Miss Marple (TV series)

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This article is about the BBC series starring Joan Hickson. For the ITV series with Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie, see Agatha Christie's Marple.
Miss Marple
Miss Marple Title.jpg
Title card
Starring Joan Hickson
David Horovitch
Ian Brimble
John Castle
Gwen Watford
Barbara Hicks
Christopher Good
Various Others
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of episodes 12
Production
Running time 120 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel BBC One
Original run 23 December 1984 (1984-12-23)  – 26 November 1992 (1992-11-26)
Chronology
Related shows Agatha Christie's Marple

Miss Marple is a British television series based on the Miss Marple murder mystery novels by Agatha Christie. It starred Joan Hickson in the title role, and aired from 1984 to 1992. All 12 original Miss Marple Christie novels were dramatised. The adaptations were written by T. R. Bowen, Julia Jones, Alan Plater, Ken Taylor and Jill Hyem, and the series was produced by George Gallaccio. In addition to its availability on VHS and DVD, the series will begin to be released on Blu-ray Disc in October 2014, marking its 30th anniversary.

Background[edit]

Christie had never been very happy with most filmed adaptations of her works, and according to her grandson Mathew Pritchard, who handled her estate after her death, "did not care much for television" either. Producer Pat Sandys of LWT first approached Pritchard and the Christie estate with a researched, detailed plan to film the novels Why Didn't They Ask Evans? and The Seven Dials Mystery in the early 1980s. Although indifferently treated by critics, the projects were popular with audiences and led to the filming of a number of short stories and the Tommy and Tuppence Beresford stories including The Secret Adversary and in the subsequent series Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime. With the success of that series, the BBC got the approval to produce the stories of one of Christie's most famous detectives.[1]

Joan Hickson as the title character

Joan Hickson, who played Miss Marple, was an octogenarian herself during most of the series' production. Decades before, she had appeared in a minor role in Murder, She Said, in which Margaret Rutherford played Miss Marple. The adaptations are mainly true to the original novels. Hickson had also appeared in a stage adaptation of the novel Appointment with Death in 1946, after which Christie sent Hickson a note "I hope one day you will play my dear Miss Marple."[2]

There were two other semi-regular characters in Miss Marple. The first was Inspector Slack (later Superintendent), played by David Horovitch, the second was Constable (later Sergeant) Lake, played by Ian Brimble. Inspector/Superintendent Slack and Detective Constable/Sergeant Lake appeared in five episodes, Body in the Library, Murder at the Vicarage, 4.50 From Paddington, They Do It with Mirrors and The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. They are the official detectives and both (particularly Slack) originally dislike and are exasperated by Miss Marple, her interference and her methods, but they eventually come to respect (and indeed, in the case of Lake, like) her.

There were also four other recurring characters. John Castle appeared as Miss Marple's nephew, Inspector Dermot Eric Craddock in A Murder Is Announced and The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. Gwen Watford appeared in Body in the Library and The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side as Miss Marple's good friend, neighbour and colleague, Mrs Dolly Bantry. Barbara Hicks appeared in The Murder at the Vicarage and The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side as another of Miss Marple's good friends, neighbours and colleagues, Miss Amanda Hartnell. Christopher Good appeared as Ronnie Hawes in Murder at the Vicarage and The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side.

Characters[edit]

Besides Miss Marple, there were several other recurring characters:

  • Inspector/Superintendent Slack (David Horovitch) – Slack is the senior officer in charge of many cases. He has been described as a man who has never strived more to contradict his name. Miss Marple described him as having the same personality as that of a diesel engine, most unappealing, but efficient. When Slack first met Miss Marple, her strange personality and her quirky methods caused him to think she was batty, and thus took no notice of her. Slack especially disliked the fact that his superiors think highly of Miss Marple and consult her for advice (although he later ends up doing the same). Usually, Slack passes over Miss Marple's beliefs and dislikes her interfering, although he later comes to value her advice. In his final appearance, it is revealed that Slack has been promoted to Superintendent and appears to have grown wiser, even telling an officer to consult Miss Marple. In They Do It with Mirrors it is revealed that Slack has a secret passion for magic tricks, and secretly practices. Slack featured in the novels of The Murder at the Vicarage and The Body in the Library. In the Geraldine McEwan version of the first novel, Slack was played by Stephen Tompkinson.
  • Constable/Sergeant Lake (Ian Brimble) – Lake was Slack's colleague and often worked with him. He was also very bemused by Miss Marple, her quirky ways, her unusual methods and her claims of solving the cases based on trivial stories from her past. However, the difference was whilst Miss Marple annoyed Slack, Lake found her quite funny. By the time of They Do It With Mirrors, Lake was on friendly terms with Miss Marple and also revealed he has a young son called Adam. When Slack is promoted, Lake gets more roles in the art of criminal investigation but stays a Sergeant. Lake featured in the novel of They Do It With Mirrors. In the Julia McKenzie version of the same novel (Lake appeared in the novel and both versions), Lake was played by Sean Hughes.

