• title card: white all caps text reading ‘THE GRAVE- DIGGERS’, outlined in black, superimposed on a view of the graveyeard, ivy creeping over the cross nearest us
  • Marlow lies in his coffin
  • Fred tries to create the illusion that Sir Horace’s train carriage is moving through the countryside with a range of wheezing, puffing old equipment
  • In full surgical garb, Dr. Massie prepares to operate with a blow torch. Miss Thirwell attends on his right while Sager control the gas flow, rather than anaesthetic, in the background. A huge operating theatre light dominates the scene
  • Sir Horace happily rides his miniature steam engine
  • View through the telescope of Massie tying Mrs. Peel to the railway tracks
  • Steed dives under Baron’s legs as they fight on top of the miniature train
  • Steed happily toots the engine’s horn while Mrs. Peel, sitting behind him, covers her ears

Series 4 — Episode 2
The Gravediggers

by Malcolm Hulke
Directed by Quentin Lawrence

Production No E.64.10.8
Production completed: April 14 1965. First transmission: October 5 1965.

TV Times summary

In which Steed drives a train — and Emma is tied to the track . . .

Plot summary

One of Britain’s early-warning radar stations has suffered a technically impossible glitch, and the Avengers are sent to investigate. They discover the enginner for the system was buried a week before in the village the problem seems to be coming from, and then Steed sees the dead man walking around a private hospital!
Emma infiltrates and is captured, destined to be run down by a minature train owned by a man who thinks h’s helping the saboteurs eliminate motor cars. The dashing Steed rushes to her rescue and defeats the dastardly villains, and they depart on Sir Horace’s minature train.

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A subdued group of mourners surround a grave; the vicar ends the benediction and they all depart with the undertakers, leaving the sexton (Victor Platt) to fill in the open grave. He wipes his brow after finishing the mound and, after he’s gone, there’s a movement in the soil, then a bright chrome aerial extends from under the ground.

Act 1

At one of Britain’s early-warning radar stations, control reports a complete blackout of section 3, alarming Dr. Palmer (Aubrey Richards) and his staff. They’re not the only ones — Dr. Johnson (Paul Massie) and his aide, Baron (Ray Austin), leap into action when they see “it’s on the blink again”. They summon the undertakers and tear off across the countryside.

John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) are called to Palmer’s station and he warns them that a complete blackout of the screen could mean a missile attack on Britain would go undetected.1

Steed asks if it could be a technical failure but Palmer declares it must be a natural phenomenon — people have been trying to block radar for years with no success so it can’t be man-made. He tells them it was the life’s work of Dr. Marlow, who had worked with him until four weeks ago, to find a way to block radar; Steed asks for a forwarding address and is told that Marlow is dead.

Steed examines Marlow’s photo and file2 and asks Mrs. Peel to check the records while Palmer shows him on a map the affected area and likely location of any hypothetical device — there’s nothing in the area but the small village of Pringby. Palmer is struck by the coincidence — Pringby is where Marlow was buried.

Steed hurries to the church, passing some undertakers with a coffin as he arrives. Steed doffs his hat deferentially at the coffin, incurring the baleful glare of Dr. Johnson who is leading the undertakers. When Steed reaches the graveside, the sexton tells him Marlow wasn’t from the area but insisted on being buried there anyway; his relatives went to great trouble to bury him there.

STEED: Can you point out his grave to me?
SEXTON: Aye, that’s it. (POINTS) All that trouble — and they changed their minds. Wanted him moved… You just missed Doctor Marlow — he was exhumed … taken away.

The sexton points out the departing undertakers who have finished loading the coffin back into the hearse. Steed follows them to “The Sir Horace Winslip Hospital for Ailing Railwaymen” where Dr. Johnson wheels the coffin into an operating theatre.

Steed pinches a carnation3 from a florist’s box labelled “Charnley’s” and encounters Nurse Spray (Wanda Ventham) who tells him she’s never heard of or seen Marlow. At that very moment Marlow (Lloyd Lamble) pokes his head out of the operating theatre doors behind Nurse Spray and is immedaitely recognised by Steed.

