The Murder Market is one of the episodes first shot with Elizabeth Shepherd playing Mrs Peel, then reshot with Diana Rigg in the role after it was decided that Shepherd didn’t fit the bill. Hence the two directors on the imdb credits – Wolf Rilla shot the original, Peter Graham Scott this version, which eventually was broadcast on 12 November 1965, a Friday night, rather than the usual Saturday (in the London region at least). Order was restored the following Saturday.
The title is a weak pun on “meat market” since the plot revolves around a dating agency with a natty sideline in murdering people – as established in the opening scene in which a much older man (Edward Underdown) meets a young woman (Suzanne Lloyd) on a pre-arranged date and winds up dead.
We cut to Steed’s pad – or is it Emma’s? – for Diana Rigg’s first ever scene with Patrick Macnee. And Rigg is a little wobbly, hasn’t quite established the permanently-raised-eyebrow performance that would soon come to characterise one of the 1960s TV’s most iconic characters.
After a bit of bantery to-and-fro, off Mr Peel is sent to talk to the dead man’s widow, where she also meet’s the dead man’s brother (John Woodvine, lurkingly sinister). Steed, meanwhile, launches himself onto the dating scene by signing up to Togetherness Inc, where the dead man had also been registered.
Togetherness Inc is a study in 1960s camp, where everyone dresses in morning suits, confetti tumbles from the air and the refreshments on offer are champagne and wedding cake. Diabetes for the main course.
It’s all a little (a lot) over the top, but then so is the man running it – Lovejoy (camp moniker), played to the hilt by Patrick Cargill, whose faintly supercilious air is exactly what the role requires, and whose verbal sparring with Patrick Macnee gives the episode a lot of its fizz.
Steed passes himself off as a bachelor with an inconvenient family member standing between himself and a large inheritance. Sure enough, Lovejoy has soon taken the bait and is discreetly offering a Strangers on a Train-style arrangement – Steed kills someone else’s bugbear and that someone else kills his. The wrinkle being that Steed’s assignment is to kill Emma Peel, who has in the interim made a nuisance of herself by having eyeballed the killer.
As an introduction to Mrs Peel it’s all very fine (though an entire year passed between the episode being shot and it being aired), though, as said, Rigg hasn’t quite got the character nailed – touches of Cathy Gale’s brusqueness towards Steed remain; the fully fledged Emma Peel deployed wit and charm to manage her partner in crime-fighting.
In one scene we see Mrs Peel playing a tuba while Steed practises golf – kooky 60s banter bouncing between them. Other 60s touches include the Joe Orton-esque fascination with funeral trappings – hearses, coffins and so on. And there’s a scene at a photographer’s studio in which a David Bailey-style photographer gives it the full “make love to the camera, darling” performance.
It’s all very swinging, and briskly, stylishly directed by Scott, who can’t hide the fact that Rigg hasn’t learned to fight yet. But Tony Williamson’s script (his first for The Avengers) compensates with plenty of zippy dialogue – between Rigg and Macnee, and Macnee and Cargill, whose drawling, quizzical, irony-rich delivery had made him a stage farceur rarely out of work. And, fanciful notion perhaps, might Cargill’s performance have influenced the direction Diana Rigg would take Mrs Peel?
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© Steve Morrissey 2019