Classic Crime on British TV – Part One

The Early Years: 1923-58


Modern viewers are fortunate to have had a wide range of classic and Golden Age crime to enjoy on the small screen in the last 30 years or so. They have been able to enjoy multiple adaptations of works by Agatha Christie, traditional and modern adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, long running series like G K Chesterton’s Father Brown and many more one-offs such as And Then There Were None and Malice Aforethought. In addition, there have been a number of series which have modern settings but take their inspiration from the Golden Age, examples including Midsummer Murders, Death In Paradise and Foyle’s War. So while aficionados of classic crime have still much to bemoan (for example there has never been a TV adaptation of a Freeman Wills Crofts mystery) the situation has certainly improved from the earliest days of television in the UK.

As 2023 marks the centenary of the BBC, initially on radio, this seems an appropriate time to look back and see how and when those classic authors and stories were first mined by TV producers for popular entertainment. This article covers the first 35 years (from 1923-1958) and subsequent years will be covered later.

Unsurprisingly, Golden Age crime found it’s home first on the radio, particularly in the 1930’s when several authors appeared to discuss their work and the craft of mystery writing. An example is Cecil Street’s appearance on Thoughts Of A Detective Writer – John Rhode on the BBC National Programme, broadcast 7th Sept 1935 and repeated several times that month. Even a comparatively lesser-known writer like Brian Flynn appeared as a panellist on Reactions, 14th May 1939 on BBC Regional radio. A detailed analysis of these early radio broadcasts, which included both adaptations and original content by Golden Age writers, would be a serious undertaking by itself so in this article I am confining myself to TV plays and series plus appearances by Golden Age writers. I have included some instances of non-criminous works by classic crime authors. As independent television did not launch in the UK until 1955 the period covered is naturally dominated by BBC productions, though the ITV companies soon began to try their own hand at using the Golden Age to provide stories for adaptation.

The early days of television were complicated by technological limitations tempered by slow advances and while the BBC had started test transmissions in 1929 on the Baird 30-line system it did not launch a regular 405-line service until November 1936, the first regular ‘high-definition’ broadcasts in the world. This was from Alexandra Palace in North London, which had started test broadcasts in August of that same year. At first the 405-line transmissions alternated with ones using a 240-line Baird intermediate film system but the latter was dropped by January 1937 as the cameras were too cumbersome (particularly for outside broadcasts) and the quality was inferior.

As technology did not then exist to record programmes these early productions were performed live which meant repeating programmes required the whole production to be staged again. It was not until 1947 that the BBC managed to capture TV programmes onto film using a process called ‘Telerecording’. The BBC began experimenting with recording to magnetic tape in 1952 but their system VERA – demonstrated in 1958 – only allowed a maximum of 15 minutes recording per tape. At the same time the Ampex video recording system, which had first been demonstrated in 1956, launched and proved a success. Programmes could now be recorded as they were broadcast live or pre-recorded before transmission. These limitations help explain why no programmes in this first period appear to survive today. Full archive information is given with each listing below.


First Steps: 1923-39

It strikes one as highly appropriate given how she has dominated TV and film adaptations since then that the first BBC TV production in our list comes from a story by Agatha Christie.



June 18th at 15.35 and 21.40 on BBC Television

Agatha Christie – The Wasps Nest (duration 20-25 mins)

Adapted by Agatha Christie from her own short story

Starring: Francis L. Sullivan as Hercule Poirot with Wallace Douglas, Antoinette Cellier and D. A. Clarke Smith

This is the only time Christie herself adapted one of her stories for television. Francis L. Sullivan had previously been successful as Poirot on the stage in Alibi and Black Coffee. One reviewer stated the play was ‘excellently done’. It was performed twice on the same day.

Radio Times blurb:

Televiewers will be the first to see this Agatha Christie play, which has never previously been performed anywhere.
Francis L. Sullivan, who will bring to the television screen the famous detective character, Hercule Poirot, originally made a great hit in another Poirot play, Alibi, in which he toured for almost a year, and subsequently in the same characterisation in Black Coffee. In addition to being familiar to theatre audiences in New York, London, and Stratford-on-Avon, he has appeared in a number of films, among them Jew Suss, Great Expectations, Chu Chin Chow, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The character of Poirot is one of his favourite parts, and with the exception of a notable portrayal by Charles Laughton, the character has been almost permanently associated with him for the past six years.

