Danger Man – The Lovers

Drake has little love for the current Baravian government or its president, Pablo Gomez (Ewen Solon). But when he’s told that an attempt might be made on Gomez’s life during a visit to London, he immediately springs into action ….

Miguel Torres (Michael Ripper), an old adversary of Drake’s, requests his help in protecting the president. The always dependable Ripper essays an entertaining cameo as a possibly untrustworthy new ally (although given there’s a fair bit of plot to get through, Torres remains a fairly undeveloped character).

Given that the autocratic Gomez seized power after a violent uprising, there’s no shortage of dissidents (forced to flee Baravia and now living in the UK) who may wish him and his wife Maria (Maxine Audley) harm. But the fact they’re dealt with in a very abrupt manner (we see quick cutaway shots of Drake interviewing several people) makes it clear that they’re not going to feature.

Gomez is kept in the background for most of the episode, with Maria foregrounded much more (she’s the one who deals directly with Drake to begin with). It’s a nice performance from Maxine Audley who effectively manages to tease out Maria’s disenchantment with the current situation in her country. By the end of the episode we’re left in no doubt that she possesses a core of steel which will hopefully help to bring about positive change.

The other major guest appearance comes from Martin Miller as Stavros. Miller is a twitchy, ingratiating delight as a bomb maker who offers to tell Drake all he knows – for a cool ten thousand pounds.

As has happened before, mid-way through the episode is the point where the story begins to collapse. I can accept that Stavros has been commissioned to build a bomb and that he knows the time it will go off, but how does he know who ordered it?

For those who don’t know the ending please look away now …..

Gomez was responsible – his plan was to place the bomb in his car and at the last minute be called to an urgent phone call (meaning that his wife would be driven away and shortly afterwards be blown to smithereens). Wouldn’t it just have been easier to ask for a divorce?

It beggars belief that Gomez approached Stavros directly (surely he could have used an intermediary?) and when Stavros – arriving at Paddington station to receive the cash from Drake – is shot dead, it’s even harder to credit that Gomez was lurking somewhere on the platform with a gun. Given there had been a threat on his life, would he have been allowed to walk around on his own?

Looking for the positives, Stavros’ death scene (in the ambulance, clutching the money he never got a chance to spend) is a nice touch and there’s some brief travelogue shots of London (although McGoohan was obviously doubled for the Paddington location shoot).

If you can suspend your disbelief, then The Lovers (an obviously ironic title) isn’t a bad way to spend twenty five minutes.

Danger Man – The Blue Veil

Posing as a drink-sodden desert rat, Drake visits a small town on the Arabian coast. There he meets the autocratic ruler, the Moukta (Ferdy Maine), a man allegedly implicated in the local slave trade ….

When I cued up this episode on Network’s DVD, my first thought was that I’d played the previous episode (The Nurse) by accident again, as both open with a shot of a helicopter hovering over what’s supposed to be a stretch of desert. But no, this is a different story even though the setting is pretty much the same.

The Blue Veil takes pains to establish that we’re in a society which would be totally alien to many of those in the West – it’s a land still firmly fixed in the Middle Ages, where justice is brutal and women are very much secondary citizens. The episode doesn’t really explore the problems of the locals though as most of Drake’s time is spent interacting with two Europeans – Spooner (Laurence Naismith) and Clare Nichols (Lisa Gastoni).

Spooner, an Englishman, has totally assimilated himself into the local culture and views the arrival of Drake with extreme disfavour. Naismith is excellent – managing to radiate a calm malevolence that’s very effective. Clare is today’s damsel in distress, desperate to return to civilisation and hopeful that Drake will help her.

Drake’s reluctant to break cover, so he has to be cool with her for a while. There’s a fascinating scene where she seems to see right through him – declaring that even though his outward appearance is disheveled, there’s goodness within. Either she has a sixth sense or Drake’s play-acting isn’t as good as he’d hoped.

Another small, but telling, moment comes after she learns of Drake’s apparent links with the slave trade. Her disgust seems to cause him a spasm of pain.

Rounding out the small guest cast is Joseph Cuby as Hassan, a young lad who befriends, betrays and then comes to serve Drake. Cuby offers an appealing turn, although the moment when Drake threatens Hassan with a knife does feel a little disquieting. We know that Drake would never use it, but even so.

There’s some Secret Agent gadgets used today. Drake has a miniature camera (which of course doesn’t look all that small today, but back in 1960 would have been more impressive). And for safety’s sake, he keeps the film in a hollow compartment in his shoe.

Drake uses the camera when he visits the Moukta (it’s hidden in his water bottle, so when he takes a swig of water he’s able to snap a few shots). I’m not sure why he does this and it slightly beggars belief that the Moukta didn’t notice anything. Let’s be generous and assume he was distracted by Clare.

The bulk of the episode is set in the town, but this turns out to be just preamble as Drake concludes his mission when he travels to the Moukta’s diamond mine and photographs the unhappy slaves kept prisoner. This is the main flaw in the episode – it seems that Drake already knew about the mine, so there seems no reason why he didn’t ask the helicopter to drop him there in the first place (which would have saved all that faffing about in town).

I like the way Drake pole-vaults over the electric fence which is keeping the slaves in captivity. Although it’s amazing that that guard who passed by a few seconds earlier seems totally oblivious.

Summing up The Blue Veil, you can’t fault the performances (Naismith especially) but the plotting somewhat lets it down. Apart from Drake’s runaround interlude in the town, it’s hard to believe that the United Nations (even with Drake’s photographic evidence) will be able to do anything. Drake might confidently assert that the Moukta and Spooner are now in deep trouble, but who will bring them to justice is never made clear.

Danger Man – The Nurse

Drake is back in the Middle East, in an unnamed state suffering a violent uprising. The entire Royal Family (who have been sympathetic to the West) appear to have been massacred but it turns out that an infant – now heir to the throne – escaped from the turmoil with his Scottish nurse, Mary MacPherson (Eileen Moore). In a land where few can be trusted, Drake has to somehow lead them both to safety ….

The Nurse opens with a not terribly thrilling pre-credits sequence – a man and a woman are slowly making their way across the desert plains. Once the credits have rolled they’re revealed to be the American consul and his wife, fleeing from the fighting. Despite the danger, both are impeccably dressed (her gloves still look gleaming white).

Having located them in a chopper, Drake and the pilot prepare to ferry them away. But then Drake learns that a British nurse is hiding out at a farmhouse nearby and decides to go there alone. This is a definite mark in his favour – at this point nobody knows about the baby (and the possible benefits to the West if a sympathetic ruling class can be restored) so he’s motivated purely by the thought of helping someone in need.

Drake and Mary are quickly forced to go on the run and a bond forms between them. Drake, never usually one to thaw when in close contact with a female, does seem almost human as the pair hide from their pursuers in the dunes. Eileen Moore, probably best known for playing Sheila Birling in the Alastair Sim film version of An Inspector Calls, offers a strong performance. Mary’s honest, uncomplicated goodness and her obvious devotion to her infant charge might be the reasons why Drake seems a little less harsh than usual.

Reaching the nearest town they take refuge at the inn, but the innkeeper (Eric Pohlmann) seems rather untrustworthy. Pohlmann doesn’t have a lot to do but he manages to radiate a low-level of malevolence. Jack MacGowran as Launcelot Prior, has a little more to play with. The British-born Prior works for the local ruler, the Moukta, and his initial geniality is quickly stripped away to reveal something far less appealing.

