langton and William Squire, but both are slightly underused. Nutcracker has all the elements for a top episode but something doesn’t quite click for me – a touch more mystery and a few red herrings might have helped.  The climatic fight is also something of a damp squib as it’s over almost as soon as it begins. And the fact we don’t have a tag scene means that the episode ends rather abruptly after this brief punch-up.

Having said all that though, Nutcracker moves at a decent pace throughout so I’m happy to give it a score of three and a half out of five.

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The Champions – The Gun-Runners

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A cache of Japanese weapons from WW2 are discovered in a Burmese jungle. They’re intercepted by a group of gun-runners who plan to sell them to international arms dealer Hartington (William Franklin). The Champions follow a winding trail which eventually leads them to Africa ….

For once we aren’t using the regular teeny-tiny jungle studio set to stand in for the Burmese jungle. This makes all the difference – being able to see natural light helps to create the illusion that the series has actually gone abroad. Anthony Chinn once again gets a few lines of dialogue but goes uncredited as one of the unfortunate Burmese soldiers machine gunned to death by the gun-runners. There’s no blood though, which makes this sudden orgy of violence a little more palatable.

Sharron (“Intelligent, beautiful”) is the star of this week’s post credits superpowers demonstration. Dressed to kill after a night on the tiles, she moves a car for a couple of drunk chaps. The fact she’s alone hints at her independent nature (although when she turns up at Nemesis HQ, Craig can’t resist leering in her direction).

Our three heroes head out to Burma. Sharron and Richard keep tabs on Hartington, who has a meeting with Nadkarni (a delightfully sweaty Wolfe Morris).  I do rather like Richard’s disguise (a pair of dark glasses) which is nicely inconspicuous when you’re sitting in a restaurant.

Meanwhile Craig talks to the police captain in charge of the case (a slightly hysterical Ric Young). These scenes chug along with a fairly low level of excitement, although William Franklin and David Lodge (as Hartington’s number two, Filmer) are always watchable, if rather underused.

Half way through the story I was still waiting for it to click into gear. More good actors (Guy Deghy, Paul Stassino) pop up, but the plot seems rather small beer.  Surely there must be arms shipments happening all the time, why is this one so special?

So you have to take your entertainment where you can – such as a few nice comic moments for William Gaunt or a highly unconvincing shot of Stuart Damon matted into some Burmese street footage. Things start to pick up when Craig meets Hartington – Craig getting squashed by a packing case directed at him by Filmer is nicely done (as is his athletic escape from the warehouse cellar).

If the audience might possibly be suffering from a faint case of boredom as the episode wears on, then this seems to be mirrored by the Champions (who are now back at Nemesis HQ). When the most exciting thing to happen for a while is the way they all manage to throw their Styrofoam cups into the waste paper bin, you know you’re in trouble ….

Thankfully things are slightly more energised once they head out to Africa. We may be back in the teeny-tiny studio jungle set, but there are compensations – such as a chimpanzee waking across shot or Sharron’s rather attractive jungle-wear.  I’ll dock them a point for another less than impressive matte shot though – those giraffes seem to be wobbling about a bit.

Hartington and his associates have also travelled to Africa but are less fortunate. Their plane crashes, although luckily the weapons are safe (as is Hartington). Mind you it’s impossible not to raise an eyebrow at his massive head bandage which looks rather silly.

Overall this is a fairly undistinguished effort from Dennis Spooner and is worth only a middling two and a half out of five.

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The Champions – The Mission

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Winthrop House Mission, located in deepest Surrey, seems to be just a refuge for vagrants and others down on their luck. Run by Dr Peterson (Anthony Bate), it’s actually the cover for a well oiled organisation – giving criminals a new life via the wonders of plastic surgery. Craig and Sharron masquerade as a couple of crooks requiring new faces but soon Craig learns that Peterson has a horrifying Nazi past …

The pre-credits sequence features nice turns from Harry Towb and Dermot Kelly as a couple of tramps seeking succour at the Misssion. Towb doesn’t last long though as he hits the dust before the credits roll (after poking around in a room where he shouldn’t have gone). His murderers are suitably off-putting – both bandaged up like Invisible Men – which serves as an intriguing teaser.

The three Champions are involved in the post credits superpowers demonstration. All recycled footage alas – Sharron fending off a couple of lecherous hitch-hikers, Richard going athletic in The Dark Island and Craig chasing a runaway van.

