Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Hitchcock Project-William Fay Part Six: The Avon Emeralds [4.24]

 by Jack Seabrook

Imagine a story starring Roger Moore as an agent of British law enforcement, tracking a beautiful woman suspected of stealing expensive jewels, jetting off from London to the French Riviera with a twinkle in his eye. Is it a James Bond film? No, it's "The Avon Emeralds," an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that was first broadcast on CBS on Sunday, March 22, 1959. William Fay adapted the teleplay from a short story by Joe Piddock that was published in John Creasey Mystery Magazine's August 1958 issue.

The story opens at Scotland Yard, where Sir Charles tells Detective Sergeant Benson about the Avon emeralds, which became the property of Lady Avon after the recent death of her husband. Death taxes wiped out the rest of the estate and Sir Charles believes that Lady Avon plans to take the emeralds out of the country in order to sell them and avoid further taxes. She booked a flight from London to Gibraltar that leaves in two days and Sir Charles tells Benson that he is expected to be on the flight to watch her. Sir Charles suspects that Lady Avon may use a confederate to smuggle the jewels through customs and instructs Benson either to prevent their leaving the country or to bring them back from Gibraltar after she arrives.

"The Avon Emeralds"
was first published here

Two days later, Benson confers with the Chief Customs Officer at London Airport and watches the lovely Lady Avon as she passes through customs. Another traveler, a man carrying a large painting, seems suspicious, but a search does not turn up the emeralds. That afternoon, the plane lands in the British territory of Gibraltar. Benson follows Lady Avon in a taxi to a hotel in Marbella, which is in Spain, where he books a room and inspects the premises. An American pulls up in a large Mercedes and Lady Avon rushes out to welcome him. That night, Lady Avon dines with the American. After dinner, Benson walks into her room without knocking and finds her at a table counting a half a million dollars. The American demands the emeralds, which Benson removes from his pocket. The American leaves and Benson and Lady Avon embrace.

"The Avon Emeralds" is a short story with a clever surprise ending in which the detective sergeant is revealed to be Lady Avon's confederate in smuggling jewels out of the United Kingdom. At the beginning, he mentions that he is a month from retirement, so his decision to become an expatriate criminal is less surprising in retrospect. He is a bachelor, attracted to the recently-widowed Lady Avon;  perhaps Sir Charles's suggestion that Benson appeal to her romantically, coupled with  the impending end of his career, leads Benson to create and carry out a plan in the two days between being given the assignment and flying off to Gibraltar with the emeralds on his person.

Above the title in the magazine, the editors write: "A very good short story by a new author." I have not been able to find any information about Joe Piddock, nor have I located any other stories credited to him, so he remains a mystery. Unfortunately, when "The Avon Emeralds" was broadcast on television less than a year after its magazine publication, the title card credited the story to "Joe Pidcock" rather than Joe Piddock; this appears to be a rare example of a mistake in the Hitchcock TV show's credits.



The story runs a brief four and a half pages in the digest, so William Fay had to expand it to fit a half-hour TV slot. The scene is set in a series of establishing shots that depict Big Ben, double-decker buses, and Bobbies. We see an office door marked Criminal Investigation Department, Sir Charles Harrington, Ass't. Commissioner, then the camera moves inside the office, where Benson is cutting an article about orchids out of a newspaper. Sir Charles enters and reminds Benson of an incident a few months before when Lady Avon tried to sell some jewelry without paying taxes. She is described as a young woman whose older husband died and, instead of planning to fly to Gibraltar, as in the short story, she intends to fly to the French Riviera.

Roger Moore as Benson

Fay's teleplay adds a new wrinkle to the story when Benson suggests that thieves might try to steal the emeralds and Sir Charles adds that Lady Avon may be in danger. She is staying at a hotel in London and Benson goes to the front desk, asking to see the emeralds that are being kept in the hotel safe so that he can follow Sir Charles's order to confirm their whereabouts. The camera lingers on several suspicious characters in the lobby; one of them turns out to be there to appraise the necklace for the Treasury. Though Benson is concerned that they may be fakes, the appraiser assures him that they are genuine.

Meanwhile, Lady Avon, whose given name is Gwendolyn, is enjoying a caviar breakfast in her hotel room with her aunt, Mrs. Sedley. Lady Avon refuses Benson's suggestion that she put her emeralds in a bank vault and insists that they remain in the hotel safe. Back in the office of Sir Charles, he and Benson speculate as to which of the suspicious characters is her confederate. Suddenly, Sir Charles receives a telephone call with the news that the emeralds have been stolen!

Hazel Court as Lady Avon

Benson again visits Lady Avon in her hotel room and interrogates her; while he is there, Mr. Geist, one of the suspicious characters from the lobby, visits, carrying a large painting that he wants to show her. The episode then returns to the events of the short story, as Benson watches while Lady Avon is taken off to be searched prior to boarding the plane. Geist is also in line to board the plane and Benson roughly unwraps and examines his painting, though he fails to find the emeralds.

Stock shots of the plane taking off, in flight, and landing in Nice, France, are followed by another scene in the airport, where Benson is in hot pursuit of Lady Avon. He is met by a French policeman who identifies himself as Commissaire-Adjoint Clement of the Surete; the French police have also been watching Lady Avon. However, once Benson explains to Clement that she is being followed for tax avoidance, the French policeman scoffs and says that she cannot be extradited for that crime. He refuses to help Benson and leaves the English detective on his own to follow Lady Avon.

