Sepia Saturday 673. U is for Unusual Sixties TV Shows. Twenty-first of 26 posts in the April 2023 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: Endwell: My High School Years — adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.
The 1960s was a transitional period in my teen TV watching, as shows moved away from staid tropes of the 1950s – which pretty much portrayed our parents — and toward modern, camp programming that appealed to younger viewers.
Meanwhile, the Cold War was on then, and some TV programming also seemed designed to rope teen viewers into supporting western spy craft and (subliminally) the Vietnam War.
Did they succeed? I think not, judging by the shows I watched and the reasons I liked them. Here’s a sampling of some of those unusual shows.
My favorite show from the Sixties was The Avengers – which paired youthful, athletic Emma Peel with staid, gentlemanly John Steed in weekly battles against a series of oddball enemies.
But never mind the plots. For me the show was all about Mrs. Peel, played by Diana Rigg, who I saw as a vibrant, exciting female role model. Gone were the shirtwaist house dresses and aprons of the Fifties – replaced by Emma Peel’s body suits and haute couture outfits.
There were vague mentions of her husband whose plane had gone missing, but he never featured in the show — so Mrs. Peel led her own, independent life. She was a martial arts expert, skilled fencer and certified chemist/scientist who excelled at disguise and sped around in a Lotus Elan sports car.
Even better, she rarely lost a physical fight (see video above) and often rescued her straight-laced partner, John Steed. Honestly, could a young woman have a better role model than that?
Another favorite show was Secret Agent (called Danger Man in the UK). The program starred Patrick McGoohan as “Drake, John Drake,” a globetrotting spy.
As a female teen, I particularly liked the fact that John Drake was all business at work – none of the over-the-top sexist seductions that went on in James Bond films.
Drake also employed gadgets and quick thinking to outwit opponents, rather than a gun – and the show’s catchy theme song (see video above) became a hit during my teens. For me, Secret Agent was shenanigans-free entertainment quite apart from whatever political message it sought to convey.
When Secret Agent went off the air, Patrick McGoohan went on to become Number 6, the lead character in a mysterious British TV show called The Prisoner that debuted in 1967.
In the show, Number 6, a former British agent, is kidnapped the day he resigns his spy job and is held prisoner in a strange seaside Village — where Number 2 and other captors try to discover why he quit. The show was truly bizarre — like a surrealist painting come to life.
Every week Number 6 would try to escape only to be chased down and encapsulated inside a large white Rover balloon. This weirdly captivating program is hard to explain, so there’s a video above of the first episode. It just gets stranger from there, and I never missed it as a teen.
Mission Impossible was a thinly disguised commercial for the United States CIA’s dirty tricks around the world – and not one of my favorite shows as a teen. But I watched it with my younger brothers anyway.
One week my brother Mark said, “Have you noticed that the big guy hardly says any words?” – the big guy being Willy Armitage, played by Peter Lupus. Huh, no I hadn’t.
So that week we counted the words – five – and a new game was born. After that our entire focus was on guessing how many words Willy would utter then counting them up during the show – pretty much missing the plot and also feeling sorry for the actor, who got so little dialogue.
Saturday Night Movie
To supplement these shows, I watched the Saturday Night Movie at 11pm. There was no cable back then, so some surprisingly good films appeared on the regular channels.
On the Saturday Night Movie during my teens I saw the Beatles’ movie Help, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and, one of my favorite films, Marcel Camus’ award-winning Black Orpheus – among others.
And thus, around and between my other high school activities, I got a regular dose of pop culture watching unusual Sixties TV programming — absorbing the most entertaining aspects of each show and leaving aside the rest.
Up next, V is for Vietnam: A heartbreaking casualty. Please stop back. Meanwhile, please visit the other bloggers participating in Music Moves Me — then pop over to visit the intrepid bloggers at Sepia Saturday.
© 2023 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.