If You Like Miss Fisher, Try The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries


My local PBS station (KQED in the San Francisco Bay Area, don’t forget to pledge!) has been killing it lately with obscure older historical costume flicks. Not always the ones I’m on the hunt for — you know, the ones that aren’t available for streaming anywhere and I’d have to plunk out for an actual DVD of — but some quirky choices I missed the first time around starring fabulous actors and featuring pretty darn sweet costumes. So while everybody’s talking about going unplugged re: TV, let’s not forget that good old-fashioned terrestrial telly can serve up the goods too.

So my latest discovery is the always brilliant Diana Rigg in The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries from 1998. This is a five-episode series based on murder-mystery novels written by Gladys Mitchell mostly in the 1940s and 1950s. The main character is Adela Bradley, a happily divorced, fiercely independent woman in her 50s. She’s very well educated, especially in psychiatry and psychology (being an associate of Freud) , and is an adamant suffragette (and friend of Emmeline Pankhurst). Mrs. Bradley is financially set and is accompanied by her personal chauffeur George. The first episode opens in 1929, with a brief detour at Mr. Bradley’s funeral, where we also meet the couple’s grown son and his wife, who Mrs. Bradley doesn’t appear terribly maternal towards.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

Posh funeral garb, ‘natch.

Everything in Mrs. Bradley’s attitude and background screams “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries!” for an older generation.  Well, not older as in the stories are slower or more tame, because they aren’t. Really, the only thing essential difference is that the detective is older — she’s still smart, witty, sexy (yes, mature women can be sexy!), adventurous, and has a great fashion sense.

Mrs. Bradley tosses off bon mots such as, “Marriage is one of those things it’s best to get over with early in life — like chicken pox” and “I never cared much for he countryside. It’s a soggy sort of place where animals and birds wander about uncooked,” often directly to the camera, breaking the third wall. She wears wonderful clothes and has an outrageous collection of cloche hats that will cause fans of the 1920s (or good millinery) to squee with delight. It all makes me wonder if the author of the Miss Fisher books, Kerry Greenwood, had read Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs. Bradley books and simply recast the idea a bit younger and in Australia.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

Great architectural cloches abound.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

This is how you do ‘country tweeds’ with class.

The miniseries encompass upper-crust country house parties, a few funerals (it’s a murder-mystery show, after all), a wedding, a girls school, a circus, and a seaside resort — though Mrs. Bradley supposedly lives in London. The variety of settings gives the opportunity for many costume changes including day frocks, sporting clothes, evening wear, and many, many hats. Diana Rigg can really wear a hat, and mad props to designer Mécheal Taylor and team for giving not just Diana Rigg but every actor the perfect topper for each look. There’s some really stunning 1920s headgear in this short series. If you liked what you saw in the final seasons of Downton Abbey, you’ll adore Mrs. Bradley’s Mysteries just for the hats.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

Stripey crazy cloche!

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)


The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

Weird, but it works.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

Bringing all the boys to the yard in red velvet.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

Smashing black & white.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

Under her leopard coat, she’s wearing a pinstripe suit. And that red hat? WINNING.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

Leopard sunglasses to match her coat & hat.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

Fab mourning frock.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

An excellent evening bandeau.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

Beaded net-&-leaf style cap.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

Super blingy!

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

Not letting the younger ladies win at the evening bling game.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

Girls learning ‘poise’ & wearing posh frocks.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

More red hats, yes please!

If that’s not enough to tempt you, the second episode has a Doctor Who tie-in.  Titled “Death at the Opera,” the story takes Mrs. Bradley back to her alma mater, a private girls school where she’s to give a speech after some recitals (the “opera” of the title is The Mikado). Naturally enough, there’s a murder or two so she hangs around for longer than planned. An initial suspect is the music teacher, Max Valentine — played by David Tennant, some years before his turn as the tenth Doctor Who. The police detective called in after the first murder is Inspector Christmas — played by Peter Davidson, some years after he played the fifth Doctor Who, and coincidentally, he was David Tennant’s own favorite Doctor. Dawwww! Although they barely have one scene together in this production.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

There’s that smile.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

Bowties are cool.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

David Tennant in plus-fours. You’re welcome.

