Monday, 16 July 2018

The Adventurer (1972) episode 20: Going, Going…

‘Has Gene gone over to the dark side’ is the question that hangs over this episode of The Adventurer. Whether it is a reflection of Gene’s unpopularity with the cast and crew, or just a coincidence, the tail end of the series is rather fond of calling Gene’s character into question and flirting with the idea that he might be a bad guy. It is a theme repeated in at least two upcoming episodes ‘Make it a Million’ and ‘Mr Calloway is a Very Cautious Man’. The intro to this episode sure doesn’t paint him as the hero of the piece, with Gene ignoring calls for assistance from Mr Parminter, frivolously throwing his money around and mocking the way Oriental people speak.

As much as Parminter worships Gene, even he is forced to concede that Gene’s behaviour is worthy of further investigation and reluctantly puts Diane and Gavin on the case. ‘Going, Going…’ is a real jigsaw puzzle of an Adventurer episode, nothing makes much sense to begin with, and only over time do all the pieces come together and the bigger picture becomes more clearer. The most important part of the puzzle is a Ming vase that Gene has bought at auction, outbidding several other characters including German bad guy Eisen (Arnold Diamond) and Japanese bad guy Koji Taiho (Burt ‘let’s hope nobody realises I was also in episode 12’ Kwouk). The Ming vase turns out to be a fake, but Gene insists on the sale going ahead anyway. Once in possession of the Ming, Gene traces its design onto paper, then smashes it into bits and disposes of some of the pieces…but not all of them. Gene’s phone is then bugged by a fake telephone engineer, confusing Gavin who shows up at Gene’s place posing as another fake telephone engineer…and while he too, had intended to bug Gene’s phone ends up removing the bug left by the previous fake engineer. Confused? You will be. In fairness ‘Going, Going…’ obviously wants to play to the audience’s inner-sleuth, by offering up the challenge of deciphering Gene’s seemingly illogical behaviour.

Gene might dominate ‘Going, Going…’, but I’d still classify this as a New Adventurers episode. A shared sense of confusion tends to bond the audience to Parminter, Diane and Gavin here, whereas Gene’s actions only alienate and arouse suspicion. Come to think about it, this would have been an ideal point to have written Gene out of the show and continue on with the New Adventurers formula…and it often feels as if that was the episode the series’ creators wished they were making. Exposing the lead character as a bad guy 20 episodes into a 26 episode series would have certainly shaken The Adventurer up quite dramatically…but it was not to be. Instead the off-screen balance of power tipped in Gene’s favour and ‘Going, Going…’ spelt the end for the New Adventurers, this episode marking the last time Parminter, Gavin and Diane are seen together onscreen.

Cracks in Gene’s ‘bad guy’ act begin to show and it comes as no big surprise when its revealed he has just been pretending to go rogue, and the plot finally begins to make some sense. The person who put the Ming up for auction was Lynsky (Norman Ettlinger) a defecting Russian chemist who had disappeared while seeking asylum in Britain. The vase was in fact a smokescreen for what he was really auctioning off which was a chemical formula of great value to the world of big business. When traced onto paper the design on the vase could be placed over a map of London which then reveals when and where the winning bidder could meet Lynsky and receive the formula. Good God, what a hyper-paranoid lot we were during the cold war.

Despite having been outbid by Gene at the auction, his rivals in the field of big business aren’t prepared to take defeat lying down. While the Russians bug Gene’s phone, German businessman Eisen pays Gene’s butler to double cross Gene and deliver the broken vase to him. Incidentally, the deceitful butler in question isn’t ‘Brandon the Butler’ rather it is ‘Brooks the Butler’ (Norman Bird) who has temporarily been filling in for Brandon. Brooks and Brandon are so strikingly similar characters, both having an air of untrustworthiness about them, that you do have to wonder whether the series’ original plan was to have Brandon go bad and end up betraying his employer. An idea possibly nixed due to the series’ aversion to story arcs and a desire to keep Dennis Price around, resulting in this facsimile character Brooks being drafted in for one episode. Should anyone wonder what has become of Brandon, a brief dialogue exchange between Gene and Parminter reveals that Brandon has been called away to visit his ill sister, a piece of dialogue that ushers in Dennis Price’s return to the series in next week’s episode.

Going, Going…’s script by Gerald Kelsey boasts a number of clever plot twists but overall this is an Adventurer episode that spins way too much of a complicated web. One that can never be satisfactorily unravelled within a 25 minute running time. It is never explained what exactly Lynsky’s formula is or why it should be the subject of such a hard fought battle for its ownership. Why Gene chooses to exclude the other Adventurers from his plans is also something of a mystery, especially as it needlessly turns characters who are meant to assist Gene, into obstacles who inadvertently hinder him. In light of all the backstage drama it does however feel rather fitting that the final New Adventurers episode should be one that pits Gene against his colleagues. Life mirrors The Adventurer …and all that.

This series does become more of a homebody towards the end, preferring London settings to overseas ones, as the wintery months rob Europe of much of its appeal. The cheque Gene signs for the vase indicates this episode is set in October 1972, and since the episode was first broadcast in January 1973, ‘Going, Going…’ was likely filmed in Oct 1972 as well. Should anyone be interested, the time between the filming and broadcasting of Adventurer episodes appears to have been just over two months (‘Thrust and Counter-Thrust’ was filmed in early August 1972 and first shown in October of that year) illustrating just how quickly ITC were knocking these episodes out. It is easy to see the logic behind that kind of scheduling, with those early, sun drenched episodes first being unveiled during the closing months of 1972, and having tremendous appeal on chilly, dark British nights. Alas, by the time of episodes like this, winter had caught up on the series, and the world of The Adventurer looks no more inviting than the day to day reality of the cold, early months of the year that they were broadcast in. Where is Gene’s Paddington Bear coat when he needs it?

