Spyder's Web comes to DVD

Saturday, 16 July 2011 14:08

Spyder’s Web was very much a show out of its time.  Broadcast in 1972, it felt more like a show that should have been made in 1967 – a dark humour, prevalent in that era’s episodes of The Avengers, permeates this mainly-videotaped show, for which the last forty years have not been kind. Only two of its 13 episodes exist in colour, the rest consigned to nostalgic monochrome. In some respects, this works in the show’s favour, as its tone almost benefits from a lack of vibrant hues.

Fans of Doctor Who will rejoice in seeing Anthony Ainley, one of the actors who brought life to ‘The Master’, getting centre stage as the male lead, Clive Hawksworth. Ex-military, pipe smoking, uncomfortable around women, and with a wicked turn of phrase, he finds himself working for an intelligence front called Arachnid Films, run by the positively matriarchal Lottie Dean (Patricia Cutts).

Spyder's Web gets a deserved DVD releaseFor Cutts, this was a return to screen stardom after her time in the 1950s as panellist on American TV – Down You Go – and guest starring on the likes of Perry Mason, The Lucy Show, and T.H.E. CAT. She was to commit suicide just two years later in 1974, the verdict being barbiturate poisoning, at a time when she had secured a long-term role on Coronation Street, filming just two episodes as Blanche Hunt – a part that would be taken over by Maggie Jones, who played the character until her own death in 2009.

The character of Lottie Dean has a secretary, in the very able shape of Wallis Ackroyd, sometimes know as ‘Wal’ or ‘Wally’, depending on who is addressing her.  Wallis was played by Veronica Carlson, a shapely long-haired blonde with a penchant for either short skirts or figure-hugging leggings. Although initially a ‘bimbo’ role, Wallis was soon transitioned to being very ‘well read’, always taking on some huge tomes of literature across the series, where Tolstoy is considered a beginner’s level of complexity!

Veronica is well-known from her 1960s roles in Hammer Horror films, such as “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave” (1968), “Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed” (1969) and “The Horror of Frankenstein” (1970). You can also see her in the fun spoof “Crossplot” with Roger Moore and Alexis Kanner. TV-wise, she’d been an ‘ITC’ series regular, in such episodes as The Saint “The Man who Gambled with Life”, Department S “The Double Death of Charlie Crippen”, and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) “The Ghost Who Saved the Bank at Monte Carlo” She now lives in South Carolina, USA, having made a career for herself as a painter.

Making occasional appearances as Albert Mason was Roger Lloyd-Pack (Trigger in Only Fools and Horses). Albert was a jack-of-all-trades in the film trade, helping out, sometimes just in the background, on the various ‘cover’ projects which the surreptitious film unit would get involved with, never knowing that he was helping out the secret services.

The first episode sees Hawksworth recruited to working for the mysterious ‘Spyder’ organisation. The team get their orders from the elusive Mr ‘J Smith’, who uses bizarre methods of delivering their missions – a parody of Mission: Impossible briefings taken to the Nth degree.

Using a documentary film company is an ingenious cover, although they can never quite work out whether they work for ‘Arachnid Films’ or ‘Arachnid Documentaries’, the two titles seeming to be interchangeable – the signage on their offices and van clears it up by reading ‘Arachnid Documentary Films Ltd’.

Although not part of the official intelligence community, they are still directly responsible to the government – taking on jobs that are too hot or too delicate for the police, or that someone in authority is putting a block on. They get the missions once the mainstream services have bowed out – which owes something to the modus operandi of Department ‘S’.

With its headquarters an office in a crumbling shared building in Soho, words to describe this thriller series include offbeat, stylish and humorous – it is certainly all of these three. The series was based on an idea by Man in a Suitcase co-creator Richard Harris, and writers include Robert Holmes (Doctor Who, Blake’s Seven, Public Eye), Alfred Shaughnessy (Manhunt, Hadleigh, Upstairs, Downstairs) and the ubiquitous Roy Clarke (Last of the Summer Wine, Keeping Up Appearances, Open All Hours).

