Sunday, 26 July 2015

1-7 February 1964

First there's the matter of Antodus the whiney Thal.  As you may recall, we left him last week suspended from a rope and looking like he might be about to plummet to his doom at any moment.  Antodus's anguished brother Ganatus (who keeps going on about how he shouldn't've brought him along - so why the flippin' hell did you, you idiot?), aided by kindly Earthling Ian, tries to pull the dangling drip up, but in the end Antodus puts us all out of his misery by cutting through the rope and falling to his death.  It's a moment of great relief - Antodus is Doctor Who's first true "In the name of God, die, will you?" character.  Perhaps understandably, Ganatus doesn't rejoice in his brother's death, though I'm sure Ian's quietly pleased.

Meanwhile, the Daleks have clearly had second thoughts about making Susan and the Doctor sit on the floor, and have shackled them to the wall instead.  They're still ranting on about their plans to re-irradiate the whole of Skaro, and - what's that we see a Dalek carrying? It looks remarkably like a QR code.

Back in the caves, Ian, Ganatus and the rest of their intrepid band turn off their torches to save energy, and are startled to find there's a light coming from somewhere.  Digging a bit, Ian discovers they've found their way to some kind of Dalek power plant!

In the petrified jungle, Alydon, Dyoni and the rest of the Thals are beginning to wonder what's happened to their friends.  Realising the Doctor and Susan must have been either taken prisoner or killed, Alydon decides it's time to lead his people into battle, and the not-terribly-fearsome troops begin their march on the Dalek city.

Ian and the others have now penetrated into the city, and the daring science master angers the Daleks by smashing their cameras - with his fist! There's a pleasing circularity in the story's last episode featuring a return to the eerie, wonky corridors that played such a major part in its first.  It's here that Ian's party and Alydon's meet up (so was there much point in that interminable trip through the caves after all? Did Antodus die in vain? Never mind, let's just be happy he died).

Sending footsoldier Daleks out to deal with the interlopers, the Dalek boffins in the control centre begin their countdown to nuclear armageddon, using a rather splendid looking device - no idea what it actually does (at this stage there's no special livery to denote Daleks of rank, though script editor David Whitaker's novelisation of the story added in the alarming character of a ruling mutant with a glass case).

The Daleks' attempt to contain the intruders by shutting all the doors in the city nearly spells doom for Barbara and Ganatus (never mind his brother, he should've brought a comb with him), though they manage to struggle out, and help their friends through the gap.

Other Thals are not so lucky, as the Daleks go on an exterminating spree (I've already done the joke about the Daleks' negative energy, but I'm bringing it up again as I was quite pleased with it)...

Barbara proves her mettle (as if we ever doubted it) by bunging a rock at a Dalek (not entirely sure where she got it from) to distract it, getting away just in time to avoid the same fate as those unfortunate Thal extras.

The Thals make up for their earlier reticence to fight in spades - the climactic battle scene in the Dalek control room is a mind-boggling melee featuring Daleks being manhandled, ridden and knocked over, and Thals hanging from the ceiling for some unknown reason.

The countdown is brought to a halt, as is the electricity supply that keeps the Daleks alive.  The last one standing is reduced to begging the Doctor for help.  The old man seems almost moved by the creatures' plight, admitting that even if he wanted to help them he wouldn't know how to.

So that's the end of the Daleks.  The Doctor's got his fluid link back, along with a supply of mercury, and it's nearly time to have another go at getting Ian and Barbara back to where they should be.  It just remains to bid the Thals a fond farewell, with the Doctor - once a pioneer among his own people, he says - admitting that he envies them the opportunity of rebuilding a whole society from scratch, though as they're going to have to do it with technology they don't know the first thing about it may not be so much fun from their perspective.  Susan's been given one of those scaly Thal cloaks as a going-away present.  This being Susan, it's about two seconds before she falls over in it.

The tenderest farewell is between Ganatus and Barbara, the flaxen haired Richard Madeley lookalike having fallen harder for the history teacher than we may have imagined: "I don't think I'll ever forget her," he sighs to his chums as the TARDIS takes off.  Well, regardless of how much he liked her, I suppose visitors from another world aren't the sort of thing you would forget.  Being a Thal must be a nightmare if you like brunettes.

Having spent seven weeks being locked up, paralysed, poisoned and saving a world from a brutal race of mutants, you might think the travellers deserve a bit of a rest.  It doesn't look like they're going to get one, though: as the ship takes off and the Doctor checks his instruments, there's a blinding flash of light, and everyone's knocked on to the floor...

Crikey.  Anyway, next tonight it's time for another adventure for everyone's favourite Victorian detective (except for the other ones).

Following up a lead provided by a dodgy character named Mr Best (Leslie Dwyer), Bob Marriott arrives at Goodfellow's bank just in time to see a pair of shadowy figures exit.  One gets away, but Bob captures the other, and is surprised to find it's a young woman...

It's chaos at the Yard, with long-suffering  Chalky White unsuccessfully attempting to calm the sobbing young woman, Nellie Benton (Margo Croan) down with a cup of tea while volatile bank manager Mr Trumper (John Scott) erupts with outrage about the robbery in every possible direction.

"A girl in a bank raid? muses Sergeant Cork, "That's taking equality of the sexes a bit to the extreme, isn't it?" Aware that information given by Mr Best in the past has been less than reliable, he demands to know how the little weasel knew the robbery would take place.  His story of overhearing the information in a pub isn't very impressive.

Rather more pressing is the discovery on Bessie's person of a silver handled mirror inscribed to her from Lady Marie Devereaux, a well-known figure in the movement for women's suffrage.  Cue a montage sequence (ambitious stuff for Cork), showing suffragette banners intercut with the gruesome talking heads of a succession of figures venting their vehement opposition to sexual equality - a politician (Eric Elliott), a public orator (Raf de la Torre) and a clergyman (Edmund Warwick).  Incidentally, all three of these actors would appear in Doctor Who in its early years, with Elliott and Warwick achieving particular notoriety for their roles...

Anyway, Cork heads over to see Lady Devereaux, a widow who occupies a shabby rented room, a stark contrast to the opulence she lived in during her marriage.  They immediately get off on the wrong foot, with Cork mistaking the apron-clad suffragette (Jane Hylton) for the maid.  She calmly explains that she can no longer afford one, though she once employed Nellie in that capacity and became very fond of her.