Agatha Christie, known to all lovers of detective fiction and also to countless playgoers, probably has as firmly established an international reputation as any feminine writer of popular fiction. She is not, as has sometimes been stated, American by birth. She is a native of Torquay, and, despite her love of travelling, still spends a great deal of her time in her Devonshire birthplace. Her father, however, was originally from New York. Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, to give her her full name, has such a prodigious list of works to her credit that it is difficult to select at random any outstanding examples, but many will remember ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’, ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’, ‘Lord Edgware Dies’, ‘The Seven Dials Mystery’, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, ‘Death in the Clouds’, and ‘The ABC Murders’

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)


October 8th at 15.30 and 21.35 on BBC Television

Arthur Conan Doyle – Waterloo (duration 30 mins)

This non-criminous play (full title often quoted as ‘A Story Of Waterloo) was also performed for a third time with the same cast on 29th October. I have included it here as it is historically important as the first UK TV adaptation of a work by Conan-Doyle.

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)



November 23rd at 15.00 on BBC Television

Agatha Christie – Love From A Stranger (duration 90 mins)

By Frank Vosper from a story by Agatha Christie

Starring: Edna Best, Bernard Lee, Eileen Sharp and Morris Harvey

This play was based on Philomel Cottage and had first been produced on stage in 1936. It was performed again on December 2nd at 21.10.

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)



June 11th at 21.05 on BBC Television

G. K. Chesterton – Magic (duration 90 mins)

This fantastic comedy was Chesterton’s first play and featured Alan Wheatley, who starred in the first BBC Sherlock Holmes series in 1951 (see below) It was performed again on June 19th at 15.00, where it is listed to run for 65 mins. As both performances were followed by close-downs the actual run times are not known. It is included here as historically important as the first adaptation of a work by Chesterton.

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)



From 1st September 1939 to 7th June 1946 BBC television ceased transmissions due to the 2nd World War.


The Post-War Years 1946-58

The first programmes in our list after the resumption of transmissions were actually performances of the same G. K. Chesterton and Agatha Christie plays featured above – Magic and Love From A Stranger. After the war the number of Golden Age and classic crime adaptations increased dramatically. It became possible to record television programmes onto film from around 1953 and overseas sales began to bring in income, so it is possible that some of the programmes listed below from that date onwards were recorded. Therefore they are listed as Missing rather than Missing (not recorded)



June 8th at 20.45 on BBC Television

G. K. Chesterton – Magic (duration 75mins)

Another staging of Chesterton’s fantastic comedy. Alban Blakelock played the Duke’s secretary Hastings, as he had done in the 1939 production. The remainder of the cast had not appeared in the previous production. It was performed again on August 16th at 15.00

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)



May 25th at 20.45 on BBC Television

Agatha Christie – Love From A Stranger (duration 75 mins)

Starring: Joy Harington as Cecily Harrington, Henry Oscar as Bruce Lovell, Arthur Wontner as Dr. Gribble, Elizabeth Kirkby as Mavis Wilson, William Roderick as Nigel Lawrence and Edna Morris as Louise Garrard

This was another performance of the play written by Frank Vosper, based on the story Philomel Cottage. Arthur Wontner, celebrated for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in several 1930’s films, appeared as Dr. Gribble. It was performed a second time on May 27th at 15.00

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)


July 13th at 20.45 on BBC Television

G. K. Chesterton – The Man Who Was Thursday (duration 75 mins)

Adapted and produced by Jan Bussell from the play by Mrs. Cecil Chesterton and Ralph Neale and the radio script by Ronald Barton

Starring: Harold Scott as Thursday, Campbell Singer as Wednesday, Leonard Sachs as Gregory, Stringer Davis as Witherspoon and Alan Reid as Saturday

The first and to date only television adaptation of Chesterton’s metaphysical thriller. It was performed again on July 15th at 15.00

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)


October 2nd at 20.30 on BBC Television

Dorothy L. Sayers – Busman’s Honeymoon (duration 90 mins)

Adapted and produced by John Glyn-Jones

Starring: Harold Warrender as Lord Peter Wimsey, Ruth Lodge as Harriet, Ronald Adam as Bunter, Joan Hickson as Miss Twitterton, Lewis Stringer as Frank Crutchley

The first TV adaptation of a Sayers story, in this instance the play co-written with Muriel St. Clare Byrne. It featured a young Joan Hickson, later to play Miss Marple in the successful BBC series from 1984-92.

