Series 6 — Episode 10
Look - (stop me if you’ve heard this one) But There Were These Two Fellers...
Teleplay by Dennis Spooner
Directed by James Hill
Production No E.66.6.31 / E.67.9.5
Production completed: March 19 1968. First transmission: December 4 1968. First transmission (USA): May 8 1968
TV Times summary
Under the peaceful roof of Vauda Villa, a variety artistes’ rest home, ‘Mr Punch’ directs a series of killings.
A director of a construction company is killed by two clowns and the Avengers are sent in to investigate because his firm was contracted to build a top secret underground bunker for Parliament, codenamed Project CUPID.
The clowns go on a killing spree, knocking off most of the directors, a clown archivist who could identify the culprit, and the clowns’ gag writer.
This doesn’t prevent the Avengers tracking them down, although Tara is captured and set to become the first woman cut in half by a stage magician - using a blow torch!
Steed frees her and they knock out the gang, revealing their leader to be the one surviving director.
Tara arrives, ready for dinner, but Steed isn’t dressed - a few quick-change routines (no doubt learnt from Maxie, a master of the art) and he’s ready, except for the flashing "Eat at Joe’s" sign on his back!
At the Caritol Land and Development Corporation, Miss Charles (Gaby Vargas) asks Sir Jeremy Broadfoot (Richard Young) for permission to leave early. After she drives off, two men - Maxie Martin (Jimmy Jewel) and Jennings (Julian Chagrin) - alight from a taxi, spot Sir Jeremy’s light still burning and head towards the building. They emerge from behind a sign, dressed as clowns, and moments later Sir Jeremy is surprised to hear a clown’s horn. He spots Maxie’s long shoes poking under his door and opens it, confronted with the sight of the two men now in full makeup. Maxie produces a joke gun which unfurls a flag marked “BANG!”, the second pull of the trigger fires a bullet and the clowns dance away as Sir Jeremy dies.
John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and Tara King (Linda Thorson) are called in as Caritol has just been awarded the contract for CUPID - Cabinet Underground Premises In Depth - governmental offices in the event of a war. Steed produces a plaster cast of one of Maxie’s elongated footprints while Tara has found a walking stick which becomes a bunch of flowers - clues which shroud rather than illuminate. In the car, the flowers turn into a succession of other items as they discuss the case while across town, Maxie and Jennings are being briefed by a Punch and Judy show, the unseen puppeteer instructing them their revenge will not be complete until all the directors are dead. They’re shown a puppet of a man in hunting dress and ordered to kill The Hon. Thomas Randolph Cleghorn. Cleghorn (Bill Shine) is hunting near a lake with a shotgun and duck call. He exchanges calls with Maxie and Jennings and firs a shot at the stuffed duck attached to Maxie’s hat. When he goes to investigate his kill, the clowns confront him and Maxie hits him over the head with a lump of old metal, and Cleghorn falls into the lake. Thew clowns dance away in a shower of duck feather, Maxie dropping his red ping pong ball nose.
Steed and Tara play ping pong while discussing the new development and when Tara slips the nose on they realise they’re looking for clowns. Steed looks them up and discovers that each clown’s makeup is copyright and as individual as his fingerprints, the likenesses recorded on eggs by Marcus Rugman (John Cleese). Tara pays a visit to Rugman, who is nervous about her breaking the eggs. He points to the warning sign covering his door, particularly the bit that states “No handbags”, then lets her in. Steed meanwhile informs the board of his suspicions, Seagrave (John Woodvine) noting that all clowns look alike. Lord Dessington (William Kendall) scoffs at the suggestion they’re being killed by a comedian then quickly tries to hush Brigadier Wiltshire (Garry Marsh) when he grumbles that Cupid has been trouble since the start. Steed is alarmed and learns that the directors have argued about the materials used and subcontractors employed. Steed departs, but informs them Seagrave was wrong - all clowns are different.
