Production Number: 3413 Tape Number: VTR/ABC/1318
Working Title: 'Plague'

PLOTLINE

Sir Wilberforce Lungi, Prime Minister of Tenebra, an African country on the verge of independence from Great Britain, is in London to sign a treaty with the British Government. However, Lungi has enemies back home who believe the politician has sold out to the British, and an attempt is made on his life as he strolls down the Embankment of the River Thames.

Lungi is an old friend of David Keel, whom he knows from the Chelsea GP's time working in a Tenebran hospital. Lungi is joined on his state visit by his personal secretary, Jacquetta Brown, who Steed suspects of complicity in the assassination attempt. 

Steed leaves Keel to keep an eye on Jacquetta while he takes a flight to Tenebra, thinking that if he can keep Sir Wilberforce's enemies busy, they can't mount another attack upon the Prime Minister's person. He arrives posing as James Sanderson, a Daily Globe reporter and is quickly accepted by the Leader of the Opposition, Chief Bai Shebro, a man with controversial opinions that Lungi fears may sway the populace at election.

Shebro has no time for Lungi and makes it clear that he sees no place for the Prime Minister in his country's future. And unfortunately for Steed, Shebro is also a friend of the real James Sanderson. You'd better watch out, Steed!

Read the full story in Two Against the Underworld

PRODUCTION & ARCHIVE
The Avengers: Series 1, Episode 16
Production Completed:
Thu 8 Jun 1961
Recording Format: 405 Line B/W Video
Archive Holding: DOES NOT EXIST
John Cura Tele-Snaps: Photographed
Reconstruction: Made 2010
INTERNATIONAL PREMIERES
UNITED KINGDOM: Sat 10 Jun 1961
Never transmitted outside the UK

UK REGIONAL PREMIERES

ABC Midlands: Sat 10 Jun 1961, 10.00pm
ABC North: Sat 10 Jun 1961, 10.00pm
Anglia:
Sat 10 Jun 1961, 10.00pm
ATV London: Sat 10 Jun 1961, 10.00pm
Border:
Not transmitted
Grampian: Not transmitted
Scottish: Sat 10 Jun 1961, 10.00pm
Southern: Sat 10 Jun 1961, 10.00pm
TWW: Sat 10 Jun 1961, 10.00pm
Tyne Tees:
Sat 10 Jun 1961, 10.00pm
Ulster: Sat 10 Jun 1961, 10.00pm
Westward: Sat 10 Jun 1961, 10.00pm
CHARACTERS & CAST
Dr David Keel
John Steed
Carol Wilson
Jacquetta Brown
Sir Wilberforce Lungi
Chief Bai Shebro
Ali
Judith
Inspector Anthony
Asiedu
Head Waiter
Police Sergeant
Porter
Police Constable
Barman
Waiter
11 Male Extras
4 Female Extras
Puppy
Ian Hendry
Patrick Macnee
Ingrid Hafner
Margaret Whiting
Andre Dakar
Bari Johnson
Wolfe Morris
Dolores Mantez
Eric Dodson
Christian Holder
Michael Barrington
Humphrey Heathcote
Harold Holness
Uncredited Extra
Uncredited Extra
Uncredited Extra
Uncredited
Uncredited
Juno
ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

Not released.

DVD EXTRAS

StudioCanal, UK: 'Mission Brief' reconstruction by Alys and Alan Hayes, narrated by Alan Hayes, combining off-screen Tele-Snaps with a newly-written narration.

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Writer Patrick Campbell, adapted by Reed de Rouen
Series Theme & Music
Johnny Dankworth
Designer
Alpho O'Reilly
Story Editor
Reed de Rouen
Producer
Leonard White
Acting Producer
Sydney Newman
Director
Don Leaver

Production Assistant Barbara Forster
Floor Manager Alan Davidson
Stage Manager Barbara Sykes
Lighting Director Luigi Bottone

Technical Supervisor Peter Wayne
Senior Cameraman Michael Baldock
Sound Supervisor Michael Roberts
Vision Mixer Esther Frost

Studio Teddington 2
An ABC Network Production

THE YELLOW NEEDLE DECLASSIFIED

  • Production Brief... Rehearsals for The Yellow Needle were held at The Tower, Brook Green Road, Hammersmith, and commenced on Friday 26th May 1961.

