Series 3 — Episode 13
Death à la Carte
by John Lucarotti
Designed by Richard Harrison
Directed by Kim Mills
Production No 3604, VTR/ABC/2716
Production completed: June 7 1963. First transmission: December 21 1963.
TV Times summary
In which Steed turns chef and Cathy tries to prevent a murder
Mrs Gale supervises the visit of the decadent Emir Akaba for his annual medical check-up, while Steed poses as a chef in the kitchen. Their fears are confirmed when Lucien tries to poison the Emir with slow-acting lethal mushrooms. Before the plot can succeed, the Emir dies naturally which panics Mellor since his forces are not ready to seize power. The Avengers prevent him from informing his countrymen, thereby ensuring the coup is defeated.
Catherine Gale (Honor Blackman) is assigned to Emir Abdulla Akaba (Henry Soskin) as a personal social director — at Steed’s insistence — while he’s in London for a medical check-up. She leads the Emir into his hotel suite and the Emir’s bodyguard, Ali (Valentino Musetti) is given a bottle of champagne to open. While the Emir and Cathy look at the view, the Emir’s advisor Mellor (Robert James) takes the Emir’s briefcase2 into an adjoining room and hides the bag of mushrooms in a desk drawer. The Emir toasts Cathy’s organisation skills after she tells him she has engaged three of the world’s best chefs.
Down in the hotel kitchen, the Italian pasta genius Umberto (David Nettheim) nearly comes to blows with Lucien Chaplet (Gordon Rollings), the world-famous French pastry chef after he dumps the wood for his antique stove on the floor and Lucien nearly trips on it. The master chef, Arbuthnot (Ken Parry), bustles in to calm them down and introduces them to the hotel’s new Chef des Viands, an English rising star called Sebastian Stone-Martin — who is actually an undercover John Steed (Patrick Macnee). Steed admires Umberto’s wood stove and when Steed queries Lucien’s elaborate cake, Arbuthnot says they are catering to Royalty. The chefs discuss why the Emir is in London. Umberto says the weekly assassination attempts are impatience, the Emir is an old man and very ill.
ARBUTHNOT: Now, Umberto, that’s back stairs gossip.
UMBERTO: Then you tell me why he is here.
ARBUTHNOT: A simple check up!
UMBERTO; With Dr. Spender? One of the world’s best heart specialists?
STEED: He can afford the best!
LUCIEN: (OMINOUSLY) He may need the best.
Dr Spender (Paul Dawkins) arrives and is roughly searched by Ali before being allowed to enter the penthouse suite. Spender is greatly worried about the Emir’s health, partly because of the Emir’s excessive drinking of alcohol, contrary to his Muslim faith, and more so when the Emir says he has had a recurrence of his old trouble.
Steed is in the kitchen, claiming to have been working at the Maria Christina Hotel in Mexico City to explain why they haven’t come across him before. Arbuthnot bursts in with Cathy, saying they are to be presented to the Emir, but Lucien says his cake is not ready yet. Steed gives a subtle nod to Cathy and she explains how the kitchen is to be run.
CATHY: While we’re waiting, Mr Arbuthnot, I might as well tell you how the routine’s going to work.
Now, the menus will be planned a day in advance and the various cuts of meat, fish, and so on selected will be kept in the food locker in your office until required.
ARBUTHNOT: Under lock and key, of course.
UMBERTO: You think I maybe going to steal a steak, heh?
CATHY: The cupboard must be kept locked, I’m afraid, but I’m sure the key will always be available to you.
She adds that no other kitchen staff can assist, and as soon as a dish is ready Mr Arbuthnot is to take care of it, making Umberto scoff at the precautions. Upstairs, Ali manhandles Dr Spender when he surreptitiously takes a pill out of his pocket, but the doctor protests it is for himself — he suffers from heartburn. The Emir makes him take it then apologies when he does.
The chefs arrive and are presented, and the Emir is very pleased with the cake, which Lucien displays with a flourish of the silver cover, and exchanging a pointed glance with Mellor.
Later, Cathy enters Arbuthnot’s office and is surprised to find the kitchen maid Josie (Coral Atkins) sitting there, combing her hair and claiming to have run out of silver polish, despite the row of bottles behind her. Cathy sends her off with a new bottle and takes the change to exchange notes with Steed. He says they have to keep the Emir alive while an oil treaty is negotiated.
Upstairs, Mellor tapes the envelope of mushrooms to the inside of the cake cover and orders Ali to deliver it to Lucien, and no-one else. Downstairs Cathy tells Josie to take it but Ali refuses, and wheels the trolley into the kitchen. Lucien has gone with Steed and Arbuthnot, so Umberto tells Ali to go away and samples some of the cake, while giving to cover to Josie. Being a bit lazy,3 Josie just dumps it in the cleaning room and leaves. A bit later, Lucien is shocked to find the cake in the kitchen but the cover missing, and he and Umberto fight when Umberto explains what happened. Lucien stalks off to retrieve the cover, only to find the cleaning room door is locked.