Harold Kasket, a man who racked up a long list of television and film credits, is one of a number of British born actors playing Middle Eastern types today. He’s convincing enough as the autocratic Moukta, although as ever during the first series there’s rarely the time to really dig into characters.

Mid-way through the story is where the plot starts to go a little awry. Drake, Mary and the baby are summoned to the Moukta’s presence. Drake decides it’s not safe for them all, so he goes alone. But surely it would have been better had they stayed together, as by this point it’s become public knowledge that the young prince has escaped. Once Drake leaves, the Innkeeper focuses his beady eye on Mary and the baby.

Following his short and not terribly sweet meeting with the Moukta, Drake is driven away to meet his fate. But inexplicably he’s not killed, simply duffed up slightly and dumped on the outskirts of town. This means that it takes him no time at all to return to the Moukta, who by now has Mary and the child in his clutches.

With rebel forces – keen to kill the young prince – apparently closing in, the situation looks grim. But Drake manages to save the day by forging a proclamation from the rebels and circulating it around the town (it declares that the prince can be identified by a heart shaped mark on his leg). Of course the prince doesn’t have one, so Drake is able to convince the Moukta that the baby is simply an innocent child.

We briefly see the note and it doesn’t look that impressive (there’s no seal, for example). This rather convenient plot resolution is swiftly negated anyway after it’s revealed that the town has just been secured by forces loyal to the Royal Family (so Drake’s spot of forgery turned out to be superfluous). Why they didn’t just use one of these two possible endings and stick to it is a bit of a mystery.

Fairly routine stuff then, but as always it’s fun to spot familiar faces (Heather Chasen, Andrew Faulds, Maxwell Shaw) making brief appearances.

Danger Man – The Traitor

Drake is tracking a traitor, Blatta (George A. Cooper), across Northern India. He knows that Blatta is passing secrets to the enemy, but he doesn’t know how. Then on their arrival in Karaz, Blatta makes contact with an Englishwoman called Louise Goddard (Barbara Shelley) …

Based on the episode title, I was expecting George A. Cooper to feature strongly. But in fact he never gets to utter a word and the traitor of the title turns out to be someone else completely.

Before this reveal, there’s some preamble to attend to. Drake’s contact in Karaz is Banarji (Warren Mitchell). He’s one of two actors browned up for the episode although Mitchell’s performance is a little subtler than it might first appear. Banarji, a marketplace hawker, begins by giving it the full Peter Sellers “goodness gracious me”, but once he’s happy that he and Drake can’t be overheard, this act is dropped and he becomes much more businesslike.

The Traitor is another largely studio-bound story, although the marketplace set is very effective thanks to a number of extras milling about and several convincing backdrops. Add in a few brief establishing shots via stock footage and overall the illusion that we’re in India is well done.

Jack Watling offers a decent cameo as Rollo Waters, an amiably alcoholic garage owner. Rollo’s connection to the plot is fairly tenuous – it’s at his garage that (by a remarkable coincidence) Drake first spots Louise Goddard.

Drake learns that Louise lives in the mountains with her husband. On arrival there he’s instantly befriended by Noel Goddard (Ronald Howard) who offers Drake the run of the house, telling him that due to their remote location they very rarely see anyone.

Goddard’s hysteria at the thought that Drake might not stay is the first chink in his character, as otherwise he radiates an aura of urbanity. Howard essays an excellent performance as does Barbara Shelley – the relationship between the Goddards and the way they deal with Drake the interloper is nicely teased out.

Although I’ve had some harsh words previously about Danger Man’s plotting, there’s little to complain about here. For example, the puzzle as to why Goddard stays isolated in the mountains and never ventures down to the city is eventually answered and proves to be the crux of the episode.

The confrontation between Drake and Goddard after both their identities are revealed – Drake the NATO agent, Goddard the spy – crackles with energy. Goddard’s reasons for spying are ideological, not money-based, so Drake finds it impossible to break his resolve. Louise Goddard stays more in the shadows, but it’s plain she was a devoted helper (but resumably because she wanted to help her husband rather than out of any strongly held convictions).

It’s interesting that Louise, despite her complicity, doesn’t seem to pique Drake’s interest – it’s only Goddard that he’s interested in. This is about the only plot niggle I can see, apart from wondering why Goddard’s servant Panah (Derek Sydney – the other actor browned up) later attempts to kill him. Maybe Panah was in the pay of the foreign power.

Goddard’s failing health is revealed to be the reason why he remains in the mountains – if he travels down into the heat of the city then his life expectancy will be short. Drake realises this, but is still determined to bring him to justice. This concludes the episode in a suitably downbeat way and, apart from the last melodramatic musical sting, it’s a very effective closer.

I’ve had a quick look at the two reviews on IMDb and was slightly surprised to see that both were quite negative. For me, The Traitor is a top-notch effort – thanks to McGoohan, Howard and Shelley. It’s possible to argue that there’s little tension in the episode as you never believe for a minute that Goddard will be able to fulfill his orders to eliminate Drake. But then Goddard isn’t that sort of traitor – he’s a detached, intellectual sort of spy, so it entirely fits his character for him to quietly accept his fate.

Danger Man – Sabotage

Drake arrives in South East Asia to assist an old friend, Peta Jason (Maggie Fitzgibbon). Mrs Jason is the owner of a small airline which has lost several planes recently. Sabotage would seem to be the most likely reason, but if so who and why?

As so often, we find ourselves in a politically unstable part of the world where a nameless government (today they’re referred to simply as the new regime) are in power. Are the new regime responsible for blowing up the planes? If not, maybe one of their embittered opponents are doing their best to ensure that they take the blame.

It turns out to be the latter, although there’s no real clues or evidence offered – we’re told that’s the case and it turns out to be so. Since this part of the story isn’t much of a whodunnit we’ll pass on to more meaty matters.

Drake decides the best way to get to the bottom of things will be to join the cabin crew as a steward. He then acts as a drunken and corrupt one (all the better for attracting any criminal elements lurking close at hand). Patrick McGoohan’s drunk acting is something of an acquired taste – if you’re a fan then you’ll certainly enjoy his over the top antics early on (although I will concede that Drake’s ability to suddenly return to his usual cold, focused persona once he’s alone is effective).

For once, the cast doesn’t feature too many familiar faces. Alex Scott (as Benson, one of the airline’s loyal pilots) is probably the most recognisable. Yvonne Romain gives a good performance as Giselle Simon, a femme fatale who attempts to ensnare Drake (but proves to be no match for our Secret Agent). R. Bobby Naidoo as the corpulent and vocally high-pitched crime boss Chin Lee also makes an impression.

Despite the joint efforts of Michael Pertwee and Ian Stuart Black, the storyline never quite clicks for me. Even though she’s lost several planes, Mrs Jason doesn’t seem terribly bothered (neither do any of her flight crews – you’d have assumed they’d all be anxiously looking for safer jobs elsewhere). The pre-credits sequence focuses on a tea urn in one of the unfortunate planes – making it plain that’s where the bomb is (which rather negates any later mystery or tension).

