Man in a Suitcase – Brainwash

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McGill is lured into a trap by Colonel Davies (Howard Marion-Crawford) and his associate John (Colin Blakely).  Davies was, until 1958, the white leader of an African nation called Iquala.  Following a coup he was ousted and remains a bitter man.  He knows that McGill, at the time working for American intelligence, was present in Iquala and wants him to sign a confession confirming that the coup was organised by American and British intelligence. McGill proves to be a tough nut to crack though ……

Brainwash features a character that wasn’t an uncommon one for ITC adventure series of the time.  Variations of Colonel Davies can be found in series such as Danger Man and The Saint – men who don’t realise that their time has passed and that the days of the British empire are long over.  When Davies asks McGill what he believes Iquala now stands for, he’s far from impressed by the American’s reply of “democracy”.

Whether McGill was involved in an American plot to oust Davies is irrelevant – we know that McGill will never betray his people by signing the confession (even though they abandoned him) and it’s also plain that Davies is little more than a tired (and sick) man.

John’s motivations remain nebulous for a while.  Although nominally subservient, he clearly sees himself as the power behind the throne.  He also enjoys his work – John is a sadist and delights in attempting to push McGill over the edge by whatever means necessary (drugs, sleep deprivation, etc).  At one point he discusses how, back in the old days, his methods of gaining information were much cruder but just as effective.  He then provides us with the statement used so often during the decades – he was only ever obeying Davies’ orders.

The other main character is Judy (Suzan Farmer).  Initially presented as little more than a maid, it’s later revealed that she’s Davies’ daughter.  She clearly loves her father, but is conflicted when she sees how McGill is suffering.  As for McGill, he regards her as a possible way out and threatens to kill her.  In a key scene, he strangles her whilst John looks on, amused, from a hidden observation point.  This poses several questions – would McGill really have killed her or was John right when he later told Davies that Judy was never in danger?  It’s very possible to believe that John would have been happy to sit and watch McGill murder the girl.  And it’s also notable that few other ITC stars would have acted in such a brutal manner.

As for McGill, he’s put through the wringer as the episode proceeds and Bradford is typically good at showing McGill’s gradual disintegration (as he becomes unkempt, sweaty, bruised and blooded).  The eventual revelation – that the dying Davies wants to be murdered by McGill and become a martyr – is a decent twist which confirms just how deluded the former leader of Iquala has become.  And for McGill there’s no particular victory, he’s just content to stagger away still alive.

Richard Bradford (1934 – 2016)

2016 has been a wretched year so far for losing people from the era of television that I love and the death of Richard Bradford (1934-2016) is yet another sad passing.

Probably best known for Man in a Suitcase, Bradford’s American method acting might not always have won him friends amongst some of his fellow crewmembers, but it certainly helped to elevate what would otherwise have been a rather standard ITC adventure series.

But thanks to Bradford’s insistence of throwing punches for real and looking like he was actually suffering, the series stood apart from its contemporaries.

So time to dig out the DVD to spin an episode in tribute.  RIP.

Return of the Saint – The Debt Collectors

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After Simon comes to the aid of a runaway horse ridden by Jeri Hanson (Mary Tamm), he finds himself embroiled in the murky world of espionage.  Jeri’s sister Christine (Diane Keen) was convicted of passing military secrets and is six years into a prison sentence.  But just one day before she’s due to be released on parole she escapes.

This was engineered by Sir Charles Medley (Geoffrey Keen) of the Ministry of Defence.  Jeri tells Simon she’s convinced her sister is innocent and it appears that Sir Charles arranged Christine’s prison-break in order to flush out a traitor in MI5.  But who can be trusted?  In the world of intelligence, things are not always as they appear to be …..

The Debt Collectors was written by George Markstein.  Given his background (script-editor/writer on series such as The Prisoner, Callan and Mr Palfrey of Westminster) it’s no surprise that he delivered a dense story set in the world of British Intelligence.

And after finding some of the previous episodes to be rather linear and straightforward, it’s a pleasure to have one where people’s motivations aren’t immediately obvious.  Things appear to open normally enough, with Simon coming to the rescue of an attractive young woman.  But she’s under surveillance and when Simon is later told not to speak to her again this only strengthens his interest.

