Miss Marple - the BBC TV Series Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Miss Marple - the BBC TV Series

0 Conversations

When the BBC acquired the rights to start adapting the Miss Marple novels for television in the early 1980s, Joan Hickson was cast to play Jane Marple. She appeared in a series of 12 feature-length television adaptations, playing the part brilliantly and becoming the definitive Miss Marple for many viewers. Unlike Margaret Rutherford, who had played the character in a series of movies in the 1950s and '60s, Hickson played a character much closer to the one Agatha Christie created. The series ran irregularly from 1984 to 1992, and would be the last major role of Joan Hickson's career.

Taking into account the criticism caused by the inaccuracies of the 1960s adaptations, producer Guy Slater and his production team decided to remain largely faithful to the novels, attempting to recreate accurately both the stories and the world in which they were set, including of course the village of St Mary Mead. Joan Hickson, as Miss Marple, was joined by a varied supporting cast of actors and actresses familiar to TV audiences. The theme tune, written by Ken Howard, later appeared on many 'BBC TV Theme' compilations.

The Character on TV

At first, Miss Marple appears to be a typical elderly spinster taking a well-earned retirement in a quiet village, keeping busy by tending to her garden or by constantly knitting. However, behind this smokescreen of frailty Miss Marple is really an amateur detective with great intelligence and an uncanny knack of outdoing the local policemen, just as Poirot often outwits Inspector Japp. She is also known to upstage her nephew, the 'well-known author' Raymond West, although in the end the two get along amiably enough; Raymond is one of the many people Miss Marple calls upon to do things which she would find troublesome due to her age. Appearing quietly-spoken but very quick-witted, Joan played the sort of character that made you wish you had a great-aunt like Jane Marple.

The Episodes

The episodes were originally broadcast on BBC1 between 26 December, 1984, and 27 December, 1992, though they were not adapted for television in the order in which they were written. The episodes were sometimes broken up into two or three parts, and have been repeated many times since. Here is a brief guide to the episodes as transmitted, along with first transmission date and a brief plot outline.

Note: This section contains mild spoilers.

'The Body in the Library' (December, 1984)

  • Directed by Silvio Narizzano
  • Adapted by TR Bowen

A body is discovered in the library of Gossington Hall, a manor in St Mary Mead. The occupants of the hall do not recognise the victim and the police are stumped by the case, leading the owners of the hall to call in Miss Marple to solve it.

'The Moving Finger' (February, 1985)

  • Directed by Roy Boulting
  • Adapted by Julia Jones

A brother and sister move to the town of Lymstock only to receive a letter accusing them of incest. They discover that these anonymous and false accusations have been circulating in the town, with the 'moving finger' pointing at various people. However, nobody pays much attention to them until one letter leads to a suicide, after which a local resident calls in Miss Marple to solve the case.

'A Murder Is Announced' (February/March, 1985)

  • Directed by David Giles
  • Adapted by Alan Plater

One of the most popular Miss Marple novels, the television adaptation is no let-down. A murder is announced in the local paper as due to occur at Little Paddocks cottage at seven in the evening. At that exact time, the lights go out and a shot is heard. The murder has occurred as planned, and it is up to Miss Marple to solve the case before too many other people are killed.

'A Pocketful of Rye' (March, 1985)

  • Directed by Guy Slater
  • Adapted by TR Bowen

A wealthy businessman collapses after being poisoned; a pocketful of rye being the only clue left on the victim. The locals seem apathetic, but when the wife is also found dead, the maid, Gladys, writes to her friend Miss Marple to ask for help. By the time Miss Marple arrives Gladys has been strangled to death, and the case becomes a rather personal one.

'The Murder at the Vicarage' (December, 1986)

  • Directed by Julian Amyes
  • Adapted by TR Bowen

Agatha Christie's first Miss Marple novel sees Jane Marple moving from investigating petty happenings to solving her first real case. Colonel Protheroe, a man despised by all in the village of St Mary Mead, is murdered in the study of the local vicarage, soon after the vicar had said that such an act would be a service to the local people. Two confess to the crime, and Miss Marple must somehow determine who is lying.

'Sleeping Murder' (January, 1987)

  • Directed by John Howard Davies
  • Adapted by Kenneth Taylor

This book was written to be the last of the Miss Marple novels at an early stage of Agatha Christie's career, and though it is not the best of the series, it provides a fitting end to Miss Marple's own career. The plot centres around Gwenda Reed, who returns to England and ends up buying the very same house in which she spent a part of her early life. While there, she has flashbacks of a murder she witnessed while young. Though the killer will quite happily cover up the last remaining evidence of a murder they got away with 18 years previously, Gwenda asks Raymond West to call in his aunt Jane so that she can avoid letting sleeping murder lie.

