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The country life...
I loved The Persuaders as a child, watching the Sunday afternoon re-runs in the early 1970s in my ITV region, and this was always my favorite episode.
The plot is quite simple - Danny suddenly decides to buy a run-down cottage in the middle of nowhere in the English countryside, & soon finds he's in a whole heap of trouble - especially with the less-than-friendly locals.
I love the slightly creepy pre-credits sequence, set in the dead of night, which sets the scene really well in an unsettling way for the story to unfold. There's plenty of opportunities for comedy and hijinks along the way too - and a fair bit of suspense as Danny, Brett and the viewer try to discover the real reason why the cottage is so valuable to the local squire, who won't stop at anything to wrestle it off the resolute Danny.
This story is well-paced and entertaining, and has some good location filming too - including Brett staying in one of my favorite country pubs, The White Horse at Hedgerley (which hasn't changed much to this day!).
Hannah Gordon is good too as the mysterious stranger who seems to be taking an interest in events from afar, and eventually steps in to help. It's an excellent and unpredictable episode, and one I've always thought would have made a great Persuaders feature film - should such a thing have ever happened!
A brush with murder...
When I first watched HH of M & S in 1984, this was never one of my favorite
episodes - but seeing it a few times since, it's grown on me a bit more, and it certainly isn't the worst.
The story revolves around a painter who fakes his own death in the opening scenes, after concocting a plan with his wife - he's looking to get the artistic recognition he feels he deserves (once he's believed to be dead), and his wife is simply after the financial rewards his death will hopefully bring them.
Their plan gets slightly derailed though when his wife (played by singer Michelle Phillips of Mamas & Papas fame) becomes romantically attached to the London art dealer who's handling the now-lucrative sales of her supposedly-dead hubby's work.
There's certainly some mystery here, but not a great deal in the way of suspense, & the story becomes more of a love triangle than anything else. Circumstances soon conspire to push the conspirators' original plans into a slightly different direction, as the police close in on the deception.
The story never really seems to take off in the way it should, and there's something missing here, despite good work all round. Look out for Alan Lake in one of his final roles (sadly screened posthumously, just a few short weeks after his tragic death), and a young Neil Morrissey as a beat copper.
The Professionals: Kickback (1980)
Bodie goes it alone!
This story was the second and final script provided by teenage Professionals fan Stephen Lister - following on from his highly-regarded script submission for 'The Purging of CI5' the previous year.
This is very much a 'Bodie' episode, and is fast-paced and packed with action and intrigue. He works undercover with former SAS partner Keller (who once saved his life on a dangerous operation), as they infiltrate an Italian terrorist group who have planned to assassinate a top-ranking government minister. But, has Keller got his own private agenda?
There are plenty of action set-pieces and memorable scenes along the way, although for me this story seems to have something missing that perhaps doesn't quite make it a classic. Bodie and Doyle don't have many scenes together, and we don't get so much of their usual witty banter and humor.
Having said that, there's plenty to entertain fans of the series, and Bodie gets to showcase all his gun-wielding prowess and skills throughout - as the story reaches a satisfying shoot-out at the climax.
Minder: Fatal Impression (1989)
I've often wondered if this story was meant to be the final episode of Minder - maybe the pack was shuffled and the bosses decided to slot it halfway through the final season instead.
Whenever I watch the series chronologically, I always keep this as the last one - if you watch the last few minutes, you'll see why!
It's an odd episode, whereby the central premise (a silly story of a dodgy man who owes Arthur and others a lot of money, but then 'disappears') seems to take a back seat to the two more serious subplots involving Terry.
An old girlfriend is desperate for his help after leaving her abusive husband, and rocks up at Terry's flat with her two young children in tow. Ever the Good Samaritan, Terry lets her stay, and kips on the sofa while he tries to help her sort her life out. At the same time, he also feels enough is enough of his own life of scrimping a living with the artful Arthur, and maybe he should sort himself out too and get a proper job.
As with many of the later episodes, this one suffers from the rather forced and unnecessary 'comedy' of the central premise - as always, revolving around Arthur. Minder was always best when it was gritty, and the laughs came more naturally out of the situations that arose. The show also seems to want to become more like Only Fools & Horses towards the end - which is a shame, as both shows were brilliant and had similarities, but were also quite different too. It seemed to be a mistake I think to later put the focus more on Arthur than Terry, when the balance worked far better the other way around as it was originally.
