• title card: The Yellow Needle superimposed on a dark background
  • Dr Keel and Carol check the newspaper
  • Inspector Anthony confers with his sergeant
  • Steed, disguised as a journalist, visits Bai Shebro and Ali
  • Sir Wilberforce is confident he will be fine
  • Jacquetta prepares to kill Sir Wilberforce

Series 1 — Episode 16
The Yellow Needle

by Patrick Campbell

Production completed: 8 June 1961. First transmission: 10 June 1961

TV Times summary

Sir Wilberforce Lungi arrives to negotiate his country’s future, and brings a secret tribal enemy with him. Keel and Steed need all their faculties if they are to prevent a disastrous assassination

The following episode summary is written from the original scripts and Leonard White’s scrapbook of notes and Tele-Snaps as this episode is now lost. There may have been changes made during filming.

Plot summary

In London to sign the declaration of independence for his country, Tenebra, Sir Wilberforce Lungi is shot at in the street. His old friend Dr Keel give Lungi a check-up and learns that Steed is suspicious of Lungi’s secretary Jacquetta Brown. Steed flies to Tenebra to investigate the opposition and discovers a plot to poison Lungi with yellow fever. He returns to London to find that Keel has been drugged by Jacquetta who has also injected Lungi with yellow fever, after switching it with his insulin. Dr Keel has the anti-serum on hand and the plot is foiled.

show full synopsis

show plot summary

Prologue

The chimes of Big Ben ring out as an African leader, Sir Wilberforce Lungi (Andre Dakar), walks along the Embankment, dressed in traditional costume. Tom tom drums swell as we realise he’s being watched through the sights of a rifle. A shot rings out and he drops - not from being hit, but to help the young boy who was running past and had been accidentally struck by the bullet.

Act 1

A short time later, Sir Wilberforce and his white assistant, Jacquetta Brown (Margaret Whiting) arrive at Dr Keel’s surgery. They’re not there for medical treatment, but to see Dr David Keel (Ian Hendry), who is an old friend of Sir Wilberforce. The had worked together in a hospital of his homeland, Tenebra, long before he became Prime Minister of the fledgling state. Sir Wilberforce tells David he turned to politics to help win his people’s freedom; and if the independence declaration is signed in ten days he will be happy. Dr Keel questions the “if” and is told Bai Shebro, the chief of Mobele and Opposition leader is against an independent democracy. Jacquetta adds that Shebro wants a more authoritarian state and snipes that British Colonial policy wasn’t blameless; Sir Lungi smiles at David’s discomfort and surprise. Jacquetta, he tells David, was writing books about African politics while he was busy teaching Dr Keel how to treat yellow fever. Lungi suggests that Bai Shebro means to kill him and has the support of many tribal chiefs. He asks Dr Keel to give him a medical checkup, David concurs with Lungi’s self-diagnosis that he’s a bit overworked and is told that his diabetes is stable.

The next day1, a tiresome Scotland Yard officer, Inspector Anthony (Eric Dodson), arrives at Lungi’s hotel. He pompously complains about the assignment to his sergeant (Humphrey Heathcote) and is only vaguely sympathetic that his subordinate has not had a chance to eat all day. When he ascends, his sergeant warns the porter the Inspector is on his way up. Upstairs, the Inspector informs Jacquetta that Sir Wilberforce was definitely the intended target. She asks after the boy’s health and is pleased to learn he was not seriously injured. Jacquetta warns him there are twenty thousand fanatics in Tenebra - all still British subjects - who might come to London to kill Sir Wilberforce; human life isn’t the precious commodity it is in England. If it helps to kill - then they kill. Anthony moans about caring for dignitaries and reveals that foreign Royalty are the worst but the Russians delegations are always easiest, and he jokes about looking in the nearest factory or concert hall if they go astray.
Anthony is shocked to learn that Sir Wilberforce has left the hotel, evading his sergeant by going through the kitchens - and incidentally acting like the “foreign Royalty”. The Inspector leaps on the phone to get some officers out to find him.

