Episodes of The Avengers were often not shown in production order. But Lobster Quadrille was both the last one broadcast and the last one made in series three, going out on 21 March 1964, a day after it had been finished.
It’s also Honor Blackman’s farewell episode, before she headed off to be Pussy Galore to Sean Connery’s 007 in Goldfinger. And so you’d be tempted to think the production team might give her a good send-off. But in fact it’s a very John Steed-focused adventure, all about lobster fisherman, a dastardly plot to flood the country with heroin and a mystery Chinaman who connects the first with the second.
No, Chinaman is not the PC term for someone from China these days, but Burt Kwouk, of Pink Panther fame, is very definitely giving it the full Inscrutable Oriental as the owner of a chess shop visited by Mrs Gale after a couple of hoods (Gary Watson, Corin Redgrave) club a “journalist” (a spy, in other words) to death and the dead man’s burned body is found with an exotic chess piece on his person.
Watson and Redgrave are a pair of Cornish fishermen – lobsters a speciality – and are entirely unconvincing in their roles. Redgrave’s character name is Quentin Slim, for god’s sake, and he utters the phrase “listen, baby” at one point, about as unCornish-fisherman a formulation as you can imagine.
But then this is an odd episode, cobbled together by two writers – Richard Bates and Brian Clemens says the imdb, though it was just Clemens says the knowledgeable Avengers Forever website, under the pseudonym of Richard Lucas, which is backed up by the closing credits (I’ve just double-checked). Whether it’s one writer or two, it feels like two writers’ work, the grit of early scenes giving way to a much more phantasmagoric 1960s Alice in Wonderland vibe as the action shifts from Cornwall (ahem) to a London nightclub/restaurant decorated with giant blow-ups of Tenniel’s illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Bates to Clemens, in my mental shorthand, if not in fact.
So, returning to the plot, while Mrs Gale is quizzing Kwouk, Steed is down in Cornwall talking to lobster kingpin Captain Slim (Leslie Sands) and the wife of his dead son, played by Jennie Linden, Her naturalness in front of the camera really gives the episode a lift, and helps enormously as more issue-driven Play for Today waters are charted as she tries to tell the big fella the real truth about his son.
As I said, Honor Blackman is barely in the episode and spends a fair chunk of it tied up. Though she does get a judo scene towards the end, to remind us that she’s still here. That’s just before Steed and Gale have a prolonged farewell chat during which she announces she’s off on holiday to the Bahamas, where, Steed suggests, she’ll be “pussyfooting” about. Mrs Gale assures Steed she’ll be doing more than that. “Not pussyfooting?” he muses, after she’s left. “I must have been misinformed,” he says, Macnee just about resisting the urge to wink to camera.
After which it’s goodbye Mrs Gale, Steed wasting no time before picking up the phone and calling a mystery woman (we assume it’s Mrs Peel) who he addresses flirtily as “my dear”.
It’s been a good run for Blackman, who has transformed not just her character from a helpmeet to co-equal but also her billing and with it the role of women on TV. With the exit of Mrs Gale, one version of The Avengers ends and another begins.
© Steve Morrissey 2019