Series 4 — Episode 1
The Town of No Return
by Brian Clemens
Directed by Roy Baker and Peter Graham Scott
Production No E.64.10.1
Production completed: August 3 1965. First transmission: October 2 1965.
TV Times summary
In which Steed finds a town full of ghosts — and Emma gets into harness…
A fisherman on the Norfolk coast thinks nothing is amiss when a man walk from the sea, encased in a vinyl bag. He directs him to the nearby village of Little Bazeley and soon after Steed and Emma arrive to investigate, as four agents have gone missing in the area. After a cold reception from the locals, and a warm one from a man they meet on the train, they uncover a plot to invade Britain by stealth, village by village. They trap the invaders underground and, a job well done, potter off back to London on a motor scooter.
A fisherman, Saul (Robert Brown), is tending his pots on the windswept Norfolk coast. He casually watches a figure emerge from the surf, encased in a vinyl bag. The occupant tears the bag open, dressed in a suit and tie with hat and umbrella, and asks the direction to Little Bazeley. Saul directs him to the village as though nothing were amiss.
John Steed (Patrick Macnee) visits Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), who is practicing her fencing,1 wearing a fencing mask which she removes to talk to him.2. He critiques her fencing as he pours a coffee, so she flicks a foil at him and they don masks to fight. While they parry3 he suggests she accompany him to the seaside. She declines but he riles her by smacking her behind with his foil. The fight rejoined, she refuses to “carry his bucket and spade” when he suggests making sand castles but he persists, rescuing her ornaments as they fight past them. He wonders if she’s ever fancied herself as a school teacher then traps her in the curtains. When she emerges, he admits he didn’t promise to fight fair then tells her they’ll take the train and she learns he bought the tickets yesterday; the train leaves in an hour.4
On the train, he explains that they got wind of “something odd” at Little Bazeley by-the-Sea and four agents have disappeared investigating the village. He offers her Indian or Chinese tea and asks, “Milk or lemon?” but finds he only has milk when Mrs Peel asks for lemon. He then produces a full tea service, including a stand of small cakes and a boiling kettle from his carpet bag.
STEED: So you can see why we’re worried. Four agents in a row: it could be very serious.
EMMA: Mmm… you could run out of agents.
The train stops and another passenger gets into the carriage, prompting Steed to hide himself behind a book called Great Disappearing Acts. The new passenger introduces himself as Jimmy Smallwood (Patrick Newell), also bound for Little Bazeley to visit his brother Tom, the blacksmith. He shows Mrs Peel a photo of Tom and chats happily about going to see him again after a long time away.
When they arrive in Little Bazeley the station is deserted, but Saul watches them from behind the station sign. The entire village seems empty as well, and the reception at the pub is decidedly cool,5 until the proprietor, Flying Officer ‘Piggy’ Warren (Terence Alexander) emerges. Warren is a bluff old RAF officer, all big moustache, guffawing loudly and punctuating his sentences with “old boy”. He welcomes them and Steed makes a show of not knowing Mrs Peel while ordering drinks. Warren is guarded when Smallwood asks how his brother Tom is, apparently unaware of the blacksmith, and startled when Steed asks for a room for a couple of days — Steed announces he’s a property developer’s scout looking for building sites.
Mrs Peel causes greater consternation when she asks for a room until she can find permanent lodging and announces herself as the new school teacher. Jill Manson (Juliet Harmer) gets up from her stool at the bar and introduces herself as the headmistress. Mrs Peel hands her a letter from the Department, hoping “there isn’t any mistake”. The man who walked from the sea, who had been sitting next to Jill, comes over and says they can always use a new teacher, and claims to be Mark Brandon (Alan MacNaughtan), the district school inspector. He says he only arrived that day and if the authorities have sent them a new teacher they must take advantage of the opportunity; they’ll sort it out tomorrow.
EMMA: Well, now I’m here, I think I ought to stay, don’t you?
