Miss Marple in Nunney

Joan Hickson as detective Miss Jane Marple
Joan Hickson as detective Miss Jane Marple

Miss Marple is one of the best-loved fictional detectives. But did you know that an episode of Miss Marple, starring Joan Hickson, was in part filmed in Nunney?

Joan Hickson
Joan Hickson as detective Miss Jane Marple

Jane Marple, usually referred to as Miss Marple, is a fictional character appearing in 12 of Agatha Christie’s crime novels and in 20 short stories.

Miss Marple has been played by a number of actresses over the years, including Margaret Rutherford, Geraldine McEwan, Angela Lansbury and Julia McKenzie.

Joan Hickson became the oldest actress ever to take the lead in a television series when she was offered – and accepted – the part for which she is best remembered, Miss Marple in the BBC series of Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries.

Considered by many to have given the best portrayal on camera of the elderly detective, Hickson was 78 when she started filming on a series of 12 television episodes.

The series was broadcast by the BBC between 1984 and 1992.

Dame Agatha Christie
Dame Agatha Christie

Miss Marple is an elderly spinster who lives in the village of St. Mary Mead and acts as a consulting detective.

Dame Agatha Christie (1890-1976) 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.

The BBC’s television adaptations in the early 1980s were treated indifferently by the critics, but were a popular success and so work on filming the original 12 novels started.

The evocative theme tune for the TV series was composed by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley.

Miss Marple
Ronald Howard, Joan Hickson and Dame Margaret Rutherford in the 1961 film version of 4.50 from Paddington

Joan Hickson had played one of the other characters, Mrs Kidder, in the 1961 film adaption of the novel with Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple.

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.”

Orchardleigh House
Orchardleigh House

On Christmas Day 1987 the BBC first broadcast 4.50 from Paddington, based on Agatha Christie’s 1957 novel.

The story is also set in 1957. After Miss Marple’s friend Mrs Elspeth McGillicuddy 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.

nunney tithe barn
The ancient barns are on private land and not open to the public.

4.50 from Paddington was filmed largely at Orchardleigh House estate near Frome and London’s Marylebone Station (not Paddington), but additional footage was shot in the tithe barn next to Nunney Castle over a period of 10 days.

The Grade II* listed barn was built around 1500, most likely to replace an earlier tithe barn. It is on private property and not open to the public.

The series was a huge success with the critics and the viewing public. Hickson personally credited in large part the bestowal of an OBE award to the role, as HM The Queen was a large fan of the series and Hickson’s performance.

Nunney Castle
The 15th century tithe barn next to Nunney Castle was used to film part of the episode.

4.50 from PaddingtonWhen Joan Hickson retired from the role, believing that she should stop while the programme was still at the peak of its popularity, she stated that she had no intention of retiring from acting altogether. “Retirement is fatal,” she recalled. “If you retire you go POP.”

The full episode of 4.50 from Paddington available on Youtube and on DVD as part of the Miss Marple Collection.

Can you help? Did you see Miss Marple in Nunney?

Were you in Nunney at the time 4.50 from Paddington was filmed here? Did you meet Joan Hickson or any of the other stars? Did you take photos? Share your photos, press clippings or memories.

Thanks to Paul Holdaway and Colin Cross for providing us with information for this article.