It’s still 1965, but now we’re into Danger Man‘s third and last series. As we might expect, nothing has really changed since the second series was completed: why change a winning formula, especially when you’ve got the highest paid male star in British television, and one of the most charismatic actors around in your leading role?
But there were a couple of things that caught my eye, that suggested that the spirit of the times, that Swinging London might just be catching up with the series, and I’ll be very interested to see how things develop over the next twenty-three episodes.
It’s the first of the series and it’s a strong start, reminding me very much of what the show can do when it’s firing on all cylinders. There’s a long and intriguing open, a man, Bill Ellis, in a hotel room in Rome, recording a report onto an electric razor that conceals a miniature tape recorder. He’s categoric that Robin Garwood’s death was not an accident. He starts to give instructions about contacting an organisation when he’s interrupted by a friend, Dave. When Ellis’s back is turned, Dave clubs him into unconsciousness with a double-fisted punch to the back of the neck. Then he drops him out of the window, from the sixth floor.
Enter John Drake, or writer Clive Harris. Drake’s dressed slightly differently in that opening scene. He wears a raincoat, a light, white raincoat. Not much of a thing to pick upon, except that Drake’s look will change in series 3. The raincoat will be paired with a white cap, a characteristic look. Remember ‘The Girl Who Was Death’, from The Prisoner? That deliberately echoed Drake’s ‘look’.
The contact details Ellis has left, albeit interrupted, reveal the existence of a murder-for-hire organisation, a European version of America’s infamous Murder Incorporated. But before Drake can retrieve the shaver from its place of concealment in Ellis’s room, he has to get access to it. Which means dealing with Lena.
Lena is supposed to be from South America, doing an extensive tour of European capitals, places of culture, hotspots. Lena is also the lovely Susan Hampshire belying her background with her cut glass English accent. Lena is flat out gorgeous – Susan Hampshire was probably the loveliest actress from Britain in the Sixties – and my second point of interest is that the episode introduces her with a slow pan from her feet and up her legs – and she’s wearing an above-the-knee skirt! Whee, this is the Sixties at last!
Lena is fascinating. She’s just coming down off a fourteen week affair with an Italian Prince and begs a sleeping pill off ‘Yorick’, as Drake teasingly calls himself. Lena is bright and bubbly, a Sixties Dolly Bird, but with a solid core of practical intelligence not that far below the surface, and a concern for ‘Clive Harris’ that quickly starts to worry him. She’s here, she’s there, she’s everywhere, an unwanted nuisance, but a very nice one. In real life, any man would be flattered and delighted to have the attention of a blonde who’s not only slim and beautiful but devoted and eager company.
This being Danger Man, we know that John Drake is going to remain consciously resistant to her charms whilst trying not to hurt her, which would be like destroying a butterfly. This being Danger Man, we are constantly swondering what deep and sinister role Lena will play in the story. Indeed, once Drake has engaged this organisation to dispose of Clive Harris, and has drawn Dave to him intent on the same method of disposal as with Bill Ellis, Lena turns up unexpectedly just as Drake’s anticipated the attack and, when he grapples with Dave, Lena intervenes, screaming ‘you’ll kill him!’, allowing Dave to run. And never be seen again.
I see, I see, I get the picture.
Resolution comes via a stroke of fortune, a little man, claimung to be knowledgeable about international crime because he was once involved, until a Lottery win that allowed him to remove himself. This is Ernesto (John Cazabon). We, and Drake, suspect him of being the assassin, but the gun he pulls in empty: it is merely a souvenir of killings past, in his old life. But Ernesto knows who is behind the murder-for-hire organisation, and for a price, albeit with much trepidation for his own safety, he tells Drake: Enso Bandone.
But Bandone (future Number Two Andre van Gyseghem) is utterly respectable. He’s 80 years old, a man who emigrated to America in 1912, made a success there in the American dream tradition, and who returned to Italy in 1959, to die in his own land. Drake goes to his villa, beards the lion in his den. With so much known or deducable, Bandone admits all. He is 80. He cannot sleep, he cannot digest his food, drink makes him ill. Only his hand-made cigars remain. And the vicarious thrill of being responsible for deaths, of course.
Drake coming here will give Bandone a singular pleasure. Drake will be killed, and Bandone summons a young man of cold eyes and chinese features, a master of swords, to cut up Drake, very slowly, in front of Bandone’s eyes. The young man, Masan, is played by the inevitable Burt Kwouk (could he have ever realised that he would grow up to be a star in Last of the Summer Wine?). Masan is the better swordsman, but Drake the more ruthless fighter. He dumps Masan on Bandone’s desk. Bandone retrieves a revolver from a drawer but, before he can bring it to aim at Drake, he has a seizure, fires all six shots through the drawer bottom, into the floor, and collapses. The excitement has been too much: Bandone has had a heart attack and died. The head is indeed cut-off.
So Lena had nothing to do with it at all, was nothing more than a giant, delightful distraction. But wait…
Drake has completed his assignment. It’s been suggested that it was actually a very big failure on his part. Dave, who killed Bill Ellis, got away, presumably scot-free, whilst Bandone died without revealing who hired him to kill Ellis, or Robin Garwood. But I am sanguine, I believe that once the Police got their hands on Bandone’s records, such things would be dealt with. Drake did his first and most important job, he brought the organisation down. He’s leaving to fly back to London. For a moment, he lifts his hand to knock on Lena’s door, to say goodbye, but he doesn’t. On the other hand, there she is in the lobby, all packed up and ready to go. She’s taken ‘Clive’s advice to resume her itenerary. In fact she’s going to London. On the same flight as ‘Clive’. ‘Hurry up, we’ll be late for the plane!’
This was just a gloriously fun episode. It would have been stroong and clever without Susan Hampshire, but the lady made it special. Suddenly, the Sixties are here. The last series was too redolent of the atmosphere of the Fifties, its greyness, its drabness. There’s an instant lift now. New times are coming, in fact they’re here. Let’s live it up, let’s swing1