• title card: white all caps text reading ‘DIAL A DEADLY NUMBER’ outlined in black and superimposed on a closeup of a large, black, old-fashioned rotary dial telephone with a printed card insert behind the dial to remind the user of the letters associated with the numbers
  • Steed tips the waiter, dressed as the Mad Hatter, for pointing out Jago
  • An overhead view of the Boardman’s coffee table, showing that it’s designed to look like an old coin. Steed, Mrs. Boardman, Mr. Boardman, Mrs. Peel, and Harvey sit around it
  • Steed is attacked in the basement carpark by two men on motorbikes who atempt to run him down
  • The wine duel begins in the cellar: Harvey faces us holding a tray with two glasses of red wine, he smiles at Boardman to his right. Boardman and Steed are both in profile, facing each other, Boardman on the left
  • Looking over the shoulder of Fitch, who points his silenced pistol at Emma as he undoes her zip and touches her soft white skin
  • Steed crouches behind a wine rack as he hunts down Harvey in the cellar
  • Steed and Emma, seated in the back of a cab, sample one of the bottles they liberated from Boardman’s cellar

Series 4 — Episode 10
Dial a Deadly Number

by Roger Marshall
Directed by Don Leaver

Production No E.64.10.4
Production completed: January 22 1965. First transmission: November 30 1965.

TV Times summary

In which Steed plays bulls and bears — and Emma has no option …

Plot summary

City gents are dropping dead of sudden heart attacks and someone’s making a killing on the market and of the market. Steed poses as a millionaire and Emma a new investor and they discover all the victims were using a paging device promoted by the banker, Boardman. Steed is attacked after they dine with the Boardmans but he’s innocent — his wife and business partner are the real villains.
A last desperate fight in the bank’s cellars leads to the defeat of the criminals and the Avengers emerge with some of the spoils, eagerly consumed in the taxi home.

show full synopsis

show plot summary

Prologue

In a bustling City bar where the waiters dress like Bank couriers, complete with top hats, three businessmen gather to discuss equities. Henry Boardman (Clifford Evans) is last to arrive and Ben Jago (Anthony Newlands), who is talking to Norman Tod-Hunter (Michael Barrington), calls over the waiter (Edward Cast). The ‘pen’ in Tod-Hunter’s pocket beeps, and he announces he and Henry are late for a board meeting — Henry put him onto the company that makes the ‘portable secretary’ pocket beeper.

The shifty-looking Fitch (John Carson) watches them from the bar and takes an identical beeper from his pocket. He deliberately bumps into Tod-Hunter as they pass and switches the beeper for Tod-Hunter’s. A while later, Tod-Hunter is delivering his report to the board when Fitch dials his beeper’s number, and he collapses mid-sentence, stone dead.

Act 1

John Steed (Patrick Macnee) summons Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) to the scene of Tod-Hunter’s demise. Opening a pocket watch he says Tod-Hunter died exactly two hours ago; Emma admires the watch which Steed says was a legacy from an uncle.

EMMA: Pity it’s dented.
STEED: Battle of the Somme, 1916.
EMMA: German bullet?
STEED: Canadian mule!

He tells her Tod-Hunter was the latest of six indispensable chairmen, whose companies’ share prices were slashed when they suddenly died. Emma suggests it would make the companies easy to take over but Steed says they weren’t — and Henry Boardman was banker to every one.

Steed visits Henry Boardman (Clifford Evans), saying he wants business to the tune of £2,000,000. Boardman is on the point of denying the request, thinking he wants a loan, and is surprised when Steed explains he wants to deposit — he is posing as the trustee of an Armed Forces trust fund, seeking a merchant bank with which to invest.

Steed asks if he used to have a Canaletto painting in his office, claiming Tod-Hunter told him about it but Boardman betrays no tremor of guilt at the mention of Tod-Hunter, and introduces him to his partner, John Harvey (Peter Bowles). Harvey asks if Steed knew Tod-Hunter and is alarmed when Steed notes that they’ve lost six clients in a year.

Boardman’s butler, Quinn (Alan Chuntz), returns with sherry and biscuits to break the ice, and Harvey laughs at their antiquated habits.1 Boardman recommends Steed visit their broker, Frederick Yuill, and invites him to dinner that Thursday.

