Still More Theatre Memories – March to July 1978

Some good ones here!


  1. Half-Life – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 10th March 1978.

image(513)Passing over yet another trip to see A Chorus Line, I chose my next show because I wanted to see Sir John Gielgud on stage, and, if my memory serves me right, he was every bit as good as you would expect.

This meaty play had transferred over from the National Theatre’s Cottesloe and enjoyed a successful run – unsurprisingly. Gielgud played an elegant, noble, mannered gentleman coming to terms with the last years of his life. It was moving and funny at the same time. The excellent cast also featured Hugh Paddick, Diane Fletcher and Avril Elgar.

  1. Murder Among Friends – Comedy Theatre, London, 15th March 1978.

image(505)image(506)This comedy thriller had flopped on Broadway but came to London following a successful tour of South Africa the previous year. Written by Bob Barry, of whom I have heard nothing before nor since. It starred Moira Lister and Tony Britton, and I have some vague memories of it, but nothing substantial. It was very enjoyable though. The programme suggests that you enjoy a three course meal at their restaurant before the show for £2.70 including VAT. Bargain!

  1. The Rear Column – Globe Theatre, London, 17th March 1978.

image(509)Having really enjoyed Otherwise Engaged when I first started seeing West End shows on my own a couple of years previously, I thought I should definitely try this new play by the same author, Simon Gray – whose career I continued to follow with great interest.

The Rear Column had an impressive pedigree; directed by Harold Pinter, and starring Van der Valk himself, Barry Foster, as well as Clive Francis, Jeremy Irons and Young Winston, Simon Ward. It involved a stranded band of soldiers in the Congo, awaiting the return of Stanley (of Dr Livingstone I presume fame). It was a pitifully small audience because it received lousy reviews and failed to ignite the interest of the public. It closed after about six weeks. But I really enjoyed it – I was thoroughly gripped by the whole story and performance.

  1. Kismet – Shaftesbury Theatre, London, 22nd March 1978.

image(499)image(500)I saw this show with the Dowager Mrs C because she loved the songs, and I was curious to see how they would fit into the show format. Bitter sweet memories of this show, because a) I absolutely loved it, and it remains one of my favourite musicals of all time and b) the meal we had before the show went through me like a dose of salts and I had to miss Baubles Bangles and Beads as a result of a desperate rush to the stalls Gents toilet. I ended up with a horrible skin rash for a week or so due to the food poisoning. Grrrr!!


John Reardon was Hajj and Joan Diener, who had played the role in its original Broadway production, was Lalume. All the critics agreed that one important role was seriously miscast – I think that was Clifton Todd as the Caliph, who just didn’t seem right at all – but best of all was the brilliant Christopher Hewett as The Wazir. And we never went to that restaurant again.

  1. Ten Times Table – Globe Theatre, London, 10th April 1978.

image(490)Unexpectedly quickly arriving into the West End due to The Rear Column’s early demise, this latest comedy by Alan Ayckbourn featured ten bickering characters on the same committee. They’re attempting to re-enact some ghastly local event and, unsurprisingly, it all goes horribly wrong. image(491)The excellent cast was led by Paul Eddington and also had Julia McKenzie, Benjamin Whitrow, Tenniel Evans and Christopher Godwin, whom I met at the Royal and Derngate’s celebration for Ayckbourn’s 70th birthday a few years ago, and was able to tell him how much I enjoyed his performance. He was gobsmacked that anyone would have remembered it. A very good show, a typical crowd pleaser of the time.


  1. Plenty – David Hare, Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 17th April 1978.

image(485)I had already started to devour David Hare’s plays by reading almost everything he’d written to that date, so when I saw there was a new Hare coming to the National, booking for it was a no-brainer. A fascinating and uncomfortable play starring Kate Nelligan as Susan Traherne, a wartime secret agent coming to terms with her dull life of today. The great cast also included Julie Covington, Stephen Moore and a young Lindsay Duncan. I thoroughly enjoyed it – a serious, meaty play with lots to think about. This was also the last play I saw as a “child” – as I turned 18 before I saw my next one!




  1. Macbeth – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Young Vic, London, 27th April 1978.

image(487)And what a significant production to start my adult theatregoing life! I don’t know how I managed to get tickets for this, but I did. Trevor Nunn’s pared back, stark, gimmick-free production was just sensational. Look at this for a cast: Macbeth – Ian McKellen; Lady Macbeth – Judi Dench; Macduff – Bob Peck; Banquo – John Woodvine; Porter – Ian McDiarmid; Malcolm – Roger Rees; and so on.