True, Drake does force open another tea urn later on to reveal a gold bar (just as well that one didn’t contain a bomb, otherwise his heavy handed handling would have had explosive consequences) but this revelation only muddies matters somewhat. The gold smuggling is a subplot that could have been deleted without harming the story too much.

The climax (Drake lures the mastermind onto a plane he knows is due to carry a bomb) also falls a little flat as it’s obvious Drake has left the bomb behind and substituted it for a real tea urn.

So not the most thrilling or satisfying of stories, but the acting’s good and there’s some decent back projection shots which almost convince us we’re not on the studio backlot. A fair to middling effort then.

Danger Man – The Girl in Pink Pajamas

Having survived an assassination attempt, President Varnold (Robert Cawdron), lies unconscious and seriously ill in the local hospital. In order to protect him from further harm he’s been isolated under an assumed name, but an amnesic American woman – found wandering in the countryside – seems to know something about another attack which is due very soon ….

The Girl in Pink Pajamas easily wins the award for the most intriguing episode title from DM‘s initial run and the pre-credits sequence is pretty arresting as well. The unnamed girl (played by Angela Browne) is seen wandering barefoot through the sort of quarry usually favoured by Dr Who, dressed only in pink pajamas (well, given we’re watching in black and white we have to assume they’re pink).

This part of the story is put on the back burner for a while as Drake arrives at the hospital to check that all security procedures are in place. The man in charge, Major Minos (Alan Tilvern), seems very efficient but since Tilvern was one of those actors blessed with a remarkably shifty face, it won’t come as too much of a shock to learn that Minos later turns out to be a wrong ‘un.

The mystery of the girl (who we learn is called Anna Wilson) has the feel of a proto Department S storyline, although given that a fair few of those episodes tended to have weak resolutions to puzzling set-ups, I wonder how well this one is resolved? Well …..

It’s revealed that Anna jumped (or maybe was pushed) from a train. My immediate reaction is to wonder why she didn’t have a scratch on her (had the train been moving at any speed then it’s impossible to see how this could have been avoided). And you have to raise an eyebrow at the chatty villain who clearly couldn’t just kill her (first he had to mention that bad things were due to happen at the hospital)

Anna, a nurse, was travelling with Dr Keller. Keller’s a specialist surgeon due to operate on President Varnold, who has a bullet lodged in his brain. The plan was to kill Anna and Dr Keller and substitute them with black hats who could finish Varnold off for good. Keller was duly killed, but somehow (the story isn’t too clear on this) Anna managed to get away.

You have to say it’s a reasonably good plan, although it seems rather overcomplicated once you realise that, for security reasons, Varnold isn’t guarded at all (since that would only draw attention to him). The most puzzling part of the story occurs midway through when (due to the dramatic music) we can infer that a mystery person was up to no good when he/she turned up Varnold’s oxygen. Since he was unprotected at this point, why not kill him there and then?

Okay, that’s enough quibbling. What works well in the story? Angela Browne does for one thing. Drake’s questioning of Anna zigzags between gentle and harsh (McGoohan could always do you a nice line in brutal). The camera certainly seems to like Anna as she gets some good close ups (these close ups come into their own during the scene where Drake is at his most hectoring).

The key showdown – Drake confronts the faux Keller (John Crawford) who’s about to operate – also gets the thumbs up. Everyone in the operating theatre, apart from Drake, are masked, which makes the scene especially interesting.  Crawford, limited in his acting choices due to the mask, can only use his eyes as Drake attempts to convince the others that the man they think is Keller poses a danger to the President. Drake bluffs his way through by pretending to speak to Keller’s superiors on the phone – an excellent example of Drake thinking on his feet.

There’s also a satisfyingly punch up at the end after Drake takes on three baddies and wins. Plus Colette Wilde adds a dash to humour to the episode as a somewhat grumpy farmer’s wife who’s very keen for Drake to take Anna off her hands.

Plot-wise, this one’s a bit patchy then but I’ve still got a lot of time for The Girl in Pink Pajamas. Ralph Smart and Brian Clemens always knew what they were doing.

Danger Man – Bury the Dead

Tony Costello, an agent colleague of Drake’s, dies in a motor crash. Accident or murder? Drake heads out to Sicily to investigate ….

Drake’s first port of call is the police, where the Captain (Paul Stassino) acts in such a shifty fashion that he might as well have just confessed on the spot. Stassino is also saddled with a fake-looking moustache which is more than a little distracting.

Jo Harris (Beverley Garland) claims to be a friend of Tony’s (his fiancée in fact). It’s left dangling for a short while as to whether she’s on the side of the angels or not (it turns out that she is). That seemed a little unlikely early on though, after Drake takes her to investigate the site of the crash. No sooner has he begun searching through the undergrowth than a shotgun pokes out through the bushes and nearly causes him a mischief.

Since Jo was the only one who knew of Drake’s intentions, it’s a remarkable stroke of luck that the shooter was in the right place at the right time. That appears to be Hugo Delano (Dermot Walsh), who pops out of the bushes with a shotgun, although oddly Drake investigates his weapon and seems happy that it wasn’t fired. So was there a second person also waiting in the undergrowth with a loaded gun on the off chance Drake would come calling? Maybe, although that makes even less sense.

This is only a small niggle though and the rest of the story proceeds smoothly. We don’t know why Tony was killed or exactly what the Captain and Delano are up to until the closing few minutes and this sense of mystery is a definite plus.

As are the arrival of Patrick Troughton and George Murcell as Bart and Bruno, two street toughs with orders to get Drake into trouble so that the Captain will have an excuse to lock him up for a few days. Troughton, using his one size fits all foreign accent, is maybe a little out of his comfort zone but Murcell has an imposing persona which works well in one of the episode’s key scenes.

Bruno, increasingly frustrated that all his attempts to provoke Drake into a bar-room brawl have failed, smacks him hard around the face several times (Drake simply soaks up the punishment). McGoohan doesn’t have to do much here, but it’s the way he doesn’t do it that’s so impressive. Of course Drake could have simply walked away to, but maybe he was enjoying playing a game of psychological warfare with his opponents.

Previously, I’ve drawn attention to a few episodes which have been somewhat on the predictable side. So credit where credit’s due, I have to admit that the key twist of Bury the Dead (Costello faked his death) wasn’t something I saw coming. The gun-running scheme that Costello, Delano and the Captain are involved in isn’t terribly interesting, but the final five minutes of the story still pulsates.

First you have Robert Shaw’s performance as Tony Costello. His screentime might be limited, but his star quality is evident. The confrontation between Drake and Costello (McGoohan getting the chance to show a rare spasm of rage, as Drake’s controlled persona slips for a few seconds) and the unhappy reunion of Costello and Jo are both memorable moments.

The downbeat ending – a shellshocked Drake and Jo drive away – is also something that’s appreciated.

Written by Ralph Smart from a story by Brian Clemens, Bury the Dead is a top-tier effort.

Danger Man – Deadline

The independent African nation of Bassaland is in turmoil. Pulling the strings and orchestrating acts of violence is the exiled former leader Saul Khano (William Marshall). Drake has just three days to prove Khano’s complicity in a high level assassination and so prevent a bloody uprising ….

Deadline is notable for featuring an all-black guest cast. Given that the pool of available actors in the UK was fairly limited during the early 1960’s, this is slightly surprising but most welcome. The performances all down the line are strong as well – even minor players like Earl Cameron and John Harrison.