Episodes[edit]

Title Airdate Guest cast and synopsis IMDb link
The Body in the Library 23, 24, 25 December 1984 Gwen Watford, Moray Watson, Trudie Styler, Jess Conrad, Ciaran Madden, Keith Drinkel, Debbie Arnold, Frederick Jaeger, Valentine Dyall, Raymond Francis, David Horovitch, Ian Brimble, Anthony Smee, Andrew Cruickshank, Hugh Walters, Arthur Bostrom, Martyn Read, Stephen Churchett, Astra Sheridan, John Moffatt [3]
Miss Marple assists her neighbours the Bantrys when a lovely young girl is found dead in their library. The girl is traced to a seaside resort and the desperate family of a wealthy old man.
The Moving Finger 21, 22 February 1985 Michael Culver, Elizabeth Counsell, Richard Pearson, Sabina Franklyn, Andrew Bicknell, Hilary Mason, Dilys Hamlett, Deborah Appleby, John Arnatt, Sandra Payne, Martin Fisk, Imogen Bickford-Smith, Geoffrey Davion, Roger Ostime, Victor Maddern, Gordon Rollings, Patsy Smart, Penelope Lee, Gerald Sim [4]
Poison pen letters are being sent to everyone in town. It seems like a vulgar joke until a letter is found next to a suicide victim. Then another body is found, and another...
A Pocketful of Rye[5] 7, 8 March 1985 Peter Davison, Timothy West, Stacy Dorning, Annette Badland, Fabia Drake, Clive Merrison, Rachel Bell, Selina Cadell, Tom Wilkinson, Frances Low, Susan Gilmore, Frank Mills, Louis Mahoney, Rhoda Lewis, Charles Pemberton [6]
When the members of a wealthy banking family start dropping like flies, Miss Marple is reminded of the old nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence and vows to find the villainous "blackbird" behind the crimes.
A Murder is Announced 23, 24, 25 December 1985 Ursula Howells, Renée Asherson, Joan Sims, John Castle, Sylvia Syms, Ralph Michael, Paola Dionisotti, Samantha Bond, Simon Shepherd, Nicola King, Matthew Solon, Mary Kerridge, Vivienne Moore, David Collings, Elaine Ives-Cameron, Joyce Carey, Kevin Whately, Liz Crowther [7]
A party game goes wrong and a young Swiss man is dead. Friends and neighbours start to turn on each other, and Inspector Craddock is stumped. Fortunately, Miss Marple is in town visiting her niece and helps solve the crime.
The Murder at the Vicarage 25 December 1986 Paul Eddington, Cheryl Campbell, Robert Lang, Polly Adams, Tara MacGowran, James Hazeldine, Jack Galloway, Rosalie Crutchley, Norma West, Christopher Good, Rachel Weaver [8]
Death is only steps from Miss Marple when odious magistrate Colonel Protheroe is murdered in her idyllic village of St. Mary Mead. And in the Vicar's study, no less!
Sleeping Murder 11, 18 January 1987 Geraldine Alexander, John Moulder-Brown, Jean Anderson, Terrence Hardiman, Frederick Treves, John Bennett, Geraldine Newman, Jack Watson, Jean Heywood, Amanda Boxer, John Ringham, David McAlister, Kenneth Cope, Gary Watson, Donald Burton, Sheila Raynor [9]
A young wife believes her house is haunted. She comes to realize she witnessed the murder of her stepmother there 20 years ago as a child. To help the newlyweds, Miss Marple risks her life solving the crime, stirring a sleeping murderer in the process.
At Bertram's Hotel 25 January; 1 February 1987 Caroline Blakiston, Joan Greenwood, George Baker, James Cossins, Helena Michell, Irene Sutcliffe, Preston Lockwood, Edward Burnham, Donald Burton, Peter Baldwin [10]
False identities, larceny, and a crime ring are only the tip of the tentacle when Miss Marple stays in a posh London hotel (modeled after Brown's Hotel) where nothing is what it seems. Murder naturally follows, leading to a thrilling chase after the culprit.
Nemesis 8, 15 February 1987 Margaret Tyzack, John Horsley, Anna Cropper, Valerie Lush, Helen Cherry, Peter Tilbury, Liz Fraser, Bruce Payne, Joanna Hole, Jane Booker, Alison Skilbeck, Frank Gatliff, Peter Copley, Roger Hammond, David Blake Kelly, Cy Town [11]
Miss Marple is sent on a mission from beyond the grave to clear a dead man's son. Vowing to find out the truth, she links him to a dead girl, Verity Hunt, and a family of weird sisters. She discovers love, as well as hate, can be a reason for murder.
4.50 From Paddington 25 December 1987 Maurice Denham, Joanna David, Jill Meager, Andrew Burt, Jean Boht, John Hallam, Mona Bruce, Rhoda Lewis, Richard Ashley [12]
After Miss Marple's friend witnesses a murder in a railway carriage running parallel to her own, Miss Marple engages a resourceful young woman to investigate. The search leads to a decrepit estate, where they suspect the body was dumped. But the seemingly innocent family who live there have secrets of their own.
A Caribbean Mystery 25 December 1989 Donald Pleasence, Sophie Ward, Adrian Lukis, T. P. McKenna, Frank Middlemass, Sue Lloyd, Robert Swan, Michael Feast, Sheila Ruskin, Joseph Mydell, Barbara Barnes, Valerie Buchanan [13]
While holidaying in Barbados, Miss Marple hears a lot of stories by a dotty Major who tells tall tales of knowing a murderer. But when the Major turns up dead, the wild beauty of the island can't hide the trail of a manipulative and ruthless killer.
They Do It with Mirrors 7 January 1991 Jean Simmons, Joss Ackland, Faith Brook, Holly Aird, Christopher Villiers, Brenda Cowling [14]
At an estate turned reformatory school, Miss Marple visits her old school chum Carrie Louise. When Carrie Louise's dear stepson is killed, the discontent family is only the beginning as there are literally hundreds of suspects!
The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side 26 November 1992 Claire Bloom, Barry Newman, Gwen Watford, John Castle, Elizabeth Garvie, Judy Cornwell, Glynis Barber, Christopher Hancock, Rose Keegan, Christopher Good, Rhoda Lewis, Jon Croft [15]
Hollywood comes to St. Mary Mead when faded movie star Marina Gregg takes up residence for a local film shoot. But when she narrowly escapes an attempt on her life and a local woman dies instead, Miss Marple sorts the gossip rag chatter from the facts to uncover a tragedy.

