Wednesday 6 November 2019

The Saint - The Talented Husband

The prospect of watching all of The Saint is daunting - there are 118 episodes. In recent years I have discovered more ITC shows, but I have always had a fondness for The Saint and am looking forward to spending more time with him again.

Simon Templar travels the world, either being called upon or simply stumbling into trouble as he takes on bad guys. He is usually accompanied by beautiful young women, luxurious locations, a fast car and excellent suits. His charm gets him far and throwing a decent punch helps sometimes too. Beginning in 1962, The Saint became a huge success for its production company, ITC, and propelled its star, Roger Moore, to international fame.

The Talented Husband
First broadcast 4th October 1962

Following an accident, Madge Clarron is confined to bed at home, though her husband John is telling a mountain of lies to prevent people from seeing her. An old Irish housekeeper, Mrs Jafferty, arrives to help look after her. Simon travels to the village, where he meets Adrienne, their new neighbour. Having discovered that both of John's previous wives died suddenly, Simon is concerned for Madge. Adrienne turns out to be an insurance investigator and both she and Simon begin keeping an eye on the Clarron house together. Mrs Jafferty turns out to be John in disguise, who has planned an elaborate alibi so he can get away with murdering Madge for her money.

Guest stars
Derek Farr, Shirley Eaton and Patricia Roc. Shirley Eaton is the only one of these I know from elsewhere, primarily for her role as Bond girl Jill Masterson in Goldfinger, where she became famous for being painted head to toe in gold paint.

The Famous Simon Templar
"You're the famous Simon Templar!" is how many of The Saint's pre-title sequences end, but not this one. Instead, Madge introduces him to Clarron by simply saying, "This is Simon Templar."

The Saint in...
This week the Saint spends the pre-titles sequence in a theatre bar, while the rest of the episode takes place in Cookham, a typically picturesque English village.

Painted backdrops
Lacking the budget to travel to all of the Saint's favourite spots around the world, the series, like others from ITC, utilised painted backdrops in scenes to convey a sense of global scale. Some stock footage and a caption were the only other things needed to whisk us away. This staple of The Saint isn't so easy to spot in The Talent Husband and it actually has a fair amount of location footage compared to some episodes. The only time any sort of backdrop is used is for the trees seen through the windows of Adrienne's house.

Period features
This section is for aspects that place us within the show's period, or would otherwise seem alien to someone from the present coming to the episode. The Talented Husband includes a steam train, an everyday part of life that would become rare by the end of the decade.

The rat poison costs "three and six", meaning three shillings and sixpence, usually written as 3/6. It's a small sum and I can't find much advertised in this month's TV magazines for so little - it won't even buy you a packet of 20 cigarettes (3/10). Weetabix has an offer on for EPs at that price, with a choice of Western Songs or Cindarella/Jack and the Beanstalk. Westerns are all the rage on TV at this time, so I'd recommend the former.

Mrs Jafferty is also asked to sign "the poison book" - simply a record for who has bought poison. I have never had to buy poison but I don't think such things exist anymore.

On the train, John Clarron meets Madge's doctor, who is reading the Evening Standard. The date isn't readable but above the headline it says, 'As Kennedy's marines head into Siam/Premier explains where we stand' with the main headline reading 'MAC: READY TO SEND IN RAF'. This references US President John F. Kennedy, who first issued orders to deploy US Marines to Siam (Thailand) in March 1961, which certainly helps with the dates of the newspaper. At the time, the US was concerned with the growing influence of communism in the region. 'Mac' is British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

Madge's looming murder is referenced in a couple of lines of dialogue. John tells Adrienne that Madge is "dying to meet you" and Madge lovingly tells John, "Sometimes I think if I weren't married to you, I'd die."

The opening episode gives us a wonderful summary of the Saint's outlook, perfectly setting up his character: "I don't like being a cog in the machine. Being one of the ants who devour the dragon is all very noble, but it's not half as much fun as being St. George, is it?"

The Ungodly
In these earlier episodes, Simon often refers to "the ungodly" as having set characteristics, lumping all criminals in together. It is a phrase from the Leslie Charteris novels and does seem to get phased out later on. It is used in The Talented Husband.

