In 1961 Sydney Newman created a series that would go on to be a huge success. No, not Doctor Who, although he created that as well. This was The Avengers. So why have I chosen to explore this series in the Junkyard? It’s obviously one of the big success stories of British television, with a cult following that has endured for decades, but also I’m in the mood for enjoying more 60s television. There was something very special about that decade, arguably the most inventive decade ever in television history. I’ve always been a big fan of Doctor Who, which began in ’63, and a while ago Mike got me started with this whole 60s craze with The Prisoner and then The Outer Limits and the original series Star Trek. I wasn’t ready to leave the 1960s behind yet, and The Avengers seemed like the obvious choice to watch next. It’s a series I remember enjoying from my childhood, but other than that I don’t recall much about it, so this should be an interesting journey.
Like Doctor Who, The Avengers suffers from the curse of missing episodes. Virtually all the first series is lost, and that was the case with the pilot episode, Hot Snow, until a reel of the first 15 minutes was found in California in 2001.
This is very far removed from The Avengers I remember watching as a child, although we get a skewed view of the episode because the tape finishes just before the debut of Patrick Macnee as John Steed. However, he gets second billing anyway. The main star here is Ian Hendry as Dr. David H. Keel. Apparently there was a strong connection with a character he played in a previous series called Police Surgeon. Only one episode survives from that, so I will take a look at it next week out of interest. From what I can gather here, Keel is going to be a man motivated by revenge, with his fiancée killed by a sniper at the end of the first act of this episode. A lot of the first 15 minutes are given over to establishing the relationship between Keel and Peggy, so we are in no doubt about how much they are in love. It therefore comes as a big shock when we go into the first ad break with Peggy dead and blood on Keel’s hands.
Up to that point the tone is much lighter, although the menacing music adds an atmosphere of unease to the proceedings. Godfrey Quigley (hey, Doctor Who fans, it’s Dortmun!) plays Spicer, who is sneaking around the medical practice where Keel works. He has made a mistake, delivering some drugs (the “snow” of the rather clever title) to Dr Tredding instead of Dr Treading, something that was only explained in the missing part of the episode. He’s part of a criminal gang, and back at their base the gloriously camp Charlie (Murray Melvin – yes, that’s Bilis Manger!) engages in a bit of gentle bullying of Johnson (Charles Wade – Malik from Doctor Who’s Marco Polo), until Spicer gets back and has a quick chat with the unseen “Big Man”, who looks a lot like he might be a Bond villain, sitting comfortably with a very cute dog on his lap. Just to put the icing on the cake for any Doctor Who fans who watch this, our criminal gang here consists of Dortmun, Bilis Manger, Malik and… yes that’s Lesterson himself on the phone, Robert James. I can’t help thinking I’m going to end up boring everyone with actor spotting over the next few months, so I’ll apologise in advance for that.
As the “End of Part 1” caption appeared on the screen I was very disappointed not to be able to keep watching, because this had me hooked. What a great opening to a series. It doesn’t feel like The Avengers yet, but it’s still a gripping story, performed by a hugely talented cast of actors, and shot in a very moody, Film Noir style.
So what are we missing for the rest of the episode? Well, Keel tracks down the intended recipient of the drugs, Dr Treading, and finds him dead. He then returns home to find Steed waiting for him. Steed has infiltrated the gang, and wants Keel to do that too. Keel has to then pretend to get cold feet, making him a target and flushing Peggy’s killer into the open, allowing Keel and Steed to identify the murderer in the gang. Keel has to allow himself to be kidnapped, and for a moment it seems that Steed might have betrayed him, but all is well when the police turn up, having already been liaising with Steed. The sniper turns out to be Spicer, our lurker from act one.
So this is about Keel’s journey from a medical practitioner to an amateur crime fighter. The episode ends with the police advising him to go back to the day job, but he’s obvious got a taste now for fighting the good fight:
“That’s very good advice, Superintendant, but the work isn’t finished yet, is it?”
