Production Number: 3365 • Tape Number: VTR/ABC/1040
Working Title: 'The Avengers, Episode 1'

PLOTLINE

David Keel, a general practitioner in Chelsea, a well-to-do suburb of London, is shortly to marry the pretty, young receptionist who works at his surgery, Peggy Stevens. However, an unopened package which contains more than half a pound of heroin has been delivered in error to the surgery. The drug racketeers who delivered it quickly realise their mistake and attempt to retrieve the package. One of their men, a tough nut named Spicer, is despatched to break in after surgery hours. Fearing that the receptionist who took the delivery would remember Johnson, the courier, the gang's paymaster orders her murder. The job falls to Spicer and he carries out the assassination without feeling or regret. Peggy dies in Keel's arms, shot down on a dark, cold shopping street.

In the aftermath of Peggy's killing, Keel crosses paths with an enigmatic stranger who will not reveal his name. As this man appears to know about the killer and the gang, Keel reluctantly plays along with him. The man – Steed – is working undercover and has infiltrated the gang. If Keel is to discover the identity of the killer and break the drugs gang, he must play a very dangerous game and trust a stranger who may well be playing him for a fool...

Read the full story in Two Against the Underworld

PRODUCTION & ARCHIVE
The Avengers: Series 1, Episode 1
Production Completed:
Fri 30 Dec 1960
Recording Format: 405 Line B/W Video
Archive Holding: 16mm B/W Film Recording
(Only Act One has been preserved)
John Cura Tele-Snaps: Not Photographed
Reconstruction: Made 2009 + 2010
Audio Adaptation: Big Finish, 2014
INTERNATIONAL PREMIERES
UNITED KINGDOM: Sat 7 Jan 1961
Never transmitted outside the UK

UK REGIONAL PREMIERES

ABC Midlands: Sat 7 Jan 1961, 10.00pm
ABC North: Sat 7 Jan 1961, 10.00pm
Anglia:
Not transmitted
ATV London: Sat 18 Mar 1961, 10.00pm
Border:
Not transmitted
Grampian: Not transmitted
Scottish: Not transmitted
Southern: Sat 18 Mar 1961, 10.00pm
TWW: Sat 18 Mar 1961, 10.00pm
Tyne Tees:
Sat 18 Mar 1961, 10.00pm
Ulster: Sat 18 Mar 1961, 10.00pm
Westward: Not transmitted
CHARACTERS & CAST
Dr David Keel
John Steed
Dr Richard Tredding
Peggy Stevens
Spicer
Charlie
Johnson
Detective Supt Wilson
Stella
Detective Sgt Rogers
Mrs Simpson
The Big Man
Ian Hendry
Patrick Macnee
Philip Stone
Catherine Woodville
Godfrey Quigley
Murray Melvin
Charles Wade
Alister Williamson
Moira Redmond
Astor Sklair
June Monkhouse
Robert James
ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

Not released.

DVD EXTRAS

StudioCanal, UK: Audio Commentary by producer Leonard White, hosted by Jaz Wiseman, recorded in June 2009 • Mini-Reconstruction of Acts Two and Three • Full Reconstruction with Restored Act One (Special Features Disc) • Stills Gallery (single image)

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Writer – Ray Rigby, from a story by Patrick Brawn
Series Theme & Music –
Johnny Dankworth
Designer –
Alpho O'Reilly
Story Editor –
Patrick Brawn
Producer –
Leonard White
Director –
Don Leaver

Production Assistant – Barbara Forster
Floor Manager – Patrick Kennedy
Stage Manager – Nansi Davies
Lighting Director – Bob Simmons
Senior Cameraman – Tom Clegg
Sound Supervisor – John Tasker
Vision Mixer – Del Randall

Other credits not available

Studio – Teddington 2
An ABC Network Production

HOT SNOW • DECLASSIFIED

  • Production Brief... On Wednesday 21st November 1960, Police Surgeon producer Leonard White, now installed in the same role for The Avengers, sent an internal ABC Television memo to directors James Ormerod, Don Leaver and Guy Verney. It  contained the first indication that Police Surgeon star Ian Hendry had been contracted as one of two leads in a new series, which would be called The Avengers. The memo confirmed that while Hendry would play a doctor, this time he would be a general practitioner, and that The Avengers would "no longer" be linked in any way with the series they were currently producing. The wording of this statement does suggest that in the very earliest days of the new series' gestation, it was considered as a direct descendent of Police Surgeon and that after consideration, this link had been dropped.

