• title card: white all caps text reading ‘The House That Jack Built’ outlined in black and superimposed on two marble lions flanking the front door of a large, whitewashed house
  • Centre of the maze — Emma stands near a strange, pulsing machine in a circular room with black and white concentric circles on the floor. Around it, strange arched passageways with zigzag and wavy black and whgite designs stretch away in every direction
  • Emma holds her old childhood doll as she looks the exhibit of her life
  • A plastic mould of Professor Keller’s head glows in the blackness behind Emma
  • Emma cuts through a huge photograph of herself to find a way out
  • Professor Keller’s face on the monitor, revelling in his posthumous revenge
  • The glass case surrounding Professor Keller’s preserved corpse cracks and splinters as the house breaks down
  • Steed and Mrs. Peel ride away on a tandem bicycle

Series 4 — Episode 23
The House That Jack Built

by Brian Clemens
Directed by Don Leaver

Production No E.64.10.23
Production completed: January 18 1966. First transmission: March 1 1966.

TV Times summary

In which Steed takes a wrong turning — and Emma holds the key to all …

Plot summary

Emma Peel is bequeathed a country house by an uncle she never heard of, but when Steed discovers the uncle didn’t exist he sets off to find her before it’s too late.
It might already be too late, as she trips a hidden switch and the house is turned into a maze of twisty, turny passages, all alike — all leading to a humming electric hub. Being a seasoned adventurer, she marks the strange machine with lipstick and tries a different passage, but finds it does indeed lead back to the same place.
After a while the passages shift again and a staircase appears in place of the hub and ghostly laughter fills the air. Perhaps a voice whispers “Plugh” …
Down the stairs, she finds a grim memorial to her own life, a suicide chamber, and the preserved corpse of an automation expert she once sacked from her own company. The house is his terrible revenge on her but the plan fails when an escape prisoner accidentally steps into the suicide chamber and the house, thinking its work done, releases her.

show full synopsis

show plot summary

Prologue

Burton (Griffith Davies) escapes from prison and evades the pursuing wardens, making off with one of their shotguns after attacking one of them.1 Climbing over a wall, he finds an apparently deserted country house, its front door flanked with stone lions. He breaks in through a window, finding the study inside dusty and shrouded in cobwebs but when he opens the door to the hall he is confronted by a charging lion…2

Act 1

Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) visits John Steed (Patrick Macnee), who is developing holiday snaps in a DIY portable dark room made of a large black bag. She tells him an uncle she’s never hears of has bequeathed her the house "Seven Pines" in Pendlesham, Hampshire, waving the key. His hands full, she makes him a cup of coffee, putting the key down on top of an envelope of photographic paper and fails to notice the key pulls the hand of the timer towards it.

EMMA: I never knew I had an Uncle until my lawyers wrote and told me about him. (thoughtfully) Unc1e Jack!! -
STEED: Black Jack of the family?
EMMA (smiling): Knavish uncle twice removed!

She goes to leave and Steed hands her the key back — and the timer hand returns to its normal position.

Mrs. Peel gets in her car and starts it, and the big key on her keyring starts affecting the compass mounted on the dashboard.

Some time later, Steed discovers the white ghost outline in the shape of the key on his prints when developed and immediately contacts Emma’s family solicitor, Mr. Pennington (Keith Pyott). Pennington tells him she never had an Uncle Jack and he didn’t write her any letter about a house. Steed quickly calls Pongo, and advises him Mrs. Peel is heading for Pendlesham in possession of a key with electronic properties.

Mrs. Peel meanwhile is roaring down the B31 and discovering the car radio doesn’t work, all she gets is static. She passes some cottages and heads out into the fields and from a distant hill she is watched by a vaguely sinister scout leader.3 The scout leader suddenly hares off down the hill to intercept her and stands in the road, hand held out. She screeches to a halt and berates him for endangering both their lives.

EMMA: What on earth do you think you’re doing!? … I might have killed you!
WITHERS: The speed you were going (shakes head) — the stopping distance of this car is one hundred and forty seven feet — allowing for average reflexes — I positioned myself one hundred and fifty feet away.

She tells him he is very stupid, she might not have seen him and he merely asks for a lift in return, “as far as you are going”. She tells him to get in and they drive away.

As they drive through the countryside, he eyes the key hanging from the dash while they chat. He claims he was our bird watching. He suddenly calls her by name and picks up an envelope addressed to her with his scout knife. Pointing the knife at her, he says he has her at a disadvantage then, defusing the tension again, tells her his name is Frederick ‘Pongo’ Withers (Michael Wynne) but sinisterly repeats that as far as she is going will suit him very well.

As they near Seven Pines, neither of them is aware that the key is activating sensors which change the road signs and close the road behind them. She drops Withers at the gatehouse when she arrives and goes through into the grounds, as she drives away, Withers watches her sinisterly…

The house in the grounds beyond is the same house the prisoner broke into at the beginning of the episode. She goes up to the house and her car radio, free of the interference of the key, springs to life.

