Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Persuaders! (1971)

Towards the end of the run of The Saint producer Robert S. Baker came up with what he thought was a very cool idea - why not pair the smooth, urbane and very English Simon Templar with a brash, cocky American in a kind of buddy movie episode. The episode in question, The Ex-King of Diamonds, worked so well that it seemed a rather obvious move to turn the idea into a new ITC action adventure series. Thus was The Persuaders! born.

In The Ex-King of Diamonds the brash American was a Texas oilman played (extremely well) by Stuart Damon. For The Persuaders! a bigger name star was wanted and eventually Tony Curtis was settled on. Tony Curtis of course would not have made a very convincing Texan so the character was rejigged as a New York financier. 

Two essential parts of the formula for The Persuaders! had already been laid down in The Ex-King of Diamonds. Firstly, the two protagonists should come from very different social backgrounds and this have very different personal styles. Secondly, they should initially hate each other’s guts but eventually develop a bond of respect and even affection. In fact both The Ex-King of Diamonds and the first episode of The Persuaders! would feature a spectacular fist fight between the two protagonists (and in both cases the fight scene was filmed entirely without stunt doubles).

Lord Brett Sinclair, the character played by Roger Moore, is obviously very similar to the Simon Templar of the Saint TV series - rich, cultured, charming and with a taste for the good things in life. The main difference being that Lord Brett Sinclair really is as aristocratic as he seems to be while Simon Templar’s background is actually rather shady. Tony Curtis’s character, Danny Wilde, is a poor kid from the Bronx who clawed his way to the top on Wall Street. 

The opening episode of any series presents potential difficulties since it has to spend quite a bit of time establishing the characters and the general setup of the series while still trying to tell an exciting action adventure story. For the debut episode in this instance, Overture, that task was even more difficult since the audience has to be given quite a lot of information not only about the two heroes but also about the mysterious figure in the background pulling the strings. Fortunately Brian Clemens is equal to the task. He’s helped by the clever opening titles sequence which actually tells us most of what we need to know about the backgrounds and personalities of the two heroes. This leaves Clemens free to concentrate on the tense and initially adversarial relationship between the two men and on their puppet-master, Judge Fulton. Fulton is now retired from the Bench and has dedicated   his life to bringing to justice those criminals that the law cannot touch.

Lew Grade always understood that if a British TV series was to have any chance in international markets, especially the US, it had to have production values that were the equal of any American series. For The Persuaders! ITC really pulled out all the stops. In Roger Moore and Tony Curtis it had very big name stars. It boasts an enormous amount of location shooting. The sets are sumptuous. And of course the cars and the clothes had to be stylish and expensive. The cars, Lord Brett’s Aston Martin DBS and Danny Wilde’s Dino Ferrari, certainly qualify as stylish. As for the clothes - well it has to be said that this was the 1970s and they’re very 1970s indeed. Some of Lord Brett’s clothes (which Roger Moore designed himself) would not have been out of place in Jason King’s wardrobe. Luckily both Moore and Curtis are the kinds of stars who can just about get away with wearing 70s outfits. 

It has to be said that the overall quality of the scripts was rather uneven. Of course this was true of a number of the ITC action adventure series. Episodes like Powerswitch are fairly routine while The Time and the Place is an ill-advised attempt at a political drama.

In The Gold Napoleon, a much better episode, Brett and Danny come up against a clever plot involving counterfeit coins. A gang has discovered an ingenious way to dispose of stolen gold bullion - turn the bullion into fake coins but admit that the coins are fakes. That way they’re not technically doing anything illegal, just selling the coins for their gold value.