All the positives to this episode tend to rest on the shoulders of its co-stars, Bridget Armstrong raises a few laughs as Gene’s all fur coat and no knickers love interest who keeps calling the Ming vase a ‘mink’ and has lines like “all that money for a pot”. Burt Kwouk is always a welcome presence in anything, even if nether of his Adventurer episodes are exactly what you’d call series highlights. In order to differentiate him from the character he played in the ‘Deadlock’ episode, Kwouk here sports a fake moustache and dyed grey hair. Unlike his Deadlock character, which played around with Oriental villain stereotypes, ‘Going, Going…’ wholeheartedly embraces them, giving Kwouk broken English speech patterns and a fondness for sub- Confucius nuggets of wisdom like “man who has hen house does not buy eggs”. Kwouk’s character, Koji Taiho, also has a habit of injecting the word ‘honorary’ (or slight variations thereof) into every other sentence, rivalling the likes of ‘frightfully’ and ‘Astrid’ when it comes to overused words in an Adventurer episode.

Unfortunately the writer of this episode must have been blissfully unaware of the Gene-Catherine Schell situation, as ‘Going, Going…’ breaks the unwritten law of New Adventurers episodes that ‘thou shall not write scenes featuring Catherine and Gene in the same room together’. A faux-pas that finally alerted Gene to the fact that Catherine had been secretly co-starring in the last several episodes. Based on what Catherine Schell has to say on the matter in the DVD extras, Gene wasn’t pleased “obviously the writers hadn’t been warned (and) I had to do a scene with Gene Barry. So I’m walking down the corridor towards my dressing room and Gene Barry is coming opposite and he looks at me and says ‘what are you doing here’ and I said ‘well, I’m working Gene’, ‘no you’re not, you’re off the picture’ and I said ‘no, I’m not, I’ve been written back into the picture’. So he was in not the best of mood when we had to do the scene together and I remember he kept fluffing his lines, which he did very, very often”. 

Of course it is impossible to look at the scene in question in the same light, once you’ve been clued in on the behind the scenes drama. It is always amusing to watch people buddying up on screen, when you’re aware they couldn’t stand each other in real life. Gene and Catherine…the Mike and Bernie Winters of the ITC world. Ever the pro, Catherine does her best to sell the idea that Diane loves being in Gene’s company. Gene on the other hand gives the impression he’d rather be anywhere else. His dialogue ironically includes the jokey suggestion that “I could get you to resign”. An awkward moment…captured on film forever.

So with ‘Going, Going…’ Diane Marsh was cast out into the cursed earth, never to be seen in The Adventurer again. If there is a slightly positive spin that can be put on the raw deal Gene’s co-stars got from the series, it is that the experience didn’t destroy anyone’s career. If anything those involved went from strength to strength afterwards, and their best years were still ahead of them. Catherine herself went on to delight cinema audiences in 1975’s The Return of the Pink Panther, and built up a solid resume of film and television credits. Returning to the ITC fold for the second series of Space:1999, it would be that series that truly made Catherine Schell a household name. Thanks to the ironic role of Maya, a shape shifting extra-terrestrial who –in a scenario right out of Gene’s nightmares- had the ability to transform herself into all manner of creatures, including some really, really tall space monsters. Not only did those crazy cats who made Space: 1999 allow the Hungarian giantess to get away with that, they even allowed her to pose for publicity photos wearing high heeled boots….avert your eyes now Gene.

Monday, 9 July 2018

The Adventurer (1972) episode 19: Full Fathom Five

There is no escaping the fact that Full Fathom Five is a bit of a mess of an Adventurer episode, cast members go uncredited, there are too many subplots and an overall sense of a production that is coming off the rails. This week everyone is on the search for three stained glass windows that were removed from a monastery in Belgium during WW2 and buried at sea. The only person who possesses a map pin-pointing where the windows are buried is elderly sea captain Andre Gustave (Donald Eccles). In an echo of ‘The Bradley Way’ episode the sickly old man has found himself surrounded by people with sinister motives for caring for him. Masterminding the scheme is Doctor Rymans (Peter Jeffrey) who in yet another echo of The Bradley Way episode, installs a faux-nurse (Rona Newton-John, older sister of Olivia) to keep a watchful eye on the ailing Gustave. For all of their best efforts though, Gustave manages to hand over the map to his granddaughter Maria (Prunella Ransome) on his death bed. Immediately making her a person of interest to Gene and Mr Parminter, as well as placing her in danger from Dr Rymans and his cohorts.

Full Fathom Five is essentially another ‘New Adventurers’ episode with particular emphasis on Mr Parminter. Despite the fact that Catherine Schell and Garrick Hagon go accidentally uncredited in this episode, Diane and Gavin do however occasionally pop up to lend Parminter a much needed hand. In fact Full Fathom Five is a rather crowded compartment of an episode, juggling plots about the New Adventurers, Maria Gustave’s plight, and the obligatory attempts to work Gene into the story. For a one-episode character Maria Gustave is allocated a surprising amount of screen time here. In another unusual move, Maria isn’t just the standard ingénue/damsel in distress that tends to be the norm for female characters in this series. Rather she is a cunning, moral question mark of a character, who forever teeters on the brink of being the piece’s villainess. No sooner as she acquires the map then Maria has her hand out for filthy lucre, displaying no qualms about backtracking on her promise to sell the map to Mr Parminter when a better offer from Rymans comes along. Thereafter Maria plays a dangerous game of pitting various bidders for the map against one another. Not only do her actions place herself in danger, but they also result in Parminter being on the receiving end of a beating and one of her grandfather’s oldest friends being murdered. In a series that is big on holding characters to account for their actions, the lack of consequences for the chaos Maria leaves in her wake is another surprise break from series tradition.