Emma visits the funeral parlour that prepared Tod-Hunter, passing Fitch on the way in. She speaks to the undertaker, Macombie (Norman Chappell), who tells her there was nothing odd about Tod-Hunter, except maybe a slight bruise over the heart.2 He fishes out Tod-Hunter’s personal effects — and discovers the beeper which had been clipped to his breast pocket has gone missing, and Mrs. Peel realises it would have been in line with the heart.

Steed visits Frederick Yuill (Gerald Sim), an aggressive broker and keen fisherman, who explains the concept of a put option to him — where you can make a profit when shares fall in value. Steed insinuates it would be very profitable if you could foresee or influence future events.

FREDERICK YUILL: That would be a different thing entirely. What was the name of the company your friend dabbled in?
STEED: Tod-Hunters. It was quite a killing.3 That is the correct term, isn’t it?

Yuill stares at him and suggests he take up fishing, then his butler, Myers, appears with the obligatory sherry and biscuits. Yuill asks Suzanne to bring in some portfolio options for Steed and she tells him Ben Jago is on the line. Yuill excuses himself to take the call and Suzanne (Tina Packer) brings Steed the portfolios. He glances at them — and her more so4 — then takes a punt and asks about Ben Jago’s luck with put options. Tina confesses it is uncanny, and mentions Jago had a put option on 100,000 shares of Tod-Hunter & Co.

Steed visits the City bar and meets Jago, who is at a table with Mrs. Boardman (Jan Holden) — who hurriedly leaves before Jago can introduce her. Steed says they have the same broker and Jago tells him there are no good rules for investing and a lot of fiddling goes on.

STEED: Oh, if there’s a fiddle going on, I’m a man who likes to be in on it.
JAGO: You must remember even Nero got his fingers burned. Goodbye, Mr. Steed.

Mrs. Peel visits Warner’s Answering Service where the owner, J.P. Warner (John Bailey), tells her they’re limited to the City of London at present, but have 5,000 “bleeps” in service. Fitch is repairing a fuse box and he and Mrs. Peel recognise each other from earlier. She asks who Fitch is and is told he’s the resident mechanical genius, a back-room boffin during the war. Warner also reveals that they never retrieved Tod-Hunter’s bleep.

Act 2

On Thursday evening, Steed arrives at Boardman’s penthouse flat and politely greets Mrs. Boardman without revealing they had previously met. Harvey wanders in with another new client of theirs, a Mrs. Peel from Barbados. Steed is marvelling at her soft white skin which Mrs. Peel explains away by saying it’s the rainy season when Mrs. Boardman interrupts them, reminding Henry to make a phone call.

Yuill meanwhile is dressing for dinner — he has just fastened his waistcoat when he realises there’s a bleep in the pocket. He frantically tries to undo the buttons but too late — someone rings his number and he collapses when it bleeps.

Boardman returns from making a call, indicates the empty seat at his coin-shaped dinner table5 and apologises, saying Yuill is a great broker but his social skills are terrible. Harvey invites them both to a wine-tasting in the bank cellars the following Tuesday, then Steed takes his leave. He offers Mrs. Peel a lift but Henry stops him, saying he can’t deprive them of Mrs. Peel’s company.

In the basement car park, Steed is attacked by two men on motorbikes. He throws his cape over one, causing him to crash and the other flees when Steed opens fire with his revolver.

Mrs. Peel arrives just as Steed discovers the fallen rider is Myers, Yuill’s butler. Steed is suspicious of the attempt to keep them from leaving together. They visit Yuill, finding him dead in his apartment with his waistcoat pocket torn out. Steed notes that Boardman made a phone call before dinner.

Steed meets a retired general (Michael Trubshawe) at the wine-tasting while Harvey is probing Mrs. Peel, trying to find a chink in her Barbados cover. He’s called away and Steed approaches.

STEED: (SMIRKING) Agreeable, well-rounded. A little on the flinty side.
(EMMA LOOKS AT HIM STERNLY)
STEED: (HOLDS OUT A GLASS) Pouilly Blanc Fumé, try it… Well?
EMMA: Venerable, devious, a little ambivalent.
STEED: Pouilly Blanc Fumé??
EMMA: No, Boardman’s. I get the feeling we’re not trusted around here. You know what I mean?

