Agents Of History

I watched all 24 episodes of Espionage.

The show was originally broadcast from 1963-4. It was an American production with a lot of British talent involved in front and behind the camera. Each episode ran for 50 minutes or so (a full hour once you fill in the 2 advert breaks). They are all independent of each other, with no cross-overs or shared characters or arcs.

Each story opens cold and runs for a few minutes before a dramatic break brings on the title sequence. A kaleidoscopic montage of images of violence drawn from across 20th century history, and using some crude animated tricks to show various explosions and disasters, as the letters of the title assemble on screen and we finally whirl around a close-up of a photographic eye, shown above. The title and main credits unroll once we are back from the intro reel. For the breaks, we see the title imposed across a silhouette of a firing squad massed for an execution.

Each story concerns spies or “special agents” in some sense. Sometimes they are engaged in active sabotage, other times they are simply gathering secrets or trying to induce some change. The locations vary in time and space. Mostly they occur in the present day of the early 60s Cold War, where “Bay of Pigs” is a recognised reference, but there are a few in or recalling the near past of World War 2. A few also go further off in history and one is ostensibly set in the future, though it is not speculative and it seems that detail may only have been added to deflect any suspicion of directly controversial topical commentary. The Soviet Union can’t be called anything other than its real name, but nearly everywhere outside of Europe is a fictionalised country that might have similarities to Cuba or South Africa or somewhere else in the news between 1955-63.

The characters who recall their war service have been consumed by the experience and in are some way incapable of moving on from it… but we only see those who were involved in special operations, never anyone who simply served their turn in the regular ranks. The normal civilians of the early 60s have already moved on and don’t want to hear old war stories. The agents who are now involved in new operations have to balance their emotions and desire for survival with any sense of mission; more than a few of them are caught up in Spy Who Came In From The Cold plots in which bosses are playing them to fail an assignment in order that a different, bigger scheme can succeed. The price of success is further corrosion of conscience for the victors who know the injuries it required.

Several of these stories dive in to deep moral problems, but some are simpler entertainments, such as the jolly old period romp of “The Frantick Rebel”. “The Light Of A Friendly Star” has a child lead and is very nearly safe family viewing. Not every ending is happy or even conclusive.

A lot of people who went on to more famous work appear in this series. Only a few of them appear in more than one role, this is unlike a series such as The Four Just Men, where Frank Thornton had about 20 identities and 5 nationalities, including different gendarmes in different parts of France in consecutive weeks. No European-descended people put on blackface to play Africans, but a few of them stand in for Middle Eastern or Chinese characters using cosmetics that benefit from the monochrome recording. There are several episodes relating to political changes in Africa. No nationality gets portrayed in outright negative stereotypes, but we do hear various bigots giving voice to their prejudices anyway. Female characters are always dependent on males in some way, even when they can be ruthless killers on their own initiative.

In my opinion there are no duff episodes, though some are not quite as compelling as others. I am following the UK broadcast dates given on the box; imdb gives different ones but they aren’t always right, and their sequence follows the US run which was clearly different, as the most controversial story was moved to the end of the series. The UK transmissions occurred every week with 2 obvious breaks: Christmas 1963, and also the 3rd week of November, when the Kennedy assassination was in the news.

1 The Incurable One broadcast 5th October 1963

Major Andrew Evans flies in to London from the US. He is checked over at passport control and then sees another figure through a doorway and immediately heads off, limping.

After the titles sequence we see a panorama of tourist’s London before going to a strange interview between a nervous woman and an old astrologer in his consulting rooms. She asks him questions about how he got to Britain from Germany, and also gets the details of his daily routine.

After Celeste leaves the office her manner changes abruptly and she tells the next customer that “he’s a fake”. Then we see her head off in to strip clubs around Soho, pickpocketing various sleazy old gents and sharing the loot with her club manager boyfriend. But as she’s shuttling around the Major finally catches up with her.

After some confusion they have an embrace… which takes us into the first flashback. Actually this flashback is a bit obscure, since it seems to be set in London in 1944, yet we are led to believe Celeste was active in France at that time. The truth about her is that she was an idealistic young aristocrat recruited and trained by the Major to work in the Resistance network. Unfortunately he did too good a job and she couldn’t stop after the war, using all her tricks to track down men that she suspects are old Nazis hiding in Britain, and killing them off. She uses her skills at petty crime to finance her operations. It’s all a bit embarrassing for the authorities, since it’s not every day they have to deal with a serial killer who “has the George Medal, and a letter of commendation from Winston”.

