The Avengers II: Mrs. Gale, We’re Needed!

Avengers Gale title.jpgHonor Blackman’s Cathy Gale may be the greatest of the Avengers women.  She was the first television heroine who was truly her male co-star’s equal.  She had the beauty and poise of a Hitchcock blonde, was independent and intelligent, and had a warmth and morality that the roguish John Steed often lacked.  Blackman herself became a model for women in the early ’60s; she learned judo for the role, and wrote a Book of Self-Defence, one of the first such books aimed at women.

Avengers.jpg
Source: http://www.honorblackman.co.uk

Audiences used to the surrealism of the Mrs. Peel episodes might be disconcerted.

Op Art and Mod hadn’t yet hit British TV, so the stories, while excellent, are more straightforward and less playful.  Some are realistic spy stories; some are workmanlike crime thrillers; and some tell you more about ceramics and ambergris than you want to know.

175px-cathygaleSteed and Mrs. Gale have a snarkier, more complex relationship than he does with Mrs. Peel.  She respects him, but doesn’t quite trust him and is often repelled by his ruthlessness.

There’s more drama in the Mrs. Gale episodes; in many of the colour Avengers episodes, the characters are comic eccentrics or victims killed by the menace of the week. The characters in the Mrs. Gale episodes have lives and agendas of their own, and The Avengers get involved in their lives – at least once, Mrs. Gale falls in love with a villain.

The episodes are shot on black-and-white videotape, so look decidedly less glossy than later episodes.  (This shouldn’t bother anyone who’s seen, say, William Hartnell Doctor Who.)  The series still looks stylish, though – thanks to Peter Hammond, one of the most auteur directors on British television.  His style is immediately recognisable: reflections in mirrors, shots through glass or keyholes, unusually shaped objects.  (Hammond later directed several of the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes episodes.)

The best Mrs. Gale episodes to start with:

Brief for Murder (28 September 1963): A couple of unscrupulous lawyers exploit legal loopholes to get their clients acquitted of murder.  To stop them, Steed organises Mrs. Gale’s murder.

 

Don’t Look Behind You (14 December 1963): Mrs. Gale is invited for the weekend to the house of a wealthy collector, but things aren’t what they seem.  Patrick Macnee’s favourite episode.  Remade as the Mrs. Peel episode “The Joker”.

 

Dressed to Kill (28 December 1963): Steed boards a train for a New Year’s Eve Christmas party – and the guests soon start dying.  Remade as the Mrs. Peel episode “The Superlative Seven”.

Esprit de Corps (14 March 1964): Mrs. Gale becomes a pretender to the throne to stop an army coup.

 

Also first-rate:

Mr. Teddy Bear (29 September 1962): Mrs. Gale’s first case – she pays an assassin to have Steed killed.

The Mauritius Penny (10 November 1962): A murdered stamp-collector leads to a group of neo-Nazis.

Death of a Great Dane (17 December 1962): Later remade as the Mrs. Peel episode “The £50,000 Pound Breakfast”.  A hit-and-run victim has a fortune in jewels in his stomach.

Intercrime (5 January 1963): The Avengers versus an international crime syndicate.

Warlock (27 January 1963): Murder by black magic.

The Nutshell (19 October 1963): Treason in a top-secret nuclear bunker.

The Little Wonders (11 January 1964): The Avengers versus another international crime syndicate.

Mandrake (25 January 1964): The Avengers investigate why so many businessmen are buried in a Cornish graveyard.

The Charmers (29 February 1964): Later remade as the Mrs. Peel episode “The Correct Way to Kill”.  The Avengers work with Soviet agents to stop a group of gentlemanly killers.

The Wringer (18 December 1964): Steed is arrested for treason and interrogated.  Psychedelic.

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “The Avengers II: Mrs. Gale, We’re Needed!

  1. Nick–

    Sorry I didn’t answer you before, but that comment thread was getting long enough as it was! Like I said, my dad, like your parents, grew up watching The Avengers. We in the U.S. started with the Mrs. Peel seasons, so those were the only ones he knew for a while, though he later saw some of the Tara King episodes and didn’t like them as much. As I said, I’ve only seen the Mrs. Peel episodes, but I’ve loved every one, even those that weren’t as good. Would you really say that Honor Blackman was the best of Steed’s partners (or, at least, of the “Avengers women”), better than Diana Rigg? I can’t judge, of course, until I’ve seen the Blackman episodes, but I know that most fans like the Rigg seasons best. (I’m a big fan of both actresses, so I can’t complain either way–though I suppose I’m predisposed to Rigg because I watched those first. Heck, I even liked Diana in those “Mrs. Bradley” debacles that the BBC did ten years ago! I thought the adaptation of “Speedy Death” was good, but the rest were deplorable. Why did they bother calling the program “Mrs. Bradley” if they didn’t care a wink for Mitchell’s novels? Even though Rigg didn’t look like Mrs. Croc, I think she did a good job with the character, and I’d love it if someone actually adapted the books properly–instead of the incessant Christie adaptations that come out every few years. Oh, well.)

