Ngaio Marsh circa 1935
|Born||Edith Ngaio Marsh
23 April 1895
Christchurch, New Zealand
|Died||18 February 1982
Christchurch, New Zealand
|Occupation||Writer, theatre director|
|Literary movement||Golden Age of Detective Fiction|
|Relatives||Robert Speight (uncle)|
Dame Ngaio Marsh DBE (//; 23 April 1895 – 18 February 1982), born Edith Ngaio Marsh, was a New Zealand crime writer and theatre director. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1966.
Internationally Marsh is known primarily for her creation Inspector Roderick Alleyn, a gentleman detective who works for the Metropolitan Police (London). She is known as one of the "Queens of Crime" with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Margery Allingham.
Marsh was born in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, where she also died. Her father neglected to register her birth until 1900 and there is some uncertainty about the date. She was the only child of Rose and bank clerk Henry Marsh, described by Marsh as "have-nots." Her mother's sister Ruth married the geologist, lecturer, and curator Robert Speight. Ngaio Marsh was educated at St Margaret's College in Christchurch, where she was one of the first students when the school was founded. She studied painting at the Canterbury College (NZ) School of Art before joining the Allan Wilkie company as an actress and touring New Zealand. From 1928 she divided her time between living in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. From 1928 to 1932 she operated an interior decorating business in Knightsbridge, London.
Internationally she is best known for her 32 detective novels published between 1934 and 1982. Along with Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Agatha Christie, she has been classed as one of the four original "Queens of Crime" — female writers who dominated the genre of crime fiction in the Golden Age of the 1920s and 1930s.
All her novels feature British CID detective Roderick Alleyn. Several novels feature Marsh's other loves, the theatre and painting. A number are set around theatrical productions (Enter a Murderer, Vintage Murder, Overture to Death, Opening Night, Death at the Dolphin, and Light Thickens), and three others are about actors off stage (Colour Scheme, False Scent and Final Curtain). Her short story "'I Can Find My Way Out" is also set around a theatrical production and is the earlier "Jupiter case" referred to in Opening Night. Alleyn marries a painter, Agatha Troy, whom he meets during an investigation (Artists in Crime), and who features in several later novels.
Most of the novels are set in England, but four are set in New Zealand, with Alleyn either on secondment to the New Zealand police (Colour Scheme, and Died in the Wool), or on holiday (Vintage Murder and Photo Finish); Surfeit of Lampreys begins in New Zealand but continues in London.
Marsh's great passion was the theatre. In 1942 she produced a modern-dress Hamlet for the Canterbury University College Drama Society (now University of Canterbury Dramatic Society Incorporated or Dramasoc), the first of many Shakespearean productions with the society until 1969. In 1944, Hamlet and a production of Othello toured a theatre-starved New Zealand to rapturous acclaim. In 1949, assisted by entrepreneur Dan O'Connor, her student players toured Australia with a new version of Othello and Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author. In the 1950s she was involved with the New Zealand Players, a relatively short-lived national professional touring repertory company. In 1972 she was invited by the Christchurch City Council to direct Shakespeare's Henry V, the inaugural production for the opening of the newly constructed James Hay Theatre in Christchurch; she made the unusual choice of casting two male leads, who alternated on different nights.
She lived to see New Zealand set up with a viable professional theatre industry with realistic Arts Council support, with many of her protégés to the forefront. The 430-seat Ngaio Marsh Theatre at the University of Canterbury is named in her honour. Her home on the Cashmere Hills is preserved as a museum.
Awards and honours
- 1948: OBE for services to NZ theatre
- 1962: honorary doctorate by the University of Canterbury
- 1966: Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her contribution to theatre in New Zealand
- 1978: Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement as a detective novelist from the Mystery Writers of America
- 2015: Marsh was honoured on 23 April 2015 with a Google Doodle
Marsh never married and had no children. She enjoyed close companionships with women, including her lifelong friend Sylvia Fox, but denied being lesbian, according to biographer Joanne Drayton. "I think Ngaio Marsh wanted the freedom of being who she was in a world, especially in a New Zealand that was still very conformist in its judgments of what constituted ‘decent jokers, good Sheilas, and ‘weirdos'," Roy Vaughan wrote after meeting her on a P&O Liner. In 1965 she published an autobiography, Black Beech and Honeydew. British author and publisher Margaret Lewis wrote an authorized biography, Ngaio Marsh, A Life in 1991. New Zealand art historian Joanne Drayton's biography, Ngaio Marsh: Her Life in Crime was published in 2008.
Having previously been awarded an OBE, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1966, for "distinguished services in the arts, especially writing and theatre production".
She died in Christchurch, and was buried at the Church of the Holy Innocents, Mount Peel.
All 32 novels feature Chief Inspector Alleyn (later Chief Superintendent) of the Criminal Investigation Department, Metropolitan Police (London). The series is chronological: published and probably written in order of the fictional history.
- A Man Lay Dead (1934)
- Enter a Murderer (1935)
- The Nursing Home Murder (1935)
- Death in Ecstasy (1936)
- Vintage Murder (1937)
- Artists in Crime (1938)
- Death in a White Tie (1938)
- Overture to Death (1939)
- Death at the Bar (1940)
- Surfeit of Lampreys (1941); Death of a Peer in the U.S.
