• title card: white all caps text reading ‘THE NUTSHELL’ superimposed on a security camera fixed to a wall, turned nearly towards us
  • Close two-up of Steed speaking to Elin, who is nearest us, dramatically lit from below
  • Venner, on the left, and Anderson capture Jason at the airfield
  • Two-up close shot of Cathy, on the left, asking Disco a question. Disco is in extreme close-up and partially out of shot on the right
  • Venner, standing at the back, questions Steed, sitting in a chair in the foreground, in the electrified steel interrogation chamber
  • The monitor shows the content of the microfilm - a holiday snap of Steed at the beach

Series 3 — Episode 4
The Nutshell

by Philip Chambers
Designed by Philip Harrison
Directed by Raymond Menmuir

Production No 3602, VTR/ABC/2675
Production completed: May 10 1963. First transmission: October 19 1963.

TV Times summary

In which Steed hunts a traitor and finds himself fighting Cathy

Plot summary

Who copied the file code-named Big Ben from The Nutshell? It seems that Steed is the mastermind when he is caught after apparently handing over secrets, but it is all a ploy to encourage the traitor Venner to reveal himself and take the microfilm from Steed. Cathy captures some of the plotters and convinces the head of Nutshell, Disco, that Steed is innocent and Venner is arrested instead.

show full synopsis

show plot summary


A beautiful young woman in diving gear breaks into the top-secret NATO installation, carefully evading the light beams and cameras protecting the corridors, then photographs an uber-secret file on a computer screen. She doesn’t notice a security camera descending as she photographs the file and has to hurriedly escape when the alarms go off.

Act 1

John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and Catherine Gale (Honor Blackman) are talking about the nuclear arms race as a deterrent for war when he’s called in to investigate — and Steed is quite put out that the boot’s on the other foot for a change and Cathy knew they were going to summoned before he did. Cathy tells him they ordered her to give him a lift, but it’s all she knows. After passing the security desk manned by Bill (Edwin Brown) and having their fingerpints, heartbeats and jaw x-rays verified, they descend a quarter of a mile in the lift to “The Nutshell” (Thermo-Nuclear Underground Targetzone SHELter), the seat of government for World War III. The voice of Laura (Patricia Haines) directs them to her office and she then leads them to meet the shadowy DISCO — Director of Intelligence, Security and Combined Operations (John Cater), who explians why they have been summoned.

DISCO: We’re handling an emergency. You’ve been brought here because I’m borrowing you both for a major assignment.
DISCO: Mrs. Gale, we don’t usually allow members of the public in here but since this is an emergency we’ve had to waive all protocol.
STEED: What’s happened?
DISCO: Someone has stolen Big Ben.

Pleased with the reaction, Disco explains he didn’t mean “that overgrown piece of clock work in Parliament Square”, then takes them through to the National Security Archives where Security Officer Venner (Charles Tingwell) and his assistant Susan (Christine Shaw) are working. Disco explains that earlier that morning, somebody managed to penetrate the security archive and copy “Big Ben”, which he explains means Bilateral Infiltration, Great Britain (E)and North America — a document that lists all known double agents on both sides of the Cold War. If it falls into the wrong hands it will be a death sentence for any agents behind the Iron Curtain.

That’s only half the problem, Disco adds, and the other half is worse. Back in his office, Disco explains it was an inside job. Only thirty people knew of Big Ben’s existence and they all have top clearance. Cathy is assigned to work with Venner and Susan to search the archives for the intruder, whose face was clearly photographed, while Steed is sent to Special Branch.

Instead, Steed goes straight to the woman’s flat — she is Elin Strindberg (Edina Ronay), a Swedish cabaret performer and is busy training another escapologist. He asks for the microfilm. She is annoyed that he is late then they haggle a bit over the price as a man called Jason has told her to ask for more. Steed laughs and tells her 40% should have been enough for her, then chides her that Jason was only offering her 25% — you can’t trust men! She’s already packed to go and has a flight booked so after she finally hands over the microfilm he tells her she has twenty five minutes before he tells the authorities about her.

Cathy wraps up at the archives after they fail to find Elin in their files, although Susan finds a photo of Sylvia Sims. She has just left when Anderson (Ian Clark) arrives, and is shocked to learn that a woman broke into the archives by an unknown route. Susan, meanwhile has raced up to the reception desk and uses Bill’s phone to make an outside call to her feller, Alex, telling him “You know the girl who was going to sell me that flat? Well, she’s given it to someone else”.1

Back at his apartment, Cathy tells Steed he’s been up to something fishy all day and she’s not sure if she trusts him. She is stunned to hear him call Laura and tell her he’s just leaving Special Branch and has identified the woman as Elin Strindberg, a Swedish cabaret performer, and tells Laura Elin’s address.

Laura repeats the address and tells Venner to get there immediately. Moments later, Susan makes another call and raises Bill’s suspicions as she hisses that she must have it, then and tells him to ‘see her friend’ at Elin’s address.2 A short time later, Venner gets to Elin’s flat and discovers her dead body in the escapologist’s sack.

Act 2

Venner reports back to Disco — upon learning Elin was an escapologist, he thought of the ventilation shafts and Anderson found her wetsuit is a tunnel that came out under the Embankment. Venner then goes on to say that Elin had been shot by a security services standard issue revolver. A search of the flat revealed nothing but she had a visit from her boyfriend earlier in the week that was captured by a publicity photographer, they’re getting a blow up of it developed...

Cathy’s puzzled by why Steed didn’t tell anyone about the girl earlier, and confused when he says he helped her escape to Switzerland to avoid capture. She’s worried he’s under stress and losing his grip.

STEED: I appreciate your concern but I’m afraid have an appointment.
CATHY: With Big Ben.
STEED: Stick around and you’ll find out!

