Inside (the first episode of Special Branch‘s second series) features another new title sequence (the series’ third) and a new theme tune. The first title sequence was quite stark and downbeat whilst this one is very different (Inman and Jordan strike heroic poses whilst looking intently through their binoculars). It never fails to raise a smile, although I’m not sure that was the intention.
The episode has quite a straightforward story to tell – Jordan finds himself banged up in Wormwood Scrubs, placed in the same cell as Gillard (Michael Goodliffe), a spy who’s due shortly to be released. Gillard knows the identity of another traitor high up in the British Establishment, but isn’t talking. So if Jordan can gain his confidence, maybe he’ll be able to learn something.
There’s a certain attraction in seeing the dapper Jordan dressed dowdily for once (although he’s allowed to keep his sideburns intact). Don’t worry, the neckerchiefs make a comeback later this series.
Goodliffe’s presence raises expectations, as he was always an actor who caught the eye. Gillard’s a rather taciturn sort of character though, so Goodliffe doesn’t have a great deal to play with (not until the end, when Gillard’s fears for the safety of his daughter opens up some cracks in his previously iron character).
That’s something of a story weakness. Gillard’s daughter, Sarah (Wendy Gifford), is the only thing in the world he cares about and it’s pressure applied to her which eventually forces him to speak to Inman. So Jordan’s undercover prison stay turns out to be fairly incidental, although it’s good fun seeing him pretending to be an irritating wide-boy.
We don’t get to see much of the prison, although at one point Jordan gets his hand scalded by a pre-Gan David Jackson. Although it’s hard to believe that he received that much of an injury as his hand was only plonked in a basin full of hot water (just how hot is the water in prison?).
And remaining in picky mode, we’re told that Sarah is a rather dowdy, unattractive sort. But as she’s played by Wendy Gifford there’s something not quite right there ….
One of those rare stories where Moxon doesn’t spring a last minute surprise on our SB boys, Inside is competent enough but I’d have expected a little more from a Trevor Preston script.
Wealthy industrialist Marvin Chase (Basil Dingham) is recuperating after being badly burnt in a car crash. Nora Prescott (Eunice Gayson), an old friend of Simon’s, works for Chase and is puzzled by his post-crash actions (which has seen him sell off valuable elements of his business empire). She attempts to voice her concerns to the Saint but is murdered before she can go into specifics. Is there a connection between her death and the car accident? There are several suspicious factors to consider – not only that Chase’s head and hands remain bandaged at all times, but also that his daughter, Ellen (Jane Asher), finds her father’s behaviour to be so changed ….
The appearance of Eunice Gayson in the pre-credits sequence (she runs into Simon who – rather improbably – is mooching around the London Stock Exchange) might lead you to imagine that she’ll be the Saint’s helper this episode. Which she sort of is, but the fact she doesn’t make it to the end of the story alive comes as something of a jolt. Possibly best known for her brief appearances in the first few James Bond films, Gayson is quickly transformed into the perfect secretary thanks to the addition of a pair of glasses!
The Chase house is a hotbed of intrigue and passion. His wife, Rosemary (Katharine Blake), is carrying on a not terribly clandestine affair with Chase’s handsome young assistant, Bertrand Tamblin (Mark Eden). Meanwhile, Chase’s black-sheep of a brother, Jim (Nigel Stock), can’t help butting in – irritated that his brother is rich and successful whilst he isn’t.
Dingham is perfect in his brief appearance as the unyielding elder brother – a man totally dedicated to making money – whilst Stock matches him as his dissolute, spendthrift poor relation. Mix in a teenage Jane Asher as Chase’s devoted daughter and you’ve got a pretty packed household.
The car-crash is achieved in the most budget-conscious way possible. We see a car driving down a country lane and then there’s a dissolve to a blurry spinning image which eventually stabilises itself to reveal a newspaper headline stating that Chase was injured and Tamblin killed during the blazing crash. It was clearly a packed issue that day (other headlines include “Jobs pledge by Mac”, “Butler finds his birds have flown” and most improbably “The alpine Prince buys a pair of blue skis”).
With Chase tucked up in bed, looking like the Invisible Man, it shouldn’t be too hard to guess the upcoming plot twist. Yep, Chase was murdered by Tamblin who – suitably bandaged up – is now masquerading as his former employer with the active connivance of both Rosemary and the crooked Dr Howard Quintus (Michael Goodliffe).
