• title card: white all caps text reading ‘SILENT DUST’ with faint outline superimposed on a close-up of the head of a scarecrow wearing a bowler hat
  • A soldier wearing a hazardous material suit sprays the wheels and undercarriage of a Land-Rover to prevent the spread of contamination
  • Roy Baker does Peter Hammond : Emma peers through Quince’s broken spectacles
  • Steed’s surreal dream sequence: Mrs. Peel plays an Old West doctor, extracting an enormous bullet from his wound
  • A unenthusiastic protester waves anti blood sports placards outside the pub where the Hunt is mustering
  • Steed ducks under a horse to evade the murderous lunge of Croft’s sickle
  • Steed displays superb horsemanship as he pivots his steed, brandishing a discarded placard as a weapon
  • Steed and Emma depart in a hot air balloon; she wears Victorian-inspired clothing to match the conveyance

Series 4 — Episode 14
Silent Dust

by Roger Marshall
Directed by Roy Baker

Production No E.64.10.13
Production completed: July 2 1965. First transmission: December 28 1965.

TV Times summary

In which Steed watches birds — and Emma goes hunting …

Plot summary

All the birds start dying in a remote part of Cornwall, and Steed is sent to investigate as the ministry suspects a link to a failed fertiliser. They find a link between the daughter of the fertiliser inventor and a local squire, Omrod, who has stockpiled the deadly chemical and plans to hold the country to ransom, destroying county after county until his demands are met. In with his on the plot are some local landholders who are sick of the meagre life of a farmer.
After a rollicking cross-country hunt — with Steed and Mrs. Peel as the quarry — the villains are dispatched when hunted become the hunters, and England can rest easy.
The Avengers depart by hot-air balloon.

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show plot summary


The tranquil countryside is teeming with wildlife — crows, wrens, finches, robins, grebes and swallows. A frightening scarecrow guards some ruined farm buildings and under his withering gaze smaller birds begin to fall from the skies, their bodies covering the ground while ducks, bats and pigeons fly away in huge flocks.1

Act 1

John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) are punting on a river — well, she’s punting while he rests under a parasol. He pulls a bottle of rosé out of the river and over a glass of wine he tells her the area used to be full of martlets but now there are none2 — furthermore, a man perched in a tree is watching them with binoculars.

He heads off for London while Emma confronts the man, who has leapt from his tree. He introduces himself as Quince (Aubrey Morris) and tells her he was looking for a black-capped petrel — which Emma knows hasn’t been sighted in England for a hundred years. He grins and admits it was 18503 then, having established they both know about birds,4 continues:

QUINCE: I can ask you something you don’t know.
QUINCE: Where have all the martlets gone?

As they cross the fields, he tells her many other species are diminished. They’re interrupted by a gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors (Conrad Phillips),5 who warns Quince he’s been caught trespassing before. Mrs. Peel takes responsibility and then Mellors’ master, Peter Omrod (William Franklyn), arrives.

Mrs. Peel introduces herself as being from the British Trust for Ornithology, looking for martlets. Omrod is surprised and asks what’s so special about them then tries to act casually when told there aren’t any.

OMROD: If you can’t hunt it or shoot it I’m not interested.
OMROD: We’ll argue that out one day, Mrs. Peel.

However, taken by her natural beauty, he invites her to come riding with him, saying he has a middleweight hunter that would suit her. Omrod rides back to his estate and asks Juggins (Jack Watson) if he’s on for tomorrow night’s hunt meeting.

JUGGINS: Slaughter a bullock yesterday, I’ll drop the ribs in.
OMROD: Bloodthirsty villain.
JUGGINS: Lucky for you I am, isn’t it!

Steed meanwhile is riding in a limousine with a sneezing government minister (Hilary Wontner) who tells him the disappearance of martlets was how it all began last time. They drive to Manderley, a quarantined village where they have to wear galoshes and vehicles leaving the area have to be decontaminated.

The minister shows him a barren field with dead trees and tells him about “Silent Dust”, an experimental fertilizer that went wrong, killing everything. Steed plucks a dry twig from a nearby tree which promptly falls over and crashes to the ground.7

MINISTER: Kill the earthworm, Steed, and ultimately you kill everything. Soil … birds … animals … Man!