There is a dissolve to Lady Avon in her hotel room, counting $250,000 in thousand dollar bills; Benson's arrival at the hotel and Lady Avon's dinner with the American are deleted. Instead, Mrs. Sedley and the American are in the room with Lady Avon and, when the American asks for the emeralds, Benson walks in, wearing casual clothes and carrying a potted plant. He hands the emeralds to the American, who leaves with Mrs. Sedley, who has offered to drive him to the airport. Lady Avon embraces Benson and says that she did everything just as he told her. They kiss passionately and the show ends.

Gertrude Flynn as Mrs. Sedley

The scenes added by William Fay help develop the characters more fully than they are in the short story. Benson is portrayed in the first scene as a man more interested in plants than women; this trait makes him seem unthreatening and unlikely to join forces with the beautiful Lady Avon. As for her, she is portrayed as carefree, despite her lack of funds and her need to find a way to smuggle the emeralds out of England safely to finance her lavish lifestyle. Her aunt is a new character, as is the French detective; also new is the suggestion that the emeralds have been stolen. The skeleton of the story is unchanged but Fay's additions allow it to fill the half-hour time slot. At the end, Lady Avon makes sure to clarify that Benson was guiding the scheme so that there is no question in the viewer's mind what happened.

There is no murder and no violence in "The Avon Emeralds," and the crime is one that the French policeman finds unworthy of pursuing. The show lets the viewer spend some time in the presence of two glamorous people and ends with an amusing twist; while Fay adds a modicum of excitement with the report that the emeralds have been stolen, the episode is devoid of suspense and is closer to comedy than thriller.

Alan Napier as Sir Charles Harrington

"The Avon Emeralds" is one of two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents directed by Bretaigne Windust (1906-1960). Born in Paris, his family escaped to London during World War One and returned to Paris after the war. His parents divorced in 1920 and he and his mother moved to America, where he because a successful Broadway director, staging plays from the mid-thirties to the late fifties. He moved to Hollywood in 1947 and directed films from 1948 to 1952 and television shows from 1957 to 1960.

Starring as Detective Sergeant Benson is Roger Moore (1927-2017), who was born in London and who was onscreen from 1945 to 2017. He was a regular on the TV series Ivanhoe (1958-59), The Alaskans (1959-60), Maverick (1959-61), The Saint (1962-69), and The Persuaders (1971-72) before his career took off when he assumed the role of James Bond in Live and Let Die (1973). He appeared in seven Bond films in all between that year and 1987. Eventually, he was knighted (in 2003) and awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2008). This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock TV series.

Ralph Clanton as Saunders

British beauty Hazel Court (1926-2008) gives an enthusiastic performance as Lady Avon. She made movies from 1944 to 1981 and was on TV from 1956 to 1975, appearing in episodes of The Twilight Zone and Thriller. Born in England, she starred in many great horror films of the 1950s and 1960s, including Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Premature Burial (1962), The Raven (1963), and The Masque of the Red Death (1964). Hazel Court-Horror Queen: An Autobiography was published in 2008. Court said that CBS brought her to America, where she appeared in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; this was the second. When she filmed this episode in 1959 she was married to actor Dermot Walsh; however, in 1963, she divorced Walsh and married Don Taylor, whom she had met when he directed her in "The Crocodile Case."

The supporting cast of "The Avon Emeralds" includes actors who often turned up in episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that were set in England:

  • Gertrude Flynn (1909-1996) as Lady Avon's aunt, Mrs. Sedley (not Smedley, as some sources list the character's name); she was active on the Broadway stage from 1929 to 1952 and she was on screen from 1954 to 1987, including an episode of The Twilight Zone and five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "A Tangled Web."

  • Alan Napier (1903-1988) as Sir Charles Harrington; born Alan William Napier-Clavering in Birmingham, England, he was on screen from 1930 to 1988 and appeared six times on the Hitchcock show, including "Whodunit" and "I Killed the Count." He is best remembered as Alfred the butler on Batman (1966-1968).
  • Ralph Clanton (1914-2002) as Saunders, the hotel manager; his screen career lasted from 1949 to 1983 and included seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (including "Dip in the Pool") and three episodes of Thriller.
  • Richard Lupino (1929-2005) as Ives, the desk clerk who opens the hotel safe (not Fletcher, the room service waiter, as credited elsewhere); Ida Lupino's cousin, he was on screen from 1943 to 1985 and he was seen on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and in four episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Hero."
Richard Lupino
  • Barry Harvey as Hodges, the policeman assisting Benson; he had a short TV career from 1955 to 1962 but managed to appear in eight episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole."
Barry Harvey

  • Louis G. Mercier (1901-1993) as Clement, the French policeman; he had a long screen career, from 1926 to 1977, but his roles were often uncredited. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock TV show, but he was seen on Thriller twice and had bit parts in Hitchcock's films, To Catch a Thief (1955) and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).

Louis G. Mercier

"The Avon Emeralds" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here. The short story is quite rare and I am indebted to Peter Enfantino, Walker Martin, Phil Stephenson-Payne, and Todd Mason for their help in locating it. I was finally able to find a copy due to the kindness of Mike Ashley, who has this rare magazine in his collection.


"The Avon Emeralds." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 4, episode 24, CBS, 22 March 1959.

The FictionMags Index, 

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.



Piddock, Joe. "The Avon Emeralds" John Creasey Mystery Magazine, Aug. 1958, pp. 102-06. 

Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central,

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 

In two weeks: Your Witness, starring Brian Keith!

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