Fortunately the production was filmed and you can still buy a copy today. Without doubt the best production of a Shakespeare tragedy I’ve ever seen, in the trendy but simple environment of the Young Vic, sitting on those old wooden benches. Two hours that flew by!

  1. A Picture of Innocence – Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, 21st June 1978.

image(479)For five weeks in the summer of 1978 I stayed with relatives, whom I’d never met before, in Toronto, for a bit of a Gap Year break. I intended to travel around, go to New York, and so on, but I loved Toronto so much that I didn’t want to leave! Whilst I was there I decided to see what was on at the theatre, and I discovered this eminently British production of a new comedy by Robert Morley and John Wells. image(480)The Picture of Innocence in question is a formal portrait of some respectable gentlemen who also liked to dress up as women. I remember it being a very funny play – although I didn’t particularly get the sense of shock that the Toronto matinee-goers experienced at the sight of men en travestie. A great cast led by Robert Morley, also included Basil Brush’s Uncle Derek Fowlds, Kenneth Griffith and a young Susie Blake. Whether or not they were hoping for a West End transfer I don’t know, but it didn’t happen.


  1. A Murder is Announced – Vaudeville Theatre, London, 15th July 1978.

image(466)image(467)Agatha Christie’s famous book adapted for the stage by Leslie Darbon was proving a great success, and had already been running for nine months by the time I saw it. Dulcie Gray played Miss Marple and she looked every inch the part. Dinah Sheridan took the lead role of Letitia Blacklock. image(457)I remember an excellent comedy turn from Ursula Mohan as the ghastly cook Mitzi. Because I knew the book, I already knew whodunit, which detracted from seeing the play a little, but it was still fun.

  1. Every Good Boy Deserves Favour – Mermaid Theatre, London, 17th July 1978.

image(462)image(464)I saw this with my friend Claire on one of our Monday night out nights out. Tom Stoppard’s fascinating collaboration with Andre Previn created this moving and inventive story of a Russian dissident confined in a mental hospital for his anti-state beliefs and writings. There he meets a fellow inmate who believes he has a symphony orchestra in his head. The play starred John Woodvine, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Windsor and John Carlisle, performed in tandem with the full Mermaid Chamber Orchestra. Very different, very telling, and very memorable.


Thanks for joining me on this trip down memory lane. Tomorrow it’s back to the holiday pics and G is for Germany and a day in Munich in 1989. Stay safe!

The Agatha Christie Challenge – A Murder is Announced (1950)

A Murder is AnnouncedIn which Lettie Blacklock discovers that a murder has been announced in the classified ads of the local paper, and it would take place at her house on Friday October 29th. Unsurprisingly all the local gossips drop in to see what will happen… and a murder does indeed take place! The local police are mystified but fortunately Miss Marple is on hand to give valuable assistance, and the culprit is caught red-handed attempting another murder. As usual, if you haven’t read the book yet, don’t worry, I promise not to tell you whodunit!

Blackpool SandsThe book is dedicated “to Ralph and Anne Newman at whose house I first tasted “Delicious Death!” This may have been the Ralph Newman whose family owned the gardens at Blackpool Sands in South Devon, but I can’t prove it. No matter, Delicious Death was obviously the name they gave to their homemade chocolate cake. A Murder is Announced was first published in the UK in an abridged version in eleven instalments in the Daily Express in February and March 1950. In the US, it was first published in forty-nine short parts in the Chicago Tribune from April to June 1950. The full book was first published in the US by Dodd, Mead & Co and in the UK by Collins Crime Club, both in June 1950.

Classified AdsHere’s an enormously entertaining book from the Christie canon. I remember absolutely devouring it when I first read it, because I couldn’t put it down and it was so completely engaging and arresting. The whole idea of advertising in the local newspaper that a murder is going to take place is so bizarre but strangely thrilling – as indeed the inhabitants of Chipping Cleghorn prove as they all troop round to Lettie Blacklock’s house to see what happens. Even reading it this time, I was so intent at finishing the book because I wanted to check that my suspicions were correct (they were) that I had to re-read the last few chapters the day after, when I was less tired, so I could concentrate on the finer details. From the light-hearted first few moments, to the, frankly, hilarious farce of the first murder, and then right through to the final denoument this is a book that keeps you on your toes and never stops exhilarating you.

