Meeting Miss Fisher. December 2016.

Dear Rowley,

Whisper it but I am rather looking forward to Christmas 2016. This is usually the cue for Fate to send a memo to Nemesis: ‘Why not make him choke on a tuppence in a lit Christmas pudding, set fire to his flame-proof onesie, flail helplessly into the tree and leave the family home a burning husk come Boxing Day?’

But, no, I am getting into the spirit of it. Having been a bit of a Grinch about Christmas cards in recent years, I do feel the urge to send them to the people who have helped me through a year that has not been without incident. I believe the mood change began when I saw the Christmas angel lights on Regent Street.

Usually Regent Street’s lights are sponsored by Disney, M&Ms World or some such and leave me shaking my fists skyward at the commercialisation of Christmas. This year the most magical white light angels with sparkling wings are flying the length of Regent Street like ethereal wraiths and would melt even the hardest Mr Scrooge heart.

Have you sent your Christmas list to Santa, Rowley? Hand on heart, darling, I’d settle for a sixpence, a lump of coal and an orange just to have one more family Christmas from my youth but I suspect we all feel like that, don’t we?

I’ll tell you what I could well do without under the tree and that’s a US TV box set. Don’t you get terribly fed-up of box set shaming? Not a week goes by when one isn’t made to feel like Rip Van Winkle because you haven’t kept-up with Breaking Bad, Suits or Boardwalk Empire. 

I recently congratulated myself on getting up to speed with The Good Wife only to learn that while my back was turned they’d made another six series. Don’t even get me started on Game of Thrones. I saw an episode dubbed in Danish on a long haul flight and thought it was funnier than Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

But I’ll tell you who’s coming home with me this Christmas: Miss Phryne Fisher. I met Miss Fisher on a Netflix blind date one night when in serious need of escapism and glamour. The lady in question is an Anglophile flapper in 1920s Melbourne played by Essie Davis who makes Miss Marple seem positively slothful when it comes to locating corpses.

Phryne (pronounced Fray-knee) Fisher was born in the novels of Kerry Greenwood. She is a frisky, risky modern of independent means with a black bob that shines like vinyl, a wardrobe that Gloria Swanson would covet and a gold-plated pistol strapped to her garter. There are three series of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and I am rationing myself rather than devouring them in one greedy gulp.

Miss Fisher’s inner circle includes a handsome, square-jawed police inspector she spars and flirts with as the situation demands and a trusty young companion called Dot who is engaged to a fresh-faced if none too bright constable. Essie Davis plays Miss Fisher as a woman entirely unacquainted with self-doubt but, then again, Hercule Poirot wasn’t exactly the model of self-effacement either.

Despite being based in Melbourne, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries looks absolutely glorious. In every frame Phryne is dressed for the Rue de la Paix unless she has to go undercover as a hoochy-cooch fan dancer in a bordello, a magician’s assistant at the circus or an aviatrix.

Watching The Good Wife makes you thankful not to be in the shark’s tank of the Manhattan legal profession. Watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries makes you want to don a cloche hat, scale a wall and arrest a fiendish criminal mastermind in an opium den.

Miss Fisher is something of a mantrap so you do know that if an Argentine tango instructor or a buff all-in wrestler blunders into the plot, she’ll be digging her Jungle Red lacquered nails into his back by the time the credits roll. There’s also a frisson of Sapphic love interest with Phryne’s best friend Dr ‘Mac’ Macmillan who dresses like a Bloomsbury Group butch lesbian in tweeds, strides and lippy.

Every episode that features the marvellous Miriam Margolyes as Aunt Prudence gladdens my heart as much as the ones when Miss Fisher has to go underground as she inevitably does.  Mind you, the disguises never compromise her beauty. Perhaps it was in the contract. It would be in mine if I looked as soigné as Phryne Fisher.

So what’s new on the Rialto? I’ve signed-up to work on the 2018 Louis Vuitton Guide to London: a favourite gig that I must have worked on for over a decade now. James Sherwood’s Discriminating Guide to London is going into a second edition … mercifully with very few amendments so we were on the money choosing the original addresses considering restaurants and shops in London are falling like a house of cards of late.

I’m doing another days’ filming on a series called Royal Mysteries that allows me to indulge my interest in the twilight of so many monarchies before World War One and the first draft of the Henry Poole & Co biography is about to pass the finishing line. The racy novel is going to be a fireside project for Christmas in Derbyshire. Until next time…