• title card: white all caps text reading ‘A TOUCH OF BRIMSTONE’ outlined in black and superimposed on Cartney sitting in his armchair eating chocolates
  • Cartney, cowled and masked, stand on the right, in the catacombs. Winthrop stands behind him, similarly attired
  • Willy Frant fills Steed’s quart tankard from the pewter jug
  • Steed and Mrs. Peel, in period dress, survey the orgy; Steed gets a better look by peering through his eyeglass
  • Cartney reveals Emma as the Queen of Sin: black corset, gloves and underwear, a spiked dog collar, knee-high lace-up boots and a python
  • Steed fight Willy, who tries to gouge his eyes with the hooks on his prosthetic fingers
  • Mrs. Peel, wearing only a black corset and underwear, swings the chain attached to the collar around her neck as she fights Pierre in the catacombs
  • Steed quips about the passing ‘horseless carriage’ as Emma drives the stage coach away from Cartney’s house

Series 4 — Episode 21
A Touch of Brimstone

by Brian Clemens
Directed by James Hill

Production No E.64.10.21
Production completed: December 24 1965. First transmission: February 15 1966.

Production

Production dates: 12–24/12/1965

The debauchery of Brian Clemens’ script — one of the first submitted, in September 1964 — caused palpitations in the office of Brian Tesler, Programme Controller for ABC, and the script was sent back for major revisions and ultimately shelved for over a year.

Clemens made concessions, of course: The VIP, Bates, was no longer so gruesomely electrocuted and his twitching and convulsing was expunged; Lord Darcy is no longer impaled on a broadsword; the orgy scenes are relatively tame and the treatment of Mrs. Peel by the revellers subdued. Tesler accepted these changes in October 1964 but still disliked three scenes involving Willy’s false wooden hand and a later revision put less focus is put on it. When Willy is finally defeated it is simply pulled out of its socket, rather than hacked off with a sword.

James Hill returned for his third episode of The Avengers and turned in an excellent episode, although Peter Wyngarde’s Cartney has an overly realistic propensity to violence against men and women alike, his treatment of Sara is horrifying. Filming was mostly studio-bound with a bit of stock footage of the London Palladium in Westminster, and short location travelling scenes filmed in Radlett and around Borehamwood.

Upon receipt of the final episode, Rediffusion requested the scene where Cartney whips Mrs. Peel be shortened on the grounds of good taste, arguing they could not show the episode before the watershed as it was. The Independent Telvision Authority agreed and ABC had to toe the line if they wanted the episode to air before 10pm. To this day there are still two "master" prints of the episode: the Rediffusion print with only two strokes of Cartney’s whip which is still in syndication as it was used by Channel 4 in the 1980s and 1990s, and is the version on online streaming services such as Vudu; and the uncut version, which has been available to home video customers since the Contender DVD release in 2002, the more recent Optimum & Studio Canal derived DVDs and blu-rays have the uncut episode.

Notwithstanding these changes, the episode saw a limited release in the Sixties despite glowing press reviews upon its British premiere, being famously banned from broadcast in the United States and most European markets did the same. Only Switzerland and Australia showed this episode at the time, Australia surprisingly not censoring it at all despite their usually heavy-handed Censorship Board.

Despite all the fuss, or perhaps because of it, the episode was a critical and ratings success with glowing reviews and the biggest audience share for 1966, pulling in 8.4 million viewers. Michael Billington, writing in The Stage and Television Today called it "vintage stuff"* and praised the performances of Peter Wyngarde and Patrick Macnee as well as feeling Diana Rigg had "successfully established the Mrs. Peel character"*.

* Quotations referenced in Bowler Hats and Kinky Boots, Michael Richardson, 2014.

Regional broadcasts

BroadcasterDateTime
Rediffusion London18/02/19668:00pm
ABC Midlands19/02/19669:05pm
ABC North19/02/19669:05pm
Anglia Television19/02/19668:25pm
Border Television19/02/19669:05pm
Channel Television19/02/19669:05pm
Grampian Television18/02/19668:00pm
Southern Television19/02/19668:25pm
Scottish Television15/02/19668:00pm
Tyne Tees Television18/02/19668:00pm
Ulster Television18/02/19668:00pm
Westward Television19/02/19669:05pm
Television Wales & West19/02/19669:05pm

