4.19: Quick-Quick Slow Death
Coming straight after The Girl from Auntie, it’s impossible to ignore the similar “villains cover their tracks by whacking wacky eccentrics” structure, but since I’m a sucker for such Avengers tales, it scarcely matters. Robert Banks Stewarts writes, but particular laurels are due James Hill for his deft touch during the musical climax.
The episode’s main thrust concerns a dance school “for infiltrating foreign agents into the country”, in which the students are offed and replaced with trained operatives. This eventually explains the dual Arthur Peevers, the one found dead in the teaser, in a pram in full evening dress, and the one who shows up at the dance school Terpsichorean Training Techniques Inc (James Belchamber).
The dead man’s inked arm leads to the first in a mounting series of dead bodies, as Emma visits tattooist Fintry (Alan Gerrard, Bovem in The Dominators). Diana Rigg seems genuinely amused during her scenes with Gerrard, as he recounts with gusto the most popular designs (“I love whoever it is” and “a mother’s loving touch”) and how a certain inscription needs sufficiently sizeable clients or the results can be undesirable (“So it ended up ‘What is home without a moth’”). When Fintry is shot in the head, he still has the wherewithal to tattoo his Italian sausage with vital information about the murderer before expiring (“Killer has tattoo on right wrist”).
Steed: You’ve seen pictures of those Russian diplomats?
Steed: Well, where do you think they get those terrible clothes from?
Steed, posing as a representative of Baggy Pants Limited, who do “top secret work – Diplomatic Corps only”, visits Litchen & Co and attempts to mine information on Peever from Huggins (Graham Armitage, Barney in The Macra Terror), who is stabbed in the changing room, much to his colleague’s alarm (“Why, without us, Ascot would look like a nudist convention!”) He then finds his way to Mulberrys Bank, where the manager (Ronald Govey, Relf in Ultraworld) is most upset about losing a client (Manager: Bad. Steed: Very bad. Manager: Very, very bad”), and his next lead sends him – nowhere. Opening the door to Purbright & Co onto an empty space, he very nearly plummets to his doom.
Peidi: Such expressive feet. Look, ah they talk-a to me. You naughty little chatterboxes, you.
Diverting, undoubtedly, but Emma’s on the receiving end of the best encounters in this one, particularly as the Italian sausage isn’t the only dubious European in Quick-Quick Slow Death. At Peidi’s shoe repair, Peidi (David Kernan) feigns a continually slipping Italian accent as he obsesses over Mrs Peel’s feet (“So pale, so tender, so exquisitely elegant… Oh senora, they’re a poem, they sing and they soar”) and gets quite excited over what he might be able to make for her once he has cast them (“A pair of slippers for the boudoir? Wellington boots in the kinkiest black leather?”) Peidi doesn’t end up dead, but his assistant Bernard (Colin Ellis) does, drowned in plaster of Paris.
Steed: Now you, Mrs Peel, back to your pupils, and be quick-quick slow about it.
After this succession of curious characters, the main action at the dance school isn’t, initially, quite as scintillating, with Emma posing as an instructress and Steed brushing up on his technique. Eunice Gayson (Sylvia in the first two Bond films) scores as the head of the school, Lucille Banks, and has some particularly fine interaction with Macnee (she notes his good English name, and he replies “Came over with the Vikings. They were between raids and discovering America at the time”).
Lucille Banks: Are you attempting a reverse, double clip feet?
Steed: With you, Miss Banks, I reach for the rainbow.
Lucille Banks: You mad, impetuous man!
However, the grand finale at the gala dance contest, as Steed is targeted for elimination and Emma proves more than effective at turning the tables, is a delight. He shows off his acumen to Miss Banks as he and Emma warn each other of dangers (“You’re Number Nine”: “And you’re dancing with garlic sausage!”). Each time someone dances around the back of the dance floor, they mess up their adversaries’ plans. Emma changes Steed’s 9 to a 6, 9 being the identifying number of the intended target. Steed turns Ivor Bracewell’s (Maurice Kaufmann – the tattooed killer) 6 to 9. She dances with Ivor round the back so the spy coshes him, and Steed consequently coshes the spy, with Emma dispatching the drunken commander Chester Reed (Larry Cross): “Keep ‘em coming”.
Other amusing moments include the opening sequence, in which Steed, who has been shooting empty beer cans, hits a full one Emma has let fly (“That was my lunchtime refreshment”). John Woodnutt (Terror of the Zygons, The Keeper of Traken, Jeeves and Wooster) is on top form as Captain Noble; having survived an attempted choking to death, he can only croak at Steed (and, we are informed, phone Emma via whistling Morse Code at her).
The laugh off is also particularly good, with the duo dancing into the darkness as Emma delivers a breathless sentence:
Mrs Peel: Steed.
Steed: Mrs Peel.
Mrs Peel: Did you know they’ve just arrested a band leader for being drunk in charge of a pram containing a man in full evening dress with a plaster cast on his dead, tattooed on his right wrist, clutching a dance diploma in one hand and a garlic sausage in the other?