Sentimental Agent on DVD

Friday, 21 May 2010 16:03

For those of you who thought the idea of the spin-off series is a fairly recent phenomenon, let me introduce you to The Sentimental Agent. This short-lived ITC series had its origins in an episode of Man Of The World, and featured Argentinean actor Carlos Thompson as the import-export agent Carlos Varela. Widely travelled, he was cast to be the sort of romantic lead popular at the time in both film and movies. The character fronts warehouse-based operation Mercury International, and enjoys making money dealing in all sorts of merchandise, as well as assisting those in trouble.

Carlos has a ‘Girl Friday’ in the shape of his secretary Suzy Carter, played by Clemence Brittany - the perfect combination of good looks and cool efficiency, with the sort of secret service connections any PA will thrive on! And who else but Burt Kwouk could play Chin, the oriental helping hand to Varela, whose only weakness is a passion for gambling.

Sentimental Agent on DVDThe first appearance of Varela was in the eighth episode of Man of the World, not surprisingly called “The Sentimental Agent”. In that story the character’s surname was Borella rather than Varela, but in every other way the episode set up the format.  Taking place in Havanna, photographs taken by World’s leading man Michael Strait result in him being thrown into jail. Strait asks his assistant Maggie to contact an import merchant who can help secure his release. However, this help comes at a price! For reference the star’s dark Aston Martin DB5 has the registration 432 FLD.

There was a major flaw in the casting of this series. English was a long way from being Carlos Thompson’s native language, and the production was getting flustered by the fact that hitting shooting deadlines was becoming increasingly difficult.  In order to try and help carry the series, the episode “Meet My Son, Henry” introduces a new regular character, Bill Randall, played by John Taylor, who also appears in the final four episodes.

The majority of the ITV network scheduled The Sentimental Agent in an excellent timeslot on Saturday evenings, and all signs were that they could expect bountiful viewing figures. For some unknown reason, this just didn’t happen.  This is probably a good thing, as the star is absent completely from the episodes “Finishing School” and “Not Quite Fully Covered”, leaving Taylor as the lead in both.

For those in-the-know, the final episode, “Box of Tricks”, is the most incredible piece of bravado, including stock footage of a lead actor who quite obviously was no longer available.  Framing pieces of Varela with another secretary in tow begin and end the episode, clearly taken from some other filming carried out for the series.  This gives the excuse for Taylor and Miss Carter to again be centre stage.

There is a feast of first appearances from some of Britain’s finest actresses in this series. “A Very Desirable Plot” features the first television role for Diana Rigg, later to be the iconic Emma Peel in The Avengers. Carol Cleveland, the Monty Python Girl, makes her debut in “May the Saints Preserve Us”. Sue Lloyd, later of The Baron and Crossroads, gets her first TV credit with the episode “The Height of Fashion”. And Annette Andre, soon to be Jeannie Hopirk in Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) is introduced to TV audiences in “Finishing School”, although she may now regret her ‘Deep South’ accent in this story!

There are a whole host of other guest stars to check this series out for. As well as  Patrick Troughton in “Scroll of Islam”, his future Doctor Who assistant Anneke Wills can be seen in the series premiere “All That Jazz”, sporting the spelling ‘Annika’ for her Christian name, and playing a musician character very similar to her ‘Evelyn’ role in Strange Report.  In a piece of ironic casting, Sandor Eles appears as a Hotel Clerk in the episode “Express Delivery” – something of a primer for his later role as Paul Ross in Crossroads.

Others to look out for include Donald Sutherland, Jeremy Bulloch, Brian Cant, David Graham, William Sylvester, Frank Thornton, Patrick Allen, Patrick Newell, Zena Marshall, Glyn Edwards, Derren Nesbitt, Vladek Sheybal, William Mervyn, Paul Maxwell, David Healy, Warren Mitchell, Charles Lloyd Pack, Cyril Shaps, Anton Rodgers, Judy Parfitt, Noel Howlett, Ballard Berkeley, and Ferdy Mayne.

