• 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.

TV Times summary

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

Plot summary

A progressive economist is stopped by some students dressed as Robin Hood’s men for Rag Week and he’s shot with an arrow. Someone at the University of St Bode’s is trying to stop the Europia Plan and return Europe to a fascist dictatorship. Suspicion falls on the brilliant young fascist Duboys, who rules the university with insolence, but he’s a front for Nigel Farrage ... er, Grindley, the mad, embittered, goggle-eyed archivist. Maybe it is Farrage after all! Emma as a scantily-clad Robin Hood and Steed as a more traditional Sheriff of Nottingham round up the villains and thwart the fascists, go Antifa! Their job done, the Avengers depart on a motorcycle, Steed enjoying the comfort of the enclosed sidecar.

show full synopsis

show plot summary

James Broom (Kenneth Benda), a leading economist on his way to a university is stopped by students involved in Rag Week antics - all dressed as Robin Hood’s merry men - he pays the toll for the road but turning his back is shot by an arrow from behind.

Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) arrives at a mechanic’s garage where John Steed (Patrick Macnee) fires a toy arrow at her - he tells he it’s a clue, along with it’s more lethal cousin, which was in Broom’s back. Emma is stunned; Brooms plans for “Europia”, where the combined economic force of Europe would banish poverty forever, could suffer a serious set-back. She notices a hand emerging from the boot of Broom’s car and Steed introduces her to Richard Carlyon (Nigel Stock), Broom’s right-hand man, who had been retrieving Broom’s briefcase from its hiding place. Carlyon tells them Broom was heading to a meeting with a man diametrically opposed to his ideas but had not confided the man’s name; only that he was connected to St Bode’s College. Steed decides it’s time Mrs. Peel resumed her education.

At St Bode’s, Dr. Gordon Henge (John Barron) struggles to keep control of a lecture, the rowdy students led by the brilliant young fascist Duboys (Patrick Mower), who rules the university with insolence. Mrs. Peel looks on as Duboys nudges John Pettit (Robin Phillips) to ask a question. Henge maintains that the great events of history have been the result of chance or coincidence, so Pettit asks him if one man can change the course of history, citing Professor Acheson’s views, and stating they can’t both be right. Duboys wades in and insults Henge openly, causing the professor to gather his books and storm out. Mrs. Peel chases after him but is stopped by Professor Acheson (John Ringham), whose lewd isometric exercises get in her way. He indicates where she can find Duboys but when she reaches the door, she’s waylaid by masked students and held at sword-point by Duboys.

Steed meanwhile has set up camp in the woods nearby with Carlyon, who shows him the thesis purporting to be is not economic at all but becomes increasingly hysterical and descends into political dogma, “with the whiff of jack boots”, adds Steed.
Duboys meanwhile has apologised to Emma and given her a cup of coffee; his band of merry men - Millerson (Peter Blythe), Pettit, Allen (Peter Bourne), and Marianne (Jacqueline Pearce) - claim they do not despise Henge, they have a “negative appraisal of him” and call him “Stone Henge” because he has outdated opinions. Emma says Henge is highly regarded by his friends, including Broom; Duboys sneers that Broom was a very intelligent man. After she leaves, Duboys tells his band to watch her. Steed departs for the university where he plans, so he tells Emma, to research the co-relationship between the lesser crested newt and Mrs. Sybil Peabody - an aunt of his who drinks like a fish. Steed complains about Acheson’s isometrics, saying he expects his professors to be stooped and dusty; Emma replies she likes her students to be eager and innocent - then finds a pin-up inside a desk. Henge haughtily suggests they ask Grindley, the archivist about the thesis when asked about it - “the archive is full of theses”, quips Steed. Steed visits Grindley (John Glyn-Jones), who tells him there’s no filing system at St Bode’s. Henge enters afterwards and warns Grindley that Steed is not a member of the faculty. Grindley tells him he didn’t give him the thesis but he “know what to do about it”. As Grindley collects his notes for a lecture, he is startled by Millerson, who has come down from a ladder. Millerson informs Duboys that Grindley has been talking; Duboys replies by pointing his fingers and jabbing them at Pettit’s chest then coerces the students into thumping the desk and shouting “We want Grindley” because he’s running late. Grindley passes Millerson in the quad, who raises a bow and arrow as he greets him; moments later, Grindley staggers into the lecture room and collapses, an arrow in his back.

Steed leaves Emma to sort the dusty volumes in the archives while he visits Carlyon, but is waylaid by the students. Duboys tells Steed they bore Grindley’s body away as St Bode’s tradition dictates and accuses him of not being an ex-student. Duboys is surprised when Steed gets the better of him; he orders his minions to get him but Acheson arrives and disperses them. He tells Steed to report Duboys to the proctor if he troubles him again and is startled when Steed replies that he’ll break his arm instead. Emma meanwhile is paid a visit by Henge, who tells he he’s now in Charge of the archives.
Steed reaches Carlyon’s caravan and learns that the thesis is the work of a mature mind - or maybe an exceptionally brilliant student like Duboys. Carlyon’s the key man now, and his life is in danger. Steed hears owl calls and realises they’re signals - they are surrounded by students armed with bows and arrows. The students attack and they take cover under the caravan - when flaming arrows start to fly in and one attacks Steed with a knife, they know the attack is no rag week jape. Steed fights them off and they retreat; he knocks one down with the lid of Carlyon’s cooking pot and grabs him - the boy escapes but leaves behind a wallet with a photo of Marianne in it.

