ITV3 celebrates its 10th birthday

Happy birthday, ITV3. The channel is 10 years old and is celebrating with a weekend of 10 favourite dramas starting on Saturday 1 November.

They should really have called it ‘ITV Crime’ because it has become the home of ITV’s most popular police dramas. Consequently, the birthday weekend will feature Marple, Endeavour, Inspector Morse, Lewis, A Touch of Frost, Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders.

The channel’s very first show on 1 November 2004 was also a crimer, Inspector Rebus, based on Ian Rankin’s novels and starring John Hannah.

Its most popular show to air during the first decade was an episode of Foyle’s WarThe Hide went out in March 2013 and was watched by 1.8m viewers.

Since 2008 ITV3 has also been the home of the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards, celebrating the very best of British and international crime thriller fiction and drama.

This year’s event takes place this Friday – CrimeTimePreview will be there covering and Tweeting about it – and it will air on ITV3 on 27th October. Hosted by Bradley Walsh, the awards are the culmination of the six-week Crime Thriller Club series on ITV3, a studio-based show focused on crime fiction and television with high-profile guests, quizzes, bluffer’s guides and peeks behind the scenes of popular dramas.

So, congratulations ITV3. Watching you has been bloody murder.

Follow @crimetimeprev

New TV crime dramas 2012

Sherlock returns to BBC1 on Sunday, 1 January, 8.10pm

The New Year should be quite a crime spree, with the return of popular series and some great-looking new dramas and thrillers. Here’s a rundown of 40 new series coming to UK television in 2012…
Pics: BBC, ITV

1 Sherlock, BBC1, Sunday, 1 January, 8.10pm
Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Rupert Graves, Una Stubbs
Three new adventures from co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss of this Holmes contemporary reboot to kick off 2012. These are A Scandal in Belgravia, The Hounds of Baskerville and The Reichenbach Fall (note the slight alteration in the titles from the originals). The first series, oddly tucked away during the July silly season last year, was a tremendous hit, winning the prestigious American Peabody Award for Entertainment and a Bafta craft award, the CWA Crime Thriller awards for best actor and US Satellite Award for Best Miniseries, among others. It’s been a long wait for Sherlock‘s return. Anticipation factor: ★★★★★

2 Hit and Miss, Sky Atlantic
Chloe Sevigny, Peter Wight, Jonas Armstrong
This is one of the most interesting looking crime dramas for 2012. Chloe Sevigny plays Mia, a contract killer with a secret – she’s a transgender woman. Eddie, Mia’s handler and a well-known name in the criminal underworld, will be played by Peter Wight. Eddie took Mia under his wing and trained her into a first class assassin using his Chinese restaurant as a front for his illegal affairs. Mia’s life is sent into a tailspin when she receives a letter from her ex, Wendy, who reveals that she’s dying from cancer and that Mia has fathered a son, 11-year-old Ryan… Exploring themes of family, sexual identity and killing, Hit and Miss is created by Paul Abbott (Shameless, State of Play). Anticipation factor: ★★★★★

3 Nemesis, BBC1
Melissa George, Adam Rayner
In a joint production with HBO, Kudos – makers of the now decommissioned Spooks – are producing this international espionage series. Nemesis is an eight-parter starring Grey’s Anatomy and Alias actress Melissa George with Adam Rayner (Mistresses). It is written by The X Files and Strike Back writer /producer Frank Spotnitz. This will go out at the end of 2012. Anticipation factor: ★★★★½

4 Inside Men, BBC1
Steven Mackintosh, Ashley Walters, Warren Brown
Three employees of a security depot  plan and execute a multi-million pound cash heist. This new four-part drama serial is written by written by Tony Basgallop (Worried About the Boy, Hughie Green, Most Sincerely) and stars Steven Mackintosh (Camelot, Luther) as John, manager of the cash counting house and entrenched in a humdrum normality. Joining him in the robbery is depot security guard Chris, played by Ashley Walters (Outcasts, Five Days), and forklift driver Marcus, played by Warren Brown (Luther, Single Father). They are not seasoned criminals. Our protagonists are honest, hard-working men who see an opportunity, weigh up the risks, and take a leap. Inside Men is a study of how men behave when they step out of their comfort zones, and focuses on what it takes to cross that moral line, what it means for our characters to risk their freedom, and the resulting fallout on their individual consciences. Anticipation factor: ★★★★½