Harold Warrender –
The first TV Wimsey

From the Radio Times blurb:

In “Busman’s Honeymoon” the authors have expressed in dramatic terms a true ‘detective problem’, in which every clue is shown at the same time to the audience and to the detective so that both of them have an equal chance to solve the problem.
In this play viewers see what happens to Dorothy L. Sayers’s famous character Lord Peter Wimsey when he arrives at a farmhouse in Essex for his honeymoon.

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)


October 21st at 20.30 on BBC Television

Agatha Christie – Three Blind Mice (duration 30 mins)

Starring: John Witty, Jessica Spenser, Christine Lindsay, Patrick Curwen and Lewis Stringer

Snowed in, the residents of a guest house find themselves trapped with a murderer. The short story this play was based on was published in 1950 and later was adapted as Christie’s most famous play The Mousetrap.

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)



March 20th at 20.45 on BBC Television

J. Jefferson Farjeon – Exit, Murder Over Draughts, The Body Was Not Disturbed (duration 75 mins)

Adapted by Sidney W. Budd from the short stories of J. Jefferson Farjeon and Harry Farjeon

Starring: Richard Hurndall, Patrick Troughton, Esme Percy, Edward Palmer, James Dale and Louise Hampton

Shown as part of Triple Bill, a strand where three short plays were performed together, the first adaptation of works by Farjeon, along with his brother Harry.

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)


August 25th to September 8th at 20.30 on BBC Television

J. Jefferson Farjeon – The Chronicles Of Ben (duration 3 x 30 mins)

Adapted by Sidney W. Budd

Produced by Joy Harington

Starring: Gerry Verno as Ben, John Stuart as Taylor, Basil Dignam as Harold, Jill Balcon as Dorothy and Geoffrey Denton as Smith


  1. Through A Window
  2. An Ill Wind
  3. The Room At The Top

The first serial in this list, a three part adaptation of Farjeon’s Detective Ben stories, again adapted by Sidney W. Budd, as were the three stories for Triple Bill above.

Radio Times Notice

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)


December 24th at 21.10 on BBC Television

Dorothy L. Sayers – He That Should Come (duration 60 mins)

This nativity play was specially written by Sayers for broadcast on the BBC and had originally been performed on BBC radio on Christmas Day 1938.

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)



June 10th at 20.45 on BBC Television

Agatha Christie – Witness For The Prosecution (duration 25 mins approx)

Adapted by Sidney Budd

Starring: Dale Rogers as Leonard Vole, Mary Kerridge as Romaine Heliger, Derek Elphinstone as Defending Counsel and Alban Blakelock as Prosecuting Counsel

This play was performed as part of Triple Bill which also included A Call To Arms by Denis Johnstone and Box For One by Peter Brook. The total duration was 75 mins so exact running time is unknown.

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)


August 20th at 20.30 on BBC Television

Agatha Christie – Ten Little N___s (duration 90 mins)

Produced by Kevin Sheldon

Starring: Arthur Wontner as General MacKenzie, John Bentley as Philip Lombard, Barry Steele as Narracot, Margery Bryce as Emily Brent, Campbell Singer as William Blore, Stanley Lemin as Rogers and Elizabeth Maude as Mrs Rogers

The first TV adaptation of the novel now titled And Then There Were None, following Rene Clair’s 1945 film version.

