You Have Just Been Murdered is what this episode of The Avengers is called and it’s what’s written on a card left behind at the house of a man who has just been menaced with a gun by an intruder. The gunman returns later with a fake knife, “kills” his victim again, and leaves behind another note – “You have just been murdered… again!”
It turns out that Jarvis (Geoffrey Chater) is the third wealthy chap to have withdrawn a million pounds from the bank recently, and Steed and Peel are soon on a case which seems, at first, second and last glance, about keeping the very rich and their money happily together.
This has the makings of a classic episode – a weird premise, a set of men (naturally) who are rich (ditto) being menaced and Steed and Peel mixing in high society to get to the bottom (the top, in fact) of what is, let’s face it, a straightforward case of extortion with menaces, all dressed up.
So off the pair go to a party for the very well-to-do, Mrs Peel wearing a very, very feathery number, where they hope to meet Jarvis. But their hopes are dashed, since Jarvis is now dead for real, leading them to fix on Rathbone (Leslie French), who darted out of the room the moment it was announced that Jarvis had been murderered.
Mrs Peel gives chase, back to Rathbone’s mansion and, having been denied entry by Rathbone’s gamekeeper, breaks in by climbing over a wall, only to be menaced by a German shepherd dog before again being apprehended by the gamekeeper.
For reasons which make even less sense than the oddly pristine state of Mrs Peel’s all-white outfit (clambering over a wall, hugging trees, dodging a vicious dog seem to have left no trace), she is soon granted an audience with the frightened Rathbone.
And on Peel and Steed sail towards an eventual meeting with master villain Needle (“No quips please… though I am a little hard to find”), played with unctuous smoothness by George Murcell. Needle, it turns out, has ambitions to be the most powerful person in the world. Mwahahaha.
The Avengers was the most lavish show on British TV at the time and this is one of the most polished and expensive-looking episodes. The James Bond vibe is noticeable throughout – camerawork, lighting, fights, even the editing (bearing in mind the constraints of TV budgets), not to mention Needle, a megalomaniac villain of the Bond sort and no mistaking.
The increase in production values does come with a bit of collateral damage. One of the joys of The Avengers, particularly in the earlier series when they were shot much more like a TV soap (multi cameras, as close to live as could be managed), was watching the brilliant Patrick Macnee busking through the fluffs and amping up his character when, for example, a camera banged into the set. There’s no need for that now that everything is so slick.
And so, for all its pluses, this episode’s many claims to classic status have to be weighed against the loss of that added bit of sparkle.
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Whether this episode is part of Series 6 or a continuation of Series 5 is moot. I’m going with the convention embraced by StudioCanal’s 2014 boxset and plumping for it being a late entrant to Series 5. It was originally conceived that way.
The imdb prefers to say we’re now in Series 6 (a short one of only eight episodes), while the Avengers Forever site leans towards calling this Series 5 (though it draws a distinction between two distinct production blocks – 5A and 5B).
There’s not much in it either way, but lumping this episode in with Series 5 means all the Emma Peel colour episodes are together, and since Series 5 is often referred to as THE classic series, that’s an advantage.
© Steve Morrissey 2020