By the time this aired, in December 1978, Mary Tamm was already more than half-way through her single season as Romana in Doctor Who.  Here, she seems to be the archetypal ROTS heroine – her function in the plot being little more than providing a decorative presence and also the excuse for the Saint to become involved in the story – but there’s a twist in the tale later.

Of more immediate interest is Diane Keen as Christine.  An actress who hardly seemed to be off the television screens in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, her first scene (behind prison bars) sees her playing a hard-bitten old lag.  This is rather a stretch for Keen and it’s no surprise that once she goes over the wall Christine becomes much more of a vulnerable character.

With the revelation that there could be a traitor in MI5, several possibilities present themselves.  There’s Sir Charles and also Simon’s MI5 contact Geoffrey Connaught (Anton Rodgers).  Geoffrey Keen, best known today for playing the Minster in the James Bond films, is perfect casting and Rodgers, later to carve a niche as a sit-com performer, shares some decent scenes with Ogilvy.

The story does have a few niggling plot-holes.  Why was Christine stuck in prison for six years before Sir Charles elected to use her to flush out the mole?  And since she was due to be released the following day why engineer a prison break?  If she’s on the run then presumably that makes her more of a target for the mole.  But since she doesn’t know his identity, Christine is ultimately something of a red-herring.

Whilst the looseness of the plot (which is a little surprising given Markstein’s background as a script-editor) is a slight irritation, there’s more than enough happening to negate these quibbles.  Apart from the already mentioned performers, the likes of Neil McCarthy (a familiar television face) and Bob Shearman (best-known for his regular role in The Sandbaggers) help to bolster an already impressive cast.

The Debt Collectors is a cut above the average ROTS script and rates four halos out of five.

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Return of the Saint – Tower Bridge is Falling Down

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Jenny Stewart (Fiona Curzon) is concerned about her father Charlie (Sam Kydd), so she turns to the Saint for help.  Charlie has been having disagreements with his business partner Ray Dennis (John Woodvine).  The two of them built up a thriving building firm but Charlie is convinced that Dennis has conned him out of a substantial sum of money.

Dennis is a highly amoral figure and after a brief fight with Charlie he has no compunction in leaving him in a building scheduled for demolition.  And when Charlie’s lifeless body is recovered from the rubble Simon vows to exact the maximum amount of revenge on Dennis.  So he puts his plan into action – an elaborate con involving transporting Tower Bridge to America ……

Written by the creator of Minder, Leon Griffiths, Tower Bridge is Falling Down was his sole contribution to the series.  It’s basically Hustle, thirty years early, and it sees Simon posing as Sir Malcom Street, a top government official.  In order to hook Dennis effectively, first Simon contrives to lose ten thousand pounds to him at a rigged poker game.

And when the man he believes to be Sir Malcolm proves unable to settle his debt Dennis is slowly reeled into the con.  This involves his company being awarded the contract to demolish Tower Bridge (provided he can sweeten the deal by paying Sir Malcolm off).

All the familiar tricks from a normal episode of Hustle are present and correct.  For example, Sir Malcolm is a real person and the Saint brazenly takes over his office in order to meet with Dennis.  And as so often happens, the real Sir Malcolm returns just as the Saint is leaving (the two pass each other in the corridor).  Dennis is easy to con because, as seen in Hustle every week, he’s a greedy man.  Had he been honest then he wouldn’t have fallen for Simon’s ploy, but he sees the chance to make a quick and illegal profit and jumps at it.

It’s a pity that Leon Griffiths didn’t contribute any further scripts (although he would have been busy at the time setting up Minder).  John Woodvine is excellent as Ray Dennis.  Dennis’ lack of morality is clear right from the pre-credits sequence when he casually disposes of Charlie Stewart and although he isn’t the most complex of characters, Woodvine still manages to dominate proceedings whenever he’s on the screen.  A chilling moment occurs when he threatens to permanently disfigure Jenny if she doesn’t reveal Simon’s whereabouts.  It’s obvious from the parameters of the series that this is a threat which won’t be carried out, but Woodvine is intense enough to make you believe for just a few seconds that it might.

Alfie Bass, as Sammy, has a nice role as a con-man who works with Simon to rope Dennis in (he’s the sort of character that could easily have cropped up in Minder or indeed Hustle).  And although Simon’s involvement is down to Jenny, for once this is a very male-dominated episode and she only takes a minor role in proceedings.