Greensleeves, scripted by Terence Feely, is a great deal of fun. One of Brett’s country houses is being renovated, which is rather strange since he knows nothing about it. Brett and Danny decide to investigate and uncover a plot that involves African politics, the Foreign Office, nickel mines and a fake Lord Brett Sinclair. Doubles were very popular plot devices in the television of this era but this one adds a few twists, plus it has secret passageways and dungeons and it gives Tony Curtis (who had done a few swashbucklers in his time) the chance to brush up on his sword-fighting skills. Take Seven tells the story of a wealthy heiress who suddenly finds herself dispossessed of her fortune but when her long-lost brother, long believed to be dead, turns up. She is sure he is an impostor and Brett and Danny set out to prove that she’s right. Long-lost brothers, like doubles, were an over-used cliché. These two episodes demonstrate that even over-used clichés can make very entertaining television if they’re done with enough style.

A Death in the Family is a very untypical but hugely enjoyable episode that gives Roger Moore the chance to have some fun playing several different characters. Overall it has a feel very reminiscent of The Avengers (perhaps not surprising since writer Terry Nation had penned a number of episodes of that series). 

The biggest asset of this series was of course the casting of the two leads. Not only do Moore and Curtis both have the necessary charisma and style - they work beautifully together. Curtis quickly earned a reputation for being unpredictable, temperamental and generally extremely difficult to work with. What no-one could ever deny though is that once the cameras started rolling he delivered the goods. It soon became obvious that trying to tell Curtis how to play the rôle was both futile and quite unnecessary. He loved the part and he understood the character perfectly and he knew exactly what he was doing. He was allowed to choose his own wardrobe and to add his own idiosyncrasies to the character (just as Danny’s penchant for wearing gloves). The fact that Roger Moore was renowned for being incredibly easy to work with presumably made it easier to deal with Curtis’s somewhat individualistic working habits.

Despite the weakness of some of the scripts The Persuaders! has a lot going for it. ITC spent a lot of money on the series and unlike their earlier series it relies on location shooting rather than stock footage. Production values are extremely high. The two leads are terrific and their onscreen chemistry is superb. The relationship between the two characters works perfectly. The dialogue sparkles (much of it ad-libbed by Moore and Curtis). It was a major hit everywhere - everywhere except the US. Tony Curtis always believed its failure in the US was the fault of the network for screening it too late at night, thus depriving it of the chance to win younger viewers who would have loved it, and his view may well be correct. With Roger Moore already chosen as the next James Bond there was in any case never any realistic chance of a second season. 

Network’s DVD boxed set provides generally excellent transfers with plenty of extras including a commentary track for the opening episode featuring both Moore and Curtis. It’s clear from the commentary that Curtis was enthusiastic about the series and remained very fond of Danny Wilde as as character. There are a couple of other audio commentaries and a documeantary on the series.

Despite its short run The Persuaders! rapidly built a solid cult following and its popularity continued to grow in Europe. With its opulence, its unashamed optimism, its celebration of style, its charismatic stars and its generally tongue-in-cheek tone it remains a fan favourite, and with good reason. It’s just so much fun. Highly recommended. 

Thursday, 20 August 2015

The Machine Stops - Out of the Unknown season 2 episode 1

The Machine Stops was first broadcast in Britain in 1966 as the first episode in the second season of the BBC’s science fiction anthology TV series Out of the Unknown. It’s one of the best episodes in this uneven but extraordinarily interesting series.

The Machine Stops was based on E. M. Forster’s 1909 dystopian science fiction short story of the same name. The most intriguing aspect of the story is that it provides an uncanny anticipation of the 21st century world of the internet and social networking.

The Machine Stops tells the story of Vashti (Yvonne Mitchell), a woman of the distant future, and her son Kuno (Michael Gothard). Humanity now lives entirely underground. Civilisation has progressed to the point where all want and all pain and suffering has been eliminated. In fact all unpleasantness has been eliminated. The Machine provides everything that anyone could want. Instantaneous communication is possible with any place on the planet. There is no need for anyone ever to leave their room. Travel is unnecessary. In fact leaving one’s room is almost unheard of. Like most citizens in this wondrous civilisation Vashti has thousands of friends. Of course she has never met a single one of these friends in person, in the flesh so to speak. The very idea of such face-to-face meetings is terrifying and disgusting. She can talk to her friends whenever she wishes, through her view-screen.