Punch and Judy call an emergency meeting, informing Maxie he left the nose behind. Maxie denies it, the escapologist (Johnny Vyvyan) and pantomime horse chorusing, “Oh yes you did!” in reply. Maxie remembers Marcus and they pay a visit to him just as he uncovers Maxie’s record. Rugman dials Tara’s number but before he can tell her who it is, Maxie starts dropping eggs - Rugman rushes to stop him, slips on a banana peel dropped by Jennings and brings the entire collection crashing down; the clowns dance out the door happily. When the Avengers arrive, Rugman is lying amongst the cracked shells - but is holding Merrie Maxie Martin’s egg in his hand. Meanwhile, Maxie and Jennings plant a novelty bomb in the Brigadier’s car. He prepares to hurl it away when a Union Jack pops out, but it them explodes, killing the Brigadier. The unseen puppeteer - and the other assembled vaudevillians - are delighted. The comical assassins are told to kill Lord Dessington but after they leave the ventriloquist (Len Belmont) recalls that Martin didn’t write his own jokes and the tenor (Jay Denyer) recalls they were written by Bradley Marler. Steed has just learned the same thing and visits Bradley Marler (Bernard Cribbins), a gag writer surrounded by piles of crumpled paper, who is unable to tell him where Martin is - he’d retired when they closed down the Gladchester Palladium, unable to adapt his act to modern times despite being the best quick-change act in the business.
Maxie attacks Dessington with a lemon pie (of quick-setting cement) and capers off but Dessington manages to scrape the pie off his face. Steed is confronted by an irate Seagrave, who sneers at him chasing noses. Steed informs them he’s chasing Maxie Martin of the Gladchester Palladium, which Seagrave says they own. Dessington confirms that they’d bought 40-odd theatres, scheduled for demolition as vaudeville is dead. Steed observes that vaudeville has decided to fight back.
Later, the puppeteer is furious at Maxie’s failure but tells him to kill Marler before trying Dessington again. They visit Marler, who is overjoyed to see them and surprised to hear they’re at Vauda Villa. He’s even more surprised when Maxie produces a large stage knife and hurls it into his chest before dancing out of the room. Steed orders Tara to guard Dessington then receives a call from the dying Marler, saying he’s written Maxie’s address down. Tara arrives at Caritol, pleasing Dessington no end when she introduces herself as his bodyguard, while Steed faces the arduous task of find Marler’s note amongst the mess of rejected gags. Dessington, a bit hot under the collar at being guarded by a sexy young woman, is seeking for a topic of discussion and neither of them notice Maxie and Jennings slide a length of red carpet under the door. They find one - music - and are excitedly describing a recent concert to each other when Lord Dessington steps onto the end of the carpet, near the window. Jennings promptly pulls the rug out from under his feet and Dessington plummets to his doom while the clowns dance away. Tara is shocked and chases after them, following the taxi into the countryside. Maxie alights from the cab after they enter the grounds of Vauda Villa and changes into a policeman’s uniform. He clubs the unsuspecting Tara with his truncheon when she asks him for help and she’s bustled inside. Meanwhile, Steed finally finds the note about Vauda Villa.
Martin and Jennings refuse to kill Tara, but Fiery Frederick (Talfryn Thomas) offers to deal with her, saying he needs a new assistant to perfect his act. The other artistes are appalled but the puppeteer delighted and she’s dragged away. Frederick emerges later to haul a huge tank of gas into his room then informs Tara she’ll be the first girl in history to be burnt in half with an acetylene torch instead of sawn in half. Steed meanwhile drives to Vauda Villa and is met by Merlin the Magnificent (Robert James). He introduces himself as “Gentleman Jack - a smile, a song and an umbrella” and blusters into the retirement home. Merlin heads him off whenever he tries to enter any of the rooms and tells him they have no vacancy. Maxie warns Merlin it’s time for their meeting and Steed is rushed out of the house; meanwhile, Frederick has started cutting the metal box in which he has incarcerated Tara...
Steed climbs in Frederick’s window and disposes of him before saving Tara. Steed informs her the artistes are being duped and sure enough, the puppeteer tells them they’re ceasing operations despite there only being one director left. While they argue, Steed and Tara enter the room in a panto horse costume and systematically knock out all the artistes, leaving Maxie and Jennings standing alone. Steed fights Maxie, who changes into a washerwoman, Nureyev, a cowboy, Victorian pugilist, admiral, and Cyrano de Bergerac while Tara chases Jennings through the magician’s cabinets. the clowns dispatched, they attack the puppet show and uncover Seagrave, who had sold out to a foreign power and planned to sabotage Project Cupid
Steed’s reading “Tintin et Le Lotus Bleu” when Tara drops round in a white satin fuck-me minidress and black choker. She complains he’s not dressed for the Opera and he demonstrates he’s learned Maxie’s quick-change skill; changing into a mandarin, admiral, and red indian before emerging in a tuxedo. They turn to leave and we see a large, flashing, illuminated sign on Steed’s back - “Eat at Joe’s”.