Dominating the episode is William Marshall. The episode takes pains to build up an unflattering picture of Khano – his violence and lust for power – which means that when Drake and the audience meet the elegant, Oxford-educated man we’re forced to quickly adjust our perspective. True, the University educated African is something of a cliché but the immaculately dressed Khano (his eyepatch, like his dinner suit, is white) does spar entertainingly with Drake.

Plot-wise, this one works pretty well (Jo Eisinger was always a safe pair of hands) although I could quibble about the way Drake gains access to Khano. Drake claims to be a gun-runner, which immediately piques Khano’s interest since he desperately needs more arms and ammunition to continue his revolution.  But nobody seems to check Drake’s credentials (indeed, you could be forgiven for thinking Drake makes up the gun-running story on the spot). And why hasn’t Khano secured arms from another source anyway?

Khano’s wife, Mai (Barbara Chilcott), holds the key to her husband’s destruction. She knows that he ordered the death of her uncle (a respected advocate of non-violence) and blamed the murder on the government. Drake is convinced that if she tells the people this they will immediately cool down (and so it proves, although in real life things might not have gone so smoothly).

Chilcott plays her scenes of conflicted loyalties well and Mai turns out to be a key character (saving Drake’s life for one thing) which given there were only two female speaking roles in the episode is a nice touch.

As with some of the other 25 minute episodes, it’s easy to find everything a little simplistic and contrived, but overall there’s still plenty of interest in Deadline.

Danger Man – An Affair of State

The tiny nation of San Pablo has requested substantial financial aid from the United States of America, claiming that its substantial gold reserves will provide more than adequate security for the loan. American economist Arthur Winfield has spent some time investigating the state of the San Pablo economy, but his apparent suicide sets alarm bells ringing in Washington. Hence Drake’s arrival ….

The pre-credits sequence is short but very sweet. A car draws up by a cliff edge. The boot is sprung to reveal … a dead body! A man extracts the body and flings it over the edge of the cliff (let’s ignore the fact that it’s obviously a stuffed dummy who takes the dive). The man turns round and we see … it’s Patrick Wymark! Then a policeman turns up (let’s ignore the fact that given it’s a very deserted spot, the chances of anyone else suddenly arriving are quite remote). The policeman is shot dead by … John Le Mesurier! If all that hasn’t piqued your interest, then this probably isn’t the series for you.

San Pablo is an archetypical banana republic (or more accurately, a banana and pineapple republic). The Commissioner of Police. Ortiz, is completely corrupt. We, the audience, already know this as he’s played by Patrick Wymark. Wymark is one of a number of British actors forced to adopt “Arriba, arriba! Ándale, ándale!” accents during the episode. But he’s good enough to get away with it (just).

Plenty of false evidence is produced to prove that Winfield had been leading a hectic social life of drinking and gambling, which provides a compelling reason for his suicide (strengthened by a signed suicide note).  Indeed, it seems that Drake has been pretty much convinced – although if so, the arrival of Raquel Vargas (Dorothy White) gives him pause for thought.

This is the point of the story where the ever mounting plot oddities can’t be ignored. I can just about accept that Ortiz likes to do his own dirty work (although surely he could have bribed one of his underlings to dispose of Winfield’s body). But an extra level of suspension of disbelief is required when you learn that Alvarado (John Le Mesurier) is the Minister of Finance. He likes to tag along for body disposal jaunts with a handy rifle? Hmm, okay.

Then we discover that Raquel and Winfield had secretly married, but not in San Pablo as her parents wouldn’t have approved (this is negated at the end of the episode after Raquel tells Drake that her parents have decided they didn’t mind after all). Given that Winfield doesn’t seem to have been in the country for long, theirs was obviously a whirlwind romance. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but this part of the story doesn’t feel right to me.

Dorothy White looked naggingly familiar – one quick trip to IMDb later and I think it’s her final screen credit (as Mrs Firman in Grange Hill) which I particularly remember her for.

Although the story is a little clumsy (surprising, since Oscar Brodney had quite a career, scripting films like The Glenn Miller Story) I did like the moment where Ortiz confronts Raquel. He tells her that she needs to spend a short time in the cells, say a year or so. Although the episode is painted with fairly broad brushstrokes, this short scene is very chilling (and well played by Wymark).

Having appeared in the pre-credits sequence, Le Mesurier doesn’t reappear until the last few minutes. Alvarado and Ortiz take Drake down to the vaults where he rapidly learns that some (if not all) of their gold supplies are nothing more than worthless lead.

This is obviously what Winfield learnt and the reason why he was killed (and since it’s been obvious right from the start, any tension or mystery has long since dissipated). Plus it’s another plot problem. Given that the US isn’t going to lend San Pablo any money without making the necessary checks, killing Winfield only means that someone else – Drake – would be sent in his place. And if they had disposed of Drake, would they go on killing each new replacement? That might add up to a lot of bodies ….

It’s a fairly low mark for the storyline then, but the guest cast (apart from those already named there’s the always reliable Warren Mitchell as a twitchy whistleblower and Fenella Fielding as a vampy hostess) help to paper over the obvious story cracks.

Danger Man – The Sisters

Nadia Sandor (Mai Zetterling), an East European scientist, has defected to the British. The authorities are having trouble establishing her identity though and ask Drake to travel to Slavosk in order to free Nadia’s sister, Gerda (Barbara Murray), from prison and bring her back to England. But after he does, the problems aren’t over ….

Once again Drake is summoned to the presence of Hardy (Richard Wattis). Nattily attired in a three-piece suit (Drake’s English-wear?) our Secret Agent is still a little frazzled after his plane trip from America and (as is his wont) begins to rile the straight-laced Hardy. At one point Drake reveals that his friends call him “the man with the built in crystal ball”, which is something of a conversation stopper.

Drake’s voice over makes a comeback in this episode. It’s easy to see why, as it papers over the cracks when the narrative is forced to take a sudden jump forward. As touched upon before, that’s a curse of the 25 minute format – time is always of the essence.

With the assistance of Mikhail Radek (Sydney Tafler), Drake breaks Gerda out of prison. Radek is quickly established (via Drake’s voice over) as an amusing, if cold-hearted, mercenary – someone whose only loyalty is to money. To be honest, Drake lays this character profile on so thick that when Radek disappears from the story after a few minutes it’s hard not to imagine he’ll reappear towards the end. Guess what ….

The prison break could have easily lasted a whole act, but instead it’s done and dusted in a matter of minutes. Drake and Radek waylay the guards sent to escort Gerda to another prison and steal their authorisation documents. The hapless guards are dealt with in an amusing way though – lured by the prospect of girls and all-night jiving (the party they stumble into looks endearingly innocent) they instead find Drake and Radek waiting for them behind the bedroom door.

Given that the episode is now whipping along at a rate of knots, we never see the scene where Gerda realises that Drake is her saviour rather than another jailor. Instead, we have to be content with a single scene (on a studio-bound grassy knoll) which shows the pair leaving the country (thanks to Drake clipping through a barbed wire fence and having an energetic punch up with a guard).

This scene is notable for the way that Gerda, inching along the ground to the fence, stops to have a cup of tea from a flask whilst Drake is attempting to break through. Now I like a cup of tea as much as the next man or woman, but surely there’s a time and a place to take your beverages.

