Review: The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 10 – The Grandeur That Was Rome

Mrs Gale is held by Roman soldiers
Suddenly, Mrs Gale's troubles appear to be legion

 

As prescient as a hot button shop, The Grandeur That Was Rome is also proper Avengers stuff – arcane, bonkers, camp, with implausible undercover work and mad hair. Even before the opening credits have flipped into view (and no pre-credits murder this time, thankfully) we’ve been treated to Roman senators, gladiators, toasts uttered in Latin and drunk in wine, plus a vague threat to destroy Western civilisation – just like the Romans, er, didn’t.  

 

After the credits we’re in a different milieu, another dreadful British company captained by a glib posh chap (Ian Shand) which is not doing quite as well as he says, and run by an ineffectual number two (Kenneth Kealing).   The plot – and here things do foreshadow future developments – concerns a feed company being used as a front to introduce poisons designed to kill off specific eco-systems (no earthworms equals, down the line, no food) with a view to forcing society to turn on itself in a series of ugly food riots. After which a strong man steps in to clean up, is the big idea.  

 

Financing all this is a retired oligarch (Hugh Burden), who now fancies himself as a modern Caesar and goes by the name of Bruno. His money also finances a modern fascist party, run by aide-de-campe Marcus (John Flint). Dirty money, contaminated food, a spoiled eco-system, the well of political discourse poisoned, populist right wing parties, how very 20-teens. And if you want to see Bruno’s mad scheme – of spreading “the grandeur that was Rome” – as a kind of European Union in utero idea, that’s there for the picking too.  

 

Having spent time together looking down a microscope while discussing cereal production, ergotism (a disease caused by infected rye), the role of the press in fanning up a scare and so on, in detail modern TV shows would consider excessive, Steed and Gale are soon in their usual undercover poses – she at the feed company from where mad Bruno is hoping to initiate armageddon by means of the botulinus toxin, he inside the cod-Roman fortress itself (though god knows how he got there) flattering the would-be emperor with all manner of camp chat.  

 

There is good and bad in this episode – an entertainingly fruity idea is slightly ham-fistedly brought off, and it’s really not helped by various fluffs by the cast, some of them being better at ad-libbing their way out of trouble than others. Burden and Flint boom away like men who have shouted at the back wall of provincial theatres for too long. And there’s a great giggle to be had when the script calls for an orgy. In the 1960s version of bacchanalia girls are chucked under the chin, a grape is peeled, a goblet quaffed, it’s all very decorous.  

 

The concluding fight – men in togas hitting each other with blunt objects – is refreshingly different, and the episode finishes with a flourish as Gale and Steed trade epithets in Latin.  

 

Vigorous and nutty, though with no real sense of peril, it’s not a bad episode at all.    

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2019        

 

 

 

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  • The Avengers: The Grandeur That Was Rome  Action, Comedy, Crime | 52min | Episode aired 18 March 1991 6.9
    Director: Kim MillsWriters: Rex EdwardsStars: Patrick Macnee, Honor Blackman, Hugh BurdenSummary: When a spate of strange diseases breaks out on a global scale, the Avengers find out that grain being distributed by the United Food and Dressing Limited, has been deliberately tampered with and infected with ergot.Whilst investigating the firm's headquarters Mrs. Gale is caught and whisked off to a reconstruction of Ancient Rome, ruled by a mad, would-be Caesar called Bruno. His aim is to unleash bubonic plague upon the world and intends to test its effects on Mrs. Gale. Written by don @ minifie-1

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