The name of the verger is a small tribute to Peter Wyngarde who died while I was writing the book. His character, crime writer and secret agent Jason King, was the star of ‘spy-fi’ TV series Department S and, later, Jason King. A truly unique character who would later inspire many parodies, most notably Austin Powers.
‘M Kahn is bent’ is a reference to a recurring joke in the 1980s comedy series The Mary Whitehouse Experience involving a piece of graffiti (with the curious spelling of ‘Kahn’) that adorned a bridge over the North Circular Road at Bounds Green in North London for ten years. I saw it myself many times before it was cleaned off. But, given that approximately 300,000 cars containing an average of 2.7 people passed under that bridge every day, it’s amazing that I couldn’t find a single photo of it online. Maybe because cars were whooshing along at 40mph and no one had cameras in their phones back then.
The name Whorne comes from the director of many of Laurel and Hardy’s movies – James W Horne. The name just leapt out at me from the credits page.
‘Topsy’ Turvey is a tribute to the late Rik Mayall who had his first TV success on the sketch show A Kick up the Eighties playing irritating investigative reporter Kevin Turvey.
The Larock Road is described as being the A113. This references a famous animation Easter egg created by alumni of California Institute of the Arts. Room A113 was the classroom used by graphic design and character animation students including John Lasseter, Tim Burton and Brad Bird. It turns up frequently in shows such as The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad and South Park. It’s also appeared in Doctor Who and in every Pixar movie, as well as in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Iron Giant, Big Hero 6, Avengers Assemble, Terminator Salvation, Spider-Man: Homecoming and pretty much anything that employs CGI. It appears in video games too, such as Fallout 4, Final Fantasy XV and others.
Two of the FLAN activists are called Terry and June as a nod to the long-running 80s sitcom starring the late Terry Scott and June Whitfield. The two actors began their on-screen partnership in 1974 in a show called Scott On. They then appeared as the Fletchers in five series of a sitcom called Happy Ever After that ran until 1979. It was then re-worked, a new writer was brought in and they became the Medfords. Terry and June then ran from 1979 until 1987. Whitfield was also, in my opinion, one of the very best Miss Marples and she recorded BBC audio dramas of all of the Christie stories that feature her.
The village of Tingwell (where Maisie comes from) is a reference to Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell who played the long-suffering Inspector Craddock in Margaret Rutherford’s Miss Marple films. There’s also a character called Craddock in Chapter 24.
Michael Southcott’s Death Has Windows is the fictional book that Miss Marple (Margaret Rutherford) is reading on the train in the 1961 film Murder, She Said.
D Mandeville is the nom de plume of detective fiction writer Desiree Minch played by Joan Hurley in the 1957 British comedy film The Naked Truth. She is the author of The Great Trunk Murders, the book that inspires the method that Peggy Mount and Joan Sims plan to use on scheming blackmailer Dennis Price.
Sid Abernathy was the author of the ‘Dance of Death’ series that appeared in a Season 6 episode of Diagnosis Murder called Write, She Murdered (Geddit?). Starring detective Rick Steel, the books include Lindy Hop Lunatic and Cha Cha Choker. After Abernathy is murdered, we learn that he was also a ghost-writer for Bruce Blazer (Adam West) and his ‘Tuttle and the Mummy’ books – themselves a reference to the 1939 Three Stooges film We Want Our Mummy which starred Robert B Williams as Professor Tuttle. Meta or what??
Lady Abigail Austin is a fictional crime writer who appears in Episode 3 of Season 6 of Murder, She Wrote. Cited as one of Jessica Fletcher’s influences, Austin - played by the excellently named June Havoc – is reported to have lived to be 101 years old. The episode was filmed aboard the RMS Queen Mary and the episode title, The Grand Old Lady was the ship’s nickname, although it could equally refer to Lady Abigail too. Interestingly, this episode started life as the pilot for an Ellery Queen series in 1975 that was cancelled. It was therefore re-cast with new characters and re-filmed in 1984. Jessica Fletcher appears only in the prologue and epilogue.
