• title card: white all caps text reading ‘MANDRAKE’ superimposed on a close-up of the skull of a doctor’s anatomical skeleton
  • Cathy meets the Rev Wyper while photographing the churchyard; the sexton lurks in the background, keeping a suspicious eye on Cathy
  • Mrs. Turner, sitting, signs the cheque while Dr. Macombie and Hopkins flank her, left to right
  • The Rev Wyper draws a pistol... a water pistol
  • Steed roughs up Benson, pinning him against the mirror of his cabin with his umbrella
  • Steed and Cathy are all smiles as they confront the veiled Mrs. Tyurner, Hopkins and Dr. Maccombie in the churchyard

Series 3 — Episode 18

by Roger Marshall
Designed by David Marshall
Directed by Bill Bain

Production No 3620, VTR/ABC/3255
Production completed: January 16 1964. First transmission: January 25 1964.

TV Times summary

In which Steed pulls crackers to help Cathy unearth a grisly racket

Plot summary

The Church in Tinbey has no parishioners, but the graveyard is full of new coffins, containing wealthy names. Macombie and Hopkins specialise in organising murders and the bodies are then buried in Cornwall; The soil in the ground is polluted by arsenic from the disused tin mine, disguising the unnatural deaths of the victims. The Avengers ensure that the next victim is not buried and the autopsy proves their case.

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John Steed (Patrick Macnee) attends a dreary funeral in rain-drenched Tinbey, Cornwall. He stands silently by the graveside as the Reverend Adrian Wyper (George Benson) conducts the ceremony then throws in a handful of dirt before the dead man’s son, Benson (Robert Morris) and the other members of the official party -Roy Hopkins (Philip Locke) and Dr. Macombie (John Le Mesurier) - walk away. Hopkins is concerned by the presence of Steed, who kneels by the grave and picks up one of the wreaths to read the inscription.

Act 1

Back in London some time later, the official party reconvene with Hopkins and Macombie finalising a contact with Benson. Benson is warned they will keep the contract for three months as security, and Benson assures he understands the need for utter secrecy.

Hopkins sneers after him as he goes, saying he won’t be able to spend the money fast enough, but Dr. Macombie is having a pang of guilt about being involved in nine cases that went against his Hippocratic oath. Hopkins reminds him he’s done very well out of the scheme and was destined for failure otherwise.

HOPKINS: I spent three months looking for the right man. A doctor whose plight was greater than his professional honour. I found YOU.
MACOMBIE: It’s almost impossible to keep up to date. I, I mean, I’ve tried. I’ve read articles, it’s not the same.
HOPKINS: As you say, you’ve done quite nicely. Well, doctor, I’m not ready to quit. Perhaps my ambitions have more appetite than yours.1

Hopkins offers Macombie another £20,000 a year2 - another client. His greed gets the better of him and Macombie returns to his desk and starts to fill in the details in their ledger as Hopkins dictates.

Steed visits Benson on his yacht and grills him about his father’s death, telling him he used to work with him in the Security Services. He queries why he was buried in Cornwall of all places, and Benson says his mother was Cornish, noting there’s sentiment in all of us.
Benson is startled when Steed tells him he has a letter from his father which is only to be opened if he suffered a sudden or violent death. Benson stammers that they all knew it was coming, his father had been unwell for a long time. Steed smiles and takes his leave, saying he’ll ask the bank to destroy the letter, and Benson breathes a sigh of relief.

Steed had taped his conversation with Benson and plays it back to Catherine Gale (Honor Blackman), saying he doesn’t believe Benson - his father had no affection for his wife and used to book her onto dicey airlines.

STEED: If there was fog in the air, Mrs. Benson was in the air.3
CATHY: So there’s no truth in his story?
STEED: Not that bit. And there’s no sentiment in Security.
CATHY: That I know.

Cathy isn’t sure he can do anything about his old boss dying suddenly and thanks him for the tin of cream he brought back from Cornwall - he suggests she use it with brown bread and cherry jam but she ignores the dangled request and says she likes it for breakfast, so he shows her some death notices for Tinbey - three from London in the past month, but Tinbey has been a ghost village since the tin mine shut down eight years ago. Why are corpses from London being carted off all the way to Cornwall?

Benson goes to Macombie in a panic and is told not to worry, an exhumation can find nothing. Benson is irate and says he doesn’t want the law breathing down his neck, then threatens Macombie that the Medical Council wouldn’t approve. In retaliation, Macombie reminds him of the contract and not to do anything rash.