Barry Morse’s portrayal of Mr Parminter continues to be the glue that is holding the series together at this point. For an actor whose best known roles –Lt. Gerard in The Fugitive and Professor Victor Bergman in Space:1999- were deeply serious characters, it is surprising to discover what a gift for comedy Morse had. While in the previous episode Parminter had displayed flashes of efficiency, here he is back to being British intelligence’s one man disaster area. Morse is on fine comedic form in Full Fathom Five with Parminter’s inherent politeness hilariously undercutting his futile attempts to appear threatening “out of my way…please” he begs a thug, before being knocked out with just one punch. In a gag that the New Adventurers episodes are especially fond of, Parminter only wins fights as a result of ‘happy accidents’. Heavies have a tendency to charge at Parminter at the very moment he ducks down…or Parminter will offer to help an adversary to their feet only for them to collide with his hand and knock themselves out instead. In this particular episode Parminter accidentally backs into Rymans, painfully jabbing his cane into Ryman’s mid-section in the process. Sure, it is basic age old slapstick comedy material, but Morse pulls it off with great aplomb. The writers of Full Fathom Five even managed to invent a catchphrase for Mr Parminter “oh dear, oh dear”. Parminter might be as unconventional an action hero as they come but to all intents and purposes he really is ‘The Adventurer’ now, and anyone tuning into the series at this point could be forgiven for being confused as to which character the title refers to.

Another noteworthy change to the series is in its choice of backdrops. Whereas at the outset The Adventurer was as much of an open advertisement for foreign holiday destinations as any classic era ITC show, at this point the series appears to be on a mission to sabotage that appeal. These later Adventurer episodes display a true eye for the ugly, and have a habit of making Europe look as dreary and depressing as possible. This is a series with a particularly heavy jones for docklands settings; you can barely keep the series away from them. If you’ve ever wanted to see every miserable looking docklands and rusty old ship that Europe had to offer in 1972 then you’ve really hit the jackpot with The Adventurer. A trip to Antwerp’s docklands for Mr Parminter is therefore inevitable. Combine this with a visit to a building site and the picture postcard views of Nice from the earlier episodes are starting to feel like a long time ago. Suffice to say anyone watching Full Fathom Five back then would have been likely to have crossed Antwerp off their list of future holiday destinations, if not decided it was better to stay at home that year.

Noticeably absent from these fun excursions to the building sites and docklands of Europe is Gene himself. This week’s excuse for keeping him at arm’s length from his regular co-stars seemingly being that he’d rather hang out with people from Hammer Horror movies instead. Gene initially being seen in this episode in the company of Judy Matheson, one of the great British horror heroines of the 1970s, thanks to appearances in the likes of Crucible of Terror, The Flesh and Blood Show, and Hammer’s Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil. Remaining seated throughout the scene (at, but of course, Gene’s insistence) Judy plays Claire Adams, a freelance journalist looking to pay her rent that month by getting an exclusive scoop on the life of Gene Bradley.

Given that the series revolves around Gene’s double life as a spy being a closely guarded secret, it comes as a surprise to hear Claire bring it up in conversion as if it were common knowledge. “I’ve heard that sometimes your telephone rings and you’re invited to help out in the most hazardous adventures” she tells him. Gene’s attempts to change the subject are, rather inconveniently, interrupted by his phone ringing with an invite to help out in a most hazardous adventure!! So poor Claire –who comes across as a more saner version of Ann Somerby- is denied her Gene Bradley exclusive, and has no way of paying her rent that month. Still… what red blooded good guy wouldn’t want to ditch a beautiful woman and leave her in a dire financial situation, when he can instead hotfoot it over to Belgium and hang out with a bunch of elderly monks. So, it is good bye Claire and hello Father Antonius, as Gene helps the monks to try and buy back the stained glass windows from Maria Gustave. Thus providing this week’s tenuous connection between Gene and the main plot, as well as the chance to cast another Hammer Horror alumni. Father Antonius being played by André Morell, heroic lead in the Hammer classic The Plague of the Zombies.

What with the writing being on the wall for Catherine Schell’s character and Garrick Hagon only sporadically appearing in the rest of the series, Full Fathom Five does have the feel of a try-out for future, potentially reoccurring characters in the series. While it is doubtful Father Antonius had legs as a character outside of this episode, Claire Adams had a bit more potential. The fact that Gene would have to go to great lengths to conceal his career as a spy to the women in his life is an angle rarely touched upon in the TV series (it is dwelled upon more so in the tie-in novelisation). If only because his love interests are never around for more than one episode each…such is the promiscuous yet fundamentally empty life of Gene Bradley. So the introduction of a Vicki Vale type character, forever on the verge of exposing Gene’s double life, could have brought something new and exciting to the series. Sadly it was not to be, and like all of the other new characters that Full Fathom Five introduces; Claire Adams was destined to be a one episode nay one scene wonder.

It says allot about Parminter’s growing presence in the series that whereas once he was strictly second fiddle to Gene, now secondary characters are being written around Parminter himself. Full Fathom Five being the first and last time we meet Parminter’s superior Sir Richard, who in keeping with this episode’s theme of “you don’t have to have appeared in a Hammer horror film to guest star in this Adventurer episode, but it helps” is played by Michael Gwynn, the tragic creature from The Revenge of Frankenstein. At the risk of sounding like Gene himself, how goddamn tall is Sir Richard? At 6’4’’ Michael Gwynn may well be the tallest actor to ever grace the series, and makes the rest of the New Adventurers look pint sized in comparison. Does it even need pointing out that Gene and Sir Richard never share scenes together?