Ariadne Oliver is a fictional mystery writer created by Agatha Christie. She is a friend of Hercule Poirot and often assists in his investigations. Her most famous creation was the vegetarian Finnish detective Sven Hjerson. It is thanks to Mrs Oliver that we know that Poirot and Miss Marple exist in the same universe because, in The Pale Horse, she becomes acquainted with the Rev and Mrs Dane Calthrop, who are friends of Jane Marple. Agatha Christie admitted that the character ‘does have a strong dash of myself’ and often used Mrs Oliver to reflect her own frustrations as an author.
The Small, Intricate Life of Gerald C Potter was a radio comedy series created by Basil Boothroyd. It presented listeners with snapshots from the everyday life of struggling crime writer Potter (Ian Carmichael) and his hugely more successful romance author wife, Diana (pen-name Magnolia Badminton) played by Charlotte Mitchell. It’s a favourite of comedian Paul Merton. Among Potter’s titles are Death in the Arboretum, Corpses Galore and Death has Sharp Teeth. Carmichael is better known of course, for playing Lord Peter Wimsey in dramatisations of Dorothy L Sayer's books. He played him in audiobooks, BBC radio dramas and a TV series.
Mr Levinshulme’s mention of ‘Something nasty in the woodshed’ is, of course, a reference to Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, one of the funniest books I’ve ever read (if you can find the abridged BBC audio version read by Kenneth Williams, do have a listen. Your ears will love you forever). There’s a second reference to it in the name ‘Curse God Farm’ as that was Gibbons’ original name for the book before she was advised to change it by her friend, Elizabeth Coxhead, who suggested ‘Cold Comfort’ after having seen a farm of that name in Hinckley, Leicestershire. And I can’t deny that the Starkadders were very much in mind when I was creating the eccentric Tremblett family.
When I wrote: ‘Phoebe was dead, murdered, and the police believed that he was responsible’, this references Lieutenant Harper’s (Duke Moore’s) classic line in Ed D Wood’s extraordinarily bad, and unintentionally hilarious, film Plan 9 from Outer Space: ‘Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible.’
Grant Peabody’s The Stranglers of Bolton was a fictional book that was mentioned in The Missing Page, a 1960 episode of the Hancock’s Half Hour TV series. More famously, the episode featured a book called Lady Don’t Fall Backwards by Darcy Sarto but I thought that was too well-known a reference to include.
A first mention of the name ‘Dudfoot’. See the entry below for Chapter 25.
Lackery, Holland, Fisher and Pendlebury are the names of the gang in the 1951 Ealing comedy crime caper The Lavender Hill Mob. Holland and Pendlebury are the main characters – played by Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway – and Lackery Wood was played by Sid James. The fourth member of the gang was Shorty Fisher, played by Alfie Bass.
George Summersbee is a fictional crime writer who appears in a 2015 episode of Midsomer Murders called The Dagger Club. He is the author of the Jed Dagger series of books, which include the titles Wheels of Justice (his ‘first and best’), Deck of Destiny and Everything on the Red.
Rex West is the pen-name of Percy Gorringe, a character in the Jeeves and Wooster stories of P G Wodehouse. He is the author of such murder mystery books as Mystery of the Pink Crayfish, The Poisoned Doughnut, Murder in Mauve and Inspector Biffen Views the Body.
When Shunter is in Crute’s Sport Supplies he says, ‘Just one more thing, Mr Jeal’, which is, of course, a reference to Columbo. Shunter is named after him, in fact. Although Peter Falk never once revealed his character’s first name in the TV shows, the name ‘Frank Columbo’ can be seen on his police ID in several episodes, most clearly in the Season 1 episode ‘Dead Weight’ (1971).