Lady Devereaux's strenuous denial that anyone associated with her movement could have been involved in a bank raid is undermined a tad when Cork matches a broken heel found at the scene of the crime with one of her boots...

Later, Cork and Marriott pay a visit to Goodfellow's bank, where the irate Mr Trumper has ascertained that £4500 is missing.  The meeting's interrupted by the arrival at the bank of a mysterious gentleman named Mr Wilson (David King), who seems to have come along purely to mock Mr Trumper for being robbed.  What makes this character particularly bizarre is the unintentional but striking visual effect caused by the monocle he wears (when David King comes on screen again after a cutaway to elsewhere in the scene he quickly drops the monocle out of his eye, possibly in response to frantic gesturing behind the camera).

Later on, Cork's paid a visit by a doddery old accountant named Grange, who tells him he saw Lady Devereaux near the bank on the night of the robbery and gives him her handbag, which he found at the scene of the crime.  Both Cork and Marriott find the accountant strangely familiar - which isn't surprising as he's played by David King too.

By this time there's been another bank robbery, and Marriott's noticed similarities between the two jobs: the safe was the same make, and in both cases it seems to have been jemmied open - though Bob thinks this would surely not have been possible for one of the "weaker sex" to achieve.  Mind you, after a series of frustrating interviews with the comprehensively unhelpful Lady Devereaux, Sergeant Cork's started to wonder whether that epithet applies to women after all .

In a sensational bit of acting from Jane Hylton, Martha tells him about how she changed from a meek, well-off wife to one of the loudest voices calling for equal rights: it was partly down to meeting Nellie, who'd been horrifically mistreated by a brutish husband legally entitled to rob her of a significant inheritance, and partly down to the solicitor she engaged to help, whose unwelcome advances were witnessed by Lord Devereaux, whose assumption was naturally that she was the guilty party.  He never forgave her, and her current impoverished state is due to his will's severe restriction of access to his money : "Why, Sergeant, why? My husband was a good man, but he listened to the voice of his times.  Women are not to be trusted.  Women will let you down.  Women are second class human beings!"

It's clearly a consciousness-changing moment for Cork, who suddenly realises the suffragettes aren't just a bunch of silly women after all.  It seems to have changed his personal feelings toward Lady Devereaux too.  But, he tells her sadly, if she carries on denying her involvement in the robberies, there's not much  he can do.

Meanwhile, Marriott's curiosity about Mr Grange leads him to pay a visit to the accountant's office.  Grange isn't in, and Marriott learns from a passerby that the sign proclaiming it's an accountant's is brand new.  It used to be a safe company.

Cork and Marriott realise that Wilson and Grange are the same man as Mr O'Donoghue, a supposed security expert who blagged his way into several banks on the pretext that he could offer something better than their current safes.  And Mr O'Donoghue is the same man as Walter Roper, a known criminal with a theatrical bent.  Roper's latest disguise is as an Irish navvy.  The man's clearly got as extensive a collection of false hair as, well, as the ATV costume department.

Cork prevails on Mr Best to admit that Roper put him up to telling the police about the bank job.  Lady Devereaux now comes forward to tell the Sergeant that she had nothing to do with the robbery, but broke into the bank (with a copy of a key provided by Mrs Trumper the bank manager's wife - a secret suffragette) as a way of showing women could be a threat if they wanted to.

As far as Roper's concerned, the suffragettes are perfect scapegoats for his crimes: he's employed a pair of young women off the street to leave each bank he robs before him in order to divert suspicion.

But nonetheless, justice catches up with him.  When asked why he bothered dressing up as Wilson, he admits that his theatrical impulse just made him want to see an audience's response to his crime.  "I hear that amateur dramatics are playing a significant part in prison life these days," Cork tells a clearly overjoyed Roper, "You should be very useful."

The episode ends in poignant fashion with Cork, by now clearly smitten with Lady Devereaux, buying tickets to the opera (and could he be the mysterious benefactor who's paid her bail?), but they're refused (unsurprisingly, she's unwilling to embrace the law or any of its representatives).  Masking his heartbreak, the sergeant gives them to Marriott, to treat his latest lady friend: "By Signor Puccini.  Something about Bohemians in Paris.  It's unashamedly romantic."

Awww, poor, rejected Cork *sniff*.  Next, a welcome lightening of tone.

This week sees the return of Arthur's peculiar "nuisance" character, here a little less disturbing than before, but considerably more camp.  On boarding a plane, he chooses to sit next to Nicholas Parsons, who he's had his eye on since they were in the departure lounge (about which Parsons was "acutely embarrased"): "I thought, I'd love to sit next to him, I would.  You look so clean, so wholesome, so English".

Arthur proceeds to make the flight as unbearable as possible for Parsons, primarily through recounting his dreams about the plane crashing.  Eventually Parsons snaps and is escorted off the plane (it hasn't even taken off yet), only to be run over outside.

Tonight's musical guest is Joe Brown, whose cheeky chappy rendition of "You Do Things to Me" and a piece from Carmen signal his transition from pop star to popular TV funster.

This week Arthur and Dermot are living in a bedsit, at the mercy of tyrannical landlady Rita Webb, who's cut off their water supply and is making them buy it from her for tuppence a bucket.  Arthur strikes a deal whereby he gets her used water for a ha'penny a bucket (Dermot's not so keen on the idea of using water that Rita's already had a go at): "Don't worry, I don't use it too much".  "Oh no, that's obvious."

Rita's not at all happy with Dermot: a woman's been calling at the house asking after him, not at all the sort of thing you'd expect in a respectable house.  It's the woman from the welfare office: "She saw me about a week ago and said she was interested", Dermot confesses.  Arthur's convinced she's fallen for him: "She's had one look at you while you were walking out, and she's gone a little bit hot."

The pair dress up in some posh clobber they found to await the return of Dermot's would-be paramour. Arthur, pretending to be Dermot's butler, admires his master's dashing appearance: "You've got a touch of the Peter O'Tooles about you."

Strangely, the welfare woman (Daphne Goddard) seems more horrified than turned on by Dermot's attempts to seduce her.  And perhaps using a covered-up bath as a chaise-longue wasn't such a brilliant idea.

