• title card: white all caps text reading ‘A SENSE OF HISTORY’ outline din black and superimposed on Groom, slumped in the passenger seat with an arrow in his back
  • Mrs. Peel smirks when she finds a lingerie photo pasted to the inside of one of the student’s desks
  • Students wearing animal masks surround Steed who is forceful with the unmasked Duboys, standing before him
  • Carlyon and Steed take cover under the wagon as the flaming arrows rain in; Steed is trying to extinguish the arrow that has skewered his bowler hat
  • Carlyon puts a colander on his head to act as a helmet as he get ready in case of another attack. Steed sits with his back against Carlyon’s
  • Mrs. Peel leans against a pillar, resplendent in her Robin Hood outfit and critical of Duboys for wearing the same costume; three students in mediæval costume are huddled behind her on the left
  • Mrs. Peel and Steed burst into the lecture room and she prepares to fire an arrow to disarm Grindley
  • Mrs. Peel declares Steed a fraud as he closes the sidecar while she kicks the starter of the motorcycle

Series 4 — Episode 24
A Sense of History

by Martin Woodhouse
Directed by Peter Graham Scott

Production No E.64.10.24
Production completed: January 31 1966. First transmission: March 8 1966.


Production dates: 20–31/01/1966

Brian Tesler, Programme Controller for ABC, received Martin Woodhouse’s draft script in February 1965 but was underwhelmed — he had read better scripts but it was viable if tightened up. A revised script was finally delivered on 4 October 1965 but revisions were still requested and the script wasn’t approved until the final script was delivered on 4 November. Woodhouse was a convivial writer and happily shared his thoughts and process with members of our The Avengers International Fan Forum. He revealed that, like many of his scripts, he was inspired by older texts and made jokes within the script about them. Here he started with a dream about Diana Rigg dressed as Robin Hood (I think we’ve all had that dream by now) and made all the character names derivations of characters from the original tale. You might remember he drew tenuously on Greek mythology for The Golden Eggs and A Chorus of Frogs. This was his last script for The Avengers as his script for Rip Van Winkle, a science fiction story involving suspended animation to rig the stock market, was predictably rejected by Brian Tesler back in October 1964.

There was less location work than it seems for this episode, just the drives through the country side and establishing shots of the college, all filmed around Letchmore Heath, Elstree and Bushey along with stock gilm of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and Henshaw’s Blind Asylum, Manchester. The quadrangle and classroom were all realised as sets on the sound stages at Elstree studios, once again constructed by Harry Pottle and Charlie Hammerton’s team.

The ever-dependable Peter Graham Scott was called on to direct this, his fourth episode and does a wonderful job. Filming was fairly straightforward although the existence of several real St. Bede’s required some overdubs during editing, changing it to St. Bode’s although the original name was still evident on the props. The original name was of course another joke from Martin Woodhouse, as The Venerable Bede was an Eighth Century monk who compiled one of the first Histories of England, Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum.

Regional broadcasts

Rediffusion London11/03/19668:00pm
ABC Midlands12/03/19669:20pm
ABC North12/03/19669:20pm
Anglia Television12/03/19668:15pm
Border Television12/03/19669:20pm
Channel Television12/03/19669:05pm
Grampian Television11/03/19668:00pm
Southern Television12/03/19669:20pm
Scottish Television8/03/19668:00pm
Tyne Tees Television11/03/19668:00pm
Ulster Television11/03/19668:00pm
Westward Television12/03/19669:05pm
Television Wales & West12/03/19669:05pm

TV Times listing

TV Times listing for March 11 1966, 8pm (London edition)
Sydney Morning Herald listing for July 26 1966, 8pm
The Age listing for August 5 1966, 8pm

8.0 The Avengers
Patrick Macnee

as John Steed
Diana Rigg
as Emma Peel
A Sense of History
By Martin Woodhouse

In which Steed dons a gown — and Emma becomes a don …

Cast also includes

Richard Carlyon Nigel Stock
Dr. Henge John Barron
Grindley John Glyn-Jones
Professor Acheson John Ringham
Duboys Patrick Mower
John Pettit Robin Phillips
Millerson Peter Blythe
Allen Peter Bourne
Marianne Jacqueline Pearce

Music by Laurie Johnson
Directed by
Peter Graham Scott
Produced by Julian Wintle

ABC Television Network Production

International broadcasts

ABN2 Sydney, Australia26/07/19668:00pm
ABV2 Melbourne, Australia5/08/19668:00pm
ABC New York, USA20/06/196610:00pm
ORTF2 France30/05/19678:00pm
Suisse Romande, Switzerland22/10/19669:25pm
French titleL’économe et le sens de l’histoire
ZDF Germany1/08/19679:15pm
German titleRobin Hood spielt mit
KRO Netherlands11/07/19688:55pm
Dutch titleHet Europaplan
Italian title
Spanish titleUn sentido de la Historia / con sentido historicó

Italy appears to have never broadcast this episode but pretty much everywhere else did. Note that the French title varies — econome, economie, economiste .