Later that night,4 Lucien breaks in to the cleaning room and retrieves the mushrooms…
The next morning, Josie interrupts the menu planning meeting with news of the break in, but she doesn’t think anything has been stolen. Steed is immediately suspicious of the break in, even though there was nothing to take. Upstairs, the Emir refuses to take some medicine Mellor prepares at the doctor’s orders, and yells at him, refusing his request to have the night off.
EMIR: Dispose of this and we — we might reconsider.
MELLOR: Certainly, sir.
EMIR: X-rays, blood-tests, cardiographs. It’s not a problem, Mellor, of holding our country together; the difficulty is holding this.
We should have drunk that. The Doctor ordered it. It was your duty to see that we did. Why did you not do so?
MELLOR: Your excellency —
EMIR: Are you our loyal servant or are not?
Mrs Gale arrives to ask how many will be dining tonight and Mellor is subtly delighted when the Emir gives him permission to be out that night, then shouts at him to leave immediately. Regaining some calm, he tells Cathy he will dine alone.
On the way out, she runs into Dr Spender who tells her the Emir is a very sick man and should have died years ago, but Mellor has kept him alive despite being treated abominably.
Dr Spender tells the Emir his health has deteriorated markedly and, learning that he didn’t take his medicine, recommends rest, suggesting the Emir abdicate.
EMIR: You are forgetting something Doctor — while we live, we rule. That is the law in our country.
SPENDER: Then your reign is drawing rapidly to its close.5
The Emir proudly says a bulletin will be issued, saying he is physically fit, a political document, not a certificate of health. Then, in a moment of honest frailty, asks the doctor to dine with him as he does not much care to be alone.
Back in the kitchen, Lucien manages to substitute some of the mushrooms for those Umberto was about to use in his cannelloni. Cathy meanwhile is telling Steed the Emir has become a lonely old man not wanting to be alone. Steed is interested to learn Mellor will be out and not dining with the Emir, and is startled when he hears that Ali would not part with the cake until he gave it to Lucien. Steed has been peering through the kitchen door while they were talking and ducks round to the other door when he sees Arbuthnot coming. Arbuthnot then summons Steed into the office and tells them that the Emir will have Sebastian’s speciality, faisan à la languedocienne, that evening, much to their collective horror.6
Steed is unsure nothing was taken from the cleaning room, so pops next door to chat up the sulky Josie, who is reading gossip magazine instead of working. He checks the inside of the cover and annoys her by asking if she cleaned it inside. Ducking back to the kitchen door, he sees Arbuthnot supervising Umberto’s final preparation of the cannelloni and frown in suspicion. Steed waits by the door then deliberately flings it open just as Umberto reaches it, knocking the dish flying, covering Umberto in the sauce. Umberto is so furious, he forgets his Italian persona:
UMBERTO: You great big steaming nit! (CLAPS HAND OVER MOUTH)
Steed is forced to deliver the replacement lunch of poached eggs and on the way back down in the lift, he tells Cathy something had come down in the cover and he couldn’t take a chance with the cannelloni. Umberto had been alone but Steed says the break-in proves it wasn’t him, Lucien or maybe Arbuthnot are the suspects. A poison seems likely, but tasteless and odourless, Cathy suggests but Steed points out it could taste exactly like something else — mushrooms!7
Steed immediately goes to Arbuthnot office and removes all the mushrooms, while upstairs Mellor and Lucien are conspiring, Lucien saying the mushrooms will be used in Sebastian’s pheasant, and Mellor grimly saying the doctor will have to die as well if he’s is dining with the Emir. He gives Lucien his payment, but adds that half will be held back until he removes any remaining mushrooms from the cupboard that night.
In the kitchen, Steed runs a master class on preparing the pheasant, watched by all the kitchen staff and Umberto, who thinks the recipe simplistic. Luckily, the Emir is delighted with the pheasant, but the doctor is late for dinner due to an emergency at the hospital. The Emir takes a glass of brandy offered by Spender and sits down. His voice wavers as he congratulates Arbuthnot on running a magnificent kitchen and then he drops dead on the spot.
Cathy and Steed are summoned to the penthouse by Arbuthnot and learn from Dr Spender that the Emir has died, he will do a post-mortem in the morning. Mellor arrives and prevents Cathy from calling the police, saying they first have to ensure the succession and move troops to vantage points to prevent unrest. Cathy relents, but when he orders them all to remain in the apartment, including Spender and Arbuthnot, Steed’s suspicions are raised. When Mellor goes on to demand the key to the food locker as well, Cathy realises Mellor is a coup leader and exchanges a glance with Steed.
