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Agatha Christie Hour, The (1982)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Agatha Christie Hour, The (1982)
Thames for ITV, tx. 7/9-16/11/1982
10 x 60 min episodes, colour
Directors includeCyril Coke
 Desmond Davis
 John Frankau
ProducerPat Sandys
Writers includeJohn Bryden Rogers
 T.R. Bowen
 William Corlett

Cast: William Gaunt (Maj John Wilbraham); Angela Easterling (Miss Lemon); Maurice Denham (Parker Pyne); Veronica Strong (Madeleine De Sara); David Smee (Head Waiter); Karen Mount (English Rose)

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Ten short stories from the pen of the Queen of Crime.

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During ITV's early 1980s scramble to put any available Agatha Christie work into production, Thames TV - having missed out on Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple as television properties - found itself left with a selection of short stories not too readily associated with the conventional Christie mystery.

These ten hour-long plays were based on short stories taken primarily from two collections (1933's The Hound of Death and 1934's The Listerdale Mystery). Although they shared the author's characteristic flair for plot and timing and did include suspense, thrills and mystery, each story was focused on the predicament of a 1930s type of individual rather than on complicated incidents strewn with the customary red herrings.

Some contemporary critics, however, saw this collection as proof of the author's inability to convey depth of character as proficiently as she constructed complex puzzles. But the viewer, while not bamboozled by 'impossible' crimes, was presented with fascinating (though predictable) elements of period intrigue and romance; the latter form exploring human frailties in a rather mawkish Somerset Maugham vein.

The series opened with one such story, 'The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife', in which Gwen Watford made something defiantly credible and poignant of the stock part of the dowdy wife brought alive by the social services of an honorable gigolo. It was the first of two quite engaging stories featuring the benevolently crusty Parker Pyne (played with authoritarian charm by Maurice Denham), who arranges dream-fulfilment experiences for his clients (with added moral, naturally). In the amusing second Pyne story ('The Case of the Discontented Soldier'), a retired but restless army major is allowed one final fling in a pocket edition 39 Steps-like adventure. Similar search-for-adventure themes were also taken up in 'The Girl in the Train' and 'The Manhood of Edward Robinson', both with the inevitable romantic entanglements.

Entering the unexpected realm of supernatural phenomena, the suitably spooky 'In a Glass Darkly' filtered the doomed characters and grisly events of a yet-to-be-committed murder through the eye of a young soldier. Despite a rather predictable denouement, a sense of heavy atmosphere was developed to its eerie conclusion.

By way of contrast to the offbeat and the adventurous, the series presented the eternal triangle situation in the form of frustrated romantic interludes ('Magnolia Blossom', 'The Red Signal') featuring hand-wringing, lip-trembling wives bravely smiling behind tears and stiff-lipped lovers registering the pained resignation of gentlemen facing sacrificial slaughter.

Tise Vahimagi

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Video Clips
1. The rescue (3:25)
2. In the cellar (3:39)
3. A happy ending (3:13)
Complete edition: 'The Case of the Discontented Soldier' Part 1 (30:38)
Part 2 (21:31)
Denham, Maurice (1909-2002)
Agatha Christie on Television