Not unlike Mr Parminter himself Full Fathom Five is shambolic but not without its charm. Once in a blue moon it even manages to deliver the occasional effective blow…even if it is mainly to the funny bone than anywhere else. This is also the only Adventurer episode to come complete with its own detailed hangover cure, told by Gene to Claire Adams. So if you want to follow Gene’s advice, here is the Bradley way to make a Prairie Oyster “it’s the yolk of an egg, with Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, tomato ketchup, sprinkled on the top with a bit of pepper”. Admittedly Gene’s hang-over cure doesn’t sound too inviting…and in keeping with this week’s Hammer horror theme it actually looks like he is downing a glass of someone’s blood. Still, who knows…it might work, after a few prairie oysters Adventurer episodes like this one might even start to make sense.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

The Adventurer brought to book

The Adventurer didn’t exactly inspire a great deal of tie-in merchandise back in the day, there was no Adventurer jigsaw puzzle, no Adventurer board game and no cartoon strip in TV Action. John Barry’s Adventurer theme tune was however released on the Polydor label (the B-Side being Barry’s theme tune from the 1972 film ‘Follow Me’) and a tie-in novelisation of the series emerged from Pan books in 1973. Hiding behind the ‘Robert Miall’ name was one John Frederick Burke (1922-2011) an extraordinarily prolific author under his own name, as well as several other names (as well as Miall he was also Jonathan George, Martin Sands, Owen Burke, Russ Ames, Roger Rougiere). Burke also had quite the career side-line going when it came to novelizing films and TV shows. He was there at the birth of the tie-in novelisation boom of the early 1960s (his earliest efforts included novelizations of The Entertainer and Look Back in Anger) and he was still turning them out decades later. His last tie-in novelizations being a series of ‘London’s Burning’ books from the mid-1990s. Somehow along the way Burke also managed to find the time to write the source story and original script to the 1967 cult movie The Sorcerers, and appear as a contestant on the TV quiz show Mastermind, a busy life for sure.

For the Adventurer novel, Miall/Burke drew on three of the earlier Adventurer episodes ‘Return to Sender’, ‘Thrust and Counter Thrust’ and ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’, seemingly on account of the fact that all those episodes take place in Nice. Forming what could be described as ‘the Nice trilogy’. Rather than portray these as three separate short stories part of Burke’s assignment involved trying to rework these three episodes into one continuous narrative, by having each storyline flow into each other. Despite Burke’s best efforts though, only the most unobservant reader could fail to notice how the narrative stops and restarts twice over during the course of the book.

The VHS era and the popularisation of off-air TV recording in the 1980s began to spell the end for tie-in novelizations, but prior to those innovations such books remained one of few ways people could keep the memory of a film or TV show alive. By rights these books should have been rendered obsolete once the public were able to own the actual films or TV shows themselves, but tie-in novelizations aren’t entirely without their value. As these books were written to cash in on the release of a film or TV series they were often likely to have been written whilst the projects in question were on-going and be based on early shooting scripts rather than the finished product. Tie-in novelizations therefore can usually be relied upon to feature subplots, scenes and characters that for whatever reason never made the final cut of the project that they were promoting. Given the troubled nature of the production it is no real surprise that the book version of The Adventurer does also differ and divert from what made it onto TV.

Here then is a brief breakdown of how the book differs from the TV series:

What is immediately noticeable about the book is that Gene Bradley isn’t called Gene Bradley in it, rather he is ‘Gene Brady’. As to why the main character underwent this slight name change, we can but speculate. The most obvious answer is that the Brady surname would have been synonymous to audiences of the time with the notorious child killer Ian Brady, and that having a lead character in a cheery TV action series whose name evoked memories of the Moors murderers may not have been the wisest decision. It is also worth considering that, what with the series having an eye on the US market, the name ‘Bradley’ had more of an all-American feel to it than Brady.

The book begins a few scenes into the plot of ‘Return to Sender’ with Gene arriving in Nice, and being mobbed by all and sundry in a hotel lobby “Gene Brady was completely surrounded. Fingers touched him, clawed at him. Someone was breathing reverently in his left ear”. By rights amongst the crowd should be Debbie Russ’ character Debbie Pinter, but rather than a starstruck Debbie Pinter, in the book Gene is confronted by a starstruck Danny Pinter. The character being a nine year old boy in the novelisation. Danny’s obsession with Westerns, and the fact that he is dressed as a cowboy, leads onto this aborted piece of dialogue that didn’t make it to TV.

The in-joke there being that the most famous portrayal of Bat Masterson at the time was on the eponymous TV series (1958-1961), where he was played by a certain Gene Barry. Hence Gene’s slight agitation at the kid favouring John Wayne over Bat Masterson. Presumably either Gene didn’t find the joke funny, or the chance to capitalise on Debbie Russ’ ‘Here Come the Double Deckers’ fame lead to Danny undergoing a gender switch to Debbie for the TV show.

Back when we looked at the Return to Sender episode, I wondered how Burke could bring the fight scene -in which Gene slaps a man around the face with a plant then falls off a curtain rail- to the printed word. Perhaps wisely, the book diverts slightly from the TV version. Instead of a curtain rail being the reason for Gene losing the fight, in the book it is a pesky mirror that proves to be his downfall.

Physically the majority of the characters in the book match up to the actors who played them in the TV series, the book even anticipates the problem Gene would have with Stuart Damon in its description of Damon’s character ‘Vince Elliot looked, as ever, like an overgrown jockey’. The only character who doesn’t closely resemble the actor who played him is Mr Parminter, who appears to have originally been envisioned as a hugely overweight man (he is constantly described in the book as ‘podgy’ and ‘plump’ and at one point has trouble getting up from Gene’s couch). Personality wise though, Gene ‘Brady’ is a rather different character to Gene ‘Bradley’. In the book Brady manages to conceal his double life as a spy by pretending to be something of a film industry jackass. Whenever his job as a spy forces him to walk away from acting jobs, Gene covers his tracks by pretending he has fallen off the wagon, had a nervous breakdown or run into ‘creative differences’ with the filmmakers. Thus, while he gets a reputation as a famous hell-raiser and a risky, pain in the ass to employ as an actor, at the same time he manages to keep the real reason for his frequent vanishing acts from movie sets a secret. As written, Brady has more in common with such bad boy actors of the day like Richard Harris, Oliver Reed and Richard Burton than the actor who eventually played him. Of course this aspect of the character is completely absent from the TV series, which favours a more squeaky clean portrayal of Gene, without a hint that his double life earns him a terrible reputation within the film industry. Absent also from the TV version, but retained in the novelisation, is a rather embarrassing subplot in which Gene gets out of an acting assignment by pretending he has contracted dysentery in Nice.