Horror actress Imogen Hassall appeared in the story “Not Quite Fully Covered”. Later to be given the moniker “The Countess of Cleavage”, she died from an overdose of sleeping pills in 1980. She was not the only person associated with The Sentimental Agent to die an untimely death: film actor Peter Arne was murdered in his home, apparently just after accepting a role in Doctor Who - his murder still remains unsolved to this day. Indeed, even Carlos Thompson himself died tragically - he committed suicide by a gunshot to the head in 1990.

The team of writers who worked on The Sentimental Agent are also noteworthy.  Ian Stuart Black worked on Star Maidens, The Invisible Man, The Saint and Doctor Who. Julian Bond had been co-producer of the forerunner to The Avengers – namely Police Surgeon. Patrick Campbell had written for The Avengers (“The Yellow Needle”). Tudor Gates wrote a trio of classic vampire films in the 1970s – “The Vampire Lovers”, “Lust For A Vampire” and “Twins Of Evil”. Jack Davies was the writer of “Paper Tiger”, “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” and “A Stitch in Time”.

The line-up for the Directors’ slates was also impressive. John Paddy Carstairs directed Norman Wisdom in films such as “Trouble In Store”. Harry Booth was the film editor on Sir Francis Drake and would move on to script and direct episodes of The Double Deckers and direct episodes of The Protectors. Harry Fine would later produce the Tudor Gates-scripted “The Vampire Lovers”, “Lust For A Vampire” and “Twins Of Evil” that would star Imogen Hassall.

The theme music for The Sentimental Agent could very easily become an earworm for you, so be warned! It’s called “Carlos Theme”, and was written by Ivor Slaney who went on to be the main composer on The Double Deckers. His other themes include Here's Harry (for comedian Harry Worth) and Sir Francis Drake.

For Bond fans, its worth noting that several-time 007 Director John Glen was Film Editor on some episodes of The Sentimental Agent, as well as acting as 2nd Unit Director on others.

This is a series that doesn’t set the world alight, but is tightly scripted, well produced and directed, and looks fine its monochrome hues. You can understand why ITV had high hopes for it, and goes down as one of those shows which mysteriously failed. Despite the problems noted earlier, Carlos Thompson doesn’t seem to have that much trouble with the lines in the scenes that made it to finished episodes, which is a tribute to the production team in covering up the cracks admirably.  No doubt if they had such things as ‘Blooper Reels’ in those days, they would have more likely than not have been more painful than hilarious.

This four disc DVD set has a running time of 650 minutes approx, and a ‘PG’ certificate. Extras on the set feature a range of production stills spread across the discs. The set is available from Network DVD as web exclusive, at a RRP of £39.99 or less – get it while it’s hot at www.networkdvd.net

 

 

THE SENTIMENTAL AGENT – EPISODE GUIDE

 

Carlos Thompson as Carlos Varela

Burt Kwouk as Chin

Clemence Bettany as Miss Carter

John Taylor as Bill Randall

 

Executive Producer: Leslie Harris

Producer: Harry Fine

Story Editor: Ian Stuart Black

Director of Photography: Brendan J Stafford BSC

Camera Operator: Frank Watts

Music Editor: Alan Killick

 

01. All That Jazz

Carlos Varela takes responsibility for a jazz group making its debut in England. He finds himself with problems when to save a musician's life the band must serenade a group of spies.

Guest Starring: Anthony Bushell (Major Nelson), Peter Arne (Stirink), Annika Wills (Sarah), Dora Reisser (Tania), Riggs O’Hara (Bill), Jeremy Bulloch (Art), Hugh Futcher (Mooney), Stewart Guidotti (Leavis), James Luck (Wilson), Tony Quinn (Piano Tuner), David Blake Kelly (Insp Shaunnesy), Brian Cant (Special Branch Man), Wilfred Downing (Delivery Boy)

Writer: Julian Bond

Director: Charles Frend

Original ITV Transmission: 28 September 1963

 

02. The Beneficiary

A wartime colleague of Varela sends a prearranged distress signal that could spell danger.

Guest Sarring: Lubna Aziz (Anna), Derek Francis (Klaus), Aubrey Morris (Rattan), Michael Godfrey (Santos), Robert Rietty (Bank Manager), Bill Mitchell (Farell), Artro Morris (Hotel Clerk), David Graham (Bank Attendant), Andre Charisse (Croupier), Wilfred Grove (Fred)

Writer: Julian Bond

Director: John Paddy Carstairs

Original ITV Transmission: 5 October 1963

 

03. Express Delivery

Varela promises to help a young girl escape the iron curtain but she is a target after witnessing a murder. Miss Carter and Chin do not appear in this episode.