 5 Endeavour ITV1, Monday, 2 January, 9pm
Shaun Evans
Inspector Morse returns as a young man, with Shaun Evans (left) taking on the role made famous by John Thaw. In this one-off film, fans of Colin Dexter’s much-loved detective will get a glimpse into the origins of the man famed for his love of crosswords, classical music and real ale. Set in 1965, Morse is here involved in an investigation for a missing girl. Sidelined and discredited, he risks everything in launching his own search for justice. Evans commented, ‘Morse as a young man is a wonderful character that I’m very excited to be play. My hope is that we can compliment what’s come before, by telling a great story, and telling it well.’ Endeavour will mark the 25th anniversary of Inspector Morse‘s first broadcast, shown in 1987. Anticipation factor: ★★★★½

6 A Touch of Cloth, Sky1
John Hannah, Suranne Jones, Julian Rhind-Tutt
If the title hasn’t already given you a clue, this is a massive mickey-take of every police procedural ever written (what would you expect – it is adapted by Charlie Brooker from a story by Boris Starling). John Hannah, who once played Rebus for ITV, here takes on another heavy-drinking maverick, DCI Jack Cloth. His wife is mysteriously murdered and the damaged, haunted detective throws himself into his work, partnered with plucky no-nonsense DC Anne Oldman (Suranne Jones, having a light-hearted break from Scott & Bailey). Their boss, ACC Tom Boss, played by Julian Rhind-Tutt (Green Wing, The Hour) repeatedly demands results, fast. No, faster than that. Faster! Charlie Brooker says, ‘After you’ve seen A Touch of Cloth you’ll never be able to watch another detective show again. Not because it’s a devastating pisstake, but because you’ll have smashed your TV to pieces in a disappointed fury.’ Anticipation factor: ★★★★½

7 The Scapegoat, ITV1
Matthew Rhys, Eileen Atkins, Sheridan Smith, Jodhi May, Andrew Scott, Anton Lesser, Sylvie Testud
Daphne du Maurier’s dark story of switched identities could be a real treat. Set in 1952 as England prepares for the Coronation, John Standing and Johnny Spence (both played by Matthew Rhys, who stars in the US series Brothers and Sisters) meet in a station bar. Two very different men who share one thing – their appearance. Charismatic Johnny wines and dines his new acquaintance, but when John wakes the next morning with a hangover he is alone and a chauffeur is standing outside his room, waiting to take him ‘home’. Despite his protests he finds himself sucked irresistibly into another man’s life. Anticipation factor: ★★★★½

8 Line of Duty, BBC2
Vicky McClure, Martin Compston, Lennie James, Gina McKee, Neil Morrissey
In this cat-and-mouse thriller about modern policing, This Is England‘s Vicky McClure is a detective constable who, with detective sergeant Steve Arnott (Compston) are part of an anti-corruption unit investigating a popular and successful officer, detective chief inspector Tony Gates (James). While Gates cleverly manipulates his unit’s figures, DS Arnott questions whether Gates is being made a scapegoat for a culture of institutionalised spin, or is guilty of darker corruption? Writer Jed Mercurio says, ‘I’m hugely excited by the opportunity to set a drama in the controversial realities of 21st century policing. Line Of Duty is a commentary on the perverse bureaucracy that hamstrings frontline officers, but first and foremost it’s a thriller. Lennie James is electric as DCI Tony Gates, a complex and elusive anti-hero, and a formidable antagonist for two of the most exciting young talents in British TV – Martin Compston and Vicky McClure.’ Anticipation factor: ★★★★½