Fun fact: George Case, the British intelligence officer who tells Evans about what’s been  going on, is played by Michael Gwynn, who played the posh con-man in Fawlty Towers… whilst this episode also features young Andrew Sachs as a German soldier.

But her judgement is not totally accurate – the astrologer may have been a sleazy old fraud, but when he dies we see he actually had a concentration camp number on his arm.

The theme of old SOE/Resistance being unable to adapt to post-War life was of course taken up by David Hare in his play Plenty, though less sensationally. Celeste does not get a happy ending.

2 Covenant With Death broadcast 12th October 1963

Pleasant string music plays as we see 2 young men walking through woodland, followed by an elderly couple who have to settle down and rest.

The 2 young men look back on them in dismay, and then they refer to a previous agreement, and pick up a nearby rock. The action then cuts to a court room years later.

Magnus and Ivar are on trial for murdering the Blumfelds in 1942. They were both active in the Norwegian resistance and trying to help the old Jews get across the Swedish border, but when they realised the mission was impossible took the option of a humane killing rather than let the travellers got to death from the Nazis.

The two freely admitted to the killing when challenged by police after the war, but insist they are “innocent of all wrongdoing”. The trial unfolds in parallel to flashbacks that include other Resistance fighters, such as Gustave, played by Alfred Burke before and after he was a prisoner.

This is an extremely bleak story, and it’s incredible that the US broadcast actually put this as the first episode. It’s an illustrated debate in ethics in one hour, with commercial breaks. Wonder what the advertisers felt about it.

3 The Weakling broadcast 19th October 1963

Still in the war, and Dennis Hopper is  rowdy young GI Ferno in North Africa who gets the attention of the special agent recruiter Colonel Ballin, played by John Gregson. He gets through the selection process and ends up on the mission to occupied France, where he has to make contact and pass on the details of where the next Allied landing will be.

His contact in France is  nurse Jeanne who’s been helping the Allied cause by getting German soldiers addicted to dope, which she regrets, even when Ferno tells her it’s all for a good cause.

It’s all a big deception to misdirect the Germans about where the Allies will be landing next. It certainly is true that the Allies did deception plans around the invasion of Sicily, as shown in films such as The Man Who Never Was. This takes the different line that Ferno is manipulated into sacrificing himself so that the enemy can be convinced by the secrets he has to be tortured into finally giving up… and so Ballin becomes the first of several intelligence officers in this series to be left with a bad conscience about the success of their own cold-blooded schemes.

Things that don’t make sense: why land in France to lay a false trail about a landing in Italy? Is Ferno’s manic hipster chat strictly accurate for a guy in 1943? What language does he speak to Jeanne in – is this dumb punk who starts bar fights fluent in French as well?

4 The Gentle Spies broadcast 26th October 1963

After the heavy moral debates of the last 3 episodes, this one is comparatively lighter in tone, getting close to Whitehall farce. We start with the angry anti-nuclear youth sitting on the steps of the MoD, getting in the way of fresh young civil servant Gerry Paynter.

The big rumpus though is that the leaflets given out by this group seem to include classified details of British defence… so young Gerry gets the assignment of posing as a sympathiser and wooing one of the young anti-Bomb ladies as a way in to the group.

The leader is a Bertrand Russell-like sage and Nobel winner, and of course all the members of the Establishment know each other and treat it as a jolly old game of cricket. “You expect to lose a few wickets to the Russians” muses the Minister, played by Michael Hordern. Audiences in 2021 may not be so keen on the idea of spies getting in relationships with members of protest groups.

5 He Rises On Sunday And We On Monday broadcast 2nd November 1963

Sir Roger Casement’s arrival in Ireland before the start of the Easter Rising, where he is to be met by John McBride. McBride is played by Patrick Troughton trying his best to stay in an Irish accent, but slipping out of it in every other moment. If you look closely you might see T.P.McKenna and Billie Whitelaw rolling their eyes in any scenes where they have to listen to him.

The mood of tension is maintained excellently throughout, with the 2 local policemen patrolling around bringing plenty of menace. Casement himself turns up with 2 followers who prove less reliable, and the whole mission is lost but still the orders for the revolt to start are for McBride to give out.

Although we know the immediate outcome of the events in 1916, there is no comic or parodic suggestion in the way the plotters or their ideals are presented. The police are unlovable brutes, apart from the sympathisers in the ranks passing information to the rebels. Ultimately, they are vindicated by history.