Guest Starring: Ann Bell (Katrina), Patrick Magee (Major), Gabriel Woolf (Anders), Donald Morley (Priest), Lawrence Davidson (Captain), Frederick Schiller (Police Sergeant), Robin Chapman (Man in Trenchcoat), Philo Hauser (Official), Sandor Eles (Hotel Clerk), Michael Goldie (Policeman on Train), John Stark (Sergeant)

Writer: Lindsay Hardy

Director: Charles Frend

Original ITV Transmission: 12 October 1963

 

04. Never Play Cards With Strangers

Varela hearing that passengers who booked a cruise from his agency have been fleeced of their savings decides to give the cardsharps a taste of their own medicine.

Guest Starring: Bessie Love (Mamie), Donald Stewart (Elmer), Hugh McDermott (Lyons), Suzanna Leigh (Jean), Peter Stephens (Phillips), John Glyn-Jones (Manager), Jack Melford (Colonel Dewar), Olive Milbourne (Mrs Dewar), Bert Brownbill (Mr Johnson), Eve Eden (Mrs Johnson)

Writer: Julian Bond

Director: John Paddy Carstairs

Original ITV Transmission: 19 October 1963

 

05. May the Saints Preserve Us

Varela has the unusual job of shipping an ancient Irish castle to Texas but someone does not like the idea.

Guest Starring: Carol Cleveland (Shelah), Brian Phelan (Sylvester O’Toole), Patrick McAlinney (Burke), Godfrey Quigley (Sgt Dooley), Donal Donnelly (Larry), Peggy Marshall (Mrs Moloney), Liam Gaffney (Hogan), John McCarthy (Northern Ireland Sergeant), Desmond Perry (Labourer), Kevin Flood (Civic Guard), Jerry Sullivan (Civic Guard), David Burke (Civic Guard).

Writer: Patrick Campbell

Director: Charles Frend

Original ITV Transmission: 26 October 1963

 

06. Scroll of Islam

Varela is intrigued when a professor approaches him to obtain photographs of a relic which could prove more important than the Dead Sea scrolls.

Guest Starring: William Sylvester (Shaw), Alan Gifford (Fletcher), Patrick Troughton (Sheikh), Clifford Elkin (Mahmoud), Lisa Peake (Dancer), John Dimech (Hanif), Frank Thornton (Tailor), Terence Brook (Pilot), Joe Enrika (Commissionaire).

Writer: Jack Davies

Director: John Paddy Carstairs

Original ITV Transmission: 7 December 1963

 

07. A Little Sweetness and Light

Informed that Andrea, his business agent on a Greek island has been killed in a motoring accident, Varela investigates his agent’s death and the loss of business. Pre-credit sequence.

Guest starring: Patrick Allen (Petrides), Zena Marshall (Melina), Patrick Newell (Ridou), Martin Miller (Astolat), Eileen May (Miss Mithras), Charles Farrell (Isigonnis), Murray Kash (Auctioneer), Raymond Ray (Andrea), Louis Manzi (Waiter), Andreas Markos (Martis), Dimitris Andreas (Plessis)

Writer: Tudor Gates

Director: Harold French

Original ITV Transmission: 9 November 1963

 

08. Meet My Son, Henry

Top secret plans disappear from the Space Development Corporation, and Varela is asked by a millionaire, who has a precocious son - a child prodigy, to take part in a plot to recover the plans. Bill Randall makes his first appearance. Pre-credit sequence.

Guest starring: John Turner (Bill Randall), John Phillips (Henry Peabody Sr), Stephen Loegering (Henry Peabody Jr), Glyn Edwards (Darin), Derren Nesbitt (Lewis), Vladek Sheybal (Arva), John Glyn-Jones (Bookshop Manager), Nancy Seabrooke (Woman in Bookshop), Howard Douglas (Taxi Driver).