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)


November 18th at 15.00 on BBC Television

Ngaio Marsh in Designed For Women (duration 60 mins)

Marsh was interviewed in this magazine show and ‘described her work as a writer’

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)



December 12th at 20.00 on BBC Television

Donald Henderson – Mr Bowling Buys A Newspaper (duration 100 mins)

Produced by Stephen Harrison

Starring: Anthony Hawtry as Mr Bowling, Daphne Anderson as Lena Dresden, Kenneth Edwards as Mr Winthrop and Aubrey Dexter as Mr Farthing

The success of the novel prompted the BBC to stage this play version, written by Henderson, with the action taking place during a wartime winter in a small Kensington hotel

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)



July 29th at 17.30 on BBC Television

Arthur Conan Doyle – The Mazarin Stone (duration 30 mins)

Adapted by Anthony Cope

Produced by Alan Bromly

Starring: Andrew Osborn as Sherlock Holmes, Philip King as Dr. Watson, Jeremy Spencer as Billy and Martin Boddey as Sam Merton

Andrew Osborn – The first TV Sherlock Holmes

The first British TV adaptation of a Sherlock Holmes story actually appeared as part of their For The Children strand on a Sunday afternoon. At the time only approximately 3 hours of television were broadcast on Sundays. However, viewers wanting to see further Sherlock Holmes stories did not have long to wait for more of the great detective..

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)


October 20th to December 1st at 20.00 on BBC Television

Arthur Conan Doyle – Mr. Sherlock Holmes (duration 6 x 35 mins)

Adapted by C. A. Lejeune

Produced by Ian Atkins

Starring: Alan Wheatley as Sherlock Holmes, Raymond Francis as Dr. Watson, Bill Owen as Inspector Lestrade and Iris Vandeleur as Mrs Hudson


  1. The Empty House
  2. A Scandal In Bohemia
  3. The Dying Detective
  4. The Reigate Squires
  5. The Red-Headed League
  6. The Second Stain
Alan Wheatley as Holmes and Raymond Francis as Watson

The first full series in our list and the also the first series of Sherlock Holmes stories adapted for television. There is disagreement over whether the Mazarin Stone adaptation above was a pilot for this series but this seems unlikely. The programmes were billed as Alan Wheatley as Sherlock Holmes in.. with the title of the story following, but for convenience are usually referred to as Mr. Sherlock Holmes. The series was broadcast live and not recorded.

The Times of 23rd October reviewed the series saying The performance was done in a proper spirit of seriousness. Mr. Alan Wheatley, though rather younger and fuller in the face than the Holmes of his opponents’ nightmares, yet catches the essential character.

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)



January 14th at 22.10 on BBC Television

Henry Cecil – Short Story: Tell Tale (duration 15 mins)

Read by Edward Chapman

A reading of this short story from Cecil’s first collection Full Circle

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)


February 2nd at 21.50 on BBC Television

Henry Cecil – The Case Of Mr Tinker (duration 15 mins)

Read by Edward Chapman

A reading of this short story, again from Cecil’s first collection Full Circle

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)


September 11th at 21.45 on BBC Television

Arthur Conan Doyle – The Parasite (duration 50 mins)

Adapted by Arthur Goring and Derek Blomfield

Produced by Dennis Vance

This production of Doyle’s novella of mind control starred Andrew Osborn, who had appeared as Sherlock Holmes in The Mazarin Stone, listed above.

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)


September 16th at 20.35 on BBC Television

Arthur Conan Doyle – Waterloo (duration 25 mins)

Produced by John Moxey

Starring: Patrick Troughton, Laidman Browne, Margaret Anderson and Clement McCallin

Featuring future Dr Who, Patrick Troughton, this was another production of Doyle’s play sometimes titled A Story Of Waterloo

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)


October 28th at 20.00 on BBC Television

Henry Cecil – The Disagreeable Man (duration 30 mins)

Adapted by C. E. Webber

Produced by Ian Atkins

Starring: Walter Fitzgerald as Basil Merridew, Robert Eddision as Nicholas Drew, William Mervyn as Adam Twigg QC, Ian Fleming as Dr Sainsbury, Campbell Singer as Det Insp Larch, Christopher Steele as Rev. Maitland Temperley and Ursula Howells as Barbara Newton

This play was billed as An episode from the novel Ways And Means and featured William Mervyn, who later starred as Mr Rose and the other Ian Fleming, the Australian character actor who starred as Dr Watson opposite Arthur Wontner is several Sherlock Holmes films of the 1930’s.

Archive Status – Missing



November 13th at 22.15 on BBC Television

J. Jefferson Farjeon – Murder Over Draughts (duration 15 mins)

Adapted and Produced by Tony Richardson

Starring: Alfred Burke and Robert Shaw

Another performance of the short story first adapted as part of Triple Bill in 1948, with future Public Eye star Alfred Burke in a leading role.