Cathy visits the graveyard and photographs the headstones, raising the suspicions of the sexton (Jackie Pallo). She meets the vicar and tells him she’s writing an article when he suggests it’s an odd time of year for tourists. When she asks for colour for her article, he reveals the churchyard used to have a mandrake root but now has a lot of deadly nightshade, something to do with the soil.
Cathy asks who’s buried there, now that the village has gone and he concedes there aren’t many, just a few people who were born there, but he does get some from London. He hasn’t looked at the cost but supposes it might be cheaper to be buried in the country, and the souls get a bit of ‘Peace, Perfect Peace’.

In the church, she meets Hopkins who has brought Mrs. Turner (Madge Ryan) to see the vicar to buy a plot for her husband who is dying.

WHYPER: Of course you can’t say exactly when it’ll be.
WHYPER: As soon as that?!
HOPKINS: Then or there abouts.

Outside a moment later, Cathy stops behind the porch to check her camera and overhears Hopkins tell the Cockney sexton5 they’re in business again, and if he sees Mrs. Gale snooping around, they’ll make it a double booking!

Act 2

Mrs. Turner visits Macombie’s surgery to sort out the details - her husband is worth £200,000,6 has a sister in Western Australia, no friends, no club, and never sees a doctor - an ideal candidate! Mrs. Turner writes a £5,000 cheque to Mandrake Investments, the other half due when the job is done,7 and is given a bottle containing a fatal dose of poison. Hopkins is quite taken with the young widow-to-be and flirts with her as she leaves.

HOPKINS: Well! May be this will be the last one after all.
MACOMBIE: I wouldn’t bank on it. She’ll see through you soon enough.

Cathy shows Steed the photos she took and he tells her nine of the eleven graves are in ‘Who’s Who’ and seven of them left estates larger than £100,000,8 so rich and eminent persons. Steed is going to check their doctors next and tells Cathy Benson went to Doctor Macombie’s surgery after their chat, he had him followed.

Steed tracks Hopkins to a Christmas cracker business, where Judy (Annette André) reveals he’s seldom there - he inherited the business after his uncle died - in Cornwall! Hopkins would sell up if he could but the bank and his business partner own most of it. Steed flirts with Judy but shakes his head and smiles when she asks him if he wants anything else. She’s thrilled with the effect she’s had on him as Steed bumps into Hopkins on his way out of the shop.

Steed learns that eight of the eleven were treated by Macombie so Steed has booked Cathy an appointment with him. Cathy feigns an eye injury,9 and frightens the doctor by saying she lives near Tinbey. She unlocks the back door while Macombie is preparing some eye drops then positively alarms him when she says she knows his patient, John Benson.10 Macombie immediately phones Hopkins, wanting to back out again but Hopkins tells him they will proceed as planned. Getting off the phone, Hopkins asks Judy to let him know if Steed comes back…

Later, Steed breaks into Macombie’s through the door Cathy unlocked and goes through his case notes. Cathy meanwhile has returned to Cornwall where the vicar is playing the organ in the church. She is set upon by the sexton as she collects soil samples and they fight amongst the gravestones. The sexton dispatched,11 the vicar appears and points a pistol at her

WHYPER: Mrs. Gale! I think you owe me an explanation!

Act 3

Hopkins treats Mrs. Turner to a West End restaurant lunch - she enjoys the attention but worries they might be recognised. When he proposes a toast to her husband being poisoned that night his callousness changes her mood and she asks to leave.

Steed returns to the cracker factory where Judy is practicing a soliloquy from Richard III.12 She confesses she’d quit her job to have a chance at good parts for women and says Hopkins wouldn’t mind, the factory is losing a fortune. Steed claims he was looking to invest and learns that Hopkins has a more profitable second string to his bow, called Mandrake Investments. In return for the information, Steed asks her to call him next time Hopkins is out for the day and he’ll take her to a swank place in Soho for lunch.13

In Cornwall, the vicar plays a funeral march14 as the sexton sets up the church, while in London Mrs. Turner meets Hopkins and Macombie at the surgery. She’s on a knife edge after killing her husband and flinches when Hopkins touches her shoulder. Macombie gives her the death certificate and informs her he’s invented a medical history as well. They can’t cremate Turner, as that would require two doctors to sign the certificate.

Steed visits Benson and shows him Macombie’s notes which include a consultation when his father was in Beirut.15 Benson tries to slash Steed with his razor when questioned about Macombie, so Steed roughs Benson up to get him to talk.

