The Avengers Series 4

Emma Peel in fencing gear

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 1 – The Town of No Return

And so, drum roll, The Town of No Return and the beginning of series 4. And with it the arrival of Diana Rigg as Mrs Emma Peel, the story going that the new partner for Steed would have to have “man appeal” or M-appeal for short. Hence the name. She’s not the only new arrival – more money has clearly turned up, allowing the series to be shot on film and on location much more often. So no more studio-bound “as live” episodes rehearsed one day and shot the next. John Dankworth’s theme music has also been retired. Its jazzy plangency was fine for a 1950s style noirish detective series featuring Steed in … Read more

Steed tries to release Mrs Peel who is tied to the railway track

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 2 – The Gravediggers

Like a classic album that warms us up with an opening track before hitting us with a doozy, episode two of series four of The Avengers, The Gravediggers, is vintage entertainment that gets just about everything right. The plot is a mix of proper spy stuff and the eccentric, the macabre and the mad, and gets off onto its twin-track course with an opening shot of a newly filled grave out of which – after some ominous movement of the soil – an antenna pops. Over on the North York Moors at Fylingdales early warning system (it’s not named as such, but those white golfball domes look very like it), a techie is having trouble … Read more

cybernaut with Steed and Peel

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 3 – The Cybernauts

The sixth of the Diana Rigg episodes to be made, though the third to be shown, The Cybernauts looks vaguely back to the Honor Blackman era – Mrs Peel still in leather and a bit helmet-haired – but in other respects it’s the most forward-looking episode we’ve yet seen. Perhaps that’s what you’d expect with a sci-fi flavoured episode title with a ring of Doctor Who about it. Or are we in the realm of the supernatural? In the traditional opening “death scene” we see a man in his house being attacked by some big creature impervious to bullets, strong enough to bend a rifle barrel with a swipe of the hand and … Read more

Mrs Peel at gunpoint

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 4 – Death at Bargain Prices

Charles Crichton directed one of the best Ealing comedies, 1951’s Lavender Hill Mob, and the highest grossing British comedy of the 1980s, 1988’s A Fish Called Wanda – both crime capers – so is just the man for an episode of The Avengers. And the first shot of the first of five episodes he’d direct announces that “a director” is in the house – it’s a looming, upward-looking shot of a building at dusk, in near-silhouette, ominous as you like. But Crichton wasn’t lauded for his visual style – though he had plenty. What got him the plaudits was his economy (famously praised by Wanda writer/star John Cleese), his ability to say in … Read more

John Steed with a sword. Assailant with a gun

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 5 – Castle De’ath

Three Bond movies had been released and a fourth was just around the corner, when Castle De’ath was broadcast on an autumnal Saturday night in 1965. It’s a mini-me version of Bond, with Scotland standing in for myriad exotic locations, a mini-sub standing in for all the 007 tech and Steed and Peel doing their best to quip for England as the plot takes them north of the border. Things kick off with a pre-Steadycam handheld tour of the castle – every heartbeat of the cameraman registering – which winds up in a dungeon where a man is being tortured on the rack. He’s an agent and soon dead, and the fact that … Read more

Emma Peel with bow and arrow

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 6 – The Master Minds

The Master Minds was episode six in series four in transmission terms, but only the second episode that Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee had made together. Hence the not-quite-thereness of their relationship – notice throughout how rarely Rigg actually looks at Steed. By series five the two of them were locked in almost permanent ocular combat. It’s relevant because this is a classic Rigg-era Avengers episode – it’s all about boffins and mind control – trailing clouds of the Cathy Gale era, when relations between Steed and his sidekick were much more workmanlike, for all Steed’s suggestive banter. The plot kicks into life when  government minister Sir Clive Todd (Laurence Hardy) is caught … Read more

