By Film Historian Andrew Roberts MA PhD FRSA
The story so far: the fiendish criminal mastermind Expositionos (George Pastell clad in a white dinner jacket and his best fez) is forcing Dr. Von Overacting (Joseph Furst) to construct a top-secret machine. Said device may resemble disco lights bolted to a WW2 RAF transmitter, but it has the power to bore through the walls of banks/embassies/prisons/Elstree Studios. Furthermore, Expositionos’s partners in evil, the Red Army agent Major Wong (Burt Kwouk wearing his second-best scowl) and the Russian mercenary Ivan (Vladek Sheybal), have kidnapped the scientist’s daughter Jennifer (Angela Browne).
Our hero’s challenges will thus be many and various, as Expositionos resides in the distant country of ‘All-Purpose Foreign Nation’. The police will be no help as they are played by Paul Stassino and Roger Delgado, and are therefore inevitably corrupt, idle and prone to wearing their sunglasses indoors. Meanwhile, the locals (George Murcell and Patrick Troughton) all look shifty, unshaven and speak in various accents from Valletta to South London.
So, who can the resolute leading man turn to in his hour of need? The expatriate British businessman Major Cashiered (John Carson) initially appears eager to assist, but he wears the Moustache of Deviousness. Worst of all, the entire nation is under the iron fist of General Bastardos (Martin Benson). There are informers around every corner, from the vampish Maria (Kate O’Mara) to Mario the holier (played by a fortunately non-dampish Denis Shaw).
Fortunately, the Secret Police have a tendency to use down at heel Jaguar Mk. 1 and Renault Dauphines, which should prove beneficial to our hero. The fact that his purloined Mercedes Benz ‘Fintail’ has the power to travel at approximately 200 mph is a definite advantage. As is the fact that the border crossing appears to be made of balsa wood
Just as ITC aficionados quickly learnt to recognise the familiar locations of The Haberdashers’, Aske’s School and Shenley Road, so too did they enjoy the pleasure of seeing that week’s villain. Asides from those already mentioned, we have the sweetly sinister Derren Nesbitt, the malevolent Puck of Dudley Sutton, and the future stars of Peter Bowles and Donald Sutherland.
Similarly, two of the company’s finest leading men, Peter Wyngarde and Mike Pratt, essayed villains of note before gaining their own series. The former’s down at heel actor Ronald Noyes in The Baron story The Illustrious Client, demonstrates his range, while the latter could effortlessly convey an air of shifty depravity. And then there are the small part players who never fail to add to the enjoyment of an ITC drama. Here we must quote from the wise words of Mr. Dale regarding Mike Stevens:
‘One of the earliest appearances of his in an ITC production comes in The Baron episode Portrait of Louisa, where we briefly see him shaking his stuff at a disco. Note the look of vague concern that was soon to become his trademark.’
Mr. Stevens later appeared in The Adventurer, in which Gene Barry’s outfits were sufficient to cause alarm more than mild concern. Similarly, the hallmark of Larry Taylor’s characters was ‘menace’, or downright hilarity regarding his implausible ‘Japanese Warrior’ in the Samurai West episode of The Baron.
Other familiar supporting artists include the always elegant Victor Harrington, the very charming Pauline Chamberlain and the sharply suited Martin Lyder. The last-named was also the head waiter at Ronnie Scotts and one of the most prolific actors in post-war British film and television. Perhaps the most intriguing ITC villains appear in Danger Man, Man in a Suitcase and The Prisoner. Of the figureheads of The Village, the sadist of Mary Morris, the whimpering bully of Patrick Cargill and the morally conflicted Leo McKern abide in the memory after just one viewing.
Meanwhile, Richard Bradford is tortured in Brainwash by the ex African colonialist ‘John’, played by Colin Blakely with an insidious smile. Notably, his character also favours the double-breasted suit then associated with members of the Ian Smith administration in the former Rhodesia. George Sewell is equally compelling in The Sitting Pigeon, his blustering gangster closer to Charlie Kray than to Ronnie or Reggie.
And of the villains variously confronted by John Drake, one thinks of the vulnerable Leo Perrins of Bernard Bresslaw in The Outcast, or Niall MacGinnis’s saturnine Kent in The Battle of The Cameras. Finally, a special mention must go to Peter Arne in Colony Three, whose administrator Richardson takes great pleasure in displaying the iron fist beneath the velvet manners.
Yet, one of the most frightening Danger Man, and indeed ITC, heavies is Bertrand, the government agent M9 played by Ivor Salter in Yesterday’s Enemies. His victim is Archer, played by Howard Marion Crawford with the bluster of the faded officer and gentlemen now trapped a long way from home. Salter’s screen time is limited, but it is enough to create an impression of a British Establishment functionary who neither wishes nor cares to question his orders. The sight of Bernard wordlessly eyeing his quarry is a reminder that the best of ITC was always more than back projection and implausible car chases.