STEED: Was it Hopkins?
BENSON: He’s a member of the same club.
STEED: Club? So that’s how he operates, eh.
BENSON: He belongs to about every club in London. He knows everything about every member.
STEED: Does he know a good solicitor?
BENSON: I, I expect so.
STEED: You’d better get in touch with him, you’re going to need him!

Cathy returns to the church with the soil analysis which shows the earth is thick with arsenic, which the vicar attributes to the proximity of the tin mine. He is dismayed when she explains he’s been burying the victims of murders instigated by Hopkins and Macombie. They formulate a plan using the water pistol that the vicar had confiscated at choir practice.

Steed learns from Judy that Hopkins will be out of town tomorrow. She’s crestfallen when he backs out of their lunch date, thinking fast about what it means for the case, but he cheers her up by offering to pick her up on Monday instead.

Back in Cornwall, Hopkins congratulates Mrs. Turner on her riches and she says she’s retiring to winter sunshine in Nassau. She firmly turns him down, telling him she considers him just another tradesman.

HOPKINS: And I go back below stairs, isn’t that what they call it?
TURNER: Where you go, sweetheart, is strictly up to you.

At the end of the internment, Steed and Cathy stop Hopkins, Macombie and Mrs. Turner from leaving the graveyard, informing them Turner hasn’t been buried. He’s in the mortuary, and a post-mortem conducted an hour ago proved acute arsenic poisoning. Hopkins calls the sexton over to help, but he’s on Cathy’s side16 and takes the villains into custody. Mrs. Turner protests that the men planned everything and gave her the poison but Steed looks at her grimly and says, “All you had to do was administer it”.


Steed says he’s hungry and she suggests some of his brown bread, cherry jam and Cornish cream.

STEED: At half past eleven in the morning?
CATHY: I told you I only have it for breakfast.

Lightning cracks overhead and it starts to pour with rain again…

  1. Locke gets his line wrong, or it was changed, he was supposed to say “Perhaps my appetites are more ambitious than yours.”
  2. An extraordinary sum in 1963, an additional £20,000 a year, when a doctor’s earnings at the time would be between £2,500 and £3,000, so an extra six to eight years’ salary. £20,000 in 1963 is the equivalent of £420,000 in 2023. (vide etiam infra, f. 7)
  3. This line was changed, it was originally “If there was fog on the forecast, she was in the air”.
  4. It’s played for laughs of course but for someone who has come up with this scheme, Hopkins is a very unsubtle villain.
  5. Marshall lays on the stereotype thickly: he has a strong Cockney accent and begs Hopkins to bring him some jellied eels, saveloys, or sumfing as the local grub is killin’ ’im.
  6. £200,000 in 1963 would be £4.2 million in 2023.
  7. Quite a tidy racket! £10,000 in 1963 would be £210,000 in 2023. Quite how £10,000 turns into an extra £20,000 a year I don’t know - either Marshall got his script wrong, or Hopkins was playing on Macombie’s greed. (vide etiam supra, f. 2)
  8. i.e. £2.1 million in 2023 terms.
  9. The script says she was hit with a squash ball but it was changed to a hockey stick.
  10. I assume she means the son rather than the father here.
  11. Honor Blackman famously accidentally knocked Jackie Pallo out in the rehearsals for this fight, when she kicked him backwards and he hit his head on the concrete studio floor. (And that’s another thing, it’s a pretty good churchyard set for an interior studio piece.)
  12. Act I Scene IV, She recites Clarence’s lines 21-26 “O Lord! Me thought what pain it was to drown / What dreadful noise of waters in my ears, / What sights of ugly death within mine eyes! / Me thought I saw a thousand fearful wrecks: / A thousand men that fishes gnawed upon: / Wedges of gold -” At this point, Steed enters and interrupts with lines 86-7 “I would speak with Clarences, and I came hither on my Legges”, then adds, “First Murderer”.
  13. He describes it as having soft music and zephyrs wafting garlic from the kitchen. When she says she doesn’t like garlic he hints that some of the best-known theatre producers eat there and she changes her mind. Later on, Scene 23 (p.59) - where Judy calls Steed - was cut from the final episode.
  14. Suggesting Cathy’s demise or imminent demise…
  15. Steed says on July 8th 1956 John Benson was in Beirut arresting a man called Malik - he should know, he was with him and he wasn’t on a diet.
  16. After losing the fight - then being bribed with £100 and turning Queen’s Evidence. Stee winces and says she could have got him with £50.

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