• title card: white all caps text reading ‘THREE HANDED GAME BY DENNIS SPOONER & BRIAN CLEMENS’ superimposed on Ranson being hit in the jaw by Ivan’s outstretched fist
  • Larry crahses through the window on his motorbike
  • Steed looks at a black and white photo handed to him by the General, who sits at the table, wearing his uniform and a black eyepatch over his right eye
  • Rear-facing shot on the outside of a March 75B Formula 2 racing car painted in red and white - Steed’s ‘Big Cat’ Jaguar is catching up to it swiftly and is about to pass it
  • Gambit stands in the middle of the room, holding a red towel about his otherwise naked body, embarassed by Purdey’s arrival; she looks at th towel with interest, a smirk on her lips as Helen continues to sculpt Gambit in the background
  • Purdey stops Ranson on the stage of the theatre and strikes a balletic pose before they fight

The New Avengers, Series 1 — Episode 11
Three Handed Game

by Dennis Spooner and Brian Clemens
Directed by Ray Austin

TV Times summary

Think of a secret. Split it three ways. Add a lethal tap dancer, Steed in a racing car, Gambit in the nude, and Purdey in deadly danger.

Plot summary

Three geniuses are enlisted by Steed’s department to deliver encrypted messages by memorising a third each, but enemy agent Juventor has learnt of the plan and steals a brain-transfer machine. He captures a dancer to prove the machine works to Colonel Meroff, then sets off in the dancer’s body so as to evade security. Juventor manages to intercept each of the three couriers and steal their memories but the distinctive sound of the dancer’s tap shoes lead the Avengers to their quarry and Purdey dances his socks off.

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On a submarine in the North Atlantic, Roger Masgard (Gary Raymond) is memorising apparent gibberish by CIA agent Cary (Bill Bailey). In New York, Cary gives Helen McKay (Annie Lambert) another paragraph of gobbledegook to remember. Later, at the White House, then Cary feeds Tony Fields (Noel Trevarthen), some more ballyhoo, and is promised it will be in London by tomorrow. Sure enough, John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and a General (Ronald Leigh-Hunt), piece their individual messages together and play back a… well, really boring message that didn’t need to be encrypted.
Meanwhile, Juventor (Stephen Greif) and Ivan (Tony Vogel) visit a professor (Hugh Morton) who has invented a brainwave transfer machine (sound familiar?), and they killed him and take it. They then visit a dancer, ‘Tap’ Ranson (David Wood), and knock him out.

Steed is impressing Purdey (Joanna Lumley) - and annoying Mike Gambit (Gareth Hunt) - with snooker tricks when Larry (Michael Petrovitch) arrives, quipping that’s as on the ball he’s going to get. Larry warns them Juventor - a dangerous mercenary - is in town but Steed already knows. Larry has sent a man to tail Juventor, but he is killed by Ivan at Ranson’s theatre and they leave with the unconscious dancer. Steed knows Juventor’s trying to sell something - he’s been doing the rounds of the embassies with no luck, so Larry, Purdey & Gambit stake out the ––anese Embassy. Inside, Juventor is convincing Colonel Meroff (Terry Wood) the device works. He leaves with Meroff and Ivan shoots their pursuers’ tyres. Larry, however, has a trail bike in the back of his van and sets off in after them. Steed investigates the theatre but finds nothing to suggest why Ranson was snatched.

Larry arrives at Juventor’s hideout - “Cantley”, a deserted mansion - as they demonstrate the machine with Meroff absorbing some of Ranson’s dancing skill. Meroff baulks at the £10,000,000 price tag but is convinced when Juventor says he can help him crack the triumvirate of the “Three-Handed Game” - he already knows about Masgard, and Meroff says he’ll find the others. Larry, listening to their plans, is captured by Ivan.

Larry wakes up chained to a radiator after being subjected to the machine, Ranson on the other end and Ivan playing patience while guarding them. Larry disconnects the plumbing and escapes after clobbering Ivan. Confused, he seeks help and rides to Steed’s place, where Purdey has just made a marshmallow pie. Ministry medical officer, Dr. Kendrick (John Paul) arrives but can find no physical injury or concussion to explain Larry’s daze. He mumbles “Old North Road” and the New Avengers set off to investigate. Juventor, discovering Larry’s escape, decides his hideout - and himself -are blown, so gets Ivan to switch his mind into Ranson’s body. Larry remembers “Cantley” as they drive along the road and they turn up, but too late to stop Juventor’s brain-transfer. They find Juventor’s body but Larry remembers “Three-handed Game” and Steed is worried.

So too the General, when he hears, and the New Avengers are assigned members of the triumvirate to guard. Purdey picks up Masgard at his country cottage, stalling Juventor’s attack, while Gambit is being told to take his clothes off by Helen. Masgard has a matinee in Wimbledon - the same theatre Ranson played, but he’s nobbled by Juventor’s machine and his third of the information is stolen. He can’t even remember he does a memory act, and Purdey heard the sound of tap shoes just before he was got to… Steed visits Tony Fields, who’s practicing Grand Prix racing at Brand’s Hatch.
He convinces him to come in by setting a faster lap but talking to Tony, he too hears tap shoes. Tony sets off again, but Juventor’s placed a brain receiver in his helmet, and his third of the information is also stolen.

Purdey arrives while Gambit is posing nude for one of Helen’s sculptures, quickly followed by Steed, who tells them Helen is the only one left. He goes to see Larry to learn more - he says “brain drain” - but Purdey & Gambit are incapable of stopping Juventor stealing Helen’s mind by stringing wires to one of her modern works in the garden. They all remember the sounds of tap dancing, and race to Ranson’s dressing room. Purdey intercepts him in the hallway, and dances him off the stage into the orchestra pit.

This episode has a video Q&A and commentary with David Wood and Philip Hawkins on the Lives in the Pictures YouTube channel.

Production details

Produced:August, 1976
First broadcast:
  • London: 19/01/1977
  • Midlands: 5/12/1976
  • Sydney (ABN-2): 11/05/77 (pre-empted on 16/03/77)
  • Melbourne (ABV-2): 16/03/1977
  • USA (CBS): 12/01/1979
  • France (TF1): 5/02/1977

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