  • Camera rehearsals for this episode commenced at 10.30am in Studio 2 at ABC TV Studios, Broom Road, Teddington in Middlesex on Wednesday 7th June 1961. The session broke at 9.00pm and the actors and crew reconvened at 10.00am the next day, Thursday 8th June 1961, working towards a dress rehearsal between 4.15 and 5.30pm with final recording between 6.00 and 7.00pm. The episode was transmitted from videotape two nights later on Saturday 10th June 1961 at 10.00pm.

  • During the rehearsal period, one complete scene was dropped and three others were curtailed to keep the episode to its target length. These were all in Act 1 and comprised: a short scene in the surgery hallway in which Carol welcomes Sir Wilberforce and Jacquetta; the close of the next scene at the surgery in which Keel is about to give Sir Wilberforce a medical examination; the end of another surgery scene featuring Keel and Steed, in which Keel telephones Jacquetta to arrange a dinner date; and additional dialogue between Steed, Shebro and Ali which would have led into the first commercial break.

  • The recording of The Yellow Needle was planned to run to a target running time of 52 minutes and 30 seconds plus two commercial breaks (of 2m05s and 2m35s respectively) which would bring the full transmission duration to 57 minutes and 10 seconds. In fact, the episode overran by 30 seconds, and the transmission lasted a total of 57 minutes and 40 seconds. The final durations of the programme segments were as follows: Act 1 20m15s; Act 2 16m10s; Act 3 16m35s.

  • One of the likely reasons for the overrun was highlighted in a production memo issued on 12th June 1961 by Sydney Newman, who was still covering the producer's role during Leonard White's hospitalisation. This complained that, "Last Thursday, at the recording session of The Yellow Needle there was a shambles in that one of the leading actors continually dried. Result: two false starts, and the final show, which went fairly well, revealing that the false starts to some degree had thrown some of the performers." Rather than criticise the performer, Newman instead highlighted the poor organisation of the recording day, which had provision only for a single run-through. The memo went on to stipulate that, "in the future, Directors must organise their time so that there will be not less than one non-stop run through and a dress rehearsal."

  • The budget costs for this episode were projected at 3770 including the fee for engaging external designers. The final cost of The Yellow Needle exceeded this amount by 181, totalling 3951 and 12 shillings. Artiste and extras payments came in at 1521 and 8 shillings with 1380 being spent on design and construction, 60 on wardrobe and a bargain basement outlay of 2 hairdressing and make-up. 150 was spent on 35mm film stock for location shooting and an identical amount was spent on videotape for the studio recording session. The design costs were noted as being higher than for an average production as freelance designers had been engaged to work on the production. Rehearsals were budgeted as costing 191.

  • The budget sheet for this production reveals a little-known fact, that Patrick Campbell's submission was rewritten by script editor, Reed de Rouen, who received a special payment for the adaptation. Campbell received a standard writer's fee also.

  • Dr Michael Yates, a medical advisor, was employed on this episode to ensure that such details rang true. He received a payment of 10 and 10 shillings (10 guineas) for his contribution.

  • A chaperone was also employed, presumably to look after the boy seen in the opening film sequence on the Embankment. Payment for this service was 12 and 12 shillings (12 guineas).


  • On Location... Location work for this episode was shot on high resolution 35mm black-and-white film. These sequences were shot silent and were covered by incidental music, as was standard practice.

