Our guest writer Delicia Johnson has picked out ten of the best British murder mystery series set in the 20th century.
Whether professional detectives or amateur sleuths, the leads of these TV crime dramas have a mutual interest in pursuing justice.
With their insight into the human psyche, strong observational skills, and quick minds they are able to solve the most complicated and riveting mysteries.
The incomparable David Suchet portrays one of the most famous fictional detectives ever in ITV’s long-running serial adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novels.
With his “little gray cells,” Poirot takes the nontraditional method of focusing on the psychology of the perpetrator and the nature of the victim to solve the mystery.
Originally airing between 1989 and 2013, the series begins a light and humorous tone, before moving towards darker, grittier elements in later seasons, giving most mystery aficionados at least a few episodes that suit their tastes.
Poirot: The Complete Cases Collection box set is available on DVD on Amazon.
Joan Hickson brilliantly portrays another of Christie’s famous detectives – the highly observant, astute Miss Marple – in the BBC’s 1984-1992 series.
A village octogenarian, she is an unlikely detective and her methods are quirky at best. Not to be deterred by the exasperated professional detectives, with her deep understanding of human nature Miss Marple is able to uncover clues and motives that escape even the most experienced officers.
While others have played Miss Marple over the years, Joan Hickson remains a firm favourite amongst Agatha Christie fans.
The complete Miss Marple collection is available on DVD on Amazon.
Catholic priest Father Brown, brilliantly portrayed by Harry Potter actor Mark Williams, solves crimes in the fictional Cotswolds village of Kembleford during the 1950s.
Mild-mannered with a playful innocence, Father Brown is driven by a desire to save souls rather than to seek punitive resolutions, and his concept of justice is more aligned with church doctrine rather than the law.
He’s assisted by an array of unlikely sidekicks, including parish secretary Mrs. McCarthy, socialite Lady Felicia, and former small-time crook Sid.
Based on the stories by GK Chesterton, the BBC’s popular daytime series has been running since 2013.
Father Brown is available to watch on BritBox.
Anglican vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton) teams up with Detective Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green) to solve crimes that plague their Cambridgeshire village in the 1950s.
The good-natured but world-weary DI Keating approaches each case methodically and with a hardened manner, while Sidney provides a balance with his warm manner, intuitive approach, and trusting nature.
Aside from the engaging mysteries, viewers also see the personal battles of a conflicted man, struggling to see the good in humanity and battle his own demons.
Later seasons of ITV’s Grantchester have teamed Geordie up with a new vicar, played by Tom Brittney.
Grantchester is available on DVD on Amazon.
The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries
Calm and efficient, Inspector Alleyn is a fine example of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.
The calm and efficient Inspector Alleyn (Patrick Malahide) tackles clever whodunits in post-WWII England.
Originally shown on the BBC in the early ’90s, the series is so masterfully written that viewers will be kept guessing amongst all the possible suspects and intriguing motives.
The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries is available on DVD on Amazon.
ITV’s 2012-2023 prequel to Inspector Morse sees Shaun Evans masterfully portray the young Endeavour Morse at the beginning of his career as a detective constable in Oxford.
An intricate character with a fondness for opera, viewers get to witness the events that shape Morse into the detective and person he becomes.
Set in the mid-1960s through to the mid-1970s, Endeavour presents enthralling mysteries that challenge Morse’s astute mind.
Endeavour is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
Created by the ingenious novelist and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz, ITV’s Foyle’s War is set during and after the Second World War.
Played by Michael Kitchen across eight seasons between 2002 and 2015, the wise and scrupulous Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle methodically solves mysteries against the chaotic backdrop of war.
Alongside the clever and engaging mysteries is a commitment to honour WWII veterans through a painstaking dedication to historical accuracy.
Foyle’s War is available to watch on Acorn TV.
In post-Second World War France, the compassionate and enigmatic Maigret – portrayed by Michal Gambon in the early ’90s for ITV and later by Rowan Atkinson – solves complicated cases, delving into the psychology of the perpetrators.
Despite seeing some of the worst in humanity, Maigret maintains his good humour and kindness.
The complete Maigret box set is available on DVD on Amazon.
The Mrs Bradley Mysteries
Set in the 1920s, Dame Diana Rigg portrays the stylish Mrs. Adela Bradley in this late ’90s BBC series.
Along with her loyal chauffeur George (portrayed by Neal Dudgeon of Midsomer Murders fame), Mrs. Bradley solves mysteries with her uncanny ability to uncover secrets and untangle even the most complex motives.
She often breaks the fourth wall to share her witticisms and observations, and her keen intelligence, sophistication, and inviting manners make her a venerable amateur sleuth.
The Mrs Bradley Mysteries is available to watch on BritBox.
Inspector George Gently
Set in the North East of England during the Sixties, the BBC’s 2007-2017 series stars Martin Shaw as the lionhearted Inspector George Gently, tackling criminality both outside and inside the police force.
Alongside the younger, headstrong Detective Sergeant Bacchus (Lee Ingleby), Gently brings down lawbreakers amidst a backdrop of great political and social change.
Inspector George Gently is available to watch on Acorn TV.
And a final bonus entry from Australia…
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
Set in late 1920s Melbourne, the versatile Essie Davis stars as the glamorous, irrepressible private detective, Phryne Fisher in this 2012-2015 series.
A woman before her time, Miss Fisher works with the handsome, reserved Detective Inspector John “Jack” Robinson who rather reluctantly accepts her assistance.
Armed with her gold, pearl-handled pistol, Miss Fisher fearlessly tackles any case. Behind the allure lies a heroine with a strong, unquenchable desire for justice and a dark history that guides her.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is available to watch on Acorn TV.