The Avengers: Lobster Quadrille (1964)

Directed by Kim Mills
Patrick Macnee, Honor Blackman, Burt Kwouk, Jennie Linden, Leslie Sands, Gary Watson, Corin Redgrave, Norman Scace
Music by Johnny Danworth

Lobster Quadrille is one of the most popular episodes of The Avengers for a couple of reasons. The first is that is the episode where we bid a fond farewell to the character Cathy Gale. The second reason is that Honor Blackman, who played Gale, left the show to film the James Bond film Goldfinger with Sean Connery. To reflect this, at the end of the episode, their are a few subtle in-jokes, which suggest she will go ‘pussy’-footing around on the sun soaked shores of the Bahamas. For those who don’t ‘get it’, the character that Blackman played in Goldfinger was Pussy Galore. So this episode is really one for the hard-core fans. Not that the story is inaccessible to ‘regular’ people. Far from it, it is simply the bigger fan that you are, the more you’d get from this episode.

The episode starts with a man waiting in a fishing shack. At his feet is a dead man. The body is John Williams. He was an agent for the Ministry, who operated out of France. Recently he had been working on breaking a narcotics smuggling ring, but his investigative days are over. A second man, named Bush (Gary Watson) enters the fishing hut. The first guy explains what happened, then smashes a kerosene lamp. The two men leave as the hut goes up in flames.
Two of the Ministries top agents are assigned to find out what happened. Enter John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman). Their first port of call is the morgue. Among Williams personal effects, Cathy finds a very rare and valuable chess piece. She decides to follow that lead and find out more about chess. But Steed heads to the scene of the crime.

At the hut, he meets the pathologist, Dr Stannage (Norman Scace). He has ascertained that Williams was shot and is now looking for the bullet. He doesn’t find it and moves on. This leaves Steed to his own devices. He starts poking around the hut, examining some charred pots of lobsters, when he is interrupted by Bush. Bush enquires as to Steed’s purpose at the hut. Steed says he is working for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and is looking into the case. Steed also arranges a time to interview Bush in more formal surroundings, along with his boss, Captain Slim. Slim runs a fishing fleet that specialises in catching lobster, which it then sends all over the world.

Meanwhile, Cathy arrives at the aptly named ‘The Chess Shop’, an establishment run by an oriental gentleman called Mason (Burt Kwouk). Cathy asks about acquiring a chess set in the same style as the piece she has acquired from Williams. Mason doesn’t have one in stock, but says to call back in a few days.

Steed interviews Captain Slim and Bush, and both men assure him that they had never met Williams before and had no idea how a fire could have started in one of the fishing huts. Soon after, as the interview winds up, the Captain’s daughter in law, Katie Miles (Jennie Linden) arrives at the house. She was married to the Captain’s son, who tragically died in a boating accident a year ago. Now she works as an entertainer at a nightclub in London. Naturally Steed takes a shine to her, and arranges to meet her after work.

I won’t outline any more of the plot, because the astute among you will have already pieced together this puzzle. It is exactly as you’d expect.

Lobster Quadrille features chess motifs throughout the show. Black and white chequered floors abound, whether it be in the morgue, Steeds apartment or in Katie’s nightclub. Equally, on the walls, there are images of knights, kings and queens. It’s the kind of surreal environment that would become a feature of The Avengers in future episodes, and would dominate the shows with Cathy Gales successor, Emma Peel.

Lobster Quadrille, like all the earlier episodes, doesn’t have the polish of the Emma Peel or Tara King era episodes, but it still is a good example of the show. These days, because Diana Rigg was so popular and successful as Emma Peel, she sort of overshadows Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale. But let’s not forget, in her time Cathy Gale was quite groundbreaking for a female lead in a television show. She wasn’t simply an appendage to Steed. She was an equal. In this particular episode, in fact Steed fails to rescue her. But that doesn’t matter, because Cathy is smart, tough and resourceful, and can get out of any trouble that she gets into.

Lobster Quadrille is one of the core episodes of The Avengers. If you are a fan of The Avengers and haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to track it down. If, on the other hand, you’re just a casual observer who likes the colourful costumes and offbeat stories, well then, I suggest that you skip forward to the episodes from 1967. That’s the year when The Avengers went ‘colour’ and by this time the formulation of outlandish plots had been honed to perfection.

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