Series 1 — Episode 17
Death on the Slipway
by James Mitchell
Production completed: 22 June 1961. First transmission: 24 June 1961
TV Times summary
John Steed had to fight for his life against an enemy agent whom he does not know – but who knows him
The following episode summary is written from the published synopses, other previously published material and Leonard White’s scrapbook of notes and Tele-Snaps as this episode is now lost. There may have been changes made during filming. I have made a few assumptions, marked with footnotes, to try to explain gaps and plot holes. My breaks in the acts are based on when significant cliff-hanger events happen and may not be completely accurate.
Steed investigates a murder in a submarine dockyard and crosses paths with an old enemy - Kolchek. The foreign spy wants the plans to a new nuclear submarine and, realising Steed will stop him, blackmails the foreman into planting a bomb on board. Steed locates the bomb, hidden in Fleming’s briefcase, and throws it into the water to explode harmlessly.
Late at night at a naval shipyard, all is quiet and the gantries and slipways deserted. A flicker of light in one of the offices, where we find the Eastern Bloc spy Kolchek (Peter Arne) spinning the dials of a safe he’s cracking. Behind him the shipyard personnel manager, Fleming (Sean Sullivan), holds a torch so Kolchek can see what he’s doing. The tumblers spin and click and the safe is open. Kolchek reaches in and finds the plans for a new nuclear submarine; he removes them from the safe, satisfied he has what he wants. They turn to go but there’s a faint noise in the yard and they realise a shadowy figure is approaching. They quickly scale a ladder to hide amongst the machinery and when the watcher comes around the ladder to investigate the area, Kolchek reaches down from his hiding place and strangles the man before throwing him down onto the slipway below, hoping the tide will take the body away.
The next day, John Steed (Patrick Macnee) visits Dr David Keel (Ian Hendry), who is dealing with an irritating elderly patient (Gordon Phillott).1 The phone rings and Keel grabs it, hoping for a reason to escape his tiresome patient, but when he hears One-Ten’s voice, he hands it over to Steed. One-Ten tells him his agent, who was undercover as a shipwright at the yard, has not reported in and he’s to visit Sir William at the yard to investigate.
When Steed arrives at the shipyard, Sir William Bonner (Frank Thornton) is deep in an embrace with his assistant, Liz Wells (Nyree Dawn Porter), kissing her deeply. They hastily break off their kiss when Steed knocks on the door; he enters and introduces himself as a metallurgist come to check the submarine’s quality and progress so Sir William takes him on a tour of the yard. They return to the office where Sam Pearson (Paul Dawkins) and his assistant, Pardoe (Garry Watson), are discussing the submarine. Steed asks a couple questions of the assembled company. He casually asks about people working at the shipyard, hoping to learn about the missing agent, and raises the suspicions of Liz, who thinks he’s too curious about matters other than the material build of the submarine’s hull.
At about the same time, two of the ship builders notice something lying beside the submarine on the slipway. Geordie Wilson (Redmond Bailey) makes Jack (Robert G. Bahey) reach down with a boathook2 and they discover that it’s the body of the missing agent.
Kolchek is in Fleming’s office, telling him he wants more information and discussing how they’re going to escape detection now that the police have arrived. Kolchek warns Fleming not to talk, they have enough dirt on him to put him away for life. Inspector Georgeson (Barry Keegan) arrives with several policemen and searches the shipyard. Steed reveals himself to be an undercover agent3 and joins their investigation. They interview the operations manager Sam Pearson about security at the yard and Georgeson discovers the safe in the office has been tampered with and documents are missing. Kolchek meanwhile has realised who Steed is - they had previously crossed paths and he’s sure to recognise him - and lays a trap for him, hoisting a 44 gallon drum above a gangway.
Fearing she has made a terrible mistake in her past, Liz goes to Sir William, trying to find out more about Steed but Sir William is unable to tell her anything, no matter how coquettishly she acts. Giving in to her charms, he finally tells her the details of Steed’s hotel room. Out in the yard, Kolchek makes his attempt on Steed’s life but the wily agent dives out if the way just in time and the drum fails to kill him. Kolchek, wearing a stocking over his head as a disguise, leaps down from the gantry and tries to strangle Steed but our hero fights him off and Kolchek disappears into the gloom of the shipyard, removing the stocking to evade detection. Steed returns to the office and telephones One-Ten to tell him of the attempt on his life, smiling grimly as he reports that the enemy has been flushed out by his investigation.
