The Avengers Series 3

John Steed

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 1 – Brief for Murder

Whoop de doo, it’s season three of The Avengers and to celebrate its continuing success, the opening credits have been given a bit of a makeover – they’re much more Saul Bass now – there’s more money being spent on the production, the camerawork is more filmic and the editing is noticeably snappier. Brian Clemens has also arrived as a writer. In fact Clemens had contributed two scripts (his first, Brought to Book, co-written with Patrick Brawn) for the first series but those episodes have now disappeared, so this is his extant debut, if there is such a thing. And Brief for Murder has the Clemens fingerprints all over it – a tricksy plot, misdirection … Read more

Honor Blackman, Lally Bowers

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 2 – The Undertakers

On Saturday 5 October 1963, a day after the US Joint Chiefs of Staff had updated their plan to invade Cuba the following July (President Kennedy’s assassination would intervene), and while JFK’s wife Jackie was enjoying the company of shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis in Greece (she would later marry him), TV audiences in the UK got their own kicks by sitting down to watch the second episode of series three of The Avengers, altogether a camper, more knockabout affair than series two. And there was nothing camper in the 1960s than death, there being a positive Joe Orton-esque quality to the superb opener to The Undertakers – one member of a coffin-carrying team … Read more

Cathy Gale assesses John Steed

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 3 – Man with Two Shadows

Shown the same day that RA (“Rab”) Butler made his big pitch to be the new leader of the Conservative party after Macmillan’s shock resignation (Butler’s big speech was a total fail), Man with Two Shadows also plays with the idea of the wrong man – the double being so fruitful a concept that The Avengers would return to it often, as did a lot of 1960s TV. Perhaps the widely prevalent notion of “false consciousness” – there is a right way of seeing things and a wrong way – has something to do with it. Another well worn path is that of someone being killed before the opening credits have rolled. In this … Read more

edina ronay and patrick macnee

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 4 – The Nutshell

Roughly five months after it was made in May 1963, on 19 October, the day that the 14thEarl of Home – who had not been elected to any office at all – was announced as the new prime minister of the country, the United Kingdom sat down to watch The Nutshell, the fourth episode out of the traps in the third series of The Avengers. It’s doubtful that the aristocratic PM with the stiffest of upper lips was much interested in the doings of a bowler-hatted spy, even though both were Eton-educated and probably had the same Savile Row tailor. But if Sir Alec (as he later became, when in tail-wagging-dog style he’d been … Read more

André Morell and Philip Madoc

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 5 – Death of a Batman

An episode called Death of a Batman in a series called The Avengers does sound like something DC Comics and Marvel might cook up between them. But here the word batman is used in the British Army sense – he’s essentially a butler to one of the officers, the class system as rigid in the armed forces as it was in civvie street. The story gets going with Steed hearing that a man called Wrightson, his old batman in the Second World War, has died. This kindly man of modest means was also somehow in possession of a huge amount of money, or so it turns out when his will is read. He was … Read more

Cathy and Steed confer

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 6 – November Five

Classic ass-backwards Avengers plotting is the hallmark of November Five, the sixth episode of the third series, which was first broadcast on Saturday 2 November 1963, three days before the Fifth of November (as it’s always called in the UK, in the same way that the Fourth of July is never July Four in the US). This is the day when Brits celebrate the thwarting of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 by Guy Fawkes and his cabal (or, depending on your political outlook, a celebration of the plot itself) by burning effigies of a “guy” on a fire. This fact has plot relevance because, as we see … Read more

Honor Blackman and Edric Connor

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 7 – The Gilded Cage

Shown on 9 November 1963, just one day after five thieves had almost nabbed a king’s ransom of jewels and gold on the streets of Manhattan –they were thwarted because the getaway driver couldn’t work the manual gears of the heisted station wagon – The Gilded Cage is all about vast amounts of gold, which, it appears, Steed and Gale are trying to steal. With a passing mention of Bretton Woods – the post-War economic order which pegged international currencies to the dollar, itself pegged to gold (hence the US Bullion Depository at Fort Knox as a common trope in this era) – it’s made clear that this isn’t just about the loot, … Read more