Archive Status – Missing (not recorded)



April 4th at 19.45 on BBC Television

Agatha Christie – Spider’s Web (duration 60 mins)

Starring: Margaret Lockwood, Felix Aylmer, Desmond Llewelyn, Campbell Singer and Judith Furse

This was billed as An Excerpt From Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web. According to Radio Times it was A special performance before an invited audience from the Savoy Theatre, London (by arrangement with Peter Saunders)

Radio Times blurb:

Oliver Costello, a nasty type, has been killed by the time tonight’s excerpt begins. Clarissa has found the body and rustled up her friends Sir Rowland, Jeremy Warrender, and Hugo Birch, to help her dispose of it. She has done so calmly, because she thinks Costello was killed by her stepdaughter Pippa: she will do anything to protect the child. What complicates the situation – apart from secret drawers and a concealed door – is that Clarissa is noted for her vivid imagination, for her convincing descriptions of things that never happened. When she speaks the truth, no one believes her.

Archive Status – Missing


October 3rd at 20.00 on Associated Rediffusion

Ngaio Marsh in What’s It All About? (duration 30 mins)

The first non-BBC programme on our list, Marsh appeared as a panellist on this Associated Rediffusion show. She also appeared on October 17th and October 31st.

TV Times blurb:

Strange things and odd events occur everyday. Tonight, some of the people involved in these unusual episodes face a panel whose job it is to find out the reasons for their odd behaviour.
Panel: Avis Scott, Ngaio Marsh, Michael Trubshawe, Dr. Mostyn Lewis. Chairman: Paul Carpenter.

Archive Status – Missing



April 15th at 20.15 on BBC Television

John Dickson Carr – The Seat Of The Scornful (duration 90 mins)

Adapted by Ted Allan

Produced by Alvin Rakoff

Starring: Finlay Currie as Dr Gideon Fell, Jacqueline Hill as Cynthia Lee, Basil Sydney as Mr Justice Ireton, William Franklin as Frederick Barlow and Alfred Burke as P. C. Weems

This play was part of the Saturday-Night Theatre strand and featured future Dr Who companion Jacqueline Hill and Alfred Burke, later to star in the long-running series Public Eye.

Radio Times Notice

Archive Status – Missing


June 3rd at 17.00 on BBC Television

Ernest Bramah – The Dragon Embellishment (duration 30 mins)

Adapted by Anthony Brown

Starring: Phillip Ray, Rosemary Miller, Hugh David and Gerald C. Lawson

An adaptation of one of the stories from Kai Lung’s Golden Hours, this was produced by the BBC Children’s Television Department. The play was shown again with the same cast on December 21st, though whether that was a Telerecording of this version or a restaging is unclear.

Archive Status – Missing


September 3rd at 20.00 on Associated Rediffusion

Agatha Christie – Towards Zero (duration 45 mins)

Starring: Cyril Raymond as Thomas Royde, Mary Law as Kay Strange, William Kendall as Supt Battle and Gillian Lind as Mary Aldin

Written in collaboration with Gerald Verner this play premiered at St. James Theatre in the West End the following day.

TV Times blurb:

A preview, before an invited audience at the St. James’s Theatre, of an excerpt from tomorrow night’s premiere.
Introduced by Leslie Mitchell

Archive Status – Missing


December 1st to January 5th at 19.30

Michael Gilbert – Crime Of The Century (duration 6 x 30 mins)

Produced by Andrew Osborn

Starring: Edward Chapman as Mr Brakewell, William Lucas as Charlton Bradbury, Gene Anderson as Clare Pinnock, Ballard Berkeley as Major Trump and Brian Peck as Herbert


  1. The Death Of A Canary
  2. Abbie
  3. Taffy
  4. Major Trump
  5. The Century Opens
  6. The Century Closes

This 6-part production was an original story by Gilbert rather than an adaptation of one of his novels. It was apparently successful enough for him to be commissioned for another serial six months later (see below). Gilbert wrote an introductory article for Radio Times, reproduced below.