6 The Dragon Slayer broadcast 9th November 1963

The story of Sun Yat-Sen, founder of the Chinese Nationalist Party and leader of the 1911 Revolution, acknowledged as a heroic figure by communists as well as their opponents. Played here by Lee Montague, as are all the major roles, though some supporting ones have East Asian actors.

Montague was still casting in Chinese roles as late as 1983, when he was Mao’s interpreter in the otherwise good Red Monarch.

Much of this story occurs in London, where Sun is the target of kidnapping by the Imperial regime, but local sympathisers are ready to help him.

7 To The Very End broadcast 16th November 1963

In Paris the young people are angry about the nuclear bomb programme as much as their Anglo contemporaries. However their protest has a more aggressive approach.

After watching footage of the latest French nuclear tests on TV in a bar, they join up with a young American traveller and hatch a plan to kidnap the top scientist in charge of the nuclear programme and get him to change his mind.

However, showing him films of the aftermath of Hiroshima makes no difference since he already knows worse details than were made available to the public, and he still thinks deterrence is the best strategy.

Of course young Paul has other reasons for detesting Professor Moreau, since he holds him responsible for persecuting his father as an old collaborator.

As you might expect the plan falls apart in other ways and the gendarmes aren’t far away.

8 The Light Of A Friendly Star broadcast 30th November 1963

A man in a leather jacket struggles to get in to a British Embassy in Germany to demand asylum.

The ambassador’s young daughter is fascinated by the new arrival.

He seems pleasant enough, but soon we see it’s all an elaborate plot to get access to documents in the Embassy. Young Kit sees him at it, and so he goes on the run with her.

It all gets rather sentimental though dear old George Pravda turns up to do his turn as the KGB who will collect the information that Leo has to sell. Along the way we learn that the spy used to work for the West and just got better offers of work from the other side.

9 A Tiny Drop Of Poison broadcast 7th December 1963

The Anglo-American working group is considering whether to invest in a new dam project in “the Levantine Republic”.

Bright, young-ish guy Crawford Layton has his doubts about whether it’s a good deal, because he thinks some of the local politicians who will spending the funds aren’t completely trustworthy.

The Levantines get news of this from their informer who employs the committee’s tea-lady as a spy. And so a plot is set in motion, by dropping a few casual remarks at a diplomatic function, to spread the idea that Layton had to leave his previous post in the Middle East because he was “emotionally unstable”. As his enemy declares, Layton will be assassinated with “a tiny drop of poison”, and the British and Americans will do all the work for him.

Once the rumour is set in motion, the security guy has to start piling up all the grounds for suspicion: he only got married at 41, he has an interest in antique furniture, and have you seen some of the other guys his college buddy hangs around with?

This episode was moved to the end of the run in the US transmission sequence, so it was probably considered a bit contentious for that audience.

10 Festival Of Pawns broadcast 14th December 1963

A team of East German agents assist a young woman in setting out swimming to the other side, then make a show of firing at her. She is picked up on the other side and taken up as a possible defector, but her story needs to be checked out first – is her dad, the old German weapons scientist, still alive or not?

Fun fact: Colonel Sprague, the American counter-intelligence chief, is played by Sam Wanamaker, who in our universe was quite left-wing and came to work in Britain because he had trouble getting work in the US.

It turns out it’s a complex plot to get to the Lina’s dad’s old colleague, Professor Voeckler, who’s now living under a series of fake identities in the West. His current one has him posing as a waiter in a tavern during the beer festival.

As the title suggests, in the end all these characters are played as pawns in the game, and one of them is persuaded to switch sides at the end.

11 The Whistling Shrimp broadcast 21st December 1963

A slight change in the usual format – first of all, we get told at the outset that this is a story set in the future.

Some quite well-behaved protesters are circling outside the UN building and demanding “HANDS OFF MATTAI”, the African country whose left-wing leader seems to have displeased the State Department.

The title sequence is the same but the fonts used in the opening credits are different. The end credits are also done in a scrolling style rather than a series of pages. So a different team worked on this episode, and it’s notable that Herbert Hirschman doesn’t have his name on it anywhere, instead of usually having an Executive Producer credit right up front.

The story mainly concerns liberal political columnist Ed Pierce trying to get to the bottom of rumours that the CIA has got something going on with its sights set on President Djatuma.

The portrait of Lenin is present there because we meet him at the Soviet Embassy.

Spoiler: there is indeed a plot to get rid of him, and Ed and all the other hand-wringing liberals realise they can’t do much to control this world of secret agencies running their own foreign policy. In our timeline, the murder of Patrice Lumumba has occurred 2 years earlier, and Ngo Dinh Diem had been brought down a few weeks earlier.