Hearing the commotion, Rita roughly ejects the bewildered welfare worker from her house - "I know your sort! You may look cold on top, but you're as hot as all the rest underneath."

Returning to castigate her tenants, Rita somehow ends up stuck in the bath with a Green Shield stamp on her nose.  I think we've all had days like that.

Next, following hot on the heels of last night's It's Dark Outside, an episode of The Avengers that also features some dodgy spiritualists - though the ambitions of Mrs Wilson and her supposedly mediumistic daughter Julia (Avice Landon and Jennifer Ward) prove to be a bit bigger than just relieving gullible old ladies of their money.  At their latest seance, Julia points out Freddie Paignton (John Stone) in the crowd and calls him up to receive a message from his dead father about a Mr Marshall joining "our friends on the other side".  As Mrs Wilson also hands him a box containing a gun, it's not hard to decipher the true meaning of this otherworldly message...

A visit to Cathy Gale's flat is an opportunity for some casual racism for Steed.  Walking in on an anthropological slideshow while she's out of the room, he greets an image of an African tribeswoman with "I thought you'd have had your bath by now."  It's also worth noting that we see a slide of a bare-breasted black woman (as last week's episode of Steptoe and Son suggested, The Avengers had by now established a reputation as a "kinky" show, but it would never have got away with showing a white woman's breasts).

Anyway, Steed's come with a job for Mrs Gale: it seems the Mr Marshall we heard about earlier was a colleague of his who's now been found dead at Bridlington's, an electronics factory engaged on top secret government work.  Cathy's to go and scout the place out, in the unusually honest capacity of a "woman from the Ministry".

Meanwhile, despite having carried out an execution for her, Freddie Paignton is being hassled by blackmailer Mrs Wilson.  Freddie might have committed murder at her bidding, but she's not ready to dispense with his grudging services just yet...

At Bridlington's, Cathy meets husband and wife workers Cliff and Marion Howard (John Ringham and Patricia English).  Despite their matching eyewear it seems things aren't especially rosy in the garden that is their marriage: Cathy overhears a none-too-subtle phone conversation between Marion and a very close gentleman friend...

...who turns out to be Alan Paignton (Ronald Allen), debonair brother of Freddie, who introduced the lovers at the behest of Mrs Wilson (yes, it is all a bit confusing).

Steed's uncovered a connection between Marshall and the wine merchant's in which Freddie's a partner, and pays a visit - obviously it would be rude not to sample their wares while he was there.  Jack May hams it up like billy-o as Freddie's alarmingly sweaty business partner Mr Waller (who seems almost like a prototype for Barrie Humphries' Les Patterson).  Perceptive as ever, Steed notes Waller's anguish when Freddie offers him a copy of the company's wine list.

Unaware that they're pawns in an elaborate game, Alan and Marion make the most of their snatched moments together.  The pairs snogging and heavy petting is surprisingl full-on, and the bit where Alan zips up Marion's dress must be one of the kinkiest Avengers moments not to feature any of the show's female leads.

Shortly after Marion scurries back to her oblivious husband, Alan receives another visitor.  It's the inevitable, inexorable Mrs Wilson, who amiably informs him that not only does she know all about his affair with Marion, but that his brother's committed a murder.  So he might like to think about the idea of Marion shutting off the alarms at Bridlington's the following Tuesday night.

Steed breaks into the wine merchant's under cover of darkness, only to find that Cathy's got there ahead of him.  Both are startled to find a darkroom hidden within an enormous wine barrel.

Steed's next visit to the wine merchant's (he spends the whole episode to-ing and fro-ing from there) sees him pick up a bottle of apricot liqueur which he presents to a highly unappreciative Cathy: "What makes you think I have depraved tastes?" she asks, disgustedly.  Steed's look of utter bafflement is perhaps the highlight of the episode: his verbal response is "I can't imagine, my dear", though it should obviously be subtitled "Perhaps it's your wardrobe, my dear".

Having become a conspicuously regular customer of Waller and Paignton's, Steed is invited to a wine tasting party they're holding, where Mrs Wilson and Julia are among the guests.  Steed's introduction to them is marred a tad by his accidental-on-purpose falling through the door to the darkroom.  Waller mumbles something about it letting him indulge in his hobby while at work.

After the party, the Wilsons have a confab with Mr Waller, the head of the blackmail racket (much to Mrs Wilson's despair), and they all agree that Steed must be disposed of.

Notably missing from the party is Freddie Paignton - he's busy at Bridlington's stealing secrets - Marion having been convinced to switch off the alarms.  Sadly, Cliff finds him at it, and ends up shot.

Much good it does him: on Steed's return to the wine cellar he finds Freddie's body dumped in a barrel.

Mrs Wilson's turned her wheedling attentions to Marion, who she convinces to come along with her to one of the spiritualist meetings via unsubtle implications that she'll reveal her affair with Alan if she doesn't.

Cathy follows Marion to the meeting, and follows after the widow when Mrs Wilson spirits her off elsewhere.  It's about that time in the episode when Cathy fights a burly man - and here's the baddie's henchman Bruno (Valentino Musetti) to oblige.

Wilson and Waller threaten to reveal Alan and Marion's involvement in the whole sorry business unless the distraught Mrs Howard provides them with the plans for a top-secret tracking device.  Steed engages Alan's services to stop her, then heads back to the wine cellar for a final time to rout the baddies, only to have a gun pointed at him by the rather scary Julia Wilson: "I wouldn't, Mr Steed.  Mummy wouldn't like it."

Steed swiftly gets the better of her, and while Cathy deals with Bruno (again), Alan sorts out the Wilsons as Steed fends off the surprisingly formidable Waller, whose walking stick turns out to conceal a sword (it's an idea Steed would later steal).

Apart from the deliberate kinkiness, The Secrets Broker - writer Ludovic Peters' only contribution to the series - feels very much like an episode from the show's more mundane second series.  The biggest point in its favour is Avice Landon's performance as Mrs Wilson.  Perhaps the show's finest female villain, she's notable for the sheer smugness of her attitude toward those whose lives she's merrily ruining.  I seem to remember raving about Landon when she played a society shoplifter in The Human Jungle - she was a fantastic actress and it's a great shame she's not better remembered.