    I haven’t actually watched “Dr. Who”–mea culpa–for two reasons. One, I’m not really into science fiction, though I thought a few episodes of the original “Star Trek” were fun in their silliness. I can’t stand “Star Wars” and its ilk, though. Two, I saw an episode of the new series and hated it almost immediately. It was badly acted, scripted, and directed; and one character (the companion?) was so annoying that I wanted to hurl a brick into the television set. I also tend to dislike the “cult” stuff that people fawn over nowadays (ironic that I should be writing it after praising “The Avengers,” I know, but I think you know what I mean–you expressed similar sentiments in your “Dr. Who” post a while back). On the other hand… That post made me interested in looking into “Who” again; knowing that the original series was not as obsessed with pure sci-fi pyrotechnics but in actual character and story, and that it’s wildly different from the new series, got me thinking about watching it again. I hadn’t even known that there were two series of “Who,” or that there was a break in between them.

    Haven’t seen the adaptation of “Curtain,” but I’ll put it on the list. I really liked the darkness added to “Death on the Nile,” but the rest of ’em–not so much. (I haven’t seen “Five Little Pigs” yet, though the book’s one of my favorite Christies, so I’ll put it on the list too.) “Orient Express” was pretty lousy.

    I thought the “Star Trek” movies were terrible. I can’t believe there were critics who gave positive reviews to the second one. Yuk.

    I do love the Adam West series, though I think the Michael Keaton movies are good, and I like Nolan’s trilogy, despite the moodiness and seriousness, as movies (crime dramas) rather than as Batman movies. You’ve seen Nolan’s “The Prestige,” right? One of my favorites–plotting of which Carr would be proud.

    I think “Casino Royale” is the best of Craig’s Bonds and didn’t like “Skyfall” or “Spectre” when I first saw them. I like them now a bit more; interestingly, I liked “Quantum of Solace,” which nobody else liked, when it first came out. You’re right about their not being as fun, though. I know you like Moore, but my favorite has long been Connery.

    Funny you should write about a “Tarantinoesque bloodbath.” I can’t stand Tarantino; just wrote a small piece on his work (http://www.imdb.com/list/ls063916554/). I have to pick up “The Assassination Bureau” and “The Wrong Box.” The former seems especially like a treat.

    I’m a big fan of both Benson and James. I remember first reading “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” at night on a beach in Montauk (on the very tip of Long Island, New York, where I live), listening to the waves of the Atlantic in the distance. Spooky, sinister, and unforgettable. I have a big collection of M.R. James stories at home, bought in Sleepy Hollow, NY (real place, amusingly enough).

    I’ve been watching “Saint” episodes over the last few days–lots of fun! I’ve never been a big fan of Roger Moore-as-Bond–I’m a Connery fan, as I said, and so is the whole family–but Roger’s a million times better as Simon Templar: it feels like he’s in his element. Of the ones I’ve seen, I liked “Sibao,” which you recommended, the best. As you said–a dry run for “Live and Let Die”!

    Hope that big workload is gradually dissipating for you!

    Best,

    Karl

    P.S. I just saw your latest post about the Mrs. Peel era. I suppose I’m biased because I saw the color Mrs. Peel episodes first, but, even if they’re formulaic (and they are), I think they’re a lot of fun. Can’t argue with any of your choices for the best (of both the color and black-and-white episodes), though–and, as you say, “…of course, there’s Diana Rigg herself.” Of course. Need we say any more?

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    • Karl –

      Thanks for the post!

      My favourite season of The Avengers is definitely the first Emma Peel season, but I prefer Mrs Gale as a character. She’s more rounded and believable than Mrs Peel. I find the colour Mrs Peels often frustrating to watch – too formulaic and stylized, while Mrs Peel has become almost unlikeably smug. ‘A corpse? How amusing!’

      Don’t compare the new series of Doctor Who to the originals! It’s like trying to judge The Avengers based on the 1998 movie. Of course, the original series changed a lot over its 26 year history (1963 – 89) – the whole production team and cast changed every three or four years – but (bar a slump in quality in the early to mid ‘80s) was consistent in quality if not in approach. I’d suggest starting with Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker as the Doctor – they were the Doctors in the ‘70s, when the show was at its height. Pertwee’s Doctor was trapped on Earth and worked with the army; Tom Baker was the longest running Doctor (7 years). Most people think Sarah Jane Smith was his best (if not the best) companion, while he married one of his later companions, Lalla Ward (who played a member of the Doctor’s race called Romana). Add a couple of the ’60s episodes – maybe “The Aztecs” for Hartnell and “The Enemy of the World” for Troughton.