9 Public Enemies BBC1, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, 3-5 January, 9pm
Anna Friel, Daniel Mays
Three-part drama from the award-winning writer Tony Marchant (co-creator of Garrow’s Law) about 28-year-old Eddie, who is released from prison on licence after serving 10 years for murder, and his probation officer, Paula. Returning from recent suspension herself, Paula has to help Eddie, who claims he is innocent, to reintegrate into the community. When Eddie wants to fight what he says was a miscarriage of justice, will Paula risk everything to help him? Anticipation factor: ★★★★

10 The Spies of Warsaw, BBC4
Rainy, cobbled streets of Prague, Berlin and Warsaw, espionage and romance – all should feature in BBC4’s adaptation of Alan Furst’s acclaimed novels in two 90-minute films. The characters of his best-selling spy novels include faded nobility, b-movie filmmakers, newspapermen, ship’s captains and compromised businessmen as well as waiters, shopkeepers, jaded intellectuals, tarnished grand dames, and boozy British secret agents. Somehow, they are all connected to an underground army that seeks to fight against the Nazi occupiers. Anticipation factor: ★★★★


11 The Fuse, BBC1
Christopher Eccleston, Dervla Kirwan, Ewen Bremner, Andrew Scott, Lyndsey Marshal
Daniel Demoys (Eccleston) has gone from being an idealistic young man with a desire to make the world a better place, to a disillusioned and corrupt council official. His alcoholism has driven a wedge between him and wife, Alex (Kirwan), and their three children. When Daniel wakes up after another drunken night, he realises he might be responsible for a murder. A dramatic act of redemption buys him public adoration, so much so that he has become a candidate in the race for Mayor, persuaded by council official Jerry Durrans (Bremner), and lawyer sister Lucy (Marshal). Can he repair the damage he’s done to his private life, or will events – and detective Dalien Bevan (Scott) – bring his life crashing down? Christopher Eccleston says, ‘Bill Gallagher has written a fantastic four-episode drama about obsession, addiction and redemption. I’m very excited about the role of Daniel Demoys.’ Anticipation factor: ★★★★

12 Ripper Street BBC1
An intriguing premise – a drama set in London’s East End in 1889, the year after Jack the Ripper stalked its streets. The focus of the drama is the notorious police division H – the precinct from hell – which tries to maintain order in the chaotic streets of Whitechapel. The eight-part series is created by writer Richard Walow (Mistresses, Waking the Dead). Anticipation factor: ★★★★

13 Savage, BBC1
Warren Brown, Stephen Graham, Michael Angelis, Aisling Loftus, Mark Womack, Christine Tremarco
A young, honest Liverpool beat cop, played by Warren Brown, witnesses the brutal murder of his closest friend and is torn between his desire to protect his family, his duty and an intoxicating instinct for revenge. Anticipation factor: ★★★★

14 May Day, BBC1
When a young girl goes missing, feared dead, the community in which she lives looks to one another for answers. Four of the girl’s neighbours fear someone within their family may be involved. A sophisticated thriller about suspecting those closest to you of committing an appalling crime. This five-parter is written by Ben Court and Caroline Ip, creators of ITV’s Whitechapel. Anticipation factor: ★★★★

15 The Mystery of Edwin Drood, BBC2
Matthew Rhys, Tamzin Merchant, Freddie Fox
The mystery is solved at last. The Beeb has taken the liberty of finishing Charles Dickens’ mystery as part of the bicentenary of his birth, handing the assignment to writer Gwyneth Hughes. This is Dickens’ psychological thriller about a provincial choirmaster’s obsession with 17-year-old Rosa Bud (Tamzin Merchant) and the lengths he will go to to attain her. Anticipation factor: ★★★★

16 The Bridge, BBC4 
One of two new Scandinavian crime series that BBC4 snaffled up after unexpectedly striking gold with The Killing in 2011 (the other is Sebastian Bergman, below). The Bridge, a 10-part investigative crime drama, begins when the body of a woman is found in the middle of the Oresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark. A bi-national team is put together to solve the crime and the killer, always one step ahead of the police, becomes the object of a dramatic manhunt. A Danish/Swedish co-production. Anticipation factor: ★★★★