Writer: Lindsay Hardy

Director: John Paddy Carstairs

Original ITV Transmission: 2 November 1963

 

09. A Very Desirable Plot

Is it a con trick when worthless plots of land in the Bahamas are being sold to tourists? Varela has sent Miss Carter to investigate, but has to fly out to join her. Has a pre-credit sequence.

Guest starring: William Mervyn (Colonel Wilde), Paul Maxwell (Lamont), Diana Rigg (Francy), David Healy (Prentice), Dorothea Phillips (Betty), Al Mulock (Vincent), Jessie Robins (Woman on Plane), Donald Sutherland (Hotel Clerk), Jackie Wallis (Stewardess).

Writer: Brian Clemens

Director: Harry Booth

Original ITV Transmission: 23 November 1963

 

10. The Height of Fashion

This Week Starring John Turner

Varela is writing an article on salesmanship but has had to jet off to the United States. Enter Bill Randall to hep write the article, an old friend of Miss Carter’s, originally turning up to invite her to dinner. However, an entire shipload of 30,000 cavalry horse blankets have been returned by a foreign government - there are no horses now, instead they have tanks! Randall has to get creative to sell them on. Carlos Thompson does not appear in this episode.

Guest starring: Dennis Price (Victor Frey), Warren Mitchell (Pugh), Sue Lloyd (Jackie), Anton Rogers (Mr Fripp), Marne Maitland (Dr Abu), Judy Parfitt (Sally Clare), Noel Howlett (Mr Giddy), Judith Furse (Miss Smyth Wilberforce), Hazel Hughes (Anita), Fred Griffiths (Mac), Denys Graham (Ship’s Officer)

Writer: Peter & Betty Lambda

Director: Charles Frend

Original ITV Transmission: 16 November 1963

 

11. Finishing School

This Week Starring John Turner

When a young lady goes missing from an exclusive girls’ finishing school, as Varela is in New York, Chin asks Bill Randall, at the headmistress's request to find the lady. As you might have guessed, Carlos Thompson does not appear in this episode.

Guest starring: Helen Cherry (Lady Graffham), Annette Andre (Betsy Ann), Susan Clark (Philippa), Andrew Ray (Chips), Sonia Fox (Caroline), Josephine Woodford (Miss Woodfall), Michael Forrest (Marlow), Ballard Berkeley (Doctor), Robert Lee (Ling)

Writer: Peter & Betty Lambda

Director: Harry Fine

Original ITV Transmission: 30 November 1963

 

12. Not Quite Fully Covered

This Week Starring John Turner

Varela is away for seven weeks, and taking care of business Bill Randall and Miss Carter encounter a carpet salesman who needs their help. Randall assists in bringing Nikki, the salesman’s daughter to England from Beirut, and by doing so he discovers the shadier side of the antique business. Carlos Thompson does not appear in this episode.

Guest starring: Keith Baxter (Yanni), Imogen Hassall (Nikki), Reginald Beckwith (Truman-Jones), Charles Lloyd Pack (Pettygrew), Cyril Shaps (Saphodes), Barry Shawzin (Uncle Georgi)

Writer: Leslie Harris & Roger East

Director: Charles Frend

Original ITV Transmission: 14 December 1963

 

13. A Box of Tricks

Starring Carlos Thompson and John Turner.

Why won't the people of Palabria accept an £11 million gift? With Varela despatched with a babe onto an oil tanker just after the opening credits, it’s left to Bill Randall to investigate. Chin demonstrates that he is a handy magician. At the end of the episode, Varela checks in from Lagos, Nigeria.  The blonde is now typing for Varela, and short clips of Varela are played out in some three way telephone tennis, with the script suitably adapted to accommodate them!

Guest starring: Gary Raymond (Mateo), Zena Marshall (Rita), Louise King (Miss Ryman), Richard Warner (General), Ferdy Mayne (Count De Rici), Walter Gotell (Souza), George Pastell (Dali), Robert Rietty (Torta), John Gabriel (Bilbo), Michael Golden (Piero), Noel Trevarthen (Nalo), Anthony Viccars (Marco), Sheree Winton (A Fellow Traveller).

Writer: Ian Stuart Black

Director: Harold French

Original ITV Transmission: 21 December 1963

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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