Villain prepares for operation

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 8 – Second Sight

We finally arrive in upstream waters in Second Sight, first broadcast on Saturday 16 November 1963. As far as The Avengers is concerned, “upstream” means rarefied settings, no civilians or members of the public on view, posh accents, plots full of techy marvels and lots of improbable bullshit – ideal spawning territory for Avengers episodes to come.   Corneal grafts are what it’s all about. Which weren’t that techy in 1963, since the first one had been carried out in 1905, but still rarefied enough, especially if you add to the plot a mysterious Swiss clinic, a living donor (living people usually want to hang onto their eye) and a donee who has … Read more

John Steed and artist Frank Leeson

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 9 – The Medicine Men

The Medicine Men first went out on 23 November 1963, the day after the assassination of President Kennedy in the USA, and on the same night as the first episode of Doctor Who (also created by Avengers creator Sydney Newman). Of course none of this is reflected in the episode, which was made a couple of weeks earlier. Instead it’s a periodic obsession of The Avengers that gets an airing: the state of British industry. In a plot that’s been chopped up a bit because, I suspect, it was a bit on the boring side, Steed and Gale investigate the murder of a woman in a steam room, a murder which leads them … Read more

Mrs Gale is held by Roman soldiers

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 10 – The Grandeur That Was Rome

As prescient as a hot button shop, The Grandeur That Was Rome is also proper Avengers stuff – arcane, bonkers, camp, with implausible undercover work and mad hair. Even before the opening credits have flipped into view (and no pre-credits murder this time, thankfully) we’ve been treated to Roman senators, gladiators, toasts uttered in Latin and drunk in wine, plus a vague threat to destroy Western civilisation – just like the Romans, er, didn’t. After the credits we’re in a different milieu, another dreadful British company captained by a glib posh chap (Ian Shand) which is not doing quite as well as he says, and run by an ineffectual number two (Kenneth Kealing). … Read more

John Steed on the phone

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 11 – The Golden Fleece

After the camp fun of the previous week’s episode, The Grandeur That Was Rome, a bit of a bump as we touch back down on planet Earth for a much more realistic Avengers episode – The Golden Fleece. Warren Mitchell gets the first word, only three years from starring in the series that would make his name, Till Death Us Do Part, and looking a generation younger, he’s one of a bunch of soldiers at an army camp in Aldershot discussing the unusual financial situation of a small amateur club, The Golden Fleece, which seems to have riches out of all proportion to its activities. We cut to a Chinese restaurant, where hostesses welcome … Read more

Ola with a lighted taper

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 12 – Don’t Look Behind You

Don’t Look Behind You is Brian Clemens’s second script for this series of The Avengers, and his fourth to date. And it’s a cheeky lift of the Old Dark House story. Put another way, there is no typical Avengers setup of a corpse before the episode title has come up, and little in the way of bantering exposition while Steed and/or Gale fiddle with something, drink something or parade around the flat they seem increasingly to share. Instead it’s a story about characters gathered together in “an old dark house”, where forces known or unknown set about their malevolent business. Here things have a modern resonance, because before Steed drives Mrs Gale in … Read more

Mrs Gale with Steed in chef's whites

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 13 – Death a la Carte

First broadcast on 21 December 1963 – a more obviously Christmas-y episode would go out the following week – Death a la Carte is pretty much The Avengers as usual. Which means: exotic foreigners, death served up in unusual ways and a bit of stealth undercover work for Steed and/or Gale. Both are incognito this time around, Mrs Gale as some sort of fixer/hostess trying to make life easy for a visiting emir, Steed as a chef in his kitchen. Yes, cheffing is just one of his talents.   We learn pretty much straight away that the emir is in the UK for his annual health check, which looks less straightforward than usual … Read more