17 Sebastian Bergman BBC4
Rolf Lassgård
This police thriller stars Rolf Lassgård, one of Scandinavia’s most popular actors (Wallander, Beck), in a powerful new role as profiler Sebastian Bergman. Strong-headed, politically incorrect, abrasive and grief-stricken, Bergman has still not come to terms with the loss of both his wife and daughter in the 2004 Thailand tsunami. In the first of two 90-minute thrillers, he helps police in his hometown solve the murder of a 15-year-old boy. In the second, he attempts to catch a serial killer who seems to be modelling his attacks on those of a jailed killer whom Bergman put behind bars himself. Anticipation factor: ★★★★

18 Accused, BBC1
Anne-Marie Duff, Olivia Colman, Robert Sheehan, Sheridan Smith, Thomas Brodie-Sangster
The second series of Jimmy McGovern’s drama returns with four more episodes about people dealing with crises in their lives – gun crime on an estate in the opening story. Anticipation factor: ★★★★

19 Law & Order: UK series six, ITV1, Friday, 6 January, 9pm
Paul Nicholls, Bradley Walsh, Freema Agyeman, Harriet Walter, Peter Davison, Dominic Rowan
Nicholls, playing DS Sam Casey, joins the investigation into the previous season’s cliffhanger – the shooting of Matt Devlin (Jamie Bamber). Guest stars joining the cast for series six include Tamzin Outhwaite, Toby Stephens, Eva Pope, Luke Roberts and Tim McInnerny. Anticipation factor: ★★★★

20 Homeland, Channel 4
Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin, David Harewood
Contemporary US thriller series. An American soldier (Lewis) is left for dead during the Iraq invasion of 2003. However, after years in captivity, the solider returns home a hero. CIA officer Carrie Anderson (Danes) smells a rat and thinks that the national hero may be a double agent working for Al Qaeda. Anticipation factor: ★★★★

21 Top Boy, C4
Writer Ronan Bennett’s acclaimed four-parter about gang life on a Hackney estate has been recommissioned. C4’s chief creative office Jay Hunt says, ‘For me, Top Boy encapsulates everything that our drama is about – hugely original, passionate, with a brilliant roster of new talent. I’m thrilled that we’ll be seeing more.’ Anticipation factor: ★★★★

22 Mad Dogs series 2, Sky1
John Simm, Marc Warren, Max Beesley, Philip Glenister
The amateur criminals caught up in dirty shenanigans out in Majorca return. The story picks up where series one ended with Woody, Baxter and Rick driving away from the villa as Quinn has chosen to stay and make a new life in Majorca. In the opening scenes viewers will see Woody, Baxter and Rick have a change of heart and turn back – and from there it just gets crazier. Terrific cast, and series one had menace and bags of humour. Anticipation factor: ★★★★

23 Falcón, Sky Atlantic
A four-episode drama, based on Robert Wilson’s bestselling Javier Falcón novels. The series centres on Falcón, a Chief Inspector in the Seville police, a complex and layered character, with a psychological depth that mirrors the darkness around him in Seville. An innately sexual and charismatic character, Falcón is forceful and focused, happy to ignore the distinction between the law and criminals… Anticipation factor: ★★★★

24 Dirk Gently series two, BBC4
Douglas Adams’ holistic detective, played by Stephen Mangan in series one, returns in three more stories. The chaotic and infuriating sleuth, who solves crimes according to the interconnectedness of all things, was funny and proved a quiet success for BBC4. Anticipation factor: ★★★★

25 Restless, BBC1
Adaptation of William Boyd’s award-winning book about a young woman who discovers her mother was a British spy in the Second World War, specialising in espionage in America. Anticipation factor: ★★★½

26 Kidnap and Ransom series 2, ITV1
Trevor Eve, Helen Baxendale, Sharon Small, Madhur Mittal, Sean Gilder, Chris Fairbank
Eve (right) returns as hostage negotiator Dominic King, who is in Kashmir in this three-parter, trying to secure the release of the Mehtas, a British Asian family taken while on holiday visiting their son. As the handover is completed, the police arrive and a shootout ensues… Anticipation factor: ★★★

