Monday, May 25, 2020

Murder Must Advertise

My introduction to Dorothy L. Sayers' aristocratic amateur detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, was via the 1972-75 TV series broadcast in the U.S. on Masterpiece Theatre. Set in the 1920s and early 1930s, the series featured adaptations of five Sayers novels. Each mystery comprised four or five episodes and starred Ian Carmichael as the title character. The highlight of the series was The Nine Tailors (1974), which we reviewed on this blog previously. Today's review covers the third adaptation, Murder Must Advertise (1973), which is a faithful version of Sayers' 1933 novel.

Before apparently falling to his death, an employee at Pym Publicity, Ltd., an advertising agency, pens a vague note about suspicious activities taking place at the firm. The owner hires Lord Peter to conduct an inquiry, which he facilitates by hiring the amateur detective--under a false identity--as the new copywriter. It doesn't take long for Lord Peter to discover that his murder investigation is linked to a large-scale dope distribution case being worked by his brother-in-law, Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Parker.

Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey.
Murder Must Advertise differs from Carmichael's other four Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. First, Lord Peter's faithful butler Bunter (played three times by Glyn Houston) is missing from the plot. That's a shame since the pragmatic Bunter provided the perfect counterpart to the more intellectual Wimsey. However, Bunter is only mentioned briefly in Sayers' novel, so his absence is a result of remaining faithful to the book. In his stead, Inspector Parker has more scenes with Lord Peter.

Secondly, Murder Must Advertise is not a standard whodunit; it's more of a "how did they do it." There are only a few viable suspects, so it's not hard to guess the culprit. However, the method of the murder is quite clever--as is the criminals' elaborate scheme for distributing cocaine to the upper class.

By the time he starred as Lord Peter, veteran actor Ian Carmichael was 53. That made him at least a decade older than Sayers' detective. The age difference is not a factor in the other adaptations, but it is noticeable in Murder Must Advertise. Part of the plot hinges on the attraction that a young socialite has for Wimsey's "bad boy" alter-ego. As good as Carmichael is, he can't quite pull that off.

Veteran actor Peter Bowles.
The supporting cast includes some familiar faces to fans of British television. One of the Pym employees is played by Christopher Timothy, who charmed audiences for years as veterinarian James Herriot in All Creatures Great and Small. There's also Peter Bowles, best known in the U.S. for the quirky series The Irish R.M., who is convincing as a retired major eager to exploit drug addiction for profit.

Murder Must Advertise is not as strong as the other four Lord Peter Wimsey adaptations--but don't let that discourage you from watching it. It's still first-rate television and Carmichael makes it grand fun. Some of the best scenes are of Lord Peter writing his first commercial jingles and introducing himself to the staff. He states that his name is Death Bredon--making a point to note that while most people pronounce that name as "Deeth," he prefers to use "Death" (as in rhyming with "breath").


  1. So glad you unearthed these. I love this series! I actually think this episode is my favorite because it's more complex than the others in many ways (especially the ending, where we see a more vulnerable Lord Peter). I guess my idea of what makes a "bad boy" attractive differs from many other people's because I think Carmichael has enough charisma to lend an interesting spin on the bad boy. There's a subtle dangerousness in the way he portrays the harlequin that I could see a young socialite being attracted to (and Bridget Armstrong, who plays Dian, is brilliant here). True, Carmichael's age shows a bit more here in relation to Dian's youth, but I never found the Lord Peter in the book all that sexy either (and he's supposed to be).


  2. I know my sister (not that one, one of the other ones) must have these in her video library. Now I want nothing more to watch them again after reading your review. As I recall someone at the agency refers to the new employee as a Bertie Wooster. Or was that something else?