• title card: white all caps text reading ‘THE WRINGER’ superimposed on Hal anxiously holding his hand to his mouth as he sits in the train
  • Steed in the foreground wearing a pinned and chalk-marked jacket as Lovell measures him for a suit
  • Charles sits between Hal and Steed, all three in suit and tie, as Hal outlines the allegations against Steed. A reel to reel tape, out of focus in the extreme foreground, records the conversation
  • Steed stares at one of the brainwashing images, a hypnotising spiral, projected onto the wall outside his wire cage
  • The Wringers bites his thumb as he grins fiendishly down on Hal and Steed in the fire tower
  • Cathy sits on Steed’s sofa, her right arm in a black sling (to match her outfit) as he pours them both a cup of coffee

Series 3 — Episode 17
The Wringer

by Martin Woodhouse
Designed by Philip Harrison
Directed by Don Leaver

Production No 3618, VTR/ABC/3231
Production completed: December 20 1963. First transmission: January 18 1964.

TV Times summary

In which Steed is sentenced as a traitor and Cathy helps to brainwash him

Plot summary

While investigating deaths on the Carinthia Pipeline, an escape route for spies on the Austro-Hungarian border, Anderson is brainwashed into thinking Steed is the traitor and he is arrested. Interrogated by ‘The Wringer’, Steed is nearly brainwashed and only Cathy’s intervention stops Steed becoming the next victim. After escaping, Steed deconditions Anderson while Cathy seeks help from MI5 and ‘The Wringer’ is unmasked.

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On a dark and stormy night, Hal Anderson (Peter Sallis) is sleeping while travelling by train. He dreams of events in when an Italian contact was gunned down and wakes with a start as he recalls the gun shots, dropping Steed’s photo from his report…

Act 1

Charles (Paul Whitsun-Jones) and Oliver (Barry Letts) are in an underground MI5 office, waiting for John Steed (Patrick Macnee) to arrive1 to discuss the Carinthia Pipeline, an escape route for spies on the Austro-Hungarian and Austro-Yugoslavian border; it has just been closed as 6 of the last 7 agents to use it have been lost. Anderson is the only one to have survived, but is now missing. Charles suggest Anderson may have had an important lead and followed it up without informing them, but Steed says Anderson was too conscientious for that.

As Steed knows Anderson, and the pipeline could be closed for good unless they get to the bottom of it, Steed is assigned to do a routine check of Anderson’s contacts in London to help find him. Oliver gives him a rundown of Anderson’s movements and asked him to memorise it then return it, griping to Charles that they would get faster results with a general call.

CHARLES: The opposition doesn’t always capture our agents, you know, they sometimes buy them.
OLIVER: Anderson? Surely you don’t think that Anderson …
CHARLES, I don’t think anything, except we should remember all the possibilities.

Catherine Gale (Honor Blackman) returns from Paris and learns of the case at Steed’s flat. He’s already scoured London to no avail and Cathy queries why he’s on the case as he’s Anderson’s friend. Steed says Hal had a two week limit, and a new transmitter that broadcast automatically every 12 hours unless you prevent it from doing so, so he must still be alive and at liberty.

CATHY: A deliberate decision not to report. What kind of a man is he?
STEED: He’s reliable. Ha! By all the books he shouldn’t be. He’s a lousy shot, can’t swim, writes poetry — but, he’s reliable.

Cathy offers to help but Steed declines the offer, asking her just to stack the tea things away. She does so, then gets a lipstick out of her bag and writes “RING ME” on a mirror.2

Steed visits a tailor called Lovell (Gerald Sim), another operative who initially refuses to help until he learns that Lise Pravicz is dead. Lovell puts him onto Anderson’s trail, not in Austria but in Scotland, and Steed rings Cathy to say he’ll be away for three days.

Steed goes to Hal Anderson’s hideout — a fire spotting tower in the middle of a soaking wet Scottish forest. Hal holds a knife against his neck when he arrives, but lets him go when he recognises Steed’s voice.
He finds Anderson has no memory of the last two months and has retreated to the fire tower to try to sort it out.

Back in London, Oliver is getting nervous about Steed now being gone for four days without a word. Charles asks him to get in touch with “Steed’s helpmeet”, Mrs. Gale, and have her to come round first thing in the morning.

At the fire tower, Anderson tells Steed he’s retired.

STEED: You have?
HAL: Well — if you mean have I gone in and signed a piece of paper, no. But I’ve retired.
STEED: Nobody retires. Ever.3

Steed tries to help jog Hal’s memory, recounting their twelve years together, getting each other out of scrapes but it just makes Hal angry. He shouts that he could never trust any of them, they’d all sell out their brother if it suited them. Taking a break, Steed goes outside to smoke a soggy cigar, leaving Hal to pull out a sleeping bag for him. When he does so, he finds his forgotten dossier with Steed’s photo inside.

