Mr Selfridge: Perfume-Story of a Scandal

Mr SelfridgePreviously on Mr Selfridge: Agnes’s violent, alcoholic father showed back up, Harry took things with Ellen to the next level, and Rose met a highly stereotypical Sensitive Artist who tried to hit on her.

Ellen is dancing around in her underwear, singing The Honeysuckle and the Bee while Harry practically salivates. He does us all a favour by chasing her down, which stops her singing. I didn’t really notice in earlier episodes, but damn, Zoe Tapper really can’t sing. It’s making it rather hard to take her seriously in the part of a leading showgirl.

Later, Harry reclines shirtless in bed (but still, oddly, wearing his trousers) while Ellen puts on makeup at her dressing table. He comments that he loves watching her make herself up, and then hastens to add that, of course, she doesn’t need it. She tells him it’s what people expect of her. We get a bit of background on her: she got her big break at 18, when the leading lady fell ill. She was named Joyce back then, and the director told her that her dancing’s good, but the name was rubbish. Harry comes over and scoops her up to carry her back to bed.

Agnes arrives home to find her father unexpectedly there. He admits he’s been sacked and she realises he’s drunk and tries to get him to bed. Her father asks why she looks down her nose at him, since he’s done everything for her. She tells him that’s nonsense, that she, in fact, has done everything for herself and George. He then claims he didn’t always drink (well, yes, presumably he wasn’t an alcoholic in infancy, I guess) and Agnes stupidly pokes the bear by sneering that she can’t remember him ever being sober. He slaps her hard across the face and she gets up and stumbles into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.

Rose sits at her own dressing table, delicately powdering her face and putting on dabs of perfume. Checking to make sure no one’s around, she also takes a gander at a drawing of her new artist friend. She hurriedly shoves it away when Harry comes in, asking for help with his collar.

Harry dodges horse piles as he crosses the street and is immediately met by—I’m not joking—paparazzi outside the store. They have a camera and everything. Come on, show. Those cameras were huge and cumbersome—would they have really lugged one all the way down to the shop just to get a picture of Harry? The reporter on hand wants to know what he’s going to do to top the aeroplane but he plays coy.

Inside, he gleefully watches people rush in and out, and then gathers Crabb, Henri, Grove, and Mardle and tells them he wants to move perfumes out of the pharmacy and onto the shop floor. They’re astonished at the very idea, but Harry tells them that’s how they do it in France. Not the way to sell an idea to English people, Harry. He wants to put perfumes right at the front of the store, in part to mask the smell of horse manure coming through the doors. This may have started as a practical idea, but Selfridge has no idea he’s creating one of the most annoying, torturous, godawful things about shopping in a department store. I hate that you almost always have to walk in through beauty and perfumes and run that gauntlet of people trying to hand you things and spray you with synthetic crap.

Harry further shocks them by telling them he wants beauty products alongside the perfumes, because the beauty products are impossible to find, scattered about in such a way that their locations make no sense. Henri’s on board, of course. Harry suggests putting out makeup but Crabb tells him that selling makeup above the counter is really risky, because no respectable woman would buy it and it could make the store look like its catering to an unsavoury clientele. Henri, conveniently enough, has a friend, Valerie, who works for J Walter Thompson in New York and just happens to be visiting. How convenient! He suggests bringing her in to see how these ideas fly with her. I have to take a moment to commend the show for doing some decent research here: JWT was, in fact, one of the first companies to pioneer ad careers for women, and it apparently hired the first female creative director in 1908. They apparently also invented the grilled cheese sandwich (for Kraft, one of their clients).

Blenkinsop pokes her head into the office and tells Harry that Ellen’s downstairs and wants to speak to him. He quietly asks her what she wants and hears Ellen can’t seem to decide between two fur coats. Talk about first world problems. After Harry goes, Mardle hisses to another female manager that Ellen’s in constantly, buying on Harry’s credit. Crabb tells them both to stop gossiping and they hurry out.

Downstairs, Ellen’s doing an impromptu show that seems to consist of her hiking up her skirt a few inches, shuffling back and forth, and singing horribly off-key. But the crowd loves it, including the Catty Bitches. Doris the CB brainlessly says she wishes she could dance like that. Doris, anyone with basic motor skills can dance like that. Kitty says she can do it, and picks up her skirt to show her. Seriously, how do these women still have jobs? Harry comes down and tells the CBs to get back to their counters. Ellen catches sight of him and yanks him forward to dance with her. He tries to demur, but the crowd applauds and we know he can’t resist a crowd. As the two waltz around, his mother comes in and wanders over to see what all the fuss is about. Ellen plants a kiss on his cheek and Harry catches sight of his mum, who sadly shakes her head at him.