As noted earlier, the years have taken their toll on the archiving of Spyder’s Web – it now only exists for the most part as black and white telerecordings. Two episodes, “Red Admiral” and “Things That Go Bang in the Night” survive as colour videotapes and are presented as such, with a couple of damaged colour sections from “Red Admiral” patched back up with very short pieces of the black and white recordings.

 

And for those of you who like such viewing challenges, see if you can spot helicopter stock footage, filmed at Portmeirion, directly taken from footage filmed for McGoohan’s The Prisoner. And look out for the overpowering big poster picture of Peter Wyngarde that adorns the Soho office throughout!

Carolyn Jones appears in “Romance on Wheels” – she hit major fame in Crossroads, playing Sharon Metcalfe (1977-1983). You can also catch the likes of John Savident, Charles Lloyd Pack, Peter Sallis, Rudolph Walker, Cyril Shaps, Kenneth Griffith, John Barron, Mark Eden, Nicholas Smith, Windsor Davies, Mike Pratt and Ferdy Mayne during the series, so plenty of ‘star spotting’ to enjoy.

Extras on this set include Episodic Image Galleries and Stanley Mills’ Design Gallery (the actual floor plans for the Elstree studio sets).

Spyder’s Web – The Complete Series is out now as a four DVD set from Network.  It has a running time of 650 minutes approx, a ‘12’ certificate, and a RRP of £40.84, or less, exclusively available from the Network Online Store.

 

SPYDER’S WEB EPISODE GUIDE

Series based on an idea by Richard Harris

Script Supervisor: Malcolm Hulke

Theme Music: Derek Scott

Edited and Produced by Dennis Vance

 

Patricia Cutts as Lottie (Charlotte Winifred) Dean

Anthony Ainley as Clive Hawksworth

Veronica Carlson as Wallis Ackroyd

Roger Lloyd-Pack as Albert Mason

 

01: Spyder Secures a Main Strand

Lottie gets Arachnid Films involved, when a British agent is shot crossing a communist border. It appears a traitor is in their midst. Is Hawksworth involved, and can he be used by the ladies to their best advantage?

Guest Starring: John Savident (Chief), Heather Canning (Chief's wife), Oliver Ford-Davies (‘One’), Dennis Chinnery (‘Two’), Michael Slater (Purvis), Rosemary Lord (Pansy), Charles Kinross (Escaper),

Writer: Roy Clarke

Director: Dennis Vance

Original ATV Transmission: 21 January 1972

 

02: The Executioners

Lottie bluffs the business into thinking she is producing a salacious documentary called “Libido ‘72”, when she needs some bait to uncover who is behind a spate of killings of members of the so-called ‘permissive society’. Hawksworth follows a trail to a group of famous pillars of society, who are obsessed with the decline in moral standards.

Guest Starring:  Andre Morell (Lord Rashmore), Richard Kay (Peter Fairchild), Charles Lloyd Pack (Butler), C Lethbridge Baker (Clerk), Lockwood West (His Grace), Donald Layne-Smith (His Honour), Eric Longworth (Vicar), Keith Anderson (Government Official), Graham Leaman (Professor)

Writer: Alfred Shaughnessy

Director: James Gatward

Original ATV Transmission: 28 January 1972

 

03: Romance on Wheels

Couples are eloping, disappearing entirely, and then turning up dead. The trail seems to lead back to a dating agency which helps nurture relationships by taking suitors on minibus tours of eastern Europe. Hawksworth is not keen on his cover as farmer Henry Wormsley, whose companion is a little closer to home than he had expected.