So all in all, not exactly a great episode, but one that does work very well as a close to 10 highly-enjoyable years of a much-loved series.
The Professionals: Blood Sports (1980)
The sporting life...
CI5 get involved when the son of a South American President is assassinated by a terrorist organization on a polo field during a match.
They keep an eye on his step-sister Anita who is studying in London, and could also be a target - but could it be that Doyle is ultimately mixing business with pleasure?
This episode doesn't get off to the most exciting of starts perhaps, but slowly develops quite nicely as Bodie and Doyle gradually close in on the protagonists. There's a good scene where they discover the assassins booby-trapped car, and an also an amusing one of Bodie bugging the unwitting girl's apartment.
This episode is probably most notable these days for the short scene which features a young pre-fame Piers Brosnan in the CI5 radio truck (or 'Buggy Boo' as Bodie calls it) listening in on the planted bugs - while Bodie and Doyle huddle amusedly around him.
The final act with the second assignation at a golf course keeps the momentum going, although the action does all seem to end rather abruptly shortly after.
Not one of the best episodes (but nowhere near being the worst either), this one has some good moments along the way, and is definitely saved by a good performance from Michelle Newell as the slightly abrasive but alluring Anita.
Anyone for tennis?
This was one of the two 'forgotten' episodes of Hammer House of Mystery & Suspense in my ITV region - eventually being shown in the summer of 1985, in tandem with 'Last Video and Testament' (whereas the rest had been screened over the fall/winter season of 1984).
On first viewing, I felt a sense of disappointment, as it wasn't quite on a par with the more classic episodes of this series that I'd seen the previous year - but over more recent viewings I've grown to like it.
Unusually for a HH of M & S, it has flashback scenes from several decades ago - the beginning (using stock footage of the plane) isn't entirely convincing, I have to say - neither are the actors wearing make-up to look like older versions of themselves in some later scenes.
But the creepiness of the actual tennis court itself is well done, and delivers some genuine scares. The quirky camera angles throughout also add to a sense of strangeness and foreboding - and who would think a tennis court could be a scary place?
There are good appearances from the ever-reliable Cyril Shaps as an eccentric 'ghostbuster', and from Hannah Gordon and Isla Blair, who would be familiar faces to British viewers.
Veteran actor Peter Graves is solid too as the older Redmond. While he was in the UK filming this episode, he also filmed spoken on-screen intros for each of the 13 episodes - tagged on for the American audience who saw this show under the banner of 'Fox Mystery Theater'.
All in all maybe not one of the very best, but a good 'supernatural' episode with some memorable scenes and shocks along the way.
The Professionals: Hijack (1980)
Doyle suspects the woman his new girlfriend is sharing a flat with may be involved in a Russian plot to steal silver bullion, and has to do some careful investigations.
Despite some good interplay between Doyle, his girlfriend (played by the delightful Rachel Davies) and her friend Jill, this episode somehow doesn't quite hit the mark. The set-up for the bullion heist is good - it's just that the execution of the actual hijack itself is over in a matter of seconds - and almost seems to pass without the viewer really noticing! With a bit more of a pacy direction, this could have been made much more exciting and tense, and could have formed the centerpiece of the episode.
Instead it's left really till the final act, when Jill herself becomes the target - and the pace starts to pick up to an action-packed conclusion. Not a bad story, and there's lots to enjoy along the way, but you're left with the feeling it could have been so much better.
People in glasshouses...
CI5 become involved in a case concerning corruption in the building industry, and Cowley soon discovers a construction of conspiracy and chicanery in the corridors of power.
This episode is rather long on talk and short on action, with Bodie and Doyle having less to do perhaps than usual. Cowley does however get some great scenes - whether he's taking Bodie to task with his swordsmanship skills, giving corrupt ministers a well-delivered verbal ticking off, or even getting involved in a bit of a creative scuffle in the final act.
The accountant's carefully-planned death scene is memorable - especially as it comes at the hands of 'heavy' Duncan Preston - more well-known in later years of course for his comedy turns in the Harry Enfield and Victoria Wood shows. There are good guest appearances too from veteran actors Harold Innocent, Bill Fraser and Maurice Denham.