Whenever Burke’s writing expands on the Adventurer universe, the novelisation tends to get extremely meta. In the novel Gene’s acting career takes him to London where he is kept busy by playing the lead in an action packed British TV show called ‘Go Get Him’. The producer of Go Get Him being a fast talking Jewish impresario called Max Knight, a character who is err rather reminiscent of a certain Lew Grade (even the ‘Knight’ name seems to be a pointed reference, Grade having been knighted a few years earlier). It all gets rather self-referential with Burke even using the first names of actual Adventurer writers Donald James and Dennis Spooner for the much put upon writing due of ‘Don and Dennis’ who are knocking out all these Go Get Him scripts for Mr Knight.

Art also uncannily mirrors life when Gene causes problems during the making of ‘Go Get Him’, driving a regular director of the series to the bottle. A mere coincidence, or were horror stories from the set of The Adventurer filtering back to Burke and providing him with inspiration?

Burke’s most original contributions to the book are of course the chapters that link the three episodes together. After the incidents of ‘Return to Sender’ Gene has trouble concealing his double life as a spy to his girlfriend Valerie (played by Sharon Gurney in the TV episode) a character who hangs around a bit longer in the book than she does the TV series. Ever wondered how Gene met the Countess Krevisky from the episode ‘Thrust and Counter Thrust’?....Burke fills in those blanks too. After Valerie leaves for London, production of ‘Go Get Him’ switches to Nice. There Parminter cunningly arranges for a sword fighting scene in Go Get Him to be filmed outside of the Moravian embassy, knowing that this will bring Gene to the attention of the Countess Krevisky and earn him an all-important invite to the Moravian embassy.

While Gene and the Countess’ subsequent romantic interlude made it into the TV series, largely absent was much of their conversation about his singing ability. In the book, the Countess mentions being impressed by his singing in a film she saw, which leads to her asking him to perform a musical number at the Moravian embassy. Trouble is, in the book Gene is actually a fairly mediocre singer who admits to only sounding good on film due to backing singers and recording studio enhancement. In a further piece of backstory we didn’t hear about in the TV series, Gene reveals to the Countess that he turned down the role in another Max Knight TV action series called ‘The Troubadour’ due to reservations about his singing ability. (Should anyone wish to have an idea of what The Troubadour would have looked like, check out the 1958 poverty row thriller ‘Hong Kong Confidential’ in which Gene plays a spy who masquerades as a famous lounge singer).

All references to Gene being just an average singer were wiped clean from the TV series, with Gene Barry preferring to play the character as an excellent singer who can effortlessly bring the house down. In doing so, forgoing a great deal of suspense the book manages to generate over whether Gene might possibly give an awful performance, and risk both embarrassing himself and causing his motivations for being at the Embassy to come under scrutiny.

As the book appears to pre-date the issues Gene had with Stuart Damon, his character Vince is present throughout the book including its version of the ‘Thrust and Counter Thrust’ story. By the time that episode went before the camera, Damon was off the show and ‘Vince’ had become ‘Gavin’ with Garrick Hagon taking over the role. This isn’t the only name change the character underwent however, and while in the TV series Gavin goes undercover as hippie musician ‘Wild Man Jones’ in the book Vince adopts a more risqué stage name.

Concerns about TV censorship are the likely reason for why Reefer Jones was rechristened Wild Man Jones for the series. There are a few mild expletives in the book (esp. ‘bastard’) but it is hard to know whether these were in the original scripts and taken out, or whether Burke inserted them himself in order to give the book a more ‘adult’ tone. The only other scene from the ‘Trust and Counter Trust’ part of the book that didn’t make it into the TV episode involves Gene over hearing the Countess bad mouthing him to others, hurting his feelings in the process. Presumably this scene really did hurt Gene’s feelings, hence its exclusion from the TV episode.

I suspect that Catherine Schell was probably glad the following piece of dialogue never made it to TV, this is hardly a line befitting someone descended from Hungarian nobility.

Speaking of which, it has to be said that this book’s description of the characters Diane Marsh and Suzy Dolman doesn’t exactly flatter Catherine Schell and Judy Geeson.

In order to merge the plots of ‘Trust and Counter Trust’ and ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’ the book introduces the character of Suzy Dolman at the Moravian embassy, where her low opinion of Gene’s singing marks the beginning of her emotionally fraught relationship with Gene. ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’ is the Adventurer episode that looks to have suffered the least when it came to being rewritten to appease Gene. This part of the book plays pretty much like a straightforward transcription of the TV episode, its only serious diversion from it occurs when Gene gets Suzy out of the mock-jail he’d had Vince lock her up in. In the TV episode, Gene pretends to bribe Vince (who is dressed as a gendarme) in order to get her out of jail, but in the book Gene pretends to overpower Vince and breaks her out of the prison cell. Given Gene’s issues with Stuart Damon’s height it doesn’t require any amount of detective work to get to the bottom of why a physical confrontation between Gene and Vince was nixed by Gene for the TV version.

If truth be told, Burke probably didn’t regard writing The Adventurer novelisation as anything more than a pay check assignment. Saying that the often hilarious self-referential aspects of the book do suggest a man who was having allot of fun writing it, especially when it came to tackling the troubled production of ahem.. ‘Go Get Him’. The Adventurer book is an example of good, efficient hackwork, tailor made for sale at airports. A relatively brisk read, it is likely you could get through the entire book during just one flight, especially if you’d seen its plot(s) played out on TV a few weeks earlier. Burke’s loving descriptions of foreign holiday destinations no doubt wetting his audience’s appetite for their own forthcoming sunny adventures. Where, unlike Mr Brady/Bradley, they were hopefully left alone by giant Hungarian women with bobbing heads and far out hippie musicians with stage names that couldn’t be said on British TV in 1972.


