• title card: white all caps text reading ‘A SURFEIT OF H20’ outlined in black and superimposed on Barker lying on the ground, gasping for air in the torrent of rain
  • Mrs. Peel sips a cup of tea in Eli’s house while holding an umbrella over her head
  • Eli’s boots lie at the feet of a man-shaped pool of water in the soggy field
  • Mrs. Peel emerges from a hut dressed is a very tight PVC mack and black and white rubber hat
  • A close up of Sir Arnold’s notepad, starting to get soaked with rain. It reads ‘Rain contains silver iodide — excessive amount indicates it was introduced by man.’
  • Dr. Sturm subjects Mrs. Peel to torture in the wine press, her head and shoulders emerge from under the machinery
  • Close-up of Mrs. Peel during the fight in the rainstorm; water pours off her cap and hair and she is thoroughly wet
  • Steed and Emma gaze meaningfully at each other before they depart in her Moke

Series 4 — Episode 8
A Surfeit of H2O

by Colin Finbow
Directed by Sidney Hayers

Production No E.64.10.10
Production completed: May 11 1965. First transmission: November 16 1965.

TV Times summary

In which Steed plans a boat-trip — and Emma gets very wet …

Plot summary

Sudden rainfall and the death of a poacher has one villager, Jonah, building Noah’s Ark, so the Avengers are sent to investigate. They discover a winery making vegetable-based wines but Dr. Sturm, who is in charge, doesn’t seem to know the difference between wine and spirits. After more deaths, Mrs. Peel is captured and put in the wine press, but rescued by Steed and Jonah, and all three of them then take on the villains in the pouring artificial rain, Dr. Sturm drowned by his own machine.

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show plot summary

Prologue

A poacher, Ted Barker (Michael Corcoran), sets some rabbit traps in a field,1 and stares at the sky when he hears a crack of thunder. There’s a sudden cloudburst and he rushes for cover; the deluge becomes a torrent and he’s knocked from him feet, collapsing into a growing lake of water.

Act 1

John Steed (Patrick Macnee) takes Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) to the field where the poacher died, his soggy impression still in the turf. She’s aghast to hear he drowned in the middle of a field. Steed shows her that another villager from Lower Storpington, Jonah Barnard, has written to The Times ten times that month, advocating the building of a great ark as the Great Flood is coming.

At Steed’s prompting, despite him being a ‘weird old bird’,2 she goes to see the poacher’s brother, Eli (Talfryn Thomas). Eli is a teetotaller religious fanatic who tells her his brother was an evil sinner who fell into the pit of iniquity; he puts Ted’s death down to the demon drink. It starts raining very hard and Eli tells her, while he puts pots and pans under all the leaks in the roof and arms both of them with umbrellas, that they’ve had torrential rain for months and he considers Jonah a great man whose warnings should be heeded.

Eli admits that Ted stole liquor from Grannie Gregson’s Glorious Grogs, a nearby factory. Ted broke into to steal liquor and that is when he fell — not into the pit of iniquity, but into Grannie’s sparkling spring water.

EMMA: Spring water?
ELI: Yes, they got tanks of it at the factory. Tanks big enough for a man to drown in.

Eli goes to help Jonah spread the word, leaving her to finish her tea under an umbrella.

Steed meanwhile visits Jonah Barnard (Noel Purcell), who is imploring the laughing villagers to join him in building an ark. Eli arrives and supports him but the villagers heckle them and wander out, chuckling. Jonah is sad that he has not saved them but is heartened when Steed comes over and says he read the letters in The Times.

JONAH: You see Eli, my words do not fall entirely on barren soil. Oh, sir, you give me fresh heart. New hopes. Eli, it’s a sign our work must go on.
ELI: Yes, I go to spread the word, Jonah — Hallelujah!

Jonah tells him he has had warning of the flood — butterflies and birds that prefer a watery habitat have suddenly appeared in the area which was previously known for being dry. Jonah then tells him of a cloud that is in the same place every day, save that it gets larger — he points it out to him, hovering over the wine factory.

