diana rigg

Undertaking Respect

In “Dial a Deadly Number,” Mrs Peel goes to visit the undertaker who is dealing with the victim of the murder she and Steed are investigating. When she asks if the undertaker remembers handling matters for the dead man, Mr Tod-Hunter, the undertaker says he does, and then rattles off the specs for the coffin and talks a bit more about coffin handles.


Emma: The late Mr Tod-Hunter … he was brought here, wasn’t he?
Undertaker: Tod-Hunter? In mahogany and walnut, velvet lined. Sold brass handles, Gothic style. I prefer the Corinthian fluted myself. Tasteful. Tod-Hunter. Yes, he’s with us.

What I find most compelling about this little scene is the way Mrs Peel treats the undertaker. She doesn’t interrupt him or tell him to get to the point and answer her question. She’s not mocking or contemptuous of him. She doesn’t think he’s weird for being so interested in coffin handles. She smiles at him because she likes him and she thinks he is delightful.

When she listens to him and watches him at his work, Mrs Peel sees a craftsman, someone who is dedicated to his work and wants to do it well, someone who wants to do right by the people he serves, and who is unashamed to take pride in the service he provides.

Emma Peel really sees this man. She embraces who he is, and honors him for it.

And the thing is: Diana Rigg didn’t have to play it that way. She didn’t have to play that scene with delight and appreciation. She could have rolled her eyes, or raised her eyebrows, or sneered at the man, but she doesn’t. Rigg honors the undertaker’s character too, and she honors Mrs Peel by playing that scene with respect and an undercurrent of joy.