  • White's memo also stated that Patrick Macnee had been signed up to play the other lead character and that Johnny Dankworth was being approached to write the theme music. The first three scripts were said to be "in hand" and a further three were "in active preparation".  Directors James Ormerod, Don Leaver and Guy Verney were invited to meet Macnee to discuss with him ideas for the characterisation of John Steed. Of these three Police Surgeon directors, only Leaver and Verney would end up making the jump to The Avengers. White also revealed that Patrick Brawn and John Bryce would be story editors for the series and asked the directors for their ideas concerning a possible opening sequence for the series.

  • The budget for each episode of The Avengers was set at £3,550 to begin with, and this figure was inclusive of all actors' fees. This figure would be raised from Episode 10, Hunt the Man Down, to £3,770 to take into account pay rises to the three principal artistes.

  • Incredibly, the first episode of The Avengers would be aired a mere six and a half weeks after this memo was issued.

  • Although the name was never seen on screen, the early series of The Avengers were produced for ABC by a company called Iris Productions Ltd. This wasn't as independent a company as it might at first appear, rather it was set up by ABC after one of their company directors, Robert Clark, pointed out that it would be advantageous from a taxation perspective for ABC's programmes to be made for them by an external company. This setting up of a 'production arm' involved staff moved over from ABC to Iris being issued with new contracts and documents of this type pertaining to the videotaped Avengers carry the Iris name as production company. In the fullness of time, it was decided that the benefits arising from the arrangement were not as significant in practice as they were in theory, and Iris Productions Ltd. was wound up after a few years.

  • Ray Rigby's draft script for this episode is dated 22nd November 1960, implying that work had been underway on the series for some weeks. The script is titled simply The Avengers, Episode 1 and reveals that at that point, Keel's name had not been established. In most instances he is named Dent, while in a few stage directions he is referred to as Brent. Considering the determination that Hendry's character in The Avengers would not be Dr Brent from Police Surgeon, this is undoubtedly just a slip on the part of the writer or typist!

  • Johnny Dankworth was commissioned to compose theme and incidental music for the series, with fellow composer Norman Kay acting as music producer on behalf of Iris Productions. In an internal ABC memo of Friday 2nd December 1960 from Leonard White to Kay, White confirmed that "the proposed recording of The Avengers theme music and all other mood bridges and background music" should go ahead and that in line with union agreements, payment "equivalent to the rate for three sessions will have to be made where one session is used to record music for series use." White further stipulated that "this payment should not, however, exceed a total of £350." Dankworth's contract was drawn up on Wednesday 21st December 1960 and suggested that his personal fee for composing and conducting the theme and mood pieces would be £75. As part of the agreement, Iris Productions Ltd retained the World Television Rights in the works produced, but other rights remained with Dankworth himself, meaning that he could perform the music in public if he wished. Among other considerations afforded him, the composer would receive fees for any repeat transmissions of the series via the Performing Right Society.

  • While preparations were on-going for The Avengers, Police Surgeon was still being produced, its final episode, The Bigger They Are, airing on Saturday 3rd December 1960.

  • Ian Hendry made one last cameo appearance as Police Surgeon's Dr Geoffrey Brent in the ABC Television Christmas pantomime, Alice Through the Looking Box, which wove together the story of Alice, nursery rhymes and characters from popular ITV productions. The ITV stars appearing were Bernard Braden and Barbara Kelly (as themselves), Ian Hendry (Dr Geoffrey Brent of Police Surgeon), Donald Gray (Mark Saber of Saber of London), John Bentley (Inspector Paul Derek of African Patrol), Conrad Phillips (William Tell) and Raymond Francis and Eric Lander (Chief Det. Supt. Tom Lockhart and Det. Insp. Harry Baxter of No Hiding Place). The programme was recorded in two parts on consecutive Sundays, 11th and 18th December 1960, with transmission at 5.55pm on Christmas Day 25th December 1960. The programme does not survive today.