TV Times listing

TV Times listing for February 19 1966, 9.05pm (Midlands edition)
Sydney Morning Herald listing for July 5 1966, 8pm
The Age listing for June 28 1966, 7.30pm

9.5 The Avengers
starring
Patrick Macnee

as John Steed
and
Diana Rigg
as Emma Peel
in
A Touch of Brimstone
by
Brian Clemens

In which Steed joins the Hellfire Club — and Emma becomes a Queen of Sin …

Cast also includes

John Cartney Peter Wyngarde
Lord Darcy Colin Jeavons
Sara Carol Cleveland
Horace Robert Cawdron
Roger Winthrop Michael Latimer
Willy Frant Jeremy Young
Tubby Bunn Bill Wallis
Kartovski Steve Plytas
Pierre Art Thomas
Big Man Alf Joint
Huge Man Bill Reed

Music by Laurie Johnson
Directed by James Hill
Produced by Julian Wintle

Diana Rigg’s Wardrobe designed by John Vates

ABC Weekend Network Production

International broadcasts

BroadcasterDateTime
ABN2 Sydney, Australia5/07/19668:00pm
ABV2 Melbourne, Australia28/06/19667:30pm
ABC New York, USA---
ORTF2 France1/7/91 FR3
Suisse Romande, Switzerland17/05/196710:10pm
French titleLe club de l’enfer
ZDF Germany---
German titleDie Nacht der Sünder
KRO Netherlands---
Italy3/12/80 C51
Italian titleUn pizzico di zolfo
Spain---
Spanish titleUn toque Diabólico

Italy did not show this episode in the 1960s, the Italian titles are from the Tele Torino International broadcast in the 1980s, and DVD releases.

The only international markets that appear to have shown this controversial episode in contemporary broadcasts were Switzerland and Australia. Switzerland held it back and screened it in a late-night mid-week timeslot, several weeks after the other episodes. The Aussie were less fussed, and had it in the usual prime time slot. More astonishingly, given it was in a 7.30pm timeslot in Melbourne, there are no censorship cuts in the National Archives of Australia for this episode.

The Australian Women’s Weekly had a very low opinion of this episode…
Switzerland: Journal de Genève listing for July 17 1967, 10.10pm

Episode Rating

Subject 0–5
Direction
4½ stars
Music
4½ stars
Humour 5 stars
Intros/tags 5 stars
Villains 5 stars
Plot 5 stars
Emma 5 stars
Sets/Props 5 stars
Overall
(0–10)
10 stars

It doesn’t get much better than this. Wyngarde is fantastic as the villain, and Mrs. Peel looks fantastic, both before and after her drug-altered Queen of Sin transformation. A great plot and debauched characterisations, fantastic sets and great acting by the ensemble cast.

The Fashions

Emma’s Fashions Steed’s Fashions
  1. Silver-blue lamé collarless jacket worn over a bustier and hipster pants of the same material
  2. Black and white knee-length dress, mostly black with three thick bands of white at the hem and white sleeves with three thick black bands at the cuff, concealed buttonholes leading to a single pleat in the front of the skirt, worn with white shoes, white stockings and black and white driving gloves
  3. cream rollneck blouse, orange pants, Edward Rayne’s black & white boots
  4. loose white cotton dress with dark embroidery around the v-neck and cuffs
  5. (2)
  6. reproduction green Regency dress (hooks and eyes up the back) with a hooped skirt, large bow below exposed cleavage
  7. Large black cloak, briefly concealing…
  8. Black whalebone corset, laced up the back, covered with black lace, descending to a sheer lace skirt, half covering black silk bikini briefs, worn with a spiked dog collar with silver chain leash the loop of which is slipped over the left wrist, long black gloves, glass bindi on the forehead, with smaller gems on the eyelids, knee-length demi-boots, high-heeled with stiletto heels and laced up the back of the calf.
  9. black and white cruciform jacket and b/w driving gloves
  1. black tuxedo (shawl collar, matching silk waistcoat with silver buttons), plain white shirt, black bow tie
  2. grey three-piece suit (2 vents, suede collar back, no breast pocket, slanted slit pockets at hip, hard buttons on the waistcoat, 1 button on suit cuffs) with matching bowler and whangee cane handled umbrella, pale shirt, double cuffs with square links and light knitted tie
  3. Dark polo shirt and trousers
  4. dark suit, with white shirt, dark tie, black bowler
  5. brown overcoat and bowler, over the above
  6. (2) without the bowler and umbrella
  7. (2)
  8. tapered stovepipe hat and Regency dandy attire, waistcoat patterned with fleurs de lys, later without the coat and hat

The Cars

Marque/Model/Type Number Plate
Bentley UW 4887
Four-horse carriage Chippenham Stage

Who’s Killing Whom?