Guest Starring:  Peter Sallis (Grovnik), Helen Lindsay (Mrs Dewhurst), Anthony Sagar (Parker), Carolyn Jones (Miss Hooper), Mollie Maureen (Mrs Danvers), Roy Hanlon (Brian), John Cazabon (Zoltan), Corinna Marlowe (Magda), Robin Browne (Driver), Henry Szeps (Policeman), Derek Ware (Peasant)

Writer: Roy Clarke

Director: James Gatward

Original ATV Transmission: 4 February 1972

 

04: The Hafiz Affair

Who are the good guys, and who are the bad guys, in an African state where everyone seems to have a motive, and corruption is rife? General Limbo has seized control from incumbent Hafiz, and taken his girl at the same time. The Arachnid Films team are on-hand to make a documentary and uncover the truth.

Guest Starring: Rudolph Walker (General Limbo), Earl Cameron (Freddy Hafiz), Horace James (Diwani), John Carlin (Wickering), Corinne Skinner (Beth), Willie Jonah (Doorman), Lucita Lijertwood (Fruit Pedlar), Olu Jacobs (First Soldier), Omo Ade (Driver), Ladi Ariyo (Native)

Writer: Roy Clarke

Director: Dorothy Denham

Original ATV Transmission: 11 February 1972

 

05: Life at a Price

Is Dr Hatchington really as altruistic as he seems in his high class maternity clinic which also takes in its fair share of down-and-out unmarried mothers. Lottie plays her part by turning up as a soon-to-be grandmother, whilst Hawksworth takes on the role of doctor, as they try to find out the truth about a dictator’s wife and her phantom child.

Guest Starring: Aideen O’Kelly (Maria Delgardo), Cyril Shaps (Dr Hatchington), Harold Kasket (Ambassador), Michael Mellinger (Captain Diaz), Sean Lynch (Bodyguard), Julia McCarthy (Matron), Althea Stewart (Mrs Jenks), Rosalind Lloyd (Nellie), Valerie Holliman (Ethel), Stacey Tendeter (1st Nurse), Alison Hughes (2nd Nurse), Robert Tayman (Ted), John Harvey (Jones), Keith Norrish (Photographer), John Cannon (Gunman)

Writer: Frank Driscoll

Director: Dennis Vance

Original ATV Transmission: 18 February 1972

 

06: Emergency Exit

Lottie becomes a diligent Traffic Warden, while Hawksworth is a plumber in the emply of ‘S Bend and Son’. A husband is set up for murdering his wife’s lover, but it’s part of a plan to smoke out those behind some immigration high-jinks.

Guest Starring: Kenneth Griffith (Ratznik), Barry Linehan (Kalashnikov), Jon Laurimore (Felton), Brian McDermott (397), Donald Webster (Coles), John Flint (Beecham), Janet Lees Price (Miss Davies), Noel Trevarthen (Waldman), Valerie Bell (Carol Felton)

Writer: David Ellis 

Director: David Wickes

Original ATV Transmission: 25 February 1972

 

07: Red Admiral (Colour + 2 Mono Sections)

Rear Admiral Manders is announced to be a pacifist by a new government computer. He has therefore become a big problem, and than means Lottie and Hawksworth have to find a suitable resolution.

Guest Starring: John Barron (Rear Admiral Manders), Joan Peart (Mrs Manders), Milton Johns (Arthur), David Firth (Michael Manders), Gordon Whiting (Dr Lane), Neville Phillips (Desk Clerk), Milos Kirek (Dmitri) – ‘We are grateful for the assistance given by the Ramsgate Harbour Authority’.

Writer: Alan Hackney

Director: John Cooper

Original ATV Transmission: 3 March 1972

 

08: Lies and Dolls

Lottie and Hawksworth are briefed by the most unusual of intermediaries - a Minah bird. The death of a politician in a confessional leads to the on-tour Dolek Puppet Theatre, where the Minah appears again, with the ability to impersonate a machine gun.

