Guilty Pleasures: A flare for historical detail
Louise Levene loves the old television shows - for their interesting period costume, of course
Monday 21 September 1998
Any night this week you could get home, pour yourself a large Campari and soda (or similar swinging tipple), slip into a snappy little trouser suit and wet-look boots, put a dab of Madame Rochas behind each ear and soak up The Avengers with Diana Rigg in a re-run nicely timed to highlight the sheer awfulness of the movie version. Pausing only to rustle up some gammon and pineapple, you could then settle down with your video of Roger Moore and Tony Curtis in The Persuaders!. It would only take an aerial on top of the set to project you back into the strange, orange-lampshaded, bell- bottomed, cheese-and-onion flavoured world that bridged the Sixties and Seventies. For a brief moment the Seventies revival made this sort of thing quite cool but the tide is turning. By the time you reach the end of this column it will probably be safely back in Naffsville.
Obviously most of the retro TV pleasures are sartorial. With the exception of Patrick Macnee's timeless fusion of Kings Road and Savile Row ("principal items of Mr Macnee's wardrobe by Pierre Cardin") all the clothes are camp and mostly unwearable.
Diana Rigg with flick-ups at the ends of her hair and the corners of her eyes is the Sindy doll made flesh. She alone can carry off the peculiar skin-divers' catsuits and A-line tops that feature in the fifth series. Alun Hughes was no substitute for the great John Bates, who designed the definitive Emma Peel look.
ABC TV's desire to sell to the American market and the gradual introduction of colour TV in Britain at the time meant that most programmes of this period are tinted with unnatural gaiety. But Ms Peel definitely loses some of her Amazonian mystique in sunflower yellow. Primary colours are more suited to the various dolly birds who adorn The Persuaders!.
Wig-spotting is always good for a giggle, but the real laughs are provided by Moore and Curtis themselves in a hilarious range of playboy casuals. Roger's get-up ("Lord Sinclair's wardrobe designed by Roger Moore" - don't give up the day job) involves a lot of beautifully cut but sadly brown- coloured blazers, a surprising number of cravats and a depressing mileage of white belts.
On a modern fashion note, it is interesting that a programme that has done so much for casual trousering should be punctuated by advertisements for a mail order company called Chums which specialises in those tragic high-waisted garments worn by old men who waved goodbye to their feet in about 1963.
Even today Tony Curtis does not wear roomy, high-waisted bloomers for the fuller figure. Back in 1971 his clothes were a bit on the small side, if anything. Indeed, tightness was the defining characteristic of early Seventies wear. Our Tone makes plain the distinction between an earl's son and his own dead-end-kid-made-good persona by always wearing a bum- freezer leather jacket. And gloves. Quite why anyone would wear gloves all day while at play on the Riviera is never really explained. And they really are at play on the Riviera some of the time. Moore's earlier jet- setting vehicle The Saint handled the foreign travel problem with ludicrous economy. It was the same formula every week: library footage of the Eiffel Tower or the Bridge of Sighs as a prelude to Simon Templar striding confidently on to a cardboard set signposted "Reception" and saying "Scusi" to somebody. Not so The Persuaders!, which did actually shoot some of the stuff abroad, spending a then-staggering pounds 100,000 an episode.
The promise of fun and games on the corniche enabled Lord (then Sir Lew) Grade to persuade various guest stars to put in an appearance. Well, when I say "stars" I suppose I mean Susan George, Joan Collins and Annette Andre all of whom can be relied upon to turn up in a matching coat and dress ensemble.
But period charm would not be enough on its own. The dialogue for both The Avengers and The Persuaders! is pleasantly dry and with scripts by the likes of Terry Nation and Brian Clemens one should not be surprised at the quality etc, but this anal interest in the minutiae of TV history is really only a feeble attempt to disguise what is little more than a pathetic thirty-something nostalgia trip. I'm not even sure I'm watching it ironically any more. It's becoming a very bad habit, the televisual equivalent of sitting down with a family-sized tin of spaghetti hoops and a plastic spoon: revolting, but strangely delicious.
`The Avengers' and `The Persuaders!' can be seen every weekday on Granada Plus
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