• title card: white all caps text reading ‘MAN-EATER OF SURREY GREEN’ outlined in black and superimposed on a close-up of Carter, focusing on his hearing aid
  • Steed and Emma unclover the skeleton in the space capsule
  • Wing Commader Davies, Steed and Emma examine the dead alient plant
  • Mrs. Peel says ‘Cheers’ as she raises a pint
  • Lennox comes out of the woods and takes aim at Pearson with his shotgun, we can just see Pearson’s left shoulder on the right of the screen
  • A close up of cells from the plant through Dr. Sheldon’s microscope
  • Mrs. Peel, possessed by the alien plant, fights Steed in the greenhouse
  • Mrs. Peel sits atop the hay cart wearing Steed’s bowler hat with a dandelion in the band

Series 4 — Episode 11
Man-eater of Surrey Green

by Philip Levene
Directed by Sidney Hayers

Production No E.64.10.12
Production completed: June 11 1965. First transmission: December 7 1965.

TV Times summary

In which Steed kills a climber — and Emma becomes a vegetable …

Plot summary

All over England, leading botanists are going missing. When the latest is a personal friend of Mrs. Peel, the Avengers step in to investigate. All clues point towards Surrey Green, and the botanist Sir Lyle Peterson, but everyone is doing their work like mindless zombies.
They discover a crashed spacecraft, its astronaut still inside, and a large space-borne seedpod. Dr. Sheldon declares it’s a creeper with brain tissue and a digestive tract that needs chemicals only found in humans.
They rush to Surrey Green with extremely potent herbicide and deaf-aids to protect against the plant’s hypnotic influence. Mrs. Peel loses her deaf-aid in a tussle and attacks Steed, but a clash of heads leaves her unconscious. Steed uses the weed killer and the beast is defeated, so The Avengers depart on the back of a hay cart.

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Prologue

Laura Burford (Gillian Lewis) runs out to the greenhouse to show Alan Carter (William Job) she’s managed to germinate an Amnesis chloris1 seed — “the first in captivity”. She has to shout and tap his arm, he has a deaf-aid which he leaves turned down. He gives a kiss and she skips off, but halfway back to the house she stops with a strange look on her face, drops the precious pot heedlessly to the ground and strides through some prized seedlings towards a car that awaits her.

Act 1

John Steed (Patrick Macnee) shows Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) his latest endeavour — home-grown button-hole flowers to cut out the middle man. He hands her a rose but she smells a rat and asks what nasty situation he has in store for her this time.

Steed confesses he’s brought her in to investigate some missing horticulturalists and reveals the latest one to go missing is her old friend, Laura Burford. Laura is an expert in plant diseases, all the missing botanists are experts is different aspects of horticulture, and all went missing in a small area of Surrey; they were notified by Alan Carter, who had got engaged to Laura a couple of weeks ago.

They visit Carter,2 who confesses he turns his deaf-aid down when concentrating, but can’t explain the path of destruction she carved when she left. He excuses himself as he has to chair a Horticultural Society meeting — the president, Sir Lyle Petersen, has failed to show for the first time in ten years. Mrs. Peel is struck by the co-incidence — Petersen’s house is in the middle of the area from which the botanists have gone missing!

Steed visits Petersen’s ark of exotic plants, posing as a member of the Tree Preservation Society, the door answered by Lennox (John G. Heller), the chauffeur who collected Laura earlier. He is asked to wait in a strange anteroom decorated with creepers climbing over store mannequins.

Steed peers through the doors and sees the missing scientists leaving Petersen’s office then Sir Lyle Petersen (Derek Farr) comes to greet him.

SIR LYLE: Do you, uh, drink brandy, Mr. Steed?
STEED: If you mean am I accustomed to drinking brandy, Sir Lyle, the answer is yes. If you mean would I like one now, the answer is also yes.

Petersen is a genial, if evasive, host, but stumbles over his words when he sees Steed toy with his model oil rig. He surprises Steed by suggesting that plants can feel and think then shows him his Venus Fly Traps to which he feeds imported insects.3

Steed is a bit repulsed by the feeding of the plants and feels a little faint, closing his eyes briefly.4 To shake it off, he strides across the room and asks about some unusually complex computer equipment and the oil rig model. Steed then says he though he heard Laura Burford and Doctor Connelly. Petersen laughs — the cat’s out of the bag, he has been rather over-enthusiastically recruiting the best people for some research into flowering shrubs.

