Heady Europeanism, alcohol, jazz music and sexual licence are the watchwords of The Removal Men, number six in the second series of The Avengers. And Julie Stevens, appropriately, returns as Steed’s helpmeet in an episode set on the French Riviera, where Nicole Cauvin, a Bardot-like sexy French actress (played to the hilt by Edina Ronay, yes, she’s now a designer) needs protection from some thugs who want to kill her because of her outspoken political views about some far-flung colony.
Don Leaver directs with hints of The Third Man in his use of close-ups (which he’s always used to great effect), a mood compounded by the jaunty mitteleuropean tune we hear at one point in a jeweller’s shop, where fenced diamonds add another layer in an episode moving half a step further into The Avengers‘ era of glamour.
But jazz is the main musical texture, unsurprisingly since Venus Smith (Stevens), is a nightclub singer, only working for Steed with some reluctance, a point underlined by the fact that the forward thrust of the story actually pauses for a song by Smith and The Dave Lee Trio (a real band) – “reminiscent of Bill Evans when he was playing with Miles Davis” opines a cop ruminatively at one point about Lee’s pianistic noodling.
Again Venus Smith is portrayed as a goodtime girl who, it’s suggested, enjoys sex with whoever takes her fancy, but she’s more window-dressing than she was in episode 3, more an act than an agent.
It’s Steed who does the work, going undercover among the assassins who have the actress in their sights – Avengers villains do seem to accept newcomers in their midst far too quickly for people engaged in risky business, but I suppose them’s the breaks in a 50-minute self-contained episode.
Roger Marshall and Jeremy Scott’s screenplay is snappy, bantering and fast-moving and, as well as the observation on jazz, includes a scene in which Steed and his control One-Ten (Douglas Muir) gamely and with stomachs pulled in strip down to their swimming gear for a de-brief and make out they’re catching some rays on the Cote d’Azur, rather than staring into the lights of a studio just outside London.
The entire effect is like reading Elizabeth David’s run of books on Mediterranean cooking from the 1950s and early 1960s – this is clearly high-order stuff, even if the years have browned the pages and dog-eared the cover.
The 1950s dowdiness of series one still pervades, though, battling against the exotic setting, smart dialogue and faint disapproval of alcohol which marked out the 1960s.
And we get to see Steed in a T shirt, a thick-knit aertex-style thing, but a T shirt all the same. Is there no end to the sartorial wonder?
© Steve Morrissey 2017