Steed plays bulls and bears. Emma has no option.

6 x 15-minute episodes
based on the television episode
Dial A Deadly Number (1965),
written by Roger Marshall

Principal Cast:
Donald Monat as John Steed
Diane Appleby as Emma Peel
Hugh Rouse as The Narrator

Production:
Adapted and directed by Dennis Folbigge
Produced by David Gooden

Transmission on Springbok Radio (7.15-7.30pm):
Episode 1 - Friday 30th June 1972
(No episode broadcast on Monday 3rd July 1972)
Episode 2 - Tuesday 4th July 1972
Episode 3 - Wednesday 5th July 1972
Episode 4 - Thursday 6th July 1972
Episode 5 - Friday 7th July 1972
Episode 6 - Monday 10th July 1972
This is a best guess based on available data

It's Easier by Phone
Your death is just a pager call away.

PLOTLINE

Six dynamic businessmen of major city companies have died suddenly and mysteriously; the last, Todhunter, collapsed clutching his chest whilst giving an address to his company's board. At first, all that Mrs Peel and John Steed have to go on is that all six shared the same merchant banker Henry Boardman. Following up this lead, Steed goes along to Boardman's, posing as an investor, and gets on so well that Boardman invites him to a private dinner party, as well as recommending a broker for the investment, Frederick Yuill. Meanwhile, Mrs Peel gets the less glamorous task of visiting Macombie's Funeral Parlour, the undertakers that handled Todhunter's funeral. She discovers that something has gone missing from the body a pen-sized electronic pager, designed to work over short distances. Todhunter wore this in his left-hand jacket pocket, which Emma finds suspicious especially as Macombie recalls that the only mark on the body was a small bruise above the heart.

At Boardman's suggestion, Steed meets with the broker, Yuill, a fishing enthusiast whose office is awash with angling paraphernalia, stuffed fish lining the walls. Steed questions Yuill about "put options" and learns that this is a type of share dealing where the shareholder calculates when shares are about to fall in price, sells them, but retains an option to buy them back at the new lower price whilst pocketing the difference. Anyone owning shares in Todhunter's, for example, could have benefitted in this way as, in common with the other cases, Todhunter's stocks fell dramatically when the chairman died. When Yuill has to attend to unexpected business, he asks his secretary, Susanne, to show Steed some investment prospects. While she is doing this, Steed asks her about Ben Jago, a financial high-flier with a remarkable reputation in the field of put options. It transpires that Jago is a client of Yuill's and Steed decides that Jago is definitely a suspect. Steed engineers a chance meeting with Jago in "The Bull and Bear", a city bar frequented by those in high finance. Steed makes himself known to Jago, seeks his advice and makes it abundantly clear that if there are any fiddles on the go, he wants to be part of them. Meanwhile, Mrs Peel visits Warner's Answering Service, who supply the bleepers to people in the city. While there, a technician, Fitch, is working on a fuse box, and Emma asks after him as she feels she has seen him before. According to Mr Warner, Fitch is the company's resident mechanic, something of a genius, in fact. However, her main focus is on the bleepers... and why the company hadn't had Todhunter's bleeper returned to them, following the man's death.

Steed attends a dinner party thrown by the Boardmans, where he meets the merchant banker's partner, John Harvey, and is introduced to Boardman's wife, Ruth. She enquires as to the nature of Steed's business with her husband, and, linking his arms in hers, drags him off to meet another client of the company Emma Peel, who has spun a yarn just having arrived from Barbados. Toying with her, Steed wonders why she has no tan "it's the rainy series", she quickly retorts. One guest is late for the get-together Yuill has been working late at the office, and rather than return home, he has brought a tuxedo along so he can change for the party. However, after putting the jacket on, he is horrified to find a bleeper in the pocket. Before he can remove it, it is activated and he cries out in pain, dying sprawled out across his office desk. Back at the party, the guests lament Yuill's non-appearance, and Steed prepares to leave, suggesting he can give Mrs Peel a lift home. The Boardmans insist that Emma stays for a while, so Steed leaves alone. On his way to collect his car from the basement car park, Steed comes under attack from two men on motorcycles who try to run him down. He is lucky to survive, which is more than can be said for one of the bikers, who crashes into a packing crate and breaks his neck. The other man drives off into the night after Steed starts shooting at him. Having heard the fracas, Emma arrives, and they take a closer look at the dead man Steed recognises him as a waiter employed by Yuill. Investigating, they go to Yuill's office, where they find Yuill's body. It is clear that he has died in the same manner as Todhunter they must be on the right track.

