Mrs Peel. The queen of sin. Gosh.
I knew I’d enjoy this episode. I just didn’t remember if it was any good. This is the episode that didn’t make it past the US censors, and which was cut here, where they British censors didn’t like too much of Peter Wyngarde whipping Mrs Peel who is dressed as the queen of sin. Diana Rigg, incidentally, was more worried about whether the live snake she’d been given was going to pee on her.
“Very impressive. Now what are you like with the big boys?”
Of course I did enjoy it, but it turns out the episode itself was pretty darn marvellous too.
It didn’t start well, mind, with a Russian diplomat on live TV describing how well some talks had gone only to have his cigar blow up in his face. Seeing a man light a cigar on TV seems so odd, now, but maybe that wasn’t the case in the 60s, but that’s not the problem – it’s the lack of attention to motivation here that bugs me – why is this guy on British TV, and come to that, why have the government and broadcasters allowed a foreign agent to speak to an audience of millions of Brits, live. Clemens (like some other great TV writers – Russell T. Davies springs to mind) won’t let details get in the way of a good idea, but I can’t help being distracted by it.
But there’s so much else in this episode that is wonderful that niggles like this quickly get forgotten. Indeed, as soon as Peter Wyngarde appears as Cartney – it’s an extraordinary performance – all else is forgotten. There’s a terrific chemistry between him and Rigg; at first she fancies him; later, he introduces her to a hall fall of hellfire revellers, and in this threatening environment he is both the man who has brought her there and, by virtue of being her sponsor, some sort of protector. Not, that when it comes to it, she needs protecting.
Brian Clemens’ script, as well as being lively, atmospheric, outrageous and sexy, is terribly witty. When Mrs Peel tries to bluff past bluff Cartney’s his assistant “He’s expecting me” he accidentally revelas her like: “Mrs Peel, this is a surprise.” Speaking to the assistant, without hesitating, Emma continues “Half expecting me.” Steed calls his hangover cure ‘National Anthem’ (it soon gets you on your feet). Challenged to a duel, he is offered the choice of weapons: “Feather dusters at 400 yards?”
There’s great danger for both Avengers, in the face of which they are, of course, cucumber cool. Steed is given an initiation test – first, downing a quart of the strong stuff (he asks for a refill “the drive down seems to have given me quite a thirst”) and then risking losing his digits trying to pick up a dried pea before an axe falls on it (he asks to keep the pea “I could use this in my whistle”). Incidentally, I cannot believe the producers of Live and Let Die were not inspired by Willie’s prosthetic claw.
Jeremy Young (Willie) will be back in two more Avengers and a New Avengers. Carol Cleaveland of Monty Python fame makes an appearance in this one too.
Then there’s all the hellfire stuff… It’s even kinkier than Warlock.
“We believe in the power of evil…Have you ever committed an ultimate sin, Mr Steed?”
“No, but I’m always open to suggestions.”
Mrs Peel finds herself in the middle of an orgy but completely keeps her cool – although it’s clear she recognises the threat – and then plays along with the queen of sin stuff. But when it comes to it, between her and Cartney armed with a whip, there’s no contest (he never stood a chance). That moment with Wyngarde’s slow applause and the crash zoom is absolutely electric.
What an episode.
Tag sene transport: Coach drawn by four horses.