The Beatles were number one in America for the first time, with I Want to Hold Your Hand, when this latest episode of The Avengers, The Secrets Broker, aired in the UK on 1 February 1964.
But though The Avengers went on to become one of the key harmonics of the Swinging London vibe, there’s scant evidence of it in this episode, the latest in the haphazard, piecemeal “one step forward, two steps back” way that the show almost blindly stumbled its way to glory.
It’s a bit old school, this episode, in other words, even though it starts out with a scene at a clairvoyant’s – very 1960s (the doors of perception, and all that) – where psychic Mimi Wilson (Avice Landon) has a message for one of the onlookers. It’s a gun in a box, and Wilson wants it to be used to spirit someone to the other side.
The man who winds up dead turns out to be an acquaintance of Steed and soon Mrs Gale has been despatched to the secret facility near which he was killed. There, research is led by a husband and wife team (John Ringham, Patricia English), though the wife is secretly banging handsome co-worker Allan Paignton (Ronald Allen, later of the TV soap Crossroads), a fact that Gale works out a lot faster than the husband seems to have managed.
Steed, meanwhile, heads to a wine merchant’s, where a Mr Waller (Jack May, for decades the voice of Nelson Gabriel in the BBC radio soap The Archers) takes his order for large quantities of high-end plonk – a great opportunity for some whipcrack status-measuring one-upmanship between May and Macnee, who both fall hungrily on the juicy banter written by Ludovic Peters.
How does the research establishment connect with the wine merchant’s? How did Steed know to home in on Waller? That, as ever, is never fully explained – moments of omniscience being part of the Avengers’ gifts, it seems. But the action oscillates between the research facility, the wine shop and the love nest of Paignton, where some fairly serious making out (for this show and this era) takes place.
There’s even time for the occasional visit to Gale’s house, where Steed appears to be a permanent visitor, while wandering through all the action is Landon as the psychic, using her hold over people to encourage more murder and mayhem, all in an attempt to wrest secret information from the research lab, where suspicions about a mole in their midst are rising. Here, in a key bit of plotting, the facility boss (Ringham) accidentally on purpose throws suspicion on lowly technician Jim Carey (Brian Hankins, incidentally Ronald Allen’s real-life lover).
It’s neatly directed, with enough changes of perspective to keep things visually fresh and written with enough for the actors to chew on, but the setup is lacklustre, there’s too much reliance on happenstance and fruity characters (thank you, Jack May) and the phoney supernatural element are not enough to drag The Secrets Brokers properly into the middle 1960s.
Props to Patrick Macnee, who comes into his own in episodes like this, gluing things together with his swaggering delivery and what feels like little ad-libs. Blackman, good though she is, can’t match Steed at his best.
And if that feels like I’m dissing women in general, wait till you see the fight finale – Gale is a martial-arts menace in black leather; yet the less-than-formidable male Paignton is more than capable of stopping two attacking women on his own, and in a restrictive (and very nice) sheepskin jacket.
© Steve Morrissey 2019