The Avengers started in 1961 as a replacement for a show called Police Surgeon. There was little connection between the two shows, although The Avengers was hastily devised as a vehicle for Ian Hendry, the star of Police Surgeon. In both series he plays a doctor who comes into contact with criminals, but there the similarities end. Police Surgeon began in 1960 and only ran for 13 episodes, but it was cancelled for behind-the-scenes reasons rather than a lack of success. 12 of the 13 episodes are lost to the archives. The one remaining episode, Easy Money, can be viewed on the Avengers complete collection DVD set.
Firstly, it’s obvious why Sydney Newman and ABC wanted to retain Ian Hendry and find something else for him to do after this, because he is compelling to watch and elevates a fairly humdrum story into something quite special. Here he plays Dr Geoffrey Brent, who is called in to his local police station whenever somebody who has been arrested asks for medical attention. Judging by this episode, more often than not they do that as a ruse, rather than because they actually have anything wrong with them. After a brief chat with a funny drunk, who Brent seems to find amusing rather than annoying, we are on to the main plot of the episode, the case of young Jim Clark, who has been arrested for stealing money from a vending machine. Jim is played by an 18 year old Michael Crawford, who was already an experienced theatre and television actor at this point, and is absolutely magnificent here. Watching these two great actors spar against each other is the highlight of the episode.
The case against Jim is open and shut, until a couple of mishaps cause problems. A clumsy WPC accidentally destroys the fingerprint evidence (and is then subjected to a depressing bit of 60s sexism: “you may be a woman but you’re still a policeman”), and Brent unwittingly provides Jim with an alternative explanation for his possession of the money, leaving his newspaper with horse racing results in the room with Jim. That allows him to give a list of horses he backed that morning in order to win the money, and the police have no choice but to release him. Brent realises what has happened, but says nothing, and that’s because he wants to help Jim. Brent has seen the potential to help Jim change his ways, and he cares about him in a way that the police clearly don’t.
The important part of the episode is the meeting that follows between Jim and Brent in a café. Brent recognises that Jim has had it tough, stuck in a borstal and let down by the people who were supposed to help him. In particular, a social worker who actually got through to Jim in the past, and to whom Jim poured out his heart, turned out to be only interested in gathering information for a book, and had therefore exploited him. There is a fascinating debate about honesty vs taking what you want in life, with Jim using an example of a poor old man as a reason not to live an honest life, and Brent offering advice about getting a job and giving Jim a warning about what the future will hold for him if he continues his life of crime. The key moment comes when a gang of Teddy boys comes into the café and starts bullying the old man, and Jim steps in to protect him.
“You gotta draw a line somewhere, ain’t you?”…
“I just think it’s a good idea to draw it on the right side of the law… once you step over it you’ve got no standards.”
It’s a fascinating moment because it shows that Jim really has been let down by the system, and he’s basically a good kid with a kind heart. Just when Brent seems to have got through to Jim, and the teenager is considering giving back the money and is about to look through a newspaper for jobs, in come the police to arrest him again. They have found a witness.
So it’s quite a depressing episode in the end, with defeat snatched from the jaws of victory for Brent, and Jim presumably consigned to the scrapheap of life, just when he was about to change his ways. Writer Julian Bond offers us a clear message, that criminal doesn’t necessarily mean evil, and some people can end up on the wrong path in life due to their circumstances. Jim has been let down by the people who could have helped him, and when a good man finally comes into his life to help him, it’s too late. For 1960 that seems like a brave and progressive message.
It’s a great shame that no more of this series exists, because I would have happily sat through the whole run, although I am happy that this particular episode is the one that survived, allowing us to enjoy two great actors working together. There seems to be very little information about this episode on the net, so I’ll do something I never normally do, and include the full cast information below.
Dr Geoffrey Brent: Ian Hendry
Murphy: Joseph Tomelty
Jim Clark: Michael Crawford
Inspector Bryant: Robin Wentworth
Old Man: Blaise Wyndham
Sgt Manning: Alister Williamson
Cafe Proprietor: Edmond Bennett
PC Johnson: Robert Russell
PC Rowan: David Stuart
WPC Collins: Diana Kennedy
CID Man: Keith Goodman
Teddy Boy 1: Anthony Foyle
Teddy Boy 2: Anthony Ashdown
Teddy Boy 3: James Garrett
You don’t have to be called Anthony to play a Teddy Boy, but it helps. Next week we’re back to The Avengers, with the first episode that exists complete in the archives: Girl on the Trapeze. Make sure you swing by this way for that next Saturday. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Girl on the Trapeze