• title card: white all caps text reading ‘HOW TO SUCCEED .... AT MURDER’ outlined in black and superimposed on a close-up of Miss Purbright’s wrist with the charm bracelet
  • J.J. Hooter wears a protective bandage around his invaluable nose
  • Close-up of the creepy ventriloquist’s dummy which gives the women their orders
  • Steed puffs ot his chest as he pretends to keep fit; Emma, resting on the sofa behind him smiles at his antics
  • Mrs. Peel, wearing a black leotard, is seized by the murderous keep fit women
  • Steed and Emma hold each other close as they are surrounded by the women and face Henrietta
  • Henry and the puppet Henrietta collapse against a poster of the real Henrietta after being shot by Steed, Henry still carries his revolver
  • Steed and Emma read books on ventriloquism ( ‘ADVANCED VENTRILOQUISM’ and ‘THE VENTRILOQUISTS’) inside a moving caravan

Series 4 — Episode 25
How to Succeed .... At Murder

by Brian Clemens
Directed by Don Leaver

Production No E.64.10.25
Production completed: February 15 1966. First transmission: March 15 1966.

TV Times summary

In which Steed becomes a perfect boss — and Emma goes seeking charm …

Plot summary

Executives all over Britain are being killed and their indispensable secretaries taking over. Emma follows the scent of a perfume to its maker but he is killed by his secretary before he can reveal anything. The plot now revealed, Emma enlists at one of the firms and follows the new head to a keep-fit class where the women are taught to hate men and take power — by a ventriloquist’s dummy!
Steed and Emma defeat the gang and Steed uncovers the timid Henry as the man pulling the strings — he was seeking revenge on businessmen for ruining his wife’s business and causing her suicide. Shocked that they had been taking orders from a man, the feminists are easily defeated while Henry dies in a gunfight.
The Avengers depart in a caravan and practice their ventriloquism.

show full synopsis

show plot summary

Prologue

Barton (David Garth) is going through his accounts and finds he can’t make head nor tail of them; he angrily calls his secretary, Liz Purbright (Zeph Gladstone), who cheerily tell him it’s her new filing system. He orders her to come in and explain it and bring the files with her. In response, she dons a US Army steel helmet and take a dynamite plunger from under her desk which sets off a bomb under his chair, hurling him out the window. Afterwards, she finishes typing a letter and signs it, her wrist adorned by a charm bracelet.

Act 1

Liz then attends a meeting of young professional women chaired by Henrietta, who we don’t see, while her husband, Henry (Artro Morris) bustles around the room. Henrietta congratulates Liz on her success and assigns a new task to Sara Penny (Angela Browne):

HENRIETTA: Right — are we all ready? We’ll begin then.1 The most pressing task is …
(HENRY NOISILY TAPS SOME PENCILS WHILE TIDYING THEM)
HENRIETTA: Have you quite finished Henry?
HENRY: Sorry dear. (WOMEN ROLL THEIR EYES)

That evening, Sir George Morton (Kevin Brennan) bustles his secretary, Mary Merryweather (Sarah Lawson), out of the office and prepares for a date. He puts on soft music and brings out some bottles of spirits. Sara arrives and quietly locks the door behind her; she is wearing a bracelet like Liz’s.

They kiss and she removes her fur coat, revealing a tight, glittery dress. She provocatively removes a stocking while he pours some drinks and he delightedly bustles back to her. She wraps the stocking around his neck playfully, pulling him towards her — then viciously strangles him with it.

The next day, Mary tells Joshua Rudge (Jerome Willis) that she was first in the office, as always, and found Sir George’s body. Rudge, a chartered accountant acting as administrator, tells her Sir George’s business must go on and commends her work. He notes the filing system is unnecessarily complex but Mary demonstrates intimate knowledge of the system and is promptly installed as interim CEO.

Rudge returns to his office where John Steed (Patrick Macnee) is waiting for him. Steed explains the Ministry has sent him because of the murders of eleven businessmen and asks if there’s any chance Sir George was killed to cover up embezzlement. Rudge is adamant that’s impossible, the books were in order and his staff, especially his secretary, loyal and efficient.

After Steed leaves, Rudge thinks quickly for a moment then buzzes the intercom to dictate a memo to the minister to his secretary, Miss Penny,2 — and we see his secretary’s wrist, adorned with a charm bracelet!

RUDGE: My dear Minister… re the man you sent to see me this morning. Far be it for me to advise you, but I felt that he was … overdramatising, hysterical even. The very idea that such a plot as he suggested … might even exist … seems to me to be in the realms of fantasy.

Later that day,3 Sara is given another assignment, Jack Finlay (Robert Dean), whom she kills with a poison dart from a toy gun on her bracelet, then calls HQ with the tiny radio on the bracelet.

Steed and Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) are discussing the case as she paints a cubist portrait of Steed but they don’t have much to go on as none of the likely motives fit.4

Steed receives a call with news of Finlay’s death and they visit the crime scene — Finlay fits the pattern of a prosperous businessman running a private company and is one of Rudge’s clients. Noticing a sweet perfume in the air, Steed fetches the tyre pump from the boot and leaves Emma to collect a sample while he returns to Rudge’s office. He enters and is set upon by a couple of women wearing charm bracelets; he fights them off5 and finds one of the charms on the floor after they escape.