Right, something a bit special next.  It's Espionage, but not as we know it, as the great Michael Powell takes us on a journey back to the year 1777.

Apart from the casting of Roger Livesey (more of that in a bit) the most Powellish thing about this episode is its opening: the camera forging through a keyhole is reminiscent both of the renowned eye shot from A Matter of Life and Death and Peeping Tom's obsession with the act of looking.

The room we're looking into belongs to Mistress Fleay (Pauline Boty), a famous actress whose current paramour is a general (Mark Dignam) who proves a little too indiscreet about the army's manoeuvres against General Washington in America.  He's overheard by a mysterious figure (Jill Bennett) lurking outside the door...

Rather splendidly, the usual Malcolm Arnold Espionage theme is replaced tonight by a Benjamin Frankel composition more suited to the play's setting.  Unfortunately, as the title sequence's 20th century images remain unchanged, the effect is a tad muted.

The narration of Stanley Baxter as James Boswell introduces us to the episode's high concept (as today's filmmakers would have it): Dr Samuel Johnson (Roger Livesey) is engaged by William Eden (Edward Jewesbury), head of the secret service (he looks highly inconspicuous, but then I suppose inconspicuousness was pretty conspicuous at this point in history) to stop waxworker and American spy Patience Wright (Bennett) from sending news of the general's plans to Benjamin Franklin in Paris.

To this end, Boswell and Johnson stay under the roof of Mistress Fleay (who Boswell has long been infatuated with), Mistress Wright being her guest.  Boswell himself is sympathetic toward the American cause, but is a tad embarrassed at his enthusiastic greeting from Mistress Wright.  Johnson, meanwhile, is appraised as a potential waxwork.

While Johnson keeps a close eye on Mistress Wright, Boswell enjoys getting closer to Mistress Fleay, who makes a disastrous attempt to follow her friend's lead by sculpting a bust of Boswell (Pauline Boty, who died just two years later, was an artist when she wasn't acting or modelling, and is now recognised as a major figure in the British Pop Art movement).

While Boswell's distracted, Mistress Wright makes an attempt at escape, clutching a candle in the shape of George Washington.  When it's recovered, Johnson's appalled at the republican message concealed within it (Roger Livesey does an awful lot of pop-eyed acting here).

Dinner that night sees a remarkable duel between bone-gnawing carnivore Dr Johnson and celery-stick crunching Mistress Wright, who views her vegetarianism as a symbol of righteousness to rank alongside her republicanism (she's a Guardian reader of the 18th century).

Mistress Wright makes another attempt at escape by placing a wax copy of her head in bed (future Blackadder star Patsy Byrne plays the hysterical maid who thinks she's dead), but the good doctor gets the better of her once again.

Eventually Mistress Wright hits on Johnson's vanity as a way of getting at him, and offers to make a cast of his head.  It's not a terribly dignified process for the poor chap, who has various layers of lard and clay piled on his face, and straws stuck up his nose.  The eventual mould is cast by a Chelsea potter played by the wonderful Graham Crowden.

Mistress Wright's next escape attempt involves her dressing as a man and escaping through the window.  Thanks to Johnson arousing the local insane asylum she's captured by warder Bernard Bresslaw (who I must admit I find worryingly attractive in the wig and beard he sports here).

Things get increasingly bizarre, with Johnson telling Dr Driffield (Max Adrian) that Mistress Wright is his insane transvestite wife.  Patience counters this by saying he must be a loony, as everyone knows Dr Johnson is a bachelor.

In the end they're all locked upJohnson having to share a cell with a loony (Wilfrid Lawson) who thinks he's George III.

Boswell gets a message to Mistress Fleay about he and the doctor's plight, and David Garrick (Gordon Gostelow) turns up as a convenient deus ex machina to vouch for them and secure their release.  Johnson sees to it that Mistress Wright's kept in a week longer, so she misses the deadline to get her message to Dr Franklin.  So that's that.

Well, not quite. A coda sees the potter turn up at Dr Johnson's to reveal that Mistress Wright smuggled out a message concealed within the mould of the doctor's very own face.  And if that's not bad enough, the cad seems poised to steal Mistress Fleay from beneath Boswell's nose!

Mistress Wright herself turns up on the potter's heels, wishing the decidedly miffed lexicographer a merry Christmas.  Eventually, he decides to embrace his defeat "Merry Christmas and... a Happy New World".  

Sunday 2 February 

Writer Arthur Swinson is clearly having his moment right now: in recent weeks he's provided scripts for Sergeant Cork and The Plane Makers, and tonight he turns his hand to Dr Finlay's Casebook.  His episode features guest appearances from Esmond Knight, John Junkin and a very young Tom Conti.

Monday 3 February

Adventure this week looks at the lost treasure of the Incas, and the Winter Olympics and Victor Silvester's Dancing Club round out the evening's entertainment on the BBC.

Tuesday 4 February

I'll start off by saying that this is possibly my favourite episode of Steptoe and Son, thanks to its brilliant skewering of cinema culture in Britain at the time it was made.  If I ran a film studies course, this would be compulsory viewing.

The Steptoes are getting ready for an outing to the pictures.  Harold fetches his socks from the oven, where they've been drying, experiencing near-orgasmic pleasure as he pulls them on: "Sheer ecstasy... the magic of hot socks!"

We're also treated to an insight into Albert's wardrobe that black and white television wouldn't normally allow us, as his son scolds him for his inability to co-ordinate: "We do not wear our green and white spotted scarf with our blue tie with the jagged stripes on, do we?" Harold's appalled by Albert's view that it doesn't matter what he wears as he'll be in the dark anyway: "You might as well say there's no point washing any higher than the neck or any lower than the wrists.  The grimly inevitable response: "I haven't."

Harold's even more disgusted by the revelation that Albert's still wearing his pyjamas beneath his suit.  And a pair of thermal longjohns beneath those.  It's all justified by Steptoe Sr with the picturesque phrase "I'm colder than a penguin's chuff." (Looking at Harold's tie we may note that his clashing horizontal and vertical stripes aren't much better than what he criticised his father for).

