• title card: white all caps text reading ‘THE MASTER MINDS’ outlined in black and superimposed on the scene in the vault of the guardsmen looting the safe
  • Mrs. Peel is installed as Sir Clive’s nurse, his doctor looks on approvingly at her uniform
  • Davina reveals that she has really just returned from the South of France — still wearing nothing but a bikini under her fur coat
  • The Professor hangs upside down from the ceiling, relishing the bloodflow to his brain
  • Steed narrowly avoids being skewered when he walk in front of an archery target
  • Emma lies on the trampoline in a black leotard as she discusses events with Steed
  • Emma takes aim at Steed with her bow
  • Mrs. Peel smiles through the torn film screen after defeating Holly Trent

Series 4 — Episode 6
The Master Minds

by Robert Banks Stewart
Directed by Peter Graham Scott

Production No E.64.10.3
Production completed: January 8 1965. First transmission: November 2 1965.

TV Times summary

In which Steed becomes a genius — and Emma loses her mind …

Plot summary

Prominent members of society are caught committing elaborate crimes and the Avengers investigate why, discovering a link to a society for people with high IQs, RANSACK. Mrs. Peel is immediately accepted into their ranks and Steed cheats in the exam to join.
Waking in the night, Steed finds all the other members trooping like zombies down to the gymnasium to watch a film then disappearing into the night, returning in possession of military hardware. They discover the sports mistress is hypnotising the geniuses and using their highly developed brains to plan audacious crimes. Mrs. Peel volunteers to kill Steed, then they turn the tables and defeat the sports mistress and her gang before going home in Steed’s Bentley.

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show plot summary


Several men in Household Cavalry uniform are in a vault, photographing confidential documents. One of them, who has been passing the papers out under a security sensor, accidentally trips the alarm when he drops a document and it blocks the security light beam. The steel gate slams shut, trapping him inside. The leader of the raid, Findler (Harvey Hall), glares at him angrily, then orders his other accomplice to kill him.

Act 1

John Steed (Patrick Macnee) drives Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) to the home of Sir Clive Todd in the early hours of the morning. She yawns and complains about it being the middle of the night but is jolted awake by the sight of the butler (Harry Hutchinson) wearing a surgical mask. She sees the Guards uniform laid out and asks Steed if he did in fact wake her, or if it’s a fancy dress party.

Steed explains that the uniform was worn by a burglar, the perfect disguise around Whitehall. The doctor (Frank Mills) enters and tells them the bullet missed his brain and they can see him. When they enter, Emma is astonished to learn that the burglar was Sir Clive himself.

Steed explains that Sir Clive (Laurence Hardy), a Minister of the Crown, dressed in a Household Guards uniform, broke into an office in Whitehall with some accomplices and was shot — and the gang stole what they wanted. Sir Jeremy (John Wentworth), another cabinet minister, can’t believe it but Major Plessy (Manning Wilson) says the facts are undeniable.

Steed says Todd will pull through, leading Sir Jeremy to wonder if the government will, and he departs to report to the Prime Minister. Plessy departs as well, leaving Steed to explain that there have been a series of raids over the past few months:

STEED: Well, just like last night. Boldly conceived — superbly executed. Behind them there must be a brilliant planner at work.
EMMA: A genius.
STEED: A diabolical master mind.1

Mrs. Peel lies down beside the open fire in her sparkling catsuit and Steed comments on Mrs. Peel’s astonishing resemblance to Florence Nightingale2 and she is installed as Sir Clive’s nurse.

She discovers he’s suffering from amnesia and Dr. Fergus Campbell (Ian McNaughton), a service psychiatrist, is called in to examine Sir Clive but promptly starts diagnosis Steed instead, much to Emma’s amusement.

CAMPBELL: Sir Clive … excuse me. Nothing feigned — no bluff about his condition. Post operative shock — general physical and mental disorientation and the effects of the anesthetic not fully worn off.
STEED: Quite a hangover one way and another.
CAMPBELL: Your facetiousness, Mr. Steed, covers an edgy temperament. In fact I’d say your nerves mostly jangle like wires in the wind.3

Steed returns to Sir Clive’s study to resume his search and spots a pistol poking out from behind a curtain. He tackles the intruder and, lying on top of her, finds it’s Sir Clive’s rather scrummy daughter Davinia (Georgina Ward). She threatens to scream until Steed explains who he is, and she replies that she’s just returned from the South of France, still in her bikini, as she demonstrates by opening her coat -

STEED: But you’re supposed to be on holiday.
DAVINIA: Oh well I was, wasn’t I? South of France, naturally (SHE OPENS HER COAT)
DAVINIA (cont.): — but I got bored on the beach so I jumped into a taxi and took the next plane home. My clothes are following.