Laura is sent for and she confesses Alan must be upset but she couldn’t refuse the offer — although when pressed appears to have no idea what the job actually is, and acquiesces to Petersen’s suggestion of what the project entails.

Steed departs, spotting a full-sized oil rig in the garden and when he opens a crate of rig gear Petersen somehow know and calls Lennox, who places a nasty cactus under Steed’s travelling rug. Luckily, Steed spots the lump as he climbs into the Bentley and uncovers the cactus before getting in.

When he returns to town, Steed holds the offending cactus at arm’s length out to Mrs. Peel.

STEED: Imagine sitting on that!? If my car had a roof, I’d have gone through it!
EMMA: You’d have gone further than that. These barbs are deadly.
STEED: I wonder what we did to upset Sir Lyle.
EMMA: Oh I don’t know. Finding Laura and the others?

She takes it from him but drops it and it rolls under the sofa, looking suspiciously like a vibrator. While he fetches it back out gingerly, Mrs. Peel tells Steed that Petersen made two orders for drilling equipment, but cancelled the second at the last minute — a call comes in and she learns the second was bound for Moat Farm, Denby.

They drive out there and find the farm deserted and dilapidated, but Mrs. Peel notices a scorched pile of hay and Steed uncovers a crashed space capsule under it, the skeleton of its occupant still inside!

Act 2

The RAF is called in and Wing Commander Davies (David Hutcheson) tells them the craft was launched a year ago; it suffered a technical failure after launch, the pilot dying all alone, 5,000 miles up in the cosmos. It recently collided with something, which forced its re-entry. His men have just unearthed the object and hoist it on a block and tackle — an enormous alien plant with long papae.

A batty, deaf old botanist called Doctor Sheldon (Athene Seyler) is called in. She’s excited by the plant and thinks it’s a member of the Compositae family — a dandelion weighing half a hundredweight.5

STEED: Dispersed on the wind. Where does that little beggar come from?
EMMA: Mars.
STEED: Mars??
EMMA: Mmm, or even the Moon. Recent photographs show whole areas of vegetation.6

Commander Davies tells them the Air Ministry recorded a meteorite on the 4th of last month in the area, undoubtedly the spacecraft re-entering. Steed is struck by the coincidence — that’s the day Knight, Connelly and Taylor disappeared — and Petersen has whatever landed behind barbed wire. Steed tells Mrs. Peel to see what the locals know while he revisits Carter.

Carter is astonished where Laura has turned up and tells Steed that Laura loathes Petersen and is diametrically opposed to all his theories. Steed assures him that she is there, along with Knight, Taylor and Connelly, developing a new flowering shrub. Carter insists it’s the wrong time of year for lifting or grafting shrubs. Steed concurs then suggest he call Laura, giving him Petersen’s number.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Peel goes to the pub in Surrey Green to talk to Petersen’s supplier, Joe Mercer (Joby Blanshard). The publican (Joe Ritchie) has to shout at him that she is there, as he is profoundly deaf. Mercer asks the publican to get Mrs. Peel a pint and tells her Petersen has almost cleared him out of polythene sheeting and fertiliser, 20 tons of fertiliser in the last month — his last load has just gone up there.

Bob Pearson (Donald Oliver) delivers the fertiliser and is disturbed by the zombie-like demeanour of Petersen’s labourers, so much so that he sneaks through the bushes to spy on them. He investigates the oil rig and discovers it’s a huge frame for a seedling to grow on — the plant under an expanse of polythene. Something alerts Lennox and he turns towards Pearson, who runs for his life as something seems to affect him also. He leaps back into the lorry and starts off, then suddenly becomes mesmerised and stops the truck. He gets down from the cab and calmly walks toward Lennox, who shoots him with a shotgun.

Back at the farm, Dr. Sheldon has made an important discovery.