Frustratingly, we can’t watch Keel finishing his work, because his final encounter with “The Big Man” and Spicer in the next episode is missing. In fact, we now have to skip four lost episodes, including the first Avengers guest appearance of the magnificent Roger Delgado. There are only three complete episodes we can watch from the first season, and we will explore those over the coming weeks, after we’ve taken a look at the precursor to The Avengers, Police Surgeon. Join us next week for that. RP
The view from across the pond:
Hot Snow, or as I prefer to think of it, Silent But Deadly, is a surprising masterclass in suspense. I’ve seen The Avengers before, but only the occasional episode, so I knew nothing of this premiere. More importantly, I didn’t know who anyone was. So the story opens with a guy getting out of a car, climbing a fence and sneaking into a building. He then scurries from room to room looking for something while 3 other people roam about the office space. It’s a bit weird with the relationship of the three office dwellers, two of whom are engaged and one seems to know nothing about it one moment, then says he’s long suspected it the next, but whatever… 60s TV and all that. Still, the guy creeping about had me on edge. Look, I’ve played the video game Thief; I know how stressful this is! And it didn’t take long before I realized that this was no good guy spy; he was the villain. (At first, I had wondered if he was a good guy sent to do something that would cause his death and John Steed would be sent in to figure out what happened; alas that idea was quashed quickly.) When Peggy goes into a room to answer the phone, creepy stalker guy waits behind the door. I was nervous, but when the same thing happens again, moments later, I was convinced she was dead! The tension is astounding. She eventually walks out with the very package Creepster was looking for.
So we then get the bad guys side of the story. The invader, who sounds surprisingly like Liam Neeson, gets together with his two pals, they call their whispery boss with the tea cup Yorkie, and we find out that they were supposed to recover a package of “snow”, or more colloquially, cocaine (although Wikipedia says it’s Heroin, but one of the villains referenced “coke” and I’ve only ever heard cocaine referred to as snow in my rather limited experience.) Having failed to retrieve it, they decide that Peggy must die. Why, you ask? Because she saw the guy who delivered it and could identify him. Liam has his buddies drive him to where she and her fiancé will be looking for wedding rings. One minute they are watching her, rifle in hand, then without a sound, she’s slumped in her fiancé’s arms, a bullet in the back. That rifle was indeed … silent but deadly!
The music was great and really added an air of suspense. I was genuinely unsure of what to expect during that great opening but I did find myself a bit confused by the logic of the series. Mind you, we only have 15 minutes to work with so the confusion was bound to be cleared up later, I’m sure. Still, let’s look at what the reality was going to be. Peggy saw the guy who delivered the package. “Yes, officer, he was short with dark hair slicked back and starred at the camera a lot!” “I see miss. Did he look like this utterly nondescript chap who hung out with Howard Phillips Long Face and Liam Smokey Robinson?” “Oh yes, sir, I’d recognize those beady eyes anywhere!” “Luckily, we know precisely who that is from your lame description and his nondescript features!”
More likely, Ron Weasel-ly could have said, “Yes, officer I delivered a package that had their address on it. I don’t think that’s illegal!” You know why? Because it’s not! I’ve got a bloody great big box by my door and when I deliver it to its destination, chances are I’m not wrong for doing it. (It’s a litter box of unspeakable cost, so maybe that would be wrong, but let’s ignore that for now!) Delivering a box probably has a lower penal sentence than, say, murder. I mean, I admit, I’m not in law enforcement so here too I could be wrong, but I just have this gut feeling. On top of that, who is really going to believe that the delivery man was giving away narcotics for free!?!? His defense could be, “um, officer, if I knew there was $4K worth of drugs in the box, do you think I would have given it away?!?” “Oh, gee, Beady McEyes, you’re right. I hadn’t thought of that! I guess you’re free to go.” Look, life is full of things that just confuse me. Hell, I’m still shocked that Peggy had a fiancé to begin with. She has the discourtesy of kissing him while smoking a cigarette, so chances are Dr. Keel (her fiancé) is going to live a cancer free life now. But did she deserve to die? Probably not.
I think it’s a shame the rest of this is lost to time. I wanted to know how this was going to play out. The short 15 minutes I did have with it was genuinely entertaining. But I haven’t met one of the Avengers yet so we have to see how things develop. I’m genuinely curious. As for Hot Snow, maybe I’ll pick up Big Finish’s recreation of the story in audio format; they released it in 2014 following the original script. Might be worth a listen; they always put out quality and I don’t think I can go on not knowing what happened next! ML