Friday, 2 April 2010
And so it seems to be with old TV programmes as well. Watching some old clips of Dusty Springfield, you can’t help noticing the weird and wonderful sets she was given to sing amongst. There are what look like stacks of toilet roll tubes, giant spotty boxes and all manner of strange pieces of furniture but nothing can beat the set where she is singing ‘I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten’. This one comprises a mesmerising geometric floor pattern interspersed with towering Grandfather Clocks all stopped at Ten o’Clock (Geddit?).
The whole effect reminded me strongly of the sort of sets used in the 1960s spy spoof series, ‘The Avengers’. I am a huge fan of the original Avengers series from the early Cathy Gale days right up to the Linda Thorsen exploits but, of course, nothing beats the two seasons which starred Diana Rigg as the incomparable Emma Peel, especially season 4 produced in black and white in 1965. There is something about this monochrome season that emphasises the tongue-in-cheek, yet slightly dark eccentricity of it all which didn’t quite recover when the following season 5 was made in colour for the first time.
It goes without saying that the plots are ridiculous, the characters bizarre and the list of guest stars reads like a catalogue of British character actors from that era, John Le Mesurier, Terence Alexander, Gordon Jackson, Patrick Cargill, Patrick Mower, John Barron, Nigel Davenport, Patrick Wyngarde, Liz Fraser, Bernard Cribbins, Peter Bowles, Warren Mitchell, Geoffrey Palmer, Penelope Keith, Bill Fraser…the list goes on and virtually every episode has a familiar (and very fresh) face.
The trick to a conceit such as The Avengers is to never let it touch reality. Steed and Mrs Peel live in a parallel world populated entirely by potty scientists, ex-army majors, power-mad politicians and upper class twits who live in landed estates and isolated villages or who work in futuristic office blocks. You never see a policeman, a normal member of the public or a terrace house at any time. None of your kitchen sink grittiness here - but for sheer escapism, it has never really been bettered.