DR. SHELDON: Commander Davies, Commander Davies, Come here! Come here! Now then take a look at that — go on — no, no focus it … focus it. Now then, what do you see?
DAVIES: It looks like a … a sponge!
DR. SHELDON: A sponge! Oh, this is unbelievable, history in the making! What you see there are cells, brain cells!
This thing has an embryonic brain — Oh what a disaster that it was damaged. Imagine a plant that could think … think!!

Carter meanwhile visits Steed and tells him that Petersen’s phone is never answered, ringing the number to prove it. He also counters Steed’s suggestion that Petersen has hired the finest experts in the field by conceding that Laura is smart but still has a lot to learn — and if he were Petersen he would have hired Sheldon instead of Connelly. Dr. Sheldon rings to tell Steed of her findings and while he takes her call Carter storms off to break into Petersen’s estate.

Carter sees Laura working behind the wire fence at the rig and calls to her but she ignores him. When he tries to climb the fence he’s electrified and killed; she approaches the fence but, overcome by a daze, passes him without a glance.7

Petersen is asking his experts for progress reports — Professor Taylor (Edwin Finn) says germination is satisfactory, expected at 1800; Professor Knight (Harry Shacklock) declares that the specified under-soil temperature is being maintained; Dr. Connelly (Ross Hutchinson) reports that all irrigation channels have been tested and are working normally; Laura woodenly reports that all pest-control preparations are on schedule.

Dr. Sheldon shows Mrs. Peel and Steed her slides and says she thinks the plant is a climber. If it grows at the same proportion as a bean, it would reach 200 times taller than the Empire State Building and have tendrils reaching for miles. If it seeded it would cover the Earth in a matter of weeks! She’s puzzled by the digestive system though — to germinate it would need tons of fertiliser and water, and intense heat. Davies hands her a lab report detailing traces of Hydrochrome Oxidase,8 the enzyme the plant needs to accelerate growth.

DR. SHELDON: On Earth there’s only one source of Hydrochrome Oxidase — man.
STEED: Man?!
DR. SHELDON: Yes. This was a man-eating plant. If it had germinated, it would have required us just as much as we require green vegetables … aah, it’s lucky there’s only one of them.

A worried look crosses the faces of Wing Commander Davies, Steed and Mrs. Peel…

At Petersen’s house, the plant germinates, and the labourers drop their tools to line up alongside the pit.

Act 3

Emma stands in Steed’s flat, completely mesmerised… then she yawns and snaps herself out of it.9 Steed returns and tells her Sheldon is collecting the herbicide. He suggests that the plant is influencing people — how else would Petersen have know what to order? He suggests the horticulturalists were “hand picked” by the plant but it was unable to influence Carter or Miss Sheldon because of their deaf-aids — the electronic modulation may have blocked the nefarious wavelengths. He gives her a deaf-aid for protection and they fool around, pretending to be deaf and shouting into them.10

STEED: Yeah well don’t lose it, will you?
EMMA: Why not? The plant’s only man-eating!

Back at Petersen’s estate, the plant’s creepers start to rise up under the polythene. Petersen, being controlled, orders the temperature be raised to maximum and creepers start poking out from the polythene, seeking out the men standing transfixed nearby.

SIR LYLE: Excellent! Excellent! My friends you’ve done well and I promise you your services will not go unrewarded. Your experience will prove invaluable. Have no fear… no fear. Protection will be afforded to you all when we have complete control.11

Steed joins Sheldon and Mrs. Peel carrying a container of herbicide and perches on the back of her Lotus as she drives for Petersen’s. When they reach Surrey Green, they find the village deserted, cars strewn around the streets.

Inside the pub they find it deserted12 except for one survivor, Joe Mercer, whose deaf-aid has saved him. Dr. Sheldon is suddenly overcome and starts staggering zombie-like towards the door. Mrs. Peel guesses her deaf-aid battery is flat, and quickly puts a spare one in her ear.

They walk to the estate, following the trail of objects dropped by the zombie villagers. Lennox suddenly run around a corner of the lane and shoots at them with his shotgun, causing them to run for cover. They evade him in the long grass and hear blood-curdling screams in the distance.

