Christie had never been very happy with most filmed adaptations of her works, and according to her grandson Mathew Pritchard, who handled her estate after her death, "did not care much for television" either. Producer Pat Sandys of LWT first approached Pritchard and the Christie estate with a researched, detailed plan to film the novels Why Didn't They Ask Evans? and The Seven Dials Mystery in the early 1980s. Although indifferently treated by critics, the projects were popular with audiences and led to the filming of a number of short stories and the Tommy and Tuppence Beresford stories in the series Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime. With the success of that series, the BBC got the approval to produce the stories of one of Christie's most famous detectives.
Joan Hickson, who played Miss Marple, was an octogenarian herself during most of the series' production. Decades before, she had appeared in a minor role in Murder, She Said, in which Margaret Rutherford played Miss Marple. The adaptations are mainly true to the original novels. Hickson had also appeared in a stage adaptation of the novel Appointment with Death in 1946, after which Christie sent Hickson a note "I hope one day you will play my dear Miss Marple."
There were two other semi-regular characters in Miss Marple. The first was Detective Inspector Slack (later Detective Superintendent), played by David Horovitch, the second Detective Constable (later Detective Sergeant) Lake, played by Ian Brimble. Detective Inspector/Superintendent Slack and Detective Constable/Sergeant Lake appeared in five episodes, The Body in the Library, The Murder at the Vicarage, 4.50 From Paddington, They Do It with Mirrors and The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. Detective Inspector Craddock appeared in A Murder is Announced and The Mirror Crack'd. Gwen Watford also appeared in two episodes as Miss Marple's friend and neighbour, Dolly Bantry.
|Title||Airdate||Guest cast and synopsis|
|The Body in the Library||23, 24, 25 December 1984||Gwen Watford, Moray Watson, Trudie Styler, Jess Conrad, Ciaran Madden, Keith Drinkel, Debbie Arnold, Frederick Jaeger, Valentine Dyall, Raymond Francis, David Horovitch, Ian Brimble, Anthony Smee, Andrew Cruickshank, Hugh Walters, Arthur Bostrom, Martyn Read, Stephen Churchett, Astra Sheridan, John Moffatt|
|Miss Marple assists her neighbours the Bantrys when a lovely young girl is found dead in their library. The girl is traced to a seaside resort and the desperate family of a wealthy old man.|
|The Moving Finger||21, 22 February 1985||Michael Culver, Elizabeth Counsell, Richard Pearson, Sabina Franklyn, Andrew Bicknell, Hilary Mason, Dilys Hamlett, Deborah Appleby, John Arnatt, Sandra Payne, Martin Fisk, Imogen Bickford-Smith, Geoffrey Davion, Roger Ostime, Victor Maddern, Gordon Rollings, Patsy Smart, Penelope Lee, Gerald Sim|
|Poison pen letters are being sent to everyone in town. It seems like a vulgar joke until a letter is found next to a suicide victim. Then another body is found, and another...|
|A Pocket Full of Rye||7, 8 March 1985||Peter Davison, Timothy West, Stacy Dorning, Annette Badland, Fabia Drake, Clive Merrison, Rachel Bell, Selina Cadell, Tom Wilkinson, Frances Low, Susan Gilmore, Frank Mills, Louis Mahoney, Rhoda Lewis, Charles Pemberton|
|When the members of a wealthy banking family start dropping like flies, Miss Marple is reminded of the old nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence and vows to find the villainous "blackbird" behind the crimes.|
|A Murder is Announced||23, 24, 25 December 1985||Ursula Howells, Renée Asherson, Joan Sims, John Castle, Sylvia Syms, Ralph Michael, Paola Dionisotti, Samantha Bond, Simon Shepherd, Nicola King, Matthew Solon, Mary Kerridge, Vivienne Moore, David Collings, Elaine Ives-Cameron, Joyce Carey, Kevin Whately, Liz Crowther|
|A party game goes wrong and a young Swiss man is dead. Friends and neighbours start to turn on each other, and Inspector Craddock is stumped. Fortunately, Miss Marple is in town visiting her niece and helps solve the crime.|
|The Murder at the Vicarage||25 December 1986||Paul Eddington, Cheryl Campbell, Robert Lang, Polly Adams, James Hazeldine, Jack Galloway, Rosalie Crutchley, Norma West, Christopher Good, Rachel Weaver|
|Death is only steps from Miss Marple when odious Col. Prothero is murdered in her idyllic village of St. Mary Mead. And in the Vicar's study, no less!|
|Sleeping Murder||11, 18 January 1987||Geraldine Alexander, John Moulder-Brown, Jean Anderson, Terrence Hardiman, Frederick Treves, John Bennett, Geraldine Newman, Jack Watson, Jean Heywood, Amanda Boxer, John Ringham, David McAlister, Kenneth Cope, Gary Watson, Donald Burton, Sheila Raynor|
|A young wife believes her house is haunted. She comes to realize she witnessed the murder of her stepmother there 20 years ago as a child. To help the newlyweds, Miss Marple risks her life solving the crime, stirring a sleeping murderer in the process.|
|Nemesis||8, 15 February 1987||Margaret Tyzack, John Horsley, Anna Cropper, Valerie Lush, Helen Cherry, Peter Tilbury, Liz Fraser, Bruce Payne, Joanna Hole, Jane Booker, Alison Skilbeck, Frank Gatliff, Peter Copley, Roger Hammond, David Blake Kelly, Cy Town|
|Miss Marple is sent on a mission from beyond the grave to clear a dead man's son. Vowing to find out the truth, she links him to a dead girl, Verity Hunt, and a family of weird sisters. She discovers love, as well as hate, can be a reason for murder.|
|At Bertram's Hotel||23, 24 December 1987||Caroline Blakiston, Joan Greenwood, George Baker, James Cossins, Helena Mitchell, Irene Sutcliffe, Preston Lockwood, Edward Burnham, Donald Burton|