The next day, Steed finds Marianne in a classroom and confronts her. Pettit comes to her defence but Steed menaces him physically. He admits there’s someone even Duboys is afraid of but he doesn’t know who. Steed gives him the thesis and Pettit says Grindley lied, anyone used to the archive could find it in five minutes. “You, for instance”, Steed orders and Pettit, despite Marianne’s shaking head, agrees. Duboys enters and insolently orders Pettit and Marianne off to a Rag Week meeting.

That night, Carlyon composes a memo, somewhat dictated by Steed, to his minister to explain his absence then hides under his caravan with a colander on his head while Steed returns to the university. A storm is brewing as Duboys interrogates Pettit, who claims Steed only asked him about the student activities. Millerson and Duboys know he’s lying but Millerson refuses to do any more dirty work; he suggests the “big man” show he is equally committed by getting his hands dirty for a change. Pettit enters the archive under cover of the storm but someone else sneaks in behind him and crushes him under a bookcase, just as he finds the thesis. Steed sees the archives door swing open a moment later and rushes in to find Henge claiming there’s been a terrible accident.

Steed and Emma restore order to the archive and presume the thesis is now destroyed. Millerson enters and hands them invitations to the Rag Week rave the next night. “They certainly do bury and forget”, Emma observes. Carlyon has also been invited and ponders the invitation at his camp. Meanwhile, Duboys asks Millerson and Allen to reaffirm their vows and cuts both their chests with the point of his sword, Millerson returning the favour. Duboys orates “With blood we bind and in blood we advance” as they place their blood-smeared fingers on the sword. Marianne delivers a reply from Carlyon, he has accepted, and Duboys says the sword will taste blood again.
Steed and Emma are walking in the cloister when an arrow shoots past in front of them. Acheson runs up and apologises, saying he wanted to try it out before tomorrow night - the rave is a fancy dress affair based on Robin Hood.

Allen starts the celebrations with a flaming arrow, and Marianne glares at Duboys when he takes food from her hand. She overhears him tell Millerson that Carlyon must be lured to the lecture room. Mrs. Peel enters a lecture room where Steed is getting dressed and they compare costumes - Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Emma notes that Steed’s sword is a bit droopy; “Wait until it’s challenged”, he quips. Carlyon arrives, dressed as Richard the Lionheart, and Millerson tells him he is audacious in thinking The Plan for Europia could succeed - “would be allowed to succeed”, Duboys interjects. They are leading him off to the lecture room when Steed and Mrs. Peel stop them; Steed greets Carlyon as an old friend and steers him away, much to Duboys’ disgust. He’s more annoyed a moment later when he realises that he and Emma are both dressed as Robin Hood, although her version is much sexier at 13″ above the knee. Duboys observes that Carlyon has given them a useful target - the heart on his surcoat.

Emma and Steed gather around Carlyon as he helps himself to the spit roasted chicken; he thinks the watchdog bit overdone until informed that Duboys murdered Broom, and he is the live bait to flush out the big man. Marianne finds Emma in the crowd and says she knows they killed John; she warns her of Duboys’ plan and adds that the big man will be dressed as Friar Tuck.

Emma reports back and they apprehend the Friar when he arrives, knocking him out in the archives with a book of Historical Memoirs. He’s revealed to be Dr. Henge and they rejoin the party. Steed is telling Carlyon his troubles are over when Emma spots another Friar; this one is similarly dealt with, by the Encyclopædia Erotica, and revealed to be Professor Acheson. Carlyon meanwhile is grabbed by the students and taken off to meet their leader.
In the lecture room, Duboys says they are about to change the course of history while Marianne warns Emma and Steed. Duboys says the triumph and coup de grace belongs to their leader and hands the sword to Friar Tuck. Grindley removes his hood and admits the authorship of the thesis, his death a little pantomime. Duboys expects Carlyon would appreciate the genius of the thesis and is surprised when he dismisses it as a tract which claims history can be created to order. Grindley is riled and says they will prove it now, in that room, with his death. They will create an economic snowball and change the economic face of Europe forever. The Avengers burst in, Emma shooting the sword from Grindley’s hand with her bow. She then chases Duboys down in the archives while Steed vanquishes Allen and Millerson, Carlyon clobbering Grindley with a book. Emma returns and wonders if history will be kind to Grindley.

The Avengers depart on a BSA motorcycle and sidecar, Steed keen to “feel the wind in their faces”. He then closes the cover of the sidecar and shuts the window, prompting Mrs. Peel to comment that he’s an unmitigated fraud.


Production dates: 20–31/01/1966 Drinks
Transmission dates: Foreign title coffee
UK 12/03/1966
Sydney 26/07/1966
Melbourne 5/08/1966
USA 20/06/1966
Germany 1/08/1967 (Robin Hood spielt mit)
France 30/05/1967 (L’econome et le sens de l’histoire)
Spain --- (con sentido historicó)
The Netherlands 11/07/1968 (Het Europa-plan)

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