Steed departs hurriedly when the matron, Miss Thirwell (Caroline Blakiston), comes down the stairs and barks at Nurse Spray. Johnson warns Marlow to stay out of sight and assures him he will be paid when everything is ready.4 Miss Thirwell enters and tells Johnson that a man was snooping and asked for Marlow. He orders her to warn Baron but Steed slips past her a moment later as she checks her revolver.

He enters her room after she leaves, unaware that Sager (Steve Berkoff) is lurking inside in a wheelchair. Steed claims to be from the Footplatemen’s Friendly Association, conducting a check of the hospital, and signs his cast. He sees the undertakers on the move again outside and says if Sager wants anything — grapes, oranges, magazines, flowers — he should let the Footplatemen’s Friendly know.

SAGER: Grapes…
SAGER: I’d like some grapes.
STEED: Desperate for them, I’d say!

Sager stands up — leaving the cast attached to the wheelchair. “A remarkable recovery”, Steed jokes then pulls the rug out from under Sager’s feet and slams the wheelchair into him. Baron spots Steed from the hallway and rushes in; he throws himself at Steed who adroitly steps aside and Baron and Sager crash into and over the desk.

Steed beats a hasty retreat before Johnson and Thirwell arrive to survey the damage. Thirwell is alarmed he escaped and says Marlow mustn’t be found there. In response, Johnson tells her to ring Miller and prepare for business in Carling St.

Back at the early warning station, Mrs. Peel finds an appointment in Marlow’s diary at 22 Carling St on Friday the 13th. She reflects on the unlucky date and Palmer says it was for Marlow, that was the day he died! Emma immediately sets off to visit the address and discovers it’s a funeral parlour — Miller & Son — and finds Marlow lying in state in a coffin.

Act 2

Mrs. Peel visits Steed who is playing with a toy gun that shoots round corners,5 trying to tell him about Marlow but he instead tells her he saw Dr. Marlow alive at 11:30 at the hospital. She counters that he was dead at 1pm, the body supposed to be Hubert Smith who died of a heart attack at a nursing home. Steed realises the home is the Winslip Hospital and leaps at an opportunity:

STEED: That’s where you’ll find your answer … yes … with your pleasing demeanour… you’ll get in there quite easily as a nurse. Have to pull a few strings of course. Yes, I’ll get onto the Ministry right away. Whilst you’re waggling a thermometer… I’ll tackle Sir Horace Winslip … it’s a charming place … you’ll like it.

In response, Emma wryly fires a rubber ball from the gun at him.6

When Nurse Emma arrives at the hospital, Miss Thirwell instructs her sternly but afterwards, as Nurse Spray shows her around, Spray confides that it’s an easy job with lots of time off when they’re operating.

Johnson is suspicious of the new arrival but Miss Thirwell tells him they’re obliged to take on a quota of trainees and she’ll make sure Mrs. Peel doesn’t see anything she shouldn’t.

Steed arrives at Sir Horace’s house, “Winslip Junction”, which is done up like a railway station — he even has to blow a whistle and buy a platform ticket to gain entry. Frederick (Charles Lamb) clips his ticket and rings the guv’nor, Sir Horace, who sits the other side of the drawing room that has been decorated with false tracks, platform awnings, a signal box and half a train carriage. Sir Horace (Ronald Fraser) introduces himself affably and tells him he’s in time for the first sitting for lunch, and leads him to the carriage.

Poor old Fred leaps into action, turning on fans, blowing smoke, rocking the carriage, running a revolving scenery canvas and gramophone, and moving a curtain to represent a tunnel while they eat. Sir Horace tells him he can’t travel any other way — wouldn’t be able to enjoy a meal. He’d grown up on trains whence the family fortune was derived. Steed again claims he’s from the Footplateman’s Friendly Society, touting for a donation, and is astonished when Sir Horace happily offers him 10,000 guineas.7 Horace dismisses his generosity by saying railwaymen are the salt of the earth, then their strange journey comes to an end. They disembark and Horace show Steed the wreaths he’s hung for each railway line which has gone out of service:

HORACE: Ah … the Iron horse, magnificent creature … and all being murdered by the motor car. Line after line closing down … Downside Line, The Firthington… The Penthwaite… all gone. I hang a wreath for each one you see.

