• title card: white all caps text reading ‘A TOUCH OF BRIMSTONE’ outlined in black and superimposed on Cartney sitting in his armchair eating chocolates
  • Cartney, cowled and masked, stand on the right, in the catacombs. Winthrop stands behind him, similarly attired
  • Willy Frant fills Steed’s quart tankard from the pewter jug
  • Steed and Mrs. Peel, in period dress, survey the orgy; Steed gets a better look by peering through his eyeglass
  • Cartney reveals Emma as the Queen of Sin: black corset, gloves and underwear, a spiked dog collar, knee-high lace-up boots and a python
  • Steed fight Willy, who tries to gouge his eyes with the hooks on his prosthetic fingers
  • Mrs. Peel, wearing only a black corset and underwear, swings the chain attached to the collar around her neck as she fights Pierre in the catacombs
  • Steed quips about the passing ‘horseless carriage’ as Emma drives the stage coach away from Cartney’s house

Series 4 — Episode 21
A Touch of Brimstone

by Brian Clemens
Directed by James Hill

Production No E.64.10.21
Production completed: December 24 1965. First transmission: February 15 1966.

TV Times summary

In which Steed joins the Hellfire Club — and Emma becomes a Queen of Sin …

Plot summary

A wave of practical jokes is damaging Britain’s international standing and when a VIP is killed by one, the Avengers step up their hunt for the perpetrators.
Mrs. Peel discovers that Cartney, the chief suspect, runs a recreation of a Regency Hellfire Club and she witnesses an angry club member challenge Cartney over the killing; the next day, his body is fished from the river. Steed and Emma attend a debauched orgy at the Hellfire Club and notice a sedan chair filled with dynamite heading for the basement which is linked by tunnels to Parliament. Emma is drugged and dressed as a dominatrix, in corset and spiked collar, while Steed realises they have discovered a modern Guy Fawkes consipracy and duels with the club’s leading swordsman. Emma recovers and defeats the gang members in the basement, killing Cartney, while Steed imprisons the rest.
The Avengers depart in a four horse carriage.

show full synopsis

show plot summary

Prologue

The Honorable John Cleverly Cartney (Peter Wyngarde) pushes an armchair into his drawing room to watch a visiting diplomat, Boris Kartovski (Steve Plytas), give a speech on television. Kartovski lights a cigar and outlines the success he’s had in bringing East and West together and Cartney grins maliciously when the diplomat’s cigar explodes in his face.

Act 1

Some time later, John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) attend the Opera where the next prospective victim of a practical joke — a visiting Sheik (Paul Beradi) who is negotiating an oil treaty — is the guest of honour.

Steed tells her Kartovski climbed back over the wall and shut the door behind him,1 and the oil treaty is at risk — the jokes may be childish but they’re expensive for the country. Sure enough, the sheik’s seat collapses under him and he storms out — and Cartney is in the audience behind Steed’s shoulder, grinning.

Afterwards, Steed tells Emma that the oil treaty2 is lost and the Honorable John Cleverly Cartney is the only likely suspect; he’s is always in the vicinity of these incidents. Steed will tackle Cartney’s friend Lord Darcy and suggests she visit Cartney.

Cartney is playing his harpsichord when she arrives and, not looking round, thinks it is Lord Darcy who has arrived. He looks up with alacrity when she speaks and is immediately struck by her beauty.

EMMA: I’ve come to appeal to you, Mr. Cartney.
CARTNEY: You certainly do that.
EMMA (HUSKILY): A charity appeal, Mr. Cartney.

He offers her a drink and then a 500 guinea donation to her charity, which surprises her but she says nothing.

CARTNEY: A thousand. Your eyes have a remarkable depth. Will you dine with me tonight?
EMMA: A thousand guineas is most generous.3

She declines the date but demands the cheque, which he writes out — as he does so, she notices his diary has an entry for that afternoon: “4.30 Friendship”. Cartney hands her the cheque and tries again to entice her, this time suggesting they fly to Paris and have dinner at the George Cinque but she reiterates that she is busy.

