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Posts Tagged ‘Six Hands Across a Table’

The issue I’ve previously mentioned in connection with TV in the early 60s – that there seems to be only an extremely limited talent pool available – is once again apparent when we come to Six Hands Across a Table, an episode which doesn’t quite warrant such a florid title. Not only does it feature Philip Madoc in one of the lead roles (Madoc previously turned up as a suspicious foreigner in The Decapod, back at the start of the season), but it is written by Reed de Rouen, who also appeared as a bad guy in The Removal Men.

This is a slightly more routine episode than either of those, though still not really The Avengers-that-we-know-and-love. A consortium of shipping moguls are planning on constructing a revolutionary new vessel, but one of their number is threatening to split with the plan by involving the perfidious French in the project! That’s not the kind of attitude that made Britain great. The removal of their errant associate is the top item on the board’s agenda…

The new ship is such a prestige project that Steed is keeping an eye on things and liaising with his French ‘opposite number’ (the mind boggles at what the French equivalent of Steed might be like), and he does not share the insular and Francophobic attitudes of the conspirators. What complicates matters, and makes this rather more character-driven than almost any other Avengers episode you might care to mention (well, there’s that New Avengers episode where Purdey falls for Martin Shaw…), is that one of the leaders of the plot is the father of an old friend of Mrs Gale’s (it looks like he must have been about fourteen when he became a dad), and he and Cathy have recently developed a bit of a thing…

Most of the rest of it concerns boardroom arguments, tricky business with stocks and shares, union troubles, suspicious accidents at shipyards, and people complaining about the decline of British industry: only the prospect of Mrs Gale in love makes it especially memorable. Steed seems to be actively trying to wind her up about it, as usual: only at the end, when the story is resolved and she seems genuinely upset, does he come close to actually showing any sympathy. Being Steed, this takes the form of his asking if she fancies giving him a lift, but such is the extent to which the relationship between Steed and Mrs Gale has been established that it does speak volumes. That bit’s good, Philip Madoc is always very watchable; the rest, not so much.

Season two concludes with John Lucarotti’s Killer Whale. In the course of a prolific career, Lucarotti is perhaps best remembered as the writer of a series of historically-set science fiction stories produced by the BBC in the early to mid 1960s; this is a much more… well, I was going to say realistic story, but as it concerns the intersection of boxing and the smuggling of rare whale products, perhaps that’s overstating the facts. It’s perhaps not quite as odd asĀ  – to choose a vaguely similar example – that Babylon 5 episode which mingles bareknuckle boxing with Jewish funerary traditions, but it’s not that far off.

While round at Mrs Gale’s place ravaging the drinks cabinet, Steed meets Joey (Kenneth Farrington), the star pupil at her judo class down the local youth club (how does she find the time…?). (Farrington is visibly in his mid-to-late 20s, which might one to wonder what kind of ‘youth’ club this is, but it was the sixties, people aged more quickly, I suppose.) Apparently Joey is a handy boxer, too, but doesn’t have the cash to try going pro (again, just how old is he supposed to be…?). Steed offers to bankroll and manage him, until Cathy smartly steps in, recognising when Steed is up to something: he may provide the money, but she will do the actual managing.

Her instincts are quite right, as it turns out Steed’s apparent act of generosity is just a pretext to justify his hanging around at the boxing club of one Pancho Driver (Patrick Magee). Steed is on the trail of people smuggling ambergris (a whale extract used in the production of perfume) and is pretty sure the gym is a front, but his investigations so far have turned nothing up. Hence his scheme with Joey.

The details of what follows are not especially memorable, given the care with which the premise is estabished: adding Joey to the mix shakes up the usual dynamic slightly (he is almost a proto-Gambit, able to pull his weight in the fight scenes), and Magee is as effective a presence as usual. But it is, as usual, slightly mechanical, studio-bound stuff, with uninspired plotting, people turning up dead just in time for the ad breaks, and not fantastically well-staged fight scenes. I find myself a little reminded of The Decapod, again, even though that was about wrestling rather than boxing – although that particular episode was just so weird it was sort of memorable in a way this mostly isn’t.

Anyway, we thus come to the end of a season which is, any way you look at it, a mixed bag. One is inevitably reminded that TV drama 57 years ago was almost unrecognisably different – filmed as-live and studio-bound, this seems to have acted as a spur to the creativity of the programme-makers rather than a limitation. No TV drama nowadays would contemplate doing a story set in Jamaica, Peru and Chile, and make it entirely in the studio; likewise, no TV show these days would respond to losing its lead actor the way The Avengers did: promote the second lead and then introduce a rotating cast of new partners for him. The experiment is ultimately a successful one, given it allowed them to see that Mrs Gale’s character worked best and drop Venus Smith and Dr King (although I understand that King was only intended as a stopgap for use in scripts written for season one’s Dr Keel). I expect that season three will prove rather more consistent and see a gradual shift towards the ‘classic Avengers style’ I keep going on about. We shall see.

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