Steed trumps an ace. Emma plays a lone hand.

6 x 15-minute episodes
based on the television episode
The Joker (1967),
written by Brian Clemens

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):
Monday 4th September to
Monday 11th September 1972
This is a best guess based on available data

Play the Joker?
It could have fatal consequences.

PLOTLINE

In a darkened room in an old country house, a man leafs through a magazine, turning it deliberately to a page containing an article entitled "Better Bridge with Applied Mathematics", written by a certain Mrs Emma Peel. He gazes at the accompanying photograph and proceeds to hack at it madly with the pair of scissors in his hairy hands, cutting it into tiny pieces. Watch it Mrs Peel someone doesn't like you!

Back at Steed's apartment, Emma has just rung the doorbell when she hears a cry from within. Steed has fallen down the stairs and has twisted his ankle badly. As she is tending to Steed's injury with a Scotch! she explains the reason for her visit. She has received an invitation to the house of Sir Cavalier Rousicana in Exmoor and had hoped that Steed might give her a lift down there. Sir Cavalier, a 75 year old recluse, is a reknowned Bridge player and has asked Emma over for the weekend after seeing the article she has written.

With Steed incapacitated, Emma makes her own way down to Exmoor, and tells him she'll be back after the weekend. After she has left, Steed has another visitor, George Fancy, who informs him that an old enemy, Max Prendergast, has escaped from prison in France, and is probably in the country. Fancy tells Steed to warn Mrs Peel, since she was closely involved with Prendergast before his capture, but Steed is confident that Emma will be safe until Monday.

Meanwhile, Emma has finally arrived at Rousicana Hall, despite losing her way in the fog around Exmoor. She is greeted by a strange young lady there who rejoices in the name of Oola Monsey-Chamberlain. She is Sir Cavalier's ward, and tells Emma that Sir Cavalier is not there; he is away at a Bridge convention! Since it is too late and foggy to leave, Mrs Peel has to stay the night in the company of the rather odd Oola who confides that Rousicana Hall is simply the ideal place for a murder...

Mrs Peel is not quite sure how to take Oola her mind often seems to be elsewhere and her conversation jumps from topic to topic without any logical link. Her surroundings are equally unusual suits of armour are placed on guard around the house, and there is an incongruous swivel door at the top of a flight of stairs. A swivel door with a large joker motif, making it look like a giant playing card. Oola delights in demonstrating the door to Emma and spins it round. On the other side is the Ace of Spades the death card! Oola leads Emma's through to the corridor beyond the door, and shows her the room that she will use for the weekend a gorgeous room with a four poster bed. While they are talking there, Oola goes to the casement window and looks out. She gazes out into the fog, and there, in the shrubbery, is a large man gazing up at the lighted window.

Oola leaves to prepare supper and Emma takes the chance to explore her room. She finds a large oak chest. She opens it and is surprised to find it full to the brim with old 78rpm gramophone records. Before she can investigate further, the dinner gong rings. Emma goes down for dinner. Oola claims to have received a telephone call from Sir Cavalier, to insist that Emma start the meal without him, as he will not return in time for the eight o'clock meal. Mrs Peel is suspicious however surely she would have heard the telephone ring? Dismissing the thought, Emma takes her place at the long table in the dining room. The playing card theme is continued here the place mats all contain the joker motif...

During dinner, Oola receives another call. A friend of hers in the village has been taken ill and has asked her to pay a visit. Oola points out rather unsubtly that the village is five miles away, and Emma suggests that Oola borrow her car to make the journey. Oola gratefully accepts and departs, leaving Mrs Peel alone in the spooky old house. As she finishes eating her fish, upstairs, unbeknownst to her, the swivel door, seemingly unaided, slowly swings round. The Joker is replaced by the death card. Watch it, Mrs Peel!

Emma decides to investigate the house and starts off by exploring the rooms on the ground floor. Suddenly, she hears a bell from the kitchen, rushes in there and finds a cord still trembling on one of the bells above the scullery door. Is there someone in an upstairs room calling for a servant? A cursory glance around the kitchen reveals a bloodstained knife stuck into the table. Mrs Peel had thought she was alone. Maybe she isn't after all...

Meanwhile, Oola has been making no real attempt to leave the grounds, and parks the car in the fog, out of view of the house. She begins walking back towards Rousicana Hall.

Back in London, Steed discovers that his fall had not, after all, been accidental someone has fitted a tripwire device across his stairs. Steed rings George Fancy to tell him and starts to link his accident with Max Prendergast's escape from prison. He gets Fancy to check up on Sir Cavalier, and to call him back and tell him whatever he can dig up on the reclusive bridge expert. Steed is sure that Emma is in danger.