BRANDON: Of course you must — now you’re here — you must certainly stay.6
Smallwood goes to see his brother and the villagers follow him, two carrying shotguns, which Warren dismisses as badger hunting. Smallwood wanders the deserted streets, followed by Saul, while Warren shows our heroes to their rooms. The rooms are dilapidated and dirty, with cellophane fly strips covered in blow-flies, shaky plumbing, no hot water, and large holes in the towels. They hear the sound of marching boots, but the shutters are nailed up so they can’t see what’s happening outside. When they descend, Warren stops them from looking outside and shows them to their table. Steed ‘remembers’ a letter he has to post, but Brandon takes it from him, saying he’s passing the box. Before leaving, Brandon tells Mrs Peel the school is at the old airfield.7
Smallwood, who’s been unable to find Tom at the forge, goes to the church where the sound of the choir spills from the stained glass windows. When he opens the door, he finds the church completely empty and he departs, shaken, still pursued by Saul. Brandon meanwhile goes to the school8 and finds muddy prints from many boots in the hall. Jill emerges from a classroom at the sound of baying hounds — Saul is chasing Smallwood across the sand dunes and marshes with a pair of bloodhounds.9 Steed and Mrs Peel hear the hounds as they sit, gasping by the smoking fireplace and Warren once again says it’s the badger hunting. Outside, Smallwood stumbles in a ditch and turns in horror as the hounds near…
Later, Steed tried to prise the shutters open but is unable to shift them and elects to try his luck sneaking out downstairs and says he can “move like a cat in carpet slippers”. Warren hears him and challenges him with a shotgun; Steed claims to be looking for a nightcap — Warren gives a ribald chuckle and give him an entire bottle of brandy to take back upstairs. Mrs Peel laughs at him when he returns and they face each other, inches apart:
EMMA: What happened to pussy-footed pussy?
STEED: Isn’t it time you were in bed?10
The next day, Mrs Peel goes to the school and finds it strangely deserted. She discovers rows of muddy boots in a cloakroom then overhears Miss Manson complaining about being sent “another batch so soon”. Brandon replies that he is in command now and she’ll do as she’s told. They pause when Mrs Peel enters and Jill says she will have little to do as the children are on holidays.
“In the middle of term?” queries Mrs Peel. Brandon hastily claims they bends the rules a bit for little places like this, as it enabled Miss Manson to set up a new gymnasium. Mrs Peel offers to help and is told she would be better off working out her class schedules. Mrs Peel instead goes to find Steed on the beach and tells him something odd is going on there. “As odd as this?” he asks, and indicates a dozen sets of footprints leading out of the surf.
STEED: Turtles … sea mares?
STEED: You must know some very strange mermaids wearing boots.
EMMA: Mermen … Boots! Steed there were about a dozen pairs of boots out at the school.
STEED: Pretty hefty pupils.
Mrs Peel mentions the ‘holiday’ in term time which prompts Steed to mention that he saw tractors left in the fields and ploughs rusting in the furrows. They find Smallwood’s body hidden under some jetsam in one of the dunes and Steed takes Tom’s photo from his wallet.
They go to the smithy where Saul is impersonating Tom Smallwood; he tells them Jimmy went back to London on urgent business. Steed hopes to trip him up by suggesting Jimmy took the early train but Saul says there isn’t one, Jimmy borrowed his car.
Back at the pub, the Avengers ponder why someone would want to impersonate a blacksmith. Realising they haven’t seen a soul since they’ve arrived except the highly suspicious badger hunters, all wearing gum boots. Steed heads off to check the airfield while Mrs Peel goes to the church to check the parish records. When she gets to the church, she runs into the vicar who is coming down the stairs.
VICAR: I’ve got bats in my belfry you know. Oh I mean, quite literally — up there … bats. Can’t shift them. Amesbury, Jonathan Amesbury. I’m the Vicar here.
Steed arrives at the airfield and is reminded of his own wartime service. Amongst the rubble of the old barracks he finds a graffito commemorating Piggy Warren, killed in action in 1942.12
Mrs Peel meanwhile is searching the school and finds the cupboards and desks crammed with tinned food and other supplies. A man stumbles in, muddy and gasping. He warns her “below, below” and says he’s Mark Brandon (Walter Horsbrugh). He indicates a photograph on the wall before collapsing. Hearing the baying of hounds, Mrs Peel hurriedly takes the photo and leaves before Saul and Brandon enter. When they enter, Brandon picks up the empty photo frame.
Mrs Peel goes to the vicar and shows him that the Jill Manson in the photo is not the Miss Manson they’ve met. He confirms that none of the people in the photo are their current namesakes then says she’s an impostor as well. When she admits this, saying she had to, he says not to apologise and pulls a revolver from his cassock. Backing away and circling to the door, Mrs Peel says he won’t use the gun during choir practice and opens the vestry door, but in the nave she finds a reel-to-reel tape playing choral music. He says the music is appropriate — a requiem — she hits him with the photo and makes for the door but is confronted by Brandon and Saul.