Production[edit]

Producer Guy Slater of the BBC cast Hickson. The series was filmed beginning in 1983 in areas including Norfolk, Devon, Barbados, near Oxford and the town of Nether Wallop, Hampshire doubled as Marple's village of St. Mary Mead. Slater was replaced by producer George Gallaccio starting with the fourth film. The Murder at the Vicarage was set in 1954, Nemesis was set in 1955 or 1956 and 4.50 from Paddington was set in 1957.

Hickson vowed not to do another film after 1989's A Caribbean Mystery, but was persuaded to return for the final two films in 1991 and 1992. A Caribbean Mystery was shot on location at the Coral Reef Hotel in Barbados, where Christie had stayed in her visit to the country, and which had been the inspiration for the setting of the novel. Owners Budge and Cynthia O'Hara, who still owned the hotel 30 years later, were the inspirations for the characters in the novel and were able to share a treasure trove of Christie memorabilia with the cast.[2]

The evocative theme tune for the TV series was composed by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley. The series opening titles featured paintings of seemingly pleasant village life, darkened by suspicious looking characters and the shot of a murder victim behind a cricket score board. Gossipy women were made to look like they were hiding secrets, whilst the vicar appeared to be hiding in the shadows. Initially, these paintings were back and white. In later episodes, new, colour drawings replaced these, though they still depicted suspicious looking villagers in twee surroundings.

Although the books A Caribbean Mystery was written in 1964 and Nemesis in 1971, they were filmed out of order. Nemesis was produced in February, 1987 and A Caribbean Mystery in December, 1989. The significance of this is the character "Jason Rafiel". He is introduced in A Caribbean Mystery and in Nemesis he has died and made a request of Miss Marple to solve a years old mystery. Filmed out of order, viewers are clueless as to what part "Jason Rafiel" played in Miss Marple's life until they watch A Caribbean Mystery.