      Keep a tissue handy when you watch “Curtain” – it’s sad. Yes, “Orient Express” was awful, so were “Appointment with Death”, “Blue Train”, “Taken at the Flood”… The producer and writers of the early Poirot episodes had left, and David Suchet wanted the programme to be serious – a build-up to “Curtain”.

      “The Prestige” is clever, although I prefer “The Illusionist”, set in turn of the century Vienna.

      Thanks for the IMDB link. “2001” is visually impressive, but I had no idea whether it was a good film – not much in the way of story or characterization. “An anti-movie for anti-moviegoers” – a good description of Tarantino! I can’t see why his films are popular; they manage to be both ultraviolent and tedious. “The Hateful Eight” was the last movie I walked out of – which I’m doing more often (an old fogey at barely 33!).
      (Of course, my aesthetic judgements are flawed; I liked “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Lone Ranger”, which was exhilarating.) By the way, is that a nod to Chesterton? “Orthodoxy is more unique than unorthodoxy, paradoxically enough.”

      I checked out your favorite movies on IMDB – I haven’t seen the Westerns since I was a kid, but I agree with many of your choices – “Shadow of a Doubt”, “Ambersons”, the screwball comedies (“Bringing Up Baby” & “His Girl Friday”), “Laura”, the Billy Wilders. “Captain Blood” – yes, wonderful movie! I read Sabatini’s book last week. Must get hold of “Scaramouche” and “The Sea Hawk”. “The Last of Sheila” – yep. Very, very clever – Sondheim’s homage to Ellery Queen. And several movies on there that I should watch.

      Here’s mine – http://www.imdb.com/list/ls063800551
      (a work in progress)

      Glad you’re enjoying The Saint!
      More later.
      Nick

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      • Nick–

        As always, thank you for your reply! Nice to know about “The Avengers.” I’ve still got to defend the color Mrs. Peel episodes, but I see your point. Interesting about “Dr. Who.” Some of the plots I’ve read about look very interesting–“The Daemons,” for example. Your thoughts on the show give me a good jumping-off point.

        I knew that the first producer of “Poirot” had left, and that the show had changed a lot, though, even when the show wasn’t firing on all cylinders, David Suchet turned in an excellent performance. I think the Suchet Poirot is a far more rounded character than the Poirot of the books, amusingly enough. Though I complained about apparently limitless Christie adaptations nowadays, I am looking forward to Kenneth Branagh’s “Orient Express,” however. Branagh’s a great director–I love the Shakespeare adaptations, and his “Cinderella” was so unexpectedly sweet, uncynical, and beautiful that I put it on my “best” list–and I’m very much hoping that his “MOTOE” is superior to the Suchet version–and maybe even better than the ’74 version. I like that movie, but it feels slower and less engaging than the ’78 “Death on the Nile.” In its favor, though, Albert Finney is a far better Poirot than Peter Ustinov, and the production design is just wonderful.

        I loved “The Illusionist” when I first saw it, and it has that marvelous, almost surreal scene in which the cloaked figure kills Jessica Biel’s reflection–as well as that equally beautiful scene in which Edward Norton conjures up her “ghost,” now that I think of it. Of course, the ending/twist is far more similar to the GAD detective story, and there’s that delightful moment when Paul Giamatti finally puts everything together. I wonder if the main reasons I put “The Prestige” on my list (instead of “The Illusionist”) are (1) the brilliant cluing and (2) my idea that the plot has another twist to it that Nolan’s not showing. I don’t know exactly how I thought up the idea, though it’s probably because of Michael Caine’s last voiceover (“But you don’t really want to know. You want to be–amazed”), but I do think there’s another revelation to it, lurking beneath the surface. Chinese boxes within Chinese boxes, that movie.

        Have you ever read Andrew Sarris’s “The American Cinema”? That’s where I took the quotation on “2001” from, and, yeah, I agree–how do you judge that movie? It just seems cold and inhuman. I had no interest in seeing “Hateful Eight” in the theater–I give you credit that you even tried! Of course, when I was in a film class, everyone adored Tarantino and couldn’t stop talking about his movies. De gustibus, I suppose. I love “Pirates of the Caribbean,” especially the first and the fourth, which told original stories. There’s a sense of fun and adventure harkening back to the Errol Flynn movies. I didn’t see “The Lone Ranger,” but it seems like my kind of movie–so of course the critical reviews were almost universally negative. I wasn’t consciously paraphrasing GKC, but you’re right, now that I think of it! I sometimes end up quoting Chesterton, Wilde, and Shaw without even realizing it.