Steed returns to the pub and finds Piggy fixing a fuse by candle light. Piggy hands Steed the candle and tells him that Mrs Peel has gone to London and chortles at Steed ‘fancying his chances’. Steed spies Mrs Peel’s cases in the pantry and menaces him with the candle, singeing his moustache.
STEED: You’re expendable Piggy. You’re dead, remember? Killed in action 1942 … Where is she Piggy, where is she?
Steed goes to the forge to rescue Mrs Peel, but must first fend off a murderous Saul, wielding a red hot horseshoe. Steed evades the horseshoe and uses a bucket of water to cool it, then defeats Saul with a few blows of his steel-reinforced bowler. Mrs Peel calls out and he finds her trussed to a saddle —
STEED: Never mind. - soon have you unsaddled.
EMMA: Oh, tight girth.
STEED: Have to cut down on the oats. Who put you on such a tight rein anyway?
Emma reveals the vicar tied her up and adds that the whole village are impostors, then takes him to the school and shows him the stores in the cupboards. They deduce a piecemeal invasion from an off-shore submarine —
STEED: Wipe out the old population and replace them with your own kind.
EMMA: The vicar, the school master …
STEED: The butcher … the baker … the candlestick maker … — all impostors.
They realise the plan will have village after village being replaced with new inhabitants until the whole country is a new population and Mrs Peel recalls Brandon’s warning of “below”.
Steed and Mrs Peel enter the old wartime bunkers and find an armoury packed with weapons and explosives, and hear soldiers training. They realise there’s only one exit from the bunker and plan to destroy the mechanism when they’re interrupted by Brandon. The vicar and Miss Manson follow him in and our heroes are held at gunpoint.
Steed and Emma turn on their captors with the vicar quickly being knocked out, leaving Steed to deal with Brandon while Emma fights Jill. Brandon falls on the door control and it starts to close just as Steed, inside, is faced by four approaching soldiers. Jill keeps Mrs Peel from coming to his aide, then the vicar attacks her, so by the time she manages to open the door, Steed has dealt with all four of them, once again employing his steel-brimmed bowler hat. They hear more soldiers coming and Mrs Peel swiftly closes the door, trapping the army underground.13
Mrs Peel drives them away on a Vespa motor scooter, daydreaming about dinner in a cosy inn with a big thick steak; Steed says, “let me tell you what I have in mind…”
- Sound familiar? She’s practicing her fencing at the beginning of the first episode of series 5, (From Venus with Love as well. ⭮
- With all the hype about the new Avengers girl in the press, the producers deliberately prolong the viewers’ agony by having Diana Rigg wearing a mask for the first 12 seconds of her début in this episode. ⭮
- I say they but it’s Rocky Taylor and maybe Dorothy Ford who are fencing. ⭮
- The familiar pattern of Steed manipulating his companions, just as he did with Venus and Cathy; Emma is less annoyed about it though. ⭮
- Smallwood murmurs “Very chilly” as he enters, in reference to the howling wind outside but sign-posting the behaviour of the denizens. When he adds, “Very chilly weather”, Steed quips, “Chilly is the word”, referring to the locals. ⭮
- This line is delivered with an undercurrent of menace. ⭮
- There’s a lovely cut from a close-up of a pilot’s helmet, goggles and oxygen mask to a skull on a gravestone for this change of scene. ⭮
- The children’s pictures on the wall are disturbingly mostly of people being killed. ⭮
- I suspect Robert Brown was only at the original location shoot and not the return visit with Dian Rigg as the scene with him and his quarry does not feature Patrick Newell but another actor, although other shots have Newell on location. ⭮
- The director has Macnee and Rigg so close together they seem about to kiss Macnee, standing inches away from her, looks her up and down and makes his suggestive remark and she flicks her eyebrow deliciously in response. Macnee then defuses the sexual tension by saying she has to be up early for school tomorrow. ⭮
- In the close-up shot of the register, Mrs Peel has bare hands but in every other shot she is wearing gloves. ⭮
- Piggy Warren, killed in action, 7th Oct 1942. ⭮
- Sound familiar? The same thing happens to the secret underground army in The Living Dead. ⭮