  • Hendry's contract for Police Surgeon was cancelled on 28th December 1960, having been extended under option in October by Iris Productions Ltd. The actor received an agreed payment of £250 in lieu of two weeks' notice, as stipulated under the contract he had signed on 23rd June 1960.

  • Rehearsals for this episode commenced with a first reading of the script on 28th November 1960 at The Tower, RCA Building in Hammersmith, West London. This represented an unusually lengthy period of preparation, but was designed for the regular actors to get properly 'under the skin' of their characters before they were propelled into the weekly grind of making the series. During this period, it was also necessary to take days out for photographic sessions, such as the one that was arranged during December for Ian Hendry, Patrick Macnee and Ingrid Hafner in Soho.

  • Location filming commenced on Tuesday 20th December 1960 in Chelsea, where the scenes around Keel’s surgery would be committed to 35mm film.

  • The rehearsals at Hammersmith built towards two days of camera rehearsals at Teddington in Studio 2 on 29th and 30th December 1960. The recording session for Hot Snow took place from 6.00 and 7.00pm on the second day.

  • The target 'play portion' of the episode (its running time without commercial breaks, which were of 2 minutes and 5 seconds and 2 minutes and 35 seconds duration respectively) was 55 minutes and 5 seconds. This was a significantly longer target duration than afforded to other early Series 1 episodes, which commonly were set at 52 minutes and 30 seconds not including commercial breaks. However, the episode as transmitted clocked in at just 51 minutes and 48 seconds, as noted in a production memo of 7th March 1961 regarding Hunt the Man Down. This represented a significant under-run compared to the target duration and this shortfall would have attracted criticism from the ITV Network.

  • The actor Murray Melvin, speaking in autumn 2010, recalled that the episode was filmed over Christmas. "Everyone was drinking freely – and a little too much. On the first day, we all piled into the pub and the director was very worried about the poor quality of the script, which prompted him to do something different with the visuals. For example, he filmed the card game scene by keeping the cameras on the hands of the players and on the cards. This approach was very different to how TV was made then and this approach quickly became the style of The Avengers."

  • A memo dated 6th January 1961 from Patrick Kennedy, floor manager on Hot Snow, reveals troubles encountered during the rehearsal period for this episode: "I should like to draw your attention to the following prop items which were missing on the first day and half the second day of the Studio rehearsals. I have checked with the Buying, Property and Construction Depts. and find considerable misunderstanding between the Buying and Construction Dept. has arisen. This, I think, boils down to the fact that the buyer on the show unfortunately was not available on the Studio days. For instance, practical bells were asked for on the Prop List and non-practical were supplied. A Yale lock with one key was supplied instead of, as per list, two practical keys. Eventually the Property Dept. had to go out and buy a brand new Yale lock with two keys. I have since discovered in the Construction Dept. they have four Yale locks with two keys apiece. Two practical lighters were asked for, again on the Props List. When we checked, we were told that they had been mislaid on a previous production, thus the stage manager (Nansi Davies) had to supply two lighters herself. This particular show was very difficult indeed, but with these items arriving terribly late it made what could have been a good two days rather upsetting. As we have got a thirteen week one-hour series to transmit, I feel a little more co-operation between the various departments would be beneficial to productions as a whole."

  • Initially, this opening episode of The Avengers was only broadcast in two ITV regions, ABC Midlands and ABC North, where it screened on Saturday 7th January 1961. It would later be transmitted in five other regions (ATV London, Southern, Television Wales & West, Tyne Tees and Ulster) on Saturday 18th March 1961, introducing the series to viewers in those areas prior to their synchronisation with the networked broadcasts from Dance with Death onwards (and omitting the nine intervening episodes). Other regions came on board without showing the episodes which explained the background to Keel and Steed's association.