  • The main location footage for this episode was shot on the Embankment of the River Thames and featured Andre Dakar as Sir Wilberforce Lungi. Opening the episode directly after the title sequence, it accounted for 48 seconds of screen time. As the footage was mute, music and sound effect cues were played in from grams. These consisted of Big Ben striking the hour, traffic sounds and tom-tom music which sequed into the series theme to coincide with the title caption for the episode, which marked the end of the sequence. It is likely that at least some of this footage was shot in the vicinity of Battersea Bridge, considering its use for other episodes that represented the area near Keel's surgery (where Sir Wilberforce would be seen arriving in the first studio scene following the title caption).

  • Another sequence filmed on location showed the exterior of 'The Fortune Hotel', where Sir Wilberforce and Jacquetta were staying while in London. This sequence was 12 seconds long, appears not to have featured any performers, and seems likely to have been a series of shots establishing the area and the hotel. The location of the actual building used is unknown and no images of the hotel exist among the Tele-Snaps from the episode.

  • A film sequence of 45 seconds duration, which showed an aeroplane taking off from London and landing at a foreign airport, was included to illustrate Steed's flight to Tenebra. This was almost certainly sourced from a stock footage library such as World Backgrounds.

  • Finally, further film sequences of unknown durations showed natives dancing, accompanied by tom-tom music.


  • Trivia... Writer Patrick Campbell became far better known than he ever did for writing as a regular panellist on the popular BBC Television game show, Call My Bluff, which made the likeable, stuttering celebrity an unlikely star. He died in November 1980, aged 67.

  • The naming of Patrick Campbell's fictitious African country Tenebra was obviously a none-too-subtle in-joke. In Italian, the word 'tenebra' translates into English as 'darkness', a reference to the oft-coined term 'darkest Africa'?

  • There are numerous similarities between The Yellow Needle and the later Series 1 episode Kill the King:

    • In the opening scene, a visiting foreign leader (Sir Wilberforce and King Tenuphon respectively) survives an assassination attempt;

    • The foreign leader is in London to sign an important treaty (for national independence and an oil concession respectively);

    • The foreign leader has some rather ineffectual official protection (Inspector Anthony and Crichton-Bull respectively);

    • The foreign leader gets some rather more effectual protection from Steed (who cares about the dignitaries' wellbeing only for very selfish reasons his own career prospects if he fails);

    However, the personalities of the humble and honourable Sir Wilberforce and the callous and pleasure-seeking King Tenuphon could hardly be more different.

  • There are also some narrative similarities between this episode and The Far Distant Dead. Both take place in foreign lands (though only partially in the case of The Yellow Needle) and both concern a usually caring woman (Jacquetta Brown and Dr Ampara Alverez Sandoval respectively) who is driven to take a life.

  • The names of Sir Wilberforce and Jacquetta are abbreviated as "SIR W" and "JAC" in dialogue directions throughout the script.

  • This episode boasted a generous number of supporting artists, including eighteen uncredited extras and three bit players: Humphrey Heathcote as the Police Sergeant, Harold Holness as the Porter and Michael Barrington as the Head Waiter. Barrington's character is charmingly referred to as "FLUNKEY" in dialogue directions in the script! The restaurant visited by Keel and Jacquetta is also staffed by a Barman and a Waiter, speaking roles whose performers are uncredited. In camera directions, both the Flunkey and the Waiter are referred to as "Waiter", so it is possible that the two characters became one in the studio. However, the fact that Michael Barrington is billed as the Head Waiter suggests that a more junior waiter is also present.

  • Interestingly, we never actually see whether Sir Wilberforce survives. The episode's ending offers hope that he will do so, but we do not know for certain. Happy endings are not guaranteed in the early Avengers.


  • And Finally... The Yellow Needle was the first episode of The Avengers to be transmitted by Scottish Television (STV). The listings magazine for the region, TV Guide stated that this episode was "the first of a new series". The broadcaster didn't exactly follow up on its good intentions, regularly dropping the series over the years in favour of local or international programming. STV even ducked out of showing Series 1 for the last four episodes of 1961...

Plotline by Alan Hayes UK Transmissions by Simon Coward, Alan Hayes and John Tomlinson
Declassified by Alan Hayes with Richard McGinlay

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

 

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