Victim Killer Method
VIP Willy Frant V* electrocution
Lord Darcy Willy Frant V* trapdoor into river
John Cartney V* John Cartney V* & Emma trapdoor into river (accidental)
Click a name to see the face

Continuity and trivia

  1. 1:09 — James Hill does a slow reveal, teasing us by not showing Cartney for 30 seconds.
  2. throughout — Is Cartney house using some of the same sets as Castle De’Ath? Some of those doors look familiar.
  3. 1:41 — Cartney certainly eats lively chocolates! The scene has been recut in the editing room, but this means we see the chocolates on the arm of the chair (1:41) before he picks them out of the box (starting at 1:56).
  4. 1:47 — product placement of a Decca DR95 dual standard mono television set — the set could receive both 405 line VHF and 625 line UHF signals.
  5. 4:40 — Steed and Emma motor down Watling Street, Radlett (past the shops at numbers 365 to 259, they pass the laneway between 303 and 305) — the F. H. Woolworth & Co. Ltd. is now the Tesco’s Express on that street. When it cuts to a closeup, with the shops flashing by matted into the background, it’s the same shops they’ve already past going by again.
  6. 6:58 — Cartney’s cheque is drawn from the National Provincial Bank Ltd., his account at the Piccadilly Branch (208 & 209 Piccadilly London W1) and he dates it January 12th 1966. It certainly is! £1,050 was a year’s wages for a manual labourer in 1965 and worth £17,000 in 2023 terms.
  7. 9:17 — Steed casually pours himself a sherry while searching Darcy’s flat.
  8. 11:26 — Steed has a television in his car!
  9. 11:59 onwards — there’s a thread caught on the camera at bottom left in the back-projection shots, you only see it when it’s against something white.
  10. 12:44 — when Steed stops the car the camera zooms in, but the matte background film doesn’t, so it looks like the car moves sideways towards the camera.
  11. 13:25 — The date on Cartney’s diary and cheque clearly read January 12 1966 at 6:51 onwards but Darcy’s newspaper is dated November 10 1965. This same prop newspaper layout is also used, with different headlines but the same leader item in The Girl from Auntie, it must have been a print layoutr the props departnet had on file.
  12. 15:35 — the newspaper Mrs. Peel cuts up is a copy of The Times dated September 8 1965.
  13. 22:26 — Steed’s patent hangover cure, which he calls “National Anthem” comprises two eggs, salt and Worcestershire sauce, possibly with a little whisky or brandy.

  14. 23:50 — Diana Rigg is enjoying herself in one of the long shots, laughing at the antics of the little fighter, but in the close-ups (23:57) she’s looking pensive again.
  15. 37:39 — Similar to The Town of No Return, Mrs. Peel gets extremely close to Steed when she’s asking him what will happen tonight. This time it results in her presses against his arm. I’m pretty sure she’s already wearing the Queen of Sin outfit under that Regency dress, the blu-ray reveals it’s not a zip you see at the back but the black garment underneath and the back of the dress is fastened with hook and eyes.
  16. 37:56 — The female extra who was just in Roger’s embrace wanders past the roasting chickens on her own a moment later.
  17. 39:24 — The old standby prop, the cast-iron staircase is put to use once again.
  18. 39:56 — Emma turns tail and heads for the staircase when the box is opened to reveal TNT inside the fireworks boxes — but there’s no way she could have seen that from where she was.
  19. 42:18–20 — A Tale of Two Extras — again! The same female extra (from 37:56 above) is sitting by herself and the next second there’s a close-up of her in an embrace with Anthony Snell. At 42:33, she’s on her own again as Mrs. Peel is presented, then another extra gets her a drink and outs his hand on her shoulder.
  20. 43:43 — They couldn’t have sex scenes on Sixties television, but we come close here. Cartney says Mrs. Peel is theirs, to do with what they will. The men rush up and carry her around the room with the women throwing petals over her, before descending the stairs. At that point (44:11) the camera cuts back to Mrs. Peel’s snake, no longer flaccid in her hands but now before the fire, it’s long neck rearing up and erect. Mrs. Peel’s snake seems to… uh… grow from a reasonably sized python when she’s holding it to a much larger constrictor when it’s crawling around the mantelpiece. Paging Dr. Freud!
  21. 46:44 onwards — Rocky Taylor standing in for Patrick Macnee in the longer shots of the sword fight, Jeremy Young does his own stunts. Alf Joint does the impressive trick of being in the crowd who are locked in the arena while also helping Pierre laod the dynamite in the catacombs at the same time. Bill Reed must not have been available for that day's shooting for Alf to play both roles at the climax.
  22. 49:06 — There’s a rather obvious backdrop for the catacombs scene.
  23. 49:15 — There are streaks down the right-hand side of the film.
  24. 49:44- The whipping scene was supposedly too much for the American network (Mrs. Peel is lashed 12 times by Cartney), so it was censored. The story goes that network executives used to show the full scene to their friends and colleagues at the Christmas party.
  25. Running time: 51′40″ (the 1966 dialogue sheets record it as 4,698 feet of film, which is 52′12″, including Avengers I.D. cards at the beginning and end of the commercial breaks).