Is Nadia an imposter? The arrival of Gerda should hopefully answer this question, but since the sisters haven’t seen each other since childhood that won’t be so easy. Plus there’s the very real possibility Gerda could be a spy sent to discredit Nadia and force the British to deport her.

This is a decent puzzler and both Zetterling and Murray play the scenes they share together well – the sister’s reactions abruptly changing from delight as they’re reunited after many years apart to suspicion as each apparently begins to mistrust the other.

If one were in nit-picking mode, then it’s slightly hard to believe that no-one has been able to vouch for Nadia Sandor. No doubt she’s rarely travelled abroad, but given that she’s fairly eminent in her field, would she never have been photographed in the newspapers or met any Western scientists?

As it turns out, Gerda is revealed to be a spy which secures Nadia’s place in Britain. But maybe a more devious writer would have ensured they were both imposters, with the exposure of one as a spy helping to strengthen the identity of the other.

The ‘shock’ late return of Radek, working with Gerda, helps to wrap things up. Gerda pleads with Drake not to send her back home, but Drake is implacable. We never learn her fate (or that of Radek) but Drake tells her that “when you play this sort of game, you must expect to pay the consequences”. Ouch.

In addition to Zetterling, Murray and Tafler, the always reliable Anthony Dawson makes a brief appearance, meaning that The Sisters doesn’t skimp on acting talent. It might be another of those episodes that really could have breathed had it had double the running time, but it’s still an above average effort.

Danger Man – Position of Trust

Drake is in El Dura, a Middle Eastern country whose government has grown rich from the sale of heroin. Determined to stop the flood of these narcotics into the US, Drake enlists the reluctant assistance of Captain Aldrich (Donald Pleasence), a minor official in the El Dura government, who has the information Drake needs ….

Once again there’s no voice over during this episode and there’s another sign that the series is becoming more confident that the audience will get quickly up to speed (the episode opens with a brief establishing shot of New York but there’s no onscreen caption to hammer this point home).

Drake’s clearly knows New York well (several people call him Johnny, which is a tad disconcerting) although his stay today is brief. Calling on an old friend, Paul (John Phililps), he’s horrified to learn that Paul’s daughter is now a junkie. This is revealed in a striking – if rather melodramatic – way. Paul, in his luxurious apartment, lingers over a photo of his daughter on the sideboard (youthful, smiling) before showing Drake another photo (a police mugshot of his now hopeless looking daughter).

After deciding that rounding up the pushers will do no good, Drake heads off to El Dura, intent on extracting a list of the organsations the government sells the heroin to. The drug aspect of the story then becomes a Macguffin (the list could be about anything) as from now on the episode centres around the manipulation of the hapless Aldrich.

Pleasence’s second Danger Man appearance is a memorable one and he’s responsible for making the episode so watchable. Aldrich is a British ex-pat, ex-public schoolboy who pretends that he holds a position of trust (as per the episode’s title) but is nothing more than a minor clerk, barely tolerated by his superiors.

Drake decides to gain his trust by posing as an old boy from the same public school (so McGoohan gets to drop the American accent for a while and try out an English one). Aldrich is pathetically grateful to meet anyone from the old country and immediately latches onto Drake. The question is then posed as to why Aldrich has never returned home – we’re not given a definite answer but the arrival of Mrs Aldrich (Irene Prador) strongly hints that since his wife is a local, he might be concerned about the welcome she’d receive in the UK.

Austrian born Prador (possibly best known for playing Mrs Lemenski in Dear John) provides subtle support to Pleasance. Both Mr and Mrs Aldrich seem to be decent people, which makes Drake’s ruthless manipulation of Captain Aldrich all the more cruel (Drake no doubt believes that the ends justify the means).

Having plied Aldrich with drink and encouraged him to lose heavily at the roulette table, he’s now forced by Drake (back with the American accent) to steal the document he needs. That Aldrich is no sneak thief is confirmed by the fact that he walks out of the office with the secret file in full view – immediately alerting Fawzi (Martin Benson).

A comedy then plays out in which Drake manages to manipulate Fawzi, the end result being that Drake and Mr and Mrs Aldrich are unable to be charged but will be deported by an irritated government immediately. Drake promises to use his contacts to find Aldrich a new job (who, after realising the horror of the heroin trade, has now regained his self respect).

Everything’s wrapped up neatly then, although you could argue that it’s just too neat. Maybe later in the series’ run the innocent Aldrich might have been sacrificed, giving us a downbeat ending, but here everything concludes happily.

With Lois Maxwell also featuring strongly as Drake’s local contact Sandi Lewis, Position of Trust is a compact and satisfying script by Jo Eisinger (one of six he wrote for the first series).

Danger Man – The Journey Ends Halfway

Drake is in an unspecified Asian country, attempting to discover why refugees fleeing to freedom disappear somewhere along the escape route. The easiest way to find out the truth is to pose as a refugee, but that’s also the most dangerous ….

Given that we’re in Chinese territory, I have to confess to suffering a twinge of anxiety. Which Caucasian actors would be adopting the “me velly solly” roles today? But actually we get off fairly lightly with only Willoughby Goddard forced to look faintly ridiculous.

Elsewhere, there’s the usual crop of British based actors (Anthony Chinn, Ric Young and of course the sainted Burt Kwouk) who could always be guaranteed to pop up in a story of this kind and add a touch of authenticity. Kwouk, as the easily bribed hotel receptionist, gives an entertaining turn as does Anna May Wong as Miss Lee, today’s damsel in distress.

Miss Lee is one of many seeking to escape the oppressive regime of the unnamed government. She doesn’t feature greatly, but at least her presence gives Drake something to fight for.

One interesting thing to note about the episode is that Drake isn’t called upon to move the plot along via voice overs. This device has been used fairly regularly in the previous episodes and can sometimes be a little irritating, although it wasn’t uncommon during half hour series of this era, where movement from scene to scene had to be rapid (see also Dial 999, which regularly used the VO method).

There’s not a great deal of mystery in the story as the pre-credits sequence reveals what happens to the unfortunate refugees – half way across the river they’re murdered and robbed of their valuables.

This is where the finer aspects of the plot start to niggle away at me. McFadden (Willoughby Goddard) tells Drake that he believes there’s a traitor in the organisation, but it becomes plain that there’s problems at both ends of the escape route.

Dr. Bakalter (Paul Daneman) looks to be one of the white hats – arranging Drake’s escape but asking for no payment – but it’s not terribly shocking to learn later that he’s one of the baddies. This revelation causes me to ponder over more plot niggles. If the refugees don’t pay Bakalter, then how does he know whether they’re carrying anything of value? Given that we’re clearly in a Communist state, surely most of those wishing to flee wouldn’t have a great deal of money anyway (plus if you murder all of your clients it can’t be long before someone starts to notice).

Let’s be generous and assume that only certain wealthy refugees were given the machine gun treatment and the poorer ones reached the other side of the lake.

When not worrying about the plot, there’s always Patrick McGoohan’s performance to enjoy. Posing as an engineer, he adopts a very interesting accent although he doesn’t keep it going for long. I also enjoyed Drake’s interlude in the steam baths, where he luckily came up with the right answers (had he not, he might have been fried to a crisp!). His bamboozling of the local police also entertains, allowing McGoohan a chance to play broad (something which so far in the series he hasn’t been able to do very often)

Ian Stuart Black’s script is competent enough and it’s always a pleasure to see Paul Daneman, but I have to confess that The Journey Ends Halfway doesn’t really catch fire for me.