Whistler's MotherThe book reunites us with Miss Marple, whom we hadn’t encountered for seven years – her previous appearance was in 1943’s The Moving Finger. There may be a slight sense that she’s aged further; “she was far more benignant than he had imagined and a good deal older. She seemed indeed very old. She had snow white hair and a pink crinkled face and very soft innocent blue eyes, and she was heavily enmeshed in fleecy wool. Wool round her shoulders in the form of a lacy cape and wool that she was knitting and which turned out to be a baby’s shawl.” All that wool and lace makes you think of Whistler’s Mother. Julia is partly right when she describes her as “the prying kind. And a mind like a sink, I should think. Real Victorian type.” Miss Marple certainly knows how to pry, but a mind like a sink? Surely not.

ForeignersWe also meet Inspector Craddock. Chief Constable Rydesdale thinks highly of Craddock, “he not only had brains and imagination, he had also […] the self-discipline to go slow, to check and examine each fact, and to keep an open mind until the very end of the case.” This “open mind” doesn’t seem to come naturally to Craddock; but what impresses me about him is his ability to recognise his own faults, his own prejudices. Whilst discussing Miss Blacklock’s domestic assistant, the wild-talking enigmatic Mitzi, Craddock confesses to Rydesdale, “I think the foreign girl knows more than she lets on. But that may be just prejudice on my part”. Miss Blacklock also believes that Craddock is prejudiced against Mitzi: “the whole idea’s absurd. I believe you police have an anti-foreigner complex.”

Margaret RutherfordShe’s right to suspect his clarity of thinking on this issue. Not only does he appear to be prejudiced against Mitzi, he’s prejudiced in favour of Philippa, because she shows class: “he was a little shaken in his suspicions of Mitzi. Her story about Philippa Haymes had been told with great conviction. Mitzi might be a liar (he thought she was) but fancied there might be some substratum of truth in this particular tale. He resolved to speak to Philippa on the subject. She had seemed to him when he questioned her a quiet, well-bred young woman. He had no suspicion of her.” Craddock would return in 4.50 From Paddington and The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, and was written in to the four Margaret Rutherford/Miss Marple comedy film thrillers that were produced from 1961 – 1964.

Word change gameIt’s a crisp, plot-driven, fast-moving story, that moves from gentle comedy to light thriller, moments of farce (the first murder) to moments of sheer terror (the final murder). There’s even an element of Shakespearean comedy ending after the whodunit denouement is over! It has a rather silly and unnecessary epilogue, but that’s easily ignored. Character-wise, it’s interesting for the portrayal of what is obviously a lesbian couple, without the L word ever being mentioned, with the Misses Murgatroyd and Hinchliffe household. Christie gives a rather good account of them – I wonder if they were based on real people she knew. The only thing that very slightly lets it down for me is that Christie dollops a whopping great clue early on, if we care to notice it. I remember that it stared out at me instantly, the first time I read it; and, as a result, guessed the murderer even before a murder had taken place.

Hotel des AlpesAs usual, there are a few references to check out, starting with the locations. The setting is the village of Chipping Cleghorn, in the county of Middleshire, with Little Worsdale nearby, not far from the town of Medenham Wells. All totally fictitious of course, although there are plenty of places that begin with Chipping… and Middleshire could well refer to Middlesex. Medenham Wells suggests Medmenham, just outside High Wycombe. Milchester is another nearby town; interestingly the name features in Terence Rattigan’s play Flare Path, written in 1941. Coincidence, or was Christie influenced by Rattigan? The only other location to consider is the Hotel des Alpes, in Montreux, where Rudi Scherz is believed to have worked. This was indeed a real hotel and one with a fine reputation, active from 1855 to 1975.

NewspapersThere are many other references for us to consider. Let’s first look at all the newspapers that get delivered to the households of Chipping Cleghorn. The Times, the Daily Graphic, the Daily Worker, the Daily Telegraph, the News Chronicle, the Daily Mail and the North Benham News and Chipping Cleghorn Gazette. As you might guess, the latter is totally fictitious. However, the others are all real; the Times, Telegraph and Mail are all available today, whilst the Daily Graphic stopped publishing in 1932 – date-wise, that’s something a little off the mark for Christie there – the Daily Worker became the Morning Star in 1966, and the News Chronicle was published from 1930 to 1960, when it was absorbed into the Daily Mail.

