Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fantasy Girlfriend face-off: Who was THE FIRST?

I suggested long ago that the very first woman on whom I formed a romantic fixation must have been Emma Peel of The Avengers, one of the earliest entries in this series. However, on deeper reflection I have realised that there are two other very strong candidates for this dubious accolade, also actresses/characters in cult late-60s TV shows, almost exactly contemporaneous with The Avengers (although I suspect my memories are mostly based on slightly later re-runs, since I would only have been about three or four when these shows first aired), and - just possibly - slightly predating Mrs Peel in my affections.

One was Sharron Macready. Like Mrs Peel she was a glamorous superspy; and, like Mrs Peel, she was rendered sexually inactive by the plot device of recent widowhood (was this a widespread trope of the era, or were these two shows just copying each other, I wonder?). As well as being glacially beautiful (she was played by a gorgeous actress/model called Alexandra Bastedo, who had the kind of cheekbones that could give you paper-cuts) and impressively capable in tight situations, she had one further distinction, something that gave her rather an edge even over the formidable Mrs P: she had superhuman abilities

Yes, the unique gimmick of the show she was in, The Champions, was that she and her two male colleagues began the series being almost killed in a plane crash in the Himalayas. Rescued by a reclusive Shangri-La-like community of mystic monks, they were miraculously nursed back to health; and, on returning to their jobs with the spy bureau, were surprised to find that not merely were their injuries completely cured by the monks' mysterious remedies but that they had also acquired enhanced strength, sensory acuity, and co-ordination - and even a limited form of telepathy shared just between the three of them. It was indeed a rather silly premise, but irresistibly beguiling to a young boy. And, in retrospect, though innately implausible, it was in fact a bold and surprisingly effective way of justifying the invincibility of its protagonists - always somewhat of a problem in these superspy capers (Roger Moore's James Bond was for me one of the most egregious examples: he didn't look as though he could punch his way out of a paper bag, and yet he routinely prevailed against much stronger opponents). I particularly liked the super-coordinated ability, and the slick teamwork this often enabled between the trio: there was a great gag I remember (probably repeated a number of times) where one of them disarmed a bad guy with a well-aimed kick, not merely knocking the gun out of his hand but sending it spinning across the room - to be neatly caught by one of his colleagues. [This blog post has a fine appreciation of the show's appeal, and includes a few excerpts.]

The lovely Alexandra was not much of an actress, and tended to have to play second fiddle to the two chaps most of the time. She also had to suffer some truly horrendous '60s hairdoes and '60s fashions.

Yet, despite these handicaps, I still found her absolutely captivating; and the memory of that captivation lingers strongly to this day. I'm not sure if it was her exquisite features or the superpowers that did it.

Much about the same time, I was also rather smitten with Valerie Scott (played by Deanna Lund). If this were a contest simply on looks, or on the appeal of the character, Sharron would win hands down. But if I'm delving back through the mists of time to rediscover my very first erotic fantasy figure, I have a feeling Valerie might just have edged it.

I am rather ashamed of myself for having allowed myself to be so easily swayed by such obvious male weaknesses. Valerie's fashions were pretty much as naff as Sharron's, but her dresses were usually much shorter. And she wasn't a very impressive character either for the most part - a spoilt rich kid, vain, impulsive, always getting into trouble. But she had a nice figure. And she was a redhead (again that foible of mine! Did it start with Deanna Lund or was it an innate predilection?).

Valerie Scott was the principal eye-candy - and perpetual damsel-in-distress - in an Irwin Allen show called Land of the Giants. The premise was a little shaky: a commercial space passenger shuttle somehow got lost (wormhole?) and crash-landed on a planet that seemed strangely identical to Earth (in fact, nearly identical to '50s/'60s-era America)... except that the human population were about 100ft tall. Again, utterly silly; but again, utterly ravishing to the imagination of a young child. There's a deep-seated fascination in us for thus changing scale, finding the familiar rendered suddenly unfamiliar as everyday household items are transformed into huge objects (The Incredible Shrinking Man is my favourite of the classic '50s sci-fi B-movies).

While Sharron Macready maintained a strong presence in my memory over the years, I confess Valerie Scott had pretty much vanished from my mind.... until (in searching online a year or so back for the term 'spindrift' - as you do), I stumbled upon this picture. You see, the spaceship that brought her and her companions to the Planet of the Giants was called the Spindrift (I'm not sure that I'd ever known that; the spaceship didn't feature very prominently in most of the episodes). 

That unleashed a fair old tsunami of long lost - suppressed? - memories. I'm such a slut for mini-skirts and knee-boots! And perhaps for the woman-in-peril motif....


JES said...

Oh, yes, I can see both of them appealing to a young man. Alexandra Bastedo, especially, looks amazing -- and completely unapproachable. Heh.

Via Netflix streaming, I've been rewatching the entire Mission: Impossible TV series. From the very first time she appeared onscreen here a few weeks ago, I've been reminded how crazy I used to be about Barbara Bain. Someone should do a book -- large-format, "coffee-table book"-type, with lots of big photos -- about the ladies at the foundation of the fantasy lives of adolescent men in the 1960s-70s. I bet quite a few of them starred on TV spy shows.

Froog said...

Spy series were a huge fad back in the '60s and early '70s, weren't they?

Then they sort of got eased aside by the 'unconventional detective' genre. Eve Whitfield (Barbara Anderson) in A Man Called Ironside would be another contender here - but I'm running out of time to cover them all. I might include as a retroactive addition here.

That would be a good idea for a coffee table book. Maybe I should do it! I wonder if it's possible to trademark the 'Fantasy Girlfriends' tag?

I've often wondered if these shows were as appealing (at all appealing) to girls. I suppose the inclusion of these female characters - and the emphasis on their wardrobe - was at least partly intended to interest a female audience, but I'm doubtful as to whether it was very successful. As far as I can recall, these action adventure shows were a uniquely male obsession.

There's something especially attractive about a capable woman, I find. "Guys dig chicks with skills."

JES said...

I suspect you don't follow the recent so-called "reboot" of the Dr. Who program. Even if that's the case, you're probably enough of a pop-culture hound to know one of the underlying premises: nearly all of the episodes (even in the old shows) have The Doctor paired with one or more "companions"... all (well, most) of whom have been attractive women.

As I understand the coming season, they will be replacing the companions (woman (redhead!) and man this time) whom he's had for the past few seasons with a new one (woman only). And I am very close to certain the character was one he met just a few episodes ago. I can't remember her name, but her chief attribute -- aside from obvious brunette beauty, I mean -- is that she's an almost preternaturally talented hacker of computer systems. She *dazzled* The Doctor.

Froog said...

Actually, I think I had even more of a thing for Eve's replacement on the show, Fran Belding (Elizabeth Baur). Unfortunate character name, though: sounds like an eccentric hobby.

Froog said...

Ah yes, I grew up with Dr Who, of course. The early female companions were mostly rather drippy and useless, though, and did too much screaming.

I don't think we got really capable heroines in the show until Leela and Romana - and I'd pretty much grown out of it by then. Oh, I quite liked Liz Smith (played by Caroline John), the first of the Jon Pertwee companions. She was smart and resourceful - a scientist, I think. She got written out after one season for not being girly enough!

Froog said...

At the weekend, I happened to run into the longest-standing of my many thwarted crushes of this past decade (which is to say, the only one who hasn't left Beijing yet). She has a penchant for wearing close-fitting minidresses and knee-high boots. It suddenly occurred to me that this reminiscence of Valerie Scott might be responsible for my enduring fascination with her.