Reception[edit]

The first episode was enthusiastically received by critics. The Times said "once hooked, you won't be able to turn off", and the Sun said it was a series "with pulling power and real class". For episode two, The Moving Finger, The Daily Telegraph stated "Once again Guy Slater's production is built around the brilliant performance of Joan Hickson, behind whose faded blue eyes and spinsterish sibilants, the wheels of detective intelligence can be seen positively whirring around. The enterprise is impeccably cast, beautifully ordered, lovingly photographed." Reviews for subsequent films were equally positive.[2]

Alan McKee, of the Museum of Broadcast Communications, reviews the series as "a good example of a 'heritage' production", popular in the 1980s. It combines new Victorianism in moral standards and a sanitised version of England's past. Mostly set in a rural past, English architecture and country mansion houses are featured. Like many BBC programmes, production values are impeccable and costumes, houses and decor, cars, hairstyles and make-up could all be described as "sumptuous".[16]

McKee also praises the series for "being as faithful as possible to the source material. Miss Marple does not chase the villains herself as Margaret Rutherford does in her film series, nor are the titles of the books altered to make them more sensational.[16]

As for Hickson personally, she is frequently described as the "definitive" Miss Marple as Christie would have pictured her, and Hickson personally credited in large part the bestowal of an OBE award to the role, as Queen Elizabeth II was a large fan of the series and Hickson's performance.[2]

Other countries[edit]

All twelve episodes were shown in the United States on the PBS Mystery! series. Miss Marple was also seen in over 30 countries, including Spain, the former Soviet Union and China.

Home media[edit]

Miss Marple was first released in DVD in the UK (Region 2) in 2000. A complete box set of all 12 episodes was released in 2005 by 2 Entertain Video. In North America (Region 1), episodes were first released in 2001.

In summer 2009 the Sunday edition of the Greek newspaper Kathimerini was offering to its readers, the DVDs (one per week) of the series.

In January 2010, the Daily Mail newspaper offered 6 DVDs (from 2 Entertain Video) each with a complete episode from series. The episodes in the DVD giveaway offer were The Murder at the Vicarage, Sleeping Murder, At Bertram's Hotel, Nemesis, A Caribbean Mystery, and They Do It with Mirrors.

Marking the 30th anniversary of the series, BBC Home Entertainment announced the first Blu-ray Disc release of Miss Marple for October 28, 2014. Remastered in high-definition, the episodes included on the two-disc set Miss Marple: Volume One are "The Body in the Library", "A Murder Is Annnounced", "The Moving Finger" and "Murder at the Vicarage". Bonus features include the first part of the three-part documentary special, A Very British Murder. BBC also offers a three-disc DVD release.[17]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The New Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Agatha Christie, Edited by Dick Riley and Pam McAllister. Ungar Publishing, New York 1979, rev 1986. "Christie on the BBC" Tennenbaum, Michael, p 339 ISBN 0-8044-5803-0
  2. ^ a b c d Agatha Christie: Murder in Four Acts, Haining, Peter, Virgin Books, London, 1990. ISBN 1-85227-273-2
  3. ^ The Body in the Library (TV 1984) – IMDb
  4. ^ IMDb – The Moving Finger (TV 1985)
  5. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=r9Xa-cEZias#t=27
  6. ^ Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye (TV 1985) – IMDb
  7. ^ Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: A Murder Is Announced (TV 1985) – IMDb
  8. ^ The Murder at the Vicarage (TV 1986) – IMDb
  9. ^ Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: Sleeping Murder (TV 1987) – IMDb
  10. ^ IMDb – Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: At Bertram's Hotel (TV 1987)
  11. ^ Miss Marple: Nemesis (TV 1987) – IMDb
  12. ^ 4.50 from Paddington (TV 1987) – IMDb
  13. ^ Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: A Caribbean Mystery (TV 1989) – IMDb
  14. ^ They Do It with Mirrors (TV 1991) – IMDb
  15. ^ The Mirror Crack'd (TV 1992) – IMDb
  16. ^ a b "Museum of Broadcast Communications". Museum.tv. Retrieved 2012-02-17. 
  17. ^ "Miss Marple: Volume One". BBC Home Entertainment, September 18, 2014. Retrieved 2014-09-24. 

External links[edit]