Radio Times Article

Archive Status – Missing


December 23rd at 22.15 on BBC Television

G. K. Chesterton and Cecil Day Lewis – Christians Be Joyful (duration 35 mins)

This Christmas show featured readings of both Chesterton’s poem The House Of Christmas and Day-Lewis’ poem Christmas Eve

Archive Status – Missing



February 5th at 21.15 on BBC Television

Anthony Gilbert – My Guess Would Be Murder (duration 60 mins)

Adapted and Produced by John Irving from the novel The Wrong Body

Starring: Nora Nicholson as Alice Hunter, Edith Sharp as Alice Hunter, Lewis Gedge as Dr Ogilvy, Betty Cooper as Sister and Frank Atkinson as Mr Finnemore

The first Television adaptation of a work by Lucy Malleson, this play had been performed on BBC radio in 1954. This production was broadcast from the BBC West of England Television Studio. Oddly the BBC listings give the original book as The Wrong Body, which was the US title. It was called A Nice Cup Of Tea in the UK.

This play was also produced only 2 years later by ATV London in their Armchair Theatre strand.

Archive Status – Missing


March 29th at 22.00 on Associated Rediffusion

John Dickson Carr in Contact (duration 15 mins)

Carr was interviewed by Bernard Braden for this series. Other interviewees included playwright John Osborne and Douglas Bader.

Archive Status – Missing


May 22nd at 21.45 on BBC Television

John Dickson Carr in Guilty Party

Carr appeared in this edition of a series similar to the later Whodunnit, where panellists were challenged to solve crimes.

Radio Times blurb:

Edward J. Mason challenges John Dickson Carr to find the guilty party in ‘ Murder in Train’
Devised by Tony Shryane and Edward J. Mason

Archive Status – Missing


June 15th to July 20th at 21.00 on BBC Television

Michael Gilbert – Wideawake (duration 6 x 30mins)

Produced by Gerard Glaistor

Starring: Charles Workman as ‘Wideawake’ Stayman, Ernest Hare as Supt Blades, Terence Alexander as Oliver Male, Charles Lloyd-Pack as Mr Cork and Jill Adams as Shelley Stayman


  1. Trouble Near Lincoln’s Inn
  2. Digging For Evidence
  3. Cork Is Drawn
  4. In Search Of Wideawake
  5. Visitors To The British Museum
  6. All Ends Meet At Watersmeet

Gilbert’s second original six-part serial was produced just over seven months after the first. As before Gilbert wrote an introductory article for Radio Times, reproduced here:

Radio Times Promo Article

note: The first episode was broadcast at 19.30. All subsequent episodes were broadcast at 21.00.

Archive Status – Missing


June 15th at 21.00 on BBC Television at 21.00

Donald Henderson – Mr Bowling Buys A Newspaper (duration 90 mins)

Produced by Stephen Harrison

Starring: Hugh Sinclair as Mr Bowling. Beryl Reid as Alice, Myrtle Reed as Lena Dresden, Gordon Bell as Mr Farthing and Kenneth Edwards as Mr Wintrop

On the same day as the above programme in the list and seven years after the previous version the BBC, produced this second adaptation by Donald Henderson from his successful novel. Stephen Harrison again produced and it is likely the script was identical to the 1950 version.

Archive Status – Missing


September 13th at 20.30 on Associated Rediffusion

Agatha Christie – The Mousetrap (duration 15 mins)

This short extract was broadcast from the Ambassador’s Theatre, London at the 1998th performance of The Mousetrap to celebrate it becoming the longest running straight play in the history of British Theatre. It was introduced by Richard Attenborough.

On November 26th Associated Rediffusion visited the theatre again to interview several cast members for the programme Chelsea At Nine

Archive Status – Missing


October 3rd at 20.00 on BBC Television

Dorothy L. Sayers – Busman’s Honeymoon (duration 90 mins)

Produced by Brandon Acton-Bond

Starring: Peter Gray as Lord Peter Wimsey, Sarah Lawson as Harriet, Charles Lloyd-Pack as Bunter, Robert Hunter as Frank Crutchley and Warren Mitchell as Mr MacBride

Ten years and one day after the previous adaptation the BBC again produced a version of the play Sayers wrote in collaboration with Muriel St Clair Byrne. It was broadcast from the BBC’s West of England Television Studio.