Monday, 2 July 2018

The Adventurer (1972) episode 18: To the Lowest Bidder

If I’m remembering rightly there are one or two more ‘New Adventurers’ episodes still in the pipeline, but ‘To the Lowest Bidder’ marks the beginning of Gene’s return to the show. Likely filmed after Gene’s holiday mid-way into the series, this episode ushers in slight changes to Gene’s appearance. Evidentially he must have stopped off at the barbers on his hols, as his hair is shorter than before. Gene also appears to have sworn off hair dye for the second block of Adventurer shooting, as his hair begins to revert back to its natural grey in these episodes. In keeping with this new ‘mature’ look Gene’s dress sense tends to become a bit more conservative at this point, in this episode he is mainly outfitted in a dapper, tweed suit. Energy levels are slightly up here too, Gene even jumps over a small fence in this episode without the aid of a stuntman- this truly is a Gene reborn.

As well as a new hairdo, Gene is also sporting a new girlfriend on his arm, Laura (Sheila Gish) and a new set of wheels in the form of a silver Corvette Stingray, no doubt courtesy of the show’s Chevrolet sponsors. Noticeably absent from this episode is Brandon the Butler. Although we haven’t seen the last of ol’ Brandon yet, you do have to wonder why Gene keeps him on the payroll. Brandon is nowhere about when he clearly is needed, and in his absence it is Gene himself who has to do all the mundane chores that keep him from his latest love interest. Gene has to collect the milk bottles from the doorstep, answer the phone and serve up champagne for himself and Laura. Given the nightly rave-ups that Brandon must have been having while Gene was away on his holidays though, I suppose it is nothing short of a miracle that there is a drop of champagne still left in that household.

Usually it is Mr Parminter who acts as the show’s coitus interruptus on legs, and always turns up just as the Gene Genie is about to get all hot n’ seamy with his latest conquest. In this instance though, Parminter isn’t to blame for Gene not getting a bit, rather it is a phone call from an elderly civil servant called Samuel Cookson (Anthony Nicholls). We the audience know from the outset that Cookson is already at his wit’s end. Since the pre-credits sequence of this episode had found Cookson walking the streets of Brussels in a depressed state before returning home and contemplating shooting himself. As Gene is always a sucker when it comes to old men, it is a foregone conclusion that he’ll forgo horizontal pleasures with a woman in favour of flying out to Brussels to help out an old timer.

In fact Gene and Co spend so much of The Adventurer rushing to the aid of old men that arguably this series is far more deserving of the title ‘The Protectors’ than the Robert Vaughn one. After Gene takes the first plane out to Brussels and meets Cookson it transpires that it isn’t Cookson himself who needs protection, rather it is his daughter Sarah (Jane Asher) who is in danger. As to why? Well as tends to be the case with Adventurer episodes…it’s complicated. Cookson is the head of a governing body that decides which company will be awarded the contract to build ‘Europe 100’, a ginormous European super highway. In the spirit of E.U. generosity the contract will be awarded to the company that submits the lowest bid. A decision that has come back to haunt Cookson, as one particularly nefarious company has now resorted to threatening Cookson and his daughter in order to ensure the contract is awarded to them. As Gene also happens to be engaged in the bidding war for Europe 100, he too has become a person of interest to the company threatening Cookson. Laura –who in fact works undercover for this company- teams up with another of its operatives Forrester (Carl Rigg) to tear apart Gene’s muse home in search of the answer to how much he plans to bid on Europe 100. What with Gene’s house being cluttered up with the countless amount of sporting trophies he has won over the years though, it is no surprise that Laura and Forrester come up empty handed.

It is unclear why Cookson insists on Gene visiting him in Brussels in order to ask for Gene’s help in protecting his daughter…who lives and works in London!! Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Cookson to have just asked Gene to protect his daughter during their phone call, thereby sparing the need for Gene to journey from London to Brussels, then immediately take the first flight back to London. That’s ITC for you though, any excuse for some overseas location shooting.

Once we’re back in London, the action relocates to Parkington’s School for Girls, where Sarah works as a teacher to a gaggle of young schoolgirls. All of whom are of course thrilled to bits that a sex symbol like Gene walks in their midst (lest we forgot “Gene Bradley is everyone’s pin-up, Nobody Fool”). While Gene has to grin and bear being a lust object for young schoolgirls, his own attention (and libido) is focused upon the well-to-do, horse riding obsessed Sarah. Insane as it sounds, it would appear that Gene’s height ‘thing’ also extends to the animal kingdom. In scenes involving Sarah’s horse, director Val Guest tends to only cut to Gene whilst the horse is lowering its head, with Jane Asher possibly having been directed to pull on its bridle in order to get its head into such a position.

(Fun fact: the horse that was originally meant to play this role was called Stuart ‘Neigh’mon, sadly it had to be taken out and shot when it was discovered to be taller than Gene).

While Gene is getting all hot for the teacher, two further villains Carlson (David Kelly) and Johnny (John York) show up at the girl’s school with a devious plan. Rather than try and kidnap Sarah, who is being heavily guarded by Gene, they instead abduct one of the schoolgirls Lizzy (Gillian Bailey), then force Sarah into exchanging herself for Lizzy.

The Adventurer continues on its puzzling quest to be mistaken for a spin-off series from ‘Here Come the Double Deckers’, by casting yet another of the Double Deckers, Gillian Bailey. Closely following in the footsteps of Debbie Russ, who guest starred in the ‘Return to Sender’ episode. The casting of The Adventurer does suggest an attempt to target every demographic possible, using female glamour –usually in the form of ‘Au Pair Girls’ cast members- to get the dads watching, and former Double Deckers to get the kids huddled around the box to watch Gene Bradley as well.

