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Two hundred thousand pounds, for this outstanding example of British pulchritude and learning.

Television

The Avengers
4.18: The Girl from Auntie

 

I’ve mentioned that a few of these episodes have changed in my appreciation since I last watched the series, and The Girl from Auntie constitutes a very pronounced uptick. Indeed, I don’t know how I failed to rate highly the estimable Liz Fraser filling in for Diana Rigg – mostly absent, on holiday – for the proceedings (taking a not dissimilar amateur impostor-cum-sidekick role to Fenella Fielding in the earlier The Charmers). I could watch Fraser all day, and it’s only a shame this was her single appearance in the show.

SteedSix bodies in an hour and twenty minutes. What do you call that?
Georgie Price-JonesA good first act?

This is a very jokey, free-wheeling outing from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.-alluding title down, fizzing from scene to scene and eccentric encounter to eccentric encounter. Emma, kidnapped in the first scene, looks like she has emerged from a very ’60s all-nighter, post-wasted (she’s in a “nude” Eve outfit, fresh from a fancy-dress party). Also seen is a bikini babe and a man with a pig head.

Steed has been away for a few days, loading his cab with various souvenir items that amuse Ray Martine’s recurrent driver (at various points the latter dons a diving mask and boxing gloves, and is repeatedly called upon to elicit various double takes at Steed’s backseat antics). He finds Liz’s Georgie Price-Jones (even the name is perfect) ensconced in Emma’s flat, paid to pose as Mrs Peel but oblivious to any salient facts about her (she readily concurs when it is suggested that Steed’s “A small fat man with a grey moustache”), before departing and very amusingly calling her from a callbox as an uber-posh Steed (“It’s ol’ lover boy himself, back from Karachi. Be with you in a couple of jiffs”).

But they quickly join forces and embark on the hunt for Emma, leading to a trail of knitting needle-perforated bodies as an old lady (Mary Merrall, later revealed, in a very Mission: Impossible pre-empting move, to be a man in a mask) attempts to seal off any loose ends. The victims include plentiful jokey and in-jokey names, the Bates and Marshall Advertising Agency (referencing story editor Richard Bates and episode’s writer Roger Marshall), Barrett, Barrett and Wimpole solicitors (after the play), and theatrical costumier the Four Jacques Brothers (John, Paul, George and Fred, who pile out of a cupboard, dead).

Aunt HettyI would like to do you in poodle wool, with a V-neck double rib bottom and brand-named sleeves. Would you mind?

As far as wacky characters blessed with memorable dialogue are concerned, there’s Aunt Hetty (the estimable Sylvia Coleridge, Amelia Ducat in The Seeds of Doom), who attends The Arkwright Knitting Circle, Arkwright being one Bernard Cribbins (his first of two fine turns on the show, although I think the second edges it), given to encouraging phrases such as “Knit along, and away we go!” and “Listen, the sheer, serene sound of clicking needles”. And less encouraging ones when Georgie joins the circle (“Oh dear, we are rusty, aren’t we?”)

SteedThe unobtainable obtained?
Gregorio AuntieYes, sounds an extravagant claim, doesn’t it? But we are a unique organisation. We actually can get you anything. Anything at all, and sometimes the price is very high.

The villain of the piece is more grounded, however, even if his schemes are not. Gregorio Auntie (the always-enjoyable Alfred Burke of The Mauritius Penny and series Public Eye), of Art Incorporated, has the Mona Lisa on his books (Steed, having broken in, and posing as Wayne Pennyfeather ffitch (with two small fs), proposes that Auntie is “less likely to shoot me standing in front of a Da Vinci”, although it eventually ends up smashed over Auntie’s head). He even plans to sell the Eiffel Tower to a Texas Millionaire (acquiring it is easy, “the main problem is smuggling it out of Paris”). He is, naturally, impressed by ffitch (“Increasing rarity, English gentlemen”).

SteedBy the way, where are you holding her?
Gregorio AuntieI’m very happy to have made your acquaintance, Mr ffitch. Good night.

Of course, he’s the one who had Mrs Peel snatched, intent on selling her to Russian agent Ivanoff (David Bauer), whom Steed needs to get out of the way in order to open an auction on his prize. The auction is full of amusing lines, including a Russian (Maurice Browning) purchasing the Mona Lisa, catching himself on professing to its majesty (“Quite splendid, isn’t it?… A splendid example of filthy decadent western art. One million, six”) and Auntie promising to have it despatched forthwith (“I shall have it delivered to your hotel, sir… Oh, I beg your pardon, your submarine”).

Gregorio AuntieTwo hundred thousand pounds, for this outstanding example of British pulchritude and learning.

Mrs Peel, meanwhile, a bird in a gilded cage, has Steed taking the piss (“She looks a bit broody. Can’t you have her move about a bit? That’s better. I can see what I’m buying”). Macnee is on top form throughout, and on the receiving end of a broken vase, (from Hetty and Arkwright), which he then turns into a joke when a repeat is called for (Steed and the old lady have a sack over their heads, Georgie hits the right one but Steed pretends it got him too). He borrows a Goya from the National Gallery (“Only to true patrons”), and when the old lady calls round collecting for the dog’s home, replies “Now, what will it be? Bones or cash?” before offering the latter (“Nonsense, someone’s got to pay for the postman’s trousers”).

SteedCharming lady. I wonder if she’s going our way?

But it’s Fraser who steals the show, from overpowering a granny as she reads instructions in a Self-Defence book to showing a twinge of jealousy over Emma. Asking what’s so special about her, Steed replies “Her vital statistics” before adding, as Georgie, who has no shortage of them, shuffles uncomfortably, “The IQ variety”. Then he gags her (“CHARMING”). The laugh-off is fun too, with Emma returning a smidgeon of jealousy as Georgie passes them in Steed’s Bentley, he and Mrs Peel in a bubble car.

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