The Sinners
We see a lot of the Clarrons and following the pre-title sequence, it's a while before Simon even turns up. There are flaws in John Clarron's murder plan (he prepares a meal with rat poison to be heated up later, then heads to London for the day), mainly - why did he leave the empty tin of rat poison at home? He could have taken it with him and dumped it from the train, or else when he got to London. Also maintaining the Mrs Jafferty lie to cover his exact leaving times, he returns to Cookham with the disguise in his bag. Why? She is supposed to have committed the crime as part of a robbery, then fled, so he wasn't going to need it anymore. Like the poison, he could have dumped it before he returned. They are the two things that catch him out yet could have been disposed of easily.

Derek Farr was the most enjoyable performance for me. He switches from the caring husband to anger in an instant and these moments made his villainy much more believable. When Simon confronts finally him, the use of close-ups enables our Saint to look much more powerful, with Clarron quickly become a jibbering wreck. Simon is slightly menacing as he angrily glares down the camera and we wonder what he's going to do with Clarron.

She Was a Lady
The charming Simon Templar is definitely a ladies man and manages to find some company during most episodes. He and Adrienne hit it off in the pub when she invites him to have dinner with her. Later, Simon goes back to her house and the next day we see them about to have coffee and breakfast together, which prompts me to ponder whether he stayed the night. At first, it seems unlikely as plenty of people had already seen him arrive at the pub and living in such a small village community, Adrienne surely wouldn't want tongues wagging. Yet as she is only in the village while she investigates John Clarron, perhaps she wouldn't care what people had to say about her.

The Volvo
The Saint drives a white Volvo P1800. It's a gorgeous car and perfectly suits a playboy. I thought I'd clock just how often it turns up and how much action it gets. Here, Simon drives it into Cookham, almost knocking down Mrs Jafferty as he races through the village.

Little. John Clarron accidentally-on-purpose knocks a large concrete flower pot onto Madge from a balcony.

I've always thought Simon Templar smoked considerably, if not constantly, but it's a good 20 minutes into this episode before he lights up. In total, he smokes three cigarettes.

1960s' drama is always a good representation of how much the nation's drinking habits have changed. Simon is partial to a drink or two and in The Talented Husband he is drinking when we first meet him, sipping at something in the theatre bar. At a guess from the colour and the glass type, it could be a gin and tonic. In Cookham, he stays at a pub where he knows the landlord and upon arrival opts for "a pint from the barrel - warm, flat, nourishing - and very British." I suppose one must tire of champagne. Later, he drinks "custom-built" Manhattan (whiskey, vermouth, bitters) alone, then agrees to another with Adrienne.

Sunday 3 November 2019

Blake's 7 - Horizon

"I am not expendable, I am not stupid and I'm not going."

Horizon had piqued my interest the moment I saw it on the DVD title menu as I knew it was the name of the Blake’s 7 fan club. Following the episode, I thought that was a neat idea. The episode's titles themselves also posed further intrigue as Blake's 7 has another new writer in Allan Prior.

At the expense of your friends
Prior to heading down to Horizon, Blake tells Jenna he wants her to come with him because he thinks Avon is less likely to do a runner without a “first-class pilot”. On the edge of the screen, we can see a glint of silver as Avon comes into the teleport room. Has he overheard? I believe so but Blake and Jenna don’t seem to, and it isn’t referenced later.

Blake can’t have always thought this about Avon, certainly not as strongly, so it must be a belief that has gained substance. I've usually been convinced Avon would leg it in the right circumstances but it’s interesting for Blake to voice this as a more serious concern. Blake might have thought it before, but now he feels he knows it, and I believe Avon knows he knows but does Blake know Avon knows he knows? Compared to Series A, there hasn’t been so much tension between Blake and Avon so far this series, so I’m pleased to see that this relationship is still being explored.

