• title card: white all caps text reading ‘WHAT THE BUTLER SAW’ outlined in black and superimposed on a close-up of Benson smiling obsequiously
  • Miles finds himself surrounded by photographs of Emma
  • The trainee butlers form a rank, demonstrating their skill at shining shoes, Steed is closest to us and Hemming overseas the class from the end of the row
  • The officers zip themselves into a huge plastic bag in an attempt to thwart enemy listening devices
  • Hemming’s body is found inside the industrial washing machine
  • Miles and Emma are interrupted in flagrante, but not delicto
  • The tape recorder bug is removed from the lining of the Group Captain’s uniform
  • Emma and Steed prepare to depart in a helicopter

Series 4 — Episode 22
What the Butler Saw

by Brian Clemens
Directed by Bill Bain

Production No E.64.10.22
Production completed: January 7 1966. First transmission: February 22 1966.

Regional broadcasts

Rediffusion London25/02/19668:00pm
ABC Midlands26/02/19669:05pm
ABC North26/02/19669:05pm
Anglia Television26/02/19668:25pm
Border Television26/02/19669:05pm
Channel Television26/02/19669:05pm
Grampian Television25/02/19668:00pm
Southern Television26/02/19668:25pm
Scottish Television22/02/19668:00pm
Tyne Tees Television25/02/19668:00pm
Ulster Television25/02/19668:00pm
Westward Television26/02/19669:05pm
Television Wales & West2/04/19669:05pm

TV Times listing

TV Times listing for February 25 1966, 8pm (London edition)
Sydney Morning Herald listing for July 12 1966, 8pm
The Age listing for July 5 1966, 7.30pm

8.25 The Avengers
Patrick Macnee

as John Steed
Diana Rigg

as Emma Peel
What the Butler Saw
By Roger Marshall

In which Steed becomes a gentleman’s gentleman — and Emma faces a fate worse than death …

Cast also includes

Hemming Thorley Walters
Benson John le Mesurier
Group Capt. Miles Denis Quilley
Maj. Gen. Goddard Kynaston Reeves
Brig. Goddard
Howard Marion Crawford
Vice Admiral Willows
Humphrey Lestocq
Sgt. Moran Ewan Hooper
Sqdn. Ldr. Hogg Leon Sinden
Barber David Swift
Reeves Norman Scace
Walters Peter Hughes

Music by Laurie Johnson
Directed by Bill Bain
Produced by Julian Wintle

ABC Television Network Production

International broadcasts

ABN2 Sydney, Australia12/07/19668:00pm
ABV2 Melbourne, Australia5/07/19667:30pm
ABC New York, USA28/07/196610:00pm
ORTF2 France20/06/19678:00pm
Suisse Romande, Switzerland11/02/19678:35pm
French titleLes espions font le service
ZDF Germany18/04/19679:15pm
German titleButler sind gefährlich
KRO Netherlands19/04/19699:00pm
Dutch titleSteed wordt butler
Italy (RAI 1)12/08/19699:00pm
Italian titleCercate il maggiordomo
Spanish titleLo que el mayordomo vio

This was the last episode shown in the first series of 13 episodes in Germany. The Avengers returned three months later, on July 4 1967, with Honey for the Prince.

After this episode, Melbourne moved to showing The Avengers on Friday nights, so there were an extra three days before the next episode was seen on July 15 1966.

In Italy, What the Butler Saw was a stand-by programme when the first episode of Paoloa Ojetti’s highly anticipated Italian production of Rebecca was pre-empted because of extended coverage of Italian parliamentary debate. La Stampa reported the substitution thus:

Chi aspettava l’attore italiano al varco del confronto con Laurence Olivier nell’interpretazione di Rebecca è rimasto deluso. In apertura di serata c’era un’avventura della serie «Agente speciale» intitolata Cercate il maggiordomo. Niente de eccezionale, un poco di poliziesco e di giallo conditi di notazioni umoristiche in attesa di una speciale edizione di «Oggi al Palamento».
Whoever was waiting to see the Italian comparison with Laurence Olivier in the interpretation of Rebecca was disappointed. Opening the evening was an adventure from the “Special Agent” series, entitled Look for the Butler. Nothing exceptional, a little detective thriller seasoned with humorous notations while we waited for a special edition of “Oggi al Palamento”.
USA: New York Times listing for July 28 1966, 10pm
Italy: La Stampa, August 13 1969, announcing that this episode had replaced Rebecca on 12 August.
Spain: ABC Madrid listing for August 28 1967, 4.10pm
France: L’Impartial listing for June 20 1967, 8pm
Switzerland: Journal de Genève listing for February 11 1967, 8.35pm
Germany: Hamburg Abendblatt listing for April 18 1967, 9.15pm
Netherlands: Dagblad de Stem listing for April 19 1969, 9pm

Episode Rating

Subject 0–5
3½ stars
4½ stars
4½ stars
Intros/tags 3 stars
3½ stars
Plot 4 stars
3½ stars
Sets/Props 3 stars
7 stars

A gritty drama as a turn about from the previous week’s fancy dress, and it plays out well. Fine performances by all involved, but it’s a bit staid.