        I hope you get a chance to re-watch the Westerns. I rediscovered Westerns with John Ford’s “Stagecoach,” a great place to start, and have loved them ever since. I agree with so many of your choices–yours is such a great list! I probably should’ve put one or two Chaplins on my list, but I couldn’t think of which ones! “Shadow of a Doubt” is probably my favorite Hitchcock, though “North by Northwest” and “Rear Window” come close, and “Vertigo” would be my choice for “best Hitchcock.” I recognize Psycho’s brilliance, I do enjoy it, and I would put it on a list of “best,” but somehow I never really warmed up to it. I did once try to write a parody of it, though, featuring a series character of mine. It followed the Psycho plot up to a point, and then there was a twist that upset the apple-cart. Funny that you should put “The Loved One” (’65) on there, because I’ve been meaning to see it for a while–there’s a blog I read (https://longforgottenhauntedmansion.blogspot.com/?m=0) on the creation of the Disney “Haunted Mansion” ride (it has a very interesting history), and several readers think “The Loved One” was a major influence for the “ghost hostess” who bids riders adieu at the end of the ride. “Sleuth” is a great movie; you may be interested in this mystery (http://www.imdb.com/board/bd0000001/thread/257010095?d=257010095#257010095) about it, which really bothered me for a while. Funny about “Pleasantville,” huh? That movie certainly inspires strong reactions in people, one way or the other. “The Last of Sheila”–it took me forever to get it through interlibrary loan, but it was worth it! I really wish the unusual pairing of Sondheim and Perkins had gotten another of their scripts produced. Fiendishly clever plot and nasty, nasty characters. Then there’s that wonderful line about the ruined abbey’s being “something out of a Hammer horror movie.”

        As always, I’ve gone on too long, but thanks for the dialogue! Luckily, I was able to post a “Top 10 Christie” list and a humorous story of mine on my blog.

        –Karl

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      • Hi Karl,

        I liked the butler story on your website – cleverly clued, complete with footnotes and page references à la Carr.

        I agree with your Christie choices – particularly since I’m quoted!

        Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations are superb. His complete “Hamlet” works. I’ve got an essay on it somewhere that I should turn into a blog post – one of the few that an examiner asked for a copy. I want to get hold of his Cole Porter “Love’s Labours Lost” – I hated this play when I first read it; I thought it was probably screamingly funny for audiences in 1592, but a footnote to explain the bawdy quibble in each line is tedious. The Elijah Moshinsky production for BBC Shakespeare opened my eyes – he set it as a Mozartean comedy of manners, with words as music, and it’s beautiful. I haven’t seen the “Cinderella”; I’ll track down a copy. Did you see “Dead Again”, his reincarnation film noir?

        Have you heard John Moffatt play Poirot on radio? He’s the only actor who plays the character Christie wrote – he’s *wise* and benevolent in a way that Suchet’s character increasingly wasn’t. It’s a good performance, but “Curtain” cast its shadow too soon. I didn’t warm to Finney; his Poirot seemed too much a hunchbacked obsessive compulsive. Ustinov played Ustinov rather than Poirot – but there’s so much to U that I’m not complaining! A hugely talented man and a gifted raconteur; I’ve seen videos of his productions of “Billy Budd” and “The Magic Flute”, read his memoirs, and watched his one-man show (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bi1GXrLLHj)

        I should watch “The Prestige” again. The first time I saw it, I came out of the cinema invoking the name of JDC. The clues! The fair play construction! And above all, the quality of ingenuity! I didn’t like it when I watched it a second time, a couple of years ago, though. I’d seen “Insomnia” and “Memento” shortly before, and hated both of them – clever, yes, but cold and unlikeable. Christopher Priest’s book is interesting. Your revelation intrigues me. Can you drop a hint?

        I have a copy of Sarris’s book but haven’t read it. Something to improve!

        I wonder whether the praise for Tarantino is the Emperor’s Clothes syndrome. He’s highbrow, he’s clever – and if you don’t like his films, that shows you’re not with it. That said, people seem to find them amusing – which is worrying. There’s something sociopathic about his films, and I suspect they have a deadening and dehumanising effect. The Trotskyite Socialist Web Site has several good pieces on Tarantino; among other things, they critique his films for lacking humanity. (I’m not a Socialist, but their articles on the arts are excellent.)

        Chesterton, Wilde and Shaw – three of the greatest prose writers of the English language!

        Have you read Jacques Barzun’s “From Dawn to Decadence”?

        If you want to drop me a line, my email address is: nickfuller819@gmail.com.

        Regards,

        Nick

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