  • On Location... The first footage shot for The Avengers was filmed on location at Upper Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London SW3 on Tuesday 20th December 1960 from 9.00am. The sequences used Number 18 as Dr Keel and Dr Tredding's surgery and featured Godfrey Quigley as Spicer. Quigley would also have the honour of being the first face to be seen in an Avengers episode as Spicer arrives at the surgery to break in and retrieve the 'hot snow' that has been wrongly delivered there by Johnson. To mark (nearly) fifty years since the filming took place, The Avengers Declassified visited this unspoilt Chelsea setting on Tuesday 24th August 2010. The photographs on this page were taken during the day by Alys Hayes.

  • The gate that Spicer climbs over to gain surruptitious access to the surgery is around the corner from the surgery location, in Glebe Place. Despite the episode implying that Spicer turns into this road at the end of the surgery property, there are actually five more houses between Number 18 and the turning into Glebe Place. To achieve the required illusion, director Don Leaver had actor Godfrey Quigley walk into the entrance of Number 22, in a tight shot making the iron railings look like they mark a corner. Leaver then cut to Quigley walking into Glebe Place, where he would climb over the yard gate. This effect is achieved well, and only with the benefit of modern viewing equipment is it easily deconstructed – in slow motion, Quigley is clearly seen to climb the first step of the entrance to Number 22.

  • In Stay Tuned, Volume 1 Issue 1 (Spring 1987), editor Dave Rogers correctly stated that the above location was where the first Avengers recording took place, although he referred to it as Upper Chaney Row [sic]. However, he suggested that the footage filmed was Peggy's murder. With the benefit of the recovered footage, it is now clear that this claim was inaccurate and that the scene in question was actually videotaped in studio.


  • Trivia... The name plate outside Keel and Tredding's surgery gives their names as 'D.H. Keel' and 'R.J. Tredding'. Tredding is referred to by David Keel in the episode as 'Dick'. Dick is a common nickname given to people called Richard. The middle names are less obvious. If Keel's name was perhaps a nod to D.H. Lawrence, the 'H' could stand for Herbert, and it's evens that Tredding's middle name was John or James.

  • The name plate, which was prepared by ABC staff member Robin Hughes, was one of only two prop requirements for the Chelsea shoot, the other being Spicer's car, which was a large 1959 Humber requested in an internal memo of 14th December 1960 by production assistant Barbara Forster.

  • Although not mentioned in the surviving footage or in credits in listings magazines, Catherine Woodville's character Peggy was given the surname Stevens in the script for the episode.

  • The telephone number of Keel and Tredding's surgery is given as SLOane 0181, implying that it is on the Sloane Square Exchange. This matches up with the fictional Chelsea setting and the area in which location filming took place.

  • Many film-goers are familiar with the famous American 555 telephone prefix, an almost entirely fictitious exchange that is reserved for use in film and television productions so that unsuspecting people are not disturbed by over-inquisitive viewers. However, it is less well known that certain numbers have, over the years, been reserved by telephone companies for use in British television, radio and film productions in situations where it would be irresponsible to give out a random but genuine number that might result in unwanted calls being received on that number. SLOane 0181, the number of Keel and Tredding's surgery, was one of these phoney numbers and viewers of British archive television will occasionally hear it cropping up in a variety of productions. For instance, it was used in another ABC drama production of the time, the Armchair Theatre play, The Criminals (1958), where it was given as the home telephone number of one of the characters. Also used in The Avengers was the prefix VIN (for VINcent) and this was a completely fictitious exchange, devised by the Post Office for this very purpose. The numerical equivalent of VIN was 846 and all the caller got was the speaking clock (i.e. 846 is also numerical equivalent of TIM) in the big city 'Director' areas. Today in Britain, the Office of Communications (Ofcom) has reserved blocks of numbers in most major areas for use in TV and radio dramas. Fictitious numbers mostly end with the digits 496 0xxx. The generic area code 01632 is available, while London uses 020 7946 0xxx; Cardiff uses 029 2018 0xxx; and Belfast uses 028 9018 0xxx. Ofcom also reserves blocks of mobile phone (07700 900xxx), freephone (0808 157 0xxx), and premium rate (0909 879 0xxx) numbers for drama use. They also recently added a UK-wide range to the list (0306 999 0xxx).