‘To the Lowest Bidder’ also illustrates The Adventurer’s unfortunate habit of casting actors who soon after would become household names in sitcoms, often making it difficult to take them serious in these earlier, straight roles. Previous Adventurer episodes have featured Allo Allo’s Richard Marner and Are You Being Served’s Arthur Brough, and upcoming episodes feature Man About the House and The Good Life cast members playing bad guys. Here we get David Kelly as the schoolgirl abducting Carlson, shortly before he achieved fame as the one armed cook Albert Riddle in Robin’s Nest. Stupidly, a relative of mine did for many years believe that David Kelly really did only have one arm, on account of his Robin’s Nest role. So it was all rather surprising to see him with all limbs intact in The Adventurer. It wasn’t Kelly’s arms that caused problems in this episode though, rather the problem was –surprise, surprise- his height. Fortunately the writers of this episode came up with an ingenious way of writing a confrontation between Gene and Carlson whilst avoiding the height ‘thing’. Namely by having Gene rough up Carlson while Carlson is sat in a car!!

To the Lowest Bidder also brings back an element of the series that has been largely absent of late, the shameless showcasing of Chevrolet cars. The plot of this episode just so happening to require Gene to do allot of riding about in his brand new silver machine. In the process demonstrating his car’s superiority to rival brands of car when it comes to speed, breaking and the ability to run them off the road. As someone who has never regarded a car as anything more than a means to get from A to B, I must admit that the ‘car porn’ aspect of The Adventurer does often go over my head. Even so, it is impossible to deny that Gene’s new set of wheels is one impressively cool vehicle, and this episode makes good on its hidden agenda of doubling as a 25 minute advert for it.

It is all rather surprising then to see this episode feature close-ups of cars bearing logos for the likes of Opel and Vauxhall as well. While your first reaction is to wonder whether The Adventurer has started two-timing Chevrolet by endorsing other manufacturers of cars, the conspiracy theorist in me suspects something cleverly underhand is at work in this series. Whenever rival brands of car appear in The Adventurer it is usually in a highly negative context. When the depressed Cookson carelessly steps out into a road at the start of this episode he is nearly run over by an Opel vehicle, likewise when Carlson and Johnny drag the Double Decker poppet into their car, it is a Vauxhall. The references to these brands are quite blatant too, in ways that would be in violation of rules against product placement on British television, had the series genuinely have been taking back handers from these brands. Whenever The Adventurer plugs Chevrolet cars it tends to be a bit more subtle, showcasing the cars for a lengthy amount of time but never drawing too much attention to the brand name. In America however, the series could be a bit more upfront about its sponsorship, with the Chevrolet name being worked into the title sequence when it was shown there.

To the Lowest Bidder is overall a rather fragmented episode, sporting two sets of villains (Laura and Forrester, Carlson and Johnny) who are working for the same aim but who rarely share screen time. Heroics too seem equally divided between Gene and Mr Parminter. While Gene comes to the aid of Sarah and Lizzy at the girls school, Parminter is busy in Brussels trying to thwart attempts to extract information from Cookson. In all likelihood this episode was constructed in such a manner in order to gently ease Gene back into the swing of things after his holiday. In light of Barry Morse’s comments about the series’ regular directors not getting along with Gene though, it is hard to avoid the feeling that Val Guest probably wished he was helming a solo Parminter episode here.

To the Lowest Bidder serves its purpose when it comes to demonising drivers of Vauxhall cars, keeping the cast of Here Come the Double Deckers in employment and planting the idea in the audiences’ minds that their next car should be a Chevrolet. Still, it is one of those Adventurer episodes that you tend to remember for its guest stars more than anything else. This one having for years been filed away in my mind as ‘the one with Jane Asher in it’, or alternatively ‘the episode with the one armed cook from Robin’s Nest, who as it turns out actually has two arms’.

Of course this wouldn’t be an episode of a 1970s TV series set at an all-girls school unless it featured some inappropriate remarks destined to now land this episode on the cultural naughty step. The scene featuring Carlson eyeballing a bunch of schoolgirls and remarking that “you have to set a sprat to catch a mackerel” feels like it belongs in a public information film warning schoolgirls not to talk to strangers… especially if they drive Vauxhall cars. While Carlson is meant to be a creepy character, even Gene himself gets a little pervy at times in this episode, remarking of the schoolgirls “well, you call them rosebuds, but I can tell you they are flowering…did you hear some of the questions they asked me”. 

Now then, now then Gene…as it happens…you don’t want to be the leader of that gang…oh no…so extinguish that little bit of boogie woogie from the back of your mind…best stick with Jane Asher, she is of age, isn’t too tall and –so I’m told- makes exceedingly good cakes.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

The Adventurer (1972) episode 17: The Solid Gold Hearst

The Solid Gold Hearst flirts with the idea of being the series’ horror themed episode, as police inspector Farley (David Weston) prowls around a dark and misty Highgate cemetery before entering a crypt and attempting to prise open a coffin. At first glance it would appear that we’re knee deep in Hammer horror territory, but instead of the coffin containing Christopher Lee, its contents are revealed to be gold bullion, and instead of being set upon by Dracula’s female followers, Farley is discovered by a group of sinister undertakers. Headed by Wyvern (Sydney Tafler) this unfriendly bunch are actually gold smugglers who’ve only been masquerading as undertakers, and the fact that he has now uncovered their secret means that Farley might have been better off discovering Dracula in that coffin after all.

From Highgate cemetery we then cut to the old American West, where honest, god fearing townsfolk are being bothered by rampaging outlaws who are looting and burning down the town. Thankfully, pistol packing sheriff Gene Bradley is on hand to restore some law and order to this place. Just when you think this show has flipped its lid big time, this is all revealed to be part of the latest movie Gene is working on at the moment. Gene looks to be having a whale of a time starring in this cut price Western and throwing his male co-stars about, he even gets carried away and accidentally flips the assistant director over his shoulder at one point as well. In fact, Gene is having so much fun that as a result he can’t be arsed saving the world this week, and aside from chipping in a bit of advice over the phone, largely leaves this episode’s heroics to the ‘New Adventurers’ trio of Mr Parminter, Diane and Gavin.