Act 2

Mrs. Peel has better luck at J. J. Hooter’s Perfumery and is shown in by Gladys (Anne Cunningham) to see J.J. Hooter (Christopher Benjamin). Gladys then attends to Henry, who has arrived to pick up a parcel for his wife. When Hooter turns to face her, Mrs. Peel discovers that Hooter wears a large protective bandage on his nose.

HOOTER: Whilst wearing it no obnoxious effluvia can assault my nostrils. It is highly necessary … you see. I smell a great deal.
EMMA: (WORRIED) You do??? (SUDDEN REALISATION) Err! I mean — you do.
HOOTER: My nose is in great demand… Perfumiers exhibitions — Paris, Tokyo, New York! I have smelled all over the world!

Hooter removes the bandage then washes his ‘splendid beast’6 in a glass of distilled water before squatting down to smell the perfume which Mrs. Peel expels from the tyre pump. Upon doing so, he leaps up, with his arms flung out, as though asking for a hug.

HOOTER: Leap into my Fervid Arms!
EMMA: Pardon?

Hooter grins and explains he got it right off, the perfume is “Leap into my Fervid Arms”, one of his own creations, exclusive and very expensive. Mrs. Peel smiles and asks if he can tell her who bought some.

He buzzes the intercom to ask Gladys to bring the file on the perfume — looking worried, she removes the customer list and brings it through. When Hooter asks where the customer list is, Gladys claims it was sent to the warehouse that morning. Mrs. Peel agrees to return later in the day and departs. After she leaves, Hooter asks for a new nose ‘snood’; Gladys douses it with poison and suffocates him with it.

Henry is presenting a new bottle of “Leap into my Fervid Arms” to Henrietta when Gladys calls in to report her mission was a success. Henrietta congratulates her then tells Henry she will wear her red dress with pearls when she meets Rudge. Henry opens a wardrobe and takes out a tiny, child-sized dress…

Back at his flat, Steed tells Emma about the attack on him and shows Emma the charm, thinking it’s a man’s watch fob, but she’s instantly reminded of Gladys’ bracelet. Her suspicions are confirmed when she returns to Hooter’s to discover he has died and Gladys, now in charge, refusing to give her any information.

Colonel Robertson7 calls Steed — in each case the victim’s office system was so complex that only the secretary could cope with it and she ended up running the company. Mrs. Peel thinks they’ve cracked the case but Steed points out a different agency hired each secretary and they still haven’t found the link.

Rudge meanwhile is shown in to see Henrietta by Henry and discovers to his horror that she’s a hideous ventriloquist’s dummy, the operator apparently hidden by a curtain.

The next day, Steed returns to Rudge’s office but finds Sara has taken over and claims Rudge is on extended leave. Steed dangles the carrot of a £4,000,000 business8 run by himself alone and he needs someone to do his paperwork. Sara smiles and says he needs a thoroughly efficient secretary.

Meanwhile, Emma demonstrates initiative and business acumen to Mary,9 who thinks she could run her own business. Later, the women assemble at Henrietta’s to make their reports — Liz is taking over another division of Barton Industries, Mary thinks Emma would be useful to them, and Sara says she’s found a new victim — John Steed!10

Later that evening, Sara arrives at Steed’s flat to start work and, being slightly unprepared as ever, he has to improvise some waffle to dictate to her. He rather inappropriately suggests she sit on his lap to take dictation, then, looking at her stern face, decides the sofa might be a better option.11

Meanwhile, Mrs. Peel has returned to Mary’s office and searches her bag, finding a gun. She follows her to a keep fit class and takes a leaflet from a stand at the door, which she later shows to Steed. Henry and Henrietta’s classes are the link they’d been looking for. Steed then warns her not come to his flat for a while.

STEED: I don’t want you running into my secretary. She’s ab-so-lutely beautiful… er… and very efficient.
EMMA: So I notice. Don’t turn your back on her.
STEED: I won’t. I shall keep my eye on Henry and Henrietta, and you keep -
EMMA: Fit?

Emma heads off to attend one of the classes. Mary is surprised but pleased to see her there and Emma asks her how she would go about working for herself. Midway through the class, Henry explains that it’s only advanced students from now on, and dismisses Mrs. Peel then leads the others in to see Henrietta. Mary says she’s now convinced that Emma is right for them and Henrietta agrees to put her to the test.

Steed stakes out the building overnight and is in a car, watching outside, early the next morning when Henry emerges. Steed follows him to a cemetery and watches him refresh the flowers on Henrietta’s grave, she died in 1951!

Act 3

That evening, Steed deliberately crashes into Emma’s car so he can tell her about Henrietta being dead before she enters the class. When she does so, Mary orders the women to attack her and is pleased when she easily fights them off.

Mary explains she’s passed the test and she’s ready to meet Henrietta, the real power — “Henry is just a man” — although nobody knows who she really is; they never see her, but they do see her. Emma is surprised when Henry brings in the dummy and it starts giving orders. Emma is presented to Henrietta; the doll asks Emma why she wants to be her own boss. When she struggles to think of an answer, the doll supplies it:

HENRIETTA: Because you have been subjugated to men too long, always at his beckon call. Commanded, used, abused. Always the slave, never the master. 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.

