A Touch of Brimstone
|"A Touch of Brimstone"|
|The Avengers episode|
|Episode no.||Season 4|
|Written by||Brian Clemens|
|Produced by||Brian Clemens and Julian Wintle|
|Featured music||Laurie Johnson|
|Original air date||9 February 1966|
A Touch of Brimstone is the twenty-first episode of the fourth series of the 1960s cult British spy-fi television series The Avengers, starring Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg. It originally aired on ABC on 18 February 1966. The episode was directed by James Hill (known for A Study in Terror and Born Free) and written by Brian Clemens.
The episode is widely known for Diana Rigg's risqué "Queen of Sin" costume (which she designed herself), and was the most watched episode of The Avengers on its original showing. There is a publicity still of the "Queen of Sin" holding James Hill, the episode's director, on a leash.
The story is episodic, beginning with a series of pranks on fictional important international figures, an exploding cigar and a collapsing floor under a potentate's box seat in an auditorium. Mrs Peel investigates the Honorable John Cleverly Cartney, a suave, womanizing gentleman who appears to be present before, during or after these events. Lord Darcy arrives and informs Cartney that he has arranged another prank. Meanwhile Steed sneaks into Lord Darcy's place and, after knocking out Darcy's male housekeeper, finds a pair of fake scissors made of rubber. But real scissors are used by an unnamed, faceless official opening the "International Friendship Club" on an electrified ribbon, killing him, and Steed and Mrs Peel can't arrive in time. Lord Darcy did not expect to be involved in murder, and is distraught. Steed gets him drunk and, under guise of knowing him from a party, finds out the truth. Through Darcy, Steed is introduced to the Hellfire Club, responsible for the pranks. Mrs Peel goes to visit Cartney and discovers he is leading the Hellfire Club, an organization based upon dressing up in old costumes and engaging in orgiastic rituals and which thrives in "ultimate sins" with the purpose to replicate the historic club as closely as possible. Cartney is fascinated by Mrs Peel and tries multiple times to pursue an intimacy. She refuses this but continues to keep in contact with him.
During one of the Club's parties, Darcy arrives and angrily demands a special meeting with the Assembly of Superiors on the "Circle of Justice" asking why they plotted a "filthy rotten murder" and implicated him. The centre of the circle opens as a trapdoor and Darcy is killed. On Mrs Peel's recommendation to Cartney, Steed stands to join the Hellfire Club and is given two membership tests including drinking an industrial amount of alcohol (which Steed does easily), and removing a pea from the line of an axe wielding member. Rather than trying to take the pea away, like another member who lost two fingers because of it, Steed simply blows the pea off the table as the axe is descending. Steed is welcomed by the group. As he is leaving, Steed overhears the gang and learns that they plan to stage an outrageous coup which will have the "whole country up in arms". Steed and Mrs Peel attend an orgy and investigate, spotting a cache of explosives. Steed questions a drunk girl and is told the gang are aiming to blow up Culverston House where a major international meeting is to take place that night. After being led away by some "ladies in waiting" at Cartney's request, Mrs Peel re-enters in a "Queen of Sin" outfit, holding a snake, and Cartney says to the group "she's yours to do with what you will". The members carry Mrs Peel on their shoulders, throwing rose petals on her as Steed watches with anxiety. As the assembled revelers watch a fight, Darcy's housekeeper recognizes Steed and exposes him to the organization as a spy. He wins the ensuing sword duel against the club expert (the man who lost two fingers). Mrs Peel goes underground and defeats the two members laying out the explosives before being attacked with a whip by Cartney, who drops to his death through the circle trapdoor when his whip catches on the hidden switch.
The final scene shows Steed and Mrs Peel decrying the newfangled "horseless carriage" which passes them as they saunter down the road atop a stagecoach being pulled by a team of horses.
- Patrick Macnee as John Steed
- Diana Rigg as Emma Peel
- Peter Wyngarde as The Honorable John Cleverly Cartney
- Colin Jeavons as Lord Darcy
- Carol Cleveland as Sara Bradley
- Robert Cawdron as Horace
- Michael Latimer as Roger Winthrop / Lord Lakeham
- Jeremy Young as Willy Frant / Lord Castigan
- Bill Wallis as Tubby Bunn / Lord Ragsland
- Steve Plytas as Boris Kartovski
- Art Thomas as Pierre
- Alf Joint as Big Man
- Bill Reed as Huge Man
Reception and influence
The episode is best known for the scene in which Peel dons a revealing, kinky "Queen of Sin" costume (which Diana Rigg designed herself), complete with a dog collar with three-inch spikes, whalebone corset, and high leather boots, with a large snake. It is the Hellfire club members who dress her this way; she appears for less than ten minutes of show time in this manner, always demure, though ending with Cartney attacking her with a whip. As a result of this and other elements, the episode was not broadcast when The Avengers aired on American network television; it did air on British television, but with the whipping scene edited down to one crack of the whip, due to objections made by Associated-Rediffusion Television. James Chapman said of the episode, "With its visual references to sado-masochistic pornography, 'A Touch of Brimstone' unsurprisingly ran into censorship difficulties with the ITV network; it was not screened in America at all." The episode has been cited as one of Diana Rigg's finest. The members of the Hellfire Club have been described as engaging in "uninhibited debauchery".
This episode was Chris Claremont's inspiration for the Hellfire Club in Marvel Comics' "X-Men", and in particular the story arc in Uncanny X-Men #132-134. Hellfire Club member Jason Wyngarde's name and likeness is based on Peter Wyngarde (who was later known for the role of Jason King).
This episode inspired the band The Electric Hellfire Club's namesake; in addition, the episode is heavily Sampled and used as audio cues/samples in several of EHC's songs, such as: Evil Genius(Queen of Sin) and HellFire!
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