• title card: white all caps text reading ‘THE CHARMERS’ superimposed on a close-up of Vinkel lying dead on the floor in his fencing whites
  • Cathy turns toward camera, unsure what has happened when she finds Martin no longer in the waiting room
  • Betty wears a bizarre mask to train the student to treat all women equally, regardless of beauty
  • Kim is tied up with Old School tie, in a crate of bowler hats
  • The students realise their enemy, Steed, is in their midst
  • Keller is struck by Kim’s sword

Series 3 — Episode 23
The Charmers

by Brian Clemens
Designed by Richard Harrison
Directed by Bill Bain

Production No 3623, VTR/ABC/3400
Production completed: February 27 1964. First transmission: February 29 1964.

TV Times summary

In which Steed goes to charm school and Cathy fences with the opposition

Plot summary

Someone is stirring up trouble between Steed and the opposition, so an uneasy truce is arranged to discover the culprit. To allay mistrust, Keller is loaned Cathy and Steed is given Kim — actually an actress hired to play the rôle of a secret agent. Tracing the culprits to a charm school, Steed finds that the boss is Keller — who is setting up his own SPECTRE but Kim soon foils his plan with her knife throwing skills!

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George Vinkel (Peter Porteous) is practicing his fencing when Sam (John Greenwood), wearing a fencing mask, politely asks for some practice. Vinkel wins theit short bout, but his masked opponent promptly runs him through with an unguarded foil then wipes the blood from it.

Act 1

John Steed (Patrick Macnee) is discussing the murder with Catherine Gale (Honor Blackman) — he says it’s the opposition having another purge, and have started their spring cleaning early,1 and tells her Vinkel was not the German businessman the newspapers claim, but one of the enemy’s top agents, and the second one killed in a month.2 They’re warned by a flashing light3 that Steed has an unexpected visitor and Martin (John Barcroft) arrives to kill Steed in revenge for Vinkel’s death, but Steed protests his innocence.

STEED: You don’t think that I did it?
MARTIN: Who else?
STEED: But that’s impossible. He was killed with a foil. My weapon is a sabre. Anyway, Mrs. Gale here will tell you I spent the weekend in Morocco.

Steed learns that both sides thought the other did the killings and realises their “wires are getting cross — double-crossed” — or “triple-crossed” as Cathy suggests. Steed asks to be taken to see Keller (Warren Mitchell), the enemy’s top man in London who is busily trying to tell his Colonel the Horse Guards are impossible to infiltrate in England. When he’s ordered to anyway, he resigns himself to it:

KELLER: But Colonel, my loyalty has never been in question! Very well, sir, very well. We will infiltrate the Horse Guards.
(TURNS OFF RADIO) Perhaps with a horse.

Steed arrives at Keller’s odd, mannequin-filled headquarters4 and they decide to form a truce against the unknown third party who is playing them off against each other — although Keller is annoyed with Martin for going over his head to get approval from headquarters. He’s even more annoyed when he learns that Steed’s luxurious lifestyle as a British agent was all on expenses rather than self-funded, while he can’t even get a new office chair.5 They swap stories about the old days and Keller cheers up when he jokes about killing a Swede who once shot him.

STEED: Oh, where did he get you?
KELLER: (LAUGHING) In the Dardanelles!

Keller demands to know who Steed will give him, suggesting they swap agents as a “sign of good faith” and after a pause Steed says he can think of someone… After he’s gone, Keller tells Martin he has no intention of giving Steed one of their operators.

Steed returns home and Cathy is impressed with the diplomatic flair he’s shown in getting a truce… until she learns that he has offered them her as a “temporary loan — as a sign of faith”.

Meanwhile Keller, claiming to be a publisher, hires the actress Kim Lawrence (Fenella Fielding) to accompany Steed who is a “method writer”6 working on a spy novel. Keller says Steed can’t put pen to paper until he lives the plot so she has to play the part of a top agent. Steed is however having a hard time convincing Cathy…

STEED: Look, I thought you’d grasp at the chance of working cheek by jowl with Martin.
CATHY: My cheek is going nowhere near his jowl!
STEED: Now, look Mrs. Jowl — Mrs. Gale…

Steed impresses upon her that he needs her to do it, to find out how they work, and to crack the third party mystery. Martin arrives with Kim and the exchange is made, Martin being delighted that he’s getting Cathy. Martin tells Steed that Vinkel had only been in the country for 24 hours and made one call; he gives Steed the address then leaves. After he’s gone, Steed and Kim get better acquainted:

STEED: Would you like a drink?
KIM: Not before sundown. Of course, you could draw the curtains.