  • The draft script features a scene in which Dent (Keel) gives Peggy a toy dog as a gift. This was excised at the last minute from the final version, evidenced by the props list including the requirement of such a toy for rehearsals and recording. Perhaps the notion of the Big Man stroking a terrier was intended as be associated in the viewer's mind with Peggy's gift?

  • The image of the Big Man and the terrier, seen today, is very reminiscent of the appearances by Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the James Bond films, but of course Hot Snow predates that famous film conceit by a good two years (not to mention Blofeld's first appearance in an Ian Fleming novel by a few months!). Like the Big Man, Blofeld was largely unseen for his first couple of appearances on screen, hidden bar the sight of a hand stroking a pet.

  • Neither the draft or camera scripts are clear on the identity of the gang member who is shot dead at the end of the episode. The mystery was cleared up by actor Murray Melvin in autumn 2010 when he revealed that it was his character that was shot and that he remembered clearly being sprawled out on the car bonnet as a result.

  • Catherine Woodville, who played Peggy, David Keel's fiancιe in this episode, has the distinction of being the first of the many actors and actresses to have had their character killed in The Avengers. Woodville went on to have two further associations with the series: once on screen, as Laure in Series 2's Propellant 23, and then in 1965, when she married Patrick Macnee and became his second wife. Sadly, they divorced in 1969. Catherine emigrated to the United States of America in the 1970s, where she acted as Katherine (sometime Kate) Woodville, before retiring from the business in 1979. She died of cancer aged 74 on 5th June 2013 in Portland, Oregon, USA.

  • The surviving fragment of this episode, which forms the complete Act 1 (of three) and runs for fifteen minutes and twenty-two seconds, was discovered alongside a full Series 1 episode, Girl on the Trapeze, at the UCLA Library in California, USA. Its existence was spotted by archive television enthusiast Dave Wood in April 2001 after the library put their catalogue online. A remarkable and historic find.

  • This opener is unique in the original series of The Avengers in that it does not tie up all its loose ends and instead leaves them to be resolved in the following week's episode, Brought to Book. These two episodes are generally acknowledged as being The Avengers' sole two-part story, but it is more accurate to regard them as two separate stories with characters (Spicer, Dr Tredding and Det. Supt. Wilson) and a continuing subplot in common.

  • It has long been believed that these episodes aired only in the ABC Midlands and North regions. This is very true, but a search of the Irish press archives has revealed that Irish homes with television sets could receive ITV signals from England (their own national television service Telefis Eireann did not commence until 31st December 1961, but 100,000 sets were installed in the years prior to this). Schedules were regularly carried in the Irish press, billing the ABC North transmissions simply as 'ITV'. This meant that a large proportion of viewers in Ireland were able to see The Avengers from the point when Television Wales and West and Ulster Television joined transmissions from Saturday 18th March 1961 with Hot Snow. Obviously, there would also have been areas in England, Scotland and Wales where viewers could tune in to ABC in preference to their own local services if they were within range of the ABC transmitters.


  • Bloopers... Catherine Woodville accidentally calls her fiancιe 'Dr Tredding' rather than Keel. With one dashing and the other middle-aged and balding, you'd think that she could tell them apart...


  • Stop Press... Patrick Macnee had been uncertain about accepting the role of John Steed, for reasons that he explained in an interview for The Stage and Television Today, published on 5th January 1961: "I did some directing in Canada. Then, when I arrived (home) in England, I was asked to produce the Churchill series. It was wonderful. I got such a kick out of it that I intended to forget acting completely. I only intended spending a month here with the children."

