How big was the spy craze in the wake of ‘Dr. No’ and ‘From Russia With Love?’ So large that interested parties in grabbing onto the phenomenon splintered off all sorts of directions composed of knock-offs, variations, and eventually even to spoofs.
Filtering down to TV this included similar but distinct derivations that truly crossed genres from the straight-up (‘The Man from UNCLE), to westerns (‘The Wild Wild West’) to comedies (‘Get Smart’}, but it also caught a cross-current of a particular type of show which was fading but still very much a fixture in the fall of 1963, the anthology show.
‘Espionage’ was an anthology series telling different and unrelated stories of espionage set in many countries and historical periods. Sold as a trans-Atlantic co-production which would feature actors from both sides of the pond, but in practice tilted heavily to that wonderful cadre of British character actors which suffused British television at the time since the series, which only lasted the one season, was almost entirely shot in England.
Now the Tour Brain Trust swears that we are not obsessed with stalking Patrick Troughton down through the years of his very productive career. It just so happens that he seems to pop-up with some regularity in our meanderings through the rich tapestry of classic British TV. And such was indeed the case with episode 5 of ‘Espionage’ in an episode titled ‘He Rises on Sunday and We on Monday.’ Set in Ireland during the Easter uprising during the World War I, Patrick Troughton plays John McBride, the local leader of the separatist movement. Although Billie Whitelaw was listed as the lead in the episode playing Troughton’s wife, make no mistake, Troughton is clearly the lead in this story and dominates it in so many ways as a singularly focused, dangerously so, patriot.
Those accustomed to seeing Troughton in a small, affected, accent-heavy character parts might be surprised at just how much screen time Troughton gets here, despite the presence of Whitelaw and other notable actors like Jack MacGowran, T.P. McKenna (from The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, and Andrew Keir (‘Daleks Invasion Earth 2150AD’). It’s worth seeking out.
Can the Tour steer out of Troughton ‘skid’ anytime soon? Perhaps, but we hope not.