Production Number: 3501 • Tape Number: VTR/ABC/1778
Working Title: 'The Plane Wreckers'

PLOTLINE

When a chartered flight from Canada to Shamrock in Ireland crashes near Ballyknock, some twenty miles off its intended flight path, Steed is assigned to investigate. Three months earlier, the same airline, Canada Jet-Ways, lost a plane within five miles of this latest disaster. Steed has requested some assistance on the case, and before long Dr King arrives.

The doctor is dispatched to a remote convent near the crash site, where the bodies of the victims are being stored temporarily. There he speaks to the Mother Superior, but he cannot interview any of the other nuns, as they have taken a vow of silence. Two rescue workers bring in another victim on a stretcher, stating that she was found some way away from the main site. King quickly ascertains that the woman, an air hostess, is still alive. One of the rescue workers suggests that she must have escaped from the plane before it exploded, and reveals that one other member of the aircraft crew remains unaccounted for: the co-pilot.

Freedman, the airline manager at Shamrock, takes Steed to see Hughes, an aeronautical researcher, who has discovered that the aircraft fire was hotter and further back along the plane than normal. Steed asks to see the cargo manifest, which includes a box that contained a consignment of £250,000 from the Canadian Bank. The box is badly burned and the notes inside are charred – only £500 remain. Steed is suspicious. If the rest of the money was burned up, why is there no ash?

A short while later, Steed meets King at the convent. The doctor informs Steed that most of the crash victims died on the ground – two from shock, the rest from concussion, burns or asphyxiation. Strangest of all, the pilot was strangled! Something is definitely going down at Ballyknock – and it's not just aircraft.

PRODUCTION & ARCHIVE
The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 2
Production Completed:
Sat 26 May 1962
Recording Format: 405 Line B/W Video
Archive Holding: 16mm B/W Film Recording

UK REGIONAL PREMIERES

ABC Midlands: Sat 29 Dec 1962, 10.05pm
ABC North: Sat 29 Dec 1962, 10.05pm
Anglia:
Sat 29 Dec 1962, 10.05pm
ATV London: Sat 29 Dec 1962, 10.05pm
Border:
Sat 29 Dec 1962, 10.05pm
Channel: Sat 29 Dec 1962, 10.05pm
Grampian: Not transmitted
Scottish: Not transmitted
Southern: Sat 29 Dec 1962, 10.05pm
Teledu Cymru: Sat 29 Dec 1962, 10.05pm
TWW: Sat 29 Dec 1962, 10.05pm
Tyne Tees:
Sat 29 Dec 1962, 10.05pm
Ulster: Sat 29 Dec 1962, 10.05pm
Westward: Sat 29 Dec 1962, 10.05pm
INTERNATIONAL PREMIERES
ARGENTINA: Tue 14 Mar 2000
AUSTRALIA:
Mon 10 Feb 1964
CANADA:
Mon 14 Dec 1964
FRANCE:
Thu 19 Feb 1998
GERMANY:
Tue 28 Dec 2010
ITALY: Fri 4 Feb 1966
MALAYSIA: Sat 11 Apr 1970
UNITED KINGDOM: Sat 29 Dec 1962
CHARACTERS & CAST
John Steed
Dr Martin King
Freedman
Michael Joyce
Vincent O'Brien
Mother Superior
Deirdre O'Connor
Sister Isobel
Hughes
Bob Slade
Margot
Pilot
Gerry
Kiosk Woman
Ambulance Man
Male Nun
7 Nuns
Navigator
Corpse
2nd Ambulance Man
Man in Bar
Patrick Macnee
Jon Rollason
John McLaren
Liam Gaffney
Donal Donnelly
Peggy Marshall
Elisabeth Murray
Janet Hargreaves
Nigel Arkwright
Bruce Boa
Margo Jenkins
Trevor Reid
Edward Kelsey
Mollie Maureen
Denis Cleary
Wilfred Grove
Uncredited Extras
Uncredited Extra
Uncredited Extra
Uncredited Extra
Uncredited Extra
ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

Not released.