Mellor orders Spender and Arbuthnot into one room, and draws a pistol on Steed and Cathy when they try to leave. He ushers them into his bedroom and tells Ali to remove the telephone, then they are locked in.
Steed and Cathy reason it out and Steed concludes that if Mellor is leading a coup, his taking the key must mean he knows the poison is still in the cupboard,8; he must get to the kitchen. Opening the window, he sees they are a very long way up but edges out onto the ledge anyway.
CATHY: Do you suffer fron vertigo?
STEED: This is a very good way to find out.
After a slip on the ledge that makes Cathy gasp in horror, Steed makes it to some vents that he can climb to reach the roof. He claws his way to the top and descends into the service lift. Mellor meanwhile has been told it will take an hour to connect him to Ibra, so he tells Ali to help Lucien get the mushrooms. Steed has already made it downstairs before them and prepares an ambush in the office.
After taking another call, Mellor throws the keys to Ali9 and tells him to get the mushrooms, then get rid of Lucien. Cathy has her ear to the door and overhears his treachery, so she goes to the bedside lamp…
When Lucien arrives to jemmy the locker open, Steed appears and suavely tells him he already has them, holding a mushroom up. Lucien makes a run for it but is attacked and killed by Ali. Ali then bursts into the kitchen and fights with Steed. Steed breaks a strangehold but is backed against a stove with Ali advancing with a carving knife — so he grabs a pan of hot oil and hurls it at Ali’s face.
Upstairs, Cathy has stripped two live wires from an electric razor and touches them to the metal lamp, making all the lights go out. She throws a light bulb and he gingerly opens the door ordering her to come out. She throws another and, with Mellor distracted by the sound, comes behind him and overpowers him. He yells for Ali, but it is Steed who enters the door and picks up Mellor’s gun.
Arbuthnot and Spender are freed, the doctor not quite believing what Cathy has told him, but then the phone rings and Steed answers it:
STEED: Hello? Oh, is that the Royal Palace at Ibra? It isn’t?
(Close 2-shot See SPENDER react.)
STEED: Oh, I must have got the wrong number. I’m very sorry to have troubled you. I’m afraid your revolting friends were not too pleased when they realised you made a mess of it.10
Cathy sets up a table with candles in Arbuthnot’s office. He arrives and tells her the Emir died of a coronary, the Amanita Phalloides11 mushrooms would have taken ten days to kill him, and Mellor’s men weren’t ready for the take-over.
He suddenly notices the table is laid and is delighted to learn Umberto insisted on cooking for them:
STEED: Now, what have we got here? I’m starving, Umberto. Pannetone, spaghetti, ravioli?12
UMBERTO: Do me a favour, Mr Steed! I’ve had that I-talian lark.13 No, this is real food. There! Fish and chips mate, we’re frying tonight!
- A very unsubtle signalling that this will be important later with a close-up of the crest on the case. ⭮
- Once again, we have a close-up of the briefcase and crest so the viewer is left in no doubt that it is the same briefcase as before. ⭮
- Well, to be fair, she had just said she was going on a break before Umberto ordered her to clean the silver cover. On the other hand, she had already displayed a lack of enthusiasm and a lot of attitude, as she will again later. ⭮
- I think this scene was meant to be dark but the lighting crew haven’t dimmed the lights, and we don’t really see the jemmy bar come through either. We also see Lucien clearly, even though the script (shot 71, page 22) says his face is not to be seen. Perhaps this says a lot about the direction from Kim Mills. ⭮
- At these words, the Emir’s head wobbles slightly, then his head drops back against the sofa headrest, almost as if he were dying immediately. Soskin then makes a guttural laugh and delivers his next line. ⭮
- The looks on the faces of Steed and Cathy at this news are priceless. ⭮
- The original script doesn’t actually spell it out explicitly, but two lines have been added. ⭮
- Macnee slips up on his line here and says “knows” instead of “thinks”, as of course Steed removed the mushrooms near the end of Act 2. ⭮
- Val Musetti misses the catch and they ricochet off his hand. ⭮
- Is this a rewrite or an inspired ad lib? These lines were originally:
STEED: Then I must have the wrong number. I’m very sorry to have troubled you.⭮
That was Military Headquarters in Ibra. They’re not going to be very pleased when they discover things haven’t turned out quite the way you planned.
- The actors stumble over their lines here and Macnee wickedly says,“What were they called again?” Why the script didn’t just say “death caps” is beyond me, unless they wanted to use a word meaning “phallus-shaped” on television and get away with it. ⭮
- Pannetone? Christmas cake?? Macnee was supposed to say “Fettuccini? Tagliatelli? Ravioli?” ⭮
- After doing so well with his pretence of being Italian without resorting to obvious stereotypes, Umberto falls down at the last hurdle by pronouncing Italian as Eye-talian. ⭮