Radio Times Article

Archive Status – Missing



February 2nd at 20.30 on Associated Rediffusion

J. Jefferson Farjeon – No. 17 (duration 90 mins)

Adapted by Juan Cortez

Starring: Jerry Verno as Ben, Laurence Payne as Gilbert, Helen Shingler as Nora Brant, Terrence Longdon as Henry and Elwyn Brook-Jones as Mr. Brant

Ten years after appearing as the title character in the BBC series Chronicles of Ben, Jerry Verno reprised the role in this adaptation, shown as part of the Play Of The Week strand. The programme was networked on ITV Television.

Archive Status – Missing


April 27th at 20.30 on BBC Television

Michael Gilbert – The Body Of A Girl (duration 90 mins)

Produced by George R. Foa

Starring: Geoffrey Keen as Det. Supt Hollands, Maureen Pryor as Mrs Jack, Graham Rowe as Brian Miller, Tom Chatto as Det. Sgt Lamb and Arthur Goullet as James Kerrymore

Radio Times Notice

In his first full-length play for television, Michael Gilbert has written a thriller that is not so much a conventional ‘Whodunnit’ as a ‘Whydunnit.’ Set in Essex, in a village near the mudflats and marshes, it is centred on the disappearance of a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl on her last day at school. In addition to the excitement and suspense of the story, the play is an interesting study of three age groups, and uses as its background a newly built secondary modern school.

Michael Gilbert has previously written two thriller-serials for BBC television – “Crime of the Century” and “Wideawake” – as well as some nine full-length novels, and many short stories and radio plays. He manages to do most of his writing on the daily train-journey between London and his home near Rochester in Kent.

Archive Status – Missing


July 5th at 19.30 on BBC Television

Michael Gilbert – Fair Game (duration 6 x 30 mins)

Produced by Desmond Davis

Starring: Derek Farr as Toby Truscott, Clive Morton as General Truscott, Austin Trevor as Capt. Cranmer and Harry Locke as Sam Shorter


  1. Number 1: Bull And Bear
  2. Number 2: St Asaph’s School For Boys
  3. Number 3: The Black Cat
  4. Number 4: The Carleon Country Club
  5. Number 5: The House In Warren Square
  6. Number 6: The Golden Oriole

Gilbert’s third Television serial: Toby Truscott has resigned his commission from the Regular Army. As a civilian with a small pension and a gratuity of a few thousand pounds he is faced with the problem of earning a living in a world which appears to him to be inhabited by people who seem to want him rather less than his money.

Derek Farr as Toby Truscott

Archive Status: Missing


June 24th to July 29th at 17.00 on BBC Television

Arthur Conan Doyle – The Firm Of Girdlestone (duration 6 x 30 mins)

Adapted by C. E. Webber

Produced by Naomi Capon

Starring: Andrew Cruikshank as John Girdlestone, Alan Dobie as Ezra Girdlestone, Elaine Usher as Kate Harston, Wensley Pithey as Dr Dimsdale and Ann Heffernan as Mrs Dimsdale


  1. A Dangerous Promise
  2. Ruin Threatens
  3. The Land Of Diamonds
  4. Kate Disappears
  5. In The Spider’s Web
  6. Murder

This six-part production of Doyle’s 1890 novel was produced by BBC Children’s Television.

Radio Times Article

Archive Status – Missing


August 14th at 20.30

Michael Gilbert – Crime Report (duration 60 mins)

Produced by David E. Rose

Gilbert penned this dramatised documentary which the Radio Times described as follows: The recording of ‘crimes’ and ‘occurrences’ is an unending police routine. ‘Crime Report’, the story of a murder investigation conducted from a police station in a London suburb, shows how such routine can provide the vital clue, for ‘murderers are found as often as not by someone who takes the trouble to sit still and wade through half a ton of paper.’

Radio Times Notice

Archive Status – Missing


September 28th at 22.05 on ABC Television

Josephine Tey – The Franchise Affair (duration 65 mins)

Adapted by Robert Hall

Starring: Alec Clunes, Martita Hunt, Gwen Watford and Paul Whitsun-Jones

Produced as an episode of long running series Armchair Theatre, this was the first adaptation of a novel by Tey. The BBC made a 6-part series of the same story in 1962 which will be covered in part two.