Few Saint stories were better cast than this one. Eden and Dingham were both somewhat lacking in screentime, but Nigel Stock gets a decent piece of the action. Michael Goodliffe is also gifted a strong role – although it’s plain right from Quintus’ first appearance that he’s a decidedly dodgy doctor. It seems odd they went down this route since it means that it’s just a little easier to guess what the denouement will be. Jane Asher is wonderfully earnest as the apple of her father’s eye. Jim earlier told his brother that he was a cold fish – unable to love anything except the numbers on a balance sheet – but the brief interaction between Chase and his daughter (and her stricken reaction after the accident) suggests otherwise.
Simon and Nora have arranged to meet at the boathouse close to the local pub. But someone gets there before Simon – and that someone is carrying a very large knife …..
Needless to say, Nora’s murder takes place with the minimum of blood, but what’s more interesting is that although director Jeremy Summers attempted to ramp up the tension at first by not showing the murderer’s face, the wider shots proved to be more of a giveaway. Since Jim was seen lurking around the pub, possibly it was intended to briefly throw suspicion onto him, but this doesn’t really work as we can see that the assailant (even though he only appears briefly) was slim and dark-haired (Stock was a little tubbier and lighter haired). And about the only slim and dark-haired person we’ve seen so far has been Mark Eden.
In Charteris’ story, published in 1939, Simon and Nora were strangers – although her death plays out in pretty much the same way (she has information, but is killed before the Saint can reach her). Simon’s devoted but dim sidekick Hoppy was deleted from the teleplay (possibly a blessing), whilst Nora’s backstory (her father was a failed businessman which led to a sympathetic Chase giving her a job) wasn’t touched upon. The basic plot remained the same, although the original had a much more hard-boiled feel (and was somewhat cut down for the screen, since it was a novella rather than a short story).
Simon’s confrontation of Rosemary and Quintus is rather enjoyable. “Mrs Chase, I’ve never hit a woman in my life but there can always be a first time. Now sit down!” Always good to see a flash of steel in Roger Moore’s portrayal. One curiosity occurs when Simon explains to an admiring Inspector Welland (Charles Morgan) exactly how the scam was worked. There’s an obvious dubbed moment when Moore says “Tamblin asked Chase” which leads me to suppose he got the names mixed up on the take (since Chase was driving, Tamblin had to ask him to stop in order that he could kill him and fake the crash).
Predictable the story might be, but it’s also a pretty high quality one. Four halos out of five.
Although Secret Experiment retains some story elements from the pilot, it’s still a significant retooling which results in a much stronger episode.
Here, both Brady’s employers and the government show immediate interest in the possibilities and dangers of an invisible man (the pilot never touched upon this). In the aftermath of the experiment, Brady finds himself held prisoner as both parties debate the implications. The government are keen to keep the news under wraps, so no newspaper headlines or television vans are seen.
There’s no suggestion that they want to use Brady’s invisibility as a weapon, it’s simply that they don’t want others to do so. Brady manages to escape quite easily (he is invisible after all) but he’s now a hunted man. Later he sums his situation up. “I’ve become an official secret. I’m to be filed away, locked and guarded.”
As in the pilot, Brady calls his sister (renamed Diane) to warn her that he’s not the man he was, although this story element now makes more sense (here the phone box is some distance from their home, in the pilot it was just a few paces away. Why bother to phone when you’ve virtually arrived home?)
Brady doesn’t want to remain invisible and with his employers appearing to be somewhat unfriendly there’s only one man he can turn to – Dr John Crompton (Michael Goodliffe). Crompton, like Brady, has been working in the field of invisibility, but he turns out to be a treacherous ally.
Our initial sighting of Crompton provides us with several signifiers which appear to suggest that he’s a decent type – he lives in a comfortable cottage, smokes a pipe, etc – but for him invisibility is simply a tool for personal gain (no door, not even the Bank of England would be closed). Brady isn’t interested in exploiting his new-found skills though, he’d trade them in a heartbeat for a normal life again. The two scientists are therefore diametrically opposed – Brady is altruistic, Crompton avaristic.
Goodliffe always had a considerable screen presence and he’s his usual reliable self here, even managing the tricky feat of convincing us he’s being attacked by an invisible man! As we’ll see again and again, the twenty-five minute format is a restrictive one – most especially it limits character development. So the series needed strong actors, like Goodliffe, who could make an immediate impression.
By focusing on Brady’s plight, with no bank robbery diversions, Secret Experiment turns out to be a much more satisfying introduction to the series than the unaired pilot was. It’s just a pity that the subplot of Brady being an outsider, on the run from the authorities, was dispensed with so quickly.
The Section is under attack from an unknown enemy. The only lead they had was a man called Bremer (Peter Welch) who committed suicide whilst being interrogated by Meres and another agent called Gould (Henry Knowles). But before Bremner died he did divulge one important piece of information – a foreign agent tasked with liquidating all the members of the Section is somewhere in London.