Fun fact: this was the episode broadcast in the US on November 20th 1963.

12 Never Turn Your Back On A Friend broadcast 4th January 1964

Three agents are working together on sabotage missions in occupied Norway: a Brit, an American, and a Russian, played by Julian Glover. They are jolly good at their job, and very pleased with their latest mission to blow up a German installation. In the process they got hold of a scientist who told them he was doing important research with heavy water to create a “secret weapon”.

But the wily old German only wants to talk in detail to someone back in an Allied country. In order to keep up interest in the deal he has to reveal a bit more about what he’s been working on: the atom bomb.

Of course once they know the secret, they all want it for their own country. So get the very nasty business of them slowly falling out over the new project of getting out Professor Kuhn and as much of his notes and apparatus as they can manage.

The story is of course a rather loose variation on The Pardoner’s Tale.

13 Medal For A Turned Coat broadcast 11th January 1964

A venerable old German is rehearsing a speech to the citizens of “the New Germany” at a hall in Munich.

But then a young man comes in and shoots him.

The speaker is Richard Keller, a loyal member of the Wehrmacht until he joined the assassination plot against Hitler in 1944. His role was to fly to Britain with peace proposals in the event the plot succeeded – it didn’t, but he stayed on to write a book about the Dark Period of German history and create a bright post-war reputation for himself.

Lying in a hospital bed critically ill sets free all his neuroses and repressed conscience about his own complicity and authenticity and whether the “new Germany” he praises actually cares for an old turncoat like him. A succession of phantoms accuse him, including his dead wife, and the British intelligence officer who debriefed him, and later became his business partner and got him in to the right clubs.

The quick changes and merges between scenes is quite unlike any other episode.

14 Final Decision broadcast 18th January 1964

We start with an old doctor being pressured by a young man to give a “verdict” on an X-ray.

It turns out the X-ray isn’t of the young man, but in fact old Richard Carey. Since he is terminally ill, it would be very helpful to a mysterious secret Agency if he could help his country by going abroad and staying at a certain embassy.

The big plan is to get away a dissident who is hiding at the Embassy. Since it is under constant surveillance, the only way to get a clear run out is to convince the watchers that the man they want has died already… and so they need a dying man to step in and die there, maybe a bit earlier than he would have done.

So that leaves time for existential debate about the meaning and possibility of a happy or purposeful death.

15 Do You Remember Leo Winters? broadcast 25th January 1964

A comparatively lighter story in tone, though we still have top-level international relations at stake. Old Leo Winters likes telling youngsters about his daring deeds as a Royal Navy diver on secret missions to blow things up. Despite what you might initially expect, this back history is all genuine… the problem for the past 15 years he’s been unable to adapt to civilian life, particularly as he’s now getting too old and out-of-touch to compete for diving work.

Seeing that his old commander is now quite important in the Navy top brass he drops by to put a word in… and gets taken on for a special assignment that will require total deniability.

Leo may be endearing in small doses but he is rather pathetic in his inability to recognise that the world has moved on, or at least that everyone he knows has heard his stories and are bored of them, and his only audience are kids and random strangers in pubs. It’s notable that by 1963 everyone thinks the war is something to put behind us and get on with the new world.

Things don’t quite work out and Leo has to be kept in hiding whilst a media storm blows up and official denials are made. He’s a big embarrassment that has to be disposed of, and so he is.

16 The Frantick Rebel broadcast 1st February 1964

An historical story, taking us back to London in 1777. This is the only time the title sequence is significantly adjusted, with the music altered to 18th century instrumentation, though the imagery remains in the 20th century.

General Burgoyne is having a jolly time with his mistress, and he is so excited he blabs the entire British strategy to finally crush Washington’s army in the forthcoming campaign. This is overheard by an American sympathiser, Patience Wright.

Fun fact: Maid is played by Patsy Byrne, who was later Nursey in Blackadder II.

The situation comes to the attention of Sir William Eden, head of “His Majesty’s most secret of services”.

He decides it’s best to employ Dr Johnson and his companion Boswell for the mission of preventing the information being passed to the rebels. Boswell is here portrayed by Stanley Baxter.

And so we have a jolly old game of tricks and counter-tricks and racing about. Bernard Bresslaw makes an appearance. Spoiler: they do not prevent Washington winning.