Back at the surgery, Carol Wilson (Ingrid Hafner) and Dr Keel are reading the paper and learn of the attempt on Lungi’s life. John Steed (Patrick Macnee) breezes in with his Great Dane, Puppy, and asks if Carol can look after her as he is going away. Steed picks up the paper and says he’s glad the boy is all right before questioning Keel about his relationship with Lungi. Keel reveals that Lungi is worried - not for himself, but of someone stopping the declaration of independence.

STEED: Rosy picture. Well, I don’t mind telling you that he’s causing me a bit of a migraine. The Government’s going to be in a pretty mess if anything happens to the old boy just now. I’ve got to keep him alive until he signs that declaration. After that they can chase him up Nelson’s Column with blowpipes and poison darts for all I care!
KEEL: (GLARES AT STEED) People normally mellow when they reach you age... where do you keeps his feelings? Laced up in your Polo boots?
STEED: So, what’s the matter with Polo? What do you know about Jacquetta Brown?

Steed turns the conversation to Jacquetta, who Keel thinks is the reputed power behind Sir Wilberforce. Steed is wary of her and hints that Keel try to get to know her better, take her out to dinner and make conversation. Keel grunts, “I was wondering when you’d get around to the object of the visit, apart from the dog.” Steed replies that the attack wasn’t a casual affair, he wants to learn what Miss Brown knows - but he can’t do it himself as he’s heading to Tenebra that day to find the root of the trouble. Dr Keel does as Steed asks and rings the hotel to asks Jacquetta out on a date.2

Inspector Anthony has returned with Sir Wilberforce to the hotel, leaving him in Jacquetta’s hands. She warns him not to wear himself out, he has to see the Colonial Secretary that day. Lungi wearily replies, “How many days now?” and she tells him, “Just three”. He wonders where he would be without her; he looks at his European assistant and declares she is more African that he is - she has served his country loyally for five years. She looks at him and replies she only did it because it suited her, it’s time now to move on.

JAC.: My work’s nearly done now.
SIR W.: The independence of my people?
JAC.: The freedom of Africa!"3

Steed arrives in Mobele and is greeted by the servant Asiedu (Christian Holder). Steed is introduced to the imposing Chief Bai Shebro (Bari Johnson), and says he is James Sanderson of The London Daily Globe. Shebro looks at him harshly and insinuates “I’m not new to journalists. I even pride myself in knowing how to handle them.” Steed asks for an interview, asking for a story about an agrarian programme, or industrial prospects after Shebro dismisses discussing the political situation. Shebro introduces his aide, Ali (Wolfe Morris), whom he says is a brilliant chemist with fine ideals. Steed tries to get back to politics and Ali recites political slogans; “No country can survive without a sound economy”, and “Iron ore and diamonds are the lifeblood of this country. While these remain in the hands of the English there can be no independence.” Steed worries about the lack of capital if they shut out English money and Ali carelessly reveals they have powerful friends who will provide the capital.4 “Sanderson” asks is the people are behind Shebro, raising Lungi who Ali declares has sold out to the Colonialists. Shebro says the signature has not yet been given and Steed brandishes the report of the attempted assassination which Shebro dismisses, saying, “Surely you do not attribute such amateurism to me?” while Ali declares that Lungi has betrayed his people and by tribal law he already stands condemned.5

Act 2

Back in London, Dr Keel takes Jacquetta to a fancy restaurant where they have a drink and a meal - and discover they have a mutual admiration for each other. At the same time in Tenebra, Steed meets Shebro’s fourth wife, Judith (Dolores Mantez) who reveals that Dr Keel delivered her baby whom she named ‘David’ after him. When she learns that Steed is a friend of Keel’s she promises to help him and warns him that Shebro is a bad man.