An enjoyable and unusual story, but maybe not quite up to par with the series' best and most classic episodes.
The Professionals: Hunter/Hunted (1978)
This is another cracking episode from the very strong second season, and a real Pros classic.
The story is quite simple - Cowley asks B & D to test out a new gun. But it's not any old gun - it's a bang-up-to-date 180 automatic with a pin-accurate laser pointer sight... very advanced for 1978!
Someone else seems to be watching events from afar and stalking the duo, and it's not long before the gun is stolen - after Doyle carelessly slings it in his upstairs closet at home for safe-keeping, as if it's a set of golf clubs!
Now the race is on to recover the lethal weapon - but it seems the person who stole it may be closer to home than at first thought...
This episode is packed with memorable scenes - including the famous exploding car that Doyle escapes from in the nick of time... and it's really Martin Shaw who leaps from the vehicle, not a stunt double. It's well-paced and entertaining throughout - we also get some nice touches, such as seeing what Doyle's house looks like inside, and where they take their girlfriends for a night out.
It races along to a bristling and memorable set-piece conclusion where we finally find out who the culprit is and why the gun was stolen. Lots of good London locations along the way, especially around docklands, and good interplay between the boys. An action-packed and suspenseful story, and one that would be a great episode to start with for anyone who's new to the show.
Classic episode from the 80s Hammer series
This has always been one of my favorite episodes of Hammer House of M & S, and a it's a bit of classic!
Two years after a paranormal experience in their Brighton hotel room, Frank and Sylvia Daly settle down to spend the final night in their now empty London apartment - before jetting off the next day to a new life in Botswana, where Frank has been transferred for his job.
But their night is far from peaceful - the paranormal apparitions return, this time a bit closer to home, and soon they find themselves in the middle of a horror story - bearing witness to a wicked crime that appears to have involved former tenants of their apartment. Was it all just a dream - or did they really see what thought?
The tension builds nicely in this claustrophobic story, as we learn more and more as to the fate of the poor old woman Frank and Sylvia first saw in Brighton. Christopher Cazenove and Carol Lynley make a convincing terrified couple, caught up in a real-life nightmare - with good support from the friendly neighbors upstairs in the shape of David Healy and Judy Loe (who was of course the widow of the late Richard Beckinsale).
This is an unusual and suspenseful story, which provides as excellent and surprising twist at the end which is well worth the wait. Highly recommended!
Long Drawn-out, but atmospheric episode
When I first saw this in 1984, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed - it seemed to lack the colorful style and intrigue of the other episodes.
Having seen it now a couple of times since, I feel better disposed to it, and it has a starkness and simplicity that have grown on me.
The story of a man dying in jail, having been wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife years earlier, develops quite well as we go, if quite slowly - and the fact that he appears as a 'ghost' in his own past is a clever idea that adds a sense of forboding and makes for an unsettling atmosphere.
The Cornish locations are lovely, but they seem to detract from the usual familiarly and claustrophobia of some of the other stories, and seem to make this story perhaps less focused and effective that maybe it could have been.
The feeling of being in 'the past' isn't completely convincing either - Lesley Dunlop's spiky 80s haircut for instance feels a bit incongruous! Having said that, there's a clever and satisfying twist at the end that finishes the story quite neatly, but you do need to stay the course.
Maybe not one of the more memorable episodes, but still plenty to enjoy and a good contrast to some of the other perhaps better-drawn and more extreme stories of this underrated series.
Atmospheric & memorable episode of the classic series
I loved watching HH of M & S during the autumn and winter of 1984, and this was always one of my favorite episodes.
This story concerns two missing 60s pop stars - The Verne Bros duo - and the creepy tale of why no one had heard anything from them, or even seen them, since 1964.
The story is quite a slow burner but, once it gets going, it's packed with atmospheric and memorable scenes. It makes good use of the remote village where the story is set, and also of the huge gothic edifice of Knebworth House.
Viewers in the UK also will also be interested to see Christopher Ellison - 'Burnside' in the long-running and popular Thames TV series The Bill - playing the local detective who attempts to solve the mysterious case.