Oliver has been waiting all night for Mrs. Gale to get back from a party and tells Charles he’s going home to get some rest. Cathy arrives but can’t tell Charles anything useful and he’s just about to let her go when she asks him why he sent Steed to find Hal, knowing it to be against procedure. Charles smiles and tells her they make the rules, and occasionally break them.

Steed is amazed when Anderson wakes him up in the morning and points a shotgun at him, saying he’s remembered. He tells him they’re going to be picked up and taken to London to report in, and accuses Steed of being the traitor.4

Act 2

Charles chairs an enquiry into Anderson’s allegations and Hal confirms the list of charges. Cathy listens from the next room, asking Oliver if she can see Steed but he declines, saying Hal has known Steed longer than she has.

CATHY: All the evidence you have against Steed is second hand!
0LIVER: Yes, it’s an ugly trade, its rules aren’t those of justice, but expediency.
CATHY: Everybody’s guilty until proved innocent.
OLIVER: Precisely.

Charles goes through the dates of the alleged incidents, Steed giving alibis and Anderson countering with witness statements and claims of photographic evidence5 which Steed says is faked. Cathy meanwhile asks Oliver why she hasn’t been asked to provide any evidence, and he warns her against providing any alibi as they know Steed was abroad and alone on each occasion.

After going through all the evidence, Charles finds Steed guilty; he advises him to cooperate as he is led away for interrogation by one of Charles’ men, Bethune (Neil Robinson). Hal is regretful and asks what happens next; Charles casually tells him Steed will be taken to the Unit and then they’ll decide on his disposal.

HAL: You hear rumours, up and down the Service, about this sort of thing. Disposal. “The Dump”.
CHARLES: The disposal of agents who have outlived their usefulness is something we don’t concern ourselves with very closely.

Charles orders Anderson to take six months leave with immediate effect.

Bethune arrives with Steed at The Unit which is run by the Ministry’s top interrogator and swinging hep cat6 ‘The Wringer’ (Terence Lodge) who tries to disorient Steed by suggesting it’s late and he should get some sleep.7

They depart and Steed is locked in a steel cage by the guard, Murdo (Douglas Cummings). Afterwards, Bethune and The Wringer conspire, revealing them to be the actual traitors.

BETHUNE: I don’t think Mr. Steed is going to take very long.
WRINGER: Don’t mistake appearances for reality, baby!

Bethune tells The Wringer that Anderson was a little unstable at the enquiry and has been sent on sick leave. He suggests something went wrong and The Wringer says they failed to “encompass the void”. Watching Steed examining his cage on the monitors, The Wringer explains that Anderson’s mind rejected the new “facts” about his old friend Steed — it didn’t make any difference this time, but it mustn’t happen again!

Meanwhile, Cathy doesn’t believe the allegations Steed has been arrested on and appeals to Charles to let her investigate and to see Steed.

CATHY: The picture this file of Anderson’s draws of Steed doesn’t sound like the Steed I know. That means either you’re wrong, or I’ve been very stupid.

The Wringer starts Steed’s brainwashing with projected images and sounds, and drugs.8
Cathy is sent, blindfolded and drugged in an ambulance so she won’t discover its location, to The Unit, where The Wringer lets slip it’s in the Highlands. He tries to disorient Cathy as to the real time and won’t let her see Steed — except on the monitors — for a couple of hours yet. Steed has apparently been broken when Cathy finally gets to talk to him and he is shocked when she confirms the time is what the clock and his watch say it is.

STEED: Just go away from me. Get right out of my time.

Act 3

Bethune comes back to the control room and is surprised to discover The Wringer has turned the microphones off, but The Wringer just crows about what a good job he’s done.

WRINGER: The noise bothered me. I don’t want to know what they’re discussing. At this stage it couldn’t matter less. He’s way out.
BETHUNE: At last. Now all we have to do is turn him on.9
WRINGER: It’s quite an achievement, isn’t it? We create a complete dossier out of nothing, set it down in one man’s mind so firmly he accuses his oldest friend and gets him convicted. And Steed here, under suggestion, will confirm it.
BETHUNE: Incredible. All the symptoms: hallucinations, confusion, apathy.
WRINGER: If we can do it once, we can do it again.
BETHUNE: Few people in the Service trust each other as it is …
WRINGER: Soon, no-one will. (LAUGHS)

In the cell, Steed is obsessed with his watch and seems only vaguely aware that Cathy is there. She offers him her watch, and says he’s going to come away with her. Murdo and The Wringer arrive and she’s let out of the cage; she agrees with The Wringer that the process is interesting and asks him about Steed’s apathy. The Wringer assures her that Steed will be returned to a positive persona and she tells him she has to return to London.

