Sunday 7 May 2023

Agathaland and MC Beaton


When the remarkable MC Beaton died in 2019, I was astonished that we knew so little about her. Her obituaries were full of tiny teasers about what seemed to be her 9 lives, all well-lived, spanning careers and continents as if mere paths in her way. 

A no-nonsense, no-frills Glaswegian, Marion became a crime reporter by accident, navigating razor-wielding gangs and tenement murders as a single woman reporter in the 1950s – as a result, she was a pioneering woman in Fleet Street before women were even allowed; She worked for Murdoch in the USA; Then, started writing Regency Romances when she was at home and bored – doing 100 titles under 6 pseudonyms; She married a spy; Bought a working croft in the Highlands that inspired her best-selling Scottish detective Hamish Macbeth; She then moved to the Cotswolds which in turn inspired her PR turned PI sleuth, Agatha Raisin. Phew!!!

Beside Marion Beaton most of us pale into insignificance. 

I had produced the tv series of her stellar character, Agatha Raisin, for 5 years. At the time of her death, we were on the verge of series 4, perkily planning away not knowing that covid was around the corner and laughing at the weak and shifting sands we were plotting from. 

We were also just about to travel to the TV Critics Association bash in Pasadena to relaunch Agatha Raisin in the USA as an ‘Acorn Original’ (which it wasn’t given that we’d invented it for Sky but hey-ho … truth doesn’t thrive in TV). 

I felt bereft. Marion was our creator and our collaborator. Our partner in crime. A woman who had the balls to rail against the (90’s TV) version of ‘Hamish Macbeth’ that was made and that she hated. The woman I had to persuade to let us make Agatha and who, once she had seen what we could do, asked us to ‘have a look at Hamish and see if there is anything there’. At her funeral, 4 people in a row told stories of how much she hated Hamish and how she loved Agatha. It was a relief, but I was also proud. It was hard to impress MC Beaton. And for very good reason. She didn’t suffer fools and her appreciation of us made me feel like I wasn’t a fool. 

So, Agathaland is (exists) because I wanted to do something to celebrate her life and her great creations. 

For years before, my company had made documentaries about other people’s shows: ‘Revisiting Brideshead’, ‘The Wonderful World of Roald Dahl’, ‘The Spiderman Story’ and it occurred to me that Marion deserved a tribute to her remarkable life in fiction, and that given our track record, we should be the people to make it. 

In the show we trace Marion’s colourful life and the genesis of her incredible characters. I also wanted to make a noise about our beautiful show ‘Agatha Raisin’ I wanted to celebrate our star, Ashley Jensen, and our wonderful cast and crew who have made 4 seasons of a unique television proposition. It’s a crime-comedy-drama that is hugely underrated, much-copied and one of those ‘if you know, you know’ shows that - because we are behind paywalls - continues to be hiding in the light. When the first series of ‘Only Murders in the Building’ finished, the New York Times said that ‘Agatha Raisin’ should be what people sought out if they were having ‘Only Murders…’ withdrawal – this, again, made me blush.

Agathaland is due to be shown on Monday 8th May 2023 at 8pm on Sky Max

More information can be found here.

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