- Broadcast: September 11th, 1967
‘I, Spy’ was a US television series which ran for three seasons and a total of 56 episodes.
This ground-breaking series (it was the first to feature a black actor in a lead role), ran between 1965 and 1968, and followed the adventures of American intelligence agents, Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby), who would travel the world under the guise of semi-pro tennis players; Robinson masquerading as the amateur player with Scott as his coach.
With its exotic locations, some have suggested that the show was a bid to rival the James Bond films, but whilst that might be stretching things a tad, it was unique in that it was actually filmed on location in places extending from Venice to Tokyo; Athens to Morocco.
The series was never broadcast in the UK.
The story opens on the Greek island of Hydra where, in the harbour, a group of tourists are coming ashore from a ferry.
Among the assembled sightseers emerges Alexander Scott and Kelly Robinson, who stand out from the others who are disembarking from the boat – not only for their attire, but because their business is something other than relaxation. Their mission, it transpires, is to find and kill Dennis Karlovassi (Walter Slezak) who, they’ve been informed, is the head of spy ring on the island.
It’s in this opening scene that we get our first glimpse of George (PETER WYNGARDE), who arrives at the harbour with his elderly father and their horse and trap to collect the two American’s from the ferry. It’s here that Robinson and Scott meet Marie Galoney (Ruth Roman) – their contact on the island.
The two men are whisked backed to Ms Galoney’s villa, where she’s entertaining a gathering of friends in the garden. She identifies a suspected Communist agent amongst her guests, and tells the duo that five such agents who’d arrived on Hydra over recent months had disappeared – all after meeting with Karlovassi. It’s believed that each of them had been smuggled off the island to Cyprus where they were being instructed to become members of a paramilitary unit.
“George would do anything for me. Anything! Wouldn’t you, George?”
It emerges that Marie has another reason to want Karlovassi dead. George, an employee of hers, is the Agent’s second in command. He also happens to be completely besotted with her, and in a peculiar demonstration of his devotion, Maria instructs him to cut off his moustache, which in spite of some half-hearted protestations, he inevitably obeys. She believes, therefore, that if Karlovassi is eliminated, George would be made head of the unit, thereby making her party to all the intrigue and surreptitious goings on in the region.
It should be pointed out at this juncture that Robinson and Scott are not assassins by trade, and so they attempt to devise a way of seeing off Karlovassi without killing him face-to-face. Their first endeavor involves them planting an incendiary device on the Spy’s fishing boat, but as they do so, they’re knocked out by an assailant welding a wrench.
When finally they regain consciousness, the two find themselves at Karlovassi’s villa, where they quickly realise that the overweight, middle-aged man is not quite the heartless villain they’d been lead to believe. In fact, he’s just another struggling Greek fisherman who’s trying to support his wife and daughter. It also becomes clear that his spying for the Communists is common knowledge on the island and that he’s really only in the game to make a little extra money. Of course, now that Robinson and Scott know that he’s actually quite a decent sort of chap, their assignment suddenly become eminently more difficult to carry out.
On a second visit to Karlovassi’s home the following day, the two American’s witness an attack on the family, which results in the inhabitants coming under heavy automatic gunfire and the villa being destroyed by explosives. Yet in spite of a determined counter by Scott and his partner, the two are captured and taken back to Maria’s house by one of the assailants.
Ms Galoney is shocked when she learns that the attack, which was carried out under her instructions, had gone ahead in spite of Karlovassi’s wife and daughter being inside the house. Scott and Robinson reveal that the Communist agents that’d arrivied on Hydra had not been taken to Cyprus as first thought, but were deposited on deserted island a few miles from Hydra where, thereafter, Karlovassi would deliver supplies to them twice a week.
Maria and the two American’s insist upon Karlovassi takes them to the island to see for themselves. George drives the three of them down to the harbour and, giving the impression that he’ll be staying behind, allows them to get aboard the fishing boat.