Leonard Rossiter as Robin Hood

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 14 – Dressed to Kill

So here we are, at Christmas 1963 (the 28 December, to be exact), with Dressed to Kill, a special seasonal episode written by Brian Clemens, who gets everyone into pantomime mode by setting the action on a train heading for a fancy dress party. Steed is on board, dressed in Wild West gear, and why he’s there isn’t explained immediately by the pre-credits sequence – a man lugging a big piece of equipment across war department land and setting off a Cold War nuclear attack siren deliberately. But back to the train, and we learn that the passengers are strangers meeting on the train for the first time, and they’re all off to … Read more

Judy Parfitt

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 15 – The White Elephant

For the first episode of 1964, broadcast on 4 January, the day that Auburn University in Alabama accepted Harold A Franklin as its first black student (accompanied by three US marshals and 100 state police to keep the mob at bay), John Steed and Mrs Gale are on the case of a missing albino elephant in an episode unsurprisingly titled The White Elephant. The beast has been stolen from a private zoo which supplies mainstream zoos, run by upper-class English chap Noah Marshall (Godfrey Quigley) – modelled on John Aspinall (gambler, zoo-owner, anti-Semite and the man who allegedly facilitated murderer Lord Lucan’s escape from the UK). Why this is of interest to more … Read more

Steed and Gale kiss

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 16 – The Little Wonders

Whether it’s spelt Bibliotek, Bibliotech or Bibliotheque, the crime organisation at the centre of The Little Wonders is a brilliant creation by writer Eric Paice, an international, centuries-old outfit whose members go around dressed as clerics. Hence the funny pre-credits sequence of the Bishop of Winnipeg (David Bauer), a man with a dodgy heart visiting a doctor (Tony Steedman) and, on stripping down for an examination, revealing a gun in a holster. Not your average clergyman’s accessory. The fact that he’s accompanied by a female assistant, Sister Johnson, would raise barely half an eye if Johnson weren’t played by Miss Moneypenny herself, Lois Maxwell (a Canadian national, hence the Winnipeg, perhaps). Villains established, … Read more

Patrick Macnee and Peter Sallis

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 17 – The Wringer

Peter Sallis hasn’t yet developed the voice that would make him the ideal Wallace (of Wallace and Gromit fame) in his outing as an amnesiac spook on the run in The Wringer, an episode in which a string of spies have been killed and Steed has been brought in to find out why, which prompts Sallis to then dob Steed in as the one doing the killing. It’s one of the best stories in this series, perhaps because The Avengers had long ago given up all pretence that Mrs Gale is an amateur helping Steed out – she’s now as clued in as he is – or that Steed is essentially the Man Friday … Read more

Honor Blackman and John Le Mesurier

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 18 – Mandrake

The United States launched the Echo 2 satellite on 25 January 1964, the day that the Mandrake episode of The Avengers aired. And though the week before’s outing, The Wringer, had been a very up-to-date affair, set in the world of international espionage and modern brainwashing techniques, Mandrake harks back to earlier episodes of the series in its dourness and its down-to-earth setting. Under-the-earth setting, in fact, because the plot concerns itself with a mystery about a string of dead businessmen, all of whom have been buried in the same remote Cornish town, Tinby, for no good reason. They don’t come from there and have no connection to the place. Battle is joined … Read more

Patricia English and Ronald Allen

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 19 – The Secrets Broker

The Beatles were number one in America for the first time, with I Want to Hold Your Hand, when this latest episode of The Avengers, The Secrets Broker, aired in the UK on 1 February 1964. But though The Avengers went on to become one of the key harmonics of the Swinging London vibe, there’s scant evidence of it in this episode, the latest in the haphazard, piecemeal “one step forward, two steps back” way that the show almost blindly stumbled its way to glory. It’s a bit old school, this episode, in other words, even though it starts out with a scene at a clairvoyant’s – very 1960s (the doors of perception, and … Read more

Mrs Gale and Tony Heuston

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 20 – Trojan Horse

At one point almost every episode of The Avengers started with a death before the opening credits. Trojan Horse plays with that idea, showing us a punter who won’t pay his betting debts being killed by some heavies. After his killers have left the scene, the dead man gets up and walks away. It’s a ruse, a scam initiated by master bookmaker Tony Heuston (TP McKenna) who wants rich toff Lucien ffordsham (Geoffrey Whitehead) to believe he’s implicated in a murder, and to use that leverage against him. Steed and Gale are in the neighbourhood because they’re protecting Sebastian, a valuable racehorse belonging to a Middle Eastern potentate, who is in the UK … Read more