At Rousicana Hall, Emma returns to her room, and finds that things have been moved subtly, but moved nonetheless. She takes another look at the gramophone records in the oak chest, and discovers that they are all the same a song called "Mademoiselle". Odd! Things get odder still when a young man knocks at the front door, claiming that he has run out of petrol. He refuses to tell Emma his identity, but asks to use the telephone. "It's like a movie scene," he tells her. "Tender young girl alone in an old house. A mysterious stranger calls... 'May I use your phone?'... She admits him... and then... Da-Da-Da-Da!!! The wires have been cut!" And he's right too... The wires have indeed been cut!

George Fancy calls round to see Steed at his flat and is shown the tripwire by his colleague. Fancy has checked up on Rousicana Hall it's in Little Deighton on Exmoor. Furthermore, he has learned that Sir Cavalier left four days previously for a foreign holiday. Officially the house is empty. They decide to go to Little Deighton to investigate. Fancy goes to help Steed on with his overcoat and hat. As he lifts them from the hall stand, a playing card a Joker drops from Steed's bowler. Fancy picks it up and is surprised to find the edge is sharp! There is a razor blade on the back. A poisoned razor blade! Steed is helpless as he sees his friend collapse. Fancy warns Steed with his dying breath that the card "was meant for you!".

In the scullery at Rousicana Hall, Mrs Peel watches as the strange young man hunts through the drawers, looking for something with which to repair the telephone connection. There is nothing that will help their situation. Not that the man seems intent upon helping in any case he seems more interested in confusing Emma with false claims and inconsistencies in his story. However, Mrs Peel does not suffer fools gladly and gives this enigmatic stranger short shrift. When he claims to have killed Oola, Emma isn't the slightest bit convinced and frog marches him out of the house. As she shuts the door on him, he warns her cryptically that she is not alone in the old house and that she should check the dining room.

With George Fancy dead, Steed has set off for Exmoor on his own. His ankle is still painful it's questionable what he will be able to do when he arrives, but Mrs Peel is in real danger and he must do everything he can. However, his progress has been severely slowed by the terrible fog that he has driven into. It has reduced his speed to a snail's pace. What is worst is that he seems to have become lost in the fog...

Emma goes to the dining room and finds evidence that someone has indeed been there half-eaten food is on the table and a cigar butt is smouldering in the ashtray. She quickly heads to her room, and sees that the swivel door now shows the Joker. Someone has gone through towards the bedrooms. Emma decides it is time to go on the offensive and retrieves her revolver from her suitcase.

Outside, the young man meets up with Oola, and she asks him how he got on with Mrs Peel. He reports that she doesn't frighten easily, but that he is sure that he worried her. When he asks for his payment, he is told that he hasn't done everything he had promised he hasn't done "the scream". He complies, but Oola is not satisfied with its authenticity... A huge man looms out of the fog, a shotgun in his hairy hand. The young man protests but is shot in cold blood. And this time, the scream is exactly what Oola wants...

In her bedroom, Emma finds a vase of roses overturned on the floor. Closer examination reveals that the heads have all been cut from the stems. She returns to her chair and reaches for her book inside she finds the mad collage of her own face. There is now no doubt someone is out to get her. The telephone rings and Emma darts out of the room to answer it, thinking it must be Steed trying to contact her. When she picks up the handset, the line is dead. The wires are still cut.

Suddenly, Emma hears a door slamming in the scullery. She goes there to find it empty, but the dining room bell is being rung... The dining room is also empty, the bell on its side, rolling gently to and fro. She is about to leave when a strange, artificial-sounding voice pierces the silence. "Emma! Emma! Dearest Emma!" it echoes. Mrs Peel tries to locate it, but it seems to pervade the whole house. She decides to return to her room and finds the swivel door has again changed face the death card is showing. She goes through, and is met with the sound of music playing. It is coming from her room, and the record playing is "Mademoiselle" one of the multiple copies she had earlier found in the chest. She angrily rips the record from the platen and smashes it over her knee. Things are getting to you, aren't they, Mrs Peel? Immediately, the sound of a rocking chair starts up, and Emma dashes out to find it. In the chair is a man... The body of the strange young man who Emma had met earlier now very, very dead.

John Steed is driving through the fog, intent upon getting to Rousicana Hall. He has to admit, however, that he has become lost and asks a local for directions to the Hall. Remarkably, he has pulled up right outside the entrance and simply didn't know it. He drives in cautiously... and crashes into Mrs Peel's car, which has been left up the driveway by Oola. He's definitely in the right place...

Emma leaves the dead man and is intent upon contacting the police. The record starts playing again accompanied by the chilling, otherworldly voice which tells her that he is downstairs. Mrs Peel moves through the swivel door and, gun at the ready, makes her way down. Emma asks who she is talking to... "An old friend..." the voice replies. Emma tries to get the speaker to come out into the open, but the voice continues echoing around the house, making thinly veiled threats against her. Mrs Peel makes for the front door, desperate to escape... But the key has gone and the voice increases in volume, dancing around the room, closing in on a petrified Mrs Peel. "Frightened at last!!!" cries the voice, triumphantly.

