I say, I say, I say!
Did you hear the one about those dynamic partners in crimefighting, the debonair John Steed and the
girl with "M" appeal, Mrs. Emma Peel, tackling a band of murderous vaudevillains whose aim is to
bump off the board of directors of the Capital Land & Development Corporation?
Well, let me enlighten you further...
Having successfully adapted episodes from the 1965-67 Emma Peel seasons of The Avengers, the
production team at Sonovision Studios were presented with a problem when these scripts ran out.
Subsequent television scripts featured the ingénue agent Tara King alongside John Steed, but it was
decided that these new adaptations should still feature the tried and trusted partnership of Steed
and Mrs. Peel. Often, this would prove to be less than desirable, as Emma found herself inheriting
some of Tara's characteristics and mannerisms. The amalgam of the two agents proves, however, to be
quite an interesting take upon the character as portrayed by Diane Appleby. To my mind at least,
Mrs. Peel now comes across as a 'jolly hockey-sticks' type of girl, slightly daffy and so eager to
please. Shades of Tara coming through here, perhaps? A case in point being the sequence in Episode
One, where Steed and Mrs. Peel are driving to the Capital Land and Development Corporation. Mrs Peel
manages to get Steed completely lost owing to the fact that she's reading the map upside down!
Something I feel the ultra-cool and sophisticated Mrs. Peel would never have done, surely?
As for Donald Monat as John Steed, inevitable comparisons are bound to be drawn between his portrayal
and that of his TV counterpart, Patrick Macnee. However, I feel that Monat does a more than credible
job. Not satisfied with simply turning in a carbon-copy performance, mimicking Macnee's urbane charm
and sophistication, Monat manages to instill his performance with style and nuances entirely of his
own making. It is some achievement that it is quite possible to forget Patrick Macnee's supposedly
definitive portrayal while listening to Donald Monat's creation. A formidable talent indeed! As for
Hugh Rouse's narration, this helps in filling in the visual information that the medium of radio so
often cannot deliver.
The adaptation remains quite faithful to the story as televised originally. Two old time
vaudevillains, Merry Maxie Martin and Jolly Johnny Jenkins are bumping off the board members of the
aforesaid Capital Land and Development Corporation at the behest of a mysterious third party. Martin
and Jenkins receive their murderous instructions via a Punch and Judy show in a rest home for show
people, Gresham Grange, more commonly referred to as Greasepaint Grange. This being Avengerland, I'm
happy to say that the deaths are suitably bizarre, the highlights being death by duckcall, a gag
writer "getting the point" courtesy of a very large knife (OUCH!) and somebody comes to a very
slippery end via a banana skin. I must confess though to a slight disappointment that the death of
Lord Bessington was excised from this version. In the television episode, he literally has the rug
pulled from under his feet and takes a flying swandive out of the window to his death!
As this story features old music hall acts, the dialogue incorporates many groan-inducing gags of the
sort that I've previously mentioned, but it's refreshing to note that both Monat and Appleby keep
their repartee quite sparkling, perfectly in tune with the vast quantities of champagne consumed
throughout the television show.
One slightly worrying factor that seems to be glossed over is Emma's lack of fighting skills. When
the story draws to its close, it is Steed (in the guise of 'Gentleman Jack' - "A smile, a song and an
umbrella" - rather apt, don't you think?) who has to rush in to save Mrs. Peel from a fate worse than
death at the hands of Fiery Frederick. But when it comes to the final mop-up, rest assured that
Steed and Mrs. Peel deliver the goods before revealing the diabolical mastermind to be Seagrave.
All in all, a very pleasant and diverting way of passing an hour and a quarter, but now I must
depart, because, as in the words of Merry Maxie Martin, "When you’ve go to go, you’ve got to go!"