Production Number: 3519 • Tape Number: VTR/ABC/2322

PLOTLINE

Steed arrives at St Luke's College to meet with his superior, One-Seven. Richard Davies, a tutor at the establishment who was being blackmailed by someone at St Luke's, has reportedly committed suicide. Thanks to some string-pulling by Steed, Venus Smith has been at the college for a week, ostensibly to perform during Rag Week, but really to keep an eye on Davies. One-Seven notes that her efficiency in carrying out the latter part of her brief has not exactly been impressive. Steed will base himself at the college, pretending to undertake a literary study into the works of Dr Johnson's friend. One-Seven is less than convinced. Steed doesn't even know the woman's name - "Piozzi," he offers sardonically.

Steed meets up with Venus in the college bar, The Volunteer, and in front of as many people as he can manage, including local artist Claire Summers, Higby the landlord and under-graduate Ted East, lets slip that Venus received a letter from Davies before he died. This sets the cats amongst the pigeons. Before long, Green, another victim of the blackmailers who has been threatened with expulsion by the college principal, Dr Shanklin, is rifling through Venus' room trying to find the missive. He is caught in the act and news of his failure gets back to those who have sent him – and another 'suicide' is arranged.

Meanwhile, Jack Roberts, the college tutor who has been awarded Davies' post following his death, falls prey to blackmail himself, when he is encouraged by Claire to forge a cheque and Higby subsequently threatens to expose him. Acting in league with Steed, Roberts decides to play along with the blackmailers, but they see through his deception and murder him.

Before long, Claire is trying the same trick on East, and once he is compromised and under their control, he is given a target. He must kill John Steed!

PRODUCTION & ARCHIVE
The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 20
Production Completed:
Sat 9 Feb 1963
Recording Format: 405 Line B/W Video
Archive Holding: 16mm B/W Film Recording

UK REGIONAL PREMIERES

ABC Midlands: Sat 9 Feb 1963, 10.05pm
ABC North: Sat 9 Feb 1963, 10.05pm
Anglia:
Sat 9 Feb 1963, 10.05pm
ATV London: Sun 10 Feb 1963, 10.35pm
Border:
Not transmitted
Channel: Sun 10 Feb 1963, 10.35pm
Grampian: Sun 10 Feb 1963, 10.35pm
Scottish: Not transmitted
Southern: Sat 9 Feb 1963, 10.05pm
Teledu Cymru: Fri 8 Feb 1963, 10.45pm (*)
TWW: Sun 10 Feb 1963, 10.35pm
Tyne Tees:
Sat 9 Feb 1963, 10.05pm
Ulster: Sun 10 Feb 1963, 10.35pm
Westward: Sun 10 Feb 1963, 10.35pm

(*) Transmission scheduled for the day before recording. Therefore, the transmission information for this channel is not reliable.

INTERNATIONAL PREMIERES
ARGENTINA: Tue 11 Jul 2000
AUSTRALIA:
Mon 27 Jan 1964
CANADA:
Mon 25 Jan 1965
FRANCE:
Thu 12 Mar 1998
GERMANY:
Thu 6 Jan 2011
ITALY: Fri 17 Dec 1965
MALAYSIA: Sun 29 Dec 1968
UNITED KINGDOM: Sat 9 Feb 1963
CHARACTERS & CAST
John Steed
Venus Smith
Claire Summers
Dr Shanklin
Ted East
Jack Roberts
Higby
Professor Aubyn
One-Seven
Green
Proctor (Harry)
Barmaid (Sally)
Richard Davies / Student
7 Male Extras
8 Female Extras
Patrick Macnee
Julie Stevens
Melissa Stribling
Anthony Nicholls
John Standing
Richard Thorp
Reginald Marsh
Frank Shelley
Frederick Farley
Terence Woodfield
Ronald Mayer
Janet Butlin
Uncredited Extra
Uncredited
Uncredited
The Kenny Powell Trio:
Pianist
Double Bassist
Drummer
Kenny Powell
Spike Heatley
Art Morgan
ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

Not released.

DVD EXTRAS

StudioCanal, UK: Camera Script PDF •
Stills Gallery

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Writer – James Mitchell
Series Theme & Music –
Johnny Dankworth
Special Wardrobe Designer for Honor Blackman -
Michael Whittaker
Designer –
Maurice Pelling
Story Editor –
Richard Bates
Producer –
John Bryce
Director –
Jonathan Alwyn

Production Assistant – Paddy Dewey
Production Assistant (Timing) - Jill Horwood
Floor Manager – John Wayne, supervised by Harry Lock
Stage Manager – Barbara Sykes
Call Boy – David Read
Wardrobe Supervisor - Sally Russell
Make-up Supervisor - Lee Halls

