The Avengers (Season 5, Episode 9: The Correct Way to Kill): satire on upper class English culture and mores

Charles Crichton, “The Avengers (Season 5, Episode 9: The Correct Way to Kill)” (1967)

Soviet agents are being cut down almost as soon as they arrive in Britain and a diplomatic criss between the USSR and the UK is imminent. Who better than Steed (Patrick Macnee) and Peel (Diana Rigg) to entrust with the task of messing up the crime scene, follow leads that go nowhere, visit eccentric individuals and training organisations, and eventually uncover mad schemes hatched by the most unlikely of villains to take over the world and install a Nutski World Order? Our dynamic duo once again follow the well-worn script of trawling through bodies of people done down by seemingly polite City of London bankers (who turn out to be the vanguard of a highly trained and professional assassination squad) in office elevators and even rotating doors. This time Steed is given extra assistance by one Soviet agent Olga (Anna Quayle) and it’s Peel’s turn to feel a little annoyed at this unwelcome intrusion into her and Steed’s tidy partnership.

There’s considerable over-acting from those playing Russians, especially Quayle who plays Olga as a dour KGB agent stereotype fresh out of spy-training school and inclined to interpret everything literally and robotically, and Michael Gough who lays on the thick accent as Nutski, an long-term Soviet agent living in Britain who turns out to have double-crossed his side and the British side. Generally the characters are one-dimensional and Nutski and his lieutenants are presented as power-hungry types. The plot as usual is convoluted and a little tricky, and there are loose ends dangling, with not much depth overall. How on earth Steed and Olga can hide in the S.N.O.B. office and keep opening the door at intervals to watch a fencing training session and not be noticed at all by the instructor or his students is very strange indeed!

The staple cat-fight that climaxes the narrative is a fencing fight between Olga and Peel on one side and Nutski’s men training as spies and assassins in his organisation that masquerades as S.N.O.B. (Sociability, Nobility, Omnipotence, Breeding Inc.) which purports to teach ruffians and common caitiffs how to be Proper English Gentlemen. (Although I’m not sure that part of the training includes wielding umbrellas as foils and sabres and pricking Bulgarian exiles with ricin-injecting tips.)

Upper class English culture is satirised in this episode and the message that politeness, gentility and culture often hide a brutal, savage and amoral mentality and set of values is not lost on this viewer. In such a culture, style is privileged over substance: even the episode title in what it says and the minimal, succinct way it announces itself suggests as much. However clunky Olga appears, she provides a good if wide-eyed vicarious stand-in for audience reactions to goofy British character caricatures and assassinations.

Running umbrella and hat gags and loads of bawdy sexual and anal penetration jokes and double entendres, especially in the episode’s concluding scene, rather ruin this viewer’s experience. The episode itself is a remake of an earlier Avengers episode “The Charmers” with Honor Blackman as Steed’s partner Cathy Gale.

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