That evening, Liz arrives at Steed’s hotel and breaks into his room, unaware that she passed him in the lobby as he was in a casual polo shirt rather than his usual suit.4 She’s searching his suitcase when he returns and confronts her. He thinks she’s involved in the espionage but she tearfully confesses that before Sir William, Fleming had been her lover. A year ago he had struck a child in a drunken hit-and-run and the child had died; she had though Steed was a private detective come to investigate and have him arrested. Steed has an epiphany and realises that Fleming is the weak link at the shipyard - he is being blackmailed to assist the Soviet spies.
Kolchek meanwhile5 decides that as he can’t get all he wants now Steed is at the shipyard, his best course of action is to set off a bomb. He orders Fleming to plant the bomb, saying it will cause a distraction so they can escape. He tells Fleming to hide it inside his briefcase or he’ll go to the police about the hit and run.
The next morning, P.C. Geary (Patrick Connor) reluctantly lets Fleming into the secured area of the submarine bay where Fleming then hides the briefcase in the shelves of equipment and tools6, unaware that Kolcheck has betrayed him anyway - the bomb will not be a mere distraction but will in fact destroy the entire shipyard. Steed has theorised that something like this was going to happen and is already searching through the pipes and piles of steel plating that will become part of the submarine, but finds nothing.
Liz goes to Fleming’s office to confront him and finds Kolchek there instead. Kolchek chats to her amiably for a while but when she tries to leaves he grabs her wrists and forces her into a closet, locking her inside. Fleming meanwhile leaves the secure section but P.C. Geary notices he no longer has his briefcase and is nervously dabbing at his mouth with a handkerchief when trying to explain what he did with it, so Geary arrests him.
Pearson’s assistant, Pardoe has heard strange noises coming from Fleming’s office and goes to investigate but he’s knocked out by Kolchek who then makes his escape. Steed and Georgeson question Fleming and they’re joined by a Ministry of Defence official called Chandler (Billy Milton).7 Learning where the briefcase has been hidden, Steed goes to retrieve it while the others go to confront Kolchek in Fleming’s office. Steed finds the suitcase about the same time the others find the unconscious Pardoe and free Liz from the closet.
Steed gingerly moves the briefcase, afraid that the ticking device inside is going to go off at any moment. At the entrance to the secure section, Georgeson, P.C. Geary and Sergeant Brodie (Hamilton Dyce) secure the gate and they’re all wondering why Steed hasn’t come back out yet - but at that moment Kolchek, who has decided the glorious victory of the Motherland comes before his own survival8, has appeared and pulled a gun on Steed, stopping him from disarming the bomb. Kolchek warily motions for him to move away from the bomb - but Steed picks it up and throws it over the end of the slipway. It explodes after going beneath the surface, throwing up an enormous torrent of seawater. Furiously, Kolchek brings his gun to bear on Steed and pulls the trigger - just as Fleming rushes in, and Fleming takes the bullet meant for Steed. Outside, Liz, Geordie and Jack watch through the wire at the drama unfolding, and see Steed leap upon Kolchek, disarming him and subduing him as the assembled policemen rush to his aid. Thwarted, the enemy spy is led away by PCs Geary and Butterworth (Tom Adams).
Some time later, Dr Keel returns to his surgery to find Steed fast asleep on Keel’s examination bench; his dog, Puppy, standing guard over the exhausted agent.
- Gordon Phillott appears in the next episode, Double Danger but the Tele-Snaps clearly show him in Keel’s surgery as an elderly patient. Maybe the director saw him on set and pressed him into service. I wonder if they made him an early carry-over character, playing the same character in both.
- The Tele-Snap shows a younger man lying of the ground to reach whatever it is.
- There’s a Tele-Snap of Steed present when the Inspector is talking to Pearson and this seems to be the likely reason for Steed’s presence.
- Tele-Snaps show a dark open-necked shirt which McGinlay and Hayes took to be pyjamas but I think it’s just as likely he had changed into dark casual gear to do some late-night snooping. Him being in the lobby is pure guesswork, otherwise he either returned conveniently early.
- I put this here so we have an end of act cliffhanger about planting a bomb, it might easily have been the starting point of the third act.
- Dave Rogers’ synopsis talks about the bomb being on board the submarine but the Tele-Snaps do not seem to support this idea.
- Pure guesswork, I’m afraid. Chandler seems to be an officious bloke with a pen and clipboard so this seems a likely scenario.
- Why else would he be there rather than miles away, running as fast as he can?