• title card: white all caps text reading ‘THE HOUR THAT NEVER WAS’ with faint outline superimposed on a smashed face of a clock on an oak dashboard
  • In the cook house, the cake has been left with the decoration unfinished
  • Steed and Mrs. Peel examine the dead milkman lying on the runway
  • Steed talks to the scrounger, Hickey, as the latter digs through the bins
  • Steed crouches behind the milk float as another inert RAF officer is loaded onto it by the crooks
  • Steed unties Emma from the dentist’s chair
  • Emma fights one of the plotters (stuntman cliff Diggins)
  • Steed and Mrs. Peel suddenly realise no-one is driving the milk float

Series 4 — Episode 9
The Hour that Never Was

by Roger Marshall
Directed by Gerry O’Hara

Production No E.64.10.14
Production completed: July 20 1965. First transmission: November 23 1965.

TV Times summary

In which Steed has to face the music — and Emma disappears …

Plot summary

Steed takes Emma to a farewell party at RAF Hamelin, where he was stationed in the War. The camp is closing down and the squadron members being posted all over the world. Steed swerves to miss a dog on the road and crashes his Bentley, causing them to proceed on foot but when they get there the airfield is deserted, like the Marie Celeste. After seeing a milkman shot on a runway, a loud noise drives them to seek shelter and they are both knocked out.
Steed wakes, back in his Bentley. Has he dreamt it all? It certainly seems that way when he reaches the airfield to find the party in full swing and no time seems to have passed. If only he could find Mrs. Peel… he has her watch, which leads him to rescue her from the dentist’s chair. They defeat the villains and end the plot to put sleeper agents in every British base around the world. Another case solved, they depart on the back of a milk float.

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Prologue

A tranquil country idyll is disturbed by a dog, yelping as it runs headlong through the bushes. It worries some horses and cows then the dog hurtles across the road, causing John Steed (Patrick Macnee) to crash his beloved Bentley into a tree. The clock stops just as it’s about to strike 11 oclock.

Act 1

Steed and Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) groan a bit as they collect themselves after the crash, then head off on foot for the camp, Steed showing her the gap in the fence they used after lights-out and reminisces about the War:

STEED: ‘Cat’s Eyes’ Steed — that’s what they called me. Returning from a mission — hunched over the controls — eyes rimmed with fatigue — the men groaning in the back.
EMMA: Where’d you been — the Ruhr?
STEED: No! The local pub.

She thinks the quiet camp is bleak which make Steed reflect on how there used to be thousands of men at the station, now there are thirty. Tomorrow there will be none, the end of an era.

EMMA: Sic friat crustulum — that’s how the cookie crumbles.
STEED: The Latin cookie.1

Steed tells her the men will go to Aden, Singapore and Germany, anywhere around the world where there are British air bases. They enter the eerily deserted camp, almost Marie Celeste like — bicycles abandoned, and in the bar there are drinks on the table, cigars smouldering, and music playing.

Suspecting a practical joke, Steed whips the drapes open but there’s no-one hiding there, so they go outside, Steed suggesting everyone’s gone to have a go on the little training plane.

Outside is eerily quiet with no aeroplane noise and when they come upon petrol gushing from a car at the filling station they realise something is seriously wrong.

They see smoke coming from the cook’s kitchen and enter, finding the decoration on a cake incomplete.

STEED: Well, I never. A Sergeant Henderson special! He made a cake when the old C.O. retired … it was the biggest cake you ever saw. And there was a rather shapely WAAF girl inside it.

Steed continues his tale to cover his increasing anxiety upon find the phone line dead while Mrs. Peel notices the clock is still saying 11 o’clock. He concludes the story, explaining that the girl never sprang out of the cake because when they iced the lid down they cut of her air supply, they only just got her out in time. Suddenly, they hear a weird electric motor hum accompanied by clunks and rattling2 outside and follow the sound, finding a stack of milk crates on the runway. Steed finds the hut number of the C.O., Geoffrey Ridsdale, in the milkman’s order book and they head off to visit it.

At the hut, they find an electric razor still on but no sign of Ridsdale. Emma finds Geoffrey’s phone line is also dead while Steed finds the brandy balloons, which Steed gave to Geoffrey as a wedding present are all shattered and reflects on how he asked his batman Pratt to get them for him.

EMMA: What shattered the glasses?
STEED: Caruso?
EMMA: He’s dead…
STEED: So’s Pratt, poor fellow (BEAT)
And I’m beginning to wonder about Geoffrey.

Steed suggests they go to the control tower to get a bird’s eye view of the camp and there they see a man running for his life across the runway. A shot rings out and he falls, and Emma and Steed rush to the body. They turn him over and discover he is a milkman (Ray Austin).

They investigate where the shot came from, searching an aircraft and the hangars, finding a dead rabbit but nothing else.

STEED: Not a soul. One dead rabbit?
EMMA: It’s not dead. Look.
STEED: Unconscious … Why? What did it?
EMMA: Rabbit punch?