Direct experience of anything is considered to be unnecessary, and possibly harmful. If one wants to experience something one does so through lectures, which can be accessed through the press of a button and which do not require leaving one’s room. Vashti herself delivers lectures on the music of the Australian Period (this idea can be regarded as a kind of anticipation of blogging and podcasts).

Her son Kuno is something of a misfit. He has shown disturbing signs of physical strength. He can stand up on his own for minutes at a time and can even walk for short distances. On his own feet! This sort of thing is recognised by The Machine as being not merely unnecessary but harmful. It might unsettle people. It might lead them to seek direct experience, or even (horror of horrors) it might lead them to want to go outside, onto the surface of the Earth. Kuno has displayed just such a disturbing tendency. In fact he has actually done so. Vashti finds her son more and more distressing.

Most horribly, Kuno has even ventured the opinion that The Machine might one day stop. 

Kenneth Cavander and Clive Donner adapted Forster’s story for television in 1959. The go-ahead was given for production to start but somehow it became lost in the bureaucratic labyrinths of the BBC and nothing came of it. Then in 1965 Irene Shubik, the producer of Out of the Unknown, rescued it from oblivion. Philip Saville, who had a reputation as an innovative director, was assigned to the project. 

Production designer Norman James was confident that he could, even on a penny-pinching BBC budget, do justice to the story. He and Saville were in agreement that the show should have both a futuristic and a slightly Edwardian look - this is the future, but the future as imagined in the past. There’s no question that James succeeded brilliantly - the sets are superb and they also have such a slight suggestion of a womb-like quality which admirably captures the atmosphere of Forster’s story.

Saville’s direction is (considering that was the era of shooting on videotape in the studio) bold and imaginative. In fact the studio-bound feel is an advantage - this is after all a stifling enclosed world. 

Yvonne Mitchell is magnificent as Vashti. The makeup effects make her look strange and alien and unhealthy but even though the character is emotionally distant to an extreme degree Mitchell still manages to engage our sympathy. Vashti is a tragic figure, and unaware of her own tragedy. Michael Gothard’s eccentric, theatrical performance also works well. 

Forster was apparently very impressed by the adaptation and expressed the view that it improved on his original story.

The Machine Stops is an intelligent, though-provoking example of the science fiction of ideas. Fascinating, disturbing and oddly moving. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

All Gas and Gaiters (1966-71)

Ecclesiastical sitcoms enjoyed quite a vogue on British television in the late 60s and early 70s. All of them starred Derek Nimmo, an actor with a particular gift for portraying bumbling, well-meaning and very funny clerics. The first, and the best, of these series was All Gas and Gaiters which ran for five seasons on the BBC between between 1966 and 1971.

Sadly only eleven of the thirty-three episodes have survived the BBC’s relentless zeal to destroy as many of its own programs as possible. Those surviving episodes provide an example of the best of British television comedy.

All Gas and Gaiters focuses on four hapless clerics in the fictional St Ogg’s Cathedral. Bishop Cuthbert Hever is a very worldly bishop, a man who enjoys the good things in life and whose main desire is to avoid any unpleasantness. The elderly but jovial Archceacon Henry Blunt, is rather too fond of a tipple. The bishop’s Chaplain, The Rev. Mervyn Noote, is somewhat bungling although he’s actually quite bright. He wants nothing more than a quiet life but that’s the last thing he’s likely to get at St Ogg’s. These three would have a very pleasant life but there is one serpent in the ecclesiastical garden - the Very Reverend Lionel Pugh-Critchley, the Dean of St Ogg’s. The Dean is enthusiastic and zealous. His enthusiasm for efficiency and reform is just the sort of thing to make the quiet life impossible.

