Monday, 18 June 2018

The Adventurer (1972) episode 16: I’ll Get There Sometime

Having left Blackpool and the clutches of Ann Somerby behind him ‘I’ll get there sometime’ finds Gene far away in Sydney Australia, but this being The Adventurer it is not long before he is soon in trouble again. Spotting two suspicious looking characters in an elevator, one of whom is concealing a gun, Gene follows them back to their hotel room where they are in the process of roughing up sitcom royalty Arthur Brough (Mr. Grainger in Are You Being Served?). Since Gene has always had a thing about coming to the aid of defenceless old men, he tricks a chambermaid into letting him into the room, then the moment the door is opened charges at Mr. Grainger’s assailants like a mad bull, which soon scares them away. However this opening scene is rather deceptive, since ‘I’ll get there sometime’ is the first in a series of Adventurer episodes that Gene barely appears in.

Rather than rest on their laurels while Gene took a holiday midway into the shooting of the series, the makers of The Adventurer seized the opportunity to make a few episodes centred around Gene’s sidekicks Mr. Parminter, Diane Marsh and Gavin. In the process re-hiring Catherine Schell, and sneaking the Hungarian giantess back into the show. Catherine having been fired from The Adventurer at Gene’s insistence for being too tall. Thus Gene only appears in these episodes in sequences shot later, which tend to keep him at arm’s length from his co-stars, especially of course, Catherine. The excuse for Gene’s absence in this episode being that he is having difficulty piloting his private jet ’88 Delta’ from Australia to West Germany, where Parminter, Diane and Gavin are currently located. A running gag in this episode being that rather than arriving in West Germany, Gene accidently pilots the jet to other far-flung parts of the globe like Bangkok, Deli and anywhere else that ITC could dig up stock footage of.

Eagle eyed viewers of the series will note that while zigzagging around the globe in 88 Delta the flask that Gene and his co-pilot are drinking from is the same flask that Ann Somerby was carrying around with her in the last episode. It is sweet that Gene is still carrying a memento of his biggest fan around with him, whilst back home Ann herself is safe and sound in her straight jacket, as a result of letting Lew Grade’s tires down. Of course it takes allot of incompetence and or tiredness to accidently pilot a jet bound for Germany to Bangkok and Deli instead, but…who knows… maybe Ann managed to slip some rohypnol into that flask before she was carted away.

On the basis of how little Gene is in these episodes, The Adventurer has the dubious honour of anticipating all those direct to DVD action films that Steven Seagal craps out these days. Y’know… the ones where Seagal is advertised as the main star, but in reality is only in the film for about five minutes, usually sat on the chair and talking on the phone to the real star of the film, who invariably is Luke Goss or some bloke you’ve ever heard of before…and will never hear of again. Far more fascinating, with regards to the history of British cult TV, is how The Adventurer –once Gene has largely been taken out of the equation- bears a resemblance to a more successful, better remembered series that would come along four years later. Once Parminter, Diane and Gavin are at the helm, The Adventurer becomes a series in which an eccentric, middle aged man from British intelligence teams up with two youthful assistants…a sexy, karate chopping female, and a suave, handsome bloke who is eye candy for female viewers. Rings a bell, doesn’t it?...kinda like The New Avengers…only four years before The New Avengers.

There is a slight connection between the two series, in that Brian Clemens wrote one episode of The Adventurer, and a far greater connection in Dennis Spooner, who devised, produced and takes ‘executive story consultant’ credit on The Adventurer, and would later be instrumental in writing and devising The New Avengers. As both Clemens and Spooner are no longer around, we can but speculate whether these Adventurer episodes planted the seed that would become The New Avengers and that The New Avengers arose from the smouldering debris of The Adventurer. However the similarities between these two series form a compelling argument for that being the case.

While Gene manages to save Mr Grainger from a beating, his assailants Ryker (Patrick Jordan) and Werner (Frank Barrie) now have their sights set on Mr Grainger’s daughter Karen (Pippa Steel). It seems that while in Australia, Mr Grainger had been conducting a mining survey (presumably on behalf of Young Mister Grace) and his report could be worth a fortune to whoever gets their hands on it first. As doddery Mr Grainger has an unfortunate habit of mailing his reports to his daughter who lives in Germany, his actions have now placed her in danger from Young Mister Grace’s deadly business rivals. Since Gene is up in the sky, it is left to Mr Parminter, Diane and Gavin (or perhaps we should call them ‘The New Adventurers’) to come to her rescue.