Trying to find where the voice is coming from, Emma ends up back in her bedroom. The voice gauds her that he may be behind the curtains of the four-poster bed. She tears them open, only to find the body of the young man, his eyes staring lifelessly back at her. The voice descends into manic laughter at her disgust. The music plays, the voice taunts her again. It asks if she likes the tune, a tune which was once important to them both. The voice invites her to the dining room, saying that is where she will find him. She enters, cautiously. A menacing figure sits in the darkness at the head of the table, hunched in the high-backed chair. The man invites her to draw closer. He confides that he has thought of her many, many times since they last met in Paris a few years previous. Finally, Emma realises the identity of the shadowy figure Max Prendergast. Emma had been Prendergast's paramour in order to help Steed cease Max's traffiking in refugees. She feigned affection for him in order to stop him catching a flight to Rio when he knew the game was up, allowing Steed to capture him. Prendergast was subsequently imprisoned. Now Prendergast is intent on revenge for what he sees as a personal betrayal.

Prendergast seems to entertain the possibility that Emma still holds a torch for him, but she angrily denies this, saying that she has always hated him and everything he stood for. Spurned, he advances upon Mrs Peel, his huge, hairy hands gripping her around the throat. He squeezes, tighter and tighter, draining the life from Emma Peel, her eyes glazing over. Oola looks on, fascinated. She seems to be getting quite a kick out of all this violence! However, in the nick of time, Steed gains entry to the house and knocks Prendergast out, saving Mrs Peel.

Steed enquires of Mrs Peel whether she fancies staying for the rest of the weekend... She barely sees the funny side and together they set off for London.

GUEST REVIEW

The conspiratorial nature of the narration is what originally draws one into this Avengers play. The voice sidles and wheedles its way into the story, the numerous whispered asides and descriptions (the visceral, brutish "hairy hands" of the psychopath busily cutting and tearing Emma's photo, gives a resonance to the image in the mind).

Ola's grasshopper flights of association are more pronounced in the audio version, and this Emma Peel is not as businesslike as her television counterpart, slightly lighter, more of a flibbertigibbet, more jolly golly gosh hockey-sticks than dry raconteur. You can hardly imagine this Emma administering a shrewd kick where it would do most good - though, in the context of the play, this only serves to make her more vulnerable, less able to cope with the impending danger.

The little asides of the narrator continue to build up the suspense, and there are good moments, picked up, as in Ola's slip about the house's owner always locking the wine cellar when he's going to be away for any length of time... The narrator's asides also break up the flow of the action, allowing the audience to recap and take stock, adding to the atmosphere in a visual sense 'the figure in the bushes'.

The musical cue in the story is a more subtle one than the television version's Mein Leibling, Mein Rose. The music is not overstated in the audio play though, and do not detract from the occasional dialogue gems: I loved Emma's dawning dismay about the inadvisability of lending her car to a nutter like Ola...

Though under-used in this story for obvious reasons, Donald Monat provides an excellent, phlegmatic Steed of the old school, maybe a touch less light and deadly than Macnee's, but an interesting variation nonetheless.

Very enjoyable overall!

David Tulley

DIFFERENCES COMPARED TO THE TELEVISION EPISODE

Name Changes: Ola Monsey-Chamberlain (television) becomes Oola Monsey-Chamberlain (radio), though it should be said that this could be nothing more than a change of pronunciation.

Character Changes: The TV version shows George Fancy to be a Major in the British Army (Intelligence Division, presumably).

Storyline Changes: The radio version of this story sees the record of Mein Leibling, Mein Rose replaced with a completely different song, entitled Mademoiselle, mainly because in this version, Emma and Max Prendergast had their rendezvous in Paris, rather than Berlin (as in the TV episode).

Prendergast is said, in the radio adaptation, to have escaped from prison in France, rather than Germany to link in with the above change.

Steed, trying to find his way to Rousicana Hall in the fog, comes across a cheery local who tells him that he's already there when Steed asks for directions. This is not present in the television version of events.

Bloopers: In Episode Six, Emma tries to fire her gun at Oola and Prendergast, but the gun merely clicks uselessly. Oola says that Emma's gun has blanks in it, but if this were the case, there would still be the sound of the blank firing. The bullet chambers are actually empty...

PRODUCTION NOTES

The television version of The Joker was itself a revised remake of an episode, Don't Look Behind You (1963), also written by Brian Clemens and featuring the Cathy Gale character instead of Emma Peel.

Episode Five of this story is the only episode which exists with its original Springbok Radio announcement. This is available for free in the Radio Downloads section.

This serial is known to have been the next one broadcast after The Morning After.

Alys Hayes

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