Craig – with the aid of a moustache and some faked newspaper reports – poses as an American gangster with Sharron as his suitably attractive bit of stuff. There’s a rare comic moment for Alexandra Bastedo during the scene where Craig speaks to a gaggle of reporters at the airport – as Craig pours out his story, Sharron is preening like a glamour model in the background!

This episode gives all three regulars a chance to ramp up the comedy. Bastedo is great fun as a glamourous gum-chewing moll, Damon slips into gangster mode very easily whilst Gaunt later amuses himself as a tramp (pairing up with Dermot Kelly). Richard’s inadvertent shower soaking also amuses.

I like the way the tone of the episode suddenly darkens after Craig recognises Peterson as a top ranking Nazi from the Dachau concentration camp. It’s a slight shame that this revelation comes to Craig via his superpowers though (possibly he’s memorised the pictures of every Nazi war criminal in the world on the off-chance he might run into them).

It just feels a little too contrived though, maybe discovering Peterson’s past through research would have been the better option. But if you begin to pick holes in the plot then you’d never end – the Champions stumble across Peterson’s operation with embarrassing ease, it’s difficult to believe that watertight gangster covers for Craig and Sharron could be set up so quickly, etc, etc.

Craig’s anger at Peterson’s past dissipates very quickly (his initial response is to forget the mission and simply act as executioner). A little more angst and conflict between Craig and Sharron about whether Peterson should live or die would have ramped up the drama of the episode quite nicely, but since the revelation is glossed over so quickly you wonder why it was raised at all.

Richard poses as a tramp and befriends Hogan (Kelly). Kelly’s excellent comic value even though his part is fairly small. Oh, and it’s remarkable that Richard stumbled across a vagrant who was able to take him back to Winthrop House.

On the plus side, we learn a little about the Champions’ biological makeup. Craig, Sharron and Richard all now share the same rare bloodgroup – which is presented as a major revelation.

Anthony Bate never gave a bad performance and is suitably icy and detached as Peterson. As touched upon before, many Champions villains tend to be fairly two-dimensional, but Bate is able to add a touch of light and shade to what could otherwise have been a rather cliche character.

The tag scene is rather silly – the Champions bring Tremayne back a present (a bottle of Hogan’s incredibly powerful hooch). By the way they all nip off pretty smartish you know exactly what’s going to happen (he’s going to try a sip and spit it out with an expression of disgust). And that’s exactly what happens. Poor Tremayne, his underlings really have no respect for him.

Another very competent script from Donald James, The Mission is worth a score of three and a half out of five.

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The Champions – The Body Snatchers

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Two journalists stumble across a bizarre research facility in Wales, run by a man called Squires (Bernard Lee). One of the journalists is killed on the spot but the other – Frank Nicholls (J.G. Devlin) – escapes and contacts his friend Richard Barrett. Richard investigates and quickly finds himself in deep trouble ….

We open with yet another highly unconvincing day for night shot (given the vagaries of the British weather, it’s a shame these scenes always seemed to be filmed when the sun was especially bright).

Frank’s a bit of a cold fish. After breaking in, he hears someone approaching but doesn’t think to warn his pal (Frank just nips off a bit sharpish). And isn’t he a bit old for this cloak and dagger stuff anyway?

Post credits, Craig uses his superpowers to free a child who’s got his head trapped in some railings. A handy skill.

The early part of the episode revolves around the mystery of General Patterson who may or may not be dead, but whose body has disappeared (it’s ended up in suspended animation in Squire’s establishment). At first it seems like Patterson will be an important part of the story but it turns out he’s nothing more than a Macguffin.

Why has Richard gone it alone in Wales? It seems pretty pointless, since he leaves an obvious trail which Craig and Sharron follow at Tremayne’s behest.

I was looking forward to the hotel receptionist sporting a nice Welsh accent but no such luck. We later see an uncredited Talfryn Thomas as a garage mechanic though, so that’s some consolation ….

And apparently the only trains running in Wales are steam ones. Well they do look nice.

Devlin gives a good turn as the doomed Frank. Even better is Bernard Lee as Squires (Squires kills Frank in a particularly nasty way – with petrol and some matches). Lee was always an imposing sort of actor and easily dominates every scene he appears in. He might have been battling demons at this point (his issues with alcohol are fairly well known) but was professional enough not to let it interfere with his performance.