Emma Peel in a coffin

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 7 – The Murder Market

The Murder Market is one of the episodes first shot with Elizabeth Shepherd playing Mrs Peel, then reshot with Diana Rigg in the role after it was decided that Shepherd didn’t fit the bill. Hence the two directors on the imdb credits – Wolf Rilla shot the original, Peter Graham Scott this version, which eventually was broadcast on 12 November 1965, a Friday night, rather than the usual Saturday (in the London region at least). Order was restored the following Saturday. The title is a weak pun on “meat market” since the plot revolves around a dating agency with a natty sideline in murdering people – as established in the opening scene in … Read more

A man-shaped indentation in the ground

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 8 – A Surfeit of H2O

Undoubtedly a fancy episode when it first aired in late November 1965, A Surfeit of H2O manages to be whimsical, sinister, ridiculous and ingenious all in one go, with a good belt of fine character actors to help things along. Water is what it’s about, as the title suggests, and before the title has even come up a poacher has died while out setting traps, drowned in an open field by a massive thunderstorm which appeared out of nowhere. Decent special effects being a bit more than the show can afford, when Steed (dressed in absurd Edwardian hunting gear) and Peel arrive in a Mini Moke, there’s not a drop of water to … Read more

John Steed and Emma Peel on a deserted air base

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 9 – The Hour That Never Was

Mrs Peel comes of age in The Hour That Never Was, the ninth episode of series 4 and a typical classic-era Avengers based on unlikely goings-on in locales almost devoid of people. “Comes of age” because in this episode she is clearly smarter than Steed, being the first one to notice that time appears to have stood still – it was 11am when they crashed while pootling down a country road towards a reunion at Steed’s old air base, and it’s still 11am some time later as they wander around the base, which is now seemingly suddenly deserted. She’s also dressed in a style that’s hipper than usual – low-slung trousers, big fat … Read more

Clifford Evans, Peter Bowles, Patrick Macnee

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 10 – Dial a Deadly Number

Set in the world of the well-to-do, the very satisfying Dial a Deadly Number first aired in the UK in the early days of December 1965 and returns to two regular Avengers fascinations – businessmen and undertakers. In what sounds like the setup to a joke, there are these three business magnates sitting in a bar, bemoaning movements on the stock market. One of them gets bleeped, by an early manifestation of a pager, and heads back to the office. There is no funny payoff, though, because en route to the boardroom, the bleeped man’s pager gets switched and he is soon dead of a sudden “heart attack” after being struck by some … Read more

Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 11 – Man-Eater of Surrey Green

Man-Eater of Surrey Green is the perfect Avengers episode title. Camp, corny, a bit sexy, a lot parochial, it sums up the series perfectly. And this episode, which is a mix of scientific blah blah and a lot of eccentric bombing about. Things kick off when two lab-coated scientists in love (Gillian Lewis and William Job) put their moist-eyed interchanges on hold when she suddenly hears a funny noise – it’s that 1960s mind-control noise created by someone furiously twiddling the knobs of an oscilloscope. Off she heads, in glassy-eyed “I hear and obey” fashion, to a Rolls Royce waiting to whisk her away. Steed and Peel are soon on the case of … Read more

Steed dead-ringer Gordon Webster

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 12 – Two’s a Crowd

Tricks are what Two’s a Crowd is about, and the 12th episode of series four starts with two quite good ones. First up, a shot of a plane. It’s not a real plane, but a model, and the trick is that the model plane is meant to be a model, not – as was so often the case back then – a model masquerading as a real plane. Trick number two is played when Emma Peel arrives at Steed’s apartment to find him out unconscious on the floor. He’s not really out cold, it’s a test for Emma, which she passes with flying colours by attacking the mystery man who suddenly is attacking … Read more

Patrick Macnee surrounded by cutout Christmas trees

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 13 – Too Many Christmas Trees

Time magazine’s Swinging London issue appeared in April 1966 and made “official” what had been obvious for some time – something was going on in the UK capital. To find out what that looked like at the time, you could do worse than examine Too Many Christmas Trees, the Christmas Day episode of The Avengers from 1965, a very swinging, very British mix of the modern and the antique. Very mind-control-oriented too, the whole thing kicking off with a kitsch dream sequence – Steed in silk pyjamas and bowler hat wandering through a land of fake snow and cutout Christmas trees towards a wrapped Christmas gift with his name on it. A hideous … Read more