Lord Darcy (Colin Jeavons) suddenly appears and Mrs. Peel see herself out. Darcy tells Cartney he “went to the jolly old place and did everything he said”. The sullen Willy Frant (Jeremy Young) enters and confirms all went as planned and Darcy excitedly looks forward to the joke they’ve planned.

Steed breaks into Darcy’s flat where his manservant, Horace (Robert Cawdron) is dusting and vacuuming. He pours himself a brandy while he searches, finding a Regency costume and a box of novelty rubber scissors in the cupboard then knocks Horace out and beats a hasty retreat when Horace discovers him.4

At Steed’s flat, they puzzle over the rubber scissors. Mrs. Peel tells Steed that she and Cartney got on rather well then tells him about the diary entry and they realise the opening of the Hall of Friendship that day will be the next target.

They race to the ceremony, watching the proceeding on Steed’s in-dash television set, Mrs. Peel jiggling the antenna to try to keep a signal.5 Before they can reach the Hall, the VIP is killed when his scissors contact the tape which has 5,000 volts running through it. Steed screeches to a halt and they sit, appalled by what just happened.

They’re not the only ones — Darcy returns home, shattered by the events and soaked to the skin after walking disconsolately in the rain, and is offered a cup of cocoa by Horace. He rings Cartney, who is lolling on a divan with Sara (Carol Cleveland) but Cartney refuses to see him — Cartney tells Darcy if he has a complaint to bring it up at appropriate time.

Darcy shrugs off Horace’s cocoa and says he’s going to his club; “Not that club, my club in town”, he rejoins when Horace offers to fetch his costume.

Cartney meanwhile frees himself from Sara’s embrace. She tries to make him stay and he sneers at her, saying when he says they do something, they do it, and threatens to kicks her with his boot.6

Steed finds Darcy at his club and presumes upon a fictitious past acquaintance to join him:

STEED: Lord Darcy isn’t it? .. of course it is … nice to see you again. You remember me, we met at that excruciating house party given by Lady (MUMBLES NAME) Six of her ladyship’s corgies savaged Sir Maurice Plumtree as he tried to coax some bees out of the asparagus bed with his flute … last year.7

Steed then tells him he doesn’t look up to par and plies him with brandy. Mrs. Peel meanwhile arrives at Cartney’s estate. Sara says he’s busy but Cartney then returns and Emma asked to stay on to see the fun of Cartney’s club, much to Sara’s annoyance.

Darcy meanwhile tells Steed about the joke with the rubber scissors going wrong. All he did was pinch his uncle’s keys to get Willy into the hall; it was Willy who was to switch the scissors. When Steed presses him on why they played the joke, Darcy says he had to, it’s one of the rules of The Hellfire Club.

Act 2

Mrs. Peel meanwhile is led down to The Hellfire Club, where Willy, Tubby Bunn (Bill Wallis) and Roger Winthrop (Michael Latimer) are leading the revels. She’s introduced to them as the Lords Cartigan, Ragsland and Lacon and given the seat of the guest of honour, but is frankly appalled by the behaviour of those assembled.8

Steed meanwhile tells Darcy he was duped and is not responsible for the murder, he fixes him a hangover cure called “National Anthem”9 but finds Darcy has abruptly gone when he brings it to him.

At the club, the revels have devolved into a fight between Pierre (Art Thomas), a wiry little fighter, and a huge man (Bill Reed), blindfolded and wearing knuckledusters. The huge man is defeated and tries to seek refuge in the audience but Cartney forces him our again with his sword.

CARTNEY: I try to recreate exactly the days of the original Hell-fire Club … the same atmosphere and excitement and of course the same pleasures … a man controlled his destiny by the strength of his arm, the skill of his sword and the wit of his pen. And the divine right of his birth.
EMMA: And women?
CARTNEY: Oh, mere vessels of pleasure.
EMMA: I see.
CARTNEY: Do I detect a note of disapproval?10

Lord Darcy bursts into the club, angry at having been used and shouting the rubber scissors were just an excuse. Cartney orders him silent but he demands to talk so Cartney is forced to call a special meeting of the superior members; himself, Roger Winthrop, Tubby Bunn and Willy Frant.