Once onboard, Maria and the two men are astonished to find Karlovassi’s wife and daughter below decks. Whilst the trio are held at gunpoint by the wife, her husband shows them the body of the Communist who’d attended Maria’s party a few days earlier.
It’s at this point that George makes his entrance, and is instructed by his superior to tie the three captives up. Karlovassi finally reveals his true purpose; he is, in fact, much more important than he’d lead the two American’s to believe. He tells them that he’s in line promotion, and will soon be taking up a new position in Prague.
“What would you rather be, George – head of a silly little spy ring, or my husband?”
Once George is left in charge of holding the prisoners, Maria tries to encourage him to freeing them by promising to marry him. All three of the captives believe that her plan has worked when the young man produces a flick-knife from his trouser pocket, and appears as if he’s ready to cut the ropes binding their hands and feet. Their expectations are quickly dashed, however, when all he does is hack a lock of Maria’s hair, and departs with a promise that he’ll think about her proposal.
When they finally arrive at the island, George, Karlovassi, Maria and both Scott and Robinson disembark, leaving the wife and daughter onboard the boat. The Spy says that he has plans for the two men, and so he instructs George to wait until they’ve left and then he’s to dispense with Maria. Robinson attempts to delay the action by putting doubt into Karlovassi’s mind about George’s ability to carry out orders. It’s enough for him to insist that George shoot the woman immediately.
However, before he’s willing to follow his superiors instructions, the young man solemnly asks Maria if she meant what she’d said on the boat; that she’d marry him. “No, George”, she replies quietly. “I want to live, but I lied”
In spite of his disillusionment at Maria’s cruel invention, when Karlovassi presses for his subordinate to carry out his order, George turns the gun on the rotund little man, sending the Spy charging back in the direction of the boat.
It’s now that gunshots are heard from the direction of the vessel, which is moored several meter’s off-shore. It can only be Karlovassi’s wife and daughter. Whilst Scott and Robinson take cover amidst the rocky terrain, George saunters indifferently in Maria’s direction, and is hit in the back with a stray bullet.
As the two American’s watch Karlovassi’s boat sail away, they turn to see Maria lovingly tending to George’s wound. Perhaps there was hope for him yet…?!
Thoughts and Observations
This is quite an unusual role for PETER, as he plays a character that’s difficult to fathom even right up to the end of the episode. Perhaps it’s seeing him portray a man who’s subordinate to a woman, given that the majority of his guest-star roles have been the strong, misogynistic types.
Nevertheless, he succeeded in creating a very likable individual in George who, although seemingly insignificant within the scheme of the story, is actually the pivotal character. If it hadn’t been for his devotion to Maria, which Kelly Robinson uses to plant a seed of doubt into Karlovassi’s mind, all three of the prisoners would’ve met their end.
This was the last of a trio of appearances that PETER made on American television in the mid-to-late 60’s; the others being ‘The Further Adventures of Gallagher’ (1965) and ‘Lucy in London’ (1966).
It’s interesting to note that Bill Cosby won an Emmy for his part in this episode, in spite of PETER stealing the show, as always!
- It was curious that most of the characters in the episode were given very unGreco-like names – i.e. George, Dennis, Flora etc.
- The director managed to find a way of getting PETER to remove his shirt.
During filming on location on Hydra, a yacht was moored off the islands where the cast and crew lived for the duration of the shoot.
On the first evening aboard, PETER had gone out on deck to take in the sea air and, leaning on the guardrail, he heard someone quietly approaching him.
He turned to find his fellow guest-star, Ruth Roman who, until then, he’d never met before. He was just about to introduce himself when the actress stopped him in his tracks by inquiring extremely directly: “Are you circumcised?”
“I mean – what do you say to that?!” he asks, with an astonished look on his face. “I was absolutely speechless! I must’ve just stood there – my jaw on the deck, for several seconds. I finally responded with: ‘Well… as a matter of fact… I’m not!
“Without a flicker of ignominy, she replied: ’What a shame. I like my men to have been trimmed!’ And with that, she turned on her heel and walked off”.
The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/