I love the whole atmosphere and intrigue of this episode, and its slightly tongue-in-cheek style. If only modern TV could be half this good! All in all, it's a memorable and original story that definitely stands the test of time, and a fun and macabre addition to this underrated series.
Minder: The Beer Hunter (1980)
This has always been one of my favorite Minder episodes, and watching it again recently was such a treat.
Georgina Hale excels here in a devilishly memorable and hilarious role as an aging 'high-class' prostitute. She somehow ends up spending the night in bed with the drunken 'Yorkie' (who else could it be but Brian Glover), an old friend from Arthur's army days - who seems to have not only lost his memory (and Arthur), but his trousers as well!
The whole episode is packed with humor, great set-pieces and a bewildering sense of mystery - will Terry and Arthur ever find Yorkie again, will Yorkie remember the name of his hotel, and will his wife be happily reunited with him by the time she reaches London on her National Express coach.
One hilarious scene has Arthur literally running away with the ball on a school rugby field - and another has Terry in a mistaken-identity scene with a sulky chef in what appears to be the world's most unhygienic hotel kitchen.
There's much to enjoy here and, as with all the earlier episodes, the humor comes from the 'grit' as it were, and doesn't feel as forced as perhaps it does in the later stories. Strangely too, there's a barmaid behind the bar of The Winchester - but no Dave!
All in all though a very enjoyable and memorable episode that showcases Minder at its very best.
It's Your Move (1982)
In every dream-home...
With 'It's Your Move', Eric Sykes once again delivers one of his eccentric and near-mute comedy shorts - paying a fun homage to the silent era as well as perhaps the humor and sight-gags of Laurel and Hardy.
As usual, the set-up is fairly simple - this time it concerns a couple on moving day to their new home in the London suburbs, and the incompetent moving men who add to the chaos of what we discover of their already not-so 'des' residence.
The humor is old-fashioned and quaint, even by 1982 standards, and if you're not familiar with Eric (and his assorted cast here of erstwhile British comics and actors), it may not mean a great deal to you. It's not meant to be sophisticated or clever, it's just an excuse for some good old-fashioned knockabout humor and slapstick, and this is something he always does very well.
As a footnote, for anyone who may not know, Eric was gradually losing his hearing at this time, and this is what (I understand) inspired his move to make this and his other dialog-free comedy shorts over the years. So sit back and enjoy the ride of a bit of comic nostalgia from a more gentle time - and have fun spotting all those famous cameos!
The New Avengers: The Midas Touch (1976)
New Avengers meet Goldmember!
This has always been one of my favorite New Avengers episodes, and it certainly delivers.
It presents the intriguing plot of the gold-obsessed Prof Turner, who it seems has perfected the ultimate biological warfare weapon.
What makes the episode so good is a cracking combination of action (including an excellent 'relaxed' car chase), great locations (including Oakley Court Hotel, forever of course associated with Hammer Films) and the requisite super-villain madman with a crazed scheme, who needs to be stopped.
It's good to see the excellent John Carson in a supporting role too, and Purdey's fashion range from stylish to the highly-impractical!
The costume party at Oakley Court is atmospheric, and it all builds to a heart-stopping finale where you wonder if our heroes will really make it in time - despite some nerve-jangling driving from Gambit.
All in all, a highly-enjoyable bit of escapism, and a great example of when this series got all the ingredients right.
The Lost Boys...
Some of Eric Sykes comedies are excellent and he's certainly a real legend - but it's sad to say that this one falls a bit flat, despite a fairly promising start.
The plot is fairly simple - an incompetent Scoutmaster takes a group of boys away by train to set up camp in a quiet woodland. But, it seems they may be in a spot of trouble (and not especially welcome) as there's more to the woods than meets they eye - some rather strange goings on involving crooks, police, MI5 and even the armed services.
What comedy there is seems a little labored, old-fashioned (even for the time) and obvious, and you're left with the feeling this could have been so much better perhaps with a slightly different approach. There's a good strong cast of familiar faces, and not surprisingly many who appear in other Thames shows, being that this is a Thames TV production.
I really wanted to like this, but it's ultimately a bit painful to watch, and seems to be aimed predominantly at children - although I'm sad to say I'm not sure many children these days would find much here in the way of entertainment.
