VIRGIN OF THE SECRET SERVICE. “Entente Cordiale. ITV, UK, 11 April 1968 (Season One, Episode Three). Clinton Greyn, Alexander Dore, John Carter, Veronica Strong, Noel Coleman, Katherine Shofield, Frederick Preisly. Devised by Ted Willis. Teleplay by Betty Paul (as Betty Lambda). Directed by Paul Bernard. Currently streaming on YouTube.

   Captain Robert Virgin (Clinton Greyn) of the British Secret Service finds himself in Paris to attend the funeral of the son of a peer of the realm, an artist who was murdered, a John Bull figure with a knife through his chest found,  his body signaling that a Chinese Secret Society wanting revenge for the humiliation of the Boxer Rebellion is about to strike.

   The mostly likely target, according to Virgin’s chief Colonel Shaw-Camberley (Noel Coleman), is the Duke of Albany (Frederick Preisly) in Paris to negotiate the Entente Cordiale between the British and French against Germany, but more interested in the Can Can at the Moulin Rouge and its star, Cigarette (Katherine Shofield), the dead artist’s lover/model.

   Virgin and his batman Doublette (John Carter) pose as an artist and his servant to get close to Cigarette, is she part of the scheme or does she know something? She’s not particularly fond of the British despite her tastes in men, and her casual nudity modeling when she meets Virgin disconcerts him and Doublette both.

   Cigarette: And what do you paint?

   Virgin: I specialize in horses.

   Cigarette: And are the horses nude?

   Of course as feared there is a plot afoot, the Yellow Peril raising its ugly head, but in full irony more in the mood of Thoroughly Modern Millie than Dr. Fu Manchu.

   German secret agent Karl Von Blauner (Alexander Dore) has allied with Chinese assassins to assassinate Albany and they want to know what Cigarette knows too, leading to a white slavery ring, Virgin and Doublette trapped in a flooding chamber beneath enemy headquarters, an assassination attempt at a concert, and a final blowout at the Moulin Rouge with Albany surrounded by would be assassins.

   Along the way the mysterious Mrs. Virginia Cortez (Veronica Strong) appears across the hall from the Albany to lend a hand foiling the assassination while Virgin rescues Cigarette and others sold into White Slavery from a Chinese laundry. Mrs. Strong’s unexpected appearances no matter where Virgin’s adventures take him are a running joke in the series, likely an unsuccessful attempt to do a Victorian Mrs. Peel.

   It’s all played tongue in cheek and completely straight-faced despite the absurdity of the plot and dialogue. It’s no easy thing to pull this kind of thing off, but the British do it splendidly and this plays many of the notes of The Avengers (not as stylish and closer to the Honor Blackman than the Diana Rigg episodes) and Adam Adamant Lives, with Greyn appropriately dashing, rather thick headed but good at his job, brave, and veddy British. It’s a played broader than say The Wild Wild West, but the same general feeling of laughing up the sleeve while still attending to the action and adventure elements applies here.

   Everyone plays it straight but with more than enough humor with Dore particularly good as the villain, Carter as Doublette, and tall, blonde, handsome Greyn well cast as the hero. Unlike many attempts at this kind of thing the jokes mostly land and do so without the characters having to wink at the audience or step out of character.

   Virgin of the Secret Service was devised by Ted Willis (Lord Willis) creator of the legendary long running police procedural television series P.C. 49 and author of Man-Eater, The Buckingham Palace Connection, and The Churchill Commando. It ran thirteen episodes in 1968 from ITC, and while it only ran the one season it is worth catching the episodes available on YouTube