The husband-and-wife team of Edwin Apps and Pauline Devaney wrote all thirty-three episodes. While there’s an element of gentle satire their scripts display a considerable degree of affection for their characters. Even the Dean, for all his officiousness, is fundamentally a good man. He just happens to be one of these people who can’t leave well enough alone. The bishop is certainly worldly, he enjoys his comforts and he has a horror of rocking the boat, and he is always on the lookout for ways of making money. His money-making schemes are however always for good causes, never for his own personal benefit. He has in fact a very real devotion to the Church - he simply manages to combine this with his love for the good life. The Archdeacon is elderly and not very efficient but he’s kindly and gentle. Noote does the very best he can and in his own way he’s a devoted son of the Church. We can’t help liking these characters and although the series is very funny indeed the humour is consistently good-natured.

One of the great strengths of the series is the superlative casting. William Mervyn, a very fine character actor with a considerable gift for comedy, gives the Bishop just enough pomposity to be amusing without ever being irritating. Mervyn also starred in the delightful offbeat crime series Mr RoseRobertson Hare, who had a very long and successful career mostly in farce, is a delight as the sherry-loving Archdeacon. Derek Nimmo, who built his career on playing loveable silly asses, is perfect as Noote. The Dean was potentially the trickiest character but John Barron’s performance is superbly judged - the Dean is a man who genuinely cannot see that his zeal for efficiency is going to antagonise people.

Not only are the four regular cast members uniformly superb, they play off one another with tremendous zest. It’s a joy watching four great comic actors all at the peak of their form.

All Gas and Gaiters was apparently enormously popular with Anglican clergymen. It was also enormously popular with the public. In fact it was loved by everyone, except apparently for the BBC who destroyed most of the episodes.

When we think of 1960s British comedy we generally tend to think of the Carry On movies and the rather risque style of television comedy that relies to a very large extent on sexual innuendo. There is very little of that in this series. All Gas and Gaiters represents a very different British comedy tradition, an engaging mix of wit and farce with a lovely balance of visual and verbal humour, comedy  that could be described as ideal family viewing whilst still being laugh-out-loud funny.

We can at least be extremely grateful that eleven episodes have survived and that all are included in a two-disc DVD set. This set, which happily is still in print, is an absolute must-buy for lovers of British television comedy. Very highly recommended.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Avengers - the Tara King era, part 1

Having just bought Optimum’s wonderful series 6 boxed set of The Avengers I am naturally going to be talking quite a bit about the Tara King era of The Avengers. I’m intending to spread this out over several posts. Firstly because the Tara King era is criminally underrated but secondly because this final season saw several marked changes in direction and it falls naturally into two parts.

One of the reasons The Avengers had such a long run was that the series was radically reinvented at regular intervals, these reinventions being almost invariably associated with a change in producers. The first season (with Ian Hendry as the star) was a gritty realist spy drama. The next two seasons saw Steed playing opposite three different sidekicks before Honor Blackman established herself as his main partner. The series started moving in a more fantastic direction but a fair amount of the original gritty realism remained. A major change occurred in 1965 with the introduction of Diana Rigg. The series took on its most familiar form - surreal, tongue-in-cheek and utterly fantastic (in both senses of the word). The series also switched from videotape to film, the budgets were increased and production values were very much higher.

It was therefore no real surprise that the departure of Diana Rigg in 1967 would signal another change in direction. Albert Fennell and Brian Clemens were dumped and John Bryce, who had been responsible for most of the Cathy Gale episodes, was brought back as producer. Bryce wanted to return to the more realistic style of the Cathy Gale era.

The immediate problem was to find a replacement for Diana Rigg. The selection of Linda Thorson remans somewhat controversial among fans to this day. She was very young (just twenty) and frighteningly inexperienced. 

Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Bryce was a fine producer but he had no experience in doing a filmed series, which of course requires a very different approach compared with videotape. Shooting started to fall behind schedule. Linda Thorson was clearly nervous and uncertain. Worst of all, no-one liked the first few episodes made under the new regime. The American ABC network was particularly unhappy (and The Avengers was much too expensive a show to make without a guaranteed sale to a US network). It was obviously time to hit the panic button. Albert Fennell and Brian Clemens were hurriedly recalled to take over as producers and save the ship which seemed to be in imminent danger of foundering. Seven Tara King episodes had already been made and the US network, now reassured, gave the go-ahead for a further full season of twenty-six episodes.

If the Tara King era as a whole is underrated those seven original episodes are even more maligned. They do present a bewildering mixture of styles and approaches, the character of Tara King is all over the place and they are certainly uneven. Having said that, they do have their moments and they are worth seeing. 

One other very big change was that Tara King would be a very different sort of partner for Steed. Steed’s other partners had all been amateurs and had all been apparently recruited by Steed on his own initiative and on a semi-official basis. Tara on the other hand was a professional spy. This changes the dynamics between the two leads in interesting ways. The Steed-Mrs Gale and Steed-Mrs Peel pairings had been relationships between equals on a personal level, but on a professional level Mrs Gale and Mrs Peel were Steed’s assistants (albeit very competent ones). On the personal level there’s more of a teacher-pupil thing between Steed and Tara (he was the agent who trained her after all). She clearly sees him as just a bit of a father figure. Professionally though they both have a job to do, they both get paid for it and they get on with it. The dynamic between them would change again in the later episodes with the advent of Mother.

It’s not easy to make a judgment on the John Bryce-produced episodes. Invitation to a Killing was partly reshot, cut from its original 90 minutes to 50 and renamed Have Guns - Will Haggle. The Great Great Britain Crime was never aired and no longer exists although bits of it turned up later in Homicide and Old Lace. In fact the only one of his episodes that survived intact was Invasion of the Earthmen.

Invasion of the Earthmen is one of the most reviled of all episodes of The Avengers. Terry Nation’s script was certainly somewhat unorthodox for this series and there are times when it looks disturbingly like an episode of Star Trek. Or even Doctor Who. Not surprising really, given that Terry Nation had written several classic Doctor Who stories (and he invented the Daleks). The basic premise is pure science fiction. There are of course hints of science fiction in various episodes of The Avengers but this one takes that tendency much much farther.

Being one of the very very early Tara King episodes, Tara has not yet been fully established as a character and more importantly the Steed-Tara relationship was still rather sketchy. Linda Thorson’s inexperience shows at times. On the whole though her performance is reasonably satisfying. Thorson and Patrick Macnee would quickly develop the right chemistry between the two lead characters and already the signs are promising.

Have Guns - Will Haggle had a particularly turbulent history. John Bryce had intended to introduce Tara in a special 90-minute story, Invitation To a Killing. After his departure Fennel and Clemens gave Ray Austin the job of turning it into a normal 50-minute running time through drastic editing and some reshoots. As a result there are some glaring continuity errors. What really counts against this one in the eyes of many fans though is that it doesn’t really feel like an Avengers story - it seems more like a straightforward action adventure spy story. It does however provide an interesting change of pace and it has a lot of action scenes and they’re very well done. It’s perhaps not a great episode but it’s intriguing and it has some very good moments. Along with Invasion of the Earthmen it offers a tantalising hint that John Bryce might well have taken The Avengers in an interesting direction had he been given the chance.