  • When the ATV London, Southern, Wales and West and Ulster regions finally took The Avengers from Saturday 18th March 1961, starting with their own showing of Hot Snow, TV Times magazine took the opportunity to run the series on the cover. The five regions concerned also ran a feature entitled Crime MD, which featured quotes from Ian Hendry, Leonard White and Patrick Macnee. Hendry confided that, "Frankly I thought twice when I was asked to start out on another series as a doctor, but as I know that the accent on the scripts is on authenticity, I think it will do me a lot of good. And I know it will be a lot of fun." In the same piece, Macnee outlines the basics of his alter-ego's character: "John Steed is a wolf with the women and revels in trouble. He doesn't think so much about saving hoodlums as just getting them out of the way. By the same token, he doesn't follow the Queensbury rules, and although he works indirectly with the police, he is not too popular with them." Although the feature was only carried by TV Times in the five regions joining the series that week, the cover image appeared on all national editions of the magazine.

TV Times, dated 10th March 1961

  • The London screening of this episode on Saturday 18th March 1961 was reviewed in the following week's edition of The Stage and Television Today. The given verdict was far from complimentary and began by saying that "production of the first episode indicated that a lot more work should have been done before the grand launching". Furthermore, it was suggested that "the idea of extracting a piece from the middle of the story to illustrate the opening titles – much too long – was not a good one," which seems to suggest that the reviewer had failed to grasp the purpose of title sequences. The script was slated as having "had a very aimless quality" and the reviewer concluded by mentioning Johnny Dankworth's musical contribution, which "punctuate[s] the action in a manner inclined to lean on M Squad presentation," (referring to the American television police drama which ran from 1957 to 1960 on NBC and which would later inspire the classic spoof TV show Police Squad!). The review ended with the rather snide suggestion that "running a few [episodes of M Squad] in private might give the backroom boys some ideas."

  • Another review, this time in Variety and written by 'Otta', saw print on Wednesday 29th March 1961, and was generally favourable towards the episode: "This new fortnightly skein made a patchy impression. As an opener, it failed to establish convincing motivation for the central character, and the careful realism of its settings and dialogue threw into relief the trumped-up machinations of the plotting. Trouble with the segment was that it didn't clearly illuminate the purposes of the running characters. Keel just seemed a dope himself for falling for Steed's advice without asking a few obvious questions. And Steed's ambiguity as an undercover man with the gang, yet somehow on the side of the law, just didn't make sense on this viewing. Ian Hendry, who made his local television reputation in the Police Surgeon series, was sympathetic as the hero, and Patrick Macnee was dashing as his curious helper. There was some fine minor thesping, particularly from Moira Redmond as an addict looking for a fix and Murray Melvin and Godfrey Quigley as subordinate dope pedlars, and an equal amount of ham elsewhere in the cast. Johnny Dankworth provided a monotonous jazz theme, which should drive a good few to a fix before the skein is through, and Don Leaver's direction was sharp and crisp."


  • And Finally... What is taken as being the major blooper in the surviving act of Hot Snow is not a blooper at all... In the pivotal scene where Peggy is murdered, there is a tense build-up, in which we see Spicer set his rifle sights on Keel and Peggy. He pulls the trigger and then we see Peggy crumple lifeless into Keel's arms. What we don't hear is a gunshot, and this has long been thought to have been the result of a missed cue on the studio floor. However, in the draft script the implication is that the gun is silenced and it is specifically noted that Dent (Keel) does not hear a gunshot. While this reference does not feature in the camera script, the props list for the episode notes the requirement for "1 rifle, telescopic lens with silencer, with blank (cartridges)". The 'silenced' gunshot was most certainly intentional.

Plotline by Alan Hayes • UK Transmissions by Simon Coward, Alan Hayes and John Tomlinson
Declassified by Alan Hayes with Richard McGinlay

With thanks to Barry Clarke, Piers Johnson, Dave Matthews, Mike Noon, Jaz Wiseman
and StudioCanal for their kind assistance

 

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