Unlocking the front door with the key, she enters the house She hears a faint growling sound noise upstairs, followed by a distant tinkling tune sound coming from behind a nearby door. She enters a room, discovering, to her concern, an apparently recently opened music box — she is in the study that Burton broke into. Meanwhile, Withers approaches the front door and takes a revolver from inside his hat before entering…

Emma discovers a sheet of Pennington’s stationery, covered in attempts at forging his signature. She realises she’s been tricked and is about to walk out when the old-fashioned candlestick telephone suddenly rings. She answers it while Withers creeps up the hallway outside. No-one appears to be on the other end and when she jiggles the receiver, the door slams shut. She strides over and draws her own revolver as she listens carefully at the door.

There’s a terrible scream outside and she flings the door open but the hallway has gone, replaced with a maze of twisty, turny passages, all alike,4 decorated with disconcerting patterns, with a humming electronic box at their hub. The door closes softly behind her as he approaches the machine and when she looks back it also is gone, replaced by yet another twisting passage. She tests the walls but they are solid and she is alone in this nightmare.5

Act 2

Steed receives a phone call informing him Pongo hasn’t reported back and the caller offers to contact Colonel Robertson.6 Steed instead says he go and check for himself. He grabs an umbrella and his hat and drives into the countryside in his Bentley.

Back at the house, no matter which corridor Emma takes or which door she opens or how fast she runs, she ends up back at the hub.7 Sensing a trick, she marks the hub with her lipstick, but at the end of the next corridor, the hub is the one she marked.

Desperate and wondering what to do next she is startled by a sudden disturbing, guttural growling sound which evolves into mocking laughter. She looks down the passageways, trying to locate the source. A breeze wafts in and she turn to it and discovers, lying on the floor, a boy scouts woodcraft badge. She heads towards the breeze and trips on Withers’ walking staff and is sure he’s behind the deception.

The corridor ends, but this time with a frosted glass window, the wind blowing in a high casement. She smashes the glass hopefully but finds herself staring at the hub again. She runs back, bewildered but this time discovers a spiral staircase in place of the hub she had come from. Once again, the ghostly laughter is heard, this time accompanied more clearly by the growling of a lion.

Mrs. Peel descends the stairs rapidly and we see the muddy trousers of the prisoner approach the stair behind her. At the bottom, she sees a window and rushes to it. Peering out, she finds herself high above the road below — the window too narrow and high for escape. She’s dismayed to turn from it and find the hub has returned behind her, the staircase gone. Suddenly, she hears the music box again and goes through a door, discovering she’s entered the study through the windows.

She rushes through into the hall and heads for the front door — when she opens it, she finds herself in the study again instead of outside and the door slams shut behind her. Wither is now spread-eagled on the desk, skewered on the bayonet of a rifle with his spectacles smashed. The passage behind the curtains is now gone, replaced by solid walls.

She walks slowly across the room, trying to work out what’s going on,8 and a small book carousel with a telescope on top of it turns slowly, the telescope trained on her. She realises her every move is being watched and tears the telescope from its stand, severing an electric cord. She turns at a clicking sound, and sees the door handle turning slowly, then returning as though it had been let go of.

EMMA’S THOUGHT VOICE: No! Reason it out. … Work it out! Rooms that move. Whole areas that disappear. (sharper) Rollers under the floor. Some kind of motor as a driving force! But what triggers it? The door!

She finds an electronic plunger in the door jamb and holds it down — she watches other rooms go past outside and realises her room is moving. Emma releases the button halfway between rooms and enters the control room between, determined to find who’s behind it all.

Steed meanwhile9 is searching Pendelsham for the house, waylaid by the altered road signs and a row of spikes that slash his tyres when he gets too close. Back at the house, Emma searches the "backstage" area and finds a curtained archway bearing the placard “Welcome to an exhibition dedicated to the late Emma Peel”.

Flinging the curtains open, she finds it’s a museum filled with her favourite childhood toys and photographs of herself and her parents. A glass head lights up and bids her welcome.

HEAD: I hope you find this little exhibition amusing … I contrived it for you. Especially for you … I have waited so long for you to see it… so very long.
EMMA: You expected me?
HEAD: You are highly intelligent, Mrs. Peel… I knew you would find your way here, sooner or later.

The head tells her she’ll find the reason for the exhibition in section four. There she finds newspaper cuttings regarding her taking control of Knight Industries on her father’s death and a recording of her dismissal of the automation expert, Professor Keller, from the board; she didn’t agree with his ideas of replacing man with machine. In section five there is an obituarty notice for Mrs. Emma Peel and a wreath. She shouts Keller’s name angrily and he speaks calmly from behind her — Professor Keller (Michael Goodliffe) appears on a television screen on the wall.

KELLER: "Equate man to machine." You did not ’even think it possible’. You laughed at my theories — you held me up to ridicule. You were wrong, Mrs. Peel. You are wrong. The machine is not only man’s equal but his superior. I will prove it to you. That is why I lured you here. Simple. A forged letter from your lawyers — I knew you would come. There will be no violence. This house — I built it for you — and it will cherish you. It will warm you when you are cold. Feed you when you are hungry. You will be quite safe here, Mrs. Peel. Safe from all physical harm. I expect the whole experiment to take some time. A pitting of wits and finally — proof that the machine is superior to man … or woman.