Martin meanwhile takes Cathy to a dentist’s, telling Cathy it was one of several calls Vinkel made — there, the address given to Steed, and a place in Pimlico — and explains a little cheating is expected when she questions him about lying to Steed. Martin professes that he has admired Cathy for a long time and had her removed from their Wanted List, where she was “second from the top, right behind J.B.”6

Cathy is shown in to the surgery by Betty Smythe (Vivian Pickles) when the previous patient — the killer, Sam, leaves. The dentist Harrap (Frank Mills) greets her amiably and Cathy startles him terribly when she claims to have been recommended to him by George Vinkel. Meanwhile, in the waiting room, Martin is startled when the outer door swings silently open…

Steed’s lead turns out to be a gentlemen’s outfitter’s, and Steed and Kim are greeted by the snobbish proprietor Horace Cleeves (Malcolm Russell). Steed distracts Cleeves by asking for the tie of “The Old Irascibles Fencing and Tottering Club”, which makes Kim laugh. Steed explains to Kim that Vinkel died by the sword, and is concerned at her cavalier attitude.

STEED: You seem to think it’s all one big joke.
KIM: Well — isn’t it?
STEED: Where did you learn your job?
KIM: The school of hard knocks. Well, it’s the best way, isn’t it? I was born into it, really. My family taught me.7

Cleeves returns and display some rusty fencing skill when suddenly challenged but at hearing Vinkel’s name just looks annoyed at the suggestion that someone with a foreign name like Vinkel would enter his shop.8

Leaving the surgery, Cathy finds Martin missing, while Steed returns and breaks into Cleeves’ shop when the old man is at lunch, much to Kim’s astonishment. They search the shop for clues and Steed finds Martin’s body in a crate of bowlers, a Roedean tie tight around his strangled neck…

Act 2

Cathy returns to Keller and says Martin ran out on her, but Keller suggests Steed is to blame and tells her to call him. She does so, but he doesn’t tell her Martin’s dead, just that he “hasn’t heard one word from him”. Keller cuts the call and says he’ll go and investigate himself — locking her in his office and disconnecting the phone line as he goes. Left to her own devices, Cathy finds a tape recording of Kim’s interview and discovers Kim is an actress.

Steed returns to the shop, complaining that the tie he was sold was for a line regiment,9 and sees Sam and three other men leave with the crate. Steed tells Kim they have to follow them.

KIM: Would it be awfully bad form to ask why?
STEED: Martin’s body is in that box.
KIM: Ask a silly question!

They follow them to a charm school for young gentlemen in Pimlico, run by Mr. Edgar (Brian Oulton), who teaches the men to hail a taxi cab as if they were in Nuremberg.10

When Steed interrupts a lesson where they have to pick up a handkerchief dropped by a woman wearing a hideous mask, Edgar is deeply impressed by Steed’s deportment.

EDGAR: Superb. Absolutely superb, sir. Did you observe the pure economy of movement, gentlemen? And the smile — observe the smile playing, just playing around the lips. My congratulations, sir.

Edgar is confused why Steed is there, clearly not needing his services, but Kim butts in and asks what services he provides. Edgar explains the academy’s purpose, saying they change mere man into gentleman, with a degree of success.

STEED: Half an oaf is better than low bred, eh?

Edgar then explains that Betty’s mask is to teach them to treat all women with respect, whatever her age or aspect, then asks them to come into his office. Steed buttonholes Edgar about Vinkel but, getting no flicker of recognition, he clumsily falls into the crate of bowlers, but Martin isn’t in it! Steed pretends to have a dizzy spell and Kim leads him out, leaving Edgar to ask Betty if she’s ever seen Steed before — she takes off her mask to say “no”, revealing she’s Betty from the dentist’s surgery!

Keller returns and Cathy instantly ambushes him and escapes, telling him she knows Kim is an actress and he never even began to keep his side of the bargain.
Kim meanwhile tells an anecdote about once having to deal with three corpses,11 then reveals she saw a second crate in the back of the shop, addressed to a peculiar address.

KIM: And I thought to myself — heavens, what would a dentist want with a crate full of bowler hats?

Harrap is busily installing transmitters in the hats and starting to lose his grip, knowing he’s in too deep. When Sam brings another crate in, and Harrap moans that he’s too tired, he’s not a machine. Sam glares at him and says this is different, revealing Martin’s body in the crate — the boss has ordered that Harrap dispose of him.

Harrap refuses but then Steed and Kim arrive in the waiting room and Betty recognises them, Harrap hyperventilating when she tells them who they are.

Kim is led into the surgery, and put under the gas then Cathy turns up, spilling the beans about Kim being an actress.12 When they burst in they find only Harrap’s body — Kim has disappeared!