Former British agent Quinn escapes from a psychiatric facility where he's being treated after 3 years' captivity and interrogation in Russia at the hands of the KGB. He then draws up a hit-list of former colleagues, who he plans to take out one by one in a carefully orchestrated solo operation.
Cowley sends his boys in - but will Quinn be too clever for them?
This is an excellent episode of The Professionals that has all the elements that made the series so good. A dash of humor (Bodie getting 'pulled' by a cop for speeding!), an intriguing and smart opponent in the shape of Quinn (Dale Henney in excellent form as the nominal silent assassin), and a story that really zips along until it reaches a thrilling climax.
Former Gerry Anderson scriptwriter Brian Barwick recycled elements of his UFO story 'Mindbender' for this episode, and it works very effectively as Quinn 'sees' anyone who opposes him as one of his Russian tormentors.
Coupled with some good locations and a well-cast Steven Berkhoff as Quinn's 'trigger', this is a very enjoyable and memorable episode packed with action, suspense, tension and that all-important dash of humor.
The Corpse (1971)
Very nearly a classic, but...
This had all the ingredients to be a classic film, but ultimately doesn't quite completely hit the mark.
The story revolves around the daughter and wife of a dictatorial and cruel man who concoct a seemingly clever method of killing him - making it look like suicide.
After quite a muddled start, the film picks up pace once we witness the uncomfortably violent beating by Walter (played by Michael Gough) on his demure and beautiful teenage daughter Jane (Sharon Gurney).
Jane and her mother Edith decide enough is enough, and hatch their plan - but could it be that Walter is already one step ahead of them?
My favorite era for British horrors is the early 70s, and this film certainly delivers with its tense atmosphere, quirky direction and colorful dream sequences. The music is good too, and helps to really punctuate the action.
There's some good countryside locations, and the bonus of Michael Gough in a memorable role - seeing him immediately brought back memories of his role as the creepy butler in the first Hammer Dracula movie more than ten years earlier.
But the film ultimately belongs to Sharon Gurney, who gives an amazingly understated and moving performance as the troubled victim Jane. Besides being a beautiful 'English Rose', she has a wonderful screen-presence and charm, and as a viewer you desperately want her to triumph and find some happiness and peace away from her father.
The film builds well to a tense and unexpected climax - but ultimately the viewer is left feeling rather short-changed by an inexplicable and abstruse final scene - one which left me completely befuddled!
But, this aside, it is still a very enjoyable film for lovers of this genre, and it's a pity it doesn't seem to be more highly regarded than it maybe is.
The Winged Avenger!
This Dennis Spooner episode has always been one of my favorites of the series, since I saw it on its first airing back in 1976.
The story involves a reclusive man who has seemingly found a way to mesmerize the birds at his sanctuary into doing his bidding, grouping en masse to take out his enemies - not unlike the scenes in the classic Hitchcock film.
The whole story is intriguing and atmospheric, and makes good use of its locations - especially the much-used St Hubert's House near Pinewood Studios, which always looks good on film.
There's humor too, and great interaction between the three Avengers as they attempt to outwit their unusual foe - nicely played by Vladek Sheybal.
The story of a madman bent on revenge by extraordinary means is at the core of many classic Avengers episodes of the 60s, and the idea is well played out here for the 70s audience.
For someone who's never seen The New Avengers and is maybe wary of i being as good as they originals, this would certainly be a great place to start.
The Avengers: Fog (1969)
Lost in the fog...
This rather unusual episode towards the end of the Tara season has never been one of my favorites, and is somewhat of an oddity.
Based loosely on Jack the Ripper, the story revolves around the unlikely return of the mysterious Victorian street murderer the 'Gaslight Ghoul' - who has seemingly adopted the said ghoul's alter-ego (& disguise) in order to pick out and murder delegates at a disarmament conference being held in London.
The biggest drawback of the episode is the fact that it is completely studio-bound - this very likely being due to the fact that it was recorded over the Christmas period of 1968, when outdoor conditions would have been challenging. This gives it a rather cramped feel, and it has the look of an Avengers stage production, rather than a filmed episode.
For those who can stay the course, we do of course get to see 'whodunnit', & a rather fitting fight scene at the climax. The episode is saved in part too due to the presence of the ever-reliable Nigel Green, who gives a satisfyingly characterful performance.
