• title card: white all caps text reading ‘DEATH AT BARGAIN PRICES’ outlined in black superimposed on an inflatable Yogi Bear
  • Steed grins as he puts one of the bowler hats on sale in the store on Mrs. Peel’s head
  • Kane, in his wheelchair, looks around at the old items in his Department of Discontinued Lines, marvelling at the craftsmanship that early machines had
  • Mrs. Peel ponders the wisdom of giving her phone number to the house dick
  • Steed and Emma exchange information as she pretends to demonstrate a marionette theatre
  • Mrs. Peel backs against a pillar as the villains approach her with their guns pointed at her
  • Mrs. Peel approaches Massey who points a gun at her. Undaunted, she holds out her left hand to take his pistol
  • Steed and Emma ride towards us down a country lane, side by side on bicycles

Series 4 — Episode 4
Death at Bargain Prices

by Brian Clemens
Directed by Charles Crichton

Production No E.64.10.5
Production completed: February 17 1965. First transmission: October 19 1965.

TV Times summary

In which Steed fights in ‘ladies’underwear’ — and Emma tries ‘feinting’ …

Plot summary

A ministry agent is found dead with a receipt from a large department store in his pocket, but it’s dated for a Sunday when the store was closed.
Emma gets a job at the store selling lingerie while Steed rambles around as a nosey customer and efficiency expert. The house detective reveals a lot of new staff have replaced the old ones, and none of the new staff know what they’re doing. Steed meanwhile learns that someone is stealing the favourite food of a missing nuclear scientist from the food counters. Emma is captured by the crooks but recued later by Steed, who finds her rolled up in a carpet. They free the scientist and frantically search the store for the atom bomb he has been forced to build. Finally, they realise the store IS the bomb, with the lift shaft holding the trigger. Steed and Emma frantically fight off the villains before the lift can descend to the basement, stopping it just in the nick of time.

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Prologue

A quiet Sunday in town, the streets outside Pinter’s department store almost empty. Inside, Ministry agent Moran (Arthur Gross) is searching the store but finds nothing in the toy department so uses the lift, scanning what he can see on each floor before getting out at the first floor. He stops short when an inflatable Yogi Bear quivers in front of him and backs away but Wentworth (T.P. McKenna) steps out from behind it with a silenced pistol. Moran flees to the lift but it moves slowly and he’s a sitting duck for Wentworth, who kills him in cold blood.

Act 1

John Steed (Patrick Macnee) arrives at the store and asks Farthingale (Allan Cuthbertson) the direction to the headwear department where he meets Emma Peel (Diana Rigg). She complains about being dragged away from thermodynamics and he tells her that Moran was found shot six times in an alleyway — their only lead is a receipt from the store dated the previous day — Sunday, when the store was closed!1

They visit the department in question and are surprised to discover it’s the nursery department2 and quickly take their leave when the sales assistant tries to sell them a cot.3 At a display for “Old Bates” china in the tableware department, Mrs. Peel notices the merchandise is mixed up4 — someone doesn’t know his job and Steed quickly suggests that maybe they need an assistant…5

Later that day, Mrs. Peel is installed at the lingerie counter and meets Jarvis, the house detective (John Cater), who briefs her on store security then tells her, “Don’t worry about not knowing the ropes, none of them here do”. Steed arrives a moment later, bashing the counter with his umbrella handle, with a cheeky grin on his face.

STEED: I asked the chief predator where to find you and he said ‘Our Mrs. Peel is in ladies underwear’ — I rattled up the stairs three at a time.
EMMA: Merry quips department on the fifth floor, sir.

Steed quips that she’s already enfolded to the communal bosom.6 and Emma whispers backthat the staff are all incompetent and know nothing about running a store. Steed offers more information in return — Pinter’s was bought lock, stock and barrel by Horatio ‘King’ Kane, a founding father of modern industry, a year ago and he replaced all the staff with his own. Emma heard some of the staff mention the ‘King upstairs’, and confirms that the top floor has been converted for him.

EMMA: The department of discontinued lines. You should fit in rather well.

She tells him it’s at the top of the stairs, past the executive staff restaurant and Steed makes his way there, then gets past Farthingale who is in the executive lounge7 by banging on a metal railing outside to distract him. Farthingale comes back to the lounge and realises someone went up to Kane’s suite when he hears the lift ascending. He uses a speaking tube to warn Wentworth there’s an intruder, then draws a silenced pistol from his jacket.

Upstairs, Steed enter Kane’s lair, an old fashion room crowded with a dusty collection of antiques.8 He meets Horatio Kane (Andre Morrell) and claims to be an efficiency expert, seeking to save Pinter’s from ruin in return for a fat fee. Kane ignores his offer and says people say he out of date, living in the past.

