The Champions – The Night People

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Strange things be happening down in Cornwall, the most notable being a poacher frightened to death by a mysterious white robed figure. Sharron, arriving in the area on holiday, discovers some further odd occurrences. At the Manor House, both Douglas Trennick and his wife (Terence Alexander and Adrienne Cori) seem to know more than they’re letting on.

Mrs Trennick, owner of the local witchcraft museum, later tells Craig that supernatural forces are at work. Is that so? Maybe there’s a more rational explanation ….

The Night People offers a nice change of pace for the series, opening with a series of cliché spooky shots (a deserted graveyard at twilight, ominously rustling trees, etc).  Poor old Michael Bilton, as Dan Dan the poacher man, is marked out as someone who won’t make it past the pre-credits sequence.

We’re firmly in Avengers territory here – a seemingly idyllic country village which nevertheless holds a dark secret (and one which most of the villagers seem to be in on). This is made clear by the quick glance the apparently affable publican Porth (David Lodge) gives to one of his customers after Dan leaves on his poaching business.

The usual format is shaken up a little as we don’t have the regular Geneva briefing scene with Tremayne. This helps to keep the audience on their toes – Sharron arrives to a shifty welcome from Porth and the others, but to begin with we don’t know why she’s there. Surely the death of a humble poacher wouldn’t have got Nemesis’ alarm bells ringing?

That seems to be so (it’s just a remarkable coincidence she’s turned up at a place where the oddest things are happening).  As the story wears on it’s noticeable that although Dan’s death was a good early hook for the audience, it’s a part of the plot which our heroes only briefly interact with.

We’re then treated to a spot of carnival footage. At first I wondered if the ITC telecine operator had selected the wrong reel, but no, this is by way of illustrating that Richard and Craig are currently abroad on an unspecified mission. I love the banter between them – Richard’s expenses claim is remarkably modest whilst Craig’s is a little staggering (including a new suit). Tremayne won’t like that.

Sharon meets the affable Trennick. Easy to spot that he’s a wrong-un though as everyone else in the house, such as his wife and his devoted butler Hoad (Jerold Wells), exchange ominous looks. There’s an awful lot of ominous looks exchanged in this episode.

It’s nice to see Sharron initiating events rather than trailing several paces behind the boys (although it’s obvious that they’ll arrive eventually to take care of the stong arm stuff). Still, I’ll give top marks out for the fact that Sharron doesn’t scream when surrounded by the white robed figures.

When Richard and Craig arrive, they don’t find Sharron – in fact it seems like she was never there at all. The boys set off to investigate, Craig running into a clerk played by Frank Thornton (a nice little cameo) whilst Richard tangles with Trennick.

Craig then visits the local witchcraft museum and interviews Mrs Trennick. As an obvious sceptic, he finds it hard to keep a straight face (which contrasts well with her lightly simmering hysteria). It’s left to the viewer to decide whether Mrs Trennick actually has supernatural powers – she certainly believes so ….

Given how Avengers-lite this episode feels, it’s surprising that Donald James only wrote one episode for that series (Have Guns, Will Haggle). The Night People drips with a hammy atmosphere, but the longer the mystery is spun out the more you sense that the resolution will turn out to be slightly disappointing.

The guest performances are strong, with even some of the uncredited turns (such as Josephine Tewson’s shifty switchboard operator) catching the eye. It’s always fun to see Craig and Richard teamed up, especially since by this point in the series the pair are in full quipping mode. Sharron’s separate plotline is quite strong, although it’s a pity that for plot reasons she has to disappear during the middle of the episode.

It’s not flawless, but I’ll still rate it a solid four out of five.

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