Steed notices the flowers come from Charnley’s — and at the hospital Emma is arranging flowers from the same source. She’s just discovered an unnaturally heavy box of flowers when Miss Thirwell appears and angrily tells her to follow orders and go to Ward C. Thirwell then takes the box to Dr. Johnson, and when she opens it he is pleased and tells her they’ll operate that night.

Horace meanwhile is droning on about trains being superseded by cars. He admits that he leaves the running of the hospital to Johnson and Thirwell, he just puts up the money; he blusters a bit when Steed suggests the money might be misused. He declares his staff are first-rate and share his love of railways, and even have a scheme… he stops and tells Steed not to touch a particularly new-looking lever in the junction box, then claims to have forgotten what the scheme was, and suggests a tour of the grounds — on his personal engine, John of Gaunt.

Steed enjoys a breezy ride on the miniature train and arrives at the hospital just after Mrs. Peel has learned they’re operating that night, but Baron won’t let her near the theatre. Steed and Emma see Miller (Bryan Mosley) and Sager wheeling a gurney in. They’re followed by the undertakers with a coffin, prompting Steed to observe, “They don’t hang around here”.

The operation begins while outside Steed and Emma see that they won’t be able to evade Baron to get in. Mrs. Peel suggests they could force their way in but Steed thinks it’s too early for them to show their hand. In the operating theatre, Dr. Johnson asks for forceps, then a scalpel; Miss Thirwell dabs his brow and then Dr. Johnson requests a blow torch.

Act 3

Steed and Mrs. Peel decamp to Charnley’s,8 where they find a box containing electrical components, and a door connecting it to Miller’s funeral parlour. Mrs. Peel discovers a hole in a coffin lid under the RIP plaque and Steed discovers a ledger showing funeral bookings months in advance, always on Thursdays and outside the local area — they plot the locations of the extraordinary funerals on the map in Mrs. Peel’s diary and find they make a ring around the radar station.

The undertakers arrive and swap over the coffins. After they’ve gone, Emma finds the new coffin has a telescopic antenna which extends from its hole when she shines a torch on it — they deduce a plot to bury jamming devices around the station to black out all warning of an enemy attack, but they need to find the central control to stop it.

EMMA: Be difficult … control for a thing like this would be pretty big. There’d be buttons to push, levers to pull…
EMMA (LOOKING AT COMPONENT): ‘assembly should be carried out in a completely dust-free area’.
STEED: An operating theatre.
EMMA: I’d better follow that coffin!
STEED (TO HIMSELF): Central control … big … buttons to push … levers to pull … levers to pull!

Steed realises it’s Sir Horace’s signal box! Meanwhile Emma returns to the hospital and subdues Miss Thirwell, gagging her with her surgical mask9 as she’s held at gun point. Mrs. Peel then takes her place in the theatre — a fact obvious to everyone,10 but Dr. Johnson makes her assist him nonetheless — it’s the last device.

JOHNSON: Let’s get started … Forceps … micrometer …

They complete the operation and Mrs. Peel is hoping to get away but Miss Thirwell returns with Baron, who has freed her, and it’s Emma’s turn to be held at gun point. Steed meanwhile is investigating the signal box undisturbed as Sir Horace is busy driving around on his train.

Mrs. Peel has been bound and gagged and tied to a gurney11 The villains are wondering what to do with Mrs. Peel — Miller refuses to kill another so soon and Miss Thirlwell agrees it would be too risky anyway. Then they hear Horace’s train outside and decide an ‘accident’ will solve their conundrum —

MILLER: Everybody knows the old man’s batty.
JOHNSON: He’s a positive danger with that machine of his. Bound to hurt somebody some day.

Steed meanwhile is investigating a locked junction box but is spotted by Fred, who tries to hit him with a sledgehammer. At the last second, Steed sees his approaching shadow and ducks out of the way. Fred pursues Steed across the drawing room, another swing and miss leaving him to do a slapstick somersault.12 Sir Horace returns and stops the fight, and Steed tells him he has been used, but Sir Horace claims he knows what the box is for and wholeheartedly approves.

