“A white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner,” Miss Marple’s unique approach to detective work is a familiar presence on both the big and small screen.
Agatha Christie wrote just 12 full-length novels about her spinster sleuth, along with a handful of short stories – but those adaptations have included everything from radio shows to computer games. From her first appearance (The Thursday Night Club, a story published in the pages of The Royal Magazine), to the modern day, we’ve been choosing some of our favourite Miss Marples:
Geraldine McEwan / Julia McKenzie
In recent years, the most visible version of Miss Marple has been the Sunday night ITV series Agatha Christie’s Marple, which ran for six years beginning in 2004. It’s for that reason that many of us picture Miss Marple as either original star Geraldine McEwan, or Julia Mckenzie, who took over the role from the fourth series onwards following McEwan’s retirement.
Sadly, with the BBC having recently snapped up the rights to produce Agatha Christie adaptations for the foreseeable future, we’re unlikely to be seeing a return to the role for Julia McKenzie. Even so, the show seems to showing on one of the many ITV digital channels at pretty much any time you turn on the TV. From the moment that jangly theme tune starts up and we see a shot of summer sunshine on a country house, we know we’re in for a treat.
This stage and screen legend portrayed Miss Marple in a 1980 adaptation of The Mirror Crack’d (one of many versions). A proposed trilogy of Miss Marple films would never be made, but Lansbury would go on to create another older sleuth, in the form of Murder She Wrote’s Jessica Fletcher.
An old lady who pokes her nose in where she isn’t wanted, and finds herself at the scene of a different murder every week? There’s definitely a connection there. In fact, the show’s title is a reference to another Miss Marple movie: 1961’s adaptation of 4:50 from Paddington, which was re-titled ‘Murder, She Said’ and saw Margaret Rutherford take on the lead role.
Agatha Christie herself suggested that Joan Hickson take on the role of Miss Marple. And in 1984 she did so, in a run of BBC adaptations that would continue up until 1992.
With her kindly demeanour and inner steel, audiences believed her as both the spinster and the detective; for many of us, she’s the face that comes to mind when we hear the name ‘Miss Marple’.
Over the course of a 60 year career, Hickson appeared in a string of Carry On films and the sitcom Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads. On stage, she acted in in Noel Coward plays – and in a long list of Agatha Christie adaptations before she brought Miss Marple to the screen.
It seems like there’s something about a kindly old lady solving murders that’s just perfect for putting on whilst you do the washing-up, because there have been countless Miss Marple adaptations on the airwaves.
For our money, the actor who best captured that mixture of surface naivety and inner steeliness was June Whitfield, who took on the role in a Radio 4 series that would eventually adapt all of Christie’s Miss Marple novels.
Whitfield starred in 80s sitcom Beggar My Neighbour, before going on to take recurring roles in the likes of The Green Green Grass and Last Of The Summer Wine. She’s probably most famous for her part in Absolutely Fabulous, portraying the long-suffering mother of Jennifer Saunders’ character Edina Monsoon.
Our Miss Marple is Louise Jameson. She’s a popular figure at sci-fi conventions for her time in the TARDIS alongside Tom Baker’s Doctor Who, when she played Leela, Warrior of the Sevateen. Back on earth, Louise has starred in the likes of Bergerac and EastEnders, as well as enjoying an extensive stage career. That includes a role in the 2016 touring production of The Mousetrap, another Agatha Christie adaptation that holds the record of being the longest-running show in British theatre.
Louise will be here from 3-8 July in A Murder Is Announced, heading up an all-star cast that also includes Janet Dibley (The Two Of Us, EastEnders), Tom Butcher (Doctors, The Bill) and Sarah Thomas (Last Of The Summer Wine).
It’s the story of the residents of Chipping Cleghorn, who are astounded by the announcement – in the local paper, no less – that a murder is to take place this Sunday at the home of Letitia Blacklock. Drawn by curiosity, a crowd gathers. When the lights go out and a gun goes off, it’s up to Miss Marple to root out the killer…
A Murder Is Announced is here from 3-8 July, and tickets are available now.