KANE: I can’t compete any more! That’s what they say. Haven’t got the grasp of modern technique. Haven’t got the grasp… well, I’ll surprise them yet. I’ll show them that Horatio Kane can still …

Kane stops himself and tells Steed he’s wasting his time; he’s just a tired, sick, foolish old man. He tells him Robert Wentworth runs the store now and Steed will have to impress him. As he says this, Wentworth steps forward and confirms he is in charge, and apologises to Kane for Steed’s intrusion. He tells Steed he shouldn’t be up there and escorts him out, on the way explaining that Kane is old and querulous, and a bit susceptible; they must protect him from those who find a chink in their armour. Wentworth bids Steed farewell — and then he brutally punches him in the face, sending him staggering backwards into the lift as it starts to descend.

Downstairs, Mrs. Peel overhears the chief window dresser, Glynn (Ronnie Stevens), complaining to Jarvis that there’s another staff meeting that night that he’s not been asked to attend. It’s the third that week, and only a select few attend.

After Glynn goes off in a huff, Mrs. Peel asks if it’s usual for that many meetings and Jarvis says sometimes every night of the week. “Even Sundays?” she asks, at which Jarvis stares at her. She casually asks if they’re held in the store and he advises her to get that idea out of her head.

Jarvis says he’s noticed her listening in to every conversation then says he’s with her — there is something odd going on, he could help her. She claims to be from the Ministry of Labour and gives him her number, then is ushered off the premises by Farthingale.

Steed arrives at Mrs. Peel’s flat and is quite put out when she refuses to be an “ministering angel” as she’s busy working on a thermodynamics paper. Instead she gives him an eye bath for his black eye then gets back to her work, all the while commenting on him moaning over a tiny bruise. After a while, she relents.

EMMA: Would you like a drink?
STEED: Intravenously!

He comments on her making an ally in Jarvis and then she tells him to push off as she has to fisinsh her paper. As he leaves, Steed hands her a newspaper clipping he stole from Wentworth’s apartment earlier — Wentworth was a mercenary commander in the Congo.

Back at the store the staff meeting is taking place inside the camping display. Jarvis spies on them from the bushes as Wentworth tells his men they are nearing completion. Tony Marco (Harvey Ashby) asks when that will be, then Farthingale marches a dishevelled Professor Popple (Peter Howell) in. Wentworth tells the professor he’ll have to work faster and in reply the professor says he’s doing his best and complains about being cooped up. Jarvis sneaks away and calls Mrs. Peel, telling her to come to the camping display on the ground floor — he’s left the side door unlocked. When she arrives, she finds Jarvis dead, skewered on a sickle.

Act 2

Next morning, under cover of demonstrating a marionette theatre to her customer, Steed, she tells him that Jarvis’ body disappeared during the night; she couldn’t raise the alarm without having to explain why she was there. She’s been moved to the Toy Department as it’s store policy to move the staff around but more importantly, Glynn has been dismissed. Steed finds Glynn and learns that he was dismissed, despite six years of faithful service, after complaining that his ground floor display gets changed every night. He says Julie will be next after being blamed for thefts from the food market. Steed immediately visits Julie (Diane Clare) and asks for some cheese.

STEED: Stilton. Port fed, its feet firmly manacled.
JULIE: Firmly mana- … you want a very ripe one, sir.
STEED: Leaping about.
JULIE: (WITH A GRIN) I’ll see if I can catch one for you.

Steed ridiculously asks for half an ounce of the Stilton, and a few other ingredients for a recipe.9 She smiles and asks if he wants it all wrapped, then he asks her about the thefts. Turning serious, Julie confirms that food goes missing from her counter during the night, including honeyed bumble bees which they never sell and only stock because Professor Popple placed a special order — adding that Popple went missing a few months ago.

When he visits Mrs. Peel’s flat after talking to Julie, she informs Steed that Popple is a nuclear physicist and she takes Moran’s receipt to see what she can stir up.

Massey (George Selway) meanwhile is being reprimanded by Wentworth for pilfering food but he protests he only did it for the Professor. Wentworth asks for Marco, but he’s busy trying his luck with Mrs. Peel.

Mrs. Peel rebuffs Marco’s request for her phone number then asks him the check the receipt, which doesn’t belong to her department. He blanches when he reads it and tells her Mr. Wentworth will want to talk to her. He locks her in the executive lounge and goes to fetch Wentworth but while he’s away she searches the room and discovers that the fire axe operates a hidden door.

Behind the door she finds store rooms, then banks of computers and scientific equipment at while a manacled Popple works. She turns to run when Massey spots her, but is faced with the pistols of Marco and Wentworth; the three men converge on her.

Act 3

Steed is worried when he can’t find Mrs. Peel at closing time and Farthingale tells him she was dismissed for philandering with the customers. After the store has closed, Farthingale tells Wentworth that Massey is guarding Mrs. Peel in the furniture department. Wentworth and Marco go to check the detonation area and Steed, who’s hidden away in the camping display, sets off for the furniture department. He easily disposes of Massey, who’s playing solitaire, and unrolls the carpet in which Mrs. Peel has been stowed.

STEED: That’s how I like my mummies … well preserved.
EMMA: (GROANS) Carpet-bagger.
STEED: I take it you’re not hurt.
EMMA: Only my pride.10

She tells him about the fully-equipped laboratory and takes him to the Professor, who they find drugged and unconscious. Mrs. Peel realises the store receipts are disguised punch cards for the computer.11 She feeds them in and it spits out a diagram and chemical formulae, which Emma thinks may be the plans for a nuclear bomb. Popple suddenly wakes and mumbles, “A bomb! Must stop them!”. He tells them the bomb is down in the store and it was his job to finish it.