The Steptoes' attempt to decide what to go and see gives us a decent snapshot of what cinemas had to offer in early 1964.  There's The Monster from the Black Bog, but Albert went to see that at a matinee during the week.  His description of it is such a vivid portrait of the reception of the endless cycle of British horror films being churned out at the time by Hammer and its imitators - and their often barely coherent plots- as well as of the contemporary experience of cinemagoing, that I'll quote it in full.

Albert: Cor, you should've heard those old birds screaming! Good film, though.  There was this great big thing about 200 foot high.  It rose out of the bog, all dripping with slime.  Radioactive, it was.  And it went through London, knocks the buildings down, and then it picks up this bird and bites her head off! Just like eating a jelly baby it was.  Talk about laugh!

Harold (drawn in, despite himself): Why was it radioactive?

Albert: Well, you see they'd been dumping atomic waste from the power station in the bog, and it brought him back to life.

Harold: How did it end?

Albert: I dunno.  Some silly old cow sitting next to me complained to the manager, and I got thrown out.

Harold: Thrown out?!

Albert: I didn't do anything! I dropped me glasses, that's all.  Skinny old legs she had, anyhow.  I'd sooner've had a go at the monster.

Jason and the Argonauts is on at the Majestic, but Albert's seen that too (Harold's not keen on the idea of him sneaking out to the pictures when he's meant to be working at the yard).  Albert wants to go and see Nudes of 1964 at the Argosy, but Harold swiftly vetoes it: "If you get thrown out of The Monster from the Black Bog, Lord knows what would happen if you got in there."

Harold explains that "For me the cinema is an art form, not a tawdry peepshow".  He decides they'll go and see Fellini's 8 1/2 at the Playhouse.  Albert finds it confusing before he's even got there: "Eight and a half? Eight and a half what?... Why eight and a half? Why not seven and three quarters?... Maybe it's his hat size."

The film comes highly recommended by Harold's favourite film critic, the Observer's Penelope Gilliatt ("I find her tastes and mine coincides all the time"), and besides, his a big fan of Federico Fellini ("Didn't he used to sing with Charlie Chester?" asks Albert). Albert's reluctant: he hates subtitles: "I go to the films to see a picture, not to read.  I can read here," but despite his initial reluctance ("I don't want to wear me glasses if I'm not seeing any crumpet") is prevailed upon to pick out a pair of specs from the huge, tangled mass he keeps in a drawer.

We head to the cinema - the poster for 8 1/2 juxtaposed with that of Nudes of 1964 next door (the imagery they use is pretty similar - intellectuals want to see crumpet too, it seems to imply, but they need to justify it by having it inserted into a meandering plot).

Albert feels no such need to justify his interest in looking at women's bodies.   "We are going to see Fellini's 8 1/2, Harold urges as his father stops for an ogle.  "I'd rather see her 48 1/2!" chortles the dirty old man.

As they queue, Albert annoys the other patrons by moaning about pretentious dream sequences in the arty films Harold's dragged him to in the past: "Oh no, not another one of them! Not another like Last Year at Marienbad.  That was another one of your dreams.  Even you didn't know what that was about... If they wanna experiment let them do it with their own money, not my 4/6."  Cheesed off with the rubbish he's been made to see, Albert waxes lyrical about the golden age of Hollywood, disgruntling the queue by launching into an impromptu Top Hat routine.  Still, he finds a kindred spirit in ticket clerk Damaris Hayman, who keenly shares his reminiscences of Lost Horizon and The Good Earth.

Albert continues to provide his son with maximum embarrassment when they get inside, loudly demanding to go to the loo, falling through his seat, loudly cleaning his glasses and necessitating several changes of where they sit

While Albert disturbs everyone in the theatre by going to get a drink (it turns out that even in the 60s cinemas were charging ludicrous prices for refreshments), Harold tries to get to know a young lady sat next to him - much to her boyfriend's dismay.

Albert's slurping and loud interruptions during the film provoke the ire of the man sitting behind the Steptoes, eventually leading to an auditorium-wide ruckus that sees the manager ejecting Harold for harrassing his female neighbour.  Albert is not kicked out, but decides to leave voluntarily.

Once they've left, Albert can't get in to see Nudes of 1964 fast enough.  Appalled at the behaviour of his "subhuman" father, Harold waits a few seconds, turns up his collar and follows the old man in - making sure he gets a seat on the other side of the cinema.

An acknowledgement in the end credits reveals that the actual soundtrack to 8 1/2 was used in the episode. 

Tonight's episode of The Plane Makers is one of the show's more business-focused instalments, which I tend to dread.  But thanks to a breezy script from Tony Williamson and some interesting character development, it's actually one of the most enjoyable episodes yet.

There's a flu bug flying around the Scott Furlong works, and Arthur Sugden's secretary Margie's been hit especially badly.  Arthur doesn't have time to notice, though - he's too busy running the business while John  Wilder's in Italy negotiating the sale of four Sovereign jets.

Things are due to get increasingly difficult for Arthur: the episode's title refers to the buyers' insistence that the Sovereign used for the demonstration flight be fitted with a new Mark 7 engine: which isn't due to be in production for another year or so .  Arthur's placed under enormous pressure to accomplish the seemingly impossible, within a week.  The first hurdle he faces is the workers, who need to be informed they'll have to rip out an engine they've just put in and replace it.  He leaves that task to hapless foreman Ted Castle (Charles Lamb).

Arthur himself requests that the less-than-impressed engineer, Dave Richards (Douglas Hayes) draft a completely new design within a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, Margie's getting worse: Wilder's secretary Kay Lingard takes charge, bustling her off home.  Arthur barely notices she's gone, he's too busy trying to negotiate with engine manufacturers Crane Wescott.  Their director Mr Lewis (Lloyd Lamble) insists it's no can do, as he's got his hands full - apparently with his secretary.

Arthur decides he'll have to pay a trip to Manchester himself to see the company's notoriously difficult boss, Sam Wescott.  Meanwhile, Kay's stepped into the breach to take Margie's place for a few days.  As she tells a distinctly nervous Arthur, "I've just told Mr Wilder on the phone that I'm keeping an eye on you.  He's only too delighted."

The workers are threatening to revolt over the mandatory overtime Arthur's imposed in order to get the new engine fitted in time, but he manages to defuse the situation by promising shop steward Jack Wilks (Douglas Blackwell) a new shift system will be implemented if the job goes according to plan.

