Twelve high level robberies in the last few weeks “and not one of them the work of an Englishman,” Steed says in the opening minutes of Intercrime, both the title of this episode and the name of a criminal outfit, a dark flipside of Interpol organising nefarious goings-on “all over Europe”.
This case for Steed and Mrs Gale, the 15th to be broadcast in the second series – and the first to go out in 1963, the year of JFK’s assassination – is a busy affair, with more than its fair share of ridiculousness.
For example, to extract information from Hilda Stern (Julia Arnall), the German representative of Intercrime newly arrived in the UK, Mrs Gale poses as a criminal and ends up in Holloway prison sharing a cell (and confidences) with Stern (a faint foreshadowing of From Russia with Love‘s Rosa Klebb, who would arrive on screens later that year), who has been picked up on some passport irregularity. Enter the warden: “Why aren’t you in bed yet?” she asks Mrs Gale. Mrs Gale: “I was just finishing my cocoa.”
It’s all very twee, even more so in Honor Blackman’s barely disguised cut-glass accent, but there is a point to the cocoa reference – Gale has drugged Stern’s and is soon out and about trying to pass herself off as the German hardwoman to the London representatives of Intercrime (boss Kenneth J Warren and right-hand-man Alan Browning).
There clearly being no honour among thieves, the plot turns on the fact that Intercrime itself is being sold down the river by one of its number, and the London franchise co-opts “Hilda” to take out the miscreant.
Enough of the plot, which twists and turns a bit more, enjoyably, and gives Honor Blackman plenty of opportunity to seethe, which she is particularly good at – Mrs Gale isn’t annoyed because she’s not brave, but because she is a feminist wondering why she’s always doing the dirty work, or so Blackman’s face suggests.
The men are in charge of the criminal operation but dramatically there’s a lot of meat for the women, including the unusual sight of a gunplay standoff between two women towards the end. No prizes for guessing which two.
Look out for a door accidentally swinging open to reveal one of those gigantic TV cameras being hastily wheeled out of shot – makes you realise how intricately these teleplays must have been choreographed when you see one of those lumbering beasts.
Though Steed features heavily in early scenes that get the whole Intercrime plot strand rolling, it’s undoubtedly Gale’s episode. Was there a more important female character in 1960s British TV?
© Steve Morrissey 2018