Back at the restaurant, Jacquetta confesses she’s worried about Sir Wilberforce and worries about anything going wrong. Dr Keel asks if she means his health or his political enemies and she replies “Both”. David mentions Bai Shebro and Jacquetta defends him as a man of strong principles who believes Wilberforce is selling the country to the British. Jacquetta tells him the Tenebrans can accomplish the impossible although ninety percent are illiterate and vote the way their leaders tell them to. Keel counters that some of the chieftains are on Lungi’s side, who currently commands a majority. He asks her to dance but the mood is gone and she says it’s getting late and wants to return to the hotel - but suggests he have a nightcap when they get there.

Back in Tenebra, Steed is typing on his typewriter when Shebro and Ali arrive, inviting him to join them on the verandah for some entertainment - he has arranged a traditional tribal dance. They discuss the celebrations in the capital for the impending independence with Bai Shebro saying it will not change how things are here, where the heart of the people lies. Suddenly, a spear thrown by one of the dancers hurtles towards Steed and smashes the brandy glass he’s holding. Shebro smiles urbanely and apologises for the misdirected enthusiasm. When Steed says “misdirected” is the operative word, Shebro chillingly replies, “Enthusiasm might be more accurate. Mr Sanderson”.

In London, David and Jacquetta have reached the hotel and she makes him a very watery whisky and soda which she spills everywhere, to his dismay. Keel asks her outright who’s after Sir Wilberforce - “This attempt the other day. Is it Shebro?” She claims she doesn’t know but he’s not convinced, and tells her he’s not concerned with politics, he just doesn’t want his friend hurt. “You think I do?” she asks and he backs down. She reflects on how nice it has been to relax in the evening for a change but there are so many things he doesn’t understand. Keel says, “Try me” and she asks if he could go through with doing something he wanted to do very badly if the chance came with no repercussions. When he says it would depend on what it was she muses about dedication and loneliness rather than revealing anything definite.

Shebro visits Ali in his laboratory in Tenebra where the chemist confirms his experiment has been a success. Bai Shevro takes the phial and places it in a little box.

SHEBRO: In four days6 all will be over, and you, my dear Ali, will be a very rich man.
ALI: I do not do this for money. I do it for the new Africa.
SHEBRO: Very commendable. You’ll make an excellent Minister of the Interior, or perhaps Minister of Propaganda would be a more suitable portfolio. Strange to think your future and mine lie in this little box. Rather melodramatic isn’t it?

Shebro visits Steed in his room where he finds him reading one of Jacquetta Brown’s books. Shebro carelessly refers to her as “our good friend” which makes Steed prick up his ears but Shebro goes on to say they’ve never met. Steed counters by musing that many passages in the book could have been written by Shebro himself. Shebro finally tires of the facade and shows Steed a photograph - of the real James Sanderson, who is on an assignment in Tokyo!

Act 3

Shebro visits Steed the next morning and tells him that Ali want him shot but he is undecided as he “abhors violence”. Asiedu tells Shebro that Judith has arrived at the hut and he exits, leaving Steed in the hands of Ali. Outside, Shebro roughly orders Judith back to the women’s quarters and reprimands her for being somewhere that was off limits. Ali, gloating over Steed’s expected impending demise gives him a “quote for his newspaper”:

ALI: I met, during my brief visit, a curious character by the name of Ali, a Syrian - as white as the Ace of Spades.7 He likened the human race to an animal and we its members, to the ferment of its corpuscular life stream. He said there was in existence in Tenebra an organisation known as the Kondor Society.

Steed is interested and learns that the members of this society consider the white man their natural enemy and have the letter K branded on their foreheads to remind them of their oath to bloody violence. Shebro returns and is aghast to learn that Ali has mentioned the Society, which Steed describes as “A cousin of the Mau Mau”. Ali, realising his error, says, “Shoot him, he knows too much.” but Bai Shebro again stays his hand.