At the wine factory, Dr. Sturm (Albert Lieven) is in his lab with his assistant, Frederick (Terry Plummer), when Martin Smythe (Geoffrey Palmer) enters. Martin says he is late because of the weather, with a bit of a chuckle, then quips that the wine Sturm hands him to taste is too dry.

The secretary, Joyce Jason (Sue Lloyd), buzzes the intercom to inform them a Mrs. Peel wishes to see Dr. Sturm about Ted Barker.

Mrs. Peel claims to be a free-lance journalist, who thought there might be a story in the death but Sturm tells her their security is very strict and Barker could not have drowned in their tanks. He bids her good day abruptly and when she tries to follow him, she notices rows of raincoats and umbrellas in the hall. Summarily dismissed, Emma return to Eli’s house.

ELI: Oh dear, dear, dear, dear, dear. Mrs. Peel, it’s you again. You should be preparing. The flood cometh.
EMMA: Yes, well I put a down payment on a canoe.

She convinces him to tell her how his brother got into the factory by claiming to be trying to prevent Grannie’s Grog from corrupting more sinners. He tells her there’s a way in through one of the storage huts on the North side and they arrange to meet at the place at 9 o’clock.3

Steed returns to Jonah’s workshop at 9pm hoping to catch up with Mrs. Peel as they’re arranged to meet there. Jonah says she has already left, then Steed is astonished when Jonah asks him about her.

JONAH: Tell me, is she a very sinful woman?
STEED: I beg your pardon??
JONAH: This Mrs. Peel, she looks so charming but then you can never tell by appearances. Tut tut.

He discovers that Mrs. Peel has left him a puzzling message with Jonah — ‘he’s not to worry, but she’s gone into the pit of iniquity’, which has given Jonah a very low opinion of her.

Mrs. Peel arrives in a figure-hugging little raincoat, hat and trousers4 and fails to notice the new, man-shaped, bog near the factory. She enters and finds Eli drowned in one of the tanks.

Act 2

Mrs. Peel reports Eli’s death to Jonah and Steed. Jonah bemoans that he failed to save him from The Flood. Emma dismisses Steed’s suggestion that Eli had a surreptitious sip and slipped, as he was a teetotaller. In reply, Steed tells her some meteorological equipment has arrived which she’ll have to pick up as he has to ‘buy some wine’.

At the wine factory, Steed poses as a wine merchant,5 wishing to sample Grannie’s grogs.

STEED: Steed. John Steed of Steed, Steed, Steed, Steed, Steed and Jacques Limited … wine merchants extraordinary.
JOYCE: How did Jacques get in?
STEED: He didn’t. He doesn’t exist. But in the wine trade you must have that French touch. So I invented Jacques.
JOYCE: Do your relatives approve? … Steed, Steed, Steed.
STEED: Oh! As a matter of fact I invented them too. It looks better on the card.

Joyce tells him Dr. Sturm took over the plant two years ago, introducing modern techniques and machinery, but is a busy man. Steed refuses to buy from a catalogue, saying he must sample the wine.

STEED: Catalogue! Honeyed bla’berry wine. That means nothing to me, Miss Jason. Where is the tang of blue-blackberries gathered in the early morning dew by barefoot peasant girls? The rich nectar taste of honey syrup?
Not here, but here! (GESTURES FROM CATALOGUE TO HIS EYE)
The sun glinting on amber liquid and here.. (TOUCHES HIS NOSE ANS SNIFFS)
The nostrils assaulted by the heady aromatics of a perfect bouquet … and here …
(PINCHED FINGERS, HELD UP TO HIS LIPS)
Most of all here.. Rolling smooth syrup, sweet liquid around the mouth, alerting the taste buds, savouring the sheer sensuality of a unique experience. I have a very acute palate Miss Jason. I’m very sorry but I really can’t find any help in this catalogue.

Joyce relents and checks with Sturm who agrees, and tells Martin he checked and Steed is a bona fide wine merchant — while she is gone, Steed searches the office, finding a weather map of the area under some sales figures.