'At Bertram's Hotel' (January/February, 1987)

  • Directed by Mary McMurray
  • Adapted by Jill Hyem

Miss Marple and her nephew Raymond go to stay at the luxurious Bertram's Hotel, a favourite from Miss Marple's childhood. However, every member of the staff now has a dirty secret, leading to the murder of a doorman. Miss Marple must then unravel a series of interlinked events with the help of a forgetful vicar who had gone to the airport on the wrong day.

'Nemesis' (February, 1987)

  • Directed by David Tucker
  • Adapted by TR Bowen

One of the most memorable of the adaptations, this episode sees Miss Marple being guided by mysterious instructions from the late Jason Rafiel's will. He instructs her to solve a murder case which had been closed long ago, stating only that the codeword is 'Nemesis'. She accepts the challenge and is sent on a tour of Manor Houses and Gardens without any clues as to what to look for. However, it is not long before she becomes involved in events somehow linked to the murder, allowing her slowly to unravel the truth.

Murderer: You haven't drunk your milky drink.
Miss Marple: No - I didn't think it to be good for me.
Murderer: Shall I get you another one?
Miss Marple: I shouldn't drink it if you did...

'The 4.50 From Paddington' (December, 1987)

  • Directed by Martyn Friend
  • Adapted by TR Bowen

Miss Marple's friend Miss MacGillicuddy witnesses a man strangling a woman as two trains briefly run parallel on the line out of Paddington. Though she believes her friend, there is no body and no missing person, and so Miss Marple is forced to seek help investigating a case that the police are unwilling to take on.

'A Caribbean Mystery' (December, 1989)

  • Directed by Christopher Petit
  • Adapted by TR Bowen

While on holiday in the Caribbean, Miss Marple encounters a stranger who offers to show her a photo of a murderer, only to run off and be found dead the next day. Trying to prevent the next murder, Miss Marple takes on the case with the help of millionaire Jason Rafiel, who later appears in 'Nemesis'.

'They Do It With Mirrors' (December, 1991)

  • Directed by Norman Stone
  • Adapted by TR Bowen

Jane Marple's friend Ruth asks her to go and stay with her elderly friend Carrie-Louise, saying that something isn't right at the manor house where she lives, which also acts as a rehabilitation centre for delinquent youths. This becomes quite apparent after an attempt is made on Carrie-Louise's husband's life, after which her stepson is shot dead and someone tries to poison her. The local police are baffled, and so Miss Marple must solve the case herself before it's too late.

'The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side' (December, 1992)

  • Directed by Norman Stone
  • Adapted by TR Bowen

Joan Hickson's last appearance as Jane Marple came in the adaptation of the 1962 novel inspired by a line from Alfred Lord Tennyson's 'The Lady of Shalott':

Out flew the web and floated wide,
The mirror crack'd from side to side,
'The curse is come upon me,' cried
The Lady of Shalott.

The story follows the poisoning of a local busybody at a reception for an American actress. Investigating the murder, Miss Marple discovers links between the actress and the people of St Mary Mead, leading her to discover a dark history.

Critical Response

Television critics and Agatha Christie fans generally agreed at the time that Joan Hickson's performance was the definitive Jane Marple, just as David Suchet would later become the definitive Hercule Poirot1. Among the fans of Miss Marple was Queen Elizabeth II, who awarded Joan the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1987, saying 'you play the part just as one envisages it'. Joan was also nominated for a BAFTA for Best Television Actress in 1986 and 1987, for 'Murder at the Vicarage' and 'Nemesis' respectively. The 12 episodes have since been aired in a number of countries, and Joan went on to record audio book versions of the Miss Marple novels.

The Definitive Miss Marple?

On screen, Joan Hickson will probably always remain the definitive Miss Marple - if only because she starred in more adaptations than anyone else. The novels were adapted for television once again between 2004 and 2006, this time by Granada Television for broadcast on ITV. These productions starred Geraldine McEwan, who played a slightly different Miss Marple to Joan Hickson's, and the scripts departed from the plots of the original stories, including one episode which was adapted from another Agatha Christie series entirely, Tommy & Tuppence. Also, the Granada version writes in a newly-made back-story for Jane Marple, explaining that her status as a spinster is due to an earlier entanglement with adultery. Some do, however, argue that McEwan was much closer to the age of the Miss Marple of the books, though Hickson played the part so well that, for most viewers, her age and frailty didn't count against her.

1This is often contested by those who grew up watching Margaret Rutherford's Marple and Peter Ustinov's Poirot, but in the end Hickson and Suchet played characters much more similar to those in the books.

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Conversations About This Entry

There are no Conversations for this Entry

Edited Entry


Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Categorised In:

Written by


h2g2 Entries

External Links

Not Panicking Ltd is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more