by Kung Fu Zu 9/19/16
A BBC Drama Mini-Series • It is the summer of 1933 and London is hot. A young man falls down the spiral staircase in Pym’s Advertising Agency and breaks his neck. His replacement Mr. Bredon, personally hired by Mr. Pym, shows up rather more quickly than is considered tasteful. And while he is impeccably dressed and has good manners, he is a somewhat nosy character who is wont to ask all sorts of questions about his deceased predecessor, as well as others in the office.
So begins the four part 1973 BBC mini-series, Murder Must Advertise, based on one of the many Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novels written by Dorothy Sayers.
Of course, Mr. Bredon is actually Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey (played by Ian Carmichael), the brother of the Duke of Denver. Unlike so many of his caste, Lord Peter has decided to do something other than spend time in his club drinking his life away. He has become a real private detective.
After snooping around for a few days, it becomes clear to “Mr. Bredon” that something more than just the creation of ads is going on at Pyms Advertising Agency. Whatever is happening is a deep game which will take all of Lord Peter’s wit and charm to find out.
In the process of doing so, he plays the cynically bored clown, literally, to a booze and drug besotted Dian de Momerie, a young woman of wealth and social standing who is always looking for the next thrill, and to her sometimes boyfriend Major Milligan, a man of questionable repute.
There are four episodes in the series which is unusual for a mystery book of slightly over 200 pages. Rarely does one find such time dedicated to a novel of similar length. And even less often does a film adaptation of any book follow the original so closely. True, some of the characters speak words which were spoken by another in the book, and some minor changes were made to a couple of other characters, but overall, the mini-series is remarkably true to the book.
I saw this series when it was first broadcast on PBS sometime around 1974. As a big fan of period pieces, I found this one a particular treat at the time. The picture of Lord Peter dashing around the country side in his harlequin suit is something I have never forgotten. To my younger self, this was the height of sophistication. (Harlequin costumes were rare as hens’ teeth in our neighborhood growing up.) After over forty years, Murder Must Advertise still holds up.
Although Sayers worked in advertising for almost ten years, the book was not her favorite. But there can be no doubt that her experience gave the story and its characters a certain honesty.
Given modern tastes, the series could probably stand a bit of editing, but not so much as to cut a full 50 minute episode. For my taste however, I wouldn’t want to cut a minute. The series takes the viewer through the worlds of advertising and crime as seen at the more human pace of the early 1930’s.
If you are looking for a witty, tasteful and intelligent TV drama to take your mind off the day’s cares, or for simple pure fun, you could do much worse than spending four hours watching Murder Must Advertise.
Kung Fu Zu is a conservative prognosticator who has traveled widely and lived outside the United States. • (204 views)