Guest Starring: Mark Eden (Dr Dolek), Daphne Heard (Mrs Harley), Otto Diamant (Dr Karovny), David Nettheim (Grolik), Damien Thomas (Anton), Rita Merkelis (Slav Girl), Frank Tregear (Walter Harley)  

Writer: Alfred Shaughnessy

Director: John Saturday

Original ATV Transmission: 10 March 1972

 

09: Things That Go Bang in the Night (Colour)

Ted Woffington has invented more deadly weapons than anyone in history.  When the balloon goes up on his latest game-changer, nothing is left of him but his boots. Lottie and Hawksworth must prevent whatever this secret weapon may be from falling into enemy hands, while also making a documentary about the deceased inventor.

Guest Starring: Daniel Moynihan (Tom Woffington), Jo Rowbottom (Debbie), Anne Jameson (Ava Woffington), Nicholas Smith (Dick Woffington), Jerry Stovin (Todd), Mark Heath (Dr Long), Joe Ritchie (Ted Woffington), Stephanie Mildenhall (Guinevere)

Writer: Marc Brandel

Director: Ian Fordyce

Original ATV Transmission: 17 March 1972

 

10: An Almost Modern Man

Lottie and the team are called into action when it appears that several prominent politicians are getting involved with voodoo.

Guest Starring: Mike Pratt (President Baras), Lelia Goldoni (Eva), Peter Birrel (Dominic), Alan Haines (Security Man), Edwin Brown (Auctioneer), Michael Deacon (Newscaster), Rollo Gamble (Commissioner), Neville Phillips (Mario)

Writer: Roy Clarke

Director: Dennis Vance

Original ATV Transmission: 24 March 1972

 

11: Nobody's Strawberry Fool

The group must retrieve the body of a British agent frozen in a Swiss glacier since 1914. En route, it goes missing in a British airport’s stores, and is in danger of thawing out.  Everyone seems to be expecting an exciting bounty from the recovery.

Guest Starring: Allan Cuthbertson (Pyke), John Savident (Chief), Joan Haythorne (Mrs Gibbs), Windsor Davies (Airport Official), Oliver Ford Davies (Heath), Heather Canning (Chief's Wife), Charles Lamb (Archivist), Rosemary Lord (Pansy), Meadows White (Grocer)

Writer: Robert Holmes

Director: John Cooper

Original ATV Transmission: 31 March 1972

 

12: The Prevalence of Skeletons

A hefty bank withdrawal, a ‘laughing bag’ causing suicides, and a playwright tormented by his critics: Lottie has a film to make for the War Office about a dead General whose bloodhound was called Hitler. Both people and documents seem to be getting old before their time - and Lottie and Hawksworth seem to be amongst a surfeit of forgeries.

Guest Starring: Ferdy Mayne (Peter Tony), Richard Warner (Sir Nigel Pilgrim), Lois Baxter (The Secretary ‘Rosebud’), Carol Austin (Mrs Berry), Robin Wentworth (General Syddley Smith), David Pinner (Addison), Frederick Peisley (Millard), Jeremy Mason (Cashier), Geoffrey Beevers (Mott), Mark Heath (Dr Long), Bill Stewart (Sid), Juan Moreno (Emil)

Writer: Marc Brandel

Director: Ian Fordyce

Original ATV Transmission: 7 April 1972

 

13: Rev Counter

The underworld is getting concerned about ‘French Ponces’ muscling in on their action when Britain joins the Common Market. Hawksworth has to put away his skis when he and Lottie go undercover as freedom fighters for the Isle of Wight.

Guest Starring: Sean Lynch (Leader), Joe Gladwin (Newbold), Kenneth J Warren (Edwards), Lloyd Lamble (Vicar), Jack Carr (Geary), Paul Haley (Vince), Una Brandon-Jones (Socialist Female), Paul Luty (Lightning), Steve Peters (Freddy), Jean Hardwicke (Milk Bar Assistant)

Writer: Roy Clarke

Director: Dorothy Denham

Original ATV Transmission: 14 April 1972

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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