Series 3 — Episode 15
The White Elephant
by John Lucarotti
Designed by Philip Harrison
Directed by Laurence Bourne
Production No 3616, VTR/ABC/3168
Production completed: November 22 1963. First transmission: January 4 1964.
TV Times summary
In which Steed tracks a white elephant and Cathy hunts big game
When Lawrence returns from Africa to reassert his role in an ivory smuggling racket, Snowy the elephant recognises the believed-dead hunter. Snowy’s disappearance leads Mrs Gale to become a zoologist at Noah’s zoo and Steed and her find ivory secreted in the bars of the cages. After a furious gun fight amongst the cages, another smuggling scheme is brought to an end.
George (Martin Friend) goes to feed his charge, Snowy, but the pen is unlocked and empty. His boss, Noah Marshall (Godfrey Quigley), asks if he locked the pen to which George replies he’s take an oath on it Thinking Snowy might be roaming the grounds, George turns to look, but Noah suggests they would have seen her.
GEORGE: But we can’t have lost Snowy, sir… not an elephant!
John Steed (Patrick Macnee) is meditating on a daffodil when Catherine Gale (Honor Blackman) drops by and wonders what he’s doing. When he explains watch a flower grow is a Yoga exercise to develop concentration, she suggests stalking big game instead. Steed asks is she misses her hunting days, then suggests she take a job at Noah’s Ark,1 mentioning the missing elephant.
Cathy applies to be a collector for Noah’s Ark, and meets Brenda Paterson (Judy Parfitt) who rules the office. Noah likes her and shows her the anaesthetic darts and Bannerman and Kemp rifles2 they use. He likes her and suggests she spend a few days with them to see if she’d like the job; Brenda isn’t so sure and suggests Cathy is too individualistic to join their team.
Steed pretends to be worried about Snowy’s whereabouts, then reveals that he’s interested in Snowy’s disappearance because it’s the only clue they have in trying to stop a soft ivory smuggling racket which has international and ecological ramifications.3
STEED: Now if we find out who took her — she must have gone voluntarily — then we’ve got another lead. With your experience you ought to be able to pick up the spoor. After all, she is an elephant and white to boot.
CATHY: (ARCHLY) Whose spoor will you be following?
STEED: (FLIPPANTLY) I may concentrate on the decline of the Musk ox. Or the panda population. I haven’t made up my mind yet.
Cathy mentions how influential Brenda is — even choosing Noah’s gunsmith, Bannerman and Kemp.
Steed visits the gunsmith’s and meets Mr Fitch (Bruno Barnabe), the owner, and Joseph Gourlay (Toke Townley), the smith, when Steed expresses his delight at a replica 1650 flintlock pistol Gourley has made. Gourley excuses himself when Steed asks how much it costs, to spare him embarrassment, and is surprised when Steed buys it, despite it costing more than a year’s wages.4 As he signs his cheque, Steed drops Noah’s name, saying he’s planning a safari
STEED: I’m going after an albino. The white elephant.
FITCH: Oh really? How very interesting. I understand they’re rather rare. Where will you be going? India? Burma?
STEED: I thought I might try the home counties.
At the zoo, Noah tells Cathy that Brenda also found a cheap cage builder, Jordan and Moss, and is an old friend of their top collector, big game hunter Lew Conniston. Meanwhile, Brenda is hiding boxes inside a beam of one of the cages with Madge Jordan (Rowena Gregory) when George enters, saying Noah wishes to see her. Brenda and Madge are worried he might have seen the boxes.
Noah reveals he didn’t own Snowy, she belonged to a missing anthropologist called Professor Lawrence, whose deserted camp was found in the Burmese jungle by Conniston, with Snowy in it. Brenda comes in and Noah asks Brenda to book Cathy a ticket for the flight to Hamburg. She grits her teeth at Cathy, then Noah produces a photo of Lawrence and they all stare at the it as Noah says he must have died, not even a trained hunter could have survived a few weeks in the Burmese jungle.