Steed realises where he has seen Ruth Boardman before in the bar of "The Bull and Bear", enjoying what was plainly a secret tryst with Ben Jago. Steed makes a mental note of this, and decides that he and Mrs Peel should attend the wine-tasting event that they have been invited to by the Boardmans. He is sure that they are up to their necks not only in the deaths, but also the bikers' attack in the garage beneath the Boardman's penthouse flat. At the wine-tasting party in the basement of Boardman's Bank, Steed and Henry Boardman engage in a touch of gentlemanly competition, as Boardman challenges Steed to guess the vintage of a particular wine. Steed impresses, and even jokingly refers to his gold hunter watch as he ruminates on both the wine and its year. Unbeknownst to Steed, he is being watched by Fitch of Warner's Answering Service, via a closed circuit television system. Fitch is fascinated by Steed's gold watch, and reaches inside a drawer, removing a hunter watch identical to Steed's. Shortly afterwards, John Harvey receives a delivery of bleepers from Warner. He tips them out on the desk and shows them to Mrs Peel, explaining that his business partner Henry plans to encourage their use in the City. After Emma and Harvey have left the room to join Boardman for a cup of tea, Ruth enters and removes something hidden in the packaging Fitch's gold hunter watch, wrapped in tissue paper... Later that night, in his flat, Steed is visited by Ruth Boardman, ostensibly to thank him for his discretion in not mentioning her meeting with Jago to her husband. However, the real reason for her visit is revealed when she tricks Steed into pouring her a drink, and prepares to switch Steed's gold hunter watch for the one supplied by Fitch...

Ruth Boardman switches the watches. When Steed returns, she is composed and assumes an innocent air. After she has left, Steed readies himself for a rendezvous at "The Bull and Bear" with Emma Peel. However, Emma has taken investigations into her own hands, and breaks into Warner's Answering Service under the cover of darkness. She finds herself in Fitch's workshop, the walls of which are covered in clocks of all shapes and sizes all stopped. She finds some blown up photographs of Steed, and particularly, of his gold hunter watch. Fitch enters and surprises Mrs Peel. He holds a gun to her head, and explains that he has rigged a replica of the watch with explosives, and the copy has now been planted on Steed. The clocks around the room each represent a person, and the time that they died at Fitch's hands. There is one for each of the company directors and another has been reserved for Steed. Mrs Peel's intrusion has presented Fitch with a problem, however he has never killed a woman before. It soon becomes clear that he relishes the opportunity. Mrs Peel's absence has not gone unnoticed by John Steed, who keeps toying with his watch. One wrong move and he's history... Before long, he too has done a bit of breaking and entering and sits in the darkened lounge in the Boardmans' penthouse, and surprises the returning Ruth Boardman. Apprehensively, she notices Steed is swinging the watch on its chain. He pretends to open it, and elicits the response he expected of Ruth she desperately tries to stop him. He has outmanoeuvred her and learns from her that Fitch is at the heart of the plot. He arrives at Warner's and bursts in on Fitch. Steed suggests Fitch repair his watch, which he simply can't get to open. Fitch nervously backs away and hides behind a bench, fearing an explosion. Steed finds Emma tied up in a cupboard, but before he can untie her, Fitch comes at Steed brandishing a bicycle-pump gun. Momentarily distracted by a clock chiming, Fitch is flung into the wall by Steed, the pump gun exploding, killing the mechanic outright. In the aftermath, Steed leaves to follow up a hunch... and in a most ungentlemanly fashion, leaves Mrs Peel tied up, demanding he release her at once!

Steed ungallantly departs, leaving Emma to look for something sharp with which to cut herself free. Steed takes a taxi and considers the suspects. Clearly, Fitch had invented the bleepers, but his was obviously not the mind behind the scheme as a whole. Who could it be? Boardman? Jago? Harvey? Warner? Or all of them? He spent the next few hours planting bleepers on each man, and waited for their reactions. Warner was puzzled no more to find the pager, Boardman likewise. Harvey, however, is furious, and Jago is equally implicated by his actions feeling that he has been betrayed by his co-conspirators. Steed has indeed set one against another, as Jago storms out of "The Bull and Bear" and heads towards Boardmans, hoping to find Harvey there. However, when he arrives, Harvey is absent. Instead he finds Boardman going through Harvey's papers. Ruth Boardman has broken down after her visit from Steed, and has told her husband that Harvey is involved in an underhand plot. Jago reveals that he too is in on the plot, and that Ruth had been most helpful. Between them they had hatched a plan to make a financial killing, utilising the ruthless Fitch's mechanical genius. They disposed of the various company directors with bleepers adapted to inject a lethal drug into their hearts, then used the put-options to make their fortunes. They are interrupted by the arrival of Ruth Boardman. An argument ensues, and in the aftermath, Ruth and Boardman are shot dead by Jago. Steed and Emma who has finally released herself from Fitch's bonds arrive at the Boardmans' office, to find the bodies. Shortly afterwards, in the Boardmans' wine cellar, Jago confronts Harvey, but both soon realise that they have been duped, each made to think the other was planning their death. All the clues point to John Steed... and he duly arrives with Mrs Peel, intent on wrapping things up. Harvey and Jago are defeated following a shoot-out in the wine cellar, with each being rendered unconscious. Steed and Mrs Peel leave in a taxi, drinking vintage bordeaux. Mrs Peel takes great pleasure in guessing its type, the vineyard and the year. Steed is very impressed until Emma lets on that she read the label!