Some Swiss newspapers (e.g. La Liberté) report A Sense of History being on 23rd May on ORTF2 and then again a week later on the 30th. But L’Impartial has Abus de confiance (How to Succeed …. at Murder) on the 23rd so it would seem that A Sense of History was moved down the order and pre-empted by the other episode.

France: Gazette de Lausanne listing for May 30 1967, 8pm
France: L’Impartial listing for May 30 1967, 8pm
Spain: ABC Madrid listing for August 13 1967, 4.10pm
Netherlands: Dagblad de Stem listing for July 11 1968, 8.55pm
USA: New York Times listing for June 20 1966, 10pm
Germany: Hamburg Abendblatt listing for August 1 1967, 9.15pm
Switzerland: Gazette de Lausanne listing for October 22 1966, 9.25pm
Switzerland: Journal de Genève listing for October 22 1966, 9.20pm

Episode Rating

Subject 0–5
Direction 4 stars
3½ stars
3½ stars
Intros/tags 4 stars
Villains 5 stars
Plot 5 stars
Emma 5 stars
Sets/Props 4 stars
8½ stars

Funny, sexy, furious — and that’s the whole episode, not just Rigg. All the characters are drawn from the Robin Hood saga that the story becomes at the fancy dress rag, a clever twist on the set-up.

The Fashions

Emma’s Fashions Steed’s Fashions
  1. Double-breasted white woollen jacket with six large black buttons, thin piping on collar and pocket flaps (on hips, slightly slanted down towards hips), worn with herringbone hipster pants with a large black leather belt, rollneck blouse with large loose cuffs and a honeycomb patterned black and white head scarf, plus Edward Rayne’s b/w boots
  2. (1) without the head scarf, with an academic gown on top
  3. Robin Hood costume
  4. Rollneck blouse with turned back cuffs and leather motorcycle pants, Edward Rayne’s b/w boots
  1. single-breasted overcoat with slit breast pocket, 2 covered hip pockets (probably brown) over a navy chalk stripe three-piece suit, single button on cuff, dark bowler and umbrella with a white double-cuffed shirt and dark tie, chelsea boots
  2. (1) with an academic gown instead of overcoat
  3. (1)
  4. (1) without overcoat
  5. (1)
  6. (4)
  7. Sheriff of Nottingham costume
  8. mid-brown overcoat and three-piece suit with dark bowler and tie, white shirt

The Cars

Marque/Model/Type Number Plate
Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith LWB, with ‘Teviot’ Touring Saloon coachwork by Hooper & Co Ltd KXQ 777
Lotus Elan S2 HNK 999C
Gypsy Caravan -
BSA motorcycle and enclosed sidecar FYK 76C

Who’s Killing Whom?

Victim Killer Method
James Broom CBE Duboys V* arrow
Grindley V* FAKED Millerson V* arrow
John Petit V* Grindley V* crushed by bookshelf
Click a name to see the face

