I’m repeating myself, and not for the first time, but we just can’t make them like that any more, and the sad thing is that it’s in large part because we don’t want to make them like that any more. Some of that is to do with our collective loss of innocence, our wish to no longer recognise the line between good and bad, and some of it to do with our wish not to be thought simple-minded in believing there is a line between good and bad, and that it is perfectly possible to make a clean, well-lit story out of staying on one side of that line, unsullied.
‘A Room in the Basement’ was a perfectly commonplace title suggestive, in 1965, of bedsits and tiny flats. In Danger Man, and in an episode written by series creator Ralph Smart himself, that wasn’t the case. Instead, this was the marvellously maverick episode, the one that threw out all the commonplaces the series has established for itself. Drake is on personal, not professional business, it’s a beautifully executed caper, not an espionage or counter-espionage job, and instead of working alone, Drake’s part of a team, and a team of comrades each with a common goal.
That goal is to rescue M9 Agent Keith Turnbull, fleeing from Bucharest with his wife, Susan, (the lovely Jane Merrow again) because his cover’s been blown, kidnapped from the airport in Geneva and held in a basement cell in the Romanian Embassy, to the great dismay and horror of Susan. The more so because the British Embassy in the form of First Secretary Forbes, is only coldly sympathetic and determined not to do anything: the Romanians have denied absolutely having Turnbull so, what can anyone do?
Well, they can phone their friend John Drake for one thing.
It’s a rush job. Drake’s got an official mission he’s supposed to be leaving for but which he gets put back, though only for 48 hours: got to be back in London for Monday. Of course Forbes denounces the very idea of even doing anything and of course Drake ignores him. Instead, he calls in mutual friends. There’s wine-grower Bernard (William Lucas) and his wife Annette (a young Kate O’Mara in her first role of any substance), whose cellar can be made to look like a British Embassy basement. And when Bernard phones Luke he said the whole idea was crazy, and he would be on the next flight from Paris.
And with Susan herself pitching in and playing a blinder, the whole caper rolled out, riding its luck and riding its vicissitudes, making one of those episodes that only lasted 51 minutes but honestly felt as if it was feature film length, because it was of feature film quality. I won’t go into details. The whole episode is on YouTube and those of you without DVD boxsets should repair there now and enjoy yourselves. You’ll like the little twist at the end, which is the only moment of cynicism in the whole episode.
Funnily enough, as the episode was gearing itself up, my thoughts were trending in a different direction. With the exception of the two episodes that constitute the severely-truncated fourth series, Danger Man was filmed in black and white. I don’t mind that. In fact I prefer it that way, and not only because it precisely fits my memories of the show when I was young.
But there’s an art to B&W and Danger Man looks right in that curious, limited form. It’s a handy distinction between this and The Prisoner, a thematic and psychological contrast between the black and white ‘simplicities’ of the good guy agent, the Cold War man serving us against all threats, when us was something to be defended, thoughtlessly, and the broader spectrum of The Prisoner‘s shifting uncertainties and constant paranoia. Black and white streamlines things.
I ws thinking this because, since the episode was supposed to be set in Switzerland, there were mountains to be seen, big, craggy, soaring gorgeous mountains. I wanted them to be in colour, I would have loved them to be in colour. I’m sure my Mum and Dad would have been staring at them eagerly, as I do now. But it left me thinking that Swiss backdrops in colour would have required all the episode to be in colour, and I didn’t want that. Colour represents the real world and I did not want Danger Man to be real in that respect. It’s not The Prisoner and I don’t ever want it to be so.
Just think, I’m already so near the end of series 2. It seems like only yesterday that I moved on the this series. And before the year is out, I will be following something else. Long may the rest of Danger Man enthrall me.