She tells Steed her father was probably out with Allan St. Johnson, an opposition MP who is an old friend a chess partner of her father. She suddenly has a thought when Steed mentions a diary and leads him over to her father’s desk4 to show him a secret compartment.

As she tries to open it, she reveals that her father belongs to a club for eggheads called RANSACK, who do puzzles and test papers for fun. The drawer suddenly pops open but Steed has to grab her hand to stop her touching anything — someone has poured acid in, destroying Sir Clive’s secret personal diary.

Meanwhile, Dr. Campbell seems to be trying to ensure Sir Clive’s memories are lost rather than restored, hypnotically telling him softly that his memory is clouding and it’s all lost beyond recall.5

Steed visits the Houses of Parliament to see St. Johnson, meeting Sir Jeremy and Major Plessy when he arrives. Sir Jeremy urge restraint, fearing a leak of the scandal, but when Allan’s secretary shows him in, they find St. Johnson dead, apparently a suicide. Unfortunately, his secretary had not seen the constituent who had come to see St. Johnson before they entered.

Steed returns to Sir Clive’s house, where Mrs. Peel says Sir Clive is starting to respond. Steed fetches Campbell and finds him in the company of Desmond Leeming (Bernard Archard) who helps run RANSACK. Steed says he’s interested in joining and is handed an entrance paper — the minimum IQ for entry is 145 — at which Campbell sneers at Steed.

On parting, Leeming stresses to Campbell he should be “informed of any change for the worse, if he should have to resort to drugs”. Steed helps Mrs. Peel jog Sir Clive’s memory with the word “Ransack”, then Campbell lethally injects Sir Clive while they talk, but is unable to tell them why he killed him.

Act 2

Campbell’s memory is blank but he swears he hadn’t left the house that day, or met anyone — Steed reminds him that he met Desmond Leeming, and Campbell admits to being a member of RANSACK himself.

Steed meets Mrs. Peel at the bar in the Houses of Parliament where she’s fending off the advances of a philandering MP.

STEED: Lobbying?
EMMA: I don’t have to. The state of the nation suits me very well.

Mrs. Peel confirms they’ve both gained entry to RANSACK (she did both their papers) and they were so impressed with her, she’s been hired as Professor Spencer’s secretary. They run their events at a girls’ boarding school near Oxford, The Dorrington Dean Academy for Young Ladies.6 Steed smiles and is sternly told the girls are on holidays.7

Steed goes to the school the next day and finds Holly Trent (Patricia Haines), the school games mistress, conducting archery lessons for some of her staff but she plans to lure some of the intelligentsia from their course.

Leeming interrupts as Steed fires an arrow, causing him to break a window, and leads him away. He’s led through a babble of high-brow conversation to meet Professor Spencer (Martin Miller), who is standing on his head to increase blood flow to the brain. Emma enters and says she has to complete all of Steed’s details for their records — outside, she hands him the answers for the day’s test paper.

In the exam hall, Steed has to cover his paper from the nosey Leeming, and ignore the fluttering eye lashes of a cute egghead (Liz Reber) as he copies the answers that he’s written on his shirt cuffs. Sadly, he couldn’t fit enough of them on his cuffs and Mrs. Peel has to falsify his score to bump him back into genius territory.

That evening, Steed retires to his room and disconnects the annoying piped music. Mrs. Peel delivers his cocoa and raises her eyebrows at the beefcake pictures pasted in the girls’ lockers.

A while later Steed hears a noise and sees all the others — including Emma — trooping downstairs. He follows cautiously and finds them all watching a film of an RAF base in the gym hall with the door locked, with Leeming in charge. He hears someone coming and hides — it’s Findler, the leader of the Whitehall raid, who sits down to guard the door to the hall and checks his revolver.

In the morning, the hall has returned to gymnasium duty and Mrs. Peel declares she never left her room last night, much to Steed’s astonishment. Leeming makes an announcement — everyone is to meet in the gym at 6 o’clock that evening. Steed turns up on time but no-one else is there — except Professor Spencer, unseen by Steed as he’s hanging silently from a rope up near the roof.8

Outside, he’s nearly shot by Holly Trent’s archers and she tells him the others left in the school minibus half an hour ago — didn’t he get the message?

Steed returns to the gym and Professor Spencer calls out to him then tells him Leeming has taken the students to do outdoor IQ tests, despite Steed being amazed they’d do it in the dark.

They return at 6 o’clock in the morning after conducting an armed raid and Steed sees them carry something into the school. He finds sand in the bus — and later proves to Emma she wasn’t in a forest as she recalls by emptying sand from her shoes. She says they just ambled about the forest picking up fir cones — then finds a piece of a missile head still in her coat pocket.9

EMMA: Look!
STEED: This doesn’t grow on trees! An Arrow — and not the kind they gaily loose off in a school ground.
EMMA: The Arrow — the guided missile!
STEED: There’s a base about sixty miles from here.
EMMA: On the coast!