Cathy’s amazed when he pulls out a secret short-wave radio and contacts an agent called Sergei and she wrings her hands in worry. Back at the Nutshell, Venner excuses himself to go and look at the air vents just before the enlargement comes back — clearly showing Steed talking to Elin. Disco immediately recalls Venner and Anderson, and issues a coded Alert Memorandum:

DISCO: To zones twelve, nineteen, eighteen, sixty. Secret Supremest. Priority Zenith. (PAUSE) One eight three six (PAUSE) twenty, forty-six Oh five (PAUSE). eighty two. Full stop. (PAUSE) That should do it. Get that piped to command centre, operation codeword BISMARCK.

Venner arrives at Steed’s flat but Cathy won’t tell him about Steed’s movements,3 until Venner says Steed has defected. He suggests Steed may have been blackmailed, or brainwashed, or cracked under the pressure, so Cathy tells him Steed had a visitor called Jason that afternoon. She didn’t hear what they said, but Jason has a Slavic accent and said something about a winter coat, and an airfield, then mentioned 2am.

Venner rings Laura and she locates Wintercote Airfield, an old Battle of Britain base. They arrange to intercept him, but Disco still isn’t fully convinced of Steed’s true purpose. Venner finds Jason in the files, a double-agent mentioned in Big Ben who was being strung along by the Berlin office, and Venner grimly observes it’s time to rope him and Steed in.

Venner and Anderson race to intercept them and capture Jason (Jan Conrad) just before a light plane lands. They’re wondering what to do, as Jason doesn’t have the microfilm, when Steed arrives and holds them at gunpoint. He orders Jason to go without him, waits until Jason has escaped, then turns himself in.

VENNER: You realise the charge against you is High Treason?
STEED: Is it really? I hadn’t really thought about it. … Shall we go?

Act 3

Steed’s taken back to The Nutshell and beaten and interrogated, but reveals nothing. Venner tells him Jason’s plane was intercepted and searched, and Big Ben wasn’t on it. He and Anderson take turns in asking where the microfilm is but Steed remains steadfast. In the corridors outside, Laura tells Cathy that normal laws don’t apply in the Nutshell and what happens to Steed depends on how co-operative he is.

Meanwhile, Susan arrives at Steed’s flat with Alex (Ray Browne). Alex picks the lock and they search the flat for the microfilm.

Back at the Nutshell, Venner delivers Steed a delicious meal on a silver platter with a bottle of Pouilly Fuissé — but won’t let him have it until he talks. Cathy meanwhile queries how Steed could have know enough to brief Elin. Disco tells her that while an outsider to the Nutshell, Steed had visited three times that year, trained to observe, he may have deduced enough to be able to brief Strindberg. His motive might have been vanity — to see if he can outwit both sides.

DISCO: The thought processes of the hunter and the hunted can be so related, almost interchangeable — only their motives distinguish them.
CATHY: Steed has had to think like a spy.

They agree that Steed may have cracked under the pressure of the job but Disco says he wants the Big Ben film and thinks Steed knows where it is, even if he is innocent. Venner meanwhile has placed Steed in a metal room and proceeds to send electric currents, increasing in voltage through the floor and walls, electrocuting Steed. Venner voice, coming from a speaker, tells Steed he will never know when the next shock will come, or how strong it will be. Watching on a monitor, Cathy is horrified and tells Disco Steed won’t crack in the four hours they have left. She offers to talk to him, maybe she can get Steed to talk and Disco agrees. Steed refuses her offer of leniency, saying he doesn’t trust Disco, and not even the promise of money and escape will make him crack. As she turns to leave the cell, Steed jumps her from behind but she fights him off4 before Venner and a guard arrive. Venner frisks him after she goes — and Steed smiles when Venner finds a pistol and returns it to Steed’s pocket…

There’s a temporary outage of the security cameras and Venner tips his hand, offering Steed £30,000 for the microfilm. Steed demands £50,000 and they agree on an escape plan, Venner will make sure the corridors are clear if Steed can evade the cameras on the way to Fifty Sector. Meanwhile, Cathy interrupts Alex searching Steed’s flat, and shoots him in the hand.

Venner asks Susan to contact Alex, and explains that Steed has made a deal and they're getting him out. However, when Steed emerges from the cell the guards quickly approach him from all directions. Just then, Susan is stopped from making another phone call from Bill's desk as Cathy replaces the receiver while Bill hold Alex captive.

CATHY: Alex isn't there; he's here. — I wouldn't if I were you!

She forces Alex to tell Disco the ringleader’s name — Venner and Disco then orders the guards re-apprehending Steed to arrest Venner instead.

The criminals rounded up, Cathy tells Disco that Jason learnt of a plan hatched inside Nutshell to steal Big Ben.5 Being a double agent he was concerned and told Steed. Steed reported it to security but when nothing happened, he paid Elin a bit more to double-cross them.


Steed arrives with the guards and Disco demands the film - but Cathy has had it all along, and she hands it over. Disco is astonished to discover that there was never a threat to national security, Steed had given Elin a camera with pre-exposed film - shots of Steed and Cathy on holiday!6

  1. Susan is clearly speaking in code here but Bill doesn’t seem to bat an eyelid.
  2. The penny seems to drop for Bill and Susan turns away from him as she finishes the call.
  3. Cathy is also nervous about Venner finding the short-wave radio and goes to stop him heading towards it.
  4. The fight is staged, Cathy’s entire purpose in visiting Steed in the cell was to give him a pistol.
  5. Just as in Brief for Murder, Cathy is revealed to have known Steed’s plan all along and has pretended to not know to mislead the audience. This time, there’s no subtle hint at the beginning of the episode.
  6. I think this is actually a still from The Removal Men.

fan forum Donate Become a Patron!