Manchester TerrierMrs Swettenham comments that a family member used to breed Manchester Terriers. I’d never heard of this breed. Whilst the Kennel Club lists it as an endangered breed, there were, apparently, an average of 164 births per year between 2010 and 2016. So the numbers are on the up. Bunch’s husband, the Rev Julian Harmon, is obsessed with the story of Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes – which was completely lost on me. This seems to relate to a confusion over name translations; in any event, Ahasuerus was the King of Persia in the Book of Esther. I’m sure that’s all we need to know. Whilst we’re on the subject of funny names, the Harmons call their cat, Tiglath Pileser. He was a prominent king of Assyria in the eighth century BC, who introduced advanced civil, military, and political systems into the Neo-Assyrian Empire. So now you know.

Where was MosesMiss Blacklock is found reading Lane Norcott in the Daily Mail. Maurice Lane Norcott was a real journalist who wrote in the Daily Mail in the 1930s and 40s. Bunch’s favourite new book, “Death Does the Hat Trick”, is a spiffing title but totally fictitious, I’m sorry to say. “Where was Moses when the light went out”, Mrs Swettenham quotes her old Nannie when questioned by Craddock. “The answer, of course, was ‘In the Dark’”. This is an old American song from the latter part of the 19th century, written by Max Vernor. Some suggestions online are that the response should be “in the basement eating sauerkraut”. You decide.

Blair LeightonMiss Marple tells Sir Henry Clithering that although her nephew’s wife paints still life pictures, she prefers the work of Blair Leighton and Alma Tadema. Edmund Blair Leighton was an English painter of historical genre scenes who died in 1922, and Lawrence Alma-Tadema was a Dutch painter who settled in England in 1870 and spent the rest of his life there. A classical-subject painter, he became famous for his depictions of the luxury and decadence of the Roman Empire.

Maud“Inspector Craddock could never remember if it was St Martin’s or St Luke’s Summer, but he knew that it was very pleasant…” Either way, it’s what we today would call an Indian Summer. Edmund Swettenham quotes to Philippa, “Pekes in the high hall garden, when twilight was falling, Phil, Phil, Phil, Phil, they were crying and calling”. This refers to “Birds in the high hall garden” by Tennyson, from Maud – Edmund replaces Maud’s name with Philippa’s, the romantic old thing. “That old Tanqueray stuff”, so dismissively recollected by Bunch in conversation with Miss Marple, refers to The Second Mrs Tanqueray by Pinero, a late Victorian story about a “woman with a past”. And another quote: “Julia, pretty Juliar is peculiar” comes from Robert Slaney’s A Few Verses from Shropshire, published in 1846. Not surprising that no one would recognise it today.

1948 CalendarThe play that Edmund is to have produced is entitled Elephants Do Forget; it reminds us of the title of one Christie’s last books, Elephants Can Remember, published in 1972. And one slightly odd piece of misinformation; the first page of the book makes it clear that “today” is Friday, October 29th. However, October 29th in 1950 was a Sunday. It was in 1948 that October 29th was a Friday. Maybe that’s when she was writing it and never bothered to change it.

Now it’s time for my usual at-a-glance summary, for A Murder is Announced:

Publication Details: 1950.  Great Pan paperback, 3rd printing, published in 1959, price 2/6.  The cover illustration by Keay shows a man checking the heartbeat of another man. I presume this is meant to represent Colonel Easterbrook checking Rudi Scherz for signs of life. However, the illustration of the dead man bears absolutely no similarity to his description in the book!

How many pages until the first death: 23. However, with the classified advertisement being discussed from page one, we’re fully expecting and waiting for it.

Funny lines out of context: sadly, none in this book.

Memorable characters:

This book is full of resounding and fascinating characters. I really like Bunch; she has no unnecessary sophistication, no pretence, but she’s kind and honest and vital. “I get up at half past six and light the boiler and rush around like a steam engine and by eight it’s all done […] I like sleeping in a big cold room – it’s so cosy to snuggle down with just the tip of our nose telling you what it’s like up above […] whatever size of house you live in, you peel the same amount of potatoes and wash up the same amount of plates and all that”. She deliberately doesn’t kill a fly whilst talking to her Aunt Jane Marple, because she loves the feeling of being alive. A lovely positive character.

I also enjoy the portrayal of the Lesbian couple, Miss Hinchliffe and Miss Murgatroyd. Hinchliffe wears corduroy slacks and battledress tunic, Murgatroyd a checked tweed skirt and a shapeless pullover. They call each other by their surname and have masculine hairstyles. Although these might be stereotypes, Christie couldn’t be clearer about her intention.