Danger Man – Under the Lake

Large sums of counterfeit currency have begun to flood the world’s markets. Drake shadows the chief suspect, General Gunther von Klaus (Christopher Rhodes), and finds that his attractive daughter, Mitzi (Moira Redmond), provides him with some cover. But not for long ….

My interest was piqued right from the pre-credits teaser. It begins with POV shots of someone searching for something – after they find a suitcase stuffed with banknotes the door opens and a typically icy-looking Roger Delgado guns the unfortunate searcher down before he can utter a word. That’s a decent opening, especially since the promise of more Delgado to come is always an appealing one.

Drake gets several chances to exercise his charm on Mitzi, although theirs is a very chaste relationship. Other series might have gone further and featured more manipulation, but things are quite innocent here. As for von Klaus, Drake’s charm hits a brick wall as the General remains impervious to his polite social entreaties.

This means that von Klaus is a rather colourless character for the first half of the story, speaking only infrequently and then quite abruptly. But things begin to evolve once the action moves to the Sea Hotel, located on the shores of Lake Geneva.

This is where Delgado (playing hotel owner Von Golling) reappears and it quickly becomes clear that all Von Golling’s staff are equally as villainous as he is (Walter Gotell as the receptionist, for example). But there’s something of a dichotomy here – on the one hand the hotel caters for the rich and seems to have a good reputation, but on the other we see that Von Golling isn’t adverse to killing off his guests if they discover too much. Surely that will affect bookings ….

Drake and von Klaus take a cable car to the top of the mountain in a key scene which swiftly reverses the dynamic between the pair. Initially von Klaus has the upper hand, taunting Drake with the possibility that he could fall or be pushed from a great height before Drake drops his cowed act and establishes control.

This scene confirms that although von Klaus is the frontman of the money scam he isn’t in charge. Drake senses that he’s been coerced somewhere along the line and offers him a way out (although he’s never given a chance to repent as Von Golling murders him as soon as he returns to the hotel). I’d like to have had a little more detail about von Klaus’ motivations, but as ever with the 25 minute format, the clock is ticking.

The episode climaxes with a tense standoff as Drake and Mitzi are hunted through the deserted hotel by Von Golling and his henchman. I know it’s been established that many of the guests have set off on a boat trip, but it slightly stretches credibility that absolutely everyone has gone.

Never mind, the police turn up in the nick of time and all’s well, except that Drake has to (off-screen) break the news of her father’s death to Mitzi. As for the mystery of the money, the clue’s in the episode title (a secret stash of Nazi banknotes which I’m surprised haven’t turned into a sodden mess after being underwater for twenty five years).

This is another strong Jack Whittingham script that clips along at a fair rate. As I’ve said, it would have been nice to have dug into the character of von Klaus a little more, but that’s about the only niggle I have.

The cast is a strong one and in addition to those already mentioned, there’s a nice comic turn from Hermione Baddeley as a garrulous American tourist. With a brief bit of location filming at Portmeirion, this has to rate as one of the strongest from the first series.

Danger Man – Time to Kill

Drake is assigned to eliminate Hans Vogeler (Derren Nesbitt), an assassin responsible for a number of recent kills. He’s reluctant to murder him in cold blood (electing instead to bring Vogeler to justice) but an unexpected chain of events looks like it will force his hand ….

Carl Jaffe (as the unfortunate Professor Barkoff) is today’s actor killed off before the opening credits roll. His death is dramatic, although it’s also slightly comic (see the expression on Barkoff’s face as he slowly sinks to the floor). It’s plain from first sight that Vogeler is an expert – cigarette in mouth, he lines up his target with an almost contemptuous ease.

Drake’s refusal to kill Vogeler chimed with McGoohan’s own feelings on the subject, but it’s also fair to say that the television climate of 1960 probably wouldn’t have countenanced the thought of Drake acting as an assassin. David Callan did so later during the 1960’s, but ITC shows (always with one eye on foreign sales) tended to be more conservative.

It’s learnt that Vogeler has gone bear hunting in Austria, so Drake is dispatched to track him down. Oswestry in Wales stands in for Austria and does so rather well. This is an episode with a hefty amount of film work, although it’s a pity that we have to keep returning to the studio for the dialogue scenes as the transition between film and studio is always going to be noticeable.

Austria is a police state where travel is strictly regulated (the eagle eyed will spot a young Edward Hardwicke playing one of the frontier guards). En route to his destination Drake is waylaid by Lisa Orin (Sarah Lawson), who appears to be a friendly sort of person.

This is the point of the story where you start to wonder about Lisa’s motivations. Drake’s been told that travel along a particular strip of road is forbidden after 4 pm and yet Lisa managed to follow him after this cut-off point. How had she done this and why does she speak the local language so fluently? Everything seems to suggest that she’s an enemy agent, assigned to keep tabs on Drake. And yet …

I like the scene where Drake, having pulled off the road, assembles his rifle. Parts of it are hidden inside several loaves of bread and the rest are scattered about in various different places (in the torch, inside the boot of the car). It’s another little James Bond touch (the episode in general has a feel of the short story For Your Eyes Only).

More homages seem to be in order after Lisa innocently discovers part of Drake’s rifle and a passing patrolman handcuffs them together. Drake knocks out the patrolman and drags the unwilling Lisa cross-country in order to complete his mission (take your pick from The Defiant Ones or The 39 Steps).

Given that Drake is now handicapped with Lisa, it looks like he’ll have to kill Vogeler. But if she wasn’t present, just what was his plan to get him out of the country? And how would the rifle had helped? These are questions to which there’s no particular answer.

After some toing and froing, Drake and Vogeler struggle over possession of another rifle. It goes off and Vogeler dies (killed accidentally by his own hand). You can either view this as poetic justice or a bit of a cop out (the baddy is dead but Drake hasn’t had to soil his own hands).

Even as we get to the end of the story, Lisa’s involvement seems a little hard to credit. Presumably the programme-makers also felt this, as the episode ends with a brief voice-over from Drake confirming that she really was nothing more than an innocent schoolteacher.

Sarah Lawson (who later made several memorable appearances in Callan as Flo Mayhew) provides a good counterpoint to Patrick McGoohan’s dour Drake. And although Derren Nesbitt’s screentime is limited, he’s still able to radiate sneering menace with ease. And I’ll award bonus points for Vogeler’s Austrian hat.

A decent script by Brian Clemens and Ian Stuart Black then, but it’s one where the 25 minute format feels a tad constrictive. A little more time spent with the handcuffed Drake and Lisa, developing their differing views on the rights and wrongs of killing, would have strengthened the episode considerably.

Danger Man – Find and Return

The British Government are keen to extradite Vanessa Stewart (Moira Lister), who they accuse of treason. She’s fled to the Middle Eastern state of Beth Ja Brin and Drake is tasked with the job of bringing her back home, by any means necessary ….

It’s plain that Drake and the British Government’s representative, Hardy (Richard Wattis), don’t get on. Drake’s insouciant body language during their meeting is evidence of this, as is the way he occasionally stops bantering to reveal his colder personality. This scene (and a few others in the episode) could almost be McGoohan’s rehearsal for the role of James Bond, although given his distaste for the character that was never a possibility.