27 Scott & Bailey series 2, ITV1
Suranne Jones, Lesley Sharp
The first series got mixed reviews, but Suranne Jones and Lesley Sharp are liked by many viewers and the drama obviously clicked with enoughof them  for ITV to commission eight new episodes. The show will once again explore the personal and professional lives of DC Janet Scott (Sharp) and DC Rachel Bailey (Jones), both members of Syndicate 9, a Major Incident Team within the Manchester Met Police, who are tasked with tracking down killers. Anticipation factor: ★★★

28 Case Sensitive series 2, ITV1
Olivia Williams, Darren Boyd
A two-part story based on author Sophie Hannah’s novel The Other Half. The first series averaged 6million viewers. Anticipation factor: ★★★

29 Vera series 2, ITV1
Brenda Blethyn
Author Ann Cleeves’ unlikely copper, detective chief inspector Vera Stanhope, is back for another four 120-minute investigations, the first being The Ghost Position. The second will be Sandancers, and the third Silent Voices, adapted from Cleeves’ latest novel. The fourth was untitled at the time of the ITV announcement for series two. Anticipation factor: ★★★

30 New Tricks, BBC1
Alun Armstrong, James Bolam, Dennis Waterman and Amanda Redman
Neither the retired detectives or the actors are past it, if the UK audiences of nearly 10million during the last series tell the truth. So the Beeb has ordered another two lots for 2012 and 2013 of what could become the crime genre’s Last of the Summer Wine. The eccentric, rule-bending cold case cops, however, are played by a much-loved cast who have notched up several great performances in terrific series down the years. It may not do anything exciting with the crime format, but it is adored by a mainstream audience and sells by the truckload to international audiences. Anticipation factor: ★★★

31 Hustle BBC1, Friday, 6 January, 9pm
Adrian Lester, Robert Vaughn, Robert Glenister, Matt Di Angelo, Kelly Adams
What looks like being the last series – certainly with this cast and for the foreseeable future – of the con-team series returns in the first week of the New Year. In the opener,  Mickey Bricks (Lester) and the gang take on a gold dealer, Dexter Gold (Paterson Joseph). Anticipation factor: ★★★

32 Whitechapel series 3, ITV1
Rupert Penry-Jones, Phil Davis, Steve Pemberton
Having dealt with the legends of Jack the Ripper and the Krays, detective inspector Chandler (Penry-Jones) returns to be haunted by more ghosts of East End crimes – murder, body-snatching, poisoning and grisly discoveries await. Anticipation factor: ★★★

33 Above Suspicion: Silent Scream ITV1
Kelly Reilly, Ciaran Hinds, Shaun Dingwall, Michelle Holmes, Celyn Jones, Ray Fearon, Joanna Vanderham
The fourth and latest Above Suspicion three-parter with Kelly Reilly as DI Anna Travis arrives in January with this mystery about a murdered British film star. Travis is shocked to discover that behind all the fame and glamour, the victim was lonely, damaged and afraid. Anticipation factor: ★★★½

34-36 Miss Marple ITV1
Julia McKenzie
Caribbean Mystery, Endless Night and The Seven Dials Mystery are three Marple stories slated for filming in 2012. Caribbean Mystery finds Miss Marple far from St Mary Mead, staying in a luxurious hotel in the tropics.  Fellow guest Major Palgrave dies shortly in suspicious circumstances and Miss Marple must find his killer… ‘It’s a huge privilege for me to play Miss Marple,’ says the actress.  ‘After such a successful career, I was content to play guest roles, but then Marple came along.  How could I not play her? I love her shrewd intelligence, and yet she has a warmth and a sweetness that is so disarming. I find it stimulating watching how her insights into human nature can unlock big complex mysteries.’ Anticipation factor: ★★★