Let’s Kill Everybody was the first of five scripts written by Ray Jenkins. He would also contribute Death of a Friend later on during the second series as well as two excellent stories for the fourth series (Rules of the Game and If He Can, So Could I). His other script was Amos Green Must Live for series three, which proves that even good writers can have their off days – but we’ll leave the problems with that one for another time.
This episode was the final story to feature Michael Goodliffe as Hunter. As he only appeared in five stories (You’re Under Starter’s Orders was sadly wiped) he maybe didn’t have quite enough time to establish a distinctive performance (although he was always very solid). Red Knight, White Knight implied that he was more of an administrator, with little practical knowledge of how the Section worked, but this was rarely touched upon subsequently – in later episodes he proved to be just as ruthless as Ronald Radd’s Hunter.
The next Hunter would be very different. so it’s tempting to think that Goodliffe’s more autocratic Hunter (similar to Radd’s performance) was needed as a stop-gap during the early part of series two, whilst Callan was re-integrated into the Section. This then gives Derek Bond’s approachable Hunter even more of an impact.
At the start of Let’s Kill Everybody, Callan is a happy man. He’s just started a relationship with the gorgeous Jenny Lauther (Hilary Dwyer). Jenny was a nurse at the clinic where Callan had recently been sent for treatment (to have a cyst removed). Callan’s on sick-leave and is planning to spend it in Jenny’s company when Hunter calls him into the office. Hunter quotes “Emergency D” which brings an instant response from Callan.
Hunter asks Callan if he’s made any new contacts with the last few weeks – Jenny is the main one. Could she be the assassin? On the face of it, it seems ludicrous, but Callan has to be sure. He does it in the only way he knows how – by asking her point blank and searching her bag. This upsets Jenny as she sees the affable man she loves transformed into a cold, relentless interrogator. It’s another indication that normal human relationships are always going to be something that Callan will struggle to maintain.
She appears to be completely innocent – as the assassin turns out to be German academic Dr Paula Goodman (Heather Canning). Dr Goodman is Jenny’s tutor (she resigned from the clinic to re-enter higher education). One of the flaws of the story is that although we see Hunter with a file on Goodman early on, he doesn’t make any attempt to have her picked up until much later. And was it just a coincidence that Jenny was placed with her or did Jenny’s relationship with Callan have something to do with it?
Poor Jenny seems to be another innocent caught in the crossfire, as Goodman drugs her so that she later drowns whilst canoeing. Edward Woodward’s barely controlled fury when he realises that Goodman killed Jenny is a highlight of the story, as is the scene where Goodman sows seeds of doubt about Jenny’s loyalties in Callan’s mind.
Jenny was a toy. A doll. A doll with an ear for private phone calls. No intelligence, no brain, nothing to match that obscene English exterior. Just a reporting doll. Wound up and taught to walk back to … who? That worries you, doesn’t it? Which side was she on? Was she one of us, but expendable or was she … ?
It’s easy to form the impression that the Section is a little short on good men apart from Callan and Meres. It isn’t the first time we’ve seen other operatives rather easily dealt with – and their security procedures (one man covers another) does seem to be woefully inadequate to deal with the current crisis. It’s also a little strange that the job of killing all the members of the Section is given to just one person (although late in the story it is revealed that Goodman does have backup).
These quibbles apart, it’s a tense story with Hilary Dywer making a good impression with her limited screen time.
Hunter is interested in a Polish physicist named Andrei Brezhevski (Andy Devine). The Russians have developed a hundred megaton bomb, which according to Hunter would destroy every living thing in the UK. But although they have the rocket they don’t have the fuel – by the end of the year though, thanks to Brezhevski, they will have.
Hunter wants Brezhevski lifted, so that he can give the fuel formula to the West (thus negating the Russian advantage). And even though he’s closely guarded, Hunter has a lever that will force him into the open – his wife.
During WW2, Brezhevski’s wife Sofia (Pauline Jameson) was interned at Dachau. After the war was over, she was in a highly disturbed state and was slowly nursed back to health by Dr Charles Rule (Laurence Hardy). Believing her husband to have died during the war, Sofia married Rule and they’ve lived together contentedly ever since. Callan forces Sofia to write a letter to Brezhevski which will compel him to make the trip to England.
We’ve already seen how the act of killing has scarred Callan, but in this story the tragedy isn’t just a death – it’s the possibility of what will happen to Sofia after Brezhevski has come to England. The following exchange between Callan and Hunter makes the situation quite clear.
CALLAN: I should think when all this is all over she’ll finish up in a mental home
HUNTER: That bothers you?