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

The two doctors, Davidson & Tennant!

Fans of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries who’ve already binge-watched the last season and need another fashionable and snappy 1920s murder-mystery series, you’ll want to hunt down The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries. Currently, the first episode is available on Amazon.com and more may be elsewhere, so keep an eye out!

The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (1998)

That black & white coat! The little curl peeping out of the bride’s cap! The paws on Mrs. Bradley’s fur! It’s all too good!


Who’s your favorite female detective on screen?

14 Responses

  1. oliatr

    And David Tennant married Peter’s Davison’s daughter, Georgia. And they met while filming an episode of Doctor Who called “The Doctor’s Daughter” (and of course…she is, sort of)!! Squee, indeed.

  2. Susan Pola

    I loved the series and was sorry they only did five. Costumes were 100 out of 10. Something that Miss Fisher and budget pales in comparison. I agree it is very like Downton Abbey in costume yummyness.
    One of my favourite period detectives are Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey. Harriet Walter was bang on as Harriet and I loved Petherbridge’s Lord Peter. He was more as Ms Sayers wrote.

    I highly recommend it.

    • Dawn

      Oh, yeah, the Lord Peter mysteries. Excellent choice. And the BBC seems to have done a great job on the settings, too. Not sure about the details of costuming, but they look right.

  3. Al

    Peter Davison had a historical murder mystery series, too, called Campion. The costumes weren’t the most amazing thing on the planet, but the series is good.

  4. Shirley

    I’ve never heard of this show before, but it sounds like something I’d love! Thanks for writing about it!

    This is a random diversion, but speaking of plus fours, I’m glad Frock Flicks profiled Indian Summers a few months ago. I maybe wouldn’t have heard of it otherwise. Anyway, I finally got a chance to watch it this past week, and I really enjoyed it! Going back and reading the Frock Flick recaps was also very educational. :)

  5. MelM

    I remember catching this series a few years ago and loving it. Thanks for reminding me. Not tv related really but I just went and looked up the books since I’ve finished the Miss Fisher series. Wow, they could really use Miss Fischer’s artist for their covers. I would have never picked them up if I hadn’t seen the tv series. The paperback covers make me think of Miss Marple’s even less stylish older sister after a day cleaning the basement and not a glamorous woman of the 20s.

    • Daniel Milford-Cottam

      To be fair, Mrs Bradley in the books is VERY unstylish – or at least she has a LOT of taste but it’s really abominably bad taste. Awful colour combinations, etc.

      The books are fantastic but also really bat-poo crazy – Gladys Mitchell is a very unusual writer. She flicks between brilliant and weird in the same book and sometimes is both, and sometimes she’s just weird.

      • MelM

        Ah, that explains it. I was fooled by Diana Rigg and her ability to make anything glamorous.

  6. Frannie Germeshausen

    I remember watching these a long time ago (first run?) before I was deep into this 20s thing. Watching them again: 1. Diana Rigg, have adored her since watching The Avengers as a child without a clue of what was happening, but she was so cool. 2. I do agree that the writer and TV show runners of Miss Fisher owe a debt to this production. The snake under the catering dome thing = the spider under the diaphram. Nuff said. 3. I personally
    couldn’t pull off those helmet cloches she wears, but they are AWESOME. 4. I want a car with a complete bar in full view. 5, She, like I, believes that one of the secrets to a happy marriage is separate bathrooms.

  7. KayHay

    Love this, especially the “Opera” episode. Yes, she banishes the third wall. Nobody does supercilious like Dame Diana. Why, oh why, didn’t they make more? I believe I’ve seen it in one of those PBS catalogs. Obscure Brit series are often available if one wishes to buy. Best. Hats. Ever. Circa the 1920s anyway. But nice try Miss Fisher. I once saw Mr. Petherbridge pushing a stroller in Stratford-on-Avon–elegantly, of course.