Steed charms his way into the gang

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 21 – Build a Better Mousetrap

Build a Better Mousetrap is a great episode of The Avengers – it’s Brian Clemens at his best, from its very Clemens-y joshing title, to his use of British eccentrics, and his mix of the venerable with the modern, the tech with the antique and the old with the young, not forgetting Clemens’s usual dabble in the sociology of class. And it gets off to a flying start, making sensible use of Mrs Gale’s penchant for leather by inserting her into a motorcycle gang, somewhat improbably. As the episode gets going, one of this gang’s number is frightening two harmless old ladies (Athene Seyler, Nora Nicholson), who retaliate by threatening to put a … Read more

Steed and Gale

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 22 – The Outside-In Man

Whether The Avengers is or isn’t a spy series depends very much on the episode you watch. In The Outside-In Man we’re very much in spy mode, right from the opening scene, in which Steed is seen walking into a butcher’s shop. Then, Man from Uncle style (which was in development when this episode aired in February 1964), he walks from the front of the shop and into the walk-in fridge with the butcher, who immediately drops his Cockney accent to brief him on his job. Butcher/control Quilpie (Ronald Radd) is an M-like figure and has a secretary (Virginia Stride) called Alice but in demeanour and function her name might as well be … Read more

Fenella Fielding publicity shot for The Charmers

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 23 – The Charmers

Charm, rather than grit or narrative or psychological coherence, are really what The Avengers are about, and in the appropriately titled The Charmers we get tons of it, thanks to a fine script by Brian Clemens and light, deft playing by the guest actors. It’s also, more or less, the first of the properly jokey, larky Avengers, though it kicks off in familiar style – a death before the opening credits, by the sword. 1960s TV loved a “touché” and we learn that this killing of an enemy agent is the latest in a spate of them. While the enemy being murdered in quantity might ordinarily be a good thing, matters have got … Read more

Nigel Stock and Patrick Macnee

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 24 – Concerto

Shot in April 1963 but not actually broadcast until April 1964, Concerto is a spytastic episode with a Cold War setting, espionage chicanery and so on, with a plot about a concert pianist being accused of rape and murder. Or more to the point, a plot about Steed and his Russian opposite number Zalenko (Nigel Stock) trying to prevent pianist Stefan Veliko (Sandor Elès) being fingered as a criminal in order to keep trade talks between the two countries on the road. It’s a Steed-heavy episode, with Mrs Gale relegated to babysitting the accused man within minutes of the episode kicking off, right after a journalist has cried blue murder after a supposed … Read more

Honor Blackman, Duncan Macrae and John Thaw in Esprit de Corps

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 25 – Esprit De Corp

Esprit De Corps is a mad and twisty Avengers episode, one of many dealing with the subject of indoctrination, the focus here being an army unit that’s going to launch a coup d’etat and put the “rightful” heir back on the throne. Mad enough, but there’s a fruitloop turn to come which I won’t spoil. Instead let me tell you that a 22-year-old John Thaw plays a key role, as an army captain (Thaw generally did play older than he was – at 33 he was seen-it-all cop Jack Regan in The Sweeney; he was only 45 when he played the retirement-dodging star of Inspector Morse). Thaw’s Captain Trench is being hoodwinked by … Read more

Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman publicity shot

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 26 – Lobster Quadrille

Episodes of The Avengers were often not shown in production order. But Lobster Quadrille was both the last one broadcast and the last one made in series three, going out on 21 March 1964, a day after it had been finished. It’s also Honor Blackman’s farewell episode, before she headed off to be Pussy Galore to Sean Connery’s 007 in Goldfinger. And so you’d be tempted to think the production team might give her a good send-off. But in fact it’s a very John Steed-focused adventure, all about lobster fisherman, a dastardly plot to flood the country with heroin and a mystery Chinaman who connects the first with the second. No, Chinaman is … Read more