CALLAN: That really bothers me
HUNTER: Try thinking about that hundred megaton bomb. That should bother you even more
Hunter views Sofia as little more than a pawn to be sacrificed – he’s thinking about what would happen if the Russians detonated their bomb. Callan understands this, but he clearly loathes the job he has to do. Later on, when the two of them are waiting at the airstrip for Brezhevski’s arrival, he does unbend a little.
CALLAN: Did you know what Brezhevski’s doing?
SOFIA: I knew only that he was famous
CALLAN: Well he’s developing a fuel for a rocket that carries a nuclear warhead
SOFIA: And you want it?
CALLAN: Yeah, we want it
SOFIA: So that you can drop nuclear warheads on them? Your argument does not interest me, I’ve seen too many people die. One day I think it will not interest you either
In many ways, Brezhevski and the rocket fuel are only MacGuffins as the story is more about the question of whether it’s right to sacrifice the innocent (in this case Sofia) for the greater good. Hunter unshakably thinks so and Callan seems to as well – but he doesn’t have to like it. At the end, Sofia is still alive (although Brezhevski is less fortunate) but the memories of the last few days will remain with her forever and it’s left to the viewer to decide for themselves whether the cost was worth it.
Apart from the odd loophole (if Brezhevski’s been desperate to locate his wife for the last twenty years, can we really believe that the Russians haven’t been able to find her?) this is another tight, well written script by James Mitchell. Vladek Sheybal gives his usual, idiosyncratic performance as Dicer, a Polish refugee with a burning hatred of the Eastern Bloc. David Garfield is a little hammy as a Russian agent, but he’s really the only weak link in the story.
Pauline Jameson is outstanding as a woman forced to confront the ghosts of her past and it’s her performance (along with the usual high-quality acting from the regulars) that makes this episode such a memorable one.
Written by James Mitchell Directed by Peter Duguid
Joan Mather (Elizabeth Bell) is a research scientist working at the Biological Research Centre. Although her project is close to a breakthrough, she tells her superior, Dr Bradford (Raymond Young), that she wishes to leave because she has concerns that their work could developed into a deadly weapon.
But as Joan is blessed with a photographic memory she’s a grave security risk. And when it’s discovered that her boyfriend Carl Donner (David Hargreaves) is an East German agent, the situation becomes critical. Callan is designated to watch her – much to his dismay as “birds with brains” are not a combination that appeals to him.
The Most Promising Girl of Her Year is a strong episode with a down-beat ending. Joan is a naive figure who believes implicitly that Carl Donner is the same sort of person that she is – someone who doesn’t care about politics and is only interested in their relationship. When the Section pick up Horst (one of Donner’s colleagues) they are able to demonstrate to Joan exactly what Donner’s true feelings for her are. Horst is pumped full of drugs by Snell (Clifford Rose) and repeats in her presence the joke he had shared before. “You said to me how did Donner feel about the girl? And I say how does a carpenter feel about wood?”
Even after this, Joan isn’t convinced and Callan has to keep plugging away – providing an example of a previous girl that Donner had deceived, for example. “He squeezed her dry and then he left her. She killed herself. I wouldn’t want you to kill yourself, Joan”. When he tells her that Donner is a highly trained agent who is well versed in killing, Joan still can’t believe him.
JOAN: Carl told me he hated killing
CALLAN: I hate killing, I sometimes do it
JOAN: You don’t hate it, you love it
CALLAN: Look, I don’t have to justify myself to you, darling
JOAN: It doesn’t make any difference what you say, I love him and I trust him.
Although this is a pretty bleak episode, there are a few moments of light relief. For example, Callan asks Lonely to keep an eye on Joan (and also burgle her flat). This he does, although he seems more interested in the lingerie of Joan’s flatmate. “Cor, you wanna seem some of the stuff that Sonia’s got. Well you can hardly see some it it, nearly all transparent it is, with bows on”. To which Callan asks him whether he’s been eating raw meat again.
We get a first look at Snell in this episode. He would become a semi-regular character, always on hand when Hunter needed answers from people – although the cost would be high for his unfortunate victims. Clifford Rose was always chilling as Snell – a man who clearly enjoyed his work and seemed to approach it from the angle of scientific research. The fact that many of his subjects became vegetables seemed not to be something that overly concerned him. This is highlighted when Joan tells Snell that the drugs given to Horst will destroy his mind. Snell agrees but then tells her that it was a rush job, arranged primarily for her benefit.