DVD EXTRAS

StudioCanal, UK: Camera Script PDF •
Music Cue Sheet PDF • Stills Gallery

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Writer – Eric Paice
Series Theme & Music –
Johnny Dankworth
Designer –
Robert Fuest
Story Editor –
John Bryce
Producer –
Leonard White
Director –
Richmond Harding

Production Assistant – Barbara Forster
Production Assistant (Timing) – Paddy Dewey
Floor Manager – Peter Bailey
Stage Manager – Barbara Sykes
Call Boy - Uncredited
Wardrobe Supervisor - Uncredited
Make-up Supervisor - Uncredited

Technical Supervisor – Campbell Keenan
Lighting Supervisors –
Luigi Bottone (*) and Brian Turner
Senior Cameraman – Tom Clegg
Sound Supervisor – John Tasker
Grams Operator - Uncredited
Racks Supervisor - Bob Godfrey
Vision Mixer - Gordon Hesketh

(*) Luigi Bottone was credited in scripts as Louis Bottone for this and other episodes

Studio – Teddington 2
An ABC Network Production

MINISTRY VERDICT

After the science fiction aspects of Dead of Winter, Eric Paice's second script for The Avengers is surprisingly down to earth – literally, in fact, since it concerns a plane crash. The plot is a decent one, with numerous apparent innocents up to no good (of particular note is a deceptively subtle performance by Donal Donnelly as Vincent O'Brien), and a nice touch of the bizarre, in the form of a male nun (Wilfred Grove) and a gun-toting Mother Superior (Peggy Marshall). However, the production (director Richmond Harding's first episode for the show) is beset by some of the most glaring on-screen problems in the history of The Avengers, including a close-up of a blinking corpse at the close of Act 1 and numerous instances of picture break-up, particularly around telecine inserts, suggesting technical problems in the studio gallery. Perhaps this is why the episode was held back for so long, eventually airing as the 14th episode of Series 2. 

DEAD ON COURSE • DECLASSIFIED

  • Production Brief... This episode had the working title of The Plane Wreckers before it became Dead on Course, as revealed in a memo from ABC Television's script supervisor Anthony John to managing director Howard Thomas.

  • In the memo, dated 2nd May 1962, Anthony John commented that: "There is little to worry about in this episode concerning the deliberate wrecking of airliners in order to perpetrate bullion robberies. The 'operators', who bring planes in on false beams, work from a convent on (presumably) the west coast of Ireland. This necessitates two of them masquerading as nuns, one of whom impersonates the Mother Superior! All of which sounds rather silly, but I think the sum total will add up to a 'who-dunn-it' type of melodrama with the least obvious character turning out to be the culprit. I would describe the writing as rather hack but, nevertheless, the ratings should be high." The remark about viewing figures would prove to be prophetic. John concluded by stating that: "There is little violence – that of a 'nun' garrotting an air hostess with 'her' waistcord. This has already been discussed and will be played down before the actual strangling takes place." Two days later, Howard Thomas followed this up with a memo to Brian Tesler, ABC's controller of programmes: "You will have seen Anthony John's note concerning the violence in the episode Dead on Course. Perhaps you will see that particular care is taken to ensure that the violence factor is carefully supervised." In the finished episode, the strangulation of Margot (Margo Jenkins) is kept very much off screen, with the killing implied by a shot of Margot's legs struggling beneath the bedclothes.

  • The concerns over violence had arisen because there was a strong possibility that the show would be returning in an earlier time slot than it had occupied before. In a memo dated 1st May 1962, producer Leonard White informed story editor John Bryce and various directors that: "When we come back on the air in the autumn it is most likely that we shall be in a time slot beginning about 20.30 hours (8.30pm)." As it turned out, however, no Series 2 episodes were transmitted earlier than 10.00pm, and many of them aired at slightly later times. White added that: "We shall also have to watch very carefully those scripts which include anything which might be construed as teaching young people methods of crime." This final comment may have been prompted by an ongoing furore surrounding the Series 1 episode A Change of Bait, which, following a complaint by Maurice Edelman, then the Member of Parliament for Coventry North, would be replayed to members of the Independent Television Authority and a small deputation from the Home Office on the morning of 20th June 1962.

  • Camera rehearsals for Dead on Course commenced at 10.00am in Studio 2 at ABC TV Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, Middlesex on Friday 25th May 1962 and continued until 9.00pm. The cast and crew reconvened at 10.00am the following day, Saturday 26th May 1962, working towards a dress rehearsal between 4.15 and 5.30pm, and the final recording between 6.00 and 7.00pm. The episode was transmitted from videotape on Saturday 29th December 1962 at 10.05pm, across all ITV regions except Grampian and Scottish.

  • Despite having been held back for so long in the series' transmission order, Dead on Course proved to be the highest rated Avengers episode of the calendar year, with 5.8 million viewers tuning in on the evening of 29th December 1962. On 7th January 1963, Brian Tesler (who, just a few months earlier, had hoped that "we can hide some of this year's earlier recordings as well and as deeply in the series as possible") wrote to Leonard White and John Bryce (who had by this time taken over as producer) to express his appreciation: "Please convey my congratulations to the entire Avengers team for getting the December 29th show into the TAM [Television Audience Measurement] Top Ten. To be placed eighth in spite of not being taken by the two Scottish stations is pretty good going."