STEED: Sir Horace … I can’t believe that you would betray your own country.
HORACE: You don’t know what you’re talking about dear boy… Why the Winslips have served in five wars — four Kings and two Queens — faithfully and well … why, we were even about to form the Royal Railway Regiment …

Sir Horace explains that the box will jam motor car engines and be the end of petrol fumes,13 returning his beloved trains to their rightful place. Sir Horace is flabbergasted when he learns that the device will jam the national defensive system.

They hear the trains whistle when Baron pulls the wrong control outside and Sir Horace sees though his telescope14 that Dr. Johnson is tying Mrs. Peel to the tracks. Steed rushes off after the telescope runs out of viewing time., leaving Sir Horace dumbfounded.

HORACE: What extraordinary people!

Steed rushes through the woods15 and reaches the station before the train, comically checking his watch and bending his knees as he waits for it to arrive. He intercepts the train and throws Sager from it, then has to take cover from Baron’s gunfire. Sager returns and tries to leap back onto the train but is flung aside by Steed.

The train bears down on Mrs. Peel, to the accompaniment of silent film piano music,16 and Baron sets off down the train to tackle Steed. They fight and Steed manages to throw Baron from the train just in time; he leaps from the train and rushes to the junction switch, sending the empty train rattling down a siding.

Steed starts untying Mrs. Peel then Dr. Johnson appears, wielding a revolver. Steed wrestles him over to Mrs. Peel, whose arms are still partly tied to the tracks. She frees herself then rolls over to where they are fighting and grabs Dr. Johnson with her legs, scissor-fashion, then hurls him into the pond.


The Avengers set off sedately, in reverse, on the miniature train. Steed says he always thought he was cut out to be an engine driver, but came to his senses at the last minute — “No sense of security, always on the move”. Mrs. Peel dryly observes that it would at least have kept him on the straight and narrow.

  1. This is basically the same plot as Dressed To Kill.
  2. The text of Marlow’s file seems to be a treatment for a script, or plot synopsis, about a fire at a circus.
  3. Just as he did in a similarly titled episode, The Undertakers.
  4. Marlow has been convinced to turn traitor because his research wasn’t properly funded by the government, a theme that turns up regularly in The Avengers.
  5. The toy gun was a “Kenner Gun That Shoots Around The Corner” that came out in 1964. Mrs. Peel asks Steed if he’s having a second childhood and he replies it’s for a nephew’s birthday.
  6. Steed’s trademark coercion of his companion; as in the last episode, Mrs. Peel is annoyed but amused at the same time.
  7. Ten thousand guineas in 1965 — £10,500 — is worth £250,720 in 2023 so you can understand Steed’s astonishment and why he asks if he always parts with his money so easily. The average wage in Britain at the time was £12 or £13 a week — £620-700 a year — although a clerk or banker might get double that.
  8. The shop looks almost identical to the florist’s shop in Death Of A Batman.
  9. A first frisson of lesbian bondage flickers across the screen to titillate the viewers.
  10. I think … they all look at her suspiciously, but oddly seem a bit surprised later when Miss Thirwell unmasks her.
  11. This is the first truly overt bondage moment in The Avengers — Emma is dressed all in black in tight stretch cotton and leather, her breasts uncovered by the leather jumpsuit she’s wearing, and here she is stretched across a gurney, tied up, gagged and moaning.
  12. And our first silent film reference for the episode, it’s pure Buster Keaton, performed by Ray Austin.
  13. Maybe we will finally realise Sir Horace’s dream with Electric Vehicles.
  14. The telescope is the public pay-to-view sort and Sir Horace has to insert a few pennies first.
  15. The film is deliberately sped up for comic effect, but Brian Tesler, Production Controller for ABC Television, who complained about undercranking in other episodes let it pass uncommented.
  16. The quintessential silent film trope, with Mrs. Peel as the damsel in distress tied to the railway tracks by the villain.

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