Professor Thaddeus Lawrence (Edwin Richfield) however is very much alive, and trying the rifles in Bannerman’s. He tells Fitch he thinks Conniston will skip out on them on his next trip, as he’s double crossed people before when it was worth it — and the next consignment is! They talk to Gourlay, who is milling ivory on his lathe and Fitch worries that loading at the zoo will be risky.
Steed arrives at the shop, wanting the ivory handle of a Derringer repaired,5 and surreptitiously collects some of the ivory dust that Fitch brushes off his suit sleeve.
Steed confirms George was murdered, hit over the back of the head then hanged while unconscious, and he shows her the ivory dust he picked up at Bannerman and Kemp’s. He speculates that the zoo may be the source, the constant movement of wild animals would make the perfect cover. He’s very interested when Cathy tells him the cages are custom made, and that Snowy belonged to the missing anthropologist, Lawrence.
At the gunsmith’s, Fitch is annoyed that George has died, and sternly reminds Lawrence there was to be no violence.
LAWRENCE: My dear Fitch, I’ve deprived myself of a great many things, devoted a lot of time and effort to this endeavour. And nobody, and that includes you, will tell me what I may or may not do.
Fitch wants to stop the consignment but Lawrence tells him delay is out of the question, he has clients waiting, and wants his revenge on Conniston.
Cathy and Noah check George’s logs, his last entry being 2.30. Noah says the men made a habit of 2.30 and 4.30 checks, spending the rest of the time in the office which had a view of the grounds, but on the night Snowy disappeared there was a gap between 2.25 and 6. Cathy deduces George may have fallen asleep but then Lew Conniston (Scott Forbes)8 arrives at the zoo and is introduced to her, Brenda quickly adding that Cathy will be joining Lew on the trip to Hamburg.
Steed visit Jordan & Moss (Roy Powell), posing as a buyer for restraints for bondage wear.9 He orders a few handcuffs giving an address then adds, as he’s leaving, a restraint for a quadruped. Madge asks what size and he says it’s for a small white elephant which alarms Madge greatly.
Conniston tells Brenda to drug Noah’s coffee to clear the way for the smuggling, as she did with George. She swears she had nothing to do with it, so he gives her one of the anaesthetic bullets,10 telling her to use it on the sugar. Lawrence meanwhile is at the gunsmith’s as Gourlay finishes packing boxes of ivory. Fitch warns Lawrence that Conniston won’t be travelling alone as Mrs Gale will be accompanying him.
LAWRENCE: Perhaps I can interest her in becoming Conniston’s successor.
LAWRENCE: This is Conniston’s last safari for us.
Madge rings, warning them that Steed has been at the factory, wanting a cage for a white elephant leading Lawrence to wonder if he’s a professional or amateur hunter. Steed and Cathy meanwhile deduce that Lawrence runs the smuggling operation, and must have been recognised by Snowy which is why she’s disappeared. Steed thinks Lawrence has been hunting the ivory in Africa and shipping it to Noah at the zoo.
Noah goes on night watch at the zoo, smiling benevolently at the animals as he painfully11 makes his rounds but failing to spot Lawrence who is lurking in the shadows. He goes inside and makes himself a cup of coffee…
Steed meanwhile returns to Jordan’s and feeds Snowy after knocking out Moss, who was guarding her. Noah drops off after drinking his coffee, and Conniston and Brenda leap into action but they too fail to see Lawrence, revolver in hand.
Steed bribes Gourlay to reveal all, while Cathy is caught by Lawrence, who reveals that Brenda is his wife. Cathy tricks him by asking if he needs a gun to deal with a woman, and then knocks him out.
Steed meanwhile has learned about the whole five years of the smuggling operation and Gourlay takes him to the shop to see the accounts book but Fitch catches them with it and takes it from Steed at gunpoint.
FITCH: How much does he know, Joseph?
JOSEPH: A litle…
STEED: More than a little, Joseph! He was fascinating Mr. Fitch. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Fitch decides they’ll wait for Lawrence and let the Professor decide Steed’s fate…
Back at the zoo, Conniston hears Cathy coming out of the office and captures and disarms her. He hauls her off and locks her in a cage then opens the connecting tunnel to the panther’s cell, warning her Pasha gets very angry if woken before daylight.
