• title card: white all caps text reading ‘ESPRIT DE CORPS’ superimposed with dark dropshadow over a shot of the kilted soldiers marching away after the execution, the piper in the middle of the frame
  • Cathy, standing in a mackintosh in front of the office swing doors, asks a thoughtful Captain Trench a question
  • Jessop, in his mess whites, asks the guard what Steed was up to
  • The General presides over the court-martial, his drummer behind him
  • Jessop ensures Steed’s blindfold is straight as he awaits his execution in front of a row of sandbags
  • Cathy looks away from the General, who is disappointed to discover that she was not his Queen after all

Series 3 — Episode 25
Esprit De Corps

by Eric Paice
Designed by David Marshall
Directed by Don Leaver

Production No 3624, VTR/ABC/3481
Production completed: March 11 1964. First transmission: March 14 1964.

TV Times summary

In which Steed faces a firing squad and Cathy becomes Pretender to a Throne . . .

Plot summary

Thinking his son the rightful King of England by direct descent from the Stuarts, Brigadier General Bollinger plans to overthrow the Monarchy using his regiment, while supposedly on routine defence manoeuvres. Posing as a military historian, Steed investigates a recent death in the regiment, while Cathy rewrites her family tree to make Bollinger believe that she should be made Queen. The uprising fails and the General is disgraced.

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A highland regiment squad is inspected by Captain Trench (John Thaw) and Sergeant Marsh (Douglas Robinson); Private Jessop (Roy Kinnear) is put on report for dandruff then Trench, after a nod from Brigadier General Sir Ian Stuart-Bollinger (Duncan Macrae), orders the men to raise their rifles and shoot — a fellow soldier!

Act 1

John Steed (Patrick Macnee) intercepts Jessop at the launderette owned by Mrs. Craig (Pearl Catlin), widow of the dead man. Jessop tells him that Craig’s death was an accident while cleaning his rifle. Afterwards, they helped her buy her the laundrette.

JESSOP: The lads had a whip round and bought it for her.
STEED: Oh, that’s some whip round!
JESSOP: Well, the officers did most of the whipping.
JESSOP (ctd): They’re a grand bunch here, sir. There’s a fine esprit de corps if you get my meaning.

Meanwhile, Bollinger, now in civilian clothes, enters Trench’s office and helps him plan an attack on London as part of an exercise — he reprimands Trench for relying on paratroopers, and for worrying about civilians; he reminds him to use infantry with bayonets, clear the roads and seize the high ground.

Steed tells Catherine Gale (Honor Blackman) that despite the official report saying Craig was cleaning his rifle which accidentally discharged three bullets, a post mortem of Craig’s body found he’d been shot by three different rifles; he asks her to infiltrate the regiment via their self-defence classes as Army Intelligence think that the death has wider implications.

A short time later, Cathy arrives at the civil defence class where Sgt Marsh is leading the instruction and Trench tells her she’s come on the wrong night, expecting she’s signed up for the “ladies’ classes”. She corrects him and ably demonstrates defeating an assailant armed with a knife.1

Deeply impressed, Trench asks where she learned it and she claims she was taught in Edinburgh, along with back sword using the family claymore — her ancestors fought with Charles Edward Stuart at Prestonpans and were from Clanranald of Moidart.2 Upon hearing this, Trench invites her to the Regimental cocktail party that evening to meet the Honorary Colonel of the Regiment, now retired, General Bollinger.

At the party, she finds Steed already talking to Bollinger and Lady Dorothy (Joyce Heron), claiming to be a demobbed Major writing a history of the Highland Regiments. Trench meanwhile tells Bollinger that Cathy’s antecedents were with Charles Edward in 1745,3 so Bollinger decides that a Jacobite anthem is in order and the band strikes up “The White Cockade”.

Cathy turns on Steed, accusing him of wasting her time with “that crashing bore Trench” when he had already infiltrated the regiment. He assures her it’s a pincer movement, she will move on Trench while he moves on the general.

CATHY: If you were giving me a choice I think I’d prefer the General.
STEED: Well, you seem to have caught his eye, anyway.

Cathy asks what Bollinger has to do with Craig and Steed explains that Bollinger seems to be less retired that he should, and has too much influence on his former regiment and its upcoming exercise, on which she should focus. Cathy sees Trench approaching and nudges him to change the subject, but Steed makes a mistake in a Desert War reminiscence which Trench picks up on; after Steed departs Cathy observes that “everybody seems to have a different version” of the African campaign but Trench is suspicious and unconvinced.

Trench is ordered to rescue Lady Bollinger from a boring guest, their conversation revealing a liaison dangereuse as she is jealous of Cathy. Steed slips out of the party, making Trench more suspicious so he sends Jessop to follow Steed. Steed is challenged by Private Asquith (Anthony Blackshaw) who has been posted as sentry on the officer’s mess kitchen; he defuses the situation by asking for the way back to the mess. As he goes, Steed ponders why the kitchen would require a sentry, while Jessop asks Asquith what he was up to.

