26: Honey for the Prince
The last of the season, and the last black-and-white episode, Honey for the Prince isn’t quite as strong as I’d remembered. It’s also a tad problematic in places. That said, Brian Clemens’ teleplay maximises the accompanying quirkiness, the guest cast includes a particularly memorable turn from Ron Moody as Ponsonby Hopkirk, the director of QQF (Quite, Quite Fantastic Incorporated), and there’s an even more memorable Dance of the Six Veils courtesy of Mrs Peel (it would have been seven, but she was “poorly educated”).
Who is also again memorably in early-hours, post-party form this episode (see previously The Girl from Auntie). Only this time, with Steed too, who has evidently been getting down with the younger generation, and with a teddy bear and balloon in tow. He even gets a pat on the posterior for his dawn treading.
Indeed, there’s much in the way of carnal considerations in Honey for the Prince, what with a masseuse (Carmen Dene) attending to villain Arkadi (George Pastell, Kleig in The Tomb of the Cybermen) by various methods, ranging from lighting his cigar, to massaging his chest with a well-oiled leg and stroking him with a bear-claw glove.
Prince Ali: Ah, Number 33. Charming girl, cost me a bag of salt and four goats. I’ve got lots more out the back.
Prince Ali: Wives. Got to have a lot of them. Matter of status, you see. What was it at last count?
Grand Vizier: 320, your Highness.
Then there’s the harem of Prince Ali of Barabia (Zia Mohyeddin, later of Gangsters), where Steed is impressed by his roster of 320 wives (“The Prince is renowned for his ardour”), until Ali offers the sobering qualifier that this also means he has 320 mothers-in-law (eat that, Terry Medford). When Steed has successfully saved Ali from certain death, the latter announces “Anything I have is yours. My horses, my jewels. My favourite wife”; Emma’s stern “Steed!” calls a halt to any further discussion of the matter. We also learn of the fantasy-life persona of “One of the best undercover men in the business”, Ronny Westcott (Jon Laurimore, Count Frederico in The Masque of Mandragora): chief eunuch in a harem.
Steed: Tell me, Mrs Peel, what size do you take in Turkish trousers?
But the main selling point of Honey for the Prince is Emma’s dance, giving what is rightly hailed as a cracking display. In the manner of bedroom farce, this is followed by the lusty Prince’s intention to consummate with his 321st wife (“Retarded, your majesty. Definitely what you’d call retarded” Steed explains of Emma’s earlier unresponsiveness to questioning; the Avengers HR department subsequently had words with him over his choice of language). Prior to setting eyes on Mrs Peel, Ali seems much more preoccupied with playing cricket (such that it vaguely recalls Denis Quilley’s reluctant lothario in What the Butler Saw).
Mrs Peel: Good morning.
Mr Bumble: Good morning, dear lady. Oh, forgive me, I’ve just been attending to my little charges. Buzzing around the hive, so to speak. Bumble. B Bumble at your service.
The episode has its share of eccentric vignettes, of course, most typically in the form of Mr Bumble (Ken Parry), seller of honey and outfitted in an appropriately-striped jumper (“Happy bees make bumper honey” he enthuses). Admittedly, there’s something of formula to the character, but Ken Parry’s effusive performance (and Rigg’s responding cheerfulness) make him irrepressible.
Hopkirk: Well, the QQF, the Quite, Quite Fantastic Incorporated, can help you, quite simply, to help you satisfy your most repressed desires. In a nutshell, Mr Reed, we will recreate your fantasies and let you live them.
Hopkirk’s business, “A million dreams made to order”, provides the setting for Arkadi and gay hit man Vincent (Ronald Curram: a comparable performance to Philip Locke’s in the same year’s Thunderball) to practice their various assassinations, Ali being the target of one of them, inevitably. Hopkirk nurses the illusion that it “helps him get something out of his system and no one gets hurt”. Until he’s on the receiving end, that is, in a blackly comic scene where he coaxes Vincent to be more forcefully murderous (“Point it at me!”)
Hopkirk: Got it, you’re a secret agent. Yes indeed, ideal for you. Licensed to kill, pitting your wits against a diabolical mastermind. Make a change from your everyday humdrum existence, wouldn’t it?
Steed: Hah ha ha, yes. Certainly make a change.
Hopkirk’s most ambitious fantasy recreation was the sinking of Titanic (“Several of my staff had to be resuscitated afterwards”) and his most delightfully meta is Fantasy Number Four – “Escape of Arkadi from Pursuing Agents” – since Steed discovers it just as Arkadi has taken flight. Also self-reflexive is Hopkirk’s suggested fantasy for our hero, right down to another reference for diabolical masterminds.
Steed: I’m most terribly sorry, colonel. It’s another body entirely.
Earlier, there’s an amusing scene between Steed and the unseen Colonel Westcott, in which he calls to ask for a body to be removed from his apartment, only to learn it already has been; this is a different corpse, that of Bernie (Peter Diamond, stuntman extraordinaire), eliciting Steed’s profuse apologies.
The laugh-off has the appearance of a complete flight of fantasy (a magic carpet ride), until it’s revealed that Steed and Emma are on the back of van (“How do you stop it?”: “That’s a very good question”, making you wonder who’s driving).
Honey for the Prince is less than sensitive in its trading on Middle Eastern stereotypes; it’s said the Hyucks studied the episode when researching offensive ethnic tropes for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. What just about saves it, however, is its prevailing self-awareness and undercutting of assumptions (a magic lamp yields a machine-gun killer; the exotic prince, who offers Steed the left eye of a mountain rat – “A very rare delicacy” – is revealed as an anglophile – well, it is The Avengers; female objectification, the value of a wife counted in goats, is taken to ridiculous, even banal extremes; a duty roster is necessary for the week). It comes via the same general irreverence exhibited by the rest of the series at this point.
Nevertheless, it occupies similar ground to How to Succeed… at Murder; where many episodes of the season transcend their era, the prevailing sensibility means this one is very much confined by it.