Back at the shop Steed seizes his chance when Joseph is collecting ivory dust to knock it flying into Fitch’s eyes, enabling Steed to disarm him and turn the tables on them.
Conniston finds Brenda nervously putting boxes of ivory inside the hollow cage bars. He offers to take over when she insists on making sure Noah is still drugged, then checks his revolver and locks the door. She goes looking for Lawrence but fails to find him; when she returns, Conniston accuses her of helping Lawrence, it was her who drugged George so Lawrence could take Snowy, the look on her face when he suggested using the anaesthetic dart to drug Noah gave the game away. Conniston admits killing George, who had found the ivory — and he’ll kill her and Mrs Gale as well if necessary.
Steed arrives, much to Cathy’s relief, and releases her from the cage, while in the storeroom Brenda confesses that Lawrence is at the zoo.
LAWRENCE: I though so. Why have you been double crossing me?
BRENDA: You wouldn’t understand.
LAWRENCE: You’re right, I wouldn’t. Well, it’s got to be one of us, Lawrence or me. And it’s not going to be me. Come on, outside!
When Conniston and Brenda emerge, Steed orders him to drop his gun, and they have a brief and disturbing gun fight amongst the cages while Cathy apprehends Brenda. The gun fight becomes a knife fight after Conniston runs out of bullets but Steed prevails by tossing Conniston over a balcony.
Steed offers Cathy a valuable ivory carving as a reward, and she angrily berates him for always taking the spoils of victory.; she’s an anthropologist, not one of his gang12 and he’d better have a very good reason to ask for her help again.
CATHY: You’re using my experience as an excuse to cover your indolence.
STEED: Indolence! If it wasn’t for me you’d still be in that tiger’s cage.
CATHY: At least I’d know exactly what I was up against.
She accuses him of using her experience to cover his indolence, whereupon he reminds her he freed her from the tiger’s cage and returns her ivory-handled Derringer; she laughs at her own hypocrisy.
- The script says the job is an experienced zoological collector, but Macnee’s line was changed to resident zoological director. ⭮
- Noah says he’d never heard of them until Brenda introduced him to them. ⭮
- Ahead of their time as ever, Steed is worried about the illegal slaughter of male elephants by poachers. Cathy wonders why Snowy is important when she’s a very small female with no tusks at all.
At this point in the episode a fly which made it’s way into the transfer booth at Studio Canal in Paris appears on screen and buzzes around for a minute in a very distracting manner. ⭮
- Fitch tells Steed the pistol costs 200 guineas, £210 in 1963 is worth £4,400 in 2023 so it’s a very expensive piece. The average weekly male wage in 1963 was £16/4/- so this gun would be 13 months wages, well beyond the working man, but Steed doesn’t flinch. ⭮
- Another of Steed’s invented relative stories, this time it’s Cathy’s great aunt, whose husband shot an opponent in a card game with the Derringer. ⭮
- Well, the script has Cathy exclaim “George!”, but the final line of Act One is cut, we just fade to the commercial bumper. Viewers have to wait until after the ad break to find out who had been hanged. ⭮
- Cathy really needs to stop working with Steed, she found Edwards hanged inside a cupboard in the previously produced episode, The Medicine Men, also at the end of Act One. Fortunately they were broadcast six weeks apart. ⭮
- Is it nerves at playing a scene with Honor Blackman? Scott Forbes is dreadfully wooden at first, but warms up a bit later. ⭮
- It’s not said outright, but Steed dismisses common handcuffs as too mundane and is clearly after more flamboyant kinky gear. ⭮
- It’s a bit unclear what he’s giving her, but it is clarified later in the episode. ⭮
- Godfrey Quigley plays Noah excellently and never lets up on portraying the limp and pain of the wounds received by the Bengal Tiger whose head sits above his desk. He never uses his right arm which seems to be paralysed and maybe amputated as his right hand always has a glove on it. ⭮
- The original line in the script read “not a secret agent or private detective or whatever you call yourself”. ⭮