Mitzi is quite memorable; although I have to confess I find her a little irritating!

Christie the Poison expert:

Only one of the deaths in the book involves poison, an aspirin tablet being replaced by one laced with narcotics. In modern speak, we’d probably describe it today as an opioid.

Class/social issues of the time:

It’s 1950, and the after-effect of the Second World War lingers on. Mrs Swettenham, reading an advertisement for dachshunds for sale, says “I’ve never really cared for dachshunds myself – I don’t mean because they’re German, because we’ve got over all that…” I wonder if that’s truly the case. Fuel rationing continues, with the Blacklock household jokingly referring to “the precious coke” that fires the central heating; Lettie complains, “you know the Fuel Office won’t even let us have the little bit that’s due to us each week – not unless we can say definitely that we haven’t got any other means of cooking.” You used to have to get a licence from the Fuel Office in order to obtain coke. Julia reflects on how wonderful it must have been before the war when good quality coke was easily available, with no need to fill in forms. “There wasn’t any shortage? There was lots of it there?” “All kinds and qualities – and not all stones and slates like what we get nowadays”.

Food shortages also still linger; when Miss Blacklock gets Mitzi to create a Delicious Death cake for Miss Bunner’s birthday, she allows her to “use this tin of butter that was sent us from America. And some of the raisins we were keeping for Christmas”. A tin of butter? That in itself is mind-blowing today. Miss Blacklock supplies Mrs Swettenham with a supply of horse meat – our contemporary stomachs turn at this prospect. And there’s a bartering system in place to provide each other with clothing coupons: “people […] like a nice woollen dress or a winter coat that hasn’t seen too much wear and they pay for it with coupons instead of money” says Bunch. But to make up for it, households have started to acquire gramophone records. Julia thinks people are like records when they come round to the house and all say the same thing. Another after-effect of the war is the prevalence of young war widows, like Philippa. Mrs Lucas revels in treating her appallingly, giving her a smaller than usual salary, and patronising her wherever possible. And as a result Mrs Lucas can feel even more smug about her own life.

Whilst there’s still a general sense of class-based racism, it’s not as overwhelming as in some of her books. Miss Harris distrusts foreigners: “I’m always on my guard with foreigners anyway, They’e often got a way with them, but you never know, do you? Some of those Poles during the war! And even some of the Americans!” Craddock and Fletcher, his Sergeant, are both liable to mouth off about foreigners, which might make you question their ability to deliver impartial justice. “”Everyone seems to agree that this foreign girl tells whoppers,” said Fletcher. “It’s been my experience in dealing with aliens that lying comes more easy than truth telling.”” That’s some sweeping statement.

One additional subject that sets the story perfectly in its own age relates to the distrust and concern about the growing use of atomic energy. Mrs Swettenham is befuddled by the prospect. “I was just saying to Colonel Easterbrook that I thought it was really very dangerous to have an atom research station in England. It ought to be on some lonely island in case the radio activity gets loose.” An interesting line that shows both the worries and the lack of proper information or understanding about such a research station.

Classic denouement:  No, but still fascinating and exciting. We witness someone just about to be murdered but the law interrupts just in time and prevents it – and then the murderer simply falls apart. All the ins and outs of the motives and methods follow on in a subsequent chapter. There’s also an epilogue, but I don’t think it serves much purpose.

Happy ending? I guess so. There’s a wedding, and an inheritance. But a lot of people have suffered quite a bit to get to that ending!

Did the story ring true? I fear this is one of Christie’s more far-fetched stories, with an elaborate plot design that achieves an end that could have been realised in a much simpler way. There’s also one extremely hokey and unlikely moment just before the full denouement, when Miss Marple impersonates someone who has already been murdered and the shock of it tricks the murderer into letting down their guard. Is it that likely that Miss Marple is a top class mimic? Naaaaa….

Overall satisfaction rating: It’s an enormously entertaining read but I think 9/10 is fair.

They Came To BaghdadThanks for reading my blog of A Murder is Announced and if you’ve read it too, I’d love to know what you think. Please just add a comment in the space below. Next up in the Agatha Christie Challenge is another of my favourite books, They Came to Baghdad, where high-spirited Victoria Jones has a very exciting adventure in the land of the Tigris. As usual, I’ll blog my thoughts about it in a few weeks’ time. In the meantime, please read it too then we can compare notes! Happy sleuthing!