Two days after shooting commenced on The Curious Case of the Countless Clues John Bryce received his marching orders so this is very much a transitional episode. The plot is clever and well-constructed but it has the underlying realistic basis that Bryce hoped to restore to the series. It’s the kind of story that could quite easily have come from the Cathy Gale era. On the other hand there are some whimsical touches that indicated the direction in which Fennell and Clemens intended to take the series. Philip Levene’s script is a playful spoof of the detective stories of the golden age, with a detective named Sir Arthur Doyle (complete with deerstalker and magnifying glass) and three villains named Earle, Stanley and Gardiner (Erle Stanley Gardner was of course the author of the Perry Mason mysteries). This one has Tara in a wheelchair after a skiing accident but she still gets to play a very active role in the case. It boasts a clever plot - a series of murders with way too many clues, in fact so many clues that no-one could possibly miss them. Despite being incapacitated Tara proves herself to be more than capable of looking after herself and she gets an exceptionally good fight scene. Since John Bryce was still the producer when the cameras started rolling this was obviously one of the episodes he commissioned and it’s yet another indication that perhaps he really did know what he was doing.

Get-a-Way! has a wildly implausible premise that is a bit too obvious but it has some major pluses - the monastery prison is very cool, Andrew Keir is excellent and most of all it has Peter Bowles giving one of his best Avengers guest starring performances. Split! had been written as an Emma Peel episode. It’s credited to Brian Clemens although apparently the original version had been by Dennis Spooner. The re-writing might account for the slightly disjointed feel (and it’s rumoured that some scenes had actually been shot a year earlier). 

Look - (stop me if you've heard this one before) But There Were These Two Fellers... is perhaps the most controversial episode in the entire history of The Avengers. Many fans hate it; many adore it. I adore it. It has more inspired silliness than any other episode but the point that is often missed is that Dennis Spooner’s script has a dark edge to it. This is a story about clowns but they’re clowns who are ruthless killers. There’s always something slightly sinister and tragic about clowns and it brings this out extremely well. It’s a story that could have become maudlin (a rest home for washed-up vaudeville artists could have been desperately sad) but Spooner avoids this pitfall. This episode is often laugh-out-loud funny and in general the tone is light and breezy but there’s always just that slight hint of darkness. It’s also the episode in which Linda Thorson shows that she really does have what it takes to be an Avengers Girl - her comic timing is impeccable. It’s also an important episode in that the Steed-Tara dynamic starts to work, and work well. It’s close to being my favourite episode from any period of The Avengers.

These first seven episodes (including The Forget-Me-Knot which I’ve written about elsewhere) form an odd kind of mini-series. They are not so much uneven in quality as uneven in tone. That can be disconcerting but on the whole they provided a by no means disastrous beginning to the Tara King era. In fact it’s clear that the series was a long way from running out of steam and it was equally clear that Linda Thorson had a great deal of potential. All seven are worth watching and a couple are bona fide classics.

Monday, 3 August 2015

McMillan and Wife, season one (1971)

McMillan and Wife was one of three series (along with Columbo and McCloud) that originally comprised The NBC Mystery Movie, the first of NBC’s “wheel series” with three different series screening on a three-week rotation in the same timeslot. Those three original series all proved to be very successful with McMillan and Wife lasting for no less than six seasons (from 1971 to 1977).

Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James were cast as the two leads, San Francisco Police Commissioner McMillan and his wife Sally. John Schuck as Sergeant Enright and Nancy Walker as the McMillans’ maid Mildred are the other regulars.

Rock Hudson had of course been a very major movie star in the 50s and 60s. By the beginning of the 70s his career was perhaps just starting to falter a little so the offer of the lead in a television series must have been quite welcome. The fact that the series included in the NBC Mystery Movie programming comprised feature-length episodes, boasted high production values and had shooting schedules that were quite generous by television standards (since each series only went to air every third week) must have made the transition from movies to television somewhat less painful than usual. And since McMillan and Wife turned out to be a major hit it proved to be a very good career move on Hudson’s part.

The excellent chemistry between Hudson and Susan Saint James was certainly a major contributor to the success of the series.