Okay, okay, I’ll admit it, I have been pulling your leg slightly there, Arthur Brough doesn’t really play Mr Grainger in this episode, his character is actually called Mr Dorron, but the fun of ‘I’ll get there sometime’ can be added to by re-imagining it as the Adventurer/Are You Being Served? crossover episode we never got. For some unknown reason Arthur Brough goes uncredited in this episode, despite having a few lines of dialogue at the beginning, and playing a character who is referenced several times over elsewhere in the episode. While it is not uncommon for unknown actors in small roles to receive no screen credit at the outset of their careers, Brough was already an established character actor by this point, and soon about to become a household name thanks to AYBS. Indicating that his no show in the credits may have been by request, rather than an error. The truth though, is probably one of many Adventurer mysteries now lost to time.

The Adventurer without The Adventurer might still have its flaws, but this does now feel like a happier show, with cast members who might conceivably be having a good time and enjoying each other’s company. An atmosphere of ‘while the cat’s away the mice will play’ is abound in this episode with each cast member gleefully making the most of the opportunity do to things they’d never have gotten away with on Gene’s watch. It is impossible not to notice the changes to Catherine Schell’s character once Gene’s back is turned. While previously Diane Marsh had been relegated to such girlish hi-jinks as going undercover as a nurse or communicating with Gene via a two way radio disguised as a hand mirror, The New Adventurers episodes find her taking an active role in fight scenes, breaking boxes over heads and KO’ing men with her handbag. Dialogue practically flaunts this hitherto suppressed side of the character, Diane taunts one of the bad guys with “aren’t you a little young to play with guns”, and even gets playfully aggressive with one of her fellow New Adventurers by remarking “Gavin, if you don’t tell us what it is all about I’m going to hit you”. This new and improved, kick-ass Diane Marsh points the way forward to both The New Avengers’ Purdey and Catherine Schell’s own role as Maya in Space 1999.

The New Adventurers episodes might not reinvent Garrick Hagon’s to the same degree, but they do undoubtedly give him the chance to step out from Gene’s shadow. After numerous episodes, the series finally gives his character a second name –he is Gavin Taylor- and there is a frisson of sacred cows being deliberately trampled underfoot when Gavin is allowed to throw a punch directly into the camera. This being somewhat of a trademark move of Gene’s, and something Gene did in the opening credits of both The Adventurer and Amos Burke-Secret Agent.

Partly filmed on location in Wuppertal, Germany, this episode no doubt had its sights set on that location due to its innovative monorail system. Wuppertal’s suspension railway, with its high-speed trains that travel using suspended rails, had been rather underutilized in films and TV over the years. A wrong that this Adventurer episode seeks to set right. Its centrepiece being Ryker and Werner’s attempted escape using the mono-rail, unaware that Gavin has positioned himself on the roof of the train whilst Diane and Mr Parminter chase after the train in her distinct, yellow coloured ‘Dianemobile’.

Realistically it would have been easier for Gavin to merely have boarded the train and hidden amongst the regular passengers. Climbing on the roof and hanging on up there is just showing off. Still having gone all the way to Wuppertal to film this sequence, the makers of The Adventurer would have been fools not to have milked that mono-rail for all its worth. It is also hard to begrudge the frequently underused Garrick Hagon this shot at a James Bond moment whilst bossman isn’t around.

However of all three of the New Adventurers, the character who develops the most over the course of the series has to be Mr Parminter himself. Initially a dull, authority figure who tended to only pop up at the beginning and end of episodes, a likely combination of other characters being slowly written out of the show and Barry Morse’ dissatisfaction with such a limiting role resulted in Parminter becoming a greater presence in the show. Not to mention his reinvention as the show’s resident buffoon. Describing Parminter as a ‘chinless wonder’, Morse leapt at the chance to create a character who was the polar opposite of his tough, obsessive police lieutenant in The Fugitive. A ‘Boy’s Own’ obsessed public schoolboy, trapped in a middle aged man’s body, Parminter is the kind of upper class twit that Morse’s performance makes impossible to dislike. This may be the reason why much of Gene’s wisecracks and put downs of Parminter throughout the series strike such a wrong note. Had Parminter remained the pompous, headmaster type he was at the start of the series, then Gene’s attitude towards him might have been an endearing example of showing healthy disrespect to an authority figure. The more comical Parminter gets though, the more Gene’s lip towards him comes across as cruel and mean spirited.