Emma punts, Steed relaxes

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 14 – Silent Dust

Silent Dust first aired on New Year’s Eve 1965 and from a 21st-century vantage point has all the makings of a very prescient episode of The Avengers. In what starts out as an obvious parody of a nature documentary, we first observe birds nesting in the trees, then watch as the birds start dropping off the branches. The second eco-themed outing for Steed and Peel (see A Surfeit of H2O) owes a debt to Rachel Carson’s massively consequential 1962 book Silent Spring. Carson was the first to bring to public attention the doubts that many scientists had been harbouring about the effects of widely available insecticides such as DDT, and detailed the effects on … Read more

Mrs Peel behind bars

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 15 – Room Without a View

The title of EM Forster’s novel is parodied in Room Without a View, for reasons which never really became clear to me, but then on looking back over my notes to this episode I realised I could remember barely any of it. Some things I do remember, though, such as the bare bones of the plot, which are standard formula stuff – a scientist (Peter Madden) back from a mysterious disappearance attempting to kill his wife (Jeanne Roland), having been brainwashed and broken by the Chinese. Which is presumably why the overwrought man is trying to kill her, since she’s oriental (Roland was born in Burma). Is “oriental” a PC term or not? … Read more

John Steed in the jungle

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 16 – Small Game for Big Hunters

Two weeks after a coup in the Central African Republic, one day after a forcible change of regime in Nigeria, Small Game for Big Hunters had something of the topical about it – and the tropical – when it first went out in mid January 1966. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan made his Wind of Change speech in 1960 after a monthlong tour of the African colonies. It still had enormous currency two prime ministers down the road when this episode aired. In fact you’ll hear the phrase used at least once, possibly twice. But we’re not in Africa. Instead, TV budgets being what we are, we’re in the Home Counties just outside London, … Read more

Liz Fraser, Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg on set

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 17 – The Girl from Auntie

The Girl from Auntie this episode is called, a nod to The Man from Uncle, which had debuted about six months earlier on US TV and become an instant hit with its sexy spies, gadgets, 007 goofery and strong sense of the ridiculous, having clearly drunk from the same well as The Avengers. All that said, sadly this is not a great episode, though it is stuffed with good things. It’s also not particularly heavy on Emma Peel, who was perhaps off talking to the Bond people – Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore having made waves – or just enjoying a bit of a break when the episode was in production. She turns up in … Read more

Patrick Allen and Patrick Macnee

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 18 – The Thirteenth Hole

The Thirteenth Hole sees Steed and Peel in action at a golf club where golfers seem to keep dying. Once again, it’s an episode with a needlessly elaborate plot about an international consortium of bad hats getting up to skulduggery. But instead of prosecuting their roguery from an office or a warehouse out on a sensible industrial estate, they choose an idiosyncratic and public location – this time a golf club – which out here in the real world would provide over-easy access for any number of potential thwarters of their enterprise. Or perhaps I’m taking the whole thing a bit too seriously. The plot, when it finally fully reveals itself, is all … Read more

Mrs Peel listens in as John Steed is spirited away

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 19 – Quick-Quick Slow Death

Lean, arch and fast, Quick-Quick Slow Death is high-church Avengers, with barely a normal person in it. Instead a busload of eccentrics power a plot that starts odd – a full-grown man in evening dress and bearing a “Lucille” tattoo on his arm being disgorged from a baby’s runaway pram after it’s crashed at speed – and keeps getting odder. Steed and Peel are soon on the case of the dead “agent” – the series has also finally decided how to describe the line of work that Steed and his various partners are in – with Peel off to a tattoo parlour to pursue the “Lucille” line of enquiry, while Steed heads to … Read more

Emma Peel plays a deadly beat the buzzer game

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 20 – The Danger Makers

The Danger Makers is the 13th episode of The Avengers written by Roger Marshall, the amazingly prolific writer of scripts for everything from 1959’s William Tell to 1992’s London’s Burning by way of Public Eye, The Sweeney and Lovejoy. And it’s a bizarre and fascinating story, of men doing massively foolish things in an attempt to put the fizz back into an existence made flat by the advance of technology. All this Marshall summarises neatly in an opening sequence about a man trying to commit suicide on a motor bike by engineering a crash. We know it’s a suicide attempt – or looks like it – because when he fails the first time, … Read more