Given this is a Terry Nation script it’s possibly not surprising it has some science fiction overtones. But construction wise it’s a slow burn – Richard spends the first half of the episode lurking about whilst Craig and Sharron are several steps behind him. We really want to see Richard and Squires face off, but it takes a long time before that happens.

On the plus side, William Gaunt gets to act mean and moody in a leather jacket before getting frozen for his pains, whilst the presence of Ann Lynn and Philip Locke helps to bolster the cast. I also never say no to a touch of Sharron in fighting mode. It’s also nice to see her cosplaying as the Fifth Doctor.

The plot’s a bit thin but there’s enough going on to award The Body Snatchers three and a half out of five.

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The Champions – The Survivors

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The death of three students in Austria catches the interest of Nemesis.  The locals believe that a nearby lake contains plundered Nazi loot, but when Richard and Craig investigate they find that the trail leads them to a cave and a madman intent on reversing the outcome of WW2 ….

Uh oh, the curse of the dodgy dubbing strikes again. In the opening scene my heart lifted when two very familiar faces – Donald Houston and Bernard Kay – appeared, but once Houston opened his mouth the spell was broken. Clearly it was felt that a German accent was beyond him, so he was given a little “assistance”.

Luckily a young Stephen Yardley was able to manage a credible Austrian accent (he plays one of the three students combing the lake for treasure) although he didn’t make it past the opening credits as Ritcher (Houston) machine-guns him and his two pals to a very sudden death.

Post credits, Sharron demonstrates her skills with a dart at a local village pub. It’s a rather strange little scene though, as it has a set up but then stops before any sort of pay off.

Our three heroes head out to Austria where they run into a shifty hotel keeper, Emil (Kay), who reacts with a start when he spies Sharron’s flippers (she wasn’t wearing them though, just carrying them). Thankfully Kay – always such a watchable actor – was allowed to keep his own voice. He doesn’t have much to do except cast shifty glances at Sharron, Craig and Richard but he still does that rather well.

Donald Houston was an actor I found it slightly harder to warm to. His performances could be quite variable (subtlety was never one of his strengths) so even undubbed he might have come across as a touch hammy (as he does throughout the episode when speaking with another actors voice).

Anyway, since only the boys go scuba diving, why was Sharron carrying their flippers? I have to confess that it would have been nice to see Sharron in a wetsuit ….

Ritchter and Emil are out hunting Richard and Craig by the lake. When Emil reacts in wonder at Richard’s gymnastic abilities (“he must have jumped at least thirty feet”) some suspension of belief is required, as what we see on-screen isn’t quite as impressive. Poor Emil then hits the dust (farewell Bernard Kay, it wasn’t much of a part but it was nice to see you).

A little over sixteen minutes in, there’s a lovely gag which tends to pop up in series of this era from time to time (it also occurred in an episode of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes). The scene opens with a static shot of a snowy mountain range, only for the camera to pull away and reveal that it’s just a photograph at the entrance of the local mines! This has to be a deliberate tease (no doubt the audience would have both noted and appreciated this moment).

You have a love a story featuring ex-Nazis desperately longing to revive their golden years. It was a staple for many years (as late as 1988, the Doctor Who story Silver Nemesis was riffing on this theme) and The Survivors is a textbook example. Today’s prominent guest star, Clifford Evans, has a dual role – the nasty Nazi (Hans Reitz) and his mad brother (Colonel Reitz).

Sharron is sidelined for the early part of the story but springs into action when she karate chops Hans Reitz unconscious. It’s impossible not to notice the way she flings her coat over his head – that’s a handy trick to hide the fact that a stunt double has taken Evans’ place (fair enough though, you can’t really expect a senior actor to go flinging himself around).

Midway through the story it becomes obvious that something is hidden in the caves (which makes the red herring of the murdered students by the lake all the more baffling).  Mind you, that plot point seems quite sensible compared to the revelation that Colonel Reitz has been buried alive in the caves since 1945, growing madder and madder. Although since his uniform is spick and span and he’s clean shaven, he must have very decent washing and laundry facilities down there ….

This is a totally loopy concept, but you can’t help but love Evans’ full-throttle performance (just don’t think about the plot specifics too much). And just when you’re reeling from the revelations contained in a lengthy scene between Sharron and Colonel Reitz, we learn that the Colonel is the “good” German, buried alive by his evil Nazi brother who’s been waiting twenty five years for him and all the other troops also trapped with him to die off, so he can utilise the cache of weapons buried with them.