That night, Judith returns to Steed’s hut and silently dispatches the two warriors guarding him.8 She tells him that Ali has said Sir Wilberforce will “die good this time” and she will help him escape. She tells him Asiedu will help him but by this time Ali has already found one of the unconscious warriors and is creeping towards the bungalow. Steed urges her to come with him but she declines, saying Shebro will not find out it was her who helped him, even in Mobele Shebro is not as loved as he thinks. She calls Asiedu and asks Steed to say hello to Dr Keel for her.
Ali leaps out and blocks their passage but Steed moves swiftly and strikes him down. Asiedu thinks Ali has been killed but Steed reassures him he’ll recover and they escape into the darkness at the end of the balcony. Bai Shebro arrives just after they leave and raises the alarm but is too late to stop them.

Back in London a day later9, the porter (Harold Holness) delivers a package10 to Jacquetta and when he leaves the hotel suite Inspector Anthony demands, “What the devil are you doing in there?” Taken aback, the porter claims to have been delivering drinks and hastily departs.11 Anthony checks with Jacquetta who has opened the package to find a box marked with the letter K. She tells him all is well and he re-emerges to find Dr Keel arriving and he brusquely accosts him as well, demanding to know who he is and how he got past the guard downstairs. Keel explains who he is, and the sergeant downstairs had stopped him and rung upstairs to check, so Anthony lets him enter the suite. Inside, Jacquetta is pleased to see him but says Lungi is still working; she is a bit embarrassed about how much she’d said the night before. They go in to see Sir Wilberforce and convince him to have some rest.
"Tomorrow, please God, we sign and all is finished", Lungi says and Jacquetta goes to prepare his insulin. While she’s doing that, Lungi relates news he’s heard from Tenebra where all is quiet, “A time of waiting, of hoping”. In the sitting room, Jacquetta retrieves the box marked with a K and fills the syringe from the phial within. She then returns with the syringe and asks Dr Keel to administer it for her, which he does.

Sir Wilberforce nods off just as the phone rings and Jacquetta calls Dr Keel to take the call. The operator announces she’s putting through Tangiers and Steed comes on the line. He warns Keel not to leave Sir Wilberforce for a minute, another attempt will be made on his life anytime. Steed says he’s trying to get the RAF to get him there as quickly as possible.12 Keel, acutely aware of the importance of this information, pretends he’s been speaking to a patient and rings off. Jacquetta offers him a drink and he suggests he should stay to make sure Sir Wilberforce is well. She questions why he’s worried - but he has a right to be, as she slips a pill into his drink. She looks up at him and regretfully says, “It wouldn’t have worked, would it David. You and me.” He agrees then, overcome by the drug, he barely notices when she says “Some things are stronger than love.” She leaves the room and he slumps onto the sofa.

Early the next morning, Steed arrives at the hotel and Anthony tells him they’ve doubled the security, nobody’s been in or out all night. Upstairs, Jacquetta tells Anthony they’re all right but Steed is alarmed when she says Dr Keel is sleeping it off after drinking too much. He rouses Keel, shouting “Wake up - you’ll be late for church” and Keel woozily says it’s a nightmare and asks after Lungi.
Anthony calls them urgently to the back room where Keel checks Sir Wilberforce and says they need an ambulance, it looks like Yellow Fever. Jacquetta is shocked but Keel whispers to Steed not to let her out of the suite, whatever happens. He phones a colleague and tells him they need the anti-serum for Yellow X to be sent to St Stephen’s Hospital as quickly as possible. Steed has been listening and queries, “Not Yellow Fever?” and Keel replies it’s very like it, a “witch doctor’s brew” which Sir Wilberforce had taught him how to treat.

Jacquetta declares it’s incredible; Dr Keel looks at her angrily and says Lungi had an A1 blood test when he arrived - so the only way he could have go it was when he injected him the night before. She admits this is true, but insists she tried to tell him. Steed lifts the fringe on her forehead to reveal the K brand of the Kondor Society. Keel, disgusted with her, tells Steed, “Get her out of here will you?” and Steed calls for the Inspector to take her away.


