What’s The Story?

Jervis Tetch, the Mad Hatter, has been let out of prison and immediately gone back to his old ways. Using his super-instant mesmeriser, he’s been stealing the hats of prominent citizens — along with the citizens themselves! He intends to hold them to ransom in order to obtain the Gostonian Institute’s priceless collection of President’s hats.

After he has stolen eleven hats and citizens, Batman realises that Tetch is in fact kidnapping the jurors who convicted him — but as well as the jurors, Tetch also wants to steal Batman’s cowl and kill him, as Batman testified against him.

The story is based around elements of The Mad Hatter of Gotham City by Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff, from Detective Comics #230, and (more obviously) The New Crimes of the Mad Hatter by Dave Wood and Moldoff from Batman #161.

The Goodies

Batman has devoted many hours of study to sculpture. He is, however, unable to tell the difference between a sculptor for whom he’s been posing for several weeks and the Mad Hatter with a false beard, even though the Mad Hatter has bright ginger hair, unlike the sculptor.

He gets annoyed when Chief O’Hara asks “Where will he stop?”, replying almost snappishly “In a court of law, Chief O’Hara, where he’s been stopped before.”

Still believes that criminals can and should be rehabilitated, unlike Commissioner Gordon, and that fighting crime doesn’t require gratitude.

Doesn’t realise the connection between the jurors, or even remember that jurors come in twelves, until the Bat-computer points it out.

Knows that five from thirteen is eight, and that doughnuts come in twelves. Gets the best line in the story, replying to Batman’s “How could I have been so stupid?”: “All in all, Batman, you’ve been pretty busy”

Epithets used: “Hot diggety!”, “Holy helmets!”, “Holy Bowler!”, “Holy ricochet!”

Alfred has his largest part in a story yet, getting to go undercover and attempt to plant a bat-homing transmitter in the bowler hat of Turkey Bollwinkle, the last juror, so Batman can trace him when he’s kidnapped. He does this by trying to engage Bollwinkle in a discussion of genealogy, by which he hopes to persuade Bollwinkle to show him his hat.

“I specialise in genealogy”
“Family trees”

When this ruse doesn’t work, Alfred instead just breaks into Bollwinkle’s office and plants the transmitter anyway.

Commissioner Gordon
Believes “It was a sad day indeed when the word ‘parole’ was coined.”

The Baddies
Jervis Tetch, the Mad Hatter
“Nobody’s safe while that human scourge prowls our streets!”

Tetch is a criminal with an obsession with hats and a mop of ginger hair. Inspired by the character from Alice In Wonderland, the Mad Hatter first appeared in Batman #49 in 1948, created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane (who appears, unusually, to have actually drawn a story with his name on it), but only returned in the late 1950s. While the character has, of course, had a grim and gritty reboot in the comics since this, and become “darker”, at this point he’s just another of the many themed villains Batman has to deal with.

Tetch is played by David Wayne, a veteran of the Actor’s Studio who had frequently co-starred with Marilyn Monroe, in a strangely mincing, lisping, performance, which has elements of the worst negative stereotypes of gay men.

Two mobsters who are far more interested in how they’re going to get paid than in the Mad Hatter’s grandiose plans. They get more and more annoyed at Tetch’s unnecessary complications as the story goes along, wanting only to get the cash they were promised.

The Gadgets
The main gadget here is the Mad Hatter’s super-instant mesmeriser, a pair of eyes that pop out of the top of his hat and shoot a mesmerising ray at his victim. Batman tries to combat this with an “anti-mesmerising bat-reflector” (a mirror), reflecting the ray back at Tetch, but when Tetch ducks he ends up mesmerising Robin instead.

The Batcave contains an International Frequency Computer and a Bat Research Shelf.

The Batmobile
The Batmobile contains a Batphone, and also has an “anti-theft activator”. This is a button, labelled as the start button, but which pressed causes an alarm to go off and large amounts of smoke to pour out of the car.

The Batmobile also has a Detect-a-Scope, for tracking homing devices.

What’s New?
As well as being the first appearance of the Mad Hatter on screen, this is also the first time we get henchmen who are noticeably more competent than their boss.