Act 2

In the empty hangars, they reflect on the mystery:

STEED: Razor’s still running … Petrol gushing … Unconscious rabbit … One dead milkman.
EMMA: Ten thousand bottles of milk.
STEED: Thirty highly trained technical men just up and dance away from …
EMMA: Hamelin.3

They hear the electric noise again and give chase, only to find the dead milkman has been removed. They split up, Mrs. Peel finding the milk float that caused the noise with the dead milkman lying on the back a short time later. Suddenly, an ear-splitting noise permeates the entire camp, causing the float and all the bottles, and chains in the garages to vibrate. Covering his ears, Steed escapes into the Fallout Shelter4. Even there, the din is still audible and he keeps his ears covered until it subsides. When he emerges all is quiet and he finds Mrs. Peel’s watch lying in a puddle where the float had been parked.

Steed returns to the mess and pours himself a large brandy, then notices the fish floating in the bowl on the bar. He sees the clock still reading 11 o’clock and smashes his glass against the wall in frustration. There’s a clatter outside and he rushes out to find a tramp, Hickey (Roy Kinnear), scrounging around the dust bins.

HICKEY: Living off dustbins all my working life, sir. From Biggin Hill to Mildenhall — Cardington5 to Hamelin here…
STEED: All Air Bases.
HICKEY: Oh, yes sir, serpently! None of that Army or Navy rubbish for me. I’m loyal I am, loyal to the Air Force. Always have been. Best dustbins in the business!

Hickey says he has been at the camp for eight months and hadn’t seen anything unusual while scrounging that day. Steed takes him inside for a drink so he can learn more. Hickey rambles madly, but manages to impart that he saw them run up the flag for the last time, then his ears felt odd, and he felt dizzy, as though he’d had a few drinks. He remembers the clock starting to chime, but never finishing — at 11 o’clock. Steed takes a quick glance at the clock in the mess which still reads 11 o’clock.

The dog returns and scratches at the door, Hickey delighted to see his pal Rosie again. He ties a piece of string to her collar after telling Steed she suddenly took off earlier that morning.

HICKEY: Useful stuff string. I’ve got the best collection in the South-East!
STEED: Does Rosie belong to you?
HICKEY: Well, in a manner of speaking. In my line of business, it pays to make friends with the guards’ dogs.

Hickey explains that Rosie belongs to the guard on the main gate and Steed rushes out, telling him to help himself, leaving Hickey staring after him thoughtfully, holding a dart up to his pursed lips…7

At the guard post Steed finds nothing inside; outside he spies a set of keys lying on the ground outside, under the main gate. When he stoops to pick them up, the gate creaks upwards and he’s clobbered by the boom gate crashing back down and is knocked out.

Act 3

Steed regains consciousness in the Bentley, the clock still at 11 o’clock as though the accident had just happened.6 Finding no trace of Mrs. Peel, he rushes back to the camp and enters the officers’ mess, now the scene of a vibrant party.

Geoffrey Ridsdale (Gerald Harper)8 sees Steed arrive and welcomes him in, and he’s joined by two jovial officers, ‘Porky’ Purser & Wiggins (Roger Booth and David Morrell) who greet him effusively.

WIGGINS: Steedy-boy!
PORTKY: Johnno! Glad you could make it!
WIGGINS: And bang on time as usual!
GEOFFREY: He’s always on time when there’s a drink to be had!

Ridsdale mixes Steed a drink just as he used to have it, and startles him by asking how his memory is.9 Steed taps a woman on the shoulder, thinking she is Mrs. Peel but is quickly disabused — and he sees she’s feeding the fish, now very much alive.

Confused, Steed rubs his head and Ridsdale asks him if he’s all right. At that moment the camp dentist, Philip Leas (Dudley Foster) appears at his shoulder and asks, “Is that a cue for me?”. He’s standing in as the Medical Officer and checks Steed’s head.

LEAS: You must excuse my glee, Mr. Steed. Fact is since the real M.O. left here I’ve been in charge of First Aid.

Leas declares him okay but might have giddiness or an hallucination,10 and recommends he not drink — as that’ll mean more for him! He then departs, saying it’s a shame about Mrs. Peel. Steed shouts after him, wanting to know what he means and Ridsdale calms him down, saying Mrs. Peel phoned through an apology an hour ago, leaving Steed unsure and suspicious.

Steed questions Ridsdale about his morning, but the C.O. is blithely unaware of anything odd happening, saying he arrived at the mess just before Steed. He and his Corporal (Daniel Moynihan) don’t even know about Hickey being on the camp. Steed takes Emma’s watch from his pocket and listens to it, then is roused from his brown study by Leas who asks if he’s feeling better.

Steed excuses himself and steps outside for a breath of fresh air. He looks at Emma’s watch, which is showing the time as five past twelve — an hour later than every other timepiece on the station.

The little dog, still with a bit of Hickey’s string around his collar, barks then leads him to where Hickey’s body lies behind a wall near the bins, strangled with a bit of his string.