When a TV episode opens with a character we’ve never heard of before being placed in mortal danger, usually it means the next time they show up will be when they are dead. While The Adventurer never likes to play by the rules, even so it is surprising to then find Farley alive and well, and reporting back to Mr Parminter about his pre-credits encounter with the phoney undertakers. Exactly how Farley managed to escape from the crypt that the undertakers locked him in at the end of the pre-credits scene remains a mystery, presumably known only to the cutting room floor.

What with Farley in line for some well-earned leave (and never to be heard from again) Mr Parminter teams up with the two agents who happen to be on the ‘duty roster’ that day…which happens to be Diane and Gavin. Incidentally, if Mr Parminter has a ‘duty roster’, this of course begs the questions…just how many Adventurers does he have on the payroll? Acting on Gene’s advice, The New Adventurers make their way to a London wharf, but with Mr Parminter in charge things quickly descend into chaos, with Diane getting trapped on board the ship that is carrying the gold bullion to Belgium.

By this stage in The Adventurer, Gene and Parminter seem to have done a complete reversal on their original roles in the show. Now it is Parminter as the wannabe hero and man in the field, while Gene assumes the role of the short tempered boss barking orders to underlings over the phone. Needless to say, it doesn’t reflect too well on Gene Bradley that he favours acting in some schlocky looking Western (complete with fake cacti) over helping out his supposed friends. The pursuit of the gold bullion relocates the action to Antwerp, where with his usual bad timing Parminter has just missed the gold bullion being transported from the ship. It’s not all bad news though, as Diane turns up safe and well, having managed to avoid detection whilst on the ship by passing herself off as one of the guys. Ever had the burning desire to see Catherine Schell dressed up as a Belgian fisherman? Well then, consider this your lucky day.

The Adventurer continues to act as its own spin-off show with this episode, which carries with it all the pros and cons of any legitimate spin-off show. Negative aspects being that you’re always aware you’re watching characters who were never envisioned to be anything more than background characters now forced into becoming the main focus of attention, not helped by scripts that look understandably rushed. Still it is difficult to not feel sympathy for writers of The Adventurer, who initially must have thought they were on to a winner with the series, only to then have to go back to their scripts time and time again…changing the name of Stuart Damon’s character, writing more Parminter material, reducing Catherine Schell’s role…and doing more re-writes to make sure various characters were always sat down in Gene’s company. On top of all that they then had to quickly come up with all these episodes based around the supporting characters. So, spare a thought for The Adventurer writers, who must have been suffering for their art by this point.

I don’t want to dwell on the negative too much though, because rather than lazily just offer up more of the same these Adventurer episodes do use the opportunity to take the series in a very different direction. Under Parminter, The Adventurer is a more playful and tongue in cheek show, with Barry Morse gamely assuming the role of the series’ court jester. We’re into some very uncharted waters for an ITC series here, what with the lead character now being a blundering middle aged fool, who needs long suffering youthful companions to come to his aid. After being addled for so long with a star who was touchy about mocking his screen image, it comes as a breath of fresh air to see another actor jump at the chance to try his hand at comedy, with no qualms about transforming his character into a figure of fun. Make no mistake; Parminter is an incompetent force of Inspector Clouseau proportions. In my favourite scene in this episode, Parminter lectures Gavin and Diane about the importance of discretion in their job, then proceeds to follow the bad guys into a building whilst waving about a rather indiscreet film camera. He also manages to get into an argument with Gavin about how unnecessary violence is in their job, in the process alerting the bad guys to their presence and instigating a brawl between New Adventurers and the faux-undertakers.

The Spirit of ‘The Avengers’ does tend to hang over The Adventurer when Gene isn’t around. Mr Parminter’s bowler hat sporting appearance and adoption of a cane as his weapon of choice, automatically invites John Steed comparisons. The idea of the bad guys disguising themselves as undertakers adds to the Avengers-esque vibe you get from this episode. The episode’s centrepiece, a high speed chase through the streets of Antwerp, also benefits from the eccentric, very Avengers like touch of having the bad guys use a hearse to tear around the streets of Antwerp, with the New Adventurers in hot pursuit.

If I had to nit-pick about this episode, I do wish we’d have seen more of the hilarious sounding subplot in which Diane stows away on a ship by disguising herself as a fisherman. Admittedly Catherine Schell isn’t at all convincing as a man (which at the same time is precisely what is so funny about it) and maybe the powers that be felt that this was too implausible to linger on. Still as The Adventurer has now ‘discovered’ intentional comedy, the glossing over of Catherine Schell going all Yentl on us, does seem like a missed opportunity. Papa, can you hear me?

Of course we should perhaps be grateful we’re getting any Diane Marsh content at all at this point in The Adventurer, since Gene was under the impression he had been successful in getting Catherine dropped from the show. Another tricky problem the writers faced with these episodes was coming up with scripts in which Diane Marsh played a prominent role in, while at the same time making sure the character was never brought up in scenes involving Gene. In last week’s episode Mr Parminter managed to summarise his Wuppertal adventurer to Gene without ever bringing up Diane’s sizable involvement in it. While in this week’s episode Parminter does mention Diane’s name in a phone call to Gene, Gene’s side of the conversation carefully avoids giving Diane a name check in any of his dialogue. For now at least, the fact that Diane Marsh was still clocking on at Adventurer HQ remained the series’ big secret. One that Gene is kept distracted from by this week’s Wild West playtime, which allowed him to relive his youth as the star of the TV Western ‘Bat Masterson’ as he guns down the bad guys, restores law and order to the old West, and rides the high plains of Elstree. Giddy-Up!!!

As we haven’t seen too much of Gene in this episode, maybe it is only fair we should let him sing us out this week. So here is Gene’s version of ‘Moonlight Gambler’ a song that could well have been the theme tune to the Western he was working on in this episode…and before you ask…yes, this record is being played at the right speed, even if Gene’s singing makes it sound otherwise.