17 Castles In Spain broadcast 8th February 1964

The old American left-wing professor Ralph Summerville has been allowed to visit Spain, nearly 30 years after he fought for the International Brigade at Madrid. He is staying with another American, and his arrival at the airport is a media event.

What they don’t realise is that an injured young Spaniard on the run from the police has hidden in the back of the car.

When the police come searching for Pablo, the comfortable Americans have to ask themselves some awkward questions about their position in the authoritarian state.

CONDE: Strange, isn’t it, Professor. Because you were an enemy you can depend on our help. It’s a matter of self-interest. You are more valuable to us for our propaganda people as an enemy who has become a friend than as an enemy who has not, and has continued to assist those who offend the state.

18 Snow On Mount Kama broadcast 15th February 1964

There’s a wind of change blowing through Africa, and a nameless British colony is on the brink of independence.

Since it is mentioned that an armed rebellion was in progress a few years earlier, Kenya is the obvious model, though the white farmers and their attitudes are a precursor of Smith’s Rhodesia.

Bernard Lee is John Neary, the settler who reckons he’s made this farm from nothing and it’s up to him to decide when the natives can have it. Yes, he does use racist language. Nigel Davenport is Frank Marston, his civil servant son-in-law who is very important at Government House and knows which of the 2 possible national leaders have been tipped by London to be the new independent ruler.

Of course London have gone and picked the chap who was leading the armed rebellion a few years earlier, rather than the smart young London University graduate that Frank would have preferred. But it’s a tricky time for everyone, with the racist farmers piling up weapons although even John can see the futility of their position, and anyway their domestic staff have outwitted them by finding the arsenals for themselves. Frank and Eva have to wonder about packing up and heading back to a rainy island they haven’t seen in years, or maybe staying to help make a new country.

19 Once A Spy… broadcast 23rd February 1964

Africa is the story again, but this time we start back in Blighty, with crowds at London Airport for the arrival of M’Bata, the heroic freedom fighter.

Unfortunately the Home Office have decided he has to be deported straight back where he came from where he will have to stand trial.

Meanwhile in Whitehall, the very important men are deciding what to do. They’ve got a scheme to get M’Bata free whilst having no official involvement.

The lark is to fire erratic old Phil Mason but put his long-term girlfriend Susan on to the job of getting M’Bata free. The assumption is that Phil will chase along and insist on getting in on the game, but as a sacked agent nothing he does has any official sanction.

Susan played by Millicent Martin, does not get the honour of a surname. Although some of their moments together might suggest this is going to be a jolly old romantic caper, the tone shifts definitely against that with the reveal that Susan had an abortion because Phil insisted they couldn’t be parents whilst holding down the jobs they have. It’s a joyless, desperate career, and it has ended up on the scrapheap for Phil. It’s also not a good ending for desk man Waring, played by Peter Vaughan, who ends up arguing with his conscience about the ethics of the whole operation.

20 We, The Hunted broadcast 29th February 1964

In Madrid, a street photographer grabs an image of a middle-aged lady.

She is in fact the wife of an old SS officer who is now living under a false name. In Tel Aviv, the info is put together and Ben Ashman is ordered to go over an organise his capture and return to Israel, on the model of the Eichmann trial. However Ben would prefer to carry on with his current dayjob, building roads in the Negev Desert. He is being called back to do this job because he’s the only one in the Bureau who met Hofner, 20 years ago.

In Madrid he meets up with the other members of the team. The long hours spent in an apartment block staking out their prey also gives time to consider the ethics of their position, and whether it would be better to get on with building new Israel instead of chasing old Nazis (the other people of Palestine are mentioned in a later story).

Of course when they get hold of Hofner he can only parrot that he was obeying orders, which triggers more uncertainty on Ashman’s part about his own position.

21 The Liberators broadcast 7th March 1964

Jack Hanley is a cynical guy hanging around in Miami, trying to make a living from his boat. A stranger comes up to him in a bar and tells him he knows about his debts and problems, and proposes a way out: get involved in a little scheme that will utilise his previous experience leading special forces in Korea.

The operation he is required for is to lead a mission to land in a nameless South American country which had a revolution a few years ago… I think the name is Not-Cuba, since Bay-Of-Pigs was explicitly mentioned in an earlier episode. We never hear who is running Not-Cuba nowadays except that they are the baddies who seem to have betrayed the revolution. The mission is to rescue the true revolutionary leader Jorge Escalon (described as “Social Democrat”, but supported by lots of apparently well-off exiles in the Miami area), as a prelude to mass revolt across the country. Escalon is officially reported as dead 3 years ago, but in fact he is living and working in the old country under a secret identity, and has been in touch with his son, who is also on the trip.