Boardman and Harvey are waiting for Steed with a glass on a silver tray — he accepts the challenge but counters it by placing another glass for Boardman to taste, and a duel begins. Both men retire ten paces then turn; it is Boardman who tastes first. He correctly guesses Latour ’59,6 leaving Steed with his altogether more difficult wine.

At first sip, he suggests it’s either a 1965 Algerian red or a very old Premier Cru. Mulling it over,7 he declares it to be a pre-1914 Château Lafitte-Rothschild; finally he astonishes Boardman:

STEED: 190 … 8
(HARVEY SMILES)
STEED (cont.): … would not be the year. 1909.
(BOARDMAN RAISES HIS EYEBROWS)
STEED (cont.): From the northern end of the vineyard.
(BOARDMAN IS SO ASTONISHED HIS MONOCLE DROPS FROM HIS EYE)

After the tasting, Fitch reviews film of Steed in the vaults and notes his pocket watch, then starts tinkering with a near duplicate of it…

Mrs. Peel meanwhile discusses investments with Harvey; they’re interrupted when Warner8 delivers a box of bleeps, which Harvey shows to the intrigued Mrs. Peel. Boardman asks them to join him for tea and after they leave Mrs. Boardman enters and removes Fitch’s replica watch from its hiding place in the box.

Mrs. Boardman then visits Steed to thank him for his tact, and he allows her to switch the watches, knowing she’s up to something, by disappearing briefly into his bedroom.

Mrs. Peel meanwhile enters Fitch’s workshop which is full of ticking clocks and finds the photos of her and Steed but is discovered by Fitch and held at gunpoint. Fitch tells her he will stop a clock at the exact time of Steed’s death — when he next opens his watch.

FITCH: One can rule time, you know. And that allotted to Steed is limited… strictly limited.

He indicates other clocks he stopped for Yuill and Tod-Hunter and Emma asks about the other five chairmen. Fitch grins and says he doesn’t have much opportunity in peace-time, the war was much more exciting, eight Panzer officers in one night. He unzips part of her catsuit and touches her milky breast,9 declaring he’s never killed a woman before and would hate to perforate that skin, his gift to her is a death by scientific tenderness.

Steed is waiting for her in the bar and becoming impatient, he takes his watch from his pocket, but Billy tells him the time as he scurries by. Steed rises from his seat when a tall woman enters, but he realises it’s not Emma and sinks back down, tapping his watch…

Act 3

Mrs. Boardman returns home to find Steed in her sitting room, dangling his watch ostentatiously from its chain. He asks when Henry will return and she says nine or ten. Steed says it must be nearly ten already and she lunges at him when he goes to open the watch; Steed grins evilly, knowing he has forced her to expose her guilt.

Later, he goes to Fitch’s workshop and asks Fitch to fix the watch, claiming the button is stuck and it won’t open. He then terrorises the man by tapping it on the table then tries to force the button, making Fitch try to take cover in a corner. The watch opens and plays a tune and Fitch realises he’s been tricked but Steed grabs Fitch’s pistol before he can run back to it. Mrs. Peel’s muffled voice come from a cupboard and he frees her.

Fitch suddenly grabs a bicycle-pump — actually a bicycle-pump gun he invented that was used by the Maquis10 during the war — and tells Steed to put the pistol down carefully. As he does so, Steed notices a cuckoo clock is about to chime and fools Fitch into thinking help has come then knocks him flying into an armchair when he turns around. Fitch is killed when his improvised gun goes off. Steed examines one of the bleeps that Fitch had been looking at and surprises Mrs. Peel when a hidden button causes a capillary needle to extend out of the inner side. She tells him she saw some others at Boardman’s bank and the Avengers depart with the bleeps.

STEED: First choose the pigeons and…
EMMA: Then put the cat amongst them.

Across the City, the suspects find bleeps in their breast pockets — Warner is unconcerned, Boardman confused, Harvey quite startled and suspicious, and Jago positively alarmed.

Jago goes to Boardman’s bank with a gun, intending to kill Harvey, thinking he has been double-crossed, but finds Boardman at Harvey’s desk, finally aware of the illegal activities. Boardman reveals that Ruth has confessed. Crestfallen, Jago says he wanted to cut him in but Harvey said he had too many scruples.