After comparing observations4 at Cathy’s apartment on Operation Claymore, the upcoming mock defence of London,5 Steed decides that as they have got nothing on Craig’s death out of the evening he will return to barracks despite the obvious temptation to stay at Cathy’s flat.6

He watches Trench talk to the sentry then slips by as Asquith stops to have a cigarette. Steed tosses a pebble to distract him then knocks him out so he can get into the kitchen. Inside he finds bins of grenades and tins of bullets, but then is apprehended by a revolver-wielding Jessop who has been lying in wait…

Act 2

Steed discusses the ordinance cache with Cathy, saying it can’t be Jessop’s personal enterprise as he accepted Steed’s bribe to let him go,7 nor would he steal an entire arsenal. Steed suspects Trench would be able to get all that gear moved and order the posting of the sentry.

Steed returns to the laundry and tells Mrs. Craig her husband was murdered, then accuses her and Trench of being lovers; she rebuffs him, then astonishes him by claiming her husband was executed as a traitor!

At the self-defence class, Trench’s instruction quickly turns deadly as he tries to strangle Cathy:

TRENCH: The first principal of unarmed combat is to prevent your antagonist from crying out and giving the alarm.8 Now, where would you say was the most important port of the body to concentrate on in order to achieve that?
CATHY: The throat, I imagine.
TRENCH: Almost correct. The larynx to be exact. Let me give you an example. I’ll just use a very slight pressure, and you’ll see what I mean.
TRENCH (ctd): Am I hurting? …

She fights him off and he closes in to attack her again but she throws him to the floor.9 The situation is defused when Bollinger arrives and insults Trench for being born the wrong side of the Tressachs.10 Bollinger turns to Cathy and asks her to meet him later.

Steed meanwhile is talking to Lady Bollinger, who reveals that her husband, after immersing himself in Scottish history and genealogy for two years, believes their adoptive son to be the true heir to the Scottish and English thrones, despite the College of Heralds dismissing the claim. She adds that their son is a bookmaker in Halifax and uninterested.11 Lady Bollinger thinks her husband’s renewed contact with the Regiment is connected, as he believes the Stuarts were cheated of the throne.

General Bollinger holds a conference with an Admiral (Hugh Morton) to confirm the treason plans, and the Admiral discovers Bollinger is over-confident and dismissive of modern weapons and tactics, and doesn’t think the Royal Navy could possibly get back from manoeuvres in time to stop them. Bollinger also reveals he’s an authoritarian who will have no civil government.

After dismissing the Admiral’s concerns, he proposes a toast to the Royal House of Stuart and they all drink then smash their glasses. Steed sets off the fire alarm and breaks in after Jessop evacuates the conspirators, but he’s caught photographing their papers by Trench.

Bollinger meanwhile leads Cathy into his office that he keeps secret from his wife and tells her he plans to retire to Inverness, “surrounded by his clansmen and with a thousand acres of moor under his feet”, but it will have to wait until “this is over”. Cathy asks when what is over and he shows her a lineage chart of Clanranald. He claims Charles Stuart had a bastard son by her eighteenth grandmother, the line ending at his adopted son, James Bollinger — and her.

CATHY: Oh, so I’m related to your adopted son?12
GENERAL: More than that. It means that you’re second in line of succession to the Scottish throne.
CATHY: Me? Well, that’s fantastic.
GENERAL: Nevertheless it’s true. My son has refused it; I’m not going to press him.
CATHY: Refused what?
GENERAL: The crown. In 24 hours’ time you will hold yourself ready to take up the accession. You will be known to your subjects as Queen Anne the Second!13

A while later, Steed is subjected to a drum-head court martial14 organised by Trench and accused of setting of a smoke bomb to start the alarm, and of examining secret papers. When his camera is admitted as evidence, he is found guilty of spying by Bollinger and sentenced to death by firing squad — but Trench gets to interrogate him first!

Act 3

Bollinger blissfully declares that their plan of attack is foolproof, but Trench worries that Steed didn’t break under questioning and may have already informed the War Office of them. He suggests they move that night instead of waiting for tomorrow and Bollinger agrees.

Steed is served his last meal — pheasant and a ’58 champagne, a year he dislikes and will not go with the pheasant. He tries to bribe Jessop a second time:

STEED: If we could reach round and feel in my back pocket, we’ll find a wallet…
JESSOP, It’s not worth it, sir.
STEED: Why not?
JESSOP: There’s nothing in it, sir. Don’t forget I searched you.

Jessop reveals that he was on the detail for Craig’s execution, but aimed for his left arm; he offers to do the same for Steed but then adds that the rest of them are red hot.15

Cathy warns Lady Bollinger16 that Trench’s men are armed with live ammunition, and Lady Bollinger warns her against Trench, saying he toyed with her affections and she feels a fool; he’s ruthless and untrustworthy. Cathy earnestly asks her to help stop her husband before he’s tried for treason…

Steed is marched out into the parking lot and shot by the firing squad, slumping to the ground.
But Steed has bribed the entire squad with his diamond tie pin,17 and Jessop frees him when he’s ordered to dispose of the body.