  • On Location... No specially filmed location work was carried out for Dead on Course, but a few short segments of 35mm stock footage were used to show aircraft in flight, a plane crashing into an electricity pylon, and aircraft wreckage. Usually such clips would be silent, but in this instance the camera script indicates SOF (sound on film). The use of the crash footage is particularly effective, augmented as it is by a dramatic John Dankworth music cue, over which the episode's title caption slide is superimposed.

  • Two additional film sequences were planned, and are listed in the camera script, but do not appear in the completed episode. The first of these was scripted to take place between the opening titles and the first studio scene, and would have established a Boeing 707 in flight. There are clear indications that this sequence was removed from the videotape of the episode by means of a physical edit. Considering the severe picture break-ups that are evident in Act 3 during and at edit points in and out of telecine sequences (most likely due to a fault on the vision mixing desk), the obvious sound edit in the opening theme music as the first shot appears, and the visual disturbance seen on that opening shot, it follows that the telecine of the Boeing in flight was similarly unstable. The decision to remove it was no doubt influenced by its positioning in the episode – a technically poor opening shot would not give the impression the production team wanted. It is debatable whether or not this edit was performed prior to broadcast, or later, before the episode was film recorded for overseas distribution. The other missing sequence is listed in the script at the beginning of Act 3, but appears to have been dropped before the episode was recorded. The script gives no indication of this sequence's intended content, but given that the first studio scene of Act 3 has the dead Margot being carried from the convent to an out-of-vision helicopter, a stock shot of a helicopter may well have been the plan.


  • Trivia... Despite being the second Dr King episode to be recorded and the last one to be shown (airing as the 14th episode of Series 2), Dead on Course is perhaps best viewed as the doctor's first episode. His opening scene is the closest we ever get to an introduction to the character, with the familiar Steed announcing him by name to Freedman (John McLaren) and thus to the viewer. Dead on Course is the only Dr King story that does not rely to some extent on the audience already knowing who he is at the start of the episode.

  • The call sign of the plane seen at the beginning of the episode is Jetline Golf Charlie Delta Bravo Alfa in the NATO phonetic alphabet. This is subsequently abbreviated to Jetline Bravo Alfa. In the script, the call sign is one letter shorter: Jetline G (for Golf) C (for Charlie) B (for Bravo) A (for Alfa).

  • The airport at Shamrock as featured in the episode is clearly based on the real-life Shannon Airport in County Clare, which was a major stopping point for transatlantic flights in the 1960s.

  • The telephone number for Michael Joyce's public house is Ballyknock 342. This is a transposition of the scripted number, 432.

  • Deirdre O'Connor (Elisabeth Murray) gives 42320 as the phone number for the convent, which, based on the letters on a telephone dial, represents the call sign of an incoming flight from Montreal: GCDBO. In the script, the number Deirdre gives is 4220, which is later repeated by Steed. The alteration appears to be deliberate, rather than an error by the actors, because the four-letter call sign in the script has an extra D added to it: Steed's initial guess of GBBO becomes GDBBO in the script, while Freedman's suggestion of GBCO becomes GDBCO. In the recorded episode, Steed's guess is GBDBO, which Freedman corrects to GCDBO. This is consistent with subsequent references to the plane's call sign as Jetline Bravo Oscar.

  • The close-up of the dial on Freedman's telephone was actually shot on a different set, that of the telephone exchange of the Ballyknock post office.

  • The Garda Sνochαna (in English, "Guardians of the Peace"), more commonly referred to as the Gardaν, are the national police force of Ireland. The force is often referred to as "the guards" in colloquial English speech, and this term is used in the episode by Donal Donnelly's character Vincent O'Brien. The script does not explain the term, though Patrick Macnee and Jon Rollason work a little clarification into the dialogue they deliver. Steed is scripted to tell King, "I've been to see the local Guarda," while in the recorded episode he says, "Well, I've been to see the local Garda Sνochαna." King indicates with a little "Hmm?" that he is not familiar with the phrase, and so Steed explains, "The police."

  • After Steed loses his argument with the Mother Superior at the beginning of Act 3, King is scripted to say to Steed, "You can't win every time." In the broadcast episode, his commiserations are communicated via a simple pat on the shoulder.

  • A short scene dropped from the episode would have given the otherwise silent male nun (Wilfred Grove) a single line of dialogue. In a convent recess, the Mother Superior, who is on the phone to Gerry, was scripted to say, "All right, you'd better close everything down and get out on to the Galway Road. We'll pick you up on the way out." The male nun then asks the Mother Superior, "What are we going to do with the other two?", meaning King and Slade (Bruce Boa), to which the woman replies, "A couple more bodies won't make much difference now." This deletion may have been for timing reasons, while also avoiding the use of an additional prop phone for this one scene.

