The Avengers 50th Anniversary Evening: Barbican Cinema 1 Wed 30/11/11
It’s fair comment that if someone organised a screening of any of ‘The Avengers’ TV episodes in a limestone cave in Cheshire, or up the side of a mountain in the far north of Scotland, I’d probably attend. Fortunately, London’s Barbican is much easier to get to, and so I and my two delightful companions hitched a lift on a milk float to Farringdon to be there. On offer were two shows from the glorious monochrome era, ‘Mandrake’ and ‘The Hour That Never Was’.
‘Mandrake’ is surely one of the best of the ‘Cathy Gale’ stories, the plot concerning a firm of corrupt doctors who arrange for the convenient death of their clients’ rich relatives in return for a hefty slice of their estates. In a typically theatrical flourish, all victims are buried in the same Cornish churchyard, where the tin-mined ground’s naturally high arsenic content disguises the presence of poison in their bodies.
John Le Mesurier makes a fine choice as an impeccably-mannered but venal doctor, spurred on by a greedy partner intent on continuing as long as possible in their dangerous path to riches. Grapple fans would raise a cheer at the appearance of 60’s wrestling star Jackie Pallo as a cockney gravedigger, transplanted miles from his City home to this Cornish idyll, still hankering after saveloys in place of the local food he despises. Our favourite pair of sleuths arrives to disturb the corrupt medics’ cosy arrangement.
‘The Hour That Never Was’ is a classic of the ‘Emma Peel’ years, centring on Steed’s invitation to an RAF reunion party at the end of an era for a shortly-to-be decommissioned air base. Perhaps sensing danger ahead, or maybe simply wanting to be seen in sultry female company, Steed invites Mrs Peel to join him, only to find that what should have been a jolly, nostalgic evening turns into another strange job for our duo. The air base has all the trappings of a party about to start, but is without guests. The punch has been poured, the party food laid out, but no RAF pals are here.
For a typically surreal Avengers plot, we get some insight into the generational tension that lurked below the surface of their odd relationship. Steed’s wartime reminisces, all ‘chocks away’ and boozing before and after, clearly bore Mrs Peel, who tartly remarks ‘It’s a wonder you had time to win the war’.
What starts as a mystery, even possibly a ‘rag’ organised by his old pals to amuse Steed, is quickly realised to be a malicious plot to kidnap and brainwash the country’s top RAF staff, for use as ‘sleeper’ agents in various places around the world at some significant moment.
Most of us would have been happy with this celebratory screening, but we also had a Q&A with director Gerry O’Hara and designer David Marshall too.
David Marshall shared his memories of working as a set designer on the show, recalling the fight scene in ‘Mandrake’, where Jackie Pallo fell into the grave, thumping his head on the way down, knocking him out cold. Fearing he may never be asked to work there again, David was relieved at Jackie’s complete recovery. David felt that the set was a personal triumph, constructed in a very small space, raised so as to give depth to the grave, and lit with enormous care so as to exclude any suggestion of studio apparatus shadows in the ‘churchyard’. His memory of the divide between actors and purely technical staff was telling, there being no mixing whatsoever.
Gerry’s time as an Avengers director was restricted to just two episodes, one being ‘The Hour That Never Was’. He recalled his relationship with ITC was somewhat strained when it was discovered that he had had an affair with a lady who later married an executive of the company. Although occurring years before she married, it nevertheless set in motion his estrangement from ITC, he felt. He nevertheless had fond memories of working on ‘The Avengers’
A question from the floor was whether The Avengers created the 60’s, or the 60’s created The Avengers? Neither felt that either statement was true, but they did feel that the show reflected the 60’s, especially the fashions of the era, without being part of the youth culture it was loved by. Another was whether they felt, at the time, that they would still be talking about the show fifty years hence. Neither did, but simply felt that they had helped to create a quality piece of work in what was then a highly competitive field.
An unsurprisingly well-attended show, with some well-known faces from the Mod scene, added up to one of the best evenings I have spent in the Barbican. More, please.
© Scenester 4/12/11
Originally posted 2011-12-12 16:39:13. Republished by Blog Post Promoter