As he reveals to Don Henderson (acting as Wilder's mouthpiece), Arthur is worried his boss has deliberately set him up as a scapegoat should the Italian deal fall through.  Don dismisses the notion, but suggests he should use the military version of the Sovereign - for which Crane Wescott expect to provide the engines as a weapon to get Sam Wescott to do what he wants.  Arthur, who knows full well that there isn't going to be a military version is horrified by the idea of being so deceptive, and even more uncomfortable when Don points out that it's exactly what Wilder would do.

One of the best things about the episode is its expansion of the character of Kay Lingard, who up to know has had little to do other than be super-efficient beneath an elaborate hairdo.  During her time working with Arthur the pair build up an unlikely but sweet friendship.  She accompanies him to Manchester, and on the way there is strangely dazzled by his tales of growing up in Ossett, near Wakefield - she's never been north of Birmingham: "I always get Yorkshire and Lancashire mixed up."  "You'd better not let them hear you say that at Old Trafford!"

George A Cooper plays Sam Wescott, who proves impervious to all Arthur's attempts at speeding up production on the Mark 7.  Arthur's fear that he's been set up as part of a devious Wilder plot grows when Sam reveals that he spoke to Wilder just a week before and there was no mention of the matter at all.

Arthur invites Wescott and Lewis to dinner at his hotel, in the hope that a deal could be worked out in more convivial surroundings.  Can he swing them with his idea of cutting out the lengthy testing process on the engine by doing it in the Sovereign itself (I know this all sounds pretty dull, but the whole thing moves along at a fair old clip).  Meanwhile, a flabbergasted Don Henderson receives a phone call from Wilder announcing, without explanation, that the new engines aren't required after all.  Henderson decides to postpone telling Arthur.

It's the audience's knowledge that Arthur doesn't need to get hold of the engine immediately after all that gives the remaining part of the episode its power.  As Sam and Arthur continue to debate the issue of the engine, Kay and Lewis go for a walk.  They both head to Kay's room, where she doesn't put up much resistance to Lewis' attempts to snog her.

Arthur, seeing them come down, asks Kay what's happened.  She's entirely blasé about Lewis's advances, but Arthur's absolutely horrified.  Confronting Lewis about it, and threatening to tell Sam, all he gets is the man's scorn for being so naive about the way business is done.  Realising what he's dealing with, Arthur decides it's time the gloves were off, and informs Wescott that if he doesn't get the engine straight away, the contract for the military Sovereign's engines will be awarded to someone else.  It works, of course.

In the train on the way back, Arthur's in turmoil about the Wilderesque deception he's pulled, and also about Kay being subjected to Lewis's filthy pawing.  Turns out Arthur's even more naive than he thought: Kay calmly explains that she's entirely used to that sort of thing, just seeing it as a necessary part of the job.  This final scene seems chilling now not so much because that sort of thing's so much more widely condemned these days, but because of the likelihood that, nonetheless, it's still going on.

Wednesday 5 February

Things have changed since our last visit to Weatherfield, at Christmas: for one thing, Dennis Tanner's dreams of being a music biz svengali have been put on hold for a bit - he's now working night shifts packing boxes (Kenneth Colley is among his workmates).  It's not something he's finding especially fulfilling.

It doesn't help that his supervisor can't stand the sight of him, and promises to have him sacked if makes one more mistake.

Another Street resident who's not having a brilliant time of it is Ken Barlow.  He's being all broody and, who's gone all brooding and bites poor Val's head off for caring more about him eating his dinner at the optimum temperature than his mental wellbeing.

"All you're fit for is mithering about me dinner!"
"I'm your wife, I'm supposed to give you your meals."
"If I'd wanted a housekeeper I would've got one.  I thought I'd married a person! Someone with feeling and someone who thinks something about me! And you don't even know what I'm talking about, do you? You never did!"

No wonder Val seems confused, she seems to have walked into a revival of Look Back in Anger.  She storms out - and who could blame her?

Her destination is the bedsit occupied by Dave Robbins (former Avenger Jon Rollason), a teaching colleague of Ken's who's recovering from an accident.  Being very much attracted to Val, he proves almost too good a shoulder to cry on as she reveals her fear that she and Ken have "married the wrong ones".

At number 11, Elsie Tanner's getting ready for a night at work, which is also play since she landed a position in the casino owned by her current boyfriend Laurie Frazer (Stanley Meadows).

Ken's at the Rover's, on the way to drinking himself into oblivion.  "A Scotch, Kenneth?" asks a scandalised Annie Walker when he gives his order.

The watching Ena Sharples puts Ken's fragile state down to the prospect of a nightclub soon opening on Coronation Street.  Martha Longhurst thinks the present generation's "moral behaviour" is the worst ever known in history, but Minnie Caldwell thinks there was plenty of "shenanigan" going on when they were young.  Ena's highly sceptical that Minnie would know a shenanigan if she saw it.

As Ken seeks solace at the bottom of a glass, Val returns home in a right old state.  Concepta Hewitt pops in to jolly her along, but ends up making things worse: Val mumbles the consolatory words Dave said to her and Concepta, assuming it was Ken who said them, insists that any man who could talk to her like that must be the right feller for her.

When Concepta leaves, Val makes her way to Ken's hallowed bookshelves (we see a copy of Anthony Sampson's Anatomy of Britain, precisely the sort of book we'd expect a Guardian reader like Ken to display in pride of place, and it's surely a safe bet that Richard Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy - which some have suggested was a key influence on Coronation Street - is nestling somewhere on those shelves too).  In a shocking act of desecration (well that's how I'd see it, anyway), Val pulls all the books down and tears out a page to scribble a note on.

Meanwhile, Dennis, deciding he doesn't want the stupid job after all, makes out he was responsible for smashing the contents of a crate purely in order to get fired.

Harry and Concepta Hewitt find a heavily inebriated Ken in the Rovers, and finally convince him to return home to Val.  When he gets there she's gone.  He's so drunk he barely notices the books covering the bedspread, and passes out halfway through reading her farewell note.

We end with Dave Robbins awakening from a nap to the unexpected sight of Val who, he's startled to discover, has left Ken for him.