Joyce returns and takes him to see Dr. Sturm, who displays a poor grasp of wine making, mentioning distillation instead of fermentation. Smythe is distrustful of Steed and thinks it a mistake to let him in but Sturm happily demonstrates his press which pulverises vegetables6 with 40 tons per square inch of force — he describes it as a gentle giant which can be controlled to 1/1000″.

Joyce leads him to the wine store and he agrees to purchase a couple of gross of buttercup wine.

JOYCE: I think you’ll find this a rather surprising wine. Not unlike a dry hock.
STEED: (COUGHS AFTER SIPPING) What is it??
JOYCE: Old bark.
STEED: Must have put the dog in it too.

Steed comments several times on the sound of pouring rain he can hear, which alarms Joyce. Frederick suddenly enters from behind a locked door, shaking the rain from his oilskin and sou’wester and Steed greets him by saying, “Lovely weather we’re not having!”. When he leaves the factory, he is puzzled to find himself in bright sunshine.

Steed returns to Jonah’s shed where Mrs. Peel is setting up a portable weather machine and they talk about Jonah’s permanent cloud, which hangs just beyond the wine factory, over the field where Ted was drowned. They drive over to take a look.

Smythe sees them taking measurements in the field and calls Sturm over — Mrs. Peel thinks her equipment must be faulty as the readings are so high — a humidity reading on par for the Brazilian jungle or equatorial Africa, so they return to Jonah’s to collect Sir Arnold Kelly (John Kidd), the nation’s preeminent meteorologist. As they drive away, they pass Frederick, who is hiding behind a tree and he runs over to their equipment once they have gone.

Sir Arnold greets them, rubbing his spectacles which have misted over, and is surprised when he puts them, expecting to be talking to Steed and sees Mrs. Peel smiling at him. Sir Arnold is also dubious of the 67.8% humidity reading and returns with them to check the equipment; by the time they return, Frederick has smashed all their equipment. Sir Arnold starts using his own equipment while Mrs. Peel drives Steed back to the winery.

Steed acts the buffoon and blusters his way inside, noticing them trying to hide a crate from him. He returns to the lab abruptly and opens its lid and finds it topped with pulverised dry ice. Acting the merry fool, he tells Sturm he’s caught him out — that’s how he gets the sharp tangy flavour in his buttercup wine! In the wine store, he tries the door from which he can hear the rain, but it’s locked and Joyce marches him out. He asks Sturm about the noise and is told it’s water falling into the vats, demonstrating with a tap. After Steed leaves, Smythe spots Sir Arnold in the field.

MARTIN: He’s not wearing a mackintosh.
STURM: Pity, looks like rain.

Sir Arnold’s notes the rain has an excessive level of silver iodide and is man-made then seconds later is caught in a monsoon and, losing his spectacles, gropes blindly about and collapses on the ground, drowned by the deluge.

Act 3

Frederick and another henchman arrive and carry Sir Arnold away. At the factory, Dr. Sturm goes through Sir Arnold’s wallet and discovers who he was, realising that Jonah’s letters have aroused unwanted interest. Smythe and Frederick are dispatched to Jonah’s to eliminate the threat and ‘extend the courtesy’ of inviting Mrs. Peel to see the factory. Mrs. Peel is there, writing some notes, so Smythe asks Mrs. Peel to accompany him to the factory, producing a revolver when she declines the offer.

Frederick gets to work on the frame of the Ark and when Jonah enters he claims he wants to help Jonah build the Ark, which delights the gullible old man.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Peel is strapped in Dr. Sturm’s vegetable press and the press descends7 — squeezing her with just enough pressure to make her feel its weight but not to — yet — harm her. Sturm advises her to answer his questions.

STURM: No, I think another half an inch before breathing becomes difficult but we’ll give you a little time to think about it Mrs. Peel until we’re back. Then a fraction more pressure and your ribs will bend, another fraction and your ribs will crack. Well think about it and be ready with your answers by the time we return, won’t you?

