The Avengers: Man-Eater of Surrey Green

The TV Tomb of Mystery is an ongoing catalog of one man's attempt to stave off  acquisition of any more impulse-buy DVDs until he can take better inventory of the ones already in his possession. Today's excursion:

Season 4, Episode 11.

The Avengers (1961 - 1969) is often described as stylish, quintessentially British, quirky, charming, and surreal. It's certainly all of that, but I think it's simply a well-written show. Patrick Macnee's John Steed and Diana Rigg's Emma Peel are two of my favorite characters in TV, period, and although I like the other seasons with Honor Blackman and Tara King, like many people, I prefer the Steed and Peel years.

My Mom was always a big fan of The Avengers, and I never saw any of it until A-and-E (damn you, ampersand) began showing it in the late 80s. I didn't fully embrace the show until ten or twelve years later, so I was poised between two eras of Avengers appreciation when the movie came out in 1998. 

Which was a disaster. The screencap above actually might suggest that everyone is wrong and that certainly whatever movie has such a colorful and surreal scene must have some hidden treasure. I sympathize, but the answer is no, it's just jaw-dropping. The director certainly seems like he was cut off at the knees in post-production, and he has my sympathies, too.

Nevertheless, if you were a fan of the original Avengers and saw this in the theater, you were hit twice: first by the chaotic mess of a movie on the screen, and second by having to watch Steed and Peel dragged through all of it.

There's really no element in the film you can't find precedent for in the series, but "by the time the studio was done with it, they had cut out all the internal logic, and it was chaotic and absurd."
This back-to-back with 1997's Batman and Robin considerably slowed Uma Thurman's momentum. I don't think anyone could reasonably pin either film's failure wholly on her, but she was not a good fit for Emma Peel.
I've made my peace with the inevitable remake that changes everything about them to chase millennial electioneering. But for our purposes today with "Man-Eater of Surrey Green," Emma Peel is Diana Rigg.
The plot: A telepathic man-eating plant from outer space has kidnapped England's top horticulturalists. Can Steed and Peel stop it before it germinates the earth? 

"I'm a herbicidal maniac, didn't you know?"
The Avengers did not shy away from the fantastic, but it didn't bring in extraterrestrials very often at all. So in that aspect, the plot for this episode is an exception. But in all other aspects, it's a fun representation of how almost all Avengers episodes - at least the Steed and Peel ones - break down.

1) The prologue introduces the danger to be faced. In "Man-Eater," it's the sudden hypnosis of one half of a horticultural team, who abandons her post to get in the limo of a shady-looking guy. I don't have a screencap for this, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

2) Steed and Peel discuss the above in a roundabout way, usually while Emma Peel is on her way to some kind of university conference.

3) They are dispatched to canvas the scene. This usually involves one or the other going to interview the principal suspect. In "Man-Eater," it's Steed, who goes to Sir Lyle Peterson's estate to interview him and discovers evidence of a deeper mystery.

3.5) Here we always eavesdrop on the baddie and his henchman's evil schemes.

4) Steed and Peel pretend to go away but really stick around and dig some things up. 

Literally, here, where they find some kind of alien coffin, buried in manure.
They call in the brass.
4) Kooky Guest Star on the Good Guys' Side is introduced.

Athene Seyler
Sometimes, Peel performs this role, but usually said KGSOTGGS provides the key piece of info for Steed and Peel to solve the mystery. Which is the case here: these cells she's looking at are intelligent, alien, and (British accent) some damn tricky business. 

Seyler was born in 1888. And she rocks the living crap out of this episode. She had a long career as an actress but retired soon after this, making "Man-Eater of Surrey Green" one of her last roles. She died at the unfathomable age of 101 in 1990.
4.5) Emma Peel tells Steed that the plant invader could be from Mars or the moon, as "recent photos show whole areas of vegetation."

5) The guest star from the prologue almost always gets himself killed. 

I'm skipping many details, of course, but this man is the betrothed of
who was the horticulturalist mesmerized and kidnapped in the prologue.

6) Peel changes to some kinky get-up.

7)  Steed and Peel 

and any guest stars still standing
attack in force and snuff out the danger. In "Man-Eater," this means an all-out herbicide and machete and shotgun attack on the alien plant, now with tendrils that envelop the house and an even stronger telepathic siren call. (Hence the ear-jammers, above.) Most of this takes place in a room filled with nude mannequins covered with vines and other flora. You'd think such a thing would provide more memorable screencaps.

The fault is undoubtedly mine.

8) Danger bested, Mr. Steed and Mrs. Peel exchange cheeky dialogue in some manner of moving vehicle that recalls motifs of all we've just seen.

Unlike a few shows covered in these Closet of Mystery posts, The Avengers has a sizable presence on the web and in pop cultural memory. You can spend days at this site and barely scratch the surface of what's out there. The above is certainly not all that insightful, but I though it'd be a good way to lay some foundation for any future exploring I might want to do.


Is it "with teleplay" or "and teleplay?" Teleplay's not a verb, so "with" makes sense to me but it looks a bit odd. I throw it out there. Google has failed me.


  1. I believe it to be "with teleplay by," but I can't prove why that ought to be the case.

    I've never seen a single episode of "The Avengers," but I did see that execrable movie, which is easily one of the worst big-budget films ever made. I can't imagine how badly it must have angered hardcore fans of the series.

    All I can say about this post is that it certainly makes it sound as if the series would be right up my alley.

    Also, this: that photo of Diana Rigg on the sofa caused me to actually swoon for a moment. Swoon, I say! Good thing I was sitting down.

    Also, this: that stuff about the moon having areas of vegetation got a chuckle out of me. Why is that I'll accept silliness like that from British shows whereas I won't from American ones? Something to ponder.

    1. Glad to have a second opinion on this teleplay business.

      Yeah that Avengers movie... I mean, good lord. I sometimes think about covering it here, just to rip it apart / get to the bottom of why and how it's as terrible as it is. Uma Thurman is a bad Emma Peel, to be sure, but that just scratches the surface.

      The British accent is great covering fire. I remember explaining this (or at least my theory on this) to some visiting UK co-workers at an old job: the reason why is not that Americans think Brits are especially villainous or anything to do with the American Revolution, it's because American ears respond much differently to British accents. Undoubtedly why Romans are always given British accents as well.

      A different friend from Spain (well, Catalonia) says that Spanish films set in Roman times give the Romans Castilian accents. It's funny how this stuff plays out.

      Anyway! I'll accept whatever facts about lunar life Mrs. Peel wants to relay to me.

  2. I thought that picture where Athene is looking into the microscope.. had her with something up her nose at first! I was like.. what kind of a tool is that??? LOLOL!

    1. Angie - only seeing this now, my bad! That is funny. Now I can't see anything BUT Athene Seyler holding something to her nose.

  3. Nobody has captured the essence of Patrick MacNee and Diana Rigg,
    after five decades. Many have tried, and all have failed.
    "The Avengers" still remains compelling viewing even in the
    21st Century. "The Man Eaters Of Surrey Green" is my personal
    favourite episode of the Steed/Mrs Peel seasons.

    And as for Steed's dress sense, he makes Cary Grant look like
    a scarecrow! Easily, the best dressed man to grace a televison
    series, in any decade.