This episode's written by probably Coronation Street's greatest writer of all, Jack Rosenthal, but it's not a particularly distinguished script, and the episode seems a bit of an odd choice to release on DVD.  The deterioration of Ken and Val's relationship is heart-rending, but most viewers watching retrospectively will know they get back together, and the lack of resolution to this storyline (I won't be featuring another episode here till May, by which time the whole thing's bound to be forgotten) is really just frustrating.

Thursday 6 February

The Saint is a show few people would look to as a paradigm of feminist thought, but even so, tonight's episode is quite outrageously sexist.  It's a highly entertaining episode in its own way, but the treatment of its main female character means it's also pretty depressing.  Still, at least it gives The Plane Makers' Barbara Murray an opportunity to go the full Joan Crawford in her portrayal of a dastardly businesswoman who (inevitably) meets her comeuppance at the hands of Simon Templar.

We're in Paris, which means we get some stock footage of gendarmes poncing about the Arc de Triomphe and clips from an old fashion show (as well as an alarmingly phallic hairdo).

Simon Templar's in town, of course, and is greeted by old friend of the week Dave Stern (Bill Nagy, taking a break from playing baddies), Paris correspondent for the International Press.  For some mysterious reason, he's keen on Simon's path crossing that of cosmetics magnate Denise Dumont (Murray)...

Bringing Simon to a restaurant table in view of that occupied by Mme Dumont, Dave relates (in flashback) the story of how this simple village girl became a multi-millionaire bastion of the beauty industry.  She started off as an assistant to meek local pharmacist Phillipe Dumont (Anthony Newlands), to whom she swiftly became engaged, despite being more physically interested in his much younger assistant Jacques (Bruce Montague).  The actors all have their own individual approach to their characters' Frenchness: Montague's accent is pretty full-on, Newlands' half-hearted, and Murray doesn't bother with one at all (what's the point of casting Barbara Murray if you don't want a drawling English accent that makes the word "daaaaarling" sound like it lasts a minute?).

The main obstacle in the way of Denise and Philippe's money was his querulous invalid mother (Veronica Turleigh), determined to be the only woman in his life.  Denise accuses her of treating her son like a lapdog: "Force him to choose between your lap and mine, and believe me, he will choose mine."  It doesn't quite come to that though: for a moment it looks like Denise is going to make like Bette Davis in The Little Foxes and withhold vital medicine from the old lady when she has an attack, but she relents and Mme Dumont's dead within a few days anyway.

Once she was married to Phillipe, Denise became set on expanding the business, encouraging her husband to experiment with creating new toiletries and cosmetics, eventually producing a substance called Dreemykreem.  As Denise observes: "It sounds American to the French, and French to the Americans."  Phillipe's baffled as to why she'd care what Americans think, but the Denise Dumont brand rapidly takes over those parts of the world that matter - in Dave's picturesque phrase, "She spread like bubonic plague" (the map used to show this to us is hilariously woeful - Scotland appears to have transformed into a giant rabbit's head).

It didn't take long for Denise to get tired of her husband.  One day, when he questioned her relationship with an American ad executive, she had him forcibly removed from her office and sent back to the little village of Beauvais: "Get out of my office, my home, and my life!" she snarls, in true uber-bitch fashion.

Years later, Denise's position as the queen of the cosmetics industry is secure, and she swanks around Paris like she owns the place.  Her latest male companion is the quarter-witted Count Alfredo (John Bennett), who clearly comes some way beneath her dog in her affections.

For reasons he hasn't yet divulged, Dave wants this uppity broad taught a lesson, and plans that Simon will be the one to bring about this retribution.  To Simon's puzzlement, he's introduced to Denise as "Simon Tombs", a wealthy man-about-town, and she's instantly taken with him.

Now Dave explains what his plan's all about, taking Simon to the pharmacist's shop in Beauvais, where Phillipe and his sister Marie (Jean Marsh) now live in little more than poverty.  Phillipe's ill, but can't afford treatment, or the six month holiday his doctor's prescribed as essential to his health.  Naive Phillipe signed away all his rights to the products he and Denise invented, but Simon has a plan involving the 100% effective (but prohibitively expensive to make) insect repellent he's recently invented.  Meanwhile, he encourages Marie to go and ask her sister-in-law (who she's never met, having taught in America for the duration of Phillipe and Denise's marriage) for financial help.

With this avenue definitively closed off, Simon puts his plan into action, starting off by going on a date with Denise.  "A woman as beautiful as you, in control of a vast empire - it's hard to believe," he tells her, patronisingly.  Interestingly, Denise here gives her side of the story regarding her marriage to Phillipe: she had wanted the marriage to work, but he was shiftless and continually unfaithful.  Up to now, all we know about Denise's past life has been related to us by Dave Stern, and, for all we know, might not have been totally accurate.  However, it's already been confirmed to us that Denise is a bad egg through her beastly treatment of her maid (Alexandra Dane, who's accent is seriously odd: "Sssanks for everysing!").  It's interesting to imagine an alternative version of The Good Medicine in which Dave's account of Denise's behaviour turns out to be faulty, having been related to him by an embittered Phillipe, that it turns out he did mistreat her, and Simon realises the plot he's been drawn into is simply an attempt to slur a successful woman.  You'd have to find some way to work a punch-up into it.

It's clear that what Denise likes about Simon is that he's not a lapdog - in other words, that what she wants, deep down is for a man who'll dominate her, unlike the submissive count  (John Bennett's extremely camp performance suggests that these two probably don't have a physical relationship).  Simon exploits both her interest in him and her greed by piquing her interest in a pill he claims to be trying to find a manufacturer for.

Idiot he might be, but the count's presence could seriously hinder Dave and Simon's plans, so they decide the best thing to do is kidnap him, forcing him to endure the indignity of being locked up in a room in his underwear.  They're even quite lax in bringing his pink gins.

Meanwhile, Simon's installed Marie as Denise's new maid (obviously she hasn't got a clue it's actually her sister-in-law administering her massages).  Simon's taking Denise out again, and encourages her to swallow one of his pills before they head off.  This would surely set alarm bells ringing for most people, especially as he refuses to say what the pill is, but eventually he convinces her to take it.