Bollinger arrives late for dinner and says he has an announcement to make, ignoring Lady Bollinger’s attempt to silence him.

GENERAL: Ladies and gentlemen, over the past few months I have been able to discover details of a treasonable mi1itary plot against Her Majesty’s Government. Within the last half hour I have submitted these details to the Chiefs of Staff in the War Office… Seize that man!

General Bollinger orders Captain Trench’s arrest and asks the band to strike up a reel. While the guests dance, Steed sneaks in to speak to Cathy. They realise Bollinger’s actions don’t add up — if he were really out to expose the plot, he wouldn’t have believed Cathy was descended from Bonnie Prince Charlie, or have Steed face a firing squad.

Their suspicions are answered when Bollinger returns to announce that the War Office has asked him to take command of the defence of London against Trench’s troops, and they are now issuing arms and ammunition. He bows deferentially to Cathy, showing it was all a trick to get War Office approval for Bollinger to arm his regiment!

Jessop has just reported troop movements to Trench and Marsh at the self-defence class, when Cathy enters and tries to arrest Trench, then shoots March when he tries to stop her. She drops her revolver in the struggle and Jessop quickly picks it up, but surprises them both by turning it on Trench, then shooting him dead when he tries to rush him.

Cathy then tricks the general into returning to the mess by telling the signaller (James Falkland) it’s a royal summons; she and Steed have rigged a bug to the War Office, so when the general enters and sees Steed he give away his part in the plot:

STEED: I’m afraid the operation’s been cancelled.
GENERAL: Too late, Steed. Trench had orders to carry on if anything happened to me.
CATHY: Trench is dead. And I’m afraid he had no intention of waiting until anything happened to you. He was going to take over as soon as the coup succeeded.
GENERAL: I don’t believe that. The coup will succeed … it must succeed. I’ve spent two years planning this!
CATHY: That’s what the War Office wanted to know, General.


Defeated, Bollinger tells Cathy that she could have been on the throne of England but she tells him she had the lineage charts faked by the curator.

GENERAL: No… Well, it came wi’ a lass, it’ll go wi’ a lass.

  1. This scene is like another advertisement for Honor Blackman’s book, Honor Blackman’s Book of Self Defence which is profusely illustrated with pictures of Honor performing Judo techniques on Joe and Douglas Robinson. Read more about Honor Blackman’s Book of Self Defence.
  2. Steed must have had an inkling about Bollinger’s plans and very carefully set this bit of information up as it becomes crucial to the plot later on.
  3. This seems to be an error in the script, Clanranald supported Cameron of Lochiel at Prestonpans, they weren’t Cameron of Lochiel themselves.
  4. A bit of a Carry On moment, Cathy says “The major objectives are these” just as she removes her coat and reveals her cleavage, and Steed quickly quips “Highly desirable too” which makes her roll her eyes.
  5. Cathy lists the objectives as The Central Telegraph Office, St. Martin le Grand, The Air Ministry, The Admiralty, The War Office, Ministry of Defence and New Scotland Yard. Steed says that tallies with the officially approved plan.
  6. When he’s leaving, Cathy is lying on the couch and asks him, “Anything you’d like to draw from stores?”; he smiles wickedly and says, “Yes, but uh, I doubt if you’d issue it.” She chuckles in reply.
  7. Steed bribed him fifty quid (£1,046 in 2023 terms). The average wage for a soldier was £7 or £8 a week, so that’s 7 weeks wages for Jessop.
  8. John Thaw really stumbles his way through this first line.
  9. This scene is like yet another advertisement for Honor Blackman’s book, Honor Blackman’s Book of Self Defence.
  10. He means he’s not strictly a Highlander.
  11. Commenting on her son’s dubious choice of profession, Lady Bollinger laments “We should never have sent him to Eton.”
  12. Cathy deliberately plays dumb here to lead him on.
  13. There is a trumpet fanfare as she looks astonished at this news.
  14. Steed suggests that should only happen on a battlefield, so Trench explains they are on the eve of battle.
  15. Steed tries an offer of an IOU for £5,000 (£104,555 in 2023 terms) but Jessop says his “credit is dicey” (i.e. he’s likely to die before he could pay them). Given that a regular soldier only earned £7 or £8 a week, and the national average was £11/2/- a week, you would think that £5,000 was tempting!
  16. The first half of this scene is cut, but ran as follows:

    Cathy discovers that Lady Bollinger knows about her husband’s secret office, and his whims and fancies, but is worried they are getting dangerous. Cathy tells her that he plans to “strike a shattering blow for the Jacobite cause some time in the next twelve hours”, which Lady Bollinger finds ridiculous.

  17. The diamond tie pin is worth 750 guineas - £787/10/-. That would be an eye-watering £16,500 in 2023. It’s also a whole years’ wages for a manual labourer at the time, and two years wages for an infantryman, so with it being split four ways they’re getting 6 months wages each.

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