It”s a pity that the con doesn’t play out to the end, since Dennis learns about Simon’s true identity.  This means there’s a more traditional conclusion (a punch up) followed by Ray Dennis’ arrest for murder.  Whether his confession about Charlie’s murder (secretly taped by Simon) would actually have stood up in court is a moot point, so it would have been more dramatically satisfying for him to have been conned.

Even allowing for this, thanks to John Woodvine and the unusual plot, Tower Bridge is Falling Down rates four halos out of five.

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Return of the Saint – The Roman Touch

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Michelle (Kim Goody) is deeply unhappy.  She may be an international singing star, with a string of hit records to her name, but she’s also worn out thanks to a grinding schedule of tours and recording sessions.  Michelle doesn’t even have the satisfaction of having made any money, due to the repressive contract she signed with her manager Bruno (Laurence Luckinbill).

Simon’s known her since she was a teenager and is anxious to help.  So he kidnaps her …..

The Roman Touch sees the return of the old-style Saint.  Although he kidnaps her with the best of intentions (he demands a ransom from Bruno of a million dollars, which is enough to pay Michelle the money she’s owed and also cover his expenses) it’s still an example of him operating on the wrong side of the law.  This is something of a rarity in ROTS, where he tended to be allied with the authorities more often than not.

Kim Goody, an actress with some musical talent, is perfect casting as Michelle.  Whilst her career in the music business is painted with broad brushstrokes (complete with a grasping manager) she still manages to give some solidity to her character.  Linda Thorson plays Diamond, her personal assistant.  At first she seems to be yet another person who is interested only in exploiting Michelle, but over time it becomes clear that she has her best interests at heart.

Simon’s attempts to help Michelle are hindered by the local Mafia, headed by Capo (Danielle Vargas).  The script is obviously written to present them as the villains of the piece – which is negated when Capo reveals that Michelle is his daughter and he’s been secretly keeping watch over her.  This is quite a neat reversal – as is the fact the somebody kidnaps Michelle again (with Simon unable to stop them).

Another foreign episode, the sunny visuals help the episode no end (had it taken place in rainy London it may not have been so effective).  But the basic problem is that there’s no particular tension since it’s obvious that Simon will rescue Michelle.  The question isn’t if he’ll do it, but how.  For a formula series like ROTS, predictability of events can be an issue and after an interesting setup things plays out pretty much as you might expect.

Nothing earth-shattering then, but solid enough.  The Roman Touch rates three halos out of five.

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Return of the Saint – Signal Stop

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Simon Templar and Janie Lennox (Ciaran Madden) are both passengers on a train bound for London.  When the train stops at a signal, Janie sees what she believes to be a murder taking place in a nearby warehouse.  Simon, who moments earlier was wishing that something would happen to break the monotony, is naturally intrigued.

The next day, Simon, Janie and the police travel to the building – but the body that Simon and Janie found earlier in the day is no longer there.  Inspector Grant (Frederick Jaeger) later tells Simon that since Janie has a history of psychiatric illness it’s probable her story was nothing more than a delusion.

Following on from the picture-postcard stylings of The Imprudent Professor, Signal Stop has a very different feel.  Most of the story takes place in dirty or run-down locations – an abandoned warehouse, a scrap-yard, etc which gives it something of a Sweeney/Professionals feel.

Just as The Arrangement owed more than a little to the novel Strangers on a Train, Signal Stop also seems to have been inspired by a crime classic.  In 4:50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie, a character witness a murder from her vantage point on a train – but with no body she finds it impossible to convince the authorities and only her friend Miss Marple takes her seriously.

The notion of observing a murder from a train (and therefore being helpless to intervene) is a decent one – although it’s fair to say that this story is a little flawed.  The major problem is that it’s baffling why the body was simply not taken away before Simon and Janie turned up the next day to find it.  No body = no crime.

Instead, the murdered man is left on site for them to find.  Simon then drives Janie all the way back to his house before phoning the police and driving back.  Naturally enough, by the time he returns the body has vanished.  Since he has a phone in his car, why didn’t he call the police and wait for them at the warehouse?

But despite these rather serious plotholes, there’s still a very decent, and unusual, story here.  Ciaran Madden impresses as the vulnerable Janie.  Unlike most of the other Saint heroines, she’s a flawed and damaged individual – although Simon’s faith in her never wavers.  It’s possible to argue that the script missed a trick by allowing the viewer to see the attack take place though.  Had this not happened, and we only had Janie’s word, it would have allowed the viewers to wonder if it maybe was just a figment of her imagination.