In 1984 Columbo’s first name was the subject of a $300 million lawsuit. A chap called Fred L Worth, from Sacramento, California, wrote a series of trivia books during the 70s and 80s. Concerned that he might have all of his facts stolen, he planted a ‘mountweasel’ – a deliberately fake fact - in his books so that, if someone copied from him, he would be able to prove that his work had been plagiarised. His fact was that Columbo’s first name is Phillip. Years later, the board game Trivial Pursuit was released and included a game card which claimed that Columbo’s first name was Philip. So Worth filed a lawsuit against the inventors of the game. However, the case was thrown out even though the defendants admitted that they had copied from Worth’s book. They claimed that a trivia book was a legitimate source for facts and that Worth’s book was one of many that they’d used for research; after all, they said, you can’t ‘own’ or copyright a fact. The courts agreed. Worth launched a series of appeals but was defeated each time.
Suzie Colebrooke was the artist who painted the covers for George Summersbee’s Jed Dagger books (as mentioned above). She was, delightfully, murdered by an electrified roulette wheel.
Simon Thane is a fictional artist in the Murder She Wrote season 3 episode Simon Says, Color Me Dead and Desmond Devries is a fictional abstract artist in the season 2 episode If The Frame Fits.
And when Connie Tremblett says ‘We knows what we knows, and we keeps it to ourselves’, she is quoting from the extraordinarily creepy song that Angela Pleasance improvised during filming of the 1974 Amicus portmanteau horror film, From Beyond The Grave. The full lyric goes:
‘Soon he’ll be free. Soon he’ll be free. The chains will fall. Then we’ll be parted no more. The dead can't clutch, can't hold on tight. Eaten by worms in the cold wet earth. We comes from where - ah, nobody knows. But we knows what we knows, and we keeps it to ourselves.’
PC Harbottle and PC Dudfoot are named after characters that appeared in the 1939 comedy film Ask a Policeman. Will Hay plays a character called Dudfoot, while his regular co-stars, Graham Moffatt and Moore Marriott played Albert Brown and Jerry Harbottle respectively. ‘Albert and Harbottle’ also appeared as Hay’s sidekicks in Oh Mr Porter! (1937) although Hay played the eponymous title role. Marriott also played a character called Harbottle in Old Bones of the River (1938) and Where’s that Fire? (1940)
There is also a passing mention of the village of Boulting Parva, named after the Boulting Brothers – Roy and John – the filmmakers who gave us such wonderful films as Brighton Rock, Lucky Jim, Private’s Progress, I’m All Right Jack, Carlton-Browne of the FO and Heavens Above! The Boulting twins’ older brother, Sydney, was an actor and stage producer and was the original director of Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap (mentioned in Chapter 24).
When Mrs Dallimore sees a copy of ‘Ernest Wallengren’s painting of a can of Simpkin’s Cream of Celery Soup’, it references episodes of Diagnosis Murder; specifically, a Season 2 two-parter called The Last Laugh in which the painting appears. It also turns up in Season 5 in an episode called Obsession.
Sibella House is named for Sibella Holland, the character played by Joan Greenwood in the 1949 Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets. Famously, Alec Guinness plays nine characters in the film, all members of the D'Ascoyne family. In 2012 BBC Radio 4 broadcast a sequel to the film called Kind Hearts and Coronets – Like Father, Like Daughter in which Unity Holland, the illegitimate daughter of Louis D'Ascoyne Mazzini, 10th Duke of Chalfont, and Sibella, murders an entire new generation of the D'Ascoyne family, with all seven members played by Alistair McGowan.
When Sir Giles is reflecting on the prospect of a life behind bars, he does so atop Bascombe’s Bluff. The hill is named after Tully Bascombe, the lead character in the wonderful 1959 film The Mouse That Roared, based on the book of the same name by Leonard Wibberley. In the film Bascombe, played by the inimitable Peter Sellers (who also plays two other roles), pulls off the greatest bluff of all time by declaring war on the USA … and winning.
PC Chillick is named after the female reporter that Terry-Thomas attempts to chat up in the 1959 comedy film Too Many Crooks.
And I couldn’t have a police raid on a girls’ school without a mention of St Trinian’s could I?
The scandal magazine The Naked Truth is the central plot element of the 1957 film of the same name starring Peter Sellers, Dennis Price, Terry-Thomas, Peggy Mount, Shirley Eaton and Joan Sims.
How many did you spot?