Crumbs. For the sheer chutzpah it took to create such a plot you have to tip your hat to Donald James. Utterly bonkers it may be, but I’ll give The Survivors an indulgent four out of five.

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The Champions – Project Zero

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A scientist called Dr Travis is shot and killed by the postmaster in a remote Scottish village. Travis was one of a number of notable scientists recruited for the mysterious Project Zero. Run by Dr Voss (Rupert Davies), its ultimate aim seems to be less than friendly – so Richard is ordered to infiltrate the group.  As you might expect, it’s not long before his cover is blown and his life put in great danger ….

My heart skipped a beat when the Nemesis map zoomed in on Scotland, but luckily we didn’t end up in Holy Loch. Deep breath, I don’t think they’ll be any submarines today.

Tony Williamson’s script is another one which seems to be riffing on familiar themes previously seen in The Avengers.  The hapless Travis (John Moore), fleeing from an unseen assailant, reaches the sanctuary of the village post office.  But the seemingly affable postmaster (Nicholas Smith) calmly guns him down in cold blood without a second’s hesitation. This concept of the deadly hiding behind the everyday and mundane is just so Avengers-ish.

Project Zero is an excellent story for spotting familiar faces – beginning with the very familiar face of Nicholas Smith. His Scottish accent is fairly passable, but then he only had a few lines of dialogue.

The post credits superpowers demonstration scene sees Sharron sampling a selection of wines (she’s instantly able to tell which year each wine comes from). Hard to imagine that the old folks in Tibet would have found that skill to be terribly useful, but they passed it on anyway.

Once we get past this spot of fun and games, Geoffrey Chater is the next very recognisable actor to make an appearance. He interrogates a man to death (who was primed with false information about Richard’s scientific qualifications).  I wonder if Nemesis knew that Voss and his associates were quite so ruthless? If they did then it helps to make Nemesis seem quite a sinister organisation (as per The Interrogation).

I like Richard’s disguise – a pair of thick glasses. He has a meeting with Forster (Chater) who recruits him to work on Project Zero. Their organisation is quite smooth – easily able to convince the scientists that it’s a Government sponsored project. Presumably some of them (like Travis) later learn the truth, although it’s not made clear what he discovered.

Nor do we know why Travis’ body was taken back to London and dumped in the street. Surely it would have made more sense (and been much less trouble) to drop it in the nearest Scottish loch?

Chater’s always good value when playing Government types (even faux ones) and a quick appearance by John Horsley doesn’t hurt either as he also always had an instant air of authority.  Jill Curzon (Doctor Who’s niece, Louise) pops up as a stewardess on Richard’s plane to Scotland – when she looms into the frame wearing a gasmask it’s a pleasingly jolting moment.

The big-name guest star was Rupert Davies (forever to be known as Maigret).  He’s pretty good as Voss – seemingly affable, but given what we know about Project Zero the audience is content to wait for the moment when he unveils his true colours (although Voss – like many other Champions baddies – isn’t the most complex of characters).

Project Zero doesn’t really feel like a Champions story to begin with. When Richard is in the process of being recruited by Forster, Craig and Sharron are in a car outside the building, listening in to their conversation via a bug. Why aren’t they using their superpowers?

And when Richard is swallowed up by Project Zero, Tremayne’s only answer is to set Craig and Sharron up as another couple of scientists and send them in after him.  Many other stories would have seen Richard using his powers to contact them first.

I’m also disappointed that when posing as scientists, neither Craig or Sharron pop on a pair of thick glasses. Oh, and the fact that all three succumb to the plane gassing is another oddity – previously we’ve seen them able to shrug off that sort of thing.

But when Richard is rumbled by Voss his special skills do start to come into play. There’s a good moment when Voss – attempting to force Richard to speak by the application of extreme noise – is discomforted to find that he’s not affected at all. The faint smirk given by William Gaunt at this point is a nice touch.

Richard, tagged with an explosive collar, is placed in a tight spot but luckily Craig and Sharron come riding to the rescue.  Sharron gets to retrace Dr Travis’ dash for freedom – right down to meeting the gun-toting postmaster. This time of course, things end rather differently and it’s very pleasing to see her indulging in a spot of fisticuffs for once.

Project Zero does have a few plot loose ends, but they aren’t too serious. Overall, the excellent guest cast (Peter Copley is another strong addition) helps to make the episode a cut above the norm. I’ll give it four out of five.

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