The Avengers rush off and search the store but are unable to find anything. Mrs. Peel, looking down at the lower floor from a window, suddenly notices the tiling on the ground floor matches the diagram — the arrow points to a lift to the basement — and they realise the building is the bomb.

EMMA: We’ve found our bomb.
STEED: We’re standing in it.

On the ground floor, they run into Farthingale and Kane. Farthingale disarms Steed and takes the diagram from Mrs. Peel; Kane peers at it myopically and asks Steed if he still thinks him inefficient.

He proudly outlines his plans for his most audacious takeover bid yet — he will hold the entire country to ransom with his bomb. They’ll realise that he understands modern methods when he destroys a large part of London. The plot is chillingly cold and simple — Kane and his closest staff will abscond to safety that evening, then sometime tomorrow a customer will ask to buy a washing machine and when the lift takes them down to the whitegoods department the bomb will be detonated, taking out everything in a 50 mile radius.

Wentworth arrives and Kane tells him to dispose of them but Steed grabs a table tennis ball gun12 and fires it at a surprised Wentworth; Mrs. Peel rushes him and they escape down the stairs. Kane is enraged and bellows at his henchmen to stop them reaching the doors, not realising they have no intention of leaving.

Instead, they split up to increase their chances of reaching the basement. Steed dispatches Farthingale with his steel-lined bowler while Massey surprises Mrs. Peel and holds her at gunpoint. Instead of backing away, she starts clicking her fingers and moves in to attack him, like a scene from West-side Story.13 Mrs. Peel fights with Massey, almost being impaled on a nasty-looking headge slasher at one point before defeating him with some balletic karate.

Marco hears the fighting but Steed knocks him down and beats him with his umbrella, then goes to assist Emma. He finds she’s already won but Marco recovers and comes flying down the stairs after them. He catches up to them but is disarmed and beaten with a cricket bat. Mrs. Peel collects Marco’s revolver and wings Wentworth with it when he appears. Wentworth staggers back upstairs and tells Kane they’re beaten, it’s over.

“Over?” barks the old man, “No, Wentworth, not yet.” and he wheels himself towards the lift. Wentworth realises he means to blow them all up and charges after him, knocking his wheelchair over but not before the button is pressed and the lift starts to descend. The Avengers see an empty chair tumble down the steps as they rush to stop the lift, Steed finally managing to force the doors open to halt it inches from detonation point.

Epilogue

Mrs. Peel asks Steed if it was really all right for them to take the bicycles they’re riding and he replies:

STEED: Of course, Mrs. Peel. It was a gift for services rendered. After all, we did save them from the biggest closing down sale of all time.

  1. The receipt is dated 7th Feb 1965 which was a Sunday. No Sunday trading in the Sixties, remember!
  2. As the receipt is for “One pram, Hood, & Canopy”, costing PND 12/5/- they shouldn’t have been surprised. The receipt prop does not match the dialogue, as it also does not have a department number on it.
  3. Mrs. Peel looks Steed up and down and declares that “Baby is too big” for the cot before saying “Come along, dear” and leading him away.
  4. “That’s funny, this isn’t Old Bates at all; it’s Royal Crichton.” Mrs. Peel remarks that the dresser for the china department can’t distinguish between two fictitious brands — a reference to Charles Crichton, who directed this episode and either fashion designer John Bastes, or story editor Richard Bates.
  5. Once again, Steed coerces his companion into an undercover position and once again Mrs. Peel accepts it almost without a shrug, in contrast to previous companions.
  6. As he says this he gazes at a bra on a store dummy, described by Toby Miller (The Avengers, bfi Publishing, 1997 pp.84-5) as evoking the male gaze.
  7. The sign says “executive rest room” but I’ll call it a lounge so as not to have some people think they’re in a toilet.
  8. The antiques are Edwardian and Victorian, ranging from bathing suits and Penny-farthing bicycles to oil lamps, a love seat, a pianola, gramophones, and a music box as well as a veteran Curves Dash Oldsmobile and assorted bric a brac. Even Kane’s wheelchair is old-fashioned.
  9. The rest of Steed’s recipe calls for one tomato, two egg whites, handful of chives, half an onion, and a squeeze of lemon.
  10. This line mirrors one given earlier by Steed, when he’s trying to get sympathy from Mrs. Peel for his black eye.
    STEED: Here am I grievously hurt.
    EMMA: Bruised.
    STEED: My pride was hurt.
  11. This makes no sense. If the receipt Moran found was a disguised punch card, why put a suspicious date on it?
  12. It’s a Summit Mark-I Ball Gun, a pump-action gun which fires table tennis balls using air pressure. Summit still make table tennis balls today.
  13. Mrs. Peel’s fighting is very stylised and balletic with Ray Austin choreographing this iconic fight. Both Rigg and Selway had stand-ins for the more exuberant throws but most of the fight is done by the actors.

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