Drake’s contact in Beth Ja Brin is Nikolides. He’s played by Donald Pleasence, which is a major plus point in this episode’s favour. Nikolides initially gives off a faintly comic air – grumbling about his unpaid expenses – but, as we’ll see later, he has a ruthlessness which belies his placid demeanour.

In addition to Pleasence’s excellent turn, there’s a brief appearance by Warren Mitchell as Stashig. He’s a member of the opposition who’s also been given orders to locate and extract Vanessa. Mitchell lights up the screen for the few minutes he appears, deftly establishing Stashig’s friendly rivalry with Drake. Stashig is murdered off-screen by Nikolides, who reports the news to Drake in a calm, matter-of-fact way – allowing a good moment for McGoohan to register, briefly, shock and rage.

Drake dons a white dinner jacket for a trip to the casino, once again playing the James Bond role well, especially when he indulges in a spot of baccarat with Vanessa. Mind you, I’m surprised that the casino not only allowed his bet without any apparent security but didn’t seem bothered about making him pay up after he lost!

Paul Stassino and Zena Marshall also feature, as Mr and Mrs Ramfi. Ramfi is a wealthy industrialist who is hiding Vanessa in his well-guarded mansion whilst Mrs Ramfi glowers at the way her husband has been captivated by this outsider. Neither character is particularly fleshed out, Ramfi’s longing for the trappings of British high society being his defining trait.

Given that Moira Lister was the episode’s main guest star, it’s slightly surprising that Vanessa remains off-screen for a large part of the episode, only really making an impression during the last few minutes. But even though McGoohan and Lister don’t have a great deal to do together, there’s still an appealing spark between Drake and Vanessa.

Returning Vanessa to England with embarrassing ease, Drake then demonstrates his independent spirit by burning her passport (if he’d handed it over to Hardy it would have put another eight years on her jail sentence).

We never learn exactly what Vanessa did, but her defence (that she isn’t a British subject, despite owning a British passport) is one that Drake accepts instantly. Without knowing more about her case, it’s hard to know whether he’s been wise or foolhardy. But it’s a sign that he’s always prepared to trust his instinct.

Danger Man – View from the Villa

Drake’s holiday in Rome is cut short after he’s asked to investigate the murder of a banker called Frank Delroy (Philip Latham). It appears that Delroy, a man of previously unimpeachable character, has somehow managed to steal five million dollars worth of gold bullion. The location of the gold is currently unknown and the only lead for Drake is Delroy’s mistress, a witness to the murder whose identity is a mystery ….

Philip Latham is the latest quality actor who doesn’t make it past the opening credits. He’s given one slap too many by Mego (Colin Douglas), which is unfortunate since he hasn’t yet told Mego’s employer – Tony Mayne (John Lee) – where the gold is hidden. Douglas, not gifted any dialogue throughout the episode, is suitably imposing although there’s something faintly comic about Mego (maybe it’s the hat – see the Doctor Who story City of Death for further evidence that it’s hard to be a convincing heavy when you wear a hat).

Plot-wise, this script by Ralph Smart and Brian Clemens is a little lacking. We never learn why the whiter-than-white Delroy decides to suddenly risk everything by stealing the gold (nor how he did it). Also, Mayne’s connection with Delroy isn’t made clear. We do later discover that Mayne is in cahoots with Delroy’s estranged wife Stella (a wonderfully acid performance from Delphi Lawrence) although as she clearly loathes her husband with a passion, it’s unlikely he would have confided his nefarious plans to her.

The flat where Delroy was murdered contains several items of women’s clothing. Drake takes them to the shop where they came from and speaks to the proprietor, Gina Scarlotti (Barbara Shelley). She seems to do her best to help him, but every clue Drake is given turns out to be a frustrating dead end. Shelley’s performance has an appealing touch of vulnerability (it shouldn’t come as a shock to learn that Gina was Delroy’s mistress) although the fact Shelley is dubbed throughout is a bit of a problem.

In addition to the usual stock footage shots, there’s some nice work with a backcloth during a restaurant scene which helps to sell the illusion that we’re in Rome. That’s strengthened thanks to several minutes of location filming at Portmeirion. Clearly this location was filed away for later use ….

The episode climaxes with an entertaining punch up – Drake takes on Mayne and Mego and wins (although he has a helping hand from Gina, who shoots Mayne before he can do Drake any serious harm). The mystery of the missing gold is also resolved, although it’s best not to dwell on this part of the story too much.

Gina is insistent that she knows nothing about the gold, but it’s found remarkably easily in her holiday home. Delroy hid it in a packing case under a pile of books. Hmm. Given that this amount of bullion would be rather heavy (to put it mildly) just how did he get it all the way from Rome and inside her villa without anyone noticing?

Danger Man – The Key

John Drake is in Vienna, working with the American Ambassador (Charles Carson) in order to discover who’s been leaking US secrets. All the evidence points to newspaperman Harry Logan (Robert Flemyng) but Drake isn’t convinced …

Having recently completed a brisk rewatch of The Prisoner, it makes sense to rewind a little and tackle Danger Man as well, although given that this series has far more episodes it’ll be a slightly lengthier undertaking.

Still, we’re on familiar ground as the first actor we see is Peter Swanwick (“orange alert”, that was his catchphrase). But Swanwick doesn’t have much to do as his character (Joe) is snuffed out by Alexis Buller (Charles Gray) before the opening credits roll.

The 25 minute format obviously doesn’t give you a great deal of time to develop plot or characters, but I’ve few complaints with Jack Whittingham’s The Key. Keeping the cast small helps in this respect – although the downside is that it’s not too hard to work out whodunnit.

But there are a few misdirects along the way. Since the unfortunate Joe knew all about the secrets leaked, I wondered if his death was significant. But unless I’ve missed something it seems not (indeed, I’m not quite sure why Joe was killed or why Drake, upon learning that Joe had access to the secrets, didn’t consider that his murder was worth investigating). Drake then briefly wonders if the Ambassador might be guilty (the British born Carson appears to be dubbed throughout – maybe American accents weren’t his forte).

Both Logan and his wife Maria (Monique Ahrens) are charming, so they too seem to be out of the running. But since we’ve dismissed all the possibilities, something isn’t right – and eventually Maria is revealed to be the spy.

After Drake, apparently simply making idle conversation earlier in the episode, discovers that her family still lives in Budapest it seems obvious that she’s been blackmailed by the authorities (with the continued well-being of her family used as a lever). A tearful Maria later tells her husband this, and the episode looks to be almost wrapped up.

The additional twist – Maria is in love with Buller and has been playing Logan for a fool – is well done (I admit that I didn’t see it coming). Both Robert Flemyng and Monique Ahrens are excellent throughout and it’s surprising to learn that Ahrens only clocked up a handful of  film and television credits, as she’s very effective here.

The ending – Logan and Drake eavesdrop on an intimate conversation between Maria and Buller – is a memorable one. Neither Logan or Drake are called upon to say anything but the range of emotions that flit across Flemyng’s face as he learns the truth speaks volumes. With just a brief, downbeat spot of narration from Drake, that wraps things up.

The James Bond movies might have kickstarted the insatiable appetite for spy films and tv series during the 1960’s, but it’s worth remembering that Danger Man got there first (this episode aired in late 1960).