Harry settles his mother in the palm court, and she reminds him that Rose’s birthday is coming up. She also tells him he has some lipstick on his cheek. He scrubs it off and tells his mother it’s good to have Ellen come into the store, because she encourages people to buy. She warns him that it’s very important that he maintain a professional relationship with her.

Henri paces downstairs, waiting for Valerie. She finally comes in, looking oh-so-very professional in a no-nonsense brown skirt and buttoned-up blouse, and he greets her warmly with a kiss on both cheeks. The CBs figure she must be a ‘lady friend’ and think she’s lucky.

Upstairs, Harry greets Valerie with kisses as well, as the crew from earlier comes in and takes a seat. Harry tells Valerie that they’re debating whether or not to sell cosmetics out in the open. Valerie says that powder’s pretty acceptable, but rouge and lipstick are still associated with ladies of the night and suffragettes. Crabb gasps that selling these things in the very doorway of the shop would send the wrong message, and that reputation is everything in London. They can’t really afford to tarnish theirs.

Later, Henri and Valerie are in bed together, discussing dinner plans and other things. She asks him to come to New York with her and he tells her he promised he’d see Harry through the first year.

Rose is paging through a book of photographs in the sitting room, significantly focusing on a picture of a foundering boat with the legend ‘abandoned’ underneath it. Subtle, show. Her eldest daughter, Rosalie, comes in and admits she’s a bit bored with the younger siblings off at school. Rose suggests sending her to a finishing school, but Rosalie wants to party. Specifically, she wants to do the London Season. Rose tells her she doesn’t think they quite have the connections for that, but Rosalie says there must be a way in.

Henri and Harry walk the floor and discuss where to put the new beauty counters. Displays are shifted, Mardle wonders where to put gentlemen’s gloves. Drama! Harry wonders to Henri whether this will work and Henri tells him it certainly will, because women want to make themselves beautiful for men. Harry notes that Henri seems the teensiest bit down and immediately guesses it’s a Valerie problem. He offers to take Henri out.

And where does he take him? Ellen’s show. Poor choice, Harry. And the show’s even more annoying than usual. Ellen’s dancing around with a teddy bear in pink satin PJs and singing in a baby voice about how great it is to be a pink pyjama girl. Is that code for something? She tosses her teddy bear at Harry, who laps it up.

After the show, Harry takes Henri back to Ellen’s dressing room. With a bit of attitude, she asks Henri if he liked the show and he punts that it was ‘amusing.’ Harry explains that Henri likes the opera and Henri rhapsodizes that the divas sing like goddesses. Ellen immediately takes that as a slur on her singing ability, which I don’t think is what Henri meant at all, even though it’s true that she’s not exactly a talent in that area. Henri tells her she has ‘other assets.’ Hee! She sneers at his job and Harry tries to call a truce, urging them to be friends. They bow frigidly to each other.

Harry takes Henri and Ellen to a party either being thrown or attended by Edwards. Harry immediately joins a card game being played by Tony, Lady Mae’s toyboy. Edwards tries to warn him off, lest he piss off Lady M, and Ellen tries to charm him home with her, but he shrugs both off and joins the table. Ellen stomps off and takes up a seat outside the room, where Henri finds her. She observes that he doesn’t like her and guesses it’s because she didn’t like those photographs. He says that’s one of the reasons. The other is that he knows she’s trouble, and Harry’s drawn to trouble. She realises that he’s very fond of Harry and asks if he’s one of ‘those kinds of men.’ He says he’s not, he’s a perfectionist. She insists that she is too, which is why she hated the pictures. He makes a deal with her that she can pick all the poses for the next pictures. Oh, please tell me he’s setting her up. I don’t really hate Ellen, I just think she’s trouble, like he says, and I sort of love Henri, so I want to see him triumph here.

The card game gets whittled down to just Tony and Harry, and Harry wins the last hand with a full house, beating Tony’s straight. Tony’s a sore little loser and throws himself a wee temper tantrum before flouncing out.