The Fashions

Emma’s Fashions Steed’s Fashions
  1. White rollneck blouse with turned back cuffs, white wool jacket with black piping along the collar and button holes, with two bands of black on the cuffs and one around the waist, white wool pants, black & white boots
  2. (1) without the jacket
  3. (2) with wrap-around sunglasses
  4. (2)
  5. black and white jacket, the buttonhole line and waist forming a cross, with the intersection contrasted in white, worn over (6)
  6. peter pan collared sleeveless dress, fastened with a zip up the back, with false diagonal lacing up the front in 3 Xs, top a pale green to contrast the white of the collar, laces and skirt, the colour descending in a curved downward point (semi peasant-style) at the waist, with white shoes
  7. leather open overall (zipped up back), worn with a white high-collared shirt with long sleeves and 10 or12 cloth-covered buttons and b/w boots
  8. marigold suit with large white cuffs, three double diamond shaped frogs instead of buttons down the front
  1. grey three-piece suit with pale shirt and silk tie, quickly covered with a barber’s sheet
  2. Royal Navy Commander’s uniform
  3. Tank Corps Major’s uniform
  4. Royal Air Force Squadron Leader’s uniform
  5. (1)
  6. (1) with dark bowler and umbrella
  7. dark single breasted three-piece suit with a dark shirt and tie, with overcoat with dark collar detail
  8. (1) with dark bowler, later with the overcoat of (7)
  9. wing collar shirt with black trousers, waistcoat and bow tie (butler’s uniform), sometimes with apron, later with tail coat
  10. (8) with dark patterned cravat, brown gloves and black umbrella with whangee cane handle
  11. butler’s uniform like (9) but with pin-striped trousers and black tail coat
  12. navy chalk-stripe three-piece suit with dark bowler and black umbrella of (10), white shirt and silk tie

The Cars

Marque/Model/Type Number Plate
rowing boat -
RN motor launch -
Saracen armoured car -
Helicopter G-ASHD
Lotus Elan S2 HNK 999C
Austin Taxi VGF 345

Who’s Killing Whom?

Victim Killer Method
Walters Sergeant Moran V* shot
Barber Sergeant Moran V* stabbed
Reeves Sergeant Moran V* bayonetted
Hubert Hemming Benson V* shot
Click a name to see the face

Continuity and trivia

  1. 1:35 + 32:25 — The villains use a silenced revolver, which simply doesn’t work. Silencers don’t work on most revolvers due to the gap between the barrel and the cylinder.
  2. 4:50 — Pamela Davies plays the WRN, as evidenced by this newspaper clipping.
  3. 5:00 — the Admiral’s house set was reused as an Admiral’s office in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Station.
  4. 4:50–13:30 — Steed disguises himself as three different officers - one for each force - to infiltrate the abodes of the suspects in the case, sporting different false facial hair and medals for each one.
    He patriotically gives them the names red, white and blue.
    My favourite is his RAF officer, all enormous curled moustache and “what ho! jolly good show!” accents.

    He later enrolls at the Butling academy run by Hemming and Benson and is sent to Group Captain Miles, dressed in butler’s garb

  5. 10:35–11:23 — There’s a hair stuck to the top edge of the transfer plate, from the location shot of the helicopter approach to Steed entering the house.
  6. 11:59 — Another Bond reference: In the scene where they parody the RAF’s love of abbreviations, SL Hogg asks, “Downgraded to double-O 7?” and Steed replies, “Upgraded to BB5”.
  7. 15:55 — Mrs. Peel has a telephone in her car.
  8. 17:10 — The picture of Emma in Miles’ bin is a publicity still from Man-eater of Surrey Green, the other photos of Emma are publicity photos.
  9. 19:50 — Patrick Macnee is replaced by a stand-in for the car ride and getting out to approach the butling school
  10. 22:15 — Steed’s references are from the Duke of Duffup, the Earl of Isley, & The Honorable Flegghorn. Benson checks them and finds they’re all the names of pubs (33:54).
  11. 29:14 — Shades of Get Smart as the officers climb into a polythene bag of silence to try to ensure complete secrecy.
  12. 30:45 — The enormous washing machine is a Bill Twenty.
  13. 31:32 — The photo of Steed is another publicity photo.
  14. 32:18/31:45 — there’s no way Hemming would ever have fit through the washing machine door.
  15. 34:34 — Obvious product placement for Bollinger champagne.
  16. 34:41+47:39 — There are significant streaks on the RHS of film.
  17. 43:22 — Steed catches the tail of his jacket in the car door.
  18. 47:45 — A brilliant bit of editing in the fight sequence, as we cut from the two stuntmen back to John vLe Mesurier & Patrick Macnee.
  19. The new DVD masters have a superb picture compared to earlier releases, but the PAL masters seem remarkably at odds with the old NTSC masters, as these two pictures below will attest - the new release is significantly cropped at the top and right of the screen.
    Even more strangely, the test-run timecoded episodes had more visible screen area but nothing like the NTSC version, so something may have gone wrong in the DVD pressing phase AND not every scene is affected.

    NOTE: This seems to have been corrected in the blu ray release.

  20. Running time: 49′46″

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. John Le Mesurier (Benson) is beloved by fans of Dad’s Army worldwide - he normally plays quite pleasant chaps, unlike his rôle here.
  2. Howard Marion Crawford (Brigadier Percy Goddard) - who normally plays unpleasant chaps - turns up again as The Sixteenth Duke of Benedict in The Living Dead.

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