HENRY: What’s a few scruples? You can put that pea-shooter away. I’ll call the police.
JAGO: Oh no, don’t.
HENRY: Ben … today I lost a partner … and a wife. Now you can’t frighten me.

Jago shoots him and runs away; Mrs. Peel runs is seconds later and rushes to check on Boardman.11 Boardman just has a shoulder wound and tells her Harvey is in the cellar.

Downstairs, Jago waves his gun at Harvey then discovers they were both given bleeps. Jago tells Harvey’s what’s happened then Steed appears when Quinn moves a barrel.12 Harvey offers Steed a bribe of £200,00013 but he smiles that it’s a little too late, Mrs. Peel will have already gone to the authorities.

HARVEY: Steady. I do admire your style, Steed. Mrs. Peel’s been taken care of.
STEED: Has she? And has Fitch brought another clock to commemorate the event?

The villains are perturbed that he knows such a thing. Mrs. Peel then drops a crate on Jago and Steed escapes into the dusty rows of bottles. Harvey stalks them through the racks until Mrs. Peel leaps down on him, causing him to drop the revolver and he attempts to throttle her. Steed comes to her rescue, smashing a wine bottle over Harvey’s head.

Then they see Quinn approaching, easily carrying a barrel over his head. Steed rushes for Jago’s dropped revolver but is too late, the men collide and Quinn’s barrel crashes through a crate behind Steed. They trade blows and Quinn is defeated when Mrs. Peel steps up and gives him a rabbit punch, leaving the Avengers to look around for a drink to celebrate… a Grand Marque champagne14 seems to fit the bill.

Harvey however has regained consciousness and drags himself across the floor to the gun and shoots at them. Steed counters by firing the cork of the champagne bottle at him, finally knocking him out for good.15

Epilogue

Steed and Emma depart the bank in a cab with several crates of liberated spoils, and conduct an impromptu wine tasting contest. Steed is astonished when Mrs. Peel accurately identifies an obscure vintage. “Fantastic, Mrs. Peel”, he enthuses, “nose or palate?”. "Uh uh", she replies, “eyes, I read the label!”


  1. You can almost see a glimmer of Peter’s character in Escape in Time in this exchange, as he waxes nostalgic over “the trappings of a bygone age”.
  2. Classic Norman Chappell, fussing about mundane things and fishing his kettle and sandwiches out of a coffin as he chats to Mrs. Peel, providing some light comic relief.
  3. To emphasise the insinuation, the director does a three-step zoom in on a small fish in a stuffed pike’s mouth in one of Yuill’s display cases.
  4. Gazing at her and repeating “round figures”.
  5. There is a superb overhead shot of the table, an oversized reproduction of a Charles II coin.
  6. Harvey misquotes Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 2 Scene 3, declaring, “A hit, a palpable hit”. This is highly appropriate as the scene is a fencing match with a poisoned blade, then a poisoned pearl in wine, and continues with the lines:
    Stay, give me drink. Hamlet, this pearl is thine, Here’s to thy health! Give him the cup.
  7. Don Leaver leaps at the chance to do a Peter Hammond shot and films a close-up of Steed with the glass, with Mrs. Peel’s face see distorted through the wine glass. There must have been a producer’s directive to use paticular filters for close-ups because, in common with other episodes from the early part of Series 4, close-ups of Emma always have star highlights in her eyes — but not in Steed’s!
  8. John Bailey is so often cast as a villain you immediately suspect him with being involved but he’s red herring in this episode.
  9. Mrs. Peel is once again fetishised and threatened with sexual violence. Later the bondage is minor, just being a rope around the wrists but she is wearing black leather.
  10. The maquisards were French and Belgian Resistance fighters during World War II, mostly residing in mountainous, wooded areas known as maquis, from a Corsican term.
  11. The running out and in uses over-cranked footage, resulting in sped up action.
  12. Steed tells Harvey that he recognised Quinn as one of the “trick cyclists” but it was in fact Jeff Silk doing that stunt.
  13. Harvey offers £200,000 in a Zurich bank; an extraordinary sum, worth £4,850,000 in 2024 terms and about 15-20 years’ wages at the time.
  14. Veuve Cliquot vintage, which makes Steed remark, “Ah! The best."
  15. Not only is it hilariously, utterly ridiculous that he could hit him at such a distance with a champagne cork, but the cork hitting him is accompanied by a richocheting bullet sound effect.

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