  • Another bit of omitted dialogue might have made more sense of the penultimate scene of the episode. King was scripted to say to Sister Isobel (Janet Hargreaves) and Slade, "Pass me one of those siphons. Keep back." As it is, the characters remain curiously quiet during this scene.


  • Bloopers... The misspelling "Guarda" is used throughout the camera script in place of the correct Gardaν.

  • At 10 seconds into the episode, the fourth caption of the opening titles appears to wobble uncertainly.

  • At 14 seconds, a few bars of the opening theme are missing during the fade from black to the live action due to a physical edit to the videotape at some point between recording and film recording. The jump in the theme music is a clue to an excised shot, which the camera script reveals to have been a 35mm film sequence depicting a Boeing 707 aeroplane in flight. Its removal was almost certainly a consequence of the technical difficulties experienced throughout the episode affecting telecine inserts. This edit is followed by a horizontal picture disturbance over the start of the action (a tape replay fault during the film recording process, in which the video heads became clogged with debris from the physical splice - this would most likely not have been evident on the original transmission, which may even have featured the opening telecine insert).

  • At 4 minutes and 24 seconds, the camera's view jumps up for a moment, as though the camera has encountered an obstacle.

  • At 4 minutes and 28 seconds, the focus of the medium close-up of Dr King is incorrect. The wall behind the doctor is in focus, but he is not.

  • At 6 minutes and 14 seconds, the shadow of a boom microphone passes over the Mother Superior.

  • At 13 minutes and 49 seconds, is it supposed to be so obvious that the nun is a man in drag? Steed appears not to notice when he enters the scene a few seconds later. This also contradicts subsequent dialogue between Slade and King, which indicates that the male nun has only left the bell tower once (to kill Margot) in all the time that Slade has been held prisoner there.

  • At 16 minutes and 12 seconds, actor Trevor Reid's eyes twitch when the sheet is yanked back from the corpse of the pilot.

  • At 33 minutes and 24 seconds, the camera shudders a few times as though passing over obstacles, less severely this time.

  • Between 44 minutes and 58 seconds and 46 minutes and 27 seconds, there are several instances of picture disturbance around the aircraft scenes with Steed and Freedman. These mainly occur whenever the action cuts to and from film footage, suggesting a synchronisation fault either with the vision mixing desk or the telecine equipment during recording.

  • At 46 minutes, Patrick Macnee gets his distances wrong, but recovers quickly: "No, they're twenty miles north of us – forty miles, sorry – on that headland."

  • At 50 minutes and 28 seconds, there is prolonged horizontal banding and dropout during the change of scene. In the story, King has just dropped one of the incendiary bombs on the villains, and the script indicates that we should see the Mother Superior enveloped in smoke at this point, so it is possible that a botched special effect was removed here. It is also possible the trim was as a result of the dictat issued by Leonard White in response to the concerns of his superiors over the depiction of violence.

  • At 51 minutes and 4 seconds, the closing music is faded in late, about a second after the end credits have begun. The music was probably meant to be cued in 18 seconds earlier, as Steed and King start to make their exit from the convent, at 50 minutes and 46 seconds. Perhaps the grams operator had taken a vow of silence!


  • Stop Press... The 21st December 1962 edition of TV Weekly (a listings magazine which served the Television Wales and West region of the ITV network between 1958 and 1968) celebrated the festive period by publishing a photograph of Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman dressed up as Santa Claus and Dick Whittington respectively, decorating a Christmas tree at the ABC studios, with enthusiastic 'help' from Junia the Great Dane.

    Ironically, neither Blackman nor Macnee's canine sidekick would be appearing in The Avengers that week, since the episode being broadcast was Dead on Course. Trained by Barbara Woodhouse like her predecessor Juno, Junia had most recently been seen in The Avengers on Saturday 17th November 1962, when she had featured as Dancer in Death of a Great Dane.


  • And Finally... Coincidentally, the first two Dr King episodes to be recorded both deal with journeys to and from Montreal in Canada. In Mission to Montreal the journey is by steamship across the North Atlantic, while Dead on Course concerns Canada Jet-Ways flights between Shamrock and Montreal or Toronto. Perhaps King knows the country well and is Steed's go-to guy for cases involving Canada!

Plotline by Richard McGinlay • UK Transmissions by Simon Coward, Alan Hayes and John Tomlinson
International Premieres by Denis Kirsanov • Ministry Verdict by Richard McGinlay

Declassified by Richard McGinlay with Alan Hayes

With thanks to Ken Griffin, Alys Hayes, Dave Matthews, Dave Rogers, Piers Johnson, Jaz Wiseman
and StudioCanal for their kind assistance

 

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