I am not stupid
The visit to Horizon seemed like a car crash in slow motion as various members of the Liberator crew continued to get shot with darts and captured. I fully supported Avon as he stubbornly told Vila, “I am not expendable, I am not stupid, and I’m not going.” It’s practically his slogan (I’m delighted to have been informed that this quote is available on a t-shirt). It was bad enough when Gan and Vila followed Blake and Jenna, but it was at least reasonable. Yet Cally’s decision to head down after all four of them had disappeared seemed ludicrous. We were back in Cygnus Alpha territory – give it an hour then give them up for dead and get out of there. Nonetheless, I was surprised that Avon let Cally go alone. I’ve previously noted that it’s something of a general rule that crew members don’t visit planets alone and I expected Avon to be more protective, or at least show greater indecision about remaining on the Liberator.

After overhearing Blake express his doubts about Avon to Jenna, I wondered whether Avon might be pushed into proving Blake wrong. I think Avon does have some form of loyalty to the others now and I'm not sure he would betray them all like Blake suggests. However, I think he would consider it if the action was solely against Blake.

Watching Avon talk through the possible outcomes with Orac was nice, as he worked through the logic so he could justify leaving - he wants to be sure he will be safe. There is that loyalty to the rest of the crew, yet he does seem convinced that everyone is probably dead and that’s what enabled him to seriously consider leaving in the Liberator. It doesn’t matter that he ultimately didn’t, the fact remains that he was going to and so could be pushed to do so again. I began to feel that the script might develop something to make him go down after them and I’m glad it wasn’t something naff like Avon suddenly discovering love or moral obligations. I think it would have felt out of character for anything to trump reason and logic. Avon ultimately decides to try to rescue the others due to the approach of three Federation pursuit ships, which he knows the Liberator cannot outrun.

Blake the Bloody Hero
Blake gets some lovely speeches in the series that position him as a leader. Gareth Thomas delivers them earnestly and I enjoyed his talks with Ro in Horizon. Unfortunately for Blake, he doesn’t get to be the hero and it is Avon who comes to the rescue. Having Avon nearly blow Blake's head off is a nice touch, even more so followed up by Blake's teasing line of, "Missed." I was intrigued that the original line was supposed to be, "Can't you tell your friends from your enemies anymore?" I like both.

I’m trying to like Blake more but was annoyed when he criticised Avon’s “last-minute heroics” - and not for the first time. Avon has often operated the teleport with seconds to spare and Blake is always so bloody ungrateful! Why can’t he just say “thanks”?! One day, Avon will be wondering why he bothers.

Long sleeves and bare chests
Last series I pondered about the temperature on the Liberator because the crew are permanently in long sleeves. I noticed that this has continued even with their new outfits. Did something unseen on Cygnus Alpha hideously scar them? Had the Federation branded them as convicts? It now seems unlikely because Horizon is, I believe, the first time we see a crew member's bare arm. With Vila in horrific stomach pain, Cally pulls his sleeve back to administer some pain relief.

As if this wasn't enough, we progress to shirts being completely removed for Blake and Vila when they are working in the mine. I'm not too sure how common such sights were on television by 1979. Over in Back in Time For TV, I'd seen the progression from the 1960s when married couples were depicted in bed together wearing full pyjamas and dressing gowns, yet by the mid-1970s a man could sit at a breakfast table with only a towel around his waist. Context is part of this - there is a difference between seeing couples in bed and someone getting undressed in a doctor's office for instance. That period's television still always seems far more prudish than most of real life.

The initial sights of Gareth Thomas and Michael Keating's bare chests are in the dim light of the mine, but they do later emerge into the open where we can see they are filthy from their work. Later still, Blake gets a full shot in the light. I termed this 'the Putin shot', due to Gareth Thomas's resemblance to the Russian leader's shirtless photos. Perhaps after what they had been doing with Servalan, the production felt they needed to offer something similar for the rest of the Blake's 7 audience.

Vila's shortcomings
Vila's cowardice has been emphasised less than in the first series, though his yellow outfits are an ever-present reminder for me. I enjoyed Horizon's more subtle nod to this characteristic. We don't see Vila captured and interrogated, but the Kommissar says that Vila confessed who he was at once. This wasn't so bad, but he has also told them about the Liberator's force field. There was clearly no need to see Vila's interrogation because he must have been terrified from the moment he came round. It's amusing that Vila had clearly chatted about anything they asked offscreen yet now sits in silence as they prepare to send him for the first day of work in his life.