Continuity and trivia

  1. 1:18 — Broom approaches the fairly large college down an almost unused one-lane dirt road, I can only assume it was the shorter router for the direction he was coming from as the villains are lying in wait there. Talk about backwoods education! Strangely, we later see a much grander entrance (4:29 — actually The American College at Raddlett, seen again in Death’s Door).
  2. 1:56 and throughout — Throughout the episode, all the characters refer to St Bode’s Academy, but it was obviously a late change — the original name of the university in the script was St. Bede’s (as in The Venerable Bede, the Anglo-Saxon chronicler).Only the introductory scene where Carlyon gets out of the boot of Broom’s car do they say St Bode’s without it being redubbed.
    Anthony John. legal consultant at ABC Television, must have been concerned about legal action from a real St Bede’s, there are several schools with the name. At 14:49 there’s an incredibly obvious over-dub when Grindley says the name. The props are all emblazoned with St Bede’s as well.
  3. 2:31 — the arrow that stick in the garage wall is different to the suckered one in the close-up a second later.
  4. 3:06 onwards — Steed and Emma discover Carlyon in the boot of Broom’s car, although the tarpaulin over the car would have made it very difficult for him to have got there.
  5. 8:16 — Staircase 3 is the haunt of the protagonists: Room 16 is R. Millerson, J.W. Pettit & C.D.N. Allen are in Room 17; Eric C.N. Duboys gets Room 18 to himself.
  6. 9:12— Steed says “pretty strong stuff”, referring to the fascistic thesis, then adds, “Yuck, so is this” and hands Carlyon his coffee. Carlyon replies, “What do you mean? It’s continental roasted!”. However, some time later (29:18), Steed says that he’s very partial to Carlyon’s “continental blended”.
  7. 11:50 — Despite the fact that Carlyon’s a marked man, Steed leaves him alone in a brightly-lit wagon in the deserted woods for most of the episode; even more incredibly, the woods-savvy students don’t manage to kill him, only making the one attack which is foiled by Steed.
  8. 12:54 — Getting around censorship: Mrs. Peel says she likes her students to be wide-eyed and innocent as she opens a desk. She discovers a pin-up of a girl in black garter belt, stocking and see-through underwear inside and hurriedly closes it.
  9. 13:16 — She also finds a 15th May 1965 edition of Lion comic and quickly flips through it.
  10. 14:07 — Steed cheekily quips, “an awful lot of theses” (i.e. faeces) when Henge is carrying on at length about how many dissertations had been written at the university over the years.
  11. 14:25 and throughout — Grindley is wearing prop spectacles with a hole in the middle of the lenses to help him see properly.
  12. 20:50 & 34:36 etc. — Some of those manuscripts in the archive are obviously screen plays.
  13. 22:42–7 — The caravan is on a studio set with fake woodland but the location footage of the attack has it parked in the exact same part of the woods where Broom was killed — the trees are quite distinctive and the students attack from the same direction as they did Broom.
  14. 23:50/24:30 — Richard Carlyon puts out a flaming arrow with a prop bottle of bourbon whiskey — looks like someone had been watering it down!
  15. 31:22, 33:11 & 34:50 — Lightning strikes twice! In fact, three times — it’s the same thunderbolt footage used in all the lightning strikes.
  16. 34:49 — The shelves that fall on Petit look too flimsy to kill anyone they might land on.
  17. 35:51 — Emma puts the books carefully in order, while Steed piles them onto the shelf all over the place and upside down.
  18. 38:54 — you can just see the wire that the arrow comes in on as Steed and Emma walk down the side of the cloister.
  19. 41:27–41:40 — the students behind Mrs. Peel’s shoulder when Duboys complains about her costume are behind his shoulder in the reverse angle shot a second later.
  20. 48:03 — once again, you can just see the wire for the arrow.
  21. 50:25–9 — The picture quality is suddenly worse with the change of camera angle.
  22. 50:54–6 — The Avengers depart down the same stretch of road (at Silver Hill) as most of the rest of the season. Billy Westley Jr seems to be the stand-in for Doian Rigg riding the motorcycle.
  23. The late, great writer of the episode, Martin Woodhouse, confirmed in 2009 that the “sense of history” runs deep in the script — there’s the university named after The Venerable Bede, the Eighth Century monk who compiled one of the first Histories of England, Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, and the character names are derived from the Robin Hood chronicles, thus the rag week scene with Robin Hood fancy dress.
    • Robin Duboys is a name sometimes given to Robin Hood (Norman for “Robin of the woods”),
    • Millerson is Much the Miller’s son,
    • John Pettit is Little John; Marianne Grey is Maid Marion; Richard Carlyon is Richard Coeur de Lion, (i.e. King Richard I, the Lionheart) and the almost completely superfluous Allen is Alan à Dale.
      Woodhouse did a similar thing with his script for A Chorus of Frogs, the inspiration coming from an Ancient Greek play.
    • Running time: 51′50″

A note on the timecodes

Timecodes for episodes are problematic as each release has its own quirks so the 2009–11 Optimum Releasing/Studio Canal DVD sets have different run times compared to the A&E and Contender DVD sets from a decade beforehand. The newer Studio Canal & Via Vision blu rays seems to be back in line with the earlier releases, except they often have StudioCanal idents lasting 20 to 22 seconds added to the beginning.

The Optimum Releasing/Studio Canal DVD releases were remastered and their frame rate has been changed, resulting in a shorter running time. However, the picture quality has increased markedly. I assume this is because they used a simple 2:2 pulldown (24 @ 25) when converting from the original film masters (film runs at 24 frames per second, while PAL runs at 25fps, the new DVDs are in PAL format).
This pulldown was also the cause of audio errors on many episodes, especially for Series 5, as the audio sped up to match the new rate (4% faster), rather than being properly pitch-shifted. Checking the dialogue sheets, which list the feet and frames of the reels, it looks like the speed change is around 5.04%, so there may be some cuts as well — probably from around the commercial breaks and ends of reels, as they amount to about 25 seconds. All my assumptions are based on the episodes having been filmed on standard 35mm film, which has 16 frames per foot and runs at 24 frames per second, so a minute of footage uses 90 feet of film (1,440 frames).

The audio errors have been corrected in the currently available DVDs, but the 2:2 pulldown remains. There is also the addition of a Studio Canal lead-in, converted to black and white to match the episode for Series Four, but colour for Series Five, adding an extra 18 or 19 seconds to the running time and making it harder to match timecodes with previous releases. It’s annoying that it has been slapped on every single episode, Series 1–3 didn’t suffer this indignity.

The previous Contender and A&E DVD releases didn’t seem to suffer from these problems, so I assume they either used soft telecine and preserved the original 24fps rate of the film (my preferred option in DVDs) or they used 24 @ 25 pulldown (2:2:2:2:2:2:2:2:2:2:2:3 Euro pull-down).

Thankfully, the new blu ray releases for series 4–6 appear to use native 24fps with soft telecine so the running times and pitch all seem to be correct again along with a much greatly improved picture quality, most notably in the Tara King episodes which are finally (mostly) back to their original glory.

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