As part of the Silver Screen Suppers, Murder She Wrote Cookalong ( ) I’ve been watching It Runs In The Family , the episode which inspired my choice of recipe.

There are two Patrick Wymark connections – it stars Richard Johnson who was a founding member of Peter Hall’s Royal Shakespeare Company along with Wymark. Johnson and Wymark played brothers in A Question of Hell , Kingsley Amis’ 1964 update of The Duchess of Malfi , and later starred as Duncan Sandys in Operation Crossbow where Wymark played his father-in-law, Winston Churchill. The episode also stars John Standing, who played opposite Wymark in The Psychopath (and plays Quive Smith in the recent DVD release of Rogue Male ).

It Runs In The Family is an odd episode. There were several ‘deadline doom’ episodes of Murder She Wrote where Jessica Fletcher comes on at the start to introduce a story about a guest detective like Jerry Orbach or Keith Michell. It Runs In The Family is a story about Jessica’s English cousin, Emma MacGill, a ‘music hall’ performer. But Emma is played by Angela Lansbury! Jessica Fletcher doesn’t appear at all! There’s just a passing mention at the end when Emma says solving murders must run in the family! It turns out that Emma had been introduced in an earlier episode (Sing a Song of Murder).

Written by producer Peter S Fisher, the episode opens in the Dick Van Dyke Arms, where Emma is drinking a pint of beer with fellow Cockernees. Christopher Hewitt (Roger DeBris in The Producers ) plays a solicitor who offers her £1000 to visit the dying Viscount Blackraven, who she used to know as Geoffrey Constable (Richard Johnson). They were once in love, but didn’t marry for reasons to do with class. Emma turns down the £1000 but agrees to visit Geoffrey who tells her that he’s always regretted not marrying her (“I left my heart in a music hall in Newberry”). It may sound cliched, but Johnson and Lansbury are genuinely affecting as reunited lovers, struggling with past regrets. This may well be the moment when Angela Lansbury told Johnson, “You’re an actor, Laddy. What are you doing wasting your time as a film producer?”

Unfortunately, Geoffrey is ill with a heart complaint. He doesn’t have long to live. He tells Emma he’s leaving her, “a little house in Tuxford on the River Trent”, which turns out to be a country house with income. This doesn’t impress the delectable Carolyn Seymour playing Pauline, the ambitious wife of his cousin Arthur Constable (John Standing). Her husband is next in line to the title, and she doesn’t want to see any of the family fortune diluted this close to jackpot time.

Johnson and Lansbury go out for an idyllic picnic, where he tells her he’s starting to feel a little better, just before he keels over from what is later revealed to be strychnine in his favourite pickled herring. Anthony Newley as Inspector Frost (not that one, although he seems to have been watching David Jason’s chippy performance) soon deduces that Emma could have been set up as the killer. She packed the picnic basket but left it in the hall while she went to change. Someone could have poisoned the herring knowing only Geoffrey would eat it. since she made it plain the evening before that she couldn’t stand pickled herring! Emma and Frost conspire to unmask the real killer.

With a packed house full of hungry relatives and hangers on (including Jane Leeves from Frasier ) the episode is a passable pastiche of an Agatha Christie mystery (and without The Mirror Crack’d would we have had Murder She Wrote ?). Although the episode is credited to producer Fischer, it’s possible that script editor Philip Gerson may also have had a hand in this. John Standing is his usual affable self. Once he’s inherited the Lordship he tries to downplay his wife’s ambition, telling the twittery vicar, “Do drop all this titles business” (ironically, Wikipedia tells us that Standing is the 4th Baronet, whose family used to own Bletchley Park, although he never uses the title). Carolyn Seymour is appropriately haughty but clearly not as well-bred as she likes to make out. We know who we want the murderer to be. But who is it?