Back when The Adventurer was repeated on ITV4 in 2005, someone noted that the sensible thing to have done would have been to write Gene out of the show at this point and hand over the keys to the series to Mr Parminter and Co. Even the episode itself makes a none too subtle case for Gene being the show’s deadwood that needed to be set adrift, illustrated by the running gag of him making a hash of getting to Germany, and the episode’s punch line, which sees Gene fall asleep during Parminter’s retelling of his Wuppertal adventure. ‘I’ll get there sometime’ proves that Parminter and Co were more than capable of carrying on Adventuring duties without Gene. A shame then that Lew Grade was such a push over when it came to former big-name stars, viewing such types as holy for ITC series and film productions, and resulting in Gene being this series’ unmovable object. The later success of The New Avengers single handily proves that this series could have had legs with its very similar formula and characters. The fact that Barry Morse, Catherine Schell and Garrick Hagon all would go on to far greater things and each achieve cult fame via Space 1999 (in the case of Morse and Schell) and Star Wars (in the case of Hagon) also invalidates any argument that those three lacked the necessary charisma to keep a TV series afloat. Media powerhouse and smart decision maker that Lew Grade was in many other respects, there is the unavoidable sense that he may have let something special slip through his hands with The Adventurer.

The general consensus between die-hard Adventurer fans –all half dozen of us- is that the New Adventurers episodes are far preferable to the later Gene dominated ones. Adventurer fandom even extends to fan-edits of the show, evidenced by this rejigging of the opening titles which portrays Morse, Schell and Hagon as the main stars and reduces Gene to guest star status. A YouTube video that has caused one- no doubt well meaning- soul to enter the incorrect tit-bit ‘when the series aired in England, Barry Morse has top billing’ into the IMDB. This isn’t actually true…but I won’t tell them if you don’t.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Luan Peters : Homage to a Seraph

As a tribute to the recently deceased Luan Peters, Tim Greaves has generously allowed me to post his 1994 publication ‘Luan Peters: Homage to a Seraph’. Which all these years later still stands as the greatest overview of her career that I’ve ever read. Many thanks to Tim for allowing me to bring this long out of print booklet to the internet, and it goes without saying R.I.P. Luan Peters (1946-2017)

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Adventurer (1972) episode 15: Action!

Just as only Joan Crawford could control Trog, so it seems only actor Barry Morse could exert a similarly calming influence on Gene during the making of The Adventurer. It didn’t take long for Morse to pick up on the massive ego trip Gene was on “he conceived the impression that he was the most important person on this planet…but that opinion may perhaps have been restricted to just himself”.

While many Adventurer crew and co-stars were destined for a less than harmonious relationship with Gene, Morse realised early on that the best…if not only…way to deal with Gene was to play along with his delusions of grandeur. Evidentially the makers of the show took note of the rapport between the two, and as a result handed over the directorial reigns of the show to Morse for three episodes. “It soon became apparent that many of the directors we had on the Adventurer series, couldn’t or didn’t get along very well with Gene Barry” recalled Morse on the 2006 DVD release “and so the producer said to me ‘do you think you would be able to direct some of these shows, because you obviously seem to be able to get along well with Gene’”. Morse’s recollections of how to direct Gene in the show are particularly priceless “I started to deal with Gene Barry in much the same way that I would have dealt with my infant grandchildren, first thing in the morning I would say ‘Oh Gene, hello, how handsome you look today, gosh you are a good looking fellow aren’t you. Well now Gene, I tell you what we’re going to do, we’re going to shoot a scene in this room, and that means you have to come in the door. Yes, how do you do that? I hear you cry...well I’ll tell you, you go to the outside of the door and you get up…no, if I were you I wouldn’t use that hand…I’d use the other hand because it would be easier for you to get in’ ...and I’d go through things like that and in no time at all of course I had him doing what I wanted him to do, and he seemed to be reasonably happy doing it.”