- Death and the Dancing Footman (1942)
- Colour Scheme (1943)
- Died in the Wool (1945)
- Final Curtain (1947)
- Swing Brother Swing (1949); A Wreath for Rivera in the U.S.
- Opening Night (1951); Night at the Vulcan in the U.S.
- Spinsters in Jeopardy (1954); abridged later in the U.S. as The Bride of Death (1955)
- Scales of Justice (1955)
- Off With His Head (1957); Death of a Fool in the U.S.
- Singing in the Shrouds (1959)
- False Scent (1960)
- Hand in Glove (1962)
- Dead Water (1964)
- Death at the Dolphin (1967); Killer Dolphin in the U.S.
- Clutch of Constables (1968)
- When in Rome (1970)
- Tied Up in Tinsel (1972)
- Black As He's Painted (1974)
- Last Ditch (1977)
- Grave Mistake (1978)
- Photo Finish (1980)
- Light Thickens (1982)
Death on the Air and Other Stories, first published in 1995 (U.K.), includes five short fictions in the Alleyn series, three previously published stories and two original biographical essays.
- Roderick Alleyn
- "Death on the Air" (1936)
- "I Can Find My Way Out" (1946—USA)
- "Chapter and Verse: The Little Copplestone Mystery" (1974—USA)
- "Roderick Alleyn" (original)
- "Portrait of Troy" (original)
- Other stories
- "Moonshine" (republished 1936—NZ,2009)
- "The Hand in the Sand" (1953—USA)
- "My Poor Boy" (1959)
- "The Cupid Mirror" (1972)
- "A Fool about Money" (1973—USA)
- "Evil Liver" (script of an episode of the series Crown Court by Granada Television Ltd; recorded in England in 1975)
- "Morepork" (1979—USA)
- Black Beech and Honeydew (1965, autobiography; revised 1981)
- New Zealand (1968)
- Singing Land (1974)
In the 1990s the BBC made radio adaptations of Surfeit of Lampreys, A Man Lay Dead, Opening Night, and When in Rome starring Jeremy Clyde as Inspector Alleyn.
Ngaio Marsh co-wrote a 1951 episode Night at the Vulcan of the Philco Television Playhouse ; and appeared as herself in the sixth episode The Central Problem in a television series of the unfinished Charles Dickens mystery novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood 
- "Ngaio Marsh (New Zealand author)". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
- "The mystery of the crime writer - Entertainment - NZ Herald News". Nzherald.co.nz. Retrieved 2015-06-03.
- Gage, Maxwell. "Robert Speight". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
- Stafford, Jane. "Marsh, Edith Ngaio". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 10 July 2011.
- Book and Magazine Collector No.263 2005 Ngaio Marsh biography and bibliography pp.90-92
- "Dramasoc - Christchurch, New Zealand - Company". Facebook.com. Retrieved 2015-06-03.
-  Archived 27 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
- "Home". Ngaio-marsh.org.nz. Retrieved 2015-06-03.
- "Dame Ngaio Marsh". Ngaio Marsh House & Heritage Trust. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
- Taonga, New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu. "Marsh, Edith Ngaio". www.teara.govt.nz. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
- "Google Doodle Honours Detective Novelist Ngaio Marsh - Arts, News, Writers - NZEDGE". The global life of New Zealanders. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
- "Crime Watch: Memories of a Dame: An encounter with Ngaio Marsh (guest post by author Roy Vaughan)". Kiwicrime.blogspot.co.uk. 2010-08-14. Retrieved 2015-06-03.
- "No. 44006". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 June 1966. p. 6572.
- Gibbs, Rowan; Richard Williams (1990). Ngaio Marsh: a bibliography of English language publications in hardback and paperback with a guide to the value of the first editions. Dragonby Press.
- The Ngaio Marsh Collection, volume 1 (A Man Lay Dead/ Enter a Murderer/ The Nursing Home Murder & Moonshine), Ngaio Marsh, Harper, 2009 (Moonshine first published in The Sun (Christchurch evening newspaper) and republished 1936 in Yours and Mine: Stories by Young New Zealanders ed. Warwick Lawrence pp21-29
- Death in Ecstasy on Internet Movie Database
- Artists in Crime on Internet Movie Database
- "NZ On Screen". Nzonscreen.com. Retrieved 2015-06-03.
- Alleyn Mysteries on Internet Movie Database
- Night at the Vulcan on Internet Movie Database
- The Central Problem on Internet Movie Database
- The Mystery of Edwin Drood on Internet Movie Database
- Harding, Bruce (2007). "Ngaio Marsh, 1895–1982". Kōtare: New Zealand Notes & Queries (Special Issue). Retrieved 2008-04-15.
- Lewis, Margaret (1991). Ngaio Marsh: A Life. Chatto & Windus. ISBN 0 7012 0985 2.
- Drayton, Joanne (2008). Ngaio Marsh: Her Life in Crime. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. ISBN 0007328680.
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