Poirot, Qunicy, Columbo, Taggart, Ironside, Kojak, Lewis…
The list of male, single-monikered, televison detectives (amateur or otherwise) is a large one on both sides of the Atlantic. Even those featuring in shows with titles that extend to more than just a single word (‘Midsomer Murders‘, ‘Inspector Morse‘, ‘A Touch of Frost‘) are commonly referred to by their surname (Barnaby, Morse, Frost). It signifys that this is a no-nonsense programme fronted by a sharp, brutal, equally no-nonsense detective. “I don’t have time for first names or titles”, they tell their assistant/ boss/ token wife “I’m trying to solve a murder“.
This has never been the case for female sleuths, especially those of a certain vintage. ‘Muder, She Wrote‘ wouldn’t have been as appealing as ‘Fletcher’ and no-one would watch a programme called ‘Wainthropp’ whether it starred the wonderful Patricia Routledge or not. Even the more hard-hitting, female-led police shows haven’t gone down the ‘last name only’ route, with the main protagonists from ‘Prime Suspect‘ and ‘The Killing‘ never called Tennison and Lund in everyday conversation. Women in crime fiction, as in tennis, are not to be referred to by their surname alone.
With this in mind, it is all the more puzzling that when in 2004 they started to re-film stories featuring the most famous, most genteel, most proper of all fictional detectives, ITV decided to transform Agatha Christie’s timeless Miss Marple into plain, ‘cut-the-bullshit’ ‘Marple‘. If there was one TV character who shouldn’t be reduced to her surname, it’s Miss Marple. The ‘Miss’ helps to shape the entire impression one should get when confronted with her. “Oh look. It’s Miss Marple, that nice, though slightly nosey, old lady who lives in that carming cottage in St. Mary Mead. I can definitely commit a murder here as the police are notoriously stupid and, quite frankly, if the place is populated with doddery, pleasant, church going women like Miss Marple then I’ll have no trouble getting away with it”.
Most of us when we think of Miss Marple think either of jowly, eccentric Margaret Rutherford, kitted out in a succession of hats, capes and pearls or prim, quietly observant Joan Hickson (left) staying just the right side of haughty. These two, taking life and murder at a pace slow enough not to interfere with afternoon tea, are the two most memorable screen Miss Marples. The name was as much part of the ‘dotty but brilliant and not to be underestimated’ image as the broches and the endless supply of victoia sponge
ITV have decided that someone (God knows who? Young people, presumably) will be put off watching a programme that is politely named after an old lady so we now watch ‘Marple’. Plain, earthy, ‘touch my rich tea biscuit and I’ll f**k you up good style and if you f**king come ’round ‘ere again trying to bump off your stepmother, you’d better think twice cos I’ll take my duck-head umbrella to your knees before giving your balls the once over with my tapestry needle‘ ‘Marple’. It’s all part of the channels rebranding exercise along with guest stars, lesbians and Zoe Wanamaker. She’s not a ‘Miss’ anymore because ITV know, just like those Hollywood executives who’ve cast 39 year-old Jennifer Garner (right) as the movies’ next ‘Marple’, that everything cultural needs ‘reimagining’, ‘rebooting’ or reconfiguring. Never mind that it’s worked for the best part 90 years, we need it to be a little bit cooler, younger and without a hint of ‘twee-ness’. All of which rather misses the point of the character. She is a book who is not to be judged by her cover. By eliminating the ‘Miss’, ITV have replaced the book with ‘Grand Theft Auto V: Streets of St. Mary Mead‘. The show itself is fine and Julia McKenzie is a very good choice as the lead, but please, ITV, give Jane Marple her ‘Miss’ back. After all, it’s only right to have respect for your elders.