They descend to the cellar where the “superiors” don hooded robes and masks, and Darcy is made to stand in the Circle of Justice. Roger demands he state his name and Darcy turns on him angrily.

DARCY: I’m not playing any more of your silly games, I just want an explanation that’s all. Why you and Cartney — and the rest of you, plotted a murder. A filthy, rotten murder — and involved me — well — why?

When they fail to answer he says he’ll go to the authorities. Cartney nods to Willy, who pulls a torch on the wall, opening the circle and sending Darcy plunging with a blood-curdling scream into the cold river below.

Steed and Mrs. Peel pay their last respects to Darcy at the chapel in Cartney’s house and Emma says she’s sure that Cartney and his superior members did it. Cartney enters the room and Steed takes the opportunity to ask about the club, which he claims Darcy had told him about. That evening, Steed is presented for initiation and asked if he knows what the club stands for.

STEED: More or less, I think.
ROGER: We believe in the power of Evil Mr.Steed. We believe in the ultimate sins. Have you ever committed an ultimate sin Mr. Steed?
STEED: No. But I’m always open to suggestions.

First, he has to drain a massive tankard filled to the brim — then cheekily asks Willy for a small top-up as the drive down has given his a thirst, which makes Cartney laugh out loud.

Before he can join, however, Cartney insists he then undertake “the ultimate test” against the protests of other members — Roger is fast and accurate with a battle axe and Steed has to remove a dried pea from a board before he can chop it in twain. Willy once lost two fingers trying and Cartney considers Roger unbeatable.

Steed wins, by cheating of course — blowing the pea off the board with a quick puff as the blade comes slicing through the air — which delights the club members, except Cartney, who is suspicious of him.

WILLY: Very clever, very clever, welcome to the club …
STEED: It’s a pleasure to join.
WILLY: That I should have tried myself!

Roger congratulates him and says to attend the following night, the “Night of All Sins”. He departs but, hearing Cartney bring up the last item on the agenda, returns to eavesdrop.

Cartney announces they have embarrassed the government, caused unrest within its ranks and upset negotiations. The next step is to be a coup so outrageous it will have the country up in arms — the next night, their revels hiding the real activity.

Suddenly, Cartney hears a noise outside and silences the members and creeps towards the door — then to his surprise there’s a tapping at the door. He rips it open and Steed enters smiling and returns Cartney’s snuffbox before departing, leaving Cartney dumbfounded.

Act 3

Steed and Emma attend the revels in Regency costume, Steed declaring he finds Mrs. Peel “uncommon handsome” in her dress. When they arrive, they discover a debauched orgy is under way at the club. Steed decides that Cartney’s ex, Sara, might know something then wonders where Cartney is, neither of them have seen him.

They notice a sedan chair, apparently loaded with fireworks, and Steed tells Emma to follow it, which leads her down to the cellars. She sees Cartney supervising the removal of TNT from the chair11 and returns to warn Steed. Before they can do anything, Cartney whisks her away to be dressed by some “ladies in waiting”.

A drunken Sara grabs Steed and tells him John said the club is an exact replica of the original Hellfire Club, in more ways than one. She then reveals the original had great political sway and briefly ran the entire country. John plans to topple the government and then take over, and she tells him one of the catacombs leads to Culverstone House,12 which he must have heard of.

STEED: Oh, yes, I’ve heard of that, there’s a cabinet meeting there tonight.
SARA: Not for long! … one big bang and they’re all gone.
Cartney stops the revels to make an announcement:

CARTNEY: My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen … midnight approaches. The witching hour, and as a sign of that hour, as a symbol of all that is evil, as the epitome and purveyor of this night of sins, I give you the Queen of Sin … Mrs. Peel … she is yours, to do with, what you will …

Her cloak removed, Mrs. Peel stands before them, drugged13 and dressed as a dominatrix: black corset and underwear, laced boots, spiked collar, chain and snake making Steed’s eye pop from his head and the libertines carry her off down some stairs…

A short time later, she’s recovering from her torpor ringside as Horace bare-knuckle fights a big man (Alf Joint). Horace recognises Steed, who, uncovered as a spy, is ordered to duel Willy.