Offscreen, this is the first story written by Charles Hoffman, who will write many, many more scripts, and who will become story editor in series two. A certain type of fan of the show blames Hoffman for making it “too silly”.

This is the story that comes closest so far to how this series is remembered. This is campy, silly, fun, with an utterly incompetent Batman, a villain whose plans make no sense on any level, and some wonderful comedy moments. One particularly lovely touch is the way that every time the Hatter commits a new crime, everyone’s focus is on the hat he’s stolen, with the kidnapping being only mentioned as an aside. This is Batman as pure comedy, with only the faintest gesture to the adventure story side of things, and it’s beautiful.

So let’s talk about the counterculture…

The Mad Hatter was never a particularly popular villain, but he was one who was very appropriate for 1966. Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories were, like so much Victoriana and Edwardiana, especially that originally aimed at children, becoming popular among the counterculture that was just beginning to start up. Nine months after this episode was broadcast, the Jefferson Airplane had a hit with White Rabbit, a song which interpreted Carroll’s books as a metaphor for drug use (“One pill makes you bigger/one pill makes you small”); a month after that, Jonathan Miller’s groundbreaking live-action adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (which featured Michael Gough, of whom more in about twenty-three years) with music by Ravi Shankar was broadcast on UK TV, and the next year, of course, the Beatles released I Am The Walrus, inspired by Carroll’s The Walrus and the Carpenter.

This is not to say, of course, that Batman was deliberately trying to appeal to the countercultural audience — after all, Charles Hoffman was fifty-five when he wrote this story — although the reference to the Hatter failing an “acid test” after falling into an acid bath is suggestive, given that Ken Kesey’s “acid tests” were becoming notorious around this time. But a large portion of its audience would undoubtedly have seen it that way. Much of the folk memory of the 60s counterculture now focuses on San Francisco and the hippie movement, the dullest, but easiest to classify, part of that culture, and a part that largely only crystallised when the counterculture was dying, but before the hippies went mainstream there had been smaller, but much more interesting, groups in London, New York, and especially LA (where Batman was made), that had been inspired far more by pop art and pop culture.

In a time when TV was far more limited in subject matter, and had to appeal to a broad family audience, those groups took inspiration from TV shows that to modern eyes look remarkably staid; shows like The Monkees, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, or Batman, had just enough irreverence, wit, and subversion that they could be genuinely exciting for people whose televisual entertainment would otherwise consist of The Lawrence Welk Show, Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall or Lassie. A large proportion of Batman‘s audience came from the intelligentsia and the arts scene.

Not all artists were fans of course. Adrian Henri’s poem Batman, in the classic 1967 anthology The Mersey Sound, portrayed Batman as a date-rapist (“The Batpill makes ’em all say Yes”), warmongering, expression of America’s capitalist id. But even Henri, in attacking Batman (or the USA as symbolised by him) as a rapacious monster, still sees the connection between Batman and the emerging psychedelic underground:

Help us spread democracy
Get them high on LSD
Make them just like you and me

The height of Batman‘s flirtation with the counterculture would come four months after this story was broadcast, when Burt Ward would go into the studio with Frank Zappa, the Mothers of Invention, and various members of the Wrecking Crew, to record Boy Wonder I Love You, a bizarre track written by Zappa, in which Ward recites love letters he’d been sent over a cooing background. That wasn’t even the strangest record that the TV series inspired, but we’ll deal with that when we get to an episode in November 1967.

But this is something that should be remembered when we’re discussing future episodes — however staid or formulaic we might feel the show is now, it was something different, at a time when there was a premium on difference, and that mattered to a lot of people.

Adam West: Batman
Burt Ward: Robin
David Wayne: The Mad Hatter
Alan Napier: Alfred
Neil Hamilton: Commissioner Gordon
William Dozier: Narrator

William Dozier: Executive Producer/Creator
Charles Hoffman: Writer
Norman Foster: Director

[These are being published several weeks in advance on my Patreon, where I’ve just posted the tenth Batman 66 TV series post, which will not appear here until next month. If you want to read now about Catwoman, the sexual revolution, and the loudest noise in history, sign up to support my writing at $1 per month or whatever you can afford. If you can’t afford anything or don’t like the idea of me having money, they’ll all turn up here for free eventually anyway.]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.