Things go wrong on arrival but Jack holds the team together. When they get to meet Escalon (played by Donald Pleasance) it all goes off the rails as the old man hasn’t been told what the plan is, and isn’t keen to leave with them if there is going to be another upheaval.

The idealistic son can’t accept that the sad old man is tired of running and fighting and now just wants to get on with being a schoolteacher, though he supports the general idea of a corrective revolution and will give it his blessing. Hard-bitten old Jack watches cynically from the sidelines as these guys who are full of talk waste the night away when they need to get on with some action. Of course in the climax he shows he’s not quite the empty money-grabber his new employers regarded him as at the start. He can understand Escalon wanting to find peace with his new wife since of course that’s how he was living in Miami and it’s why he took the job.

22 Some Other Kind Of World broadcast 14th March 1964

Tom Stern is the guitarist in a jazz outfit that are rehearsing for a special gig: they’re going on a trip to Moscow for perform at the behest of the Ministry Of Culture.

Tom’s a bit of a loose cannon, wanting to do improvisational guitar riffs when his bandleader doesn’t require them. They get on ok with the Russian audience (shown with footage cut in from another source) and also get on well with their Intourist interpreter Evgenia.

The background story here is that a Soviet embassy chauffeur has been arrested in the US for spying, so their hosts are keen to frame up one of the boys as an agent so a swap can be arranged. Of course the kid can’t help himself fall right in to it.

23 A Free Agent broadcast 21st March 1964

In Switzerland, and everyone is happy at the arrival of Anna and Philip. They are both spies, for the USSR and Britain, but they’ve quit their jobs in Berlin and come away to this mountain resort where Philip still has an old friend from his wartime days, who will help them out trying to set up new lives.

Of course their employers have sent further agents after them to persuade them to return to work, willingly or otherwise.

This story starts off seeming like it might be a jolly old romantic romp or a farcical turn like “The Gentle Spies”. However it all develops into a rather GrahamGreeneish yarn about the moral corruption of deception and the overriding power of emotions against any rational plans to fake or exploit them. Anna is played by Sian Phillips, who was of course George Smiley’s TV wife later on.

24 A Camel To Ride broadcast 28th March 1964

The final story in the UK sequence is the most morally complex. Set in a nameless Middle Eastern state that hosts refugee camps for large numbers of Palestinians, the local secular dictator Bishara promises that he will support their cause if they will first of all work in helping build up his oilfields that are being developed with the assistance of western corporations.

But the Palestinians are also being stirred up by the spirit of non-violent protest inspired by the local Catholic priest Father James.

And then there’s also the Minister Of Information Gemal (Roger Delgado performing without a beard), who has links to the officers planning a military coup against Bishara. He needs Fr James to bring the refugees on the side of the plot to ensure it succeeds.

James can’t join in a plot that would involve killing, but he can’t topple Bishara without helping the rebels.

JAMES: I can’t… you propose murder. Being evil makes him no less a man.

GEMAL: But being dead makes him considerably less a tyrant.  

James can’t solve the moral dilemma, although another priest sent by his bishop orders him to get over his sinful pride and admit he made a mistake once Bishara has evidence he’s the troublemaker. His teaching of Christian ethics had the unfortunate side-effect that his altar-boy told the policeman what he wanted to know. The old tyrant knows there’s a plot afoot anyway, but he wants the priest to submit and threatens to kill a child hostage.

It all ends with figures disappearing down a corridor, and we don’t know what happens to Bishara or his enemies.

One thought on “Agents Of History

  1. Good piece! I wrote about the first 5 or 6 ESPIONAGE episodes I’d seen here, but most especially the ‘Ban the Bomb’ one, in some detail back in early 2018: I’d say it permits and doesn’t totally discredit, a CND perspective. Forms an interesting contrast with the more conservative perspective of PG Wodehouse’s short story ‘Bingo Bans the Bomb’ (1966). Though how conservative really is an implicitly pro-deterrence/MAD stance?

    ESPIONAGE is at least somewhat more engaging and massively more diverse in its stories than early episodes of THE AVENGERS we’ve been watching recently. These 1961-63 Dr Keel-Venus Smith-early Cathy Gale episodes have highly predictable narratives, always ending in minor fisticuffs which invariably come across as lamely small-fry within studio spaces surveyed by static and unimaginative cameras. Funnily enough, though, episodes involving Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke are a step up – and more interesting from a Cold War ideology perspective too.

    Liked by 1 person

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