Act 3

Steed calls Plessy10 and learns the probable successor to the Polaris missile was snatched the previous night — but he’s overheard by Findler. Steed tells Mrs. Peel, who’s busy bouncing on a trampoline. She suggests they break in was done with long ladders and denies knowing anything about the naval base.

EMMA: Might have used a helicopter. Whee!
STEED: Someone would have heard.
EMMA: Quite impossible then. How else could anyone jump over a fifteen foot five wire?

This comment makes them both realise it did happen and her memory has been suppressed.

Steed visits Campbell, who tells him hypnotic suggestion would work very well if the subject were sedated, even better if they were already asleep as the brain is more receptive when relaxed.

That night, he sniffs his coffee and sets it aside, then sees the eggheads all go downstairs again, including Mrs. Peel who walks past him obvious to him calling her name. He checks Emma’s room and hears a hypnotic distorted voice on the radio, repeating suggestions:

VOICE: As you dress you feel your limbs completely relax … relax … It’s a very pleasant feeling like being asleep: but you’re out of bed and on your feet. And you’re going down to the Gymnasium. You’re going to the Gymnasium.

In the gym, the same voice, standing in silhouette behind the film screen, asks them all to plan how to steal a plane from an airfield. Emma advocates laying a fire near the guards’ quarters to create a diversion, then Steed suggests cutting the water supply to the base to add to the general confusion. This delights the shadowy ringleader immensely.

Meanwhile Findler checks Steed’s room and finds his loudspeaker is unplugged. He hears the end of the meeting downstairs — the unseen boss orders them all back to their beds, to reconvene at the archery range in an hour.

They leave and Findler informs Leeming Steed is a fake so in an hour’s time, the voice orders them to the gymnasium instead of the range. There they determine Steed should be killed and Emma suggests using the archery range and volunteers to shoot him with an arrow. Steed stands in front of the targets and sees her approach, then coldly fire an arrow at him.

She returns to the gym and reports Steed is dead to Leeming, but Findler has found Steed’s note to her, “Unplug your radio. S”. Steed swings across the gym on a rope and disarms Leeming who has just pulled out a revolver and they fight, Filson (Paddy Ryan) running in to join the fight. Mrs. Peel fights Filson off then enters the projection room and fights the mastermind in silhouette, the villain finally crashing through the screen and revealed as Holly Trent.


Mrs. Peel reflects on the cleverness of harnessing geniuses as they drive home in Steed’s Bentley. Steed says at least he’s come out of it with a genius IQ.
“You are a genius”, she says, “ — at cribbing”, and laughs.

  1. This phrase becomes synonymous with The Avengers and is often use self-referentially.
  2. Once again, Steed manipulates his companion into a position and Emma goes along with it.
  3. Steed gets his own back when he needles Campbell about his service work and Campbell snaps that he treated the seasick in the Navy.
    STEED: Traces of an incipient inferiority complex! I should watch it.
  4. Davinia has warmed to Steed and on the way to the study somewhat alarmingly tells him “I wouldn’t have screamed. I’d just have accepted my fate.” When he replies, “I’ll bear that in mind” she bites her bottom lip and grins lustfully.
  5. This short scene may have been missing from the edit that was used for the dialogue sheets in 1980 as it is missing completely from the transcript. There are often incorrect words in the transcript as well, clearly misheard by the transcriber.
    CAMPBELL: Sir Clive, your memory is clouding, isn’t it? You can’t remember anything. So you recall what happened? Do you? Or is it all lost beyond recall? Is it? Is it?!
    EMMA: Any luck?
    CAMPBELL: No sign of a breakthrough. He can’t remember anything. I don’t think he ever will.
  6. The sign outside reads “Dorrington Dean College for Young Ladies”.
  7. More sleazy Steed, with him thinking wistfully of schoolgirls.
  8. Professor Spencer is the red herring for the episode but he’s such a cuddly old man you never seriously suspect him.
  9. A serious error by Leeming, not checking that everything was accounted for.
  10. This scene is truncated in the dialogue sheets, missing more than half, again indicating an edited copy of the episode was used, possibly because of the innuendo.
    STEED: Major? Steed here. Has anything been happening in your part of the world, anything unusual? … What?!
    HOLLY: (ENTERING) Mr. Steed!
    STEED: (INTO PHONE) Hold on. (TURNING) Miss Holly!
    HOLLY: I wondered if I might lure you away from pure brain work, to something more physical.
    STEED: More?
    HOLLY: Uhh … a walk! Down to the river, later on.
    STEED: Oh! Oh, I’d be delighted! Excuse me, an old auntie of mine; she worries about my socks.
    HOLLY: Socks?
    STEED: Who’s darning them.
    HOLLY: Oh, I see. Well, don’t worry, I’ll talk to you later on.
    STEED: Yes!

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