Technical Supervisor – Peter Cazaly
Lighting Supervisor – Peter Kew
Senior Cameraman – Dickie Jackman
Sound Supervisor – John Tasker
Grams Operator - Uncredited
Racks Supervisors - Alan Fowler
Vision Mixer - Gordon Hesketh

Studio – Teddington 2
An ABC Network Production

MINISTRY VERDICT

One of those instances where a great cast is poorly served by the script and production. When you have the likes of Reginald Marsh, Melissa Stribling, Anthony Nicholls and Richard Thorp amongst the performers, you expect something a little special, but sadly School for Traitors plods along and telegraphs the denouement far too early. All do well with what they're given, but what they're given is all rather pedestrian. John Standing is best provided for, and it is understandable why his performance produced a flurry of communication within ABC suggesting that he was worth using more regularly. Against strong competition, he steals the show. The production itself is competent without being impressive, although the college quadrant set is well realised. The script from James Mitchell, bearing in mind the taut, intelligent scripts he would later write for Callan, stretches the viewer's credulity and lacks narrative cohesiveness. The least accomplished Venus Smith episode.

SCHOOL FOR TRAITORS • DECLASSIFIED

  • Production Brief... Camera rehearsals for this episode commenced at 10.00am in Studio 2 at Teddington on Friday 8th February 1963. The session ended at 9.00pm and the actors and crew reconvened at 10.00am the next day, Saturday 9th February 1963, working towards a dress rehearsal between 4.15 and 5.30pm, and the final recording between 6.30 and 7.30pm. The episode was transmitted from videotape later the same evening at 10.05pm in the ABC Midlands and North, Anglia, Southern and Tyne Tees regions, and a day later on Sunday 20th February 1963 at 10.35pm in the ATV London, Channel, Grampian, Television Wales & West, Ulster and Westward regions.

  • The decision to record School for Traitors on the Saturday evening of transmission would appear to be linked to the script problems that had plagued The Avengers since it premiered in January 1961. In the first series, the late delivery of scripts necessitated seven of the first nine episodes being transmitted live, so as to allow the maximum time to rehearse them prior to transmission. The Avengers Series 2 was not immune to such troubles, and the script crisis during 1962-63 was as much about their quality as their punctuality. A letter from Honor Blackman to newly-installed producer John Bryce complained that scripts for recent episodes had not been of a sufficient standard, and that writers who had "presented us with rubbish" should no longer be re-commissioned. This of course triggered a flurry of discussion at top levels in ABC Television, and almost certainly put the production process in some degree of turmoil. As well as this episode, the next, The White Dwarf, was also recorded on the evening of its first transmission.


  • On Location... This episode was entirely studio bound and featured no location work or stock footage.


  • Musical Interludes... After appearing in three Venus Smith episodes, pianist Dave Lee left the series to pursue other work. The other members of the Dave Lee Trio, Spike Heatley (bass) and Art Morgan (drums) remained, and were joined in this episode by Kenny Powell, with the group credited as the Kenny Powell Trio. Powell was a respected jazz pianist who had worked on television variety shows such as Sunday Night at the London Palladium, providing solo and orchestral accompaniment for some of the world's top stars. He played jazz piano at top venues like Ronnie Scott's and others which were lesser known but just as important, such as The Hopbine pub in Wembley, and combined these engagements with writing, arranging and performing for television, most successfully with the Jack Parnell Orchestra. He emigrated to Australia in 1972, where he married, and enjoyed further success. He died in July 2011. School for Traitors would prove to be the final engagement on the series for Heatley and Morgan, and their places in the trio would be taken by Jack Parnell and another regular collaborator of Powell's, bassist Lennie Bush for the two remaining Venus Smith episodes to be produced.

  • As with all other Venus Smith episodes of The Avengers, music formed an important part of School for Traitors. Julie Stevens sings three songs in the episode, two of which - The Varsity Drag and Put On a Happy Face are accompanied by the Kenny Powell Trio. The third, Yellow Bird, is a little different, in that it is a 'spontaneous' performance inspired by Ted East (John Standing) strumming his guitar in the university quadrant. The Varsity Drag hails from the 1927 musical Good News!, and was composed by Ray Henderson, with lyrics by B.G. DeSylva and Lew Brown. Put On a Happy Face, written by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse, was, by comparison, much more up to date, having featured in the musical Bye Bye Birdie, which debuted on Broadway on 14th April 1960. Yellow Bird was a 1950s reinterpretation of a 19th century Haitian calypso song, Choucoune, composed by Michel Mauleart Monton, with lyrics from a poem by Oswald Durand. The new version eschewed the original lyrics, replacing them with new ones by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and the song, complete with a new musical arrangement by Norman Luboff, first appeared on the album Calypso Holiday, released in 1957.