Emma Peel as the Queen of Sin

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 21 – A Touch of Brimstone

And so we come to A Touch of Brimstone, an episode that didn’t make it onto US TV screens in 1966, thanks to the bondage gear that Mrs Peel eventually gets into in the final scene. How we get there is pretty interesting too. The whole thing opens very cinematically with a lovely shot of the back of an armchair advancing towards the camera. It’s being pushed by Peter Wyngarde, no sign of the luxuriant moustache that made him a household name in Department S and its Wyngarde-focused spin-off Jason King, though he is sporting fancy shirt cuffs and links, a foreshadowing of King’s sartorial style. Wyngarde’s character, John Cleverly Cartney, is at … Read more

Steed at the school for butlers

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 22 – What the Butler Saw

What the Butler Saw is an episode about what the butler did rather than saw, though it does kick off with John Le Mesurier – tongue doing at least half of his acting as usual – handing his employer a gun and looking on as a minion asking for too large a cut of an ill-gotten gain is murdered. What the butler actually saw, in the soft-porn flickerbook images of the Victorian Mutoscope machines, was his mistress disrobing. Appropriately, the reference points in this episode are Victorian – the 1949 Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets (set in Victorian times) in particular. Which is why Steed, aiming to find out which of a … Read more

Mrs Peel with an illuinated mask

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 23 – The House That Jack Built

John Lennon’s declaration that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus” had gone public just the day before The House That Jack Built aired in the UK on 5 March 1966. Not that this episode of The Avengers has anything to do with religion or popular music, or anything like that, but it swims in the same backward-looking yet progressive waters as the Beatles, and with a plot heavy on the paranoia, with suggestions of psychoactive substance use on the part of the writer, Brian Clemens, it couldn’t be more 1960s. Patrick Macnee more or less gets a day off this time out, and once he’s set the plot in motion – with … Read more

Patrick Mower and Patrick Macnee

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 24 – A Sense of History

Fifty years before a referendum determined that the UK wanted to leave the EU, the subject was tackled in this Avengers episode called A Sense of History. But Martin Woodhouse’s screenplay doesn’t call on Winston Churchill or the Second World War to help invoke British exceptionalism. He goes further back… to Robin Hood and Merry England. Things kick off when an academic heading for a conference about Europia (a Utopian vision of a future Europe) is killed en route, by an arrow in his back, launched, possibly, from the bow of a student from the local St Bode’s college (the actors are mouthing “Bede” but in the post-dub it comes out as “Bode” … Read more

John Steed and Emma Peel

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 25 – How to Succeed… at Murder

Feminist or not feminist? That’s the question that hovers over the whole of How to Succeed… at Murder, a Brian Clemens script for The Avengers that first aired in March 1966. Secretaries are what it’s all about, trusted right-hand women of busy gammon-faced male business titans, who are all dying in quick succession. Leaving the running of their companies in the hands of women formerly trusted with little more than jotting down and transcribing shorthand… because these Girl Fridays are the only people who understand the fiendishly complicated systems these men have devised. Is this a good thing (see how capable a woman can be!)? Or the opposite (things are so desperate that a … Read more

Diana Rigg and Ron Moody smoke a hookah

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 26 – Honey for the Prince

Mystical, mad and rather weird, Honey for the Prince was the last episode in series four of The Avengers, in terms of both production and transmission, and puts an exclamation mark on what has been an increasingly unreal and self-referential show. The script is by Brian Clemens, and in very Clemens style he layers eccentric characters over a plot that is ahead of its time. The story opens with a couple of unfortunates breaking in to a house decorated in an Arabian style. Finding a “magic lamp”, one of them gives it a jokey rub and – alakazam – a genie appears, a genie with a machine gun to be precise, and shoots … Read more