|False identities, larceny, and a crime ring are only the tip of the tentacle when Miss Marple stays in a posh London hotel (modelled after Brown's Hotel) where nothing is what it seems. Murder naturally follows, leading to a thrilling chase after the vibrant Lady Sedgewick.|
|4.50 From Paddington||25 December 1987||Maurice Denham, Joanna David, Jill Meager, Andrew Burt, Jean Boht, John Hallam, Mona Bruce, Rhoda Lewis, Richard Ashley|
|After Miss Marple's friend witnesses a murder in a railway carriage running parallel to her own, Miss Marple engages a resourceful young woman to investigate. The search leads to a decrepit estate, where they suspect the body was dumped. But the seemingly innocent family who live there have secrets of their own.|
|A Caribbean Mystery||25 December 1989||Donald Pleasence, Sophie Ward, Adrian Lukis, T. P. McKenna, Frank Middlemass, Sue Lloyd, Robert Swan, Michael Feast, Sheila Ruskin, Joseph Mydell, Barbara Barnes, Valerie Buchanan|
|While holidaying in Venezuela, Miss Marple is bored to tears by a dotty Major who tells tall tales of knowing a murderer. But when the Major turns up dead, the wild beauty of the island can't hide the trail of a manipulative and ruthless killer.|
|They Do It with Mirrors||26 November 1991||Jean Simmons, Joss Ackland, Faith Brook, Holly Aird, Christopher Villiers, Brenda Cowling|
|At an estate turned reformatory school, Miss Marple visits her old school chum Carrie Louise. When Carrie Louise's dear stepson is killed, the discontent family is only the beginning as there are literally hundreds of suspects!|
|The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side||9 June 1993||Claire Bloom, Barry Newman, Gwen Watford, John Castle, Elizabeth Garvie, Judy Cornwell, Glynis Barber, Christopher Hancock, Rose Keegan, Christopher Good, Rhoda Lewis, Jon Croft|
|Hollywood comes to St. Mary Mead when faded movie star Marina Gregg takes up residence for a local film shoot. But when she narrowly escapes an attempt on her life and a local woman dies instead, Miss Marple sorts the gossip rag chatter from the facts to uncover a tragedy.|
Producer Guy Slater of the BBC cast Hickson. The series was filmed beginning in 1983 in areas including Norfolk, Devon, Barbados, near Oxford, and the town of Nether Wallop, Hampshire doubled as Marple's village of St. Mary Mead. Slater was replaced by producer George Gallaccio starting with the fourth film. Mainly for stylistic reasons, the films were set in the 1950's, in the years of 1951 and between 1954 and 1959. Hickson was fond of the idea of the episodes airing at Christmas or in the Christmas holidays, which was why some aired around that time.
Hickson vowed not to do another film after 1989's A Caribbean Mystery, but was persuaded to return for the final films in 1991 and 1993. A Caribbean Mystery was shot on location at the Coral Reef Hotel in Barbados, where Christie had stayed in her visit to the country, and which had been the inspiration for the setting of the novel. Owners Budge and Cynthia O'Hara, who still owned the hotel 30 years later, were the inspirations for the characters in the novel and were able to share a treasure trove of Christie memorabilia with the cast.
The evocative theme tune for the TV series was composed by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley.
The first episode was enthusiastically received by critics. The Times said "once hooked, you won't be able to turn off", and the Sun said it was a series "with pulling power and real class". For episode two, The Moving Finger, The Daily Telegraph stated "Once again Guy Slater's production is built around the brilliant performance of Joan Hickson, behind whose faded blue eyes and spinsterish sibilants, the wheels of detective intelligence can be seen positively whirring around. The enterprise is impeccably cast, beautifully ordered, lovingly photographed." Reviews for subsequent films were equally positive.
Alan McKee, of the Museum of Broadcast Communications, reviews the series as "a good example of a 'heritage' production", popular in the 1980s. It combines new Victorianism in moral standards and a sanitised version of England's past. Mostly set in a rural past, English architecture and country mansion houses are featured. Like many BBC programs, production values are impeccable and costumes, houses and decor, cars, hairstyles and make-up could all be described as "sumptuous".
McKee also praises the series for "being as faithful as possible to the source material. Miss Marple does not chase the villains herself as Margaret Rutherford does in her film series, nor are the titles of the books altered to make them more sensational.
As for Hickson personally, she is frequently described as the "definitive" Miss Marple as Christie would have pictured her, and Hickson personally credited in large part the bestowal of an OBE award to the role, as Queen Elizabeth II was a large fan of the series and Hickson's performance.
All twelve episodes were shown in the United States on the PBS Mystery! series. Miss Marple was also seen in over 30 countries, including Gibraltar, Spain, the former Soviet Union and China.
Miss Marple was first released in DVD in the UK (Region 2) in 2000. A complete box set of all 12 episodes was released in 2005 by 2 Entertain Video. In North America (Region 1), episodes were first released in 2001.
In summer 2009 the Sunday edition of the Greek newspaper Kathimerini was offering to its readers, the DVDs (one per week) of the series.
In January 2010, the Daily Mail newspaper offered 6 DVDs (from 2 Entertain Video) each with a complete episode from series. The episodes in the DVD giveaway offer were The Murder at the Vicarage, Sleeping Murder, At Bertram's Hotel, Nemesis, A Caribbean Mystery, and They Do It with Mirrors.