Like most of the various series that ran under the NBC Mystery Movie and NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie banners McMillan and Wife adhered quite deliberately to an old-fashioned formula. The stories were classic mysteries in the style of the golden age of detective fiction of the 1920s and 1930s. This is emphatically not the world of serial killers, gangs and drug murders. The social disintegration of the 70s is nowhere in evidence. This is televisual comfort food for a world that was desperately in need of just that commodity, a commodity even more sorely needed today. It’s escapist entertainment, and if (like me) you happen to be extremely fond of escapist entertainment then this series provides it, and does so with style and wit.

The pilot episode, Once Upon a Dead Man, establishes the tone for the series. The plots will be complex and outlandish and somehow Mrs McMillan will keep finding herself right in the middle of a murder. In this instance the plot involves an Egyptian mummy, horology, avant-garde theatre and a bidding duel over an 18th century Italian clock. Jonathan Harris (Dr Smith from Lost in Space) makes an appearance as an auctioneer. The bicycle chase through the streets of San Francisco is a nice touch.

In the first episode of the actual series, Murder by the Barrel, the McMillans are moving house and Mrs McMillan finds a body in a shipping barrel. Unfortunately the body then disappears. In keeping with what appears to be a fixation with offbeat action sequences we have an almost comic-book scene with barrels on a conveyor belt to nowhere, with one of the barrels containing something very precious indeed to Commissioner McMillan.

The Easy Sunday Murder Case probably won’t present viewers with too many difficulties in solving the mystery but it has an engaging light-hearted feel and some amusing moments.  It has plenty of affectionate banter between Hudson and Saint James. It even has a car chase, a very rare occurrence in any of the NBC Mystery Movie series. In fact it has a dog chase as well, with Mrs McMillan in hot pursuit of a Pekingese on the run! It’s lightweight entertainment but it’s fun.

At times the series edges very close to out-and-out farce (and in episodes like The Easy Sunday Murder Case it crosses that line completely). It’s all part of the charm of the show. 

Husbands, Wives, and Killers pushes this tendency even further, with Commissioner McMillan dressed as a giant bunny for a costume ball.

Knowing nothing about American football I found Death Is a Seven Point Favorite a bit bewildering. It’s still a fairly entertaining mystery, even for people like myself who have no idea what a quarterback is.

The Face of Murder pushes plotting to the limits of plausibility and well beyond but it does so with such cheerful insouciance that one can’t help forgiving it. It even includes an aerial dogfight!

Till Death Do Us Part boasts a truly inspired climax, with a wonderfully inventive murder method and a tense battle of wills as the Commissioner faces what promises to be a very nasty fate indeed. A very fine episode.

An Elementary Case of Murder is more straightforward, with much less humour but there is a certain boldness about the solution.

There are some wildly implausible elements to this series. I seriously doubt that any real Police Commissioner would spend so much time (or in fact any time at all) out on the streets chasing suspects, and of course in most episodes either the Commissioner or his wife always seem to be personally involved in the most unlikely cases. This does however seem to be quite deliberate and conscious - this is a show that makes no concessions whatsoever to realism. This is a fantasy world in which Police Commissioners look like glamorous movie stars who are also action heroes and they have gorgeous wives. It’s a feature not a bug and it’s another deliberate echo of the golden age of the  detective story.

There are numerous running gags - every episode has McMillan caught in a traffic jam, in every episode most of the city seems to be on strike and poor Sergeant Enright seems destined never to get a good night’s sleep or a proper meal.

Rock Hudson’s 70s fashion victim wardrobe will provide additional amusement. In The Easy Sunday Murder Case he wears a jacket that even Jason King would have had second thoughts about.

McMillan and Wife is best considered as a television variant of the literary form that was becoming known as the cozy mystery. In fact it has all the ingredients of the cozy - it’s light-hearted, deliberately and consciously old-fashioned, it’s played as much for laughs as thrills and it features a very engaging husband-and-wife detective team. It’s lightweight but it’s consistently enjoyable if sometimes slightly silly fun. 

McMillan and Wife is readily available on DVD in all regions. Recommended.