CARTNEY: You’ll be given a chance against Willy here. The choice of weapons is yours.
STEED: Feather dusters at four hundred yards …
(WILLY HOLDS UP A SWORD)
STEED (cont’d): Swords!

Mrs. Peel slips out before they start, but she is noticed and pursued by Cartney, who takes Tubby’s whip with him.

Steed takes on Willy, driving him out of the fighting hall and locking the door behind him — trapping the other club members. They fight through the banquet hall and Willy is disarmed, but reveals barbed knives in his prosthetic fingers. Steed parries the oncoming blades with his sword and eventually removes Willy’s artificial hand; Willy then regains his sword and they fight on, with Steed finally prevailing, disarming him again then punching him for good measure.14

Emma meanwhile has descended to the catacombs where she defeats the huge man easily then looks on in bewilderment as spry little Pierre limbers up. He finally turns to face her and she defeats him handily, then does a parody of his limbering exercises.

Cartney enters, clapping sarcastically, and applauds her skill:

CARTNEY: Very impressive. Now what are you like with the big boys?

He whips her several times but is killed when his whip wraps around the torch that operates the trap-door and he plunges to the river below.

Epilogue

The case closed, Steed and Emma depart, driving a coach and four as a car passes; they banter about the horseless carriage being a fad.


  1. Steed lists several other incidents that they were able to hush up: sneezing powder at Government receptions, plastic spiders in an Ambassador’s soup, something quite outrageous in a Diplomat’s bed, a whoopee cushion under the Woolsack (the seat of the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords at the time, now the Lord Speaker’s chair).
  2. Steed remarks afterwards that they’ve lost oil concessions worth fifty million pounds. That would be worth between £810 million and £1.2 billion in 2023.
  3. It certainly is! £1,050 was a year’s wages for a manual labourer in 1965 and worth £17,000 in 2023 terms.
  4. Well, Horace slams his fist through the wardrobe door, allowing Steed to trap him then knock him out with his umbrella handle.
  5. The commentary from the ceremony is a laughable parody of the overblown language used for coverage of Regal events, it reminds me of Ross Noble’s “Wonderful scenes”.
    And there too, just coming into the picture, the ceremonial scissors — which his Excellency will soon use to cut this tape, and declare this fine new building open.
    Those are the ceremonial scissors, especially forged for this occasion, made from steel wrested from the foothills of Wales, tempered in the furnaces of the great North — honed razor sharp on good Cornish stone — a symbol of this Nation’s unity.
    This hall — this great Hall of Friendship falls quiet as the scissors are taken to His Excellency — and he accepts. In a few moments it will be over — in a few moments His Excellency will cut the tape and formally declare this Hall open. He cannot fail to be moved by the solemnity of this occasion … and finally he moves to the tape. He pauses, the introductions and speeches are over and we are nearing the big moment. And now the scissors are raised and …
    His Excellency has fallen! — a gush of sparks — there’s something wrong. People are running in.
    We are returning you to the studio.
  6. Cartney embodies the kind of horrific, toxic masculinity that seems so popular with democracy-threatening right-wing fascists and misogynists today.
  7. Trademark The Avengers Subversive champagne — making fun of the aristocracy.
  8. Both the men for their violence and rapaciousness and the women for their subservience.
  9. It seems to be two eggs, Worcestershire sauce, salt and perhaps a bit of alcohol.
    STEED: I call it ‘National Anthem’ … Soon gets you on your feet.
  10. Layers of meaning — Cartney detects a note of disapproval in Mrs. Peel’s response to the misogynistic views of his club, but he also foreshadows the immediate appearance of Darcy with a more strident note of disapproval.
  11. This is a slight blooper, there’s no way she could have seen the TNT box from where she was in the tunnel unless it was lifted out.
  12. This is a fictitious address, there is no Culverston House used by the Cabinet.
  13. At least it seems so. She has a vacant look in her eyes and does not resist the actions of the club members. She starts to look more alert later on as they watch the bare fist boxing.
  14. It may look as though he runs him through but in fact Steed sportingly drops his sword when Willy raises his hand and punches him in the stomach instead.

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