Lucy Worsley gains her own crown in this brilliant appraisal of the Queen of Crime Agatha Christie

Lucy Worsley - Lorian Reed-Drake/BBC
Lucy Worsley - Lorian Reed-Drake/BBC

The funny thing about the first episode of Lucy Worsley’s three-part story of Agatha Christie is not for one minute did it question Christie’s place in the pantheon of the greats. If you grew up in the 1980s watching endless adaptations of Marples and Poirots – adaptations so gentle they made murder as consoling as sweet tea – this will seem bizarre.

But then Christie has undergone a substantial re-appraisal in the last decade, and that reappraisal has been led by the screen: after Agatha Christie Productions was formed in 2012 with the express remit of capitalising on the estate, the new company commissioned a series of excellent TV adaptations by the writer Sarah Phelps. She went back to the books and emphasised the strange, the dark and the morally complex. As a result, few now would scoff when Lucy Worsley describes Christie as a radical subversive for whom "evil is an ever-lurking presence". (But I still find it hard to forget Joan Hickson in a hat.)

That aside, Agatha Christie: Lucy Worsley on the Mystery Queen (BBC Two) was vintage Worsley, who is by now so good at this kind of thing that there’s a reassurance in her method and conclusions that reminds you of – yes – a good detective novel. She gets dressed up, her commentary throws in a few cheeky eyebrow raisers (Christie married her husband Archie because "he was hot") but away from the frippery everything is underpinned by a solid thesis with enough historical and factual heft to give that thesis credence.

Here Worsley’s argument was that Christie grew up in a late-Victorian world full of puffed-up rich men, her father included, who all turned out not to be quite what they seemed. Anyone well-heeled, in her experience both as a nurse and then on the debutante circuit in Cairo (yes, there was a debutante circuit in Cairo) was most likely full of it. And so her novels were all about distrust, hidden motives and the unmasking of feckless men.

British author Agatha Christie wrote more than 70 novels, many of which have been adapted for TV and film - Hubert de Segonzac/Hubert de Segonzac/Parismatch/Scoop
British author Agatha Christie wrote more than 70 novels, many of which have been adapted for TV and film - Hubert de Segonzac/Hubert de Segonzac/Parismatch/Scoop

Of course, any author who’s written more than a couple of books provides plenty of grist to whatever mill their biographer wishes to grind. Christie wrote more than 70, meaning you can find ley lines between what she wrote, when she wrote and who she was wherever you look.

Personally I was much more interested in how she wrote – and here Worsley excelled, too. There was a superb sequence in which she picked apart the ending of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by going back to the manuscript. Christie originally wrote it as a courtroom scene, only for her publisher to reject it. The Queen of Crime duly changed it (a sign that she was open to suggestion and improvement) replacing it with what we now recognise as the classic drawing-room denouement (a brilliant narrative device). It was art in the making, picked apart by Worsley with her best detective’s hat on.