The very first episode of The Avengers is missing – totally missing, until a few years ago – but now we have just the first reel of “Hot Snow” to tantalise us with a glimpse of the first case that brought led to the arrival of John Steed on our screens.
And Steed isn’t in it.
Instead, what we get in this short build up is very much focussed on charming leading man, doctor and bridegroom David Keel (Ian Hendry, top billed star of the show at this stage). It’s short yet it still manages to veer uncertainly between farce (inept burglar keeps having to hide behind a door) to a rather camp Brighton Rock style gangster piece (“what if old Spicer don’t get the stuff back?”). There’s even a foreshadowing Blofeld’s cat-stroking in Thunderball (still three years ahead) with an unseen villain petting a dog with a bow tied between its ears.
The farcical elements contribute to making it feel very ‘stagey’ – it’s not unusual, giving the constraints of the time, for television of this period to be quite dialogue heavy – but the theatrical ‘business’ that goes on while people are talking on telephones makes this reel feel ever so static.
It clearly suffers from being shot ‘as live’ (this one was actually recorded before transmission, but the production process would have been very similar) with the climactic assassination sequence revealing an uncertainty about the precise moment Keel’s fiancé is shot.
Overall, it’s not really The Avengers most people think of – it’s rather lacking in glamour as well as polish – and our hero isn’t a figure of action but a seeker of domestic bliss. I didn’t find Keel especially sympathetic, nor was I intrigued by the cartoonish villains. But there’s enough to keep me hooked into the second reel even if I didn’t knew it featured Steed’s debut – if only it existed! But thank goodness we have this; not, perhaps, the most scintillating 20 minutes of 1960s television but a fascinating piece of Avengers history.