Henrietta gets Mrs. Peel to repeat their swear to their creed, “Ruination to all men!” She does so and the other women chorus it behind her. Sara is then ordered to demonstrate killing a man on Henry, and strangles him with a skipping rope. Henry rubs his neck as Henrietta orders Mrs. Peel to learn the technique,12 then orders Sara and Liz to go and use the technique on Steed.

Sara and Liz turn up at Steed’s, claiming their car broken down. Steed, however, is ready for them and stops Liz from shooting him with a soda siphon, then trusses her with her own jacket before putting a foot stool over her and sitting on it. Sara rushes over and throws several hefty roundhouse punches but is defeated by Steed, who puts her over his knee and tickles her until she spills the beans.13

Emma meanwhile has successfully demonstrated throttling and is given a bracelet, which Henry explains is functional — the radio, smoke bomb, poison vial and gun all work. At that moment, Gladys enters and demands to know why Emma is there, explaining she had been snooping at Hooter’s place. Emma makes a break for the door but is caught and Henrietta ponders the dilemma set before them.

HENRIETTA: Well, this sets us a problem… We’ve never had to kill a woman before — never one of our own kind.

Steed breaks into the keep fit class via a side window and finds Rudge gagged and tied to Henrietta’s chair. Rudge tells him they’re making him devise complicated accounting systems and are planning to take over the business world with the motto “ruination to all men”.

Steed accidentally knocks over a walkie talkie as he frees him and the women hear Rudge telling him where they are. When he enters the exercise studio, Steed is quickly surrounded and Emma is thrust towards him, The Avengers embrace as they are surrounded by the killers.

Steed sees Henrietta and wonders who is pulling the strings. Steed asks how they could manage ruination to all men, walking slowly towards the doll, and the women all shout it will not be difficult. Henry approaches to stop Steed touching Henrietta and the doll stops talking and gasps when Steed suddenly winds Henry with his umbrella handle.

The women are shocked to discover that they have been taking orders from Henry all along, as Steed demonstrates that the doll is controlled by Henry’s wristwatch.

STEED: No man will dominate you? You’ve been taking orders from a man all the time!

Henry shouts, “No!” and clutches the doll to his chest. He says Henrietta would have been the greatest ballerina ever, trained by him — until men convinced her to start her own business, which they would run, but she went bankrupt and took her own life.

Henry draws a revolder and backs out of the room while the women set upon Emma, who assures Steed she can manage — flinging the women across the room to prove her point. Steed goes after Henry and they exchange gunfire, Henry eventually taking a bullet in the chest — which also passed through the doll. Emma enters to find man and doll on the floor, their lips touching in a final farewell kiss.

Epilogue

Steed and Mrs. Peel practice ventriloquism, sitting in a caravan that suddenly takes off, knocking them backwards.


  1. The phrases “Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.” are ingrained in the national psyche of Britain, having been used in the story-telling segments of the BBC radio show Listen with Mother from 1950 to 1982. The phrase is often used, frequently humorously, by script writers due to its familiarity with audiences.
  2. We don’t see Sara in this scene and at this point we don’t know that Sara’s last name is Penny yet, so unless you recognised her voice from the two short lines she’s had so far this scene makes Rudge seem a more likely villain.
  3. The timeframe is unclear but her rendezvous seems to be in the evening and she has changed her clothes from earlier.
  4. Insurance can’t be it as there are no links between beneficiaries, half the companies were private so it’s not stock market fraud and personal grudge seems unlikely.
  5. We don’t see Steed fighting the directly as you can’t show violence against women, so there are close-ups of Steed flailing in the dark, shadowy shots, and a silhouette of a woman hitting him with a shoe. The women involved, based on their clothing and hair, are Liz and Mary.
  6. The script quickly follows up the jokes about Hooter smelling with sexual innuendo about his nose — a splendid beast, naked before her, then Hooter adds:
    but wait until you see him in action Mrs. Peel — wait until you see him twitch and flare.
  7. Brian Clemens inserts Colonel Robertson — although here Steed just calls him “Colonel”, only ever contacted by phone, into three episodes at the end of series 4 (The House That Jack Built, How to Succeed .... at Murder and Honey for the Prince) and may have been toying with adding a “Mother” boss figure two years earlier than he did.
  8. An extraordinary amount of money in 1966, worth the equivalent of between £65,000,000 and £90,000,000 in 2023.
  9. We don’t have a scene to explain Mrs. Peel suddenly working at Morton’s office but I suppose it’s self-evident.
  10. This is why they couldn’t find a link before, it’s not personal revenge but random killing of rich targets.
  11. There’s good reason why these women were angry at men!
  12. Spoiler, if you haven’t seen it coming:
    It’s a subtle point but Henry has a high collar, clearly reinforced so he can endure strangling and have Henrietta’s voice unaffected.
  13. They were defeated remarkably easily but I suppose they had only had soft targets up to this point.

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