When an actor gets to direct episodes of the TV series he is also starring in, that story doesn’t always have a happy ending. Famously when Robert Vaughn talked the ITC powers that be into letting him direct an episode of The Protectors, the resulting once seen never forgotten travesty- featuring Vaughn’s business partner in a prominent role and a plot centred around the chase for a defecating dog - makes the absolute worse of The Adventurer look like gold dust sprinkled onto 16mm film in comparison. While The Adventurer isn’t a series renowned for making wise decisions, putting Barry Morse into the director’s chair may well have been one of its finer ‘light bulb above the head’ moments. Morse does the best with the poisoned chalice that he’d been handed, and despite being an infrequent director (his other directorial credits include an episode of The Fugitive and a TV movie adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s The Ugly Little Boy) there is little to separate his work on the show with that of such experienced old pros as Val Guest and Cyril Frankel.

The only Adventurer episode to have been written by Brian Clemens, Action! sends Gene off to Scotland, via a gruelling late night train journey. Since Gene arrives at Waverly Station in a less than presentable state he is soon hustled away into a waiting taxi by his entourage. Thus avoiding the masses, who of course have turned up in their droves to welcome the star. Gene is all cut up about letting the fans down “I hate disappointing my fans, but overnight rail journeys are a little much”. This however turns out to be the least of his problems as the people posing as his entourage are actually an ‘anti-militant group’ who plan on brainwashing him. Cunningly passing themselves off as a bunch of luvvies, the anti-militant group whisk Gene away to a Scottish castle where they manage to convince Gene they are making a movie with him as the star. In reality they are actually prepping Gene to assassinate his friend General McCready (Cec Linder) by having Gene rehearse a scene from the movie where he assassinates a general, over and over. If that wasn’t enough to blur fantasy and reality in Gene’s mind, they are also using some kind of brainwashing machine on him. Not just any old brainwashing machine either, but one with lots of groovy, far out flashing lights, like the one used on Candace Glendenning in Tower of Evil….guaranteed to blow your mind or your money back (minus P&P costs).

What with Mr Parminter and the Scottish police in the dark as to Gene’s whereabouts, and Gene programmed to kill the general under the mistaken belief he is just acting in a movie, an unlikely heroine emerges in the form of Ann Somerby, a freelance journalist commissioned by the Gene Bradley fanclub to document his Scottish visit, who inadvertently stumbles upon the brainwashing plot. There can’t be many TV action series that haven’t done that plot where the main character gets brainwashed, resulting in a race against time to snap them out of it before they commit some horrible deed. The timing for The Adventurer turning to that old chestnut can’t be faulted though. Finally an Adventurer storyline comes up with a justifiable reason for why Gene is behaving like a zombie. Gene’s haggard appearance and confused state in this episode really does nail the demeanour of someone who has been violently woken up from a long nap.

As the only player in The Adventurer story who knew how the push all the right buttons when it came to its leading man, Morse cannily piles on the type of adulation Gene craved, taking that aspect of the show to new heights of ridiculousness with the Ann Somerby character. Wherever Gene goes, Ann follows…does she ever sleep? It doesn’t appear so, as she follows him around everywhere, recording every minute detail of his existence into her trusted dictaphone “subject is on castle terrace, drinking what appears to be coffee…or maybe tea”.

Morse probably didn’t have to look far for inspiration in this episode, with the anti-militant group given the unenviable task of working with a barely coherent actor who seems to have little understanding of what is going on around him “what is this a movie…you…me…she…we’re on a movie together?”. Ann Somerby’s O.T.T. running commentary on Gene’s activities also mirror the tongue in cheek flattery that Morse worked into the daily routine when directing Adventurer episodes. Some particularly rib-tickling Ann Somerby outbursts include “subject is wearing blue leather suit and patterned shirt…and is looking very, very handsome” and “Gene Bradley the actor has allot to learn from Gene Bradley the man…AND WHAT A MAN!!!”.
Ann’s permanently jolly demeanour and unresolved daddy issues make her come across as a mixture of a Blue Peter presenter and Sandra Bernhard’s character in The King of Comedy. The blasé attitude displayed towards Ann in this episode does serve to remind you that The Adventurer dates from a period when stalking wasn’t taken at all seriously. It is hard to believe you could do this kind of story these days without casting a more critical eye over Ann’s obsession and their consequences. As a product of more naïve times though, The Adventurer simplistically depicts Ann as an intrepid Nancy Drew type whose behaviour is seen as sweet and more than welcomed by the object of her affections.