37-40 Poirot, ITV1
David Suchet
David Suchet is returning in 2012 to complete the cycle of Poirot stories written by Agatha Christie, filming the remaining mysteries not yet made by ITV – Labours of Hercules, Dead Man’s Folly, The Big Four, Elephants Can Remember and Curtain. The actor has often said he would like to finish the Poirot canon, having now worn the spats and mustache for 22 years during 65 films. Curtain is the Belgian sleuth’s last case, in which the arthritic Poirot calls on his friend Captain Hastings for assistance as they return to the scene of the first case, Styles Court, to prevent another killing. Anticipation factor: ★★★

The A-Z of Crime ITV3

Julie McKenzie, ITV’s current incarnation of Marple. Pics: ITV

Lee Child, Agatha Christie and Dan Brown are all in the frame for this fascinating and witty look at what makes crime telly so popular.

Crime and thriller dramas are clearly the most watched genre on TV, so it’s no surprise ITV3‘s seasons covering cops and killers in the run-up to the CWA Daggers in recent years has become a fixture in the schedules.

This year the coverage kicks off with a  with a six-part series called The A-Z of Crime, starting on ITV3 on Thursday, 1 September, at 9pm.

Mark Billingham, Denise Mina and Ian Rankin
It has rounded up popular crime writers, policemen, actors and experts for questioning about how the tension, thrills and mystery are created and why they have such appeal.

So, starting with A for Action, Mark Billingham, creator of the Thorne mysteries on Sky1, says, ‘Raymond Chandler famously said that if you were stuck for where to go in a book, you’d just have someone walk through the door with a gun.’

While Denise Mina, whose The Field of Blood hit BBC1 on Bank Holiday Monday, says, ‘The perfect example is Dickens. If you think of physical reaction to something like A Tale of Two Cities, your heart is racing, you’re sweating and you can’t hear people speaking to you. That is perfect narrative propulsion.’

Ian Rankin

The inspiration for Anna Travis
Ian Rankin, creator of Rebus, chips in, ‘[In] the traditional English detective story, there’s not a huge amount of action, there’s intellectual debate and there’s sleuthing but [Agatha Christie] doesn’t need an explosion every five minutes. So I’m not sure crime fiction needs an explosion every five minutes.’ 

Lynda La Plante reveals how she was inspired to create Anna Travis in ITV’s Above Suspicion series, her popular successor to Prime Suspect‘s Jane Tennison. She occasionally gets invited to murder scenes by detective acquaintances (who clearly know how to show a woman a good time), and saw a young female detective throwing up at what was her first scene of death.

When she next met the young detective, the woman had changed physically, toughened up, and that alteration was what fascinated La Plante.

Lynda La Plante

Lee Child on creating Jack Reacher
Subjects covered in the opener include Alibi, Alcohol, Bending the Rules, Dan Brown and Agatha Christie, the world’s ultimate crime author with four-billion sales. Julia McKenzie, the actress currently breathing life into Jane Marple on ITV1, has interesting insights into the character – ‘Marple’s only got one weapon – conversation. People think she’s harmless, but she’s not.’

Lee Child, the creator of the phenomenally successful Jack Reacher books and who crops up under C, relates his remarkable transformation from out-of-work TV exec to super-selling author. Losing his job meant ‘becoming a novelist was forced onto me’, he says. He also says he will always write Reacher and is not attracted to the idea of writing standalone stories.

The final D in the programme is for the Daggers, the Crime Writers Association’s awards for the year’s best novels, films and TV shows. This year’s event is on Friday, 7 October, at the Grosvenor House hotel in London, and will be broadcast on ITV3 on the following Tuesday.

Ballots and bullets

We’re being asked to vote for a party of luminaries whose members hang round dodgy types, have the odd drink problem and have been said to habitually use cocaine.

But then who wouldn’t rather vote for a Holmes, Morse, Tennison or Foyle than the usual bunch paraded before us at elections.

The voting for the People’s Detective Dagger has just started, and fans of ITV’s top sleuths can endorse their fave on the website for the snappily named Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards on ITV3 in Conjunction with the Crime Writers’ Association.

It’s all part of the build-up to the 2010 awards ding-dong on Friday 8 October – the result of the ITV3 and the CWA joining forces last year – when the year’s top crime authors and novels are celebrated. The People’s Detective Dagger will be presented at the event.

