At last! The earliest surviving appearance of Patrick Macnee as John Steed. This is more than half way in to the first season’s run, so the relationship is quite well established – although Keel does make reference to Steed being a professional (“you get a pension in your job?”) emphasising the professional & talented amateur concept.
The episode is directed by Peter Hammond – another director responsible for the show’s distinctive visual style; and this demonstrates it. It’s magnificently claustrophobic but superbly lit, and the claustrophobic sets are wonderfully designed by Robert Fuest, who went on to direct some of the Tara King episodes.
Steed, when he appears, is rather dapper in a suit and with his umbrella (even if his hat is not a bowler). This should not be a surprise to any viewers of later seasons, but everything I’ve read about the first season suggested that tan trench-coats were de-rigour (a kind of secret service/special branch uniform, I suppose) as reflected by the title sequence. Steed even acquires his buttonhole, from an informant, and there’s a bottle of champagne too, albeit while he’s playing a rôle.
The early version of Steed, less the charmer, more the shadowy spook, is evident when he extracts information from a suspect through threat of torture (‘he was going to shiv me perishing ear off with that slasher I tell ya’). But then Keel really has no right to be shocked (‘hey, you didn’t really think I was going to shiv his blithering ear off with that slasher, do you?’ ‘I wouldn’t put anything past you’) since he goes on to convince the goon that he has a broken neck (‘you’ve fractured a vertebra – you move that head, you’re dead’) and sticks up his boss with a syringe of witch hazel… Neither of which, I imagine, are the kind of thing the GMC would look too kindly upon.
There’s an appearance by a black man which is notable given Brian Clemens’ infamous memo, but then the show isn’t quite the ‘fantasy’ that he refers to yet. Unlike The Girl On The Trapeze there’s little glamour among these criminals – or at least one set of them, cowardly thugs for hire. But the twist is the complexity: the victim is a swindler, and his victim, an wealthy business man’s daughter, provides a little more glamour. But of course it’s her father who hired the thugs… so just who needs Avenging in all this?
Not, entirely, typical Avengers but hugely exciting to have this glimpse of early Steed and his relationship with Keel. More than ever, now, I want to see more of this season; if only other stories were to be found!