GUEST REVIEW

It is somewhat unfortunate that I chose Dial A Deadly Number to review, for it is one of my favourites in film form, and so I was perhaps harder on it than I might have been on one of the Tara-to-Emma conversions such as Not To Be Sneezed At (a.k.a. You'll Catch Your Death). And while I did find much to criticise, to my pleasant surprise I found much more to commend.

Let's get the bad news out of the way first, shall we? While I fully realise that creating all-new stories would have been impractical for multiple reasons, I still found it disappointing that the radio series only rehashed pre-existing material rather than build on the legacy in some unique way. Of course, I say this as a twenty-first-century listener with the unfair advantage of having had the entire series at my fingertips since its premiere (initially as audio recordings, then off-air videos from the 80s through to the recent A&E releases), not to mention having many episodes virtually committed to memory. Contrast this with the period audience (70s South Africa) for whom no such archive was available; indeed, most listeners would not have even known of the TV series. Thus my argument is likely moot.

The same "unnatural" listening conditions of this present-day, AV-equipped fan gave rise to two peculiarities. Listening to an entire episode's worth of installments in one sitting makes for an overly-long program (an admittedly feeble complaint, as I surely could have stopped the playback at any time!). Also, hearing the last scene of one installment back-to-back with the teaser of the next emphasised how the same scene was rendered in two often wildly different versions, which was rather disconcerting. While a twenty-three and three quarter hour separation might lessen the effect, some of the differences were so acute that I suspect it would still be noticeable.

To be honest, I was not especially fond of Diane Appleby's Emma - her excessive inflections quickly grew annoying, and the only blessing was that she didn't have that much dialogue. It took a while to get used to Steed, not because it wasn't Patrick Macnee, but because Donald Monat's soft, round, veddy British voice was often lost amidst a sea of other soft, round, veddy British voices. Some of the characterisations were quite odd - Ruth Boardman, for instance, was reminiscent of Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle. And some of the music cues were downright baffling - to wit: someone has just been murdered; cue the happy, trippy guitar music!

End of carping. Time to praise. Hearing it for the first time I was initially struck by a warm rush of nostalgia. It seemed as if I was listening to a troupe of pilgrims reading a form of scripture to the people of an alien world; I found myself mentally reciting along with the actors those lines that survived the radio adaptation intact. I might have been tempted to remark that the sound effects were laughably lame, but even if this wasn't deliberate, it instead added to the charm. In all, it was a genuine treat slipping back to the days of good radio entertainment - something of a lost art in both the performing and the appreciating.

Although some radio serial aficionados might rate the show as average, if it is true that there were no rehearsals and that everything was read "cold," then this program stands as a testament to the startlingly fine talent of the performers involved. With precious few exceptions, the delivery and timing were spot on - I dare say it seemed generally more polished than some of the Cathy Gale TV episodes. While my overall attitude is almost certainly skewed to some degree by my being a fan of The Avengers, and further skewed by the delightful privilege of just being able to hear such incredibly rare material, I do believe that lesser programs have been granted more respect.

I cannot close this critique without giving thanks. Alan and Alys Hayes have, through an act of pure love, rescued and restored a true treasure. The world is indebted to them, and I am grateful for having the opportunity to share their adventure in some small way.

David K. Smith

DIFFERENCES COMPARED TO THE TELEVISION EPISODE

Name Changes: There appears to be some confusion as to the first name of the character, Yuill. He is referred to both as Frederick Yuill and Brian Yuill at different points in the narrative in both the TV and radio versions. The radio version subsequently tries to make some sense of this by having the narrator call him Brian Frederick Yuill!

Character Changes: Yuill appears to have acquired an undefined European accent, whereas he is plainly British in the TV version.

In Episode Four, the character of J.P. Warner is clearly being played by the actor playing Fitch who makes no attempt to match the previous actor's gruff delivery. It is of course possible that Fitch is pretending to be Warner, but this is not made clear.

Storyline Changes: Ruth Boardman suffers a more dramatic fate in the radio adaptation she is shot whilst trying to defend her husband from Ben Jago, and is killed. The TV version of this scene does not have her character present; she is only referred to by Henry Boardman as a wife he has lost, implying that their marriage is over due to her infidelity and complicity in Jago and Harvey's scheme.

Blooper: At the end of Episode Two, Mrs Peel mentions to J.P. Warner that she is a relative of the late Norman Todhunter. By the start of Episode Three, she is merely "a friend"!

PRODUCTION NOTES

Roger Marshall's slick 1965 script simply bursts with wit, panache and invention one of the high water marks of The Avengers. The radio version adapts the script without losing any of those elements.

This serial is known to have been the next one broadcast after The Super Secret Cypher Snatch.

Alys Hayes

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