The Adventures of The Scarlet Pimpernel – The Hostage

Swashbuckling series were a staple part of ITV’s early schedules. The undoubted king of the genre was Richard Greene’s Robin Hood, whIch notched up an impressive 144 episodes between 1955 and 1960.

Marius Goring’s Scarlet Pimpernel began his adventuring just two days after Robin Hood’s debut (both made their first appearances shortly after ITV launched in September 1955) but the elusive Pimpernel would turn out to have a much shorter run with just 19 episodes.

Possibly this was because the basic parameters of the series – Sir Percy Blakeney aka the Scarlet Pimpernel rescuing guillotine bound aristocrats – was narrower than some of the other swashbucklers.

But although the 25 minute running time would be a bit restricting in terms of character development (a problem with all series of this type) The Scarlet Pimpernel still breezes along quite effectively, as even the most routine tale tends to be enlivened by some familiar faces making fleeting appearances (today it was Robert Shaw with Yvonne Furneaux as the damsel in distress).

Stanley Van Beers plays it straight as Chauvelin, the Pimpernel’s nemesis, who is set to be a forbidding presence throughout the series. Given that the series format was set in stone from the start – the Pimpernel will always triumph and Chauvelin will always be frustrated – it’ll be interesting to see how the pair interact as the episodes wear on,

And although he’s not present in this one, the fact that Patrick Troughton appears in 15 episodes is another good reason for watching.

The plot of The Hostage is pretty straightforward. The Pimpernel rescues Suzanne de Fleury (Furneaux) without breaking a sweat, but she refuses to depart for England and safety until her young son (held by Chauvelin as a hostage) is also freed.

Unsurprisingly, the Pimpernel also manages this – but along the way Marius Goring drops in a number of deft touches (the Pimpernel’s chaste appreciation of Suzanne, for example) that helps to enliven Ralph Gilbert Bettison’s teleplay. Bettison, an American refugee, would end up penning the majority of the series.

For the curious who are interested in investigating the series, it’s available via Network from this link.

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) – My Late Lamented Friend and Partner (21st September 1969)

Few ITC series have seen their fortunes rise quite so dramatically over the years as R & H (D). Today it’s a beloved example of the ITC adventure show genre but when the series was first broadcast it was a very different story.

The critical response was muted (but that was par for the course with most ITC series, which tended to be viewed with a mixture of contempt and irritation at their transatlantic aspirations). But there’s no real evidence that the series found an appreciative audience either, although the fact the show wasn’t networked didn’t help. It was very quickly packed off into off peak slots in many of the regions – either late night or morning/afternoon.

Two repeat runs (on ITV in the eighties and BBC2 in the nineties) were key to introducing the series to a new audience (and possibly reminding some of those who had caught it first time round that it wasn’t all bad).

Ralph Smart’s My Late Lamented Friend and Partner is an affective opener, in that the premise of the series is established quickly and efficiently. Marty Hopkirk (Kenneth Cope) is murdered, leaving his business partner Jeff Randall (Mike Pratt) and his wife Jeannie Hopkirk (Annette Andre) both bereft.

But Marty can’t rest easy until his murderer is brought to justice and so decides to return to Earth to help Jeff, who’s the only one who can see or hear him (although this rule is broken before a few episodes are out).

The series would always tread a line between drama and comedy, as Cope’s penchant for humour was never far from the surface. Mind you, Pratt deadpans very nicely, so it’s not quite a case of a comic and straight man.

This first case is played pretty straight though. John Sorrensen (Frank Windsor) has paid a fat fee to have his wife murdered and when Marty appears to guess the truth he has to die as well. Casting Windsor, an actor best known for working on the other side of the law, was a good move, even if he’s not called upon to do a great deal more than glower menacingly.

Several other familiar faces breeze through the story – notably Ronald Lacey as a beardy beatnik (given the once over by R&H) and Dolores Mantez.

The undoubted highlight of the episode is Jeff’s first meeting with the ghostly Marty. This is built up slowly, with the grieving Jeff receiving several disturbing phone calls from a beyond the grave Marty. Eventually he’s drawn to a wonderfully misty graveyard in the dead of night in order to meet his spectral friend.

Immediately after this scene ends we cut to Jeff waking up in bed, which poses the possibility that maybe it was all a dream. That’s quickly negated though, so the mystery of whether Jeff is really being haunted or is just hallucinating isn’t a major part of the episode. Which is a slight shame as there was some dramatic potential there.

The shadowy murder organisation is run to ground in a rather perfunctory fashion, but then the episode’s not really about the crime, it’s much more concerned with setting up the series’ format. And there’s no real problems on that score (although it takes a few episodes before Cope’s wig settles down).

Special Branch – Exit A Diplomat (26th November 1969)

Mira Kobylnova (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), the wife of a Czech diplomat, is arrested on a shoplifting charge. Since she carries diplomatic status, no charges can be brought – so why did she do it? Jordan discovers that she’s seeking asylum for herself and her husband ….

Exit A Diplomat is a slow-burner of a story. To begin with it’s difficult to feel too invested in Mira’s travails, but over time – as Jordan continues to question her – she begins to earn a little more sympathy. Since we don’t meet her husband until more than half way through the episode, we’re wholly dependent on her portrait of him until then. Does he really face censure (albeit not prison) when he returns home? And if so, does he actually want asylum or is Mira the one pushing him?

When Jan Kobylnova finally turns up, he’s played by the always reassuring George Pravda.  Pravda was an actor rarely out of work during the sixties and seventies, due to his ability to play characters from numerous Eastern European countries. He adds a touch of class to the story, despite having considerably less screen-time than Barbara Leigh-Hunt (who also gives a solid performance throughout).

Jordan drives this story, with Inman largely sitting it out (although he does enjoy a decent scene where he gives Jordan a hard time). There’s also a surprising moment towards the end of the episode as we drop in on Inman enjoying a sauna (luckily a towel covers his modesty). Moxon – fully clothed – pays him a visit, advising that any attempt by Special Branch to contact Kobylnova before he boards the plane home should be discouraged.

The reason for this is a neat one – Moxon has already recruited Jan Kobylna as a spy for the British, so any interference by Special Branch could jeopardise months of planning.  This is therefore another of those stories which would have been a lot shorter had Moxon decided to be less stringent about who needs to know what ….

Exit A Diplomat feels pretty low key but there are some definite highlights. For example, Jordan’s interrogation of Mira (despite Derren Nesbitt stumbling over his lines a little). The private meeting between Mira and Jan at the police station (well sort of private, since Jordan’s standing very close by) is nicely played by both Leigh-Hunt and Pravda. Moxon’s meeting with Bilak (Gary Watson) also catches the eye – a big wheel at the Czech embassy, he seems to be one of the few people to ever discomfort Moxon (although by that point, all the pieces of the puzzle hadn’t fallen into place).

There’s also an early screen credit for Cheryl Hall. Despite the fact it’s a blink and you’ll miss it part, she makes an impression as a shrill young shoplifter (who’s afforded far less courtesy than Mira).

Once again the episode ends in a downbeat fashion, with Jordan unaware why the mission to shadow Kobylnova has been aborted. He confides to Morrisey that they’ll probably never know, suggesting that Inman – like Moxon – knows how to keep a secret.