As he turns the body over, Steed hears the electric motor hum and turns to see the milk float driving away, with an apparently dead man lying on the back. He follows cautiously and sees the milkman (Fred Haggerty) take the man to the cook house and dump the body inside. Meanwhile, Ridsdale asks Leas where Steed is and seems perturbed when he learns that Steed has gone outside…11

When Steed reached the cook house he peers in the window and is astonished to see the man is the camp cook, Sergeant Henderson (Charles Rayford) very much alive and finishing off his cake decoration.

The milkman drives to the medical centre where Glover (Cliff Diggins) tells him to hurry.

DRIVER: Easy, don’t panic.
GLOVER: Who’s panicking? We’ve still got these two to put back. Hurry up, before they wake up.

Steed checks one of the officers after he’s carried out, then hides until they depart. He enters the hut and summarily takes care of a sentry who’s wearing ear muffs.

He finds Mrs. Peel strapped to the dentist’s chair12 and frees her — she recalls feeling dizzy and then waking up there, but can’t remember how she got there. Steed suggests on the back of a milk float, explaining they do a regular service; the innocence of a milk float disguising their activities.

Mrs. Peel picks up an ampoule of C.11, a highly potent derivative of the truth drug used in brain-washing. She deduces a plot to put the whole camp in a coma and then brain-wash them. Together, they elaborate the rest of the plot — supposing the villains then plant sleepers in stations across the globe, all brain-washed during the missing hour with a key phrase to wake them up when required.

STEED: A potential saboteur in every strategic air base in the world.

Steed plays with the dentist’s drill as they ponder the mechanism for inducing the coma. Across the camp, a deafening cacophony pours out of the klaxons, and the party-goers cover their ears. Mrs. Peel notices an ultrasonic frequency generator attached to the drill and explains to Steed how the high frequencies could cause the human brain to shut down, Steed holding up the ear muffs as confirmation, used to protect the plotters from their device.

Leas suddenly appears, holding a gun and accompanied by Glover witha rifle, and tells them it’s a creditable explanation.

LEAS: I could pretend it was years of experiment — my life work! But it wasn’t… It was an accident — found that by raising the speed of the drill, I could induce myself into a hypnotic state. I took it from there — ultrasonic apparatus, high speed drill — simple … but remarkably effective, don’t you think?

He now plans to auction off the thirty pre-conditioned brains to the highest bidder.13

Steed suddenly attacks Leas while Emma takes on Glover, hurling into the hallway where they continue their fight. Leas turns the valve on the nitrous oxide during the struggle and Steed scalds him with hot water to disarm him. Emma meanwhile dispatches Glover with a combination of sand from a fire bucket and karate. The milkman appears at the end of the hallway and attacks her as well, but is quickly dealt with.

When she returns, Steed and Leas are fighting over the drill, laughing uncontrollably. Leas is knocked unconscious against the sink and she asks Steed what’s so funny — then succumbs to laughter herself.

Epilogue

Steed and Emma ride down the runway on opposite sides of the back of the milk float — until they both realise no-one’s driving and leap off, running madly about trying to get into the cabin to stop it.14


  1. This somewhat high-brow joke belongs more in the Cathy Gale era, when jokes in Latin occasionally cropped up.
  2. Audiences at the time would probably have been familiar with the sound — a combination of an electric motor with mechanical gears and rattling glass in wire which marks a milk float — but modern audiences would be more unsure of the strange noise.
  3. Called away by the Pied Piper, leaving the camp deserted. Roger Marshall’s draft script is so complete and nuanced there is barely a word changed between it and the final production. These lines however were originally said in Geoffrey’s chalet before they went to the control tower. Roger Marshall supplied 8 pages of minor amendments on July 13th 1965 which you can read at the end of the script pdf.
  4. This sequence is accompanied by psychedelic camera work — spinning around, zooming in and out of the sun with lens flare, and tilted cameras producing disconcerting angles — to indicate the mental effect of the noise.
  5. These three are real RAF air bases.
  6. Indeed, the opening scene, with some narrative symmetry, is exactly the same as the initial scene of Act 1 until Steed sits up in the car.
  7. This suggests that Hickey is potentially the villain, the first red herring.
  8. Geoffrey Ridsdale DFC’s medals are all pinned upside down and back to front — you can tell by the DFC and the War Medal. Not doubt deliberate, to make observant viewers suspect him.
  9. Geoffrey is entrenched as the main suspect.
  10. And now it’s Phillip Leas’ turn to be a suspect.
  11. Geoffrey is once more promoted as the possible villain.
  12. Once again reinforcing the bondage subtext of The Avengers, this time she’s strapped to the chair, her legs higher than her head with her breasts thrust out, her head pulled back, and a large gag in her mouth. In fact, the script has the directorial note “(an altogether erotic sight, please)”.
  13. Like a Bond villain, Leas explains his plot and loses the opportunity to kill the heroes.
  14. Just like The Beatles and The Dave Clarke Five in their films the same year. The production office had requested that the sped-up film at the end of the episode be removed and restored to normal speed and were furious when the final cut kept the sped-up sequence.

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