All in all though, a bit of a disappointment, & an episode only really suitable for completists.
Send in the clowns...
Two contract killers dressed as clowns are responsible for a number of bizarre and grisly deaths of members of the board of the same company, and The Avengers are called in to investigate.
This rather odd episode sits rather awkwardly in what was, on the whole, a pretty good season. The sense of glossy unreality in The Avengers is usually much more subtle, but here it's the central theme - clowns who can commit murders in full make-up & costumes, and even do a quick-change in the blink of an eye! Colorful as it is, the overt comedy doesn't really work, and it never feels the least bit believable.
It's never been one of my favorite episodes, though I'm aware that some fans like it. It seems here that the writers are still getting to grips with the new series, and Tara as a character, and haven't fill cracked it yet. Much better stories were to come!
There's a couple of interesting cameos along the way though with Bernard Cribbins, and also John Cleese - seen here just a short while before the Monty Python series hit the screens.
All in all though, one of the lesser stories of the Thorson season, and definitely not a good place for anyone new to the series to start!
The Avengers: Killer (1968)
Linda Thorson was clearly taking a holiday break from production for a couple of weeks, so in comes Lady Diana as Steed's new one-off assistant in the shape of Jennifer Croxton for this single episode.
Sadly, attractive as she is, she comes across as a bit two-dimensional, & there's none of the usual chemistry and fun that Steed usually enjoys with Tara.
The plot about agents being killed and their polythene-wrapped bodies 'dropped off' by a mysterious and malevolent agency sounds promising, but the whole story just feels a bit flat and lifeless, and Tara's absence is felt.
Despite this, we do get some interesting locations - especially an exterior Elstree street set standing in as a disused film studio. A bus full of showroom dummies too provides a bizarre Avengers-type shock.
Diana's fight scene is well done, and we get the usual sarcasm from a concerned Mother! All in all though, a forgettable episode with no real suspense in what was largely an enjoyable season.
An episode of two halves - the 2nd not very good!
After a disappointing couple of episodes in this 5th season, my expectations weren't high for this one.
But, as the first 25 mins or so unfolded, this really did feel like the return of 'classic' Black Mirror.
Two teenage sisters who don't get on - and the younger one besotted with the latest throw-away teenybopper pop star. She begs her dad for a mini-robot figurine of the popstar for her birthday - the star's latest marketing gizmo.
And in this, she seems to have finally found a friend, someone she can really talk to and who understands her - but what is the little figurine really about?
Sadly, after this promising and intriguing start, the emphasis of the story seems to change, and not for the best. It was a shame, as it had been so carefully built in the first half, and I was looking forward to seeing how it would all pan out. Let's just say it all gets very 'American', and we seem to be watching an entirely different show!
I didn't realize until after I'd watched that the singer was played by a real-life pop star! Maybe fiction imitating truth...
Black Mirror: Striking Vipers (2019)
The Mirror Crack'd...
I mostly loved Black Mirror - sure, there have been a few turkeys along the way, but it's mostly been clever, thought-provoking and innovative.
At its best it's been among some of the best TV drama ever made.
Sadly though, on watching this opening episode of season 5, the magic definitely seems to have gone. What's happened?
A paper-thin and tedious story about virtual reality gaming that could have filled about 15 mins of airtime - no real surprises, suspense, twists or much in the way of actual entertainment. This felt like the sort of thing 12-year-old boys watch.
I do hope the other season 5 episodes will be better, but sadly my expectations after this aren't exactly very high...
Tara ends up seeing double!
The plot for this episode is quite simple - Tara and Steed are to act as official observers at a peace conference - but enemy agent Arcos plans to infiltrate it with a fake Steed, using his ingenious 'instant plastic surgery' invention to create a convincing double.
With the real Steed kidnapped by Arcos's henchmen, it's left to Tara (with the help of the dashing Baron Von Curt) to scupper the plan - but will they make it in time?
This is an enjoyable and fun story that has all the ingredients that make a good Tara episode - a crazed villain, some good location work and a well-choreographed battle between protagonists and antagonists at the finale - not to mention yet another ingenious secret hideout for Mother and Rhonda.
A nicely-paced story from the final season that keeps the viewer guessing throughout, and hoping that Tara can save the day. Highly recommended!