Ian Cullen is hardly stretched as one of the police officers, especially since he’d had a been a regular in Z Cars and could presumably have played this sort of part in his sleep.  Brian Glover, George Sweeney, Ralph Arliss, Heather Wright and Sabina Franklyn help to round out the cast.  Franklyn has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role as a uniformed police officer who Simon effortlessly charms whilst Arliss makes a brief appearance as a hells-angel sort of biker.  Although as so often with ROTS, the biker gang never really exudes any sort of menace.

Frederick Jaeger’s rather good as Inspector Grant.  It’s the sort of part that seems at first to be fairly routine but by the conclusion of the episode he’s moved more into the forefront of the action.

Despite some flaws, Signal Stop rates a healthy three halos out of five.

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Return of the Saint – The Imprudent Professor

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Professor Edmund Bartlett (Bill Simpson) is a philanthropic scientist who wishes to share his new invention (synthetic petrol) with the world.  But his daughter Emma (Susan Penhaligon) is concerned for his safety.  She’s well aware that certain countries and interest groups would be very interested in her father’s discovery and could be inclined to use force to extract the information from him.

Emma hires Simon to keep an eye on him, much to the disgust of Boothroyd (Anthony Steel), the local representative of the British government.  Posing as a disgruntled ex-colleague of the Professor, Simon strikes up a friendship with the alluring, but deadly, Samantha (Catherine Schell).  Samantha works for Genius Inc, an organisation who sells geniuses to the highest bidders.

When the Professor disappears, Simon faces a race against the time before Bartlett is spirited out of the country and lost forever.

After a couple of London-based episodes, The Imprudent Professor is literally a breath of fresh air.  Filmed in and around Nice, it certainly uses the location to its maximum advantage.  And as well as the gorgeous visuals, there’s a sparkle about Terence Feeley’s teleplay that means it’s a definite cut above the norm.

Unlike Feeley’s previous script, The Armageddon Alternative, there’s an intriguing hook in the pre-credits sequence.  Simon interrupts a speech from the Professor by claiming that Bartlett is a fraud and he – Simon – is the true inventor of the synthetic petrol.  Since ROTS normally has fairly straightforward narratives, this is something of a jolt.

It doesn’t take long before the truth emerges though.  Simon’s decided that the best way to keep the Professor safe is to act as a judas goat and lure any people interested in his invention out into the open.  His tactics don’t meet with whole-hearted approval by everyone though, especially the Professor – who’s incredibly stubborn and unwilling to believe he’s in any danger.  Bill Simpson, best known for Dr Finlay’s Casebook, is (as might be expected) very Scottish.  He’s also quite an imposing figure and certainly makes an impression, even with his limited screen-time.

Susan Penhaligon (not even remotely Scottish) is suitably winsome as his daughter Emma.  Like many of the female roles in the series she’s only lightly sketched – but whenever she and Samantha meet there’s a nice tension between the pair of them.  This is because she clearly believes Samantha has designs on Simon (you can feel the waves of jealousy emanating from her!)

Ian Ogilvy looks like he’s having great fun and is certainly given plenty of good material.  When acting the part of the Professor’s disgruntled ex-employee he affects a Scottish accent (badly!) and wears a pair of glasses (obviously he thinks they make him look much more studious).  It’s also a nice touch that he uses the alias of Sebastian Tombs (a favourite of the literary Saint).

Simon gets to tangle with Samantha (some lovely comic moments between Ogilvy and Schell) and also crosses swords with Boothroyd of DI6.  His initial meeting with Boothroyd (the always classy Anthony Steel) is pure James Bond – we see Boothroyd relaxing by the poolside of a impressive looking house surrounded by a bevvy of gorgeous girls in bikinis.

Simon quips his way out the situation and at the same time is easily able to outwit some of DI6’s less able operatives, like Cartwright as played by Peter Childs.  If there was ever an episode of ROTS that could have been designed to showcase Ogilvy as a potential James Bond, then this was the one.

The plot may be a little routine (there’s a slight twist, although it’s not difficult to guess), but the location-work, guest-cast and the sheer spirit of the production help to make this one of the most enjoyable episodes of the series.  Four and a half halos out of five.

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