  1. Audiences at the time and indeed, when I read the script, must have been confused by the script - Sir Wilberforce says “In ten days if the declaration is signed, I shall see the culmination of my life’s work” - but all the other references are to shorter timeframes but he must be referring to the whole process after he returns to Tenebra. The time until the summit is three days midway through the act, and everything from Inspector Anthony’s arrival at the hotel to when Sir Wilberforce complains of being tired happens on the one day. In Act Two we’re suddenly back to four days until the summit.
  2. Most of this scene has been struck out, presumably to cut the running time as it’s very verbose and mundane. The only highlight is at the end when Steed quips about Keel’s “Pretty fast work” and to “give her a slap up dinner, caviar, lobster, magnums of champagne” - to which Keel replies, “Yes, I’ll send you the bill”.
  3. There is a lot of foreshadowing in Jacquetta’s lines in this script and their true meaning is revealed in the climax.
  4. A clear Cold War reference here, the “powerful friends” would be Communist states.
  5. There is another lengthy cut at the end of Act 1 here, in which Steed questions Shebro and Ali revealing their thoughts to him as a journalist, and Ali rants about the yoke of the Imperialists being lifted. Shebro’s last sentence was perhaps too obvious: “...their weapons would be subtler than that. They should strike silently - suddenly - and in the dark!”
  6. The ten days that became three days in Act One (footnote 1) has become four days here in Act Two. While it’s true that the whole of Act Two takes place in a single evening, at least a day must have passed for Steed to travel from London to Tenebra, then from the capital city out to Mobele. This is borne out by the cut scene where Keel asks Jacuetta to dinner - he suggests Wednesday or Thursday, and they agree on Thursday. So Steed arrives in Tenebra on Wednesday evening and the whole of Act Two is Thursday evening.
  7. This is a strange phrase, the usual expressions is “Black as the Ace of Spades” and Wolfe Morris, playing Ali, subverts it in reference to his albino appearance - in the Tele-Snaps he looks pale and it looks like his hair has been dusted white as well.
  8. McGinlay & Hayes assumed it was Asiedu who silently dispatched the warriors but it seems more likely that Judith, being a strong woman, did that rather than a slender 12 year old boy as Christian Holder was in 1961. Proof for my reading is a Tele-Snap showing a knocked out warrior lying next to a wash basin and neither the scene breakdown nor the script mention Asiedu until a couple of shots later.
  9. I’ve elected to have a passage of an extra day here to give time for Steed to escape and for the final scenese to make more sense but there’s a problem with the script here. Jacquetta and David refer to their date being “last night” which would set those scenes on Friday night. That would require Steed to reach Tangiers unbelievably quickly, on the same night he escaped Shebro in Tenebra. If an extra day has passed and it’s Saturday night, as I suppose, then Steed’s rousing Keel with the words “Wake up, you’ll be late for church” make more sense, unless he was just being flippant. (Big Finish have church bell FX in the background of that scene but there are no grams or FX indications in the camera script.)
  10. The parcel must have been carried by an agent from Tenebra for it to reach London so quickly, possibly one of Ali’s Communist contacts.
  11. Are we supposed to assume the hotel porter is in on the plot and a member of the Kondor Society? The scripts is again quite ambiguous but he does lie to the Inspector. It’s possible there was a knowing look that passed between him and Jacquetta on screen - but as she seems to be tipping him for delivering the package, he may just as easily be completely innocent and was just trying to get away from the officious Inspector as quickly as possible.
  12. Steed must have been successful in commandeering an RAF ‘plane as he’s in London early the next morning. We can assume he took a boat across to Gibraltar and a jet from the British base there.

Support this site via Paypal Join us on Facebook Become a Patreon! Fan forum