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.

The Champions – Operation Deep-Freeze

Reports of a mysterious explosion in Antarctica have reached Nemesis. Several scientists from the nearby Scott Base sent to investigate have failed to report back. When Craig and Richard arrive they discover that the scientists have been murdered and also run across General Gomez (Patrick Wymark), the despotic ruler of a small Central American state.

He’s established a secret Antarctic base stocked with atomic weapons and plans to establish his country as a great power on the world stage, unless Craig and Richard can somehow stop him ….

Operation Deep-Freeze is another episode enlivened by a first rate guest star.  I assume most visitors to this blog will be familiar with both The Plane Makers and The Power Game (if not then you should check them out straight away).  Wymark bestrides both series as the amoral businessman John Wilder, giving a performance which has provided me with many hours of entertainment.

He also seems to be enjoying himself today – Gomez is hardly a three dimensional character, but Wymark was always a very watchable actor and his full-throttle turn is certainly a memorable one. Subtle no, memorable yes.

It’s very much a boy’s own adventure today as Richard and Craig get to handle all the action. I like the playful banter during their briefing with Treymayne (Richard promises to bring him back a penguin). It’s little moments like these which ensures their characters are slightly less cardboard than they otherwise might be.

Lashings of stock footage and some fairly effective studio work helps to create the illusion that we’re in Antarctica. Craig, Richard and Hemmings (Robert Urqhart) set out across the frozen wastelands, unaware – to begin with – that Jost (Walter Gotell) is stalking them.

It’s strange that Craig suddenly becomes realises they’re being followed whilst Richard remains ignorant. An example that all three Champions have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their powers, or a simple plot contrivance?

Robert Urquhart gives a nice performance as Hemmings (you get the sense that he’s not going to make it to the final reel). Walter Gotell made a career out of playing menacing types (well, apart from Softly Softly Task Force) and he’s typically good value in a fairly nothing role. The strength in depth of the cast is highlighted by the fact that George Pastell, no stranger to playing memorable villians himself, only has the briefest of brief roles.

The story picks up momentum in the last ten minutes or so after Craig and Richard are captured by Gomez. Before this happens, the boys stumble across the General’s stash of atomic weapons and decide it would be a good idea to set a timer and detonate them all. Yes, okay. I’m no expert, but I don’t think this will do the local environment any good.

Forty minutes in and we finally see Sharron. Hurrah! Stuck in Nemesis HQ, she suddenly gets a mental image that Richard and Craig are in danger.Treymane isn’t buying it – he doesn’t quite pat her on the head and tell her not to be so silly, but it’s not too far removed from that.

Her sole scene isn’t really necessary as the plot could easily have moved on without her interjection. Possibly it was decided that Sharron had to be present somehow and this brief scene was the best they could come up with.

For the way that Richard and Craig have started to function as a wise-cracking double act, not to mention Patrick Wymark’s scenery chewing performance, I’ll give this episode four out of five.

Douglas Wilmer in Sherlock Holmes – The Copper Beeches


When Sherlock Holmes proffers the letter he’s received from Miss Violet Hunter (Suzanne Neve) to Watson, he tells him that it marks a new low-point in his career.  Miss Hunter has been offered a position as a governess, but wishes to seek Holmes’ advice before accepting the post.

Although it initially seems like a trivial matter, once Miss Hunter begins her strange story it becomes clear that there may be more to it than meets the eye.  Miss Hunter has been offered a position by Jephro Rucastle (Patrick Wymark).  Rucastle seems to be a charming man and he makes her a very generous offer – a salary of one hundred pounds a year (a considerable amount, which is much more than many people in her position could ever expect to earn).

Rucastle goes on to tell her that he and his wife (faddy people, he admits) may ask her to sit in a certain chair or wear a certain dress from time to time.  This isn’t a problem, but when Rucastle insists that she has to cut her long hair very short, Miss Hunter protests.  When Rucastle later increases the salary to one hundred and twenty pounds, she weakens – but she wishes to consult Holmes first.  Miss Hunter decides to take up the post, but keeps in contact with Holmes as strange events begin to happen.

The Copper Beeches was originally published in June 1892 and later formed part of the first collection of Holmes short-stores, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  Patrick Wymark (best known as the scheming Sir John Wilder in The Plane Makers and The Power Game) is wonderful as Rucastle.  Alternatively charming and sinister, it’s a very memorable performance.

Suzanne Neve, as the plucky young Miss Hunter, is another strong piece of casting (fans of UFO will remember her as Straker’s ex-wife Mary).  As with the original story, Holmes and Watson are very much on the periphery, so it’s Miss Hunter and Rucastle who dominate proceedings.

It’s certainly a strange household that she finds herself in.  Rucastle’s wife (played by Alethea Charlton) is polite, but seems somewhat under her husband’s thrall.  There’s a rather surly couple of servants, Mr and Mrs Toller (Michael Robbins and Margaret Diamond), whilst the Rucastle’s young son, Edward (Garry Mason), is a most peculiar child.

Although Rucastle insists that his son will grow up to be an important man, there’s little evidence of that in the very brief time we spend with him.  As per the original story, Edward doesn’t feature very much – but Vincent Tilsley’s adaptation does add a little something which sharpens the characters of both father and son.  In Conan-Doyle’s story, Miss Hunter tells Holmes that Edward delights in catching all manner of animals, such as mice.  Tilsley adds a scene where Edward bashes a mouse to death in front of Miss Hunter (with Rucastle looking on approvingly).  It helps to add another rather discordant note and it’s one of a number of good character moments for Wymark.

Although, as mentioned, Wilmer and Stock don’t have the largest of parts in this one, they do enjoy some decent byplay, especially at the end when Watson appears briefly convinced that Holmes had asked Miss Hunter to marry him!  We saw that Holmes was enamored of Miss Hunter’s analytical abilities, but his appreciation of her clearly went no further than that.

It’s a decent comic moment to end the story on and overall The Copper Beeches is a faithful and entertaining adaptation of one of the most atmospheric of the early Holmes stories.