Cathy knocks out Murdo with a fire hose nozzle as he turns to lock the cell door behind them after The Wringer has left. The Wringer meanwhile returns to the control room and asks Bethune for the file they are going to brainwash Steed into remembering.

WRINGER: ‘Learn’ is the wrong word. We’re going to make it happen to him.

Bethune asks what about Mrs. Gale and The Wringer says Steed will kill her… Mrs. Gale meanwhile returns to the cell and, avoiding the cameras, finds an air duct from which she removes the grille. She then unlocks the cage and grabs Steed, but Bethune sees her on the monitors. He tries to alert Murdo but, getting no response, checks his revolver and goes to investigate.

Cathy gives Steed her watch to get him to leave but at that moment Bethune arrives and points his gun through the security door grille, ordering them to stop. Cathy dives at the gun and is hit in the arm, the burst of the gunshot removing the cobwebs from Steed’s mind.

He shakes his head and grabs Bethune’s dropped gun and fires it several times through the grille before they escape into the air ducts, exchanging more gunfire, then out through a drain leading to the surface.

Steed travels to Anderson’s fire tower and uses the radio to send a telegram.10 Meanwhile Cathy returns to London, telling Charles and Oliver Bethune “Took a pot shot at her” and explains what’s happened.

CHARLES: Mrs. Gale, won’t you sit down. There’s one or two things I’d like to clear up.
CATHY: If there’s any clearing up to be done, I suggest it’s on your side. You set up a unit for dealing with agents who’ve outgrown their usefulness. Then you forgot about it, swept the whole thing under the carpet. Well, it’s gone bad on you, and I’ve been shot, and Steed half killed finding this out for you.

Anderson returns to the fire tower and Steed tells him about the brainwashing, starting the deconditioning process. Meanwhile Charles phones Oliver to say that he and Cathy are in Glasgow, en route to the Unit.

The Wringer creeps into the tower and listens to Steed trying to convince Anderson of the truth, smiling to himself as Steed struggles to get Hal to believe him. He calls out a greeting and thanks Anderson for his telegram, not knowing it was sent by Steed. He tells them Steed is under sentence of death and his associates will be arriving shortly,11 and drops Anderson his revolver while he comes down the ladder so Steed can be kept under guard.
When he reaches the bottom, he stops short when he realises Hal is pointing the gun at him. Hal asks how he knew him, calling him Anderson as soon as he arrived, then realises he has seen The Wringer before, and Steed’s tale of brainwashing coalesces into fact.

HAL: You know too much about me. And about my mind, otherwise you wouldn’t know I was here. Perhaps you sent me here. Yes, that’s it. You sent me here, didn’t you? Didn’t you!


Back at Steed’s apartment, Lovell has delivered a new suit while Cathy one-handedly prepares some coffee, Steed fussing over her ability to prepare it with only one useful hand, but it’s he who sends it flying when he runs into her.

  1. Charles grumbles about it taking him 12 minutes to reach them from a mile away and Oliver suggest he had trouble getting a taxi. When Steed arrives, Charles suggests he walk next time, and Steed replies that he did.
  2. Although how any but the most eagle eyed of viewers could read it when it was originally broadcast is beyond me, it’s not particularly legible even on a paused digital copy.
  3. Shades of The Prisoner with this line, you expect Hal to say “I am not a number, I’m a free man!”
  4. Hal orders Steed to drink a coffee that has thirty grains of chloral in it to knock him out, then adds “But then I don’t suppose anything much keeps you awake. Not even half a dozen murders.”
  5. On May 15th, Steed says he was in a tent in Norway with an unnamed young woman, somewhere between Narvik and Alta, while Anderson say he was in Vienna with Meyer and was paid £3,000 to kill him, and he has a photo of their meeting. £3,000 in 1963 would be about £63,000 in 2023.
  6. And surely an inspiration for Mike Myers’ Austin Powers character, as he punctuates his sentences with “baby”.
  7. Modern viewers are also disoriented by the appearance on screen in this scene of a fly that has landed on the transfer plate, it appears again two minutes later as Cathy tries to convince Charles to let her see Steed.
  8. A variety of loud noises, film projections and constant changing of the clocks are used as well as drugged food, see the full list of brainwashing techniques.
  9. They use a lot of drug terminology when talking about brainwashing.
  10. We learn later that the telegram was to The Unit, sent in Anderson’s name.
  11. I’m not sure if this is a reference to Bethune, or a red herring about Charles. The later line about his associates when Charles arrives, and in fact Charles arriving at all, is dropped from the script.

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