When the two dine in the open air, Simon announces that the pill was a brand new insect repellent (made from a nut his explorer father found in the jungle).  Astonished by how well it works, Denise offers him 650,000 francs for it.  Meanwhile, there's some more comic business with the count.

Simon accepts the cheque from Denise - and swiftly takes it to Phillipe, popping back the next day to tell Denise he conned her - there was nothing in the pill, though Marie had spiked all her toiletries with Phillipe's insect repellent.  Not unsurprisingly, she's livid (though, oddly, the idea of stopping the cheque never seems to occur to her), though Simon seems willing to compensate for the loss of the money in his own, particular way - the implication being that massive success in the business world is nothing compared to a tumble with Roger Moore.  It would make for an interesting debate.

Friday 7 February

Tonight's It's Dark Outside tackles what, 1964, would have been widely known as Rachmanism (after the infamously unscrupulous property developer - and former lover of Mandy Rice-Davies - Peter Rachman): the process of filling properties up with ethnic minority tenants barred from most other accommodation, charging them scandalously exorbitant rents and meeting any dissent, or failure to pay, with extreme violence.

Alfred De Souza (Charles Hyatt) is an apparent victim of this violence.  He claims he fell up the stairs, but Sergeant Swift, called in after a pair of elderly sisters across the hall dialled 999 on witnessing him being attacked, can see that his injuries were caused by a vicious dog.

Meanwhile, Anthony Brand is preparing to attend a regimental reunion.  His smugly leftist wife Alice inevitably mocks his medals, claiming she last saw them at Christmas: "I put them away with the other decorations".  Nonetheless, relations seem to be improving between these two since last week, and they plan a romantic weekend in Paris.  Alice, however, is still enjoying her inevitably doomed liaison with Swift, who contacts her to suggest she write an article about the conditions De Souza and his fellow tenants live in.

Inspector Rose, a member of the same regiment as Brand, reluctantly attends the same do.  As he complains to Swift, "The cowards have blossomed into braggarts, the true heroes are all dead".  One such braggart is the event's interminably dull convenor (Donald Eccles), who reacquaints Rose with a Lieutenant Miller (Tony Steedman) who he briefly met once many years ago.

Miller's presence means little to Rose, but it has a big effect on a strangely panicky Brand.  Miller seems to find Brand's name oddly familiar too.

Alice gets to work on the story Swift suggested by interviewing the spinster sisters (Nora Nicholson and The Plane Makers' Aimee Delamain).  They claim to be bewildered by the changes that have happened to the house since the "coloured people" came to live there and the rent rose so steeply, but they were born there and are determined that they'll die there.  What's more, they've become quite fond of their neighbours, and enjoy learning about the far-flung corners of the globe they hail from.

Meanwhile, the hallways are stalked by an enforcer known as The Leopard (Dan Jackson), who has a very big dog (whose fearsome growls are all too obviously dubbed on: the beast itself looks perfectly placid).

At the regimental bash, Inspector Rose, likeable git that he is, is having a great time observing Brand's discomfort over Miller.  It turns out Miller and Brand both served in Greece, where Miller was imprisoned and sentenced to death for killing Greek citizens - which the authorities were informed about by another officer looking to save his own skin.  The realisation is dawning on Miller that Brand was the man who betrayed him.  Miller, infamous among the other members of the regiment as a freeloader, sees in this first and foremost an opportunity to make money, starting off by getting Brand to stump up for his membership fee.

Alice and Swift want to speak to De Souza, and head for the tatty club where he plays the drums.  The bar staff consists of a raddled old woman who sits knitting, and the clientele are mainly black.  To complete this vivid portrait of London lowlife, the manager is a screaming queen called Bobby Bascombe (played with great gusto by Jerome Willis), who turns out (of course) to be an old friend of Alice's.

I think It's Dark Outside is the first show I've featured at TV Minus 50 to feature unequivocally gay characters, with Bobby joining Aubrey Morris's character from the first episode.  He's a slightly more encouraging depiction, a happy-go-lucky, Julian and Sandy-esque character, despite his insalubrious surroundings.  Thought the fact he's attracted to a character played by Keith Barron means even the most committed of homosexuals will probably consider him a dangerous pervert.

Tearing himself away from Bobby's attentions, Swift goes to see De Souza.  The drummer still claims he fell, but his panic when Swift voices his concern that he might have caught rabies gives the game away.

Meanwhile, Brand has shared a taxi back from the reunion with Miller.  Accompanying him into his flat, he insists it wasn't he who betrayed Miller.  But, er, just to stop any nasty rumours getting about he gives him £10.  It seems likely this won't be the last money he gives his former comrade.

Swift gets De Souza to tell him all about the Leopard - and he heads round to sort the enforcer out.  Turns out this was a bit of a rash move, as there are several other burly men present all too willing to beat the sergeant up.  But a knock at the door brings an unlikely saviour.

It's Bobby, who makes short work of the crooks.  I was convinced I knew what was going to happen here.  He'd suddenly come over all butch, and it'd turn out he was an undercover man all along, the effeminate persona just a front.  Thrillingly, that doesn't happen at all.  He explains to Swift that four years in the Hong Kong police made him an expert in unarmed combat, but he's still just as much of a queen as ever.  A camp gay man who can not only handle himself in a fight but comes to the hero's rescue seems a radical idea even today.  And this was in Nineteen-Sixty-flippin-Four! It's astonishing to see.  In a wonderful parallel universe, Bobby got his own spin-off series after his appearance in this episode, a cross between The Avengers and Round the Horne.

Amid this excitement, the revelation that the elderly sisters were the evil landlords all along barely registers (though the pulling back of a curtain to reveal them, and the image of Aimee Delamain in a wheelchair toting a vicious dog certainly add to the episode's camp value).

The episode ends with Brand returning home, his guilt-ridden demeanour baffling to his wife (whose heavily made-up face, it must be said, looks terrifying out of focus).  There are two episodes left in this series of It's Dark Outside, and it seems a safe bet that the issue of Brand's less-than-honourable past is going to raise its head again...

You can see full Radio Times listings for the week's BBC programmes here.

And to play us out...

It's the Searchers, with their version of Sonny Bono's glorious "Needles and Pins", up 5 places to claim the number 1 spot in this week's chart.  You can see the whole thing here.