To get everyone in the mood for voting, ITV3 is running a six-week season of new crime and thriller docs about the detectives and shortlisted books. Here’s the schedule:

Ep 1: Morse/Frost 9pm Thurs 2nd Sept/Mon 6th Sept

Ep 2: Marple/Tennison
9pm Tues 7th Sept/Thurs 9th Sept/Mon 13th Sept

Ep 3: Wycliffe/Barnaby 9pm Tues 14th Sept/Thurs 16th Sept/Mon 20th Sept

Ep 4: Rebus/Lewis 9pm Tues 21st Sept/Thurs 23rd Sept/Mon 27th Sept

Ep 5: Wexford/Foyle 9pm Tues 28th Sept/Thurs 30th Sept/Mon 4th Oct

Ep 6: Poirot/Sherlock
9pm Tues 5th Oct/Wed 6th Oct/Thurs 7th Oct

Personally, I think Barnaby’s got less the personal magnetism than Gordon Brown, and would much rather have a social drinker like Rebus getting the nod.

Agatha Christie Marple, ITV1 PREVIEW

Julia McKenzie
(© ITV)

Rating ★★½

ITV1, Bank Holiday Monday, 9-11pm

Someone said to me last week that in her younger days she had read all 80 detective novels by Agatha Christie.

Talk about misspent youth.

That the Queen of Crime is popular cannot be contested. Only outsold by the Bible, she makes even JK Rowling’s success look humdrum.

But are her cosy whodunits any good? Every now and again there’s a hoo-ha when some writer disses the old Dame for her flat characters and dull prose, but having a go at her worldwide popularity is like trying to force back the sea.

Millions adore her still, and that’s why ITV has long been pumping money into productions of Marple and Poirot.

Marple’s still got all her marbles
Watching the latest Marple starring Julia McKenzie – The Pale Horse – clues to the character’s appeal can be detected. The idea of a pensioner underestimated as a silly old lady by some but who outsmarts the poisoners and shooters makes her something of a champion.

I find Julia McKenzie too unassuming in the role, and would prefer a little eccentricity, but she seems to be building a following.

The post-war setting obviously seduces some viewers too, with its steam trains, country drawing rooms and domestic servants – all a long way from rowdy, multicultural, ill-mannered contemporary Britain.

Finally, there is the parade of familiar actors doing turns as various stuffed shirts, stock sinister types and pretty maidens. Here we have Neil Pearson (Lejeune), Pauline Collins (Thyrza), Holly Valance (Kanga), Nigel Planer (Venables), Bill Paterson (Bradley) and others.

‘Wickedness’ at the Pale Horse
All these ingredients are in place at The Pale Horse Inn, where Miss Marple has come to discover who is behind the murder of her old friend, Father Gorman (Nicholas Parsons).

It gets off to a nicely menacing start on a foggy night with Gorman attending a dying lady, to the soundtrack of a radio play of the witches’ scene from Macbeth, and talk of ‘wickedness’.

The witch theme is continued at the inn, whose village is celebrating the burning of a local witch in 1664, and whose inhabitants include some women claiming to be witches. Pauline Collins’ Thyrza even claims modern witches can control victims’ minds and force them to kill themselves.

So there are bonfires and weird locals, but the Agatha Christie template is so well worn these days that it is easy to tell the red herrings from the real clues (the author’s experience working in a hospital and pharmacy means anyone using ointments or exotic drugs in her stories is nearly always connected to her killer).

Which cardboard character will fold under questioning?
‘Good Lord, Mr X must be rolling in money.’

‘Yes, and no one knows where it came from. He’s quite the mystery man.’

So it definitely ain’t Mr X. A lot of characters come under suspicion, all with as much personality as Colonel Mustard in the library, but we know whoever looks most likely is never the guilty one.

The Pale Horse is no different, being the usual contrivance, and predictable in its far-fetched conclusion – but the evidence suggests millions will love it. Perhaps someone is controlling their minds.

Best scene: the creepy, fog-bound opening moments

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