“Now I see it clearly. My whole life is pointed in one direction. I see that now. There never has been any choice for me!”

While Ann is star struck and Gene is brainwashed, your average cineaste is likely to experience a sense of deja-vu about this episode, due to it mostly having being filmed at Knebworth House. A lavish Tudor stately home, which has also served as a filming location for Horror Hospital, Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, Keep It Up Downstairs…and other films that Knebworth House is too embarrassed to mention on its website. It is a location that amusingly connects this Adventurer episode to far more deviant movies. Ann spies on Gene from the gates of the house, where Dennis Price had his head cut off in Horror Hospital, while Gene holds conversations on the very steps that Tony Kenyon and Mary Millington cavorted on in Keep It Up Downstairs. Needless to say, if walls could talk, I’d love to hear what Knebworth House would have to say about all the carrying on that has gone on there over the years.

Of course it wouldn’t be an Adventurer episode without the height of at least one cast member winding Gene up the wrong way. The recipient of that honour this week being Alexandra Bastedo…because why should Stuart Damon be the only cast member of The Champions to suffer the Gene experience? Cast as Lola Wells, a member of the anti-militant group who masquerades as Gene’s leading lady, at 5’6’’ Bastedo’s height shouldn’t really have been much of a problem. The episode itself however suggests otherwise. In the scene where they are first introduced, Gene is standing while Bastedo is seated. In their second scene together on the steps of Knebworth House, Gene is standing on a higher step than she is, and in their final scene together Bastedo is required to stand in a ditch while in Gene’s presence.

A slight disappointment to Action! (and rather ironic given that title) is the decision to keep the final confrontation between Gene and the anti-militant group largely off-screen. Just as the fisticuffs begin, with Gene slapping a bald man around the face and remarking “you’re not my type”, we cut elsewhere, and when we return seconds later all members of the group have been KO’ed by Gene. Was filming a punch-up outside of Barry Morse’s comfort zone or (more likely) was Gene just not up to it? The aftermath is though amusingly cartoonish, with the room littered with the bodies of Gene’s failed opponents. Things get a bit Irving Klaw as well, with Ann Somerby sitting on top of and restraining Alexandra Bastedo “we’re triumphant after one dolly of a fight”.

As the forces of left-wing terrorism are defeated and Mr Parminter is on hand to clean up the mess, all that is left for Gene to do is whisk a mentally unbalanced woman who is half his age off to Blackpool for a dirty weekend. At least that seems to be the plan, judging from what can be deciphered from Gene’s mumblings to her about how he believes in free love and Blackpool. It goes without saying that hearing Gene work a shout out for Blackpool into an Adventurer episode is as weirdly incongruous as Telly Savalas singing the praises of Brum in ‘Telly Savalas looks at Birmingham’.

While Action! has a happy ending, one that sees Gene and Ann heading off to a North West seaside town to rehearse ‘Last Tango in Blackpool’, this is an episode somewhat tarnished these days due to Ann Somerby’s subsequent behaviour. In 1973 she was effectively blackballed from journalism, after she let down all the wheels of Lew Grade’s Rolls Royce in retaliation for him failing to commission a second series of The Adventurer. Even more infamous was her failed 1981 attempt to assassinate US president Ronald Reagan, in an ill-advised attempt to impress Gene Bradley. She was quickly arrested on the scene whilst excitedly yelling “I did it for you Gene” into a Dictaphone. Ann Somerby was released from prison in 2016, Gene currently blocks her on Twitter.

“The idea had been growing in my brain for some time: TRUE force. All the king's men cannot put it back together again.”