24: How to Succeed…. At Murder
On the one hand, this episode has a distinctly reactionary whiff about it, pricking the bubble of the feminist movement, with Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. On the other, it has Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. How to Succeed… At Murder (a title play on How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying, perhaps) is often very funny, even if you’re more than a little aware of the “whacky” formula that has been steadily honed over the course of the fourth season.
There can be little doubt about the tone from the teaser onwards, in which a secretary (Zeph Gladstone) blows up her boss (David Garth) from the safety of her desk with a Looney Tunes-style detonator, before nonchalantly resuming her duties. You could imagine Spike Milligan doing something similar in Q.
There have been eleven murders (“Quite an epidemic. All of them prominent businessmen”), and inevitably, Steed poses as a businessman to lure a secretary intent on wresting him from power. Just as inevitably, Emma signs up with the hit squad, having traced a suspicious perfume to a keep-fit class attended by the perpetrators. This leads to the eccentric highlight of the episode.
JJ Hooter: My proboscis, Mrs Peel is probably the most sensitive in Europe. I shall be glad to assist you.
Her means of getting there are inquiring after the pungent scent, by way of consulting JJ Hooter, perfumier extraordinary (Christopher Benjamin, Litefoot, of course), who sports a nose cosy and an extravagant line in impressing upon her his abilities:
JJ Hooter: While wearing it, no obnoxious effluvia assaults my nostrils. It is highly necessary. You see, I smell a great deal.
Mrs Peel: You do? I mean, you do.
JJ Hooter: My nose is in great demand… I have smelled all over the world… (removing his nose protection) There you see the splendid beast, naked before you. But wait until you see him in action, Mrs Peel. Wait until you see him flare.
Hooter’s prognosis is that the perfume is one of his own design – Leap into my Fervid Arms! – eliciting a “Pardon?” from Mrs Peel.
Mrs Peel: I got cramp in my gluteals, and my dorsals were definitely dormant.
There’s more leaping when Emma joins the keep-fit class, where she and the girls are instructed by Henry (Artro Morris), the apparently servile companion of his wife, Henrietta. Until she is revealed as first a vents doll (at the halfway mark), and then as Henry himself, ventriliquising her. The reasons for the scheme are initially standard issue:
Mrs Peel: Because you have been subjugated for too long?
Henrietta: That is the function of this organisation, Mrs Peel. To take woman out of the secretary’s chair and put her behind the executive desk. To bring men to heel and put women at the pinnacle of power.
Mrs Peel: Twentieth-century Amazons.
But Henry is finally revealed as suffering a more acute malady, fully invested as he is in his dual relationship. He asserts that “men did that to her” (the real Henrietta killed herself, having gone bankrupt as a result of being persuaded to start her own ballerina business), so more generally condemning capitalism than men per se (an irony of his scheme is that Henry is effectively training women to operate in the same ruthless manner as men).
Henrietta: Kill him, Henry kill him!
Henry: Yes dear.
Henrietta: Kill him! Kill him!
The finale largely finds Emma dealing with the deadly dames (“It’s okay Steed, I can manage”) while he delivers the sermon (“We do have our uses, ma’am”) and performs the unveiling; it’s the man who shows the women their leader is one of his kind, and gets to gloat over how silly they’ve been (“You’ve been taking orders from a man. All this time, you’ve been fooled by a very brilliant ventriloquist”). He also kills the rather pathetic Henry, which one can only figure was inspired more for the comic consequences – shot through the dummy, both Henry and Henrietta die together – than his especially deserving it. It might also be noted that the puppet bears a marked resemblance to Clare Balding.
Sara: What you need, Mr Steed, is a secretary. A thoroughly efficient secretary.
As mentioned, the episode also features the tickling incident, which plays out with Steed inviting both his secretary Sara (Angela Browne) and Liz (Gladstone) into his flat. Earlier, he has been studiedly sexist (“Where do I sit?” asks Sara. “Here would be delightfully informal” replies Steed, indicating his knee) and delivered some incomprehensible dictation (which sounds like “Dear Sir, further to us at the fourth instant, re mine set an oblique stroke 99942 at the first instant, I beg to inform you–”).
On admittance, he naturally offers them drinks before firing fizz at Liz (“Terrible weather, and nothing between you and the weather but leather. Ah well, nice warm brandy, soon warm you up. Soda?”) and putting Sara over his knee. Later, he fires off another quick response on entering the keep-fit class and being confronted by members armed with a pistol, dagger, Schmeisser and mace: “Well, if I’d known, I’d have brought my ray gun”.
Other memorable incidents include Steed being beaten up by a woman with a shoe, Emma painting his abstract portrait (“Do I look like that?”), and the appearance of Jerome Willis (The Green Death) as initially unsympathetic accountant Rudge. The idea that it’s a complex filing system that will make the women indispensable when the men have been killed is, perhaps a little on the mundane side, but that has to be balanced against the hearty rallying cry of “Ruination to all men!”
The laugh-off is amusing if predictable, as Steed and Mrs Peel exchange voice throwing (“Steed, I saw your lips moving”).