Act 3

SAM: It’ll do you little good, Miss Lawrence — the bonds of the old school tie are well nigh impossible to break.

Sam is gloating over Kim, bound and gagged in Cleeves’ shop when Betty tells him they have to move her again, despite the risk, as “this place is finished”.

Cathy meanwhile tells Steed, who is fretting about Kim, about Keller’s treachery and says Martin mentioned a place in Pimlico. With all clues lead to the charm school, Steed tells Cathy to get Keller to the address and then infiltrates the school by replacing one of the crate-bearers at the tie shop.

Edgar is giving a lesson in fencing, using swords concealed in the men’s umbrellas, when they arrive with the crate.

EDGAR: At ease, gentlemen. We will now practice the short stab in the back… otherwise known as ‘Show Business’.

They take the crate through to Edgar’s office, Steed lingering behind to cut the phone line and rescue Kim from the crate. Cathy meanwhile phones Keller and he says he’ll meet her there and they’ll spring the trap together.

Steed and Kim are at the doors, waiting for their chance to escape as Cathy and Keller haven’t shown up but they see they’ve been cut off as Betty and Sam lead the class back in, all in fencing gear and carrying swords.

They are undone when Edgar holds a quick enemy-recognition course before the fencing — Sam recognising Steed as one of the men who carried the crate in. They’re caught at sword point when Steed opens the door to foray out.

They wait for the boss to arrive as Steed cut the line to force a personal visit but meanwhile Cathy has arrived and accosts Betty, taking her fencing gear and her place in the class.

The boss finally arrives and is revealed to be Keller, who orders Edgar to clear the school so they have no witnesses. Keller is a petty, money-grubbing boss, bitter about all the years of privation as an enemy13 agent.

KELLER: As you put it — create mayhem, steal secrets, sell to the highest bidder. And I’m in charge. They passed me over long enough with their quibbling over expenses and keeping me short of cash. Well, now I’m ready to put their training to good advantage. You seem surprised.
STEED: No, I guessed.
STEED: Vinkel was sent over here to investigate you, wasn’t he?
KELLER: You really are a cunning old fox.

Keller suddenly realises Cathy isn’t accounted for and a fight breaks out after Kim distracts Keller and Edgar by screaming; Cathy and Steed fight the villains,14 and Kim saves Steed’s life by hurling a sword through Keller’s back.


STEED: What a performance!
KIM: It was nothing really … well, it was Great-Grandmama you know … well she had a knife throwing act.
Tight 3-shot. STEED, KIM profile, CATHY R f/g reaction.
STEED: I’m glad I have you two ladies on my side!15

  1. This episode was remade in series 5 as The Correct Way to Kill with many of the lines and scenes exactly replicated.
  2. He suggests that Vinkel being murdered with a sword might be the opposition possibly economising on ammunition.
  3. Another of Steed’s contraptions, he has the light wired to the front door as an early warning device.
  4. It’s a theatrical prop maker’s studio. When Steed arrives the eyes of one mannequin flash, just like Steed’s warning device, but Keller has the addition of a closed-circuit television in the mannequin’s torso.
  5. Steed had luxury hotels, flights, champagne breakfasts, casino gaming and girls paid for on expenses while Keller had to live in a shabby pensione near the fish markets in Vienna.
  6. A clear reference to James Bond.
  7. This should be the giveway to Steed that Kim is an actress rather than an agent, especaily as she’s goes on to say she started at five, assisting her great-grandmother, who was handy with a knife and worked until she was eighty-nine.
  8. Tapping into British snobbery and racism, anticipating Brexit by almost sixty years.
  9. More snobbery — Steed complains that the tie is for the Wapping Voluntary, a line regiment of foot soldiers. Cleeves is horrified at the suggestion.
  10. Another band of homicidal fascists for The Avengers to defeat.
  11. Kim’s anecdote:
    KIM: I remember once in Cardiff, we had three. Two in the window seat, and the other one wrapped up in brown paper parcels.
    STEED: Brown paper parcels?
    KIM: In pieces. Dismembered, my dear. Absolutely gorgeous. They never found the head. I had that in my sewing basket.
  12. The penny finally drops for Steed, and he understands how Great-Grandma and the head in the sewing basket fit together.
  13. It’s unsaid, but he’s obviously a Soviet agent.
  14. Steed defeats Mr. Edgar by using one of the umbrellas to fence. Midway through he opens the umbrella to fend him off and push him against the wall, before he strikes him a blow. Afterwards he observes, “Supposed to be unlucky”.
  15. This last line is not in the script.

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