Tuesday, 8 May 2018
The Adventurer (1972) episode 10: Nearly the End of the Picture
Nearly the end of the picture? Well not exactly, in fact we’re not even at the mid-way point of The Adventurer yet, although we are down a couple of cast members for this episode. It’s always apparent when Catherine Schell and Garrick Hagon are absent from the show, as a shot of helicopter blades in the opening credits, meant to carry their ‘co-starring’ credit, instead plays out with no text whatsoever. Something which sticks out like a sore thumb since the otherwise fast and action packed opening titles (Gene throws a rope…Gene runs through a door…Gene rubs a woman’s head…Gene shouts down a phone…Gene punches the camera) now linger for a long while over those helicopter blades. No doubt baffling the average viewer, unaware that the shot of the helicopter blades goes on so long because it was meant to give us time to read the names of Gene’s co-stars.
Who then could fill the void temporary left by Catherine Schell and Garrick Hagon, who could combine Catherine’s glamour and sex appeal as well as Garrick’s youthful agility? Well it seems the answer is a 57 year old Dennis Price, who here makes his Adventurer debut as ‘Brandon the Butler’. Visibly bad on his feet and giving the impression of being permanently drunk as a skunk, quite how Brandon managed to work his way into Gene’s employment is anyone’s guess. In some ways Brandon is the polar opposite of Mr Parminter, the anti-Parminter if you will. Whilst Parminter clearly worships the ground Gene walks on and in all likelihood sleeps with a picture of Gene above his bed, Brandon probably throws darts into pictures of Gene when Gene isn’t around. The impression you get is that Brandon regards Gene as a gullible rich American, who’ll shell out a fortune in return for Brandon showing him how to tie his tie the correct way and make the odd cup of tea. Brandon’s barely concealed contempt for Gene, and sense of superiority to him is hilarious in its transparency. At times it feels like Price is channelling his drunk, bitchy old queen character from Horror Hospital. Needless to say, Price is a wonderful addition to the whole dysfunctional Adventurer family.
Brandon does undoubtedly bring something new to the Adventurer team, alcoholism. In fact Brandon only tends to come alive when copious amounts of alcohol are around, the moment Gene is out of the door Brandon is sneaking around and helping himself to the drinks cabinet. As Adventurer episodes never give new characters much by way of an introduction, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Gene’s rude, drunk butler is this week’s guest villain, rather than one of the good guys. Brandon’s primary purpose in the series is to play out a ‘Pygmalion’ scenario with Brandon tutoring Gene in how to correctly behave in British high society. Given the Pygmalion influence maybe this episode would have been more appropriately titled ‘My Fair Bradley’.
Sadly Gene’s attempt to blend in with the toffs falls at the first hurdle, when a date with the extravagantly named Clarissa De Vere Allan (Angela Scoular) leads to him being abducted. It seems Clarissa and her posh friends have stolen a Rembrandt painting that art lover Gene had loaned out to the National Gallery, and now want £100,000 from Gene in three days, otherwise the Rembrandt will be destroyed with acid. Clarissa’s accomplices include Alden (Mark Jones) while the gang’s ringleader is Martin (David Buck) who disguises himself with a masquerade ball mask during his meeting with Gene. As Martin’s collaborators aren’t shy about revealing their actual identities to Gene it remains a mystery why Martin isn’t as forthcoming. Usually when a character goes to that length to conceal their identity in movies and TV shows it generally means they are known to the people they are trying to blackmail, or at least have met them casually elsewhere in the episode. Since the Adventurer likes to give two fingers to conventions though, it turns out there is no reason whatsoever why Martin dons a masquerade ball mask in Gene’s company…so maybe he just likes masks…or is shy…or a bit kinky….Good god, now this show has started giving me flashbacks to Derek Ford’s The Wife Swappers…even without Larry Taylor being in it!!
After being mickey finned, Gene wakes up by the London docklands, stumbles back home and is next seen nursing a hangover whilst wearing dark glasses and a red and white polka dot dressing down. Yes, you read that correctly a red and white polka dot dressing down. Not even all the madness Dennis Price was exposed to during the making of Jess Franco’s The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein could have prepared him for a sight like that. No wonder Brandon needs those drinks.
Gene’s faith in the British upper classes is restored when it transpires that the ‘blonde dizzy’ Clarissa De Vere Allan who abducted him, isn’t the real Clarissa De Vere Allan, who according to Parminter is “about 5’7’’, blue eyes, light brown hair”. Incredibly, despite being forewarned that the real Clarissa is a frighteningly tall 5’7’’, Gene still wants to meet her.
Clarissa De Vere Allan the 2nd, truly lives up to her name, you can tell this Clarissa really is posh because she drinks lemon barley water, likes to practice archery, says ‘frightfully’ allot and has friends with names like ‘Bunty’. Most crucially of all is played by Fiona Lewis, and let’s face it no one epitomises the posh 1970s ‘it girl’ quite like Fiona Lewis. I don’t know what power Fiona Lewis had over Gene, but for a tall girl she does get away with quite allot in this episode. The fact that he even allowed her to stand up in the scenes they have together is in itself remarkable, but it is even more astonishing to spot her wearing high heel shoes in their scenes together. Poor Catherine Schell would never have gotten away with footwear like that in Gene’s company. Maybe Gene was just a sucker for a posh English accent.