Mrs. Peel follows the cable of the screen and it leads to a large photograph of herself. She slashes the photo and steps through it, discovering more controls and the prisoner, Burton, hiding in the shadows. She overpowers him when he tries to fight her then he cowers in a corner, reciting a nursery rhyme.

BURTON: This is the horse that kicked the cow, that chased the dog, that bit the cat, that killed the rat, that lived in the house that Jack built.

Act 3

Steed approaches the house on foot, spying Mrs. Peel Lotus parked outside. Meanwhile, Emma is discovering that Burton is a mental wreck, driven mad by being trapped in the house for so long. She asks who he is and all he can say is he is a bad man who ran away, a very long time ago.

His eyes fill with tears and he says he wants to go back, and holds out his hand, but when Mrs. Peel comes to help him up, he tries to attack her again, and once again she has to throw him across the room.

He suddenly produces the shotgun he stole and levels it at her and she ducks when he shoots — the blast smashing a hole in a thin plaster wall concealing a door. Emma takes the gun from Burton and smashes her way through until she can reach in and open the door, discovering the central control room within.

She enters and whirls round, shooting, when Keller welcomes her — he announces he is dead, his body preserved in a glass box in the middle of the room.

KELLER: I am dead. I have been dead for quite some time. Only the house is alive. Only the house.

A video recording of Keller explains that when the doctors gave him only a year to live he used it to build this house. Powered by solar energy and running on frictionless bearings, it will last 1,000 years. It will be a monument to his ingenuity — and the means of her destruction, it is designed to drive her quite, quite mad. She looks round and sees the insane Burton staring through the door at her childishly.

Steed meanwhile has reached the house and seeks an ingress, to no avail. Meanwhile, Emma learns the machine will realise she has been driven mad when she commits suicide, using the suicide room in the corner,10 which will gas her painlessly. She announces she can reason it out and the machine reacts — a film of an attacking lion, electric shocks and extremely loud, psychedelic noises,11 at which Burton burbles and claps stupidly. Looking at him she realises her possible future and stops short.

Then she hears Steed honking her car’s horn, which gives her hope. Emma realises the slot for the computer’s punch cards is the weak point, and contrives a bomb out of the key and Burton’s last shotgun shell. Burton snatches it from her and dances about the room and is killed when he stumbles into the death cabinet.

The computer detects the wrong person has been gassed, the door opens, and Emma sadly takes the key from Burton’s hand. Steed manages to enter the hallway as Emma rams the bomb home — it slides down and ignites the electrics; the computer malfunctions and starts smoking, Keller’s cabinet splinters and cracks and the rooms spins madly around on their bearings, Steed holding grimly onto the staircase as the hallway spins through many different rooms.

Finally all is still and the computer powers down, the light blink out one by one. With all quiet in the hallway, Steed edges cautiously down it, taking a cavalry lance from the wall. Mrs. Peel emerges from the study and chuckles at the sight — the Avengers are reunited.

EMMA: What happened to the shining armour?
STEED: It’s still at the laundry. (MOVES TO HER, THEY HOLD HANDS, SHE IS TEARFUL)
STEED: Never mind, I’ll give you a ride home on the old horse.

She is speechless as he leads her slowly up the hallway and outside.

Epilogue

Steed tells Emma that Withers was his man Pongo, he didn’t reveal himself as Steed had asked him to soft pedal a bit as he didn’t want to frighten her. We pull away as Steed rings the bell and we see that the Avengers are riding away on a tandem bicycle.


  1. The script says he kills the officer Martin but onscreen the violence is removed and he’s just dragged behind a bush.
  2. The lion is footage from the Patrick Macgoohan film Nor the Moon by Night; footage from the film is also used in The Hidden Tiger.
  3. He’s more sinister in the shooting script, which has him in possession of a large knife and creeping through the bushes at the offset.
  4. I am of course making reference here to Infocom’s Zork and the Colossal Cave text adventure games from the 1980s.
  5. The original script at this point ended the first act by cutting to a computer printing out the message "TARGET — TRAPPED. ALL SYSTEMS… GO" with a man’s hand seen resting on the arm of a chair facing the computer.
  6. Brian Clemens inserts Colonel Robertson, only ever contacted by phone, into three episodes at the end of series 4 (The House That Jack Built, How to Succeed .... at Murder and Honey for the Prince) and may have been toying with adding a “Mother” boss figure two years earlier than he did.
  7. The shooting script has cuts to her image being seen on a CCTV screen but they have been cut from the final episode.
  8. The shooting script originally had her hugging herself while staring in horror at Wither’s body before pouring herself a stiff drink and gulping it to calm her nerves. In the final episode, she pours the drink but never drinks it.
  9. The scenes with Steed tearing through the countryside were originally scripted to be intercut with Emma’s progress through the house.
  10. You might recognise the prop as the lift from the headquarters of Professor Armstrong — another automation expert — in The Cybernauts.
  11. This was originally scripted to include rats, spiders and bats but a purely electronic angle makes more sense.

fan forum Donate Become a Patron!