Archive Status – Missing


September 29th to November 11th at 20.30 on BBC Television

Anthony Berkeley – Leave It To Todhunter (duration 6 x 30 mins)

Adapted by Patrick Campbell from the novel Trial And Error

Produced by Andrew Osborn

Starring: Mervyn Johns as Lawrence Todhunter, Helen Cherry as Marcia Loraine, Kynaston Reeves as Ambrose Chitterwick, Ballard Berkeley as Chief Det. Insp. Moresby, Ann Firbank as Felicity Farroway and John Rae as Dr Kelsey


  1. In Search Of A Corpse
  2. Choice Of Weapons
  3. Death On The Lawn
  4. Pistols For Two
  5. Cherchez L’Homme
  6. Rope’s End

The first adaptation of a novel by Anthony Berkeley, a Golden Age writer who despite his influence and flair has surprisingly not been exploited more for television adaptation. Only one Roger Sheringham short story, The Avenging Chance, and two adaptations of Malice Aforethought have followed since.

Kynaston Reeves
(Ambrose Chitterwick)

The BBC were keen to promote both the suspense and the black humour of the story, as can be seen from the Radio Times promotional notice for the first episode.

Radio Times Notice

Archive Status – Missing


Looking Forward

As stated above the Ampex Television recording system became available at the end of the 1950’s and this had a profound effect on all TV production companies. Whilst programmes were still sometimes broadcast live, they could now be recorded as they were being transmitted. Even more significantly programmes could now be prerecorded, edited and repeated without the need for costly re-staging. Overseas sales also provided incentive for programmes to be recorded. From this date on, a larger and larger percentage of the programmes covered still exist in the archives and many are available to view. Full details will be given in the next article.

Therefore, 1958 seems an appropriate time to bring the first part of this overview to a close. Over the following ten years or so there more channels, with BBC 2 launching in April 1964, as well as an increase in the number of hours per day that channels were broadcasting. That is the period that will be covered next and we can look forward to debuts for Albert Campion, Jules Maigret, Dr. Thorndyke and many, many more.


Listings by Author

Berkeley, A

1958 – Leave It To Todhunter (Trial And Error) (6 Episodes)

Bramah, Ernest

1956 – The Dragon Embellishment

Carr, John Dickson

1956 – The Seat Of The Scornful

Cecil, Henry

1953 – Tell Tale

1953 – The Case Of Mr Tinker

1953 – The Disagreeable Man

Chesterton, G. K.

1939 – Magic

1946 – Magic

1947 – The Man Who Was Thursday

Christie, Agatha

1937 – Wasp’s Nest

1938 – Love From A Stranger

1947 – Love From A Stranger, Three Blind Mice

1949 – Witness For The Prosecution, Ten Little N___s

1955 – Spider’s Web

1956 – Toward’s Zero

1957 – The Mousetrap

Doyle, Arthur Conan

1937 – Waterloo

1951 – The Mazarin Stone, Mr Sherlock Holmes (6 Episodes)

1953 – The Parasite, Waterloo

1958 – The Firm Of Girdlestone (6 Episodes)

Farjeon, J. Jefferson

1948 – Triple Bill – Exit, Murder Over Draughts & The Body Was Not Disturbed

1948 – The Chronicles Of Ben (3 Episodes)

1954 – Murder Over Draughts

1958 – No. 17

Gilbert, Anthony

1957 – My Guess Would Be Murder

Gilbert, Michael

1956 – Crime Of The Century (6 Episodes)

1957 – Wideawake (6 Episodes)

1958 – The Body Of A Girl

1958 – Fair Game (6 Episodes)

1958 – Crime Report

Henderson, Donald

1950 – Mr Bowling Buys A Newspaper

1957 – Mr Bowling Buys A Newspaper

Sayers, Dorothy L.

1937 – Busman’s Honeymoon

1947 – Busman’s Honeymoon


Researcher’s Notes: For obvious reasons I have not included in this list some authors on the periphery of Golden Age crime. By far the most adapted author during these years was Edgar Wallace, with approximately 50 programmes that could have been added, but for both space reasons and because his works are generally in the thriller category I have omitted them here. I have also not included authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins etc.


If anyone has any corrections, amendments or additions to suggest please contact me or leave a comment and I will update the article where required.


With thanks to the BBC Genome project, the TVRDB website, TV Brain and Kaleidoscope for research information


R E Faust



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