Harry returns home and climbs into bed beside Rose, who is, of course, just pretending to be asleep.

Ellen, meanwhile, is all alone in her posh apartment, singing the Honeysuckle and the Bee again. She goes into her bedroom, sits on the bed for a bit, and then goes to the dressing table to do a little coke. Which she was probably able to buy legally at any pharmacy at that time. Bet they won’t be putting that front and centre at the store anytime soon, though.

Agnes, at her own dressing table (sensing a theme here?) carefully applies makeup to cover up her black eye. Just as she’s finishing, Victor comes and rings the bell, bringing homemade breakfast and a pretty face early in the morning. Agnes lies that she’s been out of work sick. He offers to walk to work with her, even though surely they both know relationships between staffers are forbidden, and Agnes claims she’s not ready, before practically throwing George at him and slamming the door. Victor, not being a complete idiot, knows something’s up, although, strangely, George acts like everything’s just hunky-dory.

Rose has apparently finally figured out how to work the Society system and goes to Lady Mae’s to get some help.

Agnes arrives at work and finds all the new perfume displays, which do look beautiful indeed. Henri notices her admiring them and asks what she thinks. She knows it’s all the rage in Paris, but tells him she wouldn’t dare touch any of these herself, because the bottles look so precious, and the prices are high (£3 for one bottle, which is the equivalent of more than £200 today, according to my highly unscientific research). Henri asks if she wears scent and she admits to using Yardley lavender. Doris notes that Agnes is back and tells her they’ve got some fabulous new hats in. Agnes escapes Henri and makes her way to the accessories counter, where Kitty lives up to her nickname and bitchily sneers that Agnes has finally decided to grace them with her presence. Mardle welcomes her back and Kitty, for no reason at all, points out that Agnes has a shiner. ‘How did that happen, I wonder?’ she simpers. Jesus, what a horrible woman. Agnes claims that she fainted and hit her cheek.

Rose is being kept waiting at Lady Mae’s. After a while, Mae swans in and asks what she can do for Rose. Rose tells her that Rosalie wants to be presented at court, and Rose doesn’t even know where to begin. Mae says she’s delighted, and she really does look rather excited to have a project. She offers to start off by hosting a tea party and says everyone will want to come, because Rose and Harry are much talked of. This gives her an opening to tell Rose that talk is fine, but gossip is not, and it seems that there’s a bit of gossip going about regarding Harry and Ellen. Rose tells her that Harry’s extracurricular ‘interests’ don’t usually last long, and it’s best to ignore them. She dismisses Ellen as just a chorus girl but Mae warns her that chorus girls can rise. And she would know, too, having been one of the original Edwardes Gaiety Girls. She warns Rose not to underestimate the competition and tells her she’s heard Harry installed the girl in a flat. See, Harry? I knew it was only a matter of time before that got out!

A saleswoman’s demonstrating the perfumes to a group of women, but Harry, looking on from above with Henri and Valerie, notices nobody’s buying. Henri says the perfumes are all too expensive and Valerie suggests they produce their own label, which they can do easily and cheaply thanks to chemical synthesis. Luckily, she has a contact at a factory right there in London. Harry loves the idea and thinks they should have Ellen endorse it. Henri’s not keen but Harry’s on a roll. He asks Valerie to come work for him in London but she says she belongs in New York. She bids them farewell so she can go pack and Harry motions for Henri to go after her. He does and tells her that Harry’s serious about the job. She knows, but tells him she just can’t stay in London. He asks her to at least think about it and she kisses him on the cheek, smiles sadly, and leaves. Henri turns and catches sight of Agnes watching them as she unpacks new stock. How many other romances is Agnes going to be privy to in this place?

Rose is taking her humiliation to the artist’s flat, and I didn’t mention it in the last recap, but he lives in a truly fabulous beaux artes building, so I don’t think we can really call him a starving artist by any means. He’s delighted to see her and tells her he’s been practically haunting the National Gallery in the hope she’ll show up. He asks why she suddenly showed up and she says, with a brief flash of pain, that it was just an impulse. She also feels badly about having left when he was just showing her his work the last time. She admires a few paintings—still lives—and he tells her he much prefers painting people. She asks him to paint her.

Agnes unpacks a red hat that’s a vast improvement over her usual one, and she tries it on secretly in the storage room. In comes Henri, who’s been looking for her so he can get her help with the perfume. He wants it to appeal to the everywoman, not just rich ladies. He wants something simple and fresh.