The Minister tells Steed that Manderley has been barren for nearly ten years and no-one can tell if it will recover. He adds Silent Dust has its own early warning system — all the birds disappear!

Steeds visits Fellows Fertilizers where Sir Manfred Fellows (Charles Lloyd Pack) is testing a new batch for scent. He tells Steed that if it smells like peaches, people don’t think it works — they had a winner last year that smelled like old socks.

He’s shocked when Steed asks him about Silent Dust and doesn’t want to discuss it at all but finally tells him the Silent Dust was destroyed and the chemist who developed it, Prendergast, was sacked. As Steed leaves to check the personnel files, Fellows tells him Prendergast had a daughter called Clare.

Clare Prendergast (Isobel Black) is painting a restless subject’s portrait when Steed arrives to talk to her. She indicates the casket holding her father’s ashes when Steed asks to speak with him; he died in the cold snap at the end of March, a broken and humiliated man. She asks to be left in peace and Steed departs.

Clare returns outside, huffing about Steed wanting to “help father” and her subject asks for Steed’s name — it’s Omrod!

Quince trots up to the Stirrup Cup Inn, finding Mrs. Peel talking to Croft (Norman Bird). Croft is angry and complains at length about not receiving royalties for a popular rose hybrid he made which now festoons the country. He suddenly seems quite mad and dangerous and she’s worried — but seconds later he casually notices Quince trying to get her attention.

Quince takes her outside and tells he he’s found something — she’s to meet him in the spinney near where they first met at 10 that night, he will use a bird call so she can find him — but Mellors is watching them menacingly from the door of the pub.

Mrs. Peel hears his bird call at the appointed hour but burly tattooed hands throttle him before she reaches the spot and she finds nothing but Quince’s broken spectacles.8

Act 2

Emma tells Steed in the pub the next day about Quince’s disappearance, saying he was frightened off by the gamekeeper Mellors.

STEED: Mellors?? Not the gamekeeper… ?5

Steed asks her to investigate Prendergast’s background while he — spotting Miss Beryl Snow (Joanna Wake) entering — will see what he can pick up.

He sidles over and hears Miss Snow’s conversation with Ponsford (Graham Ashley), the innkeeper, complaining of a horse sweating, biting its stomach and wanting to lie down. Putting on an upper class accent to match hers, he interrupts.

STEED: Raving drunk — if it’s a man.
But if it’s a horse — sounds like colic.

He makes her laugh and she’s impressed with his knowledge of horses and, looking him up and down, his looks. Before he can buy her a drink she’s called away by Omrod and Croft for a meeting.

Ponsford explains Omrod is Master of Hounds and they’re all on the committee. Omrod is considered new to the area, having lived there for fourteen years whereas the Snows have been there for centuries; the Snows lost all their money recently when their “soil turned sour”.

Juggins is late to the hunt meeting, swaggering in and disgusting Beryl by saying he was slitting a sow’s throat, the vicar heard the squealing three miles away. They discuss the hunt: the hounds are ready and they have clearance from the farmers. Omrod annoys Juggins by insinuating he may invite one or two guests to the hunt.

Mrs. Peel meanwhile visits Howard (Robert Dorning) at Fellows Fertilizers. He tells her Prendergast worked alone and was a star well outside his orbit. She sees Omrod in a photograph of an Annual General Conference and Howard tells her Omrod is an agricultural adviser to the company — a farmer who tries out experimental products.

Omrod’s meeting has taken a sinister turn — he proposes they demand £40,000,000,9 paid into a Zurich bank and split between them. Juggins first wonders if it’s enough, then wonders if they’ll pay up.

OMROD: They will. After we’ve destroyed Dorset — and we’ll go on destroying — county by county — until they do pay!
(bright — intense)
We’ll destroy the whole country if need be!

Steed saunters toward the ruined farm buildings and is confronted by Mellors, who threatens him with a shotgun, saying he nearly mistook him for a poacher — and he has orders to shoot poachers.

