Last week the British director Roy Baker died at 93. The Telegraph obituary summarizes the eclectic career, from second assistant to Hitchcock on The Lady Vanishes to directing Marilyn Monroe in the studio’s early attempt at “yes, she can really act” film Don’t Bother to Knock, to the strange Singer Not the Song with Dirk Bogarde in leather pursuing John Mills as a priest.
That is all eclipsed by his sterling direction of A Night to Remember, the most engrossing, poignant, heart wrenching depiction of the sinking of the Titanic. The entire production—-from the book by Walter Lord to the script by Eric Ambler to Geoffrey Unsworth cinematography-—is a dream team of talent who put the most affecting verisimilitude of that horrific night onto celluloid.
But what I will remember the talented Baker for is 8 episodes he directed during the black & white Mrs. Peel era of The Avengers.
The Cinematic Look of The Avengers
I don’t know if it was Albert Fennell or Brian Clemens who brought Baker on, but whoever did it meant a visual film sense would grace the early small screen. (This changed when the series went into color in 1966/67, and it went back to having that thinner look of video, however offset by the mod general coloring, sets, and costuming.) Baker brought the distinctive look of Ealing Studios and the Rank Organization to the innovative spy series.
These 8 episodes are a high point of the entire series:
1. The Town of No Return (28 September 1965)
2. Two's a Crowd (18 December 1965)
3. Too Many Christmas Trees (25 December 1965)
4. Silent Dust (31 December 1965)
5. Room Without a View (8 January 1966)
6. The Girl from Auntie (21 January 1966)
7. The Thirteenth Hole (29 January 1966)
From the man walking out of the sea to Steed's full high tea on a train in “Town of No Return,” to Steed and Emma punting in an idyllic canal to investigate “where have all the martlets gone?” to the stylized dream sequences of “Too Many Christmas Trees,” Baker made a huge contribution to the early success of The Avengers. He brought that certain wry British sensibility that fans for several generations have found irresistible. Thanks Roy.