Harry tells Ellen about the perfume idea and she’s delighted by the prospect of endorsing a pricy scent, like a French opera singer she knows of. Harry tells her this isn’t going to be some fancy French perfume, it’s going to be affordable. She zooms in on that and translates it to ‘cheap’. She’s not interested. Harry tells her that they’ll be doing a big in-house promotion, and the perfume will get its own window. That gets her attention, and suddenly she’s all in.

Rose returns home, rather late, it seems, and Rosalie comes rushing out to tell her that Mae came by and they’ve already started planning events. Rose seems disappointed that she didn’t get to tell Rosalie her good news.

Mae’s at her dressing table, applying powder. Tony comes in, drunk and looking like a contrite toddler, and tells her he lost an awful lot of money to Selfridge.

Victor finds George in the loading bay and mentions he hasn’t seen Agnes in a few days. George tells him she’s helping Henri out, and she’s really excited about it. He tells Victor that his sister’s going to do well for herself.

Upstairs, Agnes admires a pot of lily-of-the-valley that Henri’s sketching. It’s their inspiration for the perfume. She loves it because her mother loved them, and for him it evokes memories of young lovers giving each other bouquets in Paris. She screws up her courage and asks him about Valerie. He admits that they’ve known each other since they were kids and he once asked her to marry him, but she turned him down. Agnes quietly says she’s sorry. She changes the subject, asking him when he’s going to show the sketch to Harry. Henri says he’ll do it soon, but he has to take care of something first.

Harry arrives at the office and is told by Blenkinsop that Mae’s waiting for him in the palm court. Harry grimaces but obediently goes to meet her. She wastes no time bringing up the gambling debt and tells him this is no way to thank someone who found him a backer and is helping his daughter get on in society. She’s calling in her big favour. And it sure is a big one: she wants him to actively support suffrage and sell some of the suffragettes’ memorabilia. He casts an eye over it and recognises the colours as belonging to Mrs Pankhurst, who advocates violence, though only in extreme cases, according to Mae. Mae also wants a large table reserved in the palm court every Tuesday for the London suffragist contingent she belongs to. Harry smiles tightly and passes the word on to Victor. Mae gives Victor a once over and mentions she’s getting a bit tired of Tony. Oh dear. Victor, this is one cougar you may have trouble turning down.

Henri’s trying to get photos of Ellen with the perfume, but they agree they’re not quite getting what they want. She has everyone else sent away and starts posing sexily. He gets really into it, and although he doesn’t actually say ‘work it, baby, work it!’ he gets pretty close, urging her to play around and have some fun.

Ellen and Henri excitedly take the photos to Harry, and although they’re pretty tame by our standards, in 1909 they’d practically have been soft porn. Harry tells them he can’t use these, because this is a family store. He shortly tells Ellen he needs to talk to Henri, and no, they would not be having their usual lunch together. Stunned, Ellen looks up at Henri, who gives her the teensiest little smirk in response. Ha! I knew he was setting her up. Henri is definitely my favourite character on this show right now, followed rather closely by Mae.

Once Ellen’s gone, Henri mentions that he just so happens to have something else they might be able to use. He produces his sketch, and Harry loves it. The camera fades to the perfume’s window, which Agnes happily drinks in. Henri comes out and asks if she likes it. She does. He tells her this is her window and he won’t forget the help she gave him. Victor watches the two of them admire their handiwork from across the street, then turns and walks away.

Ellen’s back on stage, but she notices, to her surprise, that Harry’s not in his usual box. Hopefully he’s finally come to his senses.

At the store, Crabb happily reports that the perfume’s flying off the shelves. He asks Harry what he plans to do about cosmetics and Harry says they’ll stock powder, rouge, and lipstick but keep it under the counter and have people ask for it. Crabb approves. Harry bids him goodnight and heads home…

…where he’s unlikely to find Agnes, because she’s posing for the artist. He wants to have her doing something in the painting, so he has her pose…as if she’s painting. How meta!

Harry arrives chez Selfridge and greets the kids before asking where their mom is.

2 thoughts on “Mr Selfridge: Perfume-Story of a Scandal

  1. It is ROSE who is posing for the artist – not Agnes. Just to let you know I read it all the way to the end. And yes, I do hope Ellen is going to disappear soon!

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