When they reach the house, Mrs. Peel picks up a shotgun on the driveway. They enter, followed by Lennox, who is killed by Mrs. Peel before he can aim, his shot going wide and damaging one of the mannequins. Tendrils start covering the glass roof and appear behind the glass doors leading to the control room. Miss Sheldon turns and gasps — a tendril has wrapped around Lennox’s body and is dragging him away. Fortunately, this clears the passage to the controls and they rush through to turn them off.

Emma stoops to pick up one of Laura’s shoes, gazing at it mournfully just as Petersen bursts in with a shotgun. He orders Steed away from the controls then Mrs. Peel, who had been hidden by the desk she was crouching behind, leaps on him and the gun is wrestled from his grasp. Steed quickly puts a deaf-aid in Petersen’s ear and he’s freed from the plant’s control.

Petersen is aghast — “it’s taken then all!” he cries, then adds it will seed in a matter of hours. Their only hope is a powerful herbicide — Emma goes to fetch it while Steed attacks the tendrils that have started to drag Miss Sheldon away. Emma has to fight her way back through more tendrils and a whiplash from one dashes the deaf-aid from her ear.

Miss Sheldon is rescued and Steed rushes to see what’s keeping Mrs. Peel, and finds her pouring the herbicide on the floor. He realises she’s now under the sway of the plant and fights her, trying to save the herbicide. She smashes the deaf-aid but is finally defeated when they butt heads and she’s knocked out.

Steed stands up, rubbing his head, and tells the others to grab the herbicide while he heads for the corridor. Miss Sheldon grabs it then Petersen urges them to hurry; Steed pours the herbicide on Mrs. Peel’s leather jacket and they take shelter in the corridor. A tendril creeps in and drags the prostrate form away, and we see the beleaguered humans behind half a mannequin. Miss Sheldon wonders if it will work, but work it does — the tendrils and leaves start shaking violently then fall still. Steed tentatively takes the deaf-aid from his ear then turns, enters the corridor and helps Mrs. Peel to her feet, too dazed to miss her leather jacket which had been used as bait.

EMMA (quietly, waking up): Oh, Steed… What happened to…?
STEED: Oh that? I’m a herbicidal maniac, didn’t you know?

Epilogue

The Avengers depart on the back of a hay cart, Steed envisaging a relaxing stroll through the Surrey Downs followed by tea with a friend who grows things — rose, daffodils, giant creepers… “What??” barks Mrs. Peel, and is relieved to hear its eating habits are strictly vegetarian.


  1. The species is fictional, and is signposting the forced amnesia that takes place through much of the episode.
  2. Mrs. Peel is surprisingly abrupt with Carter, almost accusatory.
  3. The plants are clearly artificial puppets and snap quickly at the insects,
  4. Sign-posting the malign influence that marks much of this episode, which we learn later is the alien plant.
  5. 1/2 cwt is 0.025 tons in imperial measures — 56 lbs for UK weights, which is 25.4 kg in metric measures. One hundredweight in the UK is (or was) 112 lb (8 stone) – 50.8kg.
  6. Diana Rigg looks like she’s in pain as she delivers this line… what was Philip Levene thinking when he wrote it? (It’s true that in June 1965 there had yet to be any close photos of Mars and some people thought the seasonal changes of patterns on the planet surface might have been plant life rather than dust storms.)
  7. Sidney Hayers frames a lovely shot showing the tower and one of Carter’s hands gripping the barbed wire, reminiscent of prison camp breakout scenes in World War II action films.
  8. Philip Levene seems to have invented this enzyme, basing its name on Cytochrome c Oxidase.
  9. It’s an odd shot — a slow, lingering pan up Mrs. Peel’s leather clad body in classic Sixties casual sexism, then Mrs. Peel standing stiffly, then turning away, as if bored. Is Hayers making a red herring of the plant’s malign influence affecting Mrs. Peel, as had happened with Steed at Petersen’s earlier? Is he also subverting the sexist male gaze of Sixties camerawork by making her show she’s bored with male attention?
  10. They do this again in The Hidden Tiger.
  11. This wording is reminsicent of that used by fascists encouraging their mobs to commit crimes.
  12. Much like in The Hour that Never Was.

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