A note on the timecodes

Timecodes for episodes are problematic as each release has its own quirks so the 2009–11 Optimum Releasing/Studio Canal DVD sets have different run times compared to the A&E and Contender DVD sets from a decade beforehand. The newer Studio Canal & Via Vision blu rays seems to be back in line with the earlier releases, except they often have StudioCanal idents lasting 20 to 22 seconds added to the beginning.

The Optimum Releasing/Studio Canal DVD releases were remastered and their frame rate has been changed, resulting in a shorter running time. However, the picture quality has increased markedly. I assume this is because they used a simple 2:2 pulldown (24 @ 25) when converting from the original film masters (film runs at 24 frames per second, while PAL runs at 25fps, the new DVDs are in PAL format).
This pulldown was also the cause of audio errors on many episodes, especially for Series 5, as the audio sped up to match the new rate (4% faster), rather than being properly pitch-shifted. Checking the dialogue sheets, which list the feet and frames of the reels, it looks like the speed change is around 5.04%, so there may be some cuts as well — probably from around the commercial breaks and ends of reels, as they amount to about 25 seconds. All my assumptions are based on the episodes having been filmed on standard 35mm film, which has 16 frames per foot and runs at 24 frames per second, so a minute of footage uses 90 feet of film (1,440 frames).

The audio errors have been corrected in the currently available DVDs, but the 2:2 pulldown remains. There is also the addition of a Studio Canal lead-in, converted to black and white to match the episode for Series Four, but colour for Series Five, adding an extra 18 or 19 seconds to the running time and making it harder to match timecodes with previous releases. It’s annoying that it has been slapped on every single episode, Series 1–3 didn’t suffer this indignity.

The previous Contender and A&E DVD releases didn’t seem to suffer from these problems, so I assume they either used soft telecine and preserved the original 24fps rate of the film (my preferred option in DVDs) or they used 24 @ 25 pulldown (2:2:2:2:2:2:2:2:2:2:2:3 Euro pull-down).

Thankfully, the new blu ray releases for series 4–6 appear to use native 24fps with soft telecine so the running times and pitch all seem to be correct again along with a much greatly improved picture quality, most notably in the Tara King episodes which are finally (mostly) back to their original glory.

Cast notes

  1. Carol Cleveland will be familiar to Monty Python fans — she was a regular of the ensemble.
  2. Robert Cawdron returns as the fake policeman in Murdersville.
  3. Colin Jeavons returns as the comic book writer Stanton in The Winged Avenger.
  4. Peter Wyngarde returns gloriously as Stewart Kirby in Epic (as well as in Jason King and Department S). Michael Latimer and Bill Wallis both return in The Positive-Negative Man (as the villainous Peter Haworth and the ill-fated Dr. Charles Grey respectively)
  5. Jeremy Young is the double agent Burton in The Forget-Me-Knot and the Russian agent Chislenko in Gnaws.
  6. Bill Reed is another notable stuntman who’s being throwing himself off buildings for years, here he stacks explosives in the cellar — he is also the hooded man who fights little Art Thomas.
  7. The man I’ve described as a Beaky Libertine appears in a multitude of episodes, as well as in Danger Man and The Champions. He has been tentatively identified as John Cam because of The Dalek Master Plan but I am positive that is not him.

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