This could not dampen my affection for Vila because it is exactly what I would expect from him. As a confirmed coward, he was never going to risk any form of pain. He stepped in to go with Gan to Horizon instead of Cally, but if only to save themselves, I think the crew should start acting more protectively towards Vila. He is emerging as a man prone to such primal weaknesses. He did everything he could to reach the ephemeral pleasures of Space City and promptly overindulged. When Cally provides him with the pain relief in Horizon, she reveals it contains Soma. As well as knocking Vila out for a while, it appears to offer a considerable amount of pleasure and he is keen to be allowed to raid the Liberator's stocks. While Vila is a coward for the most part, this makes it all the more satisfying when he does summon up bravery. Yet I'll be curious to see whether this penchant for vices does lead to more serious and dangerous problems for him, and the others.

Up until now, I don't feel like we have had much chance to see the societies of the planets we have visited and when it has been space stations like Space City or the Destiny ship, it's far too small a snapshot. The Liberator crew are generally visiting places to blow up something belonging to the Federation, so we don't see much. Cygnus Alpha and Redemption are probably the only two episodes to show us something substantial.

I was so intrigued by Ro, who appears to have sold his entire planet into slavery for the Federation. We hear of him being educated by the Kommissar, who emphasises that Ro's people are primitives and reminds Ro that he once was too. It should be obvious to Ro that he has not improved the lives of his people and has made them far worse, yet he seems blinded by everything the Kommissar tells him and I'm left pondering just what that education consisted of.

The leadership team on Horizon includes Ro, the Kommissar and the Assistant Kommissar. The Kommissar drew an "ooh" from me as he is played by William Squire, who I know best as Hunter from Callan. I think he's got a lovely voice that hints at his Welsh background but mostly I like its deep richness. It's a voice that is well-suited to authoritative roles and I enjoyed the assertiveness with which the Kommissar is able to influence Ro.

The population work in rag-like clothes in the mines, providing a fabulous visual contrast with the crushed maroon velvet worn by Ro and the Kommissars. I thought these were lovely outfits and were perfect for emphasising them as an elite, far removed from the lives of the population. Even though Blake's words have influenced Ro and inserted doubts, he seems to only decide to take decisive action once he is reunited with his fiancé, Selma, who has been among the people and working in the mine.

A safe haven?
I had liked the realism brought into the initial setup of Horizon, with the crew mentally and physically exhausted from living their lives in a constant stressful battle with the Federation. Blake's subsequent idea about finding a base for their resistance movement hugely intrigued me. The events of the episode left me uncertain but I'm still curious to see whether they ever do return to Horizon to use it as a base or temporary hideout. Having a base on a safe planet does seem like a good idea and I was all for it at the beginning of the episode. However, I now believe it would be far too risky. How safe is any planet? If it is safe, then for how long? How long until someone finds it, or betrays them, or is threatened and blackmailed into revealing its weaknesses? Their best chance is to stay on the move and find temporary places to recuperate.

What the everything
Horizon was hugely enjoyable and I felt there was just the right balance of plot, action, character and humour. The tension built up by placing the crew in a seemingly inescapable situation was great, with it increasing as more and more of them were captured in the same way. Having them all react to it slightly differently was good too and again I was pleased that Cally's telepathy is more of a presence this series.

In Ro and the Kommissar, there were substantial roles for the guest actors. Sometimes 50 minutes has been nowhere near enough to give them chance to shine but Allan Prior did prioritise this more than other scripts have. I'll be interested to see more of his episodes.

The crew are often split into two groups for most of the episode and especially in Series A, I was able to designate them easily as Team Blake and Team Avon. But Horizon provided a slower divide and gradually separating the crew provided different types of scenes. Cally using her telepathy with Ro was unexpected and placing Avon alone with Orac was a wonderful way of offering us a stream of consciousness. Both he and Blake are the most complex characters so getting an alternative insight into Avon's thoughts and processes is a superb idea.