Thanks to the frightfully nice Clarissa, the frightfully tall Gene manages to discover that the frightfully nasty imposter Clarissa is actually a humble DJ at a frightfully trendy discotheque. An occupation that simultaneously allows Gene to spy on the fake Clarissa while romancing the real deal. So there are lights, music and women to impress and that can mean only one thing…yes…it’s the return of GENE, GENE THE DANCING MACHINE.
Apparently Fiona Lewis doesn’t rate her acting too highly these days (recently claiming that “my enthusiasm outflanked my ability” and crediting her success being “due to the fact that I was willing to take off my clothes”) but I’m sorry any woman who can keep a straight face while Gene does ‘the marionette’ in front of her is a damn fine actress in my book. It is even more impressive if you consider that off-screen Fiona really did party hard with the era’s genuine hell raisers like Oliver Reed and George Best, after which Gene’s partying antics must have felt lacking in authenticity.
If the Adventurer is truly blessed in any department, it has to be in the acting one. The series really is a who’s who of the British acting world of 1972, keeping many industry veterans in employment, as well as introducing us to young, fresh faces with careers that were going places. In this episode alone we get a relativity early performance from Mark Jones, star of stage, screen and British sex comedies. So early in fact that you get a rare chance to see Mark Jones’ actual hair here, shortly before he adopted the Sean Connery approach of alternating between playing roles bald or donning a toupee, depending on what was required of him. Talking Pictures TV’s recent repeats of ‘A Family At War’ really drive home what a fine actor Mark Jones was, and even when the material wasn’t worthy of him- such as in this Adventurer episode or the sex comedies- you can still tell he was an actor who always gave 100%.
Overall though, I think The Adventurer was a better platform for actresses rather than actors. Male Adventurer villains are never particularly memorable or charismatic. There are no Goldfingers or Blofelds in this world, and in all likelihood the series was deliberately written that way so that no actor could upstage Gene. Actresses on the other hand tend to get more of an opportunity to shine, either by playing glamorous roles that come across as bids for future consideration as a Bond girl, or quirky character parts as in the case of Angela Scoular in this episode. Given that Scoular was mainly regarded as a comedy actress it is a little bit of a surprise to see her in an episode of The Adventurer. While the ‘ditzy blonde’ side to her character isn’t too far removed from her comedy roots, the malicious edge that lies beneath her characters’ apparently airheaded exterior means this is the type of role you tend to more associate with the likes of Linda Hayden or Vanessa ‘Girly’ Howard. This episode does carry with it the faintly depressing reminder that The Adventurer is such a product of the past that even some of its youthful cast members have since passed away, and in horrendously tragic circumstances in the case of Angela Scoular.
A peculiar aspect to this episode is how it feels less like the result of a British crew filming on home-grown soil, and more like a special ‘British’ episode of an American TV series. Along the lines of the British set episodes of Hart to Hart, Magnum PI or Still Crazy like a Fox. Everything about this episode feels catered to American tourists, with the British pomp and circumstance cranked up to a deafening degree. Something which plays well to the American tourist mentality but tends to evoke sniggers from a British audience, who know full well that your average Brit doesn’t have their own butler nor puts on a top hat in order to go out on the town (I defy you to watch the scene with Gene in top hat and tails without hearing ‘Putting on the Ritz’ playing in your head).
As this episode juggles the responsibilities of being an episode of an action series and a ‘things to do in London’ tourist information advert, Gene and Parminter do have an unusually active social life in this episode. Gene goes on a walking tour of the London docklands, he and Parminter spend time at a traditional English pub (presumably because Brandon has drank him out of house and home) and later dine out at the BT Tower, back when it had its own revolving restaurant. Don’t go expecting to experience any of that these days, time was called on that revolving restaurant in 1981 and those docklands have gone the way of top hat and tails. As a glorified advert for a London that no longer exists, such details do lend this episode an undoubted amount of time capsule importance.
All in all, Nearly the End of the Picture is a rather schizophrenic episode, both playing to the American tourist notion of ‘Britishness’ and tapping into the frightmares of rich Americans that once over here they’ll be exploited and blackmailed by Brits who aren’t as nice or polite as they seem. Valuable life lessons that your average American could learn from Gene in this episode then, include the knowledge that the correct way to address a young lady in 1972’s Britain was as ‘blonde bird’ or ‘luv’ and that proper, well-educated young ladies will always crowbar the word ‘frightfully’ into every other sentence. If she doesn’t then chances are she is just some common scrubber who is only after you for your Rembrandts. An entire drinking game could be played around how many times Fiona Lewis uses the word ‘frightfully’ in this Adventurer episode. Down something stronger than lemon barley water every time Fiona says the magic word, and chances are by the episode’s end you’ll be as blotto as Brandon.