  • In addition to these songs, the Kenny Powell Trio also plays two instrumental tracks, Tea for Two Cha Cha from No No Nanette, and one of Powell's own compositions, Boogie Twist.


  • Trivia... Following the transmission of this episode, the stock of actor John Standing (who portrayed East in School for Traitors) seemed to be rising, at least among the high and mighty at ABC Television. On Monday 11th February 1963, Howard Thomas sent a brief memo to Brian Tesler, suggesting that he seemed to be "a perfect foil for Patrick Macnee. If ever we decide to give Macnee a Number 2, this young man would seem very suitable." Tesler responded a day later by sending a memo to producer John Bryce, agreeing that "the chap who played East – John Standing – was most impressive in School for Traitors. He should be kept in mind as a possible male side-kick for Steed, or in a similar role in future series." Despite the enthusiastic reviews, Standing was not to reappear in future episodes of The Avengers.

  • School for Traitors treats us to a one-off view of another of Steed's superiors, One-Seven, portrayed by Frederick Farley. The character only appears in one scene, in which he relates to Steed the current situation at the university and discusses the case. One-Seven has a distinctly artistocratic air, wears a monocle, appears well read, and is staying on campus with his friend, the vice-chancellor. Farley would not return to the role, or The Avengers, but his one, brief appearance demonstrates a strong rapport with Patrick Macnee.

  • One episode after Julie Stevens' radical change of look, the opening title card catches up and depicts her as she appears in the programme.


  • Bloopers... At 9 minutes and 20 seconds into the episode, we see that the painting that Claire Summers (Melissa Stribling) is working on is turned 90 degrees anti-clockwise on her easel. The painting shows a bearded face, and unless the subject is meant to be laying down, it looks quite wrong. Certainly Stribling appears quite oblivious of this odd choice by the set dresser, and the painting remains at the same orientation throughout the episode.

  • At 10 minutes and 48 seconds, Melissa Stribling fluffs her line about how the cheque had been made out. The script reveals the cheque was filled out thus: £220 (in figures) and two hundred guineas (in words). The amounts do not match, and, with a guinea being equal to one pound and one shilling, two hundred guineas equals £210. However, she delivers her line as "He's put in writing two hundred and twenty guineas – that's £210." Two hundred and twenty guineas would actually equal £231. When pulling the same trick later in the episode on Ted East, Stribling gets the numbers game correct at the second attempt!

  • At 11 minutes and 58 seconds, Claire Summers (Melissa Stribling) goes to hug Jack Roberts (Richard Thorp) while he sits forging the cheque. As she pulls herself towards him, she knocks heavily into the writing desk with her left hip, upending it slightly and causing a sudden creaking sound.

  • At 23 minutes and 50 seconds, Julie Stevens gets momentarily tongue-tied, nearly delivering the line "she's got to be taught a lesson" as "she's got to be short a lesson."

  • At 28 minutes and 56 seconds, Julie Stevens stumbles badly over her lines when asked by Jack Roberts to introduce John Steed to him. "This is a friend of mine, John Stee–. John Stee–, Ja–," she splutters, before gathering herself together and saying with noticeable relief, "John Steed, this is Jack Roberts." Patrick Macnee revels in the moment, and produces a clever ad-lib. "Jack Steed, this is Ja-. Anyway, marvellous. Call me Bert. How do you do?" he says jovially. Macnee's handling of a potentially tense situation is breathtaking. His on-the-spot thinking makes the fluff seem natural, and presents his fellow actors with a good reason for a little smile before continuing.

  • At 37 minutes and 14 seconds, the first shot of Act 3 fades up and we see Dr Shanklin (Anthony Nicholls) on the telephone. The receiver is held together with black gaffer tape.

  • At 46 minutes and 18 seconds, a male member of the crew dashes left to right across the bottom of the frame, the top of his head just entering the shot, before Reginald Marsh enters the hallway set from stage right.

  • At 50 minutes and 21 seconds, Frank Shelley (as Professor Aubyn) is caught waiting for his cue before he taps his pipe and sings a refrain from the song that Venus had earlier performed, Put On a Happy Face. Shelley's singing is unscripted, and he misdelivers the line as "Grey skies are going to clear up, put on a happy smile," though this could have been a deliberate choice.


  • And Finally... The unusually high percentage of fluffed lines on show in this episode is almost certainly due to the pressure situation arising from the recording and transmission times being just hours apart. With recording scheduled to finish at 7.30pm and the episode being transmitted at 10.05pm on the same evening, there was unlikely to have been any provision for pick-ups, with actors and crew having to cope with disasters as best as possible without stopping the videotape. With five musical numbers of one sort or another in School for Traitors and no pre-recording, it must have been quite a challenge to record "as live".

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

Declassified by Alan Hayes and Richard McGinlay

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

 

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