“What The Butler Saw” Review

Sigh. Moments of humour, in The Avengers, seem to have given way to entire sequences of sixth-form revue style sketches. For example, here, Steed visits officers in the army, navy and RAF to suspected as the source of possible leaks – in each case adopting not just an alias, but the respective uniform and facial hair appropriate to the stereotype of a member of each branch of the armed forces. By the time he’s got to the airforce, we’re subjected to a prolonged skit in which two men in handlebar moustaches simply yell acronyms at one another. I like a military eccentric as much as the next man, but this is a relapse into the kind of nonsense we had in Quick-Quick Slow Death. What happened to the intelligent riffing on the military psychology we had just a couple of episodes ago in The Danger Makers? Such laziness is all the more disappointing from Brian Clemens after his superlative script for the previous episode.

It’s not fair to lay all the blame at the writer’s door. The direction on this is very weak in places (as the military chaps zip themselves into a bag, Group Capt Miles explains it’s “a new security ruling to foil concealed microphones” which, given the delivery, he might as well have broken the fourth wall to look straight at the audience as he laid the plot on us – though you could argue that there’s no way to convince anyone that a polythene bag would be soundproof…)

And here’s another episode (like Quick-Quick Slow Death) with this obsession with having a secret boss. Why? Who cares? It adds not tension or suspense, and when it’s revealed, you just think – so what? Douglas Adams sent up this device brilliantly when, in The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, he reveals that someone is about to bruise their upper arm during a nuclear missile attach, but explicitly withholds the identity of the victim on the grounds that “this fact may safely be made the subject of suspense since it is of no significance whatsoever” (it’s revealed after the credits – spoiler: it’s Arthur). It’s a pattern that is becoming a staple on The Avengers.

There are some things I liked in this one. The group captain is trying to seduce Mrs Peel:

“You like my etchings?”

“You actually do have some.”

Then there’s John Le Mesurier, who is always enjoyable, even though his role as a butler in this is not a patch on the part he was given to play with in the vastly superior Mandrake.

The synchronised shoe polishing is somewhat reminiscent of The Charmers, as if Clemens were just borrowing a little bit here before going on to plunder the whole thing as a remake for the next season.

We get another idiot sexist villain (“I don’t need a gun to kill a woman”). Oh, if only they’d more respect for women, they’d be far more effective at implementing their diabolical schemes to undermine society…

Tag scene transport: they fly off in a helicopter (Emma indulges Steed by letting him say that “the butler did it”).

About Simon Wood

E-learning officer, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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