It’s a slightly messy ending (both story-wise and also the direction, which does seem slightly miscued when the big moment comes). With only a few minutes screen-time at the end, David Hargreaves still manages to make an impression as Donner. He’s able to demonstrate to Callan (and the audience) exactly how little he cared for the unfortunate Joan.
Written by James Mitchell Directed by Peter Duguid
The Section has a new Hunter (Michael Goodliffe). Meres is present to greet him, although he can’t help grumbling at the early time. “Why the devil he wants to start at the crack of dawn, god only knows”. First impressions are that this Hunter will be a stickler for the rules – he berates his secretary (Lisa Langton) for leaving secret files on his desk where anybody can read them and also insists that nobody is let into his office when he isn’t present.
Hunter and Meres review the Section’s personnel files – including Callan’s. Meres thought that the new Hunter should take a look at him, although not for reasons of friendship, as Meres says, “I detest him. But he knows the job. The only thing is,sir, he likes to know why it has to be done”.
After reading Callan’s file, Hunter sums him up. “He’s emotionally unstable, a one-time crook, he has a dubious circle of acquaintances and he tends to take the law into his own hands. We don’t want heroes in the Section, this is a team”.
It doesn’t sound like the beginning of a beautiful friendship and the first meeting between the new Hunter and Callan is as awkward and spiky as you might expect. It isn’t helped by the fact that Meres didn’t warn him that there had been a change at the top. But even though Hunter has expressed his doubts over Callan’s character, he still wants him back – he tells him that he’ll be safer in the Section than he would be outside. And when that doesn’t work, he says it would be quite easy to put him back in prison.
They appear to have reached an uneasy truce for now, although Callan’s interest is piqued when Hunter asks him if the name Bunin (Duncan Lamont) means anything to him. It certainly does, Callan was sent to kill him in 1963. Hunter tells him that Bunin wishes to defect – a statement that Callan finds impossible to believe. When Hunter, Callan and Meres meet Bunin, he has an interesting proposal. Miersky (a top-ranking Soviet agent) also wishes to defect – but he’ll only do so to the Section’s top man in Russia.
The first story of the second series, Callan was now a Thames production rather than an ABC one. From the point of view of the quality of the existing prints this is good news (the two surviving ABC stories from series one were both in pretty poor shape, this episode looks much better).
Given how good Ronald Radd had been in the first series, I assume that it was his decision to leave. In story terms though, it’s a positive plus as a new Hunter allows everything to be shaken up. Callan may have disliked and distrusted the old Hunter, but at least he knew that he understood the job. Early impressions are that the new man is more of a civil servant, with no practical knowledge. “He’s never been out in the field, mate, that’s for sure. He doesn’t know how bloody cold it gets out there”.
When Bunin disappears (after killing a Section operative) Hunter now accepts that Callan’s original idea (Bunin had come to kill him) was probably correct. And if Miersky had met the Section’s top man in Russia, that would have been two key British operatives neutralised by the Russians.
Hunter decides to act as a tethered goat in order to bring Bunin into the open. This is something that Callan simply doesn’t understand and his professional sensibilities are also appalled by the risks that Hunter takes (for example, by attempting to open the curtains he provides a clear target for anybody outside). Hunter is quite calm, though. “I’m assured you’re the two best men I’ve got. I’ve every confidence. Bunin’s alone, gentlemen. Even if he gets one of you, one of you will get onto him before he can deal with me. I’m quite safe”.
The relationship between Callan and Meres is developing (although it may also have advanced in the four wiped episodes of series one). Whist Meres still professes to detest him, he does appreciate just how good Callan is, and at the start of the story he’s lobbying hard for him to be reinstated. They also share a nice moment when Bunin proposes a meeting between Miersky and the Section’s agent in Russia. It’s just a quick glance – but it’s enough to signify that they both believe that Bunin’s playing them, whilst Hunter still remains convinced he’s telling the truth.
Whilst a good chunk of the story revolves around the relationship between Callan and the new Hunter, there’s also time for some decent two-handed scenes between Callan and Bunin. They’re very much two of a kind – and Callan is quite clear from the start that he doesn’t believe a word of what Bunin says. Duncan Lamont is very solid and is a formidable foe. It’s a pity that he’s killed off at the end of the episode (shot by Callan, of course, as he attempted to assassinate Hunter) as it’s possible to imagine this storyline could have been developed over several episodes.
This is also the first surviving episode where we see Hunter’s secretary (Lisa Langton). She was a voice on the phone in the two existing series one episodes, and as the series progresses she’ll have her moment in the spotlight (especially the series three episode A Village Called G).
Although Callan has saved Hunter’s life, it’s quite clear that he still doesn’t understand or trust him. But it seems he’ll have to, as Callan’s now firmly back in the Section.