Jonah is preaching a sermon — to a small boy and his dog — when Steed returns. He learns Frederick was there and Mrs. Peel hasn’t been seen since he arrived. Steed investigates Frederick’s work on the Ark and discovers sabotage that was meant to kill Jonah, the beams crashing down.

Saved from certain death, Jonah insists on accompanying Steed and they head to the field. They find Sir Arnold’s notes, and Steed realises the field is mostly dry, despite the high rainfall and no great slope for natural drainage. He traces the sound of rushing water to a manhole hidden under the turf and they descend into the dark.

While they make their way down a tunnel underground, Mrs. Peel is being questioned by Sturm, who applies more pressure, saying he’ll just have to squeeze the information out of her.8

Gloating over her, Dr. Sturm reveals that he and Smythe have perfected the manufacture of torrential, driving rain to order. He had started small, just wanting to water his garden but they realised the military implications and plan to sell to the highest bidder, the biggest military weapon of all time, able to wash away entire armies — a great flood to order.

Down in the tunnel, Steed and Jonah find Sir Arnold Kelly’s body at the base of a ladder and then hear Sturm outlining his plans through a vent — they start following the sound. Joyce meanwhile calls Sturm away from his interrogations.

STURM: Forgive me, Mrs. Peel, campaigns to plan — but I’ll be back. You may depend on that.
EMMA: You diabolical mastermind, you.

Jonah and Steed enter to rescue Mrs. Peel. She tells Steed the lever should go up — so he pushes it down, as she was on her back when Sturm operated the machine. Once she is free, Steed demonstrates his mastery of the press — initially succeeding but a second press of a switch flattens his bowler hat.

They enter the wine store and dispatch one of the staff before breaking into the rain-making area, where they find the machine that has been producing rain for over a year. Joyce discovers Mrs. Peel gone and raises the alarm, and the villains rush in just as our heroes are contemplating the machine.

Jonah knocks out Sturm just as he pushes the lever down on the machine and as he collapses, he pushes it all the way to “Tempest”. Jonah is in a religious ecstasy, proclaiming the flood is come, as they battle in the downpour. Eventually, our heroes prevail and they carry out the vanquished, but discover Sturm has been drowned by his own machine.

Epilogue

Mrs. Peel collects Steed from Jonah’s in her Moke. She sneezes and he offers her a tot of Grannie Gregson’s marrow rum before they drive off into the countryside.


  1. A contemporary poacher wrote in to the TV Times to point out that his traps would not have caught any rabbits as the loops touched the ground.
  2. At these words we cut to a close-up of a stuffed vulture that Eli is holding.
  3. Page 7 is missing from the dialogue sheets so the rest of Act 1 after this point is missing from the pdf. It picks up shortly after the beginning of Act 2 when Steed suggests Eli’s death could have been an accident.
  4. The tight, shiny PVC coat and trousers designed by Jean Muir are so kinky that Jonah would feel sure his estimation of Mrs. Peel as a very sinful woman was correct if he saw her in it. Being several sizes too small and made of vinyl, they have drifted into bondage attire.
  5. When he first arrives, Sidney Hayers takes a leaf out of Peter Hammond’s directorial book with a shot through the huge glass bottle containing the cucumber.
  6. He explains that they make vegetable wine and the vegetables can’t be trod in a traditional manner.
  7. As if the kinky PVC outfit earlier wasn’t enough, Mrs. Peel is now dressed in black leather, tied up and strapped inside a constricting machine. The Undergrowth of Literature, Gillian Freeman, 1967 mentions (p.29 & figures 12a & 12b):
    "The trouble is that adult play, except at the non-participant level of fairy tales, or television shows like The Avengers, where it can be as kinky as you like without anxiety, acutely embarrasses us.
    The book illustrates the point with a photo of Emma’s leather suit on a model, and a similar one made of rubber on a different model, both photographed by Don Pleasance.
  8. Steed & Jonah turn at the sound of Emma screaming as the press drops onto her — but we don’t hear her. The scream has been cut, it was probably too much for the censors or producers to allow.

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