Steed departs then leaps a hedge and doubles back. He enters the buildings, finding a brand-new lock on a cupboard and a trail of powder on the floor. He puts some in an envelope10 and emerges, skirting around some barrels full of dead birds. Mellors comes around the corner behind him and shoots, winging him, and Steed takes to the cover of the hedgerow, trapping his foot in a gin-trap.11 He lies in quiet agony, pressed up against a tree while Mellors searches for him. After he’s gone, Steed prises the trap open, releasing his foot, and passes out.

That night, Mrs. Peel learns Steed hasn’t been seen since lunchtime and is about to go when Omrod tries to make her accept the invitation to ride with him.

OMROD: Ever done any hunting, Mrs. Peel?
EMMA: A little.
OMROD: Fascinating! Pit your wits against a master of craftiness and deception.

Emma excuses herself to go and find Steed; the innkeeper tells Omrod “her boyfriend let her down” and mentions Steed’s name, which makes Omrod suspicious.

Emma visits the farm buildings and forces opening the locked cupboard, finding Quince’s body under a pile of apples inside — as she closes the cupboard, Steed staggers in.12

Steed has an hallucination, imagining himself a Wild West sheriff being operated on by Mrs. Peel — transformed into a moustached, moonshine-swilling medic — as she removes the shot from his wounds.

When he wakes he tells her he prefers her clean-shaven, prompting her to ask him if he’s alright. He tells her Mellor shot him with a 12 bore and she then fills him in on what she’s discovered about Omrod:

EMMA: Omrod was an adviser with Fellows Fertilizers. He holds a pilot’s licence and he’s an expert crop sprayer.
STEED: Don’t confuse me with the facts!

Declaring him well enough, she leaves him to visit Clare; he hands her the sample of dust and asks her to take it to the analyst.

Mrs. Peel strips for Clare, posing as she sculpts her face. When they take a break, she pokes about the artworks in the studio and asks Clare why she chose this particular village. Clare tells her when her father lost his job, he lost all his friends, except one, who brought them there. Mrs. Peel picks up a painting and is told it’s of that one true friend — Omrod!13

Act 3

Steed visits Omrod unannounced, boldly striding through his French doors while Omrod is checking the sights of a shotgun, and tells him about Mellors shooting him, his arm in a sling as proof. He goes on to enquire about local prospects, claiming he plans to buy land to farm in the area and Omrod candid tells him to forget it, the soil is too poor.

Steed grins as he sees his opportunity and reveals he knows Omrod has been buying large quantities of phosphates, then waltzes out the doors. The other conspirators enter from the interior door and Omrod tells them Steed has become a problem, adding that he claims to want to buy some land.

JUGGINS: I’ll give him some free — for nothing!
This surprises everyone.
MISS SNOW: You will?
JUGGINS: Six feet of it!

Juggins suggest a pole-axing party but Croft is against the idea — tomorrow they destroy Dorset and the next day deliver their ultimatum to the Prime Minister; they can’t take risks now. Omrod overrules him and Croft admits he’s not sure about Mrs. Peel either, they know she had been quizzing Clare. They resolve to have a double hunting accident and plan a course across some of the more treacherous and secluded farmland, named Devil’s Dyke.

Steed, no longer with his arm in a sling,14 finds Mrs. Peel at the inn, dressed for riding,15 and she tells him the dust was highly concentrated — a sackful could destroy 40 miles of land. They set out; Omrod accompanying Mrs. Peel while Miss Snow delays Steed, asking him to help her with her mount.

MISS SNOW: Mr. Steed, I wonder if you could help me … It’s my horse …
STEED: Anything for you, my dear. What’s wrong with it?
MISS SNOW: Can’t keep him away from the trough — just seems to want to keep on drinking all the time.
STEED: Oh dear… once had an auntie like that!

Steed is ambushed by Croft but he easily gains the upper hand while Miss Snow rejoins the main party. Mrs. Peel pursues her across the fields, leaping at her from her horse to overcome her.

Meanwhile Omrod and Juggins decamp to prepare the dust and Mrs. Peel later enters the stable, hidden by Miss Snow’s horse which she is leading in. She overhears that they mean to destroy Dorset and points a gun at them, thanking them for the warning, but is surprised by Mellors who whacks her revolver away with a cudgel. She defeats Mellors and escapes, chased by Juggins and Omrod as though she were the vixen in the hunt. Omrod blows “Gone Away” and they set off in pursuit.

They chase her across the fields, Omrod blowing “Gone Away” again after he finds Mrs. Peel boots, which she had discarded to make running easier. Omrod catches up to her but she leaps over a barbed wire fence while Omrod is throw by his horse which rightly shies at the barbed wire.

Omrod gets to his feet and draws a revolver but she quickly kicks it away then throws him to the ground with a karate move. She runs again but is caught up to by Juggins who traps her against a fallen tree.

Steed arrives to find her backed against the tree, being whipped by Juggins. He rides to her rescue and clobbers the oaf with a placard left behind by an anti blood sports protester.


The Avengers leave the village in a hot air balloon, Steed assuring Mrs. Peel he knows how to control it — you throw ballast overboard. Mrs. Peel asks what they do when they run out of ballast and Steed looks slightly baffled as they soar into the sky.

  1. We first see the bats as birds start to fall from the sky, as a Draculean presentiment of impending doom.
  2. ‘Martlet’ is an archaic word for a Martin but is now used only in heraldic terms, meaning a mythical bird without feet as a symbol of hard work and determination, so there would definitely be none left. Steed quotes from Shakespeare:
     ˘    /   ˘    /   ˘    /   ˘
    the TEM-ple-HAUNT-ing MART-let
    the bard you know.
    Mrs. Peel correctly identifies this as Banquo’s line from Macbeth, Act I, Scene VI (line 4).
  3. The rare Caribbean black-capped petrel was indeed found “exhausted and disoriented in the middle of Norfolk in 1850”.
    It’s no longer the last sighting though — a dead black-capped petrel was found on the tide-line of a Yorkshire beach in 1984, nearly 20 years after this episode was made.
  4. The original script has Emma show off a bit but those lines are cut, perhaps in the final editing.
  5. Oliver Mellors was the gamekeeper central to the plot of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and the character here has the same name and occupation.
    Privately published in 1928 but banned in unexpurgated commercial editions in the UK until Penguin Books published it in paperback in 1960 and was prosecuted by the government in the trial Regina v Penguin Books Ltd. “Penguin Books was prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, 1959 at the Old Bailey in London from 20 October to 2 November 1960.” (dedication in the 1961 second edition, which went on to thank the jurors for returning a not guilty verdict).
  6. The original script has her rightly say “Shame on you”. I suspect the producers changed this line to not alienate rural audiences who supported fox hunting.
  7. A rare comic touch with Steed incredulous at the tree falling so easily. This scene at Manderley shows that Roger Marshall’s script was somewhat inspired by Rachel Carson’s book "Silent Spring" (Houghton Mifflin, 1962), about the environmental dangers of pesticides, particularly to birds. The book was a sensation and lead to the banning of DDT.
  8. Roy Baker ends Act I with an homage to Peter Hammond, Mrs. Peel’s face distorted and reflected through Quince’s broken spectacles. Ray Austin did a similar thing in All Done with Mirrors.
  9. £40,000,000 in 1965 is the equivalent of £648.108,505 in 2023, so they were each going to pocket £162,027,126 in today’s terms.
  10. Despite the Minister’s warnings at Manderley, Steed picks up the powder with his bare hand, then picks an apple up with the same hand and eats it.
  11. Traps like this were made illegal in 1958 so Mellors is using it illegally.
  12. The break between Acts 2 & 3 was originally here, but was moved to after Mrs. Peel discovers the painting of Omrod at Clare’s studio.
  13. The implication is that Clare has been used by Omrod and the other embittered landowners.
  14. While Steed briefly limps and has him arm in a sling after he is trated following his ecounter with Mellors, he’s right as rain the next day for the